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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 10

Docno: ADMS-06-10-02-0156

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Huntington, Samuel
Recipient: President of Congress
Date: 1780-10-24

To the President of Congress, No. 17

[salute] Sir

I have recieved several Letters from London, concerning Mr. Laurens.1 It is certain that he has been treated with great Insolence by the Populace in his Journey from Dartmouth to London, and that he is confined to a mean Appartment in the Tower, denied the Use of Pen and Ink, and none of his Friends have been able to obtain Leave to visit him, excepting his Son and Mr. Manning, and those positively limited to half an Hour. He is ill of a Lax, much emaciated, and very invective against the Authors of his ill Usage. I saw last night a Letter from Mr. Manning himself,2 so that there is no doubt of the Truth of this Account. This deliberate, this studied manifestation to all the World of their Contempt and Hatred of all America, and of their final { 306 } determination to pursue this War to the last Extremity, cannot be misunderstood. The Honour, the Dignity, the essential Interests and the absolute Safety of America, require that Congress should take some Notice of this Event. I presume not to propose the Measures that might be taken because Congress are in a much better Situation to judge.3
I have waited, in hopes of Mr. Laurens's Arrival, but now all hopes of it are extinguished, I must fix upon a House and settle the Conditions, in Pursuance of my Commission. No Time has been lost: it has all been industriously spent in forming Acquaintances, making Enquiries and taking Advice of such Characters as it is proper to consult. The present State of things affords me Hopes, but from a particular Order of Men. These I have endeavoured to gain, without giving Offence to any others, and I am not without hopes of obtaining something, though I much fear it will be short of the Expectations of Congress.
I am not at Liberty as yet to mention Names: hereafter they will be known.
I cannot with too much Earnestness recommend it to Congress, to take Measures if possible, to send some Cargoes of Produce to Amsterdam or St. Eustatia, for the purpose of paying Interest—a little of this would have a great Effect.
I ought not to conclude without repeating my Opinion, that a Commission to some Gentleman of Minister Plenipotentiary is absolutely necessary.
I have the Honour to be, with the greatest Respect, Sir, your most obedient and most humble Servant
[signed] John Adams
RC in John Thaxter's hand (PCC, No. 84, II, f. 309–311); docketed: “No. 117 John Adams Oct 24. 1780 Recd. Jany. 29. 1781 farther account of the treatment of Mr. Laurens—and Hints of sending Produce to Holland for Payment of Interest.”
1. See Thomas Digges' letters of 3, 6, and 10 Oct. (all above).
2. Not found.
3. It is not known whether JA's plea for action regarding Laurens' captivity had any effect. But beginning on 2 March 1781, Congress considered several measures to obtain Laurens' release and on 14 June authorized Benjamin Franklin to offer Lt. Gen. John Burgoyne, on parole since his capture at Saratoga, for Henry Laurens (JCC, 19:227–228, 345; 20:620–623, 647–648). Nothing came from this proposal.

Docno: ADMS-06-10-02-0157

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Huntington, Samuel
Recipient: President of Congress
Date: 1780-10-27

