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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 10

Docno: ADMS-06-10-02-0248-0002

Author: Capellen tot den Pol, Joan Derk, Baron van der
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1780-12-24

Joan Derk van der Capellen tot den Pol to John Adams: A Translation

[salute] Sir

I should already have had the pleasure of replying in person to your esteemed letter of the 9th of this month had the cold weather allowed me to embark this past Tuesday, as I had planned. I shall take the liberty of pursuing the thread of your letter in this one.
If governor Pownall intended to alarm this republic and possibly other nations, it would have been more prudent not to publish the pamphlet in French without some antidote in the form of a note on the more dangerous passages.1 You will recall, sir, that that was my opinion when I had the honor to discuss the matter with you in Amsterdam.
In reference to the credit of America, I took the liberty in my last letter of tracing one after another all the causes that conspire to bring about its current abasement. The invasion of Georgia and South Carolina; the capture of Charleston; the loss of the Continental frigates; the defeat of Gates; the inaction of the combined fleets of Guichen and Solano; the decisive superiority of the English in the Isles and even New York; the defection of Arnold; the discontent of the army and the jealousy between it and the body politic; the still fluctuating position of Monsieur Necker and the uncertain duration of the phenomenon of a good administration in France and finally what is more than all this and which I inadvertently forgot to include in my last letter, the monstrous depreciation of American paper; depreciation that cannot but end in national bankruptcy if Congress does not find a way to preserve the paper with metal coin. These, sir, are by no means tales. They are facts that influence the nation in general; that even make the friends of America tremble, among whom I know some very enlightened gentlemen who are greatly apprehensive about the consequences of a total annihilation of the value of paper. They fear that England may seize the moment when the army for want of pay will either no longer exist or be greatly weakened; when the militia for the same reason will not be assembled in sufficient number; they fear the turmoil, disturbances, and confusion that a national bankruptcy must occasion in all classes of the people, and they tremble at { 432 } the prospect that in the end this people will tire of supporting a war that brings with it calamities of which no people has ever approved, to wit, a total absence of currency and everything that may result from such a dreadful situation. It costs less to shed one's blood for one's country than to suffer a long time in indigence for love of it. If the American people continue to find a resource against this trial in its virtue and patriotism, then surely it is a people unique in this respect as it is in so many others. Please understand, sir, that not all these worries are mine. This is how my nation envisages the affairs of America that I have described.
All credit, whether of a people or a private individual, depends solely on two things, namely, the opinion people have of the borrower's good faith and the possibility he has of keeping his commitments. As for America: the first article has never been open to doubt; but I am mortified at being unable to say the same for the second, and I can assure you, sir, that, by the nature of the case, it is only with authentic information concerning the veritable state of affairs in the New World that you will succeed in persuading the capitalists of the Old World to lend you their money. Do not expect them to lend on principle. Such generosity would surpass the limits of virtue in most men. Nevertheless, I can assure you that a vast plurality of my nation, certainly more than 4/5 parts, likes the Americans and hopes for their complete success. Being from the country, speaking its language, frequenting all classes of my fellow citizens, I am in a better position to form a correct judgment of the matter than those who are deprived of such sources of information. The only people who will never be won over are those