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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 11

Docno: ADMS-06-11-02-0313

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: President of Congress
Recipient: McKean, Thomas
Date: 1781-07-15

To the President of Congress


[salute] Sir

I have the honour to inclose Copy of a Letter to the Comte de Vergennes and of certain Articles and their Answers.2
The British Court proposed to the Imperial Courts a Congress upon two preliminary Conditions, the Rupture of the Treaty with France, and the Return of America to their Obedience. The two Imperial Courts have since proposed the inclosed Articles. Spain and France have prepared their Answers. England has not answered yet,3 and no Ministers are yet commissioned or appointed by any Power. If She accepts the terms, I should not scruple to accept them too, excepting the Armistice and Statu quo: but I mean I should not insist upon a previous explicit Acknowledgment of the Sovereignty of the United States, before I went to Vienna. I see nothing inconsistent with the Character or Dignity of the United States, in their Minister going to Vienna at the same time4 when Ministers from the other Powers are there, and entering into Treaty with a British Minister, without any Acknowledgment explicitly of our Independence before the Conclusion of the Treaty. The very Existence of such a Congress would be of use to our Reputation: but I cannot yet believe that Britain will wave her Preliminaries. She will still insist upon the Dissolution of the Treaty, and upon the Return of the Americans under their Government. This however will do no honor to her Moderation and pacific sentiments, in the opinion of the Powers of Europe.
Something may grow out of these Negotiations in time; but it will probably be several Years before any thing can be done. Americans only can quicken these Negotiations by decisive strokes. No depredations upon their trade, no conquests of their possessions in the East or West Indies will have any effect upon the English to induce them to make Peace, while they see they have an Army in the United States, and can flatter themselves with the hope of conquering or regaining America; because they think that with America under their Government, they can easily regain whatever they may lose now in any part of the World.
Whereas the total Expulsion or Captivity of their Forces in the United States would extinguish their hopes, and persuade them to Peace, sooner than the loss of every thing else. The belligerent Powers { 420 } and the Neutral Powers may flatter themselves with the hopes of a Restoration of Peace, but they will all be disappointed, while the English have a Soldier in America. It is amazing to me that France and Spain do not see it, and direct their forces accordingly.
I have the honor to be, with the greatest Respect, Sir, your most obedient and most humble Servant.
[signed] J. Adams
RC in John Thaxter's hand (PCC, Misc. Papers, Reel No. 1, f. 408–410); endorsed: “Paris Letter July 15. 1781 J. Adams. Read Octr. 3. Two Preliminary Articles proposed by Britain”; in another hand: “John Adams July 15. 1781.” A second copy of this letter (PCC, No. 84, III, f. 315–318), written by JA at Paris, reached Congress on 1 March 1782.
1. This word is in JA's hand.
2. See JA's letter of 13 July to Vergennes, above. The enclosures, however, have not been found with this letter in the PCC.
3. Unknown to JA, Britain had rejected the Austro-Russian proposals on 15 June. In its response to the mediation proposals, the British government declared that “on every occasion since the commencement of the war with France whenever there has been a question of negotiation, the King has constantly declared that he could never admit in any manner, nor under any form whatsoever, any interference between foreign powers and his rebellious subjects.” Moreover, “the King would derogate from his rights of Sovereignty should he in any wise consent to admit to his Congress any person whatever delegated by his rebellious subjects, this admission being absolutely incompatible with their quality of subjects. For this same reason, the conciliatory measures employed to put an end to the rebellion ought not to be intermixed either in their commencement, or conclusion, with a negotiation between sovereign states” (PCC, No. 59, II, f. 205–209).
4. Thaxter omitted this word in copying.

Docno: ADMS-06-11-02-0314

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Vergennes, Charles Gravier, Comte de
Date: 1781-07-16

To the Comte de Vergennes

[salute] Sir

Since my Letter of the thirteenth, upon further Reflection I have thought it necessary to explain myself a little more particularly in some Points to your Excellency.
If I comprehend the Facts, the British Court first proposed to the Imperial Courts, a Congress, and a Mediation, upon two Conditions
1. The Dissolution of the Treaties between France and the United States.
2. The Return of the Americans, under the British Government.
In Consequence of this Proposal from St. James's, the two Imperial Courts have made a Proposition of the Articles, which were Shewn to me, to the Courts of France, Spain and England, neither of whom, has as yet given an Answer. Their Imperial Majesties have omitted the two Conditions, which the British Court insisted on, as Preliminaries, and mean to admit a Representative of the United States to the Congress, to negotiate Seperately, with the British Minister, { 421 } without ascertaining the Title or Character of the American Representative, untill the two Pacifications Shall be accomplished.
In my own mind, I am very apprehensive, though I devoutly wish I may be mistaken, that the British Court in their Answer to the Articles, will adhere to their two Preliminaries. If they Should there is an End of all Thoughts of a Mediation, or a Congress.1
It is very convenient for the English to hold up to public View, the Idea of Peace: it serves to relieve their Credit, at certain times, when it is in distress; and to disconcert the Projects of the neutral Powers, to their disadvantage. It enables their Friends in the United Provinces to keep the Dutch Nation in that State of Division, Sloth and Inactivity, from which they derive So much Plunder, with so much Safety:2 and it answers many other of the[ir] Purposes. But I cannot perswade myself, that they will Soberly think of Peace, while they have any military Force in the United States, and can preserve a Gleam of hope of conquering, or regaining America. While this hope remains, no depredations on their Commerce, no loss of Dominion in the East or West Indies, will induce them to make Peace: because they think, that with America reunited to them, they could easily regain whatever they may now loose. This opinion of theirs may be extravagant and enthusiastical and they would not find it easy to recover their Losses: but they certainly entertain it, and while it continues, I fear they will not make Peace.
Yet, it seems they have negotiated themselves into a delicate Situation. If they Should obstinately adhere to their two Preliminaries, against the Advice of the two Imperial Courts, this might Seriously affect their Reputation if they have any, for moderation and pacifick dispositions, not only in those Courts, but in all the Courts, and Countries of Europe, and they would not easily answer it to their own Subjects who are weary of the War.
Peace is so desireable an Object, that Humanity, as well as Policy, demand of every nation at War, a Serious Attention to every Proposition, which Seems to have a tendency to it, although there may be grounds to Suspect, that the first Proposer of it, were not Sincere.
I think that no Power can judge the United States unreasonable, in not agreeing to the Statu quo, or the Armistice. But, perhaps I have not been Sufficiently explicit, upon another Point. The Proposal of a Separate Treaty between the British Minister, and the Representative of the United States, seems to be a benevolent Invention to