To the President of Congress, No. 18

[salute] Sir

It seems to be now certain, that Some of Mr. Laurens Papers were taken with him. There have been Sent to his most Serene Highness { 307 } the Prince of orange, Copies of Letters from Mr. De Neufville, Mr. Gillon, Mr. Stockton and Col. Derrick,1 and a Copy of the Plan of a Treaty projected between the City of Amsterdam and Mr. W. Lee.
The Prince was much affected, at the Sight of those Papers, and laid them before their noble and grand Mightinesses, the States of Holland and Westfriesland. One Gentleman2 at least was present, who was concerned in the Transaction with Mr. Lee, who handsomely avowed the Measure. The Regency of Amsterdam, have Since given in Writing an unanimous Avowal of it, and of their determination to support it. The Letters of Mr. De Neufville and Mr. Gillon are Said to be decent and well guarded. So that upon the whole, it Seems to be rather a fortunate Event that these Papers, have been publickly produced.3 I wish I could Say the Same of Mr. Laurens's Captivity but I cannot. The Rigour of his Imprisonment, and the severity of their Behaviour towards him, are not at all abated.
I have the Honour to be &c.
LbC (Adams Papers). There is no copy of this letter in the PCC, nor any indication in the JCC that it was ever received.
1. The last two were Samuel Witham Stockton, who had served as William Lee's secretary (vol. 6:150), and Jacob Gerard Dircks, a Dutch volunteer in the Continental Army (Schulte Nordholt, Dutch Republic and Amer. Independence, p. 33).
2. Presumably Engelbert van Berckel; see note 3.
3. The papers seized from Henry Laurens were sent to Sir Joseph Yorke, who laid them before William V on 16 October. Chief among the documents was the treaty signed by William Lee and Jean de Neufville at Aix-laChappelle on 4 Sept. 1778 (vol. 7:5–6, 64–65; Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev., 2:789–798). Since Lee had no powers from Congress to negotiate and Neufville acted only as Amsterdam's agent, the treaty had no official standing. From the British point of view, however, it was a perfect pretext for war if the Dutch did not immediately comply with British demands. William V, agreeing with the British and outraged that Amsterdam would take such a provocative step, demanded an explanation from Egbert de Vrij Temminck, Burgomaster of Amsterdam. When Temminck failed to reply to the Prince's satisfaction, William V submitted the documents to both the Provincial States of Holland and the States General on 20 Oct. (Schulte Nordholt, Dutch Republic and Amer. Independence, p. 148–150; Edler, Dutch Republic and the American Revolution, p. 152–155).
A printed copy of the documents, in English and Dutch, submitted to the States General entitled Papieren Zyn Hoogheid ter Vergadering van hun Ed. Groot Mog. op den 20 October 1780 overgegeeven is in the Adams Papers, but see also the first volume of John Almon's Remembrancer for 1781 (p. 37–48), which purports to include all of the documents that Yorke was ordered to submit, including letters of 8 April and 6 Sept. 1778 from Joan Derk van der Capellen tot den Pol to Henry Laurens. Included in the Dutch publication was the text of the draft treaty and letters, clearly indicating Amsterdam's role in the negotiation, from Jean de Neufville to Samuel Stockton of 28 July 1779; Samuel Stockton to John Witherspoon of 14 April 1779; Jacob Gerard Dircks to Henry Laurens of 13 Dec. 1779; and Alexander Gillon to John Rutledge of 1 March 1780. JA was mentioned in Stockton's letter of 14 April 1779, which noted that JA was to carry the letter on his return to America in 1779; and in Gillon's letter of 1 March 1780, which referred to his unsuccessful effort in Feb. 1780 to elicit JA's help in obtaining ships for the South Carolina navy (vol. 8:321–327, 343–344).
Amsterdam responded to the demands for an explanation on 25 October. The city admit• { 308 } ted its role in the negotiation of the Lee-Neufville treaty, but argued that it was only a proposal, intended to prepare the way for the Netherlands to form a commercial relationship with the United States when and if it became independent. This was essentially the same position taken by Engelbert van Berckel, the principal advocate for the treaty among the Amsterdam leadership, in his letter to the Commissioners of 23 Sept. 1778 (vol. 7:65–66). A printed copy of Amsterdam's reply, entitled Missive van Heeren Burgemeesteren en Regeerders der Stad Amsterdam, . . ., together with an English translation in the hand of Herman Le Roy, is in the Adams Papers.
Both the Papieren and the Missive were filmed at 20 Oct. 1780, Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 353. The position taken by Amsterdam was clearly unsatisfactory to Great Britain as is evident from the memorial presented to the States General by Sir Joseph Yorke on 10 Nov. (to the president of Congress, 16 Nov., No. 20, below).
Although JA, in this letter and others in November and December, indicates that the disclosure of the Lee-Neufville treaty by the submission and later publication of the documents was “a fortunate Event,” his judgment was more muted in 1809, when he published this letter in the Boston Patriot. There he wrote that “although Mr. Vanberkel, with all that honor, integrity and fortitude which marked his character through the whole course of his life, frankly avowed the measure [the Lee-Neufville treaty], and although the regency of Amsterdam resolved to support it, yet it is certain, the discovery of it spread an universal consternation throughout the seven Provinces. I do not remember to have found one person who pretended to see the wisdom of it, though no man doubted the purity of the design. . . . I have always believed that the regency was importuned into this measure by Mr. De Neufville, who was then a very busy and a very popular man upon the Exchange of Amsterdam” (JA, Corr. in the Boston Patriot, p. 261–262).
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2018.