attached to the court, but, thanks to God, they are not the only ones; they are even the least of those from whom something is to be hoped. I therefore urge you, sir, not to give your lords and masters an idea of the state of affairs in this country and especially of the thinking of its inhabitants in general, which might prove in the end unjustified by events, and occasion measures, which would more and more estrange two republics which are made for each other and which I ardently wish to see more closely united. Yours is in the midst of a violent crisis, whose outcome must as a matter of good policy be awaited before setting a course, for things may turn out well. A war with the English seems to me inevitable. If they did not seek it, they would not risk pushing us to the limit with insults, which are in no way useful to them; which no people has ever put up with, or endured as long as we have been obliged to do. It is truly a pity in these circumstances that the seizure of Monsieur Laurens' papers provided the English with a specious pretext for mistreating the republic or rather the city of Amsterdam whose ruin is desired at all cost and I fear that the influence of the court may prevent other members of the state from coming to its defense. Whatever happens, however, light may issue from darkness itself. America cannot overcome its difficulties without our money. To further its interests, therefore, one must wait patiently and shrewdly seize the propitious moment to capture those funds. Sooner or later that moment will arrive, perhaps sooner than one expects. One must take men as they are.
{ 433 }
I have received via the channel of his Excellency John Jay a letter from Governor Livingston dated 15 March. For details it refers me to the letter of Governor Trumbull (which will soon appear), besides which it contains no news, being essentially an acknowledgment of receipt of my letter. The chief difficulty we have now to struggle with (these are the words of the governor) is the depreciation of our currency; but as Congress has lately most assiduously applied to financing I hope they will discover some way to extricate us out of that perplexity.2
I believe that these paper notes would never have fallen so low; I even believe that they would have remained perfectly regular, if, with each issue, Congress had been able to impose proportional taxes, in which case the paper notes would have circulated; the state receiving them always at the just price, private individuals would not have dared or been able to refuse this wager, and these taxes would in turn have caused them [the paper notes] to return to the state treasure, which in this way would have been able to come up with the new sums needed by borrowing at interest paper notes already in circulation rather than being compelled always to issue new notes and thereby increase even more the amount of this paper. I think there is only so much money in the world. Each coin represents and as it were reproduces itself several times over, and America does not seem to me to need 200 million dollars to meet all its objectives in war and internal commerce.
I send my respects to Messrs. Searle, Gillon, Dana, and the gentleman I had the honor to see frequently at your house whose name I cannot recall; and I have the honor to be with a profound veneration, sir, in very great haste, your most humble and obedient servant.
[signed] C——n de P——l
RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “A Son Excellence John Adams Plenipotentiaire des Etats Unis de L'Amerique. Sous Couvert.”; endorsed: “The Baron Van der Capellen”; by John Thaxter: “Baron Van der Capellen 24th. Decr. 1780.” Slight damage to the text where the seal was torn away.
1. Clearly van der Capellen did not think that Jean Luzac's preface to Pensées was sufficient to allay Dutch fears of American commercial competition, although that is precisely what Luzac sought to do. See Luzac's letter of 14 Sept., and note 2 (above).
2. This is an exact quotation from Gov. William Livingston's letter to van der Capellen of 15 March 1780, but the letter from Gov. Jonathan Trumbull mentioned by Livingston has not been found (The Papers of William Livingston, ed. Carl E. Prince and others, 5 vols., New Brunswick, N.J., 1979–1988, 3:331–333).

