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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 10


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.

Docno: ADMS-06-10-02-0250

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

To the President of Congress, No. 30

[salute] Sir

It is very difficult to discover, with Certainty the secret springs which actuate the Courts of Europe, but whatever I can find with any degree of Probability, I Shall transmit to Congress, at one Time or another.
The Prince of Orange is himself of the Royal Family of England: his Mother was a Daughter of King George the Second, and this { 436 } Relation is no doubt one, among the Several Motives, which attach the statholder to England.
His Princess, is a Niece of the King of Prussia, and it is believed is not perfectly agreed with his most Serene Highness, in his Enthusiasm for the English Court. The King of Prussia has a great Esteem and Affection for his Niece with whom he frequently corresponds. In Some of his Letters he is Supposed to have expressed his sentiments freely, upon the Princes Conduct, intimating that his Highness would take too much upon himself, and make himself, too responsible, if he persevered in a resolute opposition to the Armed Neutrality.
The Empress of Russia, who possesses a masterly Understanding, and a decided Inclination for America, is thought too, to have expressed Some Uneasiness, at the Princes political system.
The King of Sweeden, who was lately at the Hague, is reported to have had free Conversation, with the Prince upon the Same Subject.
All these Intimations together, are believed to have made his most serene Highness, hesitate a little, and consider, whether he was not acting too dangerous a Part, in exerting all his Influence in the Republick, to induce it to take a Part, in opposition to the general sense and Inclination of the People, and to all the maritime Powers of Europe.
The English Court is undoubtedly informed of all this. They dread the Accession of the Dutch to the Armed Neutrality more, than all the other Branches of that Confederation, because of the Rivalry in Commerce, and because the Dutch will assist the Royal Marines of France and Spain more than all the others. The present Conduct of the English indicates a design to go to War with the Dutch, on Pretence of an Insult to their Crown, committed two years ago, by a Treaty with America, in Hopes that they will not be Supported in this quarrel by the confederated neutral Powers. But they will be mistaken. The Artifice is too gross. The confederated Powers will easily see, that the real Cause of Offence is the Accession to the armed Neutrality, and the Conduct of Amsterdam, in projecting a Treaty with America, only a Pretence.
I have the Honour to be, with great Respect, sir, your most obedient and most humble servant
[signed] John Adams
RC (PCC, No. 84, II, f. 333–335); docketed: “Letter Decr 25. 1780 John Adams Read Novr 19. 1781;” and on the first page “N 1.” LbC (Adams Papers)
1. This is the second of the three letters of 25 Dec. in the Letterbook and is designated “No. 30.”
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, 2014.
http://www.masshist.org/apde2/