Docno: ADMS-06-10-02-0249

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: President of Congress
Recipient: Huntington, Samuel
Date: 1780-12-25

To the President of Congress, No. 29

[salute] Sir

The Dispute between Great Britain and the United Provinces is now wrought up to a Crisis. Things must take a new Turn, in the Course of a few Days; but whether they will end in a War, or, in the Retractation of one Party or the other, Time alone can determine.
I have before transmitted to Congress, the two Memorials of Sir { 434 } Joseph York, against Mr. Van Berkel and the Burgomasters of Amsterdam.2 The Language of both is conformable to that domineering Spirit, which has actuated the Councils of St. James's, from the Beginning of this Reign, and they have committed the Honour and Dignity of the King, and engaged the Pride of the nation So far, that there is no Room left for a Retreat, without the most humiliating Mortification.
On the other Hand there is authentick Information, that the States, proceeding in their usual Forms, have determined, to refer the Conduct of Amsterdam to a Committee of Lawyers, who are to consider and Report, whether the Burgomasters have done any Thing, which they had not by Law and the Constitution, Authority to do. It is universally known and agreed, that the Report must and will be, in Favour of the Burgomasters. This Report will be accepted and confirmed by the States, and transmitted to all the neutral Courts, in order to shew them that neither the Republick in general, nor the City of Amsterdam in particular, have done any Thing, against the Spirit of the armed Neutrality. The States have also determined to make an Answer to the British Ambassadors Memorials, and to demand Satisfaction of the King his Master, for the Indignity offered to their Sovereignty, in those Memorials. In this Resolution the States have been perfectly unanimous, the Body of Nobles for the first time, having agreed with the Generality.3
The Question then is, which Power will recede. I am confidently assured, that the States will not: and indeed, if they Should, they may as well Submit to the King and Surrender their Independance, at once. I am not however, very clear what they will do. I doubt whether they have Firmness, to look a War, in the Face.
Will the English recede, if the Dutch do not? If they Should, it would be contrary to the Maxims, which have invariably governed them, during this Reign. It will humble the insolent, overbearing Pride of the nation; it will expose the Ministry to the Scoffs, and Scorn of Opposition: it will elevate the Courage of the Dutch, the Neutral Powers, and the House of Bourbon; not to mention the great Effect, it will have in America, upon Whigs and Tories—Objects which the British Court never looses Sight of.
This Republick is certainly, and has been for several Weeks, in a very violent Struggle. It has every Symptom of an Agony, that usually preceeds a great Revolution. The Streets of the City Swarm with Libels of Party against Party. Some masterly Pamphlets have been written in favour of the Burgomasters. Thousands of extravagant and { 435 } incredible Reports are made and propagated.4 Many new Songs appear among the Populace, one particularly adapted for the Amusement of the Sailors, and calculated to inspire them with proper Sentiments of Resentment towards the English. A Woman who Sung it, in the Streets, the day before Yesterday, Sold Six hundred of them, in an Hour, and in one Spot. These are Symptoms of War. But it is not easy to conquer the national Prejudices of an hundred years Standing, nor to avoid the Influence of the statholder, which is much more formidable.
In this Fermentation the People can think of nothing else, and I need not Add that I have no Chance of getting a Ducat of Money,5 but I think Congress will see the Necessity of having here, in these critical Times, more ample Powers.
I have the Honour to be with the greatest Respect, Sir, your most obedient, and most humble servant
[signed] John Adams
RC (PCC, No. 84, II, f. 337–339); docketed: “Letter Decr. 25. 1780 John Adams Read 19 Novr. 1781;” and on the first page “2”. LbC (Adams Papers).
1. This is the first of the three letters of 25 Dec. in the Letterbook and is designated “No. 29.”
2. See JA's letters of 16 Nov., No. 20, and 18 Dec., No. 27, to the president of Congress (above).
3. For the responses by the States of Holland and the States General to Sir Joseph Yorke's memorial of 10 Nov., see JA's letter of 30 Nov., No. 24, to the president of Congress, and note 1 (above). Yorke found both to be unsatisfactory, but his memorial of 12 Dec. fared no better. On 21 and 22 Dec. the States of Holland and the States General resolved only to refer the matter of the Lee-Neufville treaty to the courts of Holland, which in March 1781 acquitted van Berckel, but found Amsterdam guilty of criminal conduct (Edler, Dutch Republic and the American Revolution, p. 164, 168). By then, however, Britain and the Netherlands were at war and the decision could only justify, after the fact, Britain's ostensible reason for going to war: Amsterdam's negotiating the Lee-Neufville treaty. But the whole exercise was meaningless, for as JA well knew in December (see his second letter of this date, No. 30, below), it would not be an abortive treaty negotiated in 1778 that sparked an Anglo-Dutch war, but the Dutch decision of 20 Nov. to accede to the armed neutrality (to the president of Congress, 25 Nov., No. 22, note 2, above).
4. In the Letterbook this sentence was interlined.
5. In the Letterbook the remainder of this sentence was crowded into the limited space at the bottom of the page and marked for insertion at this point.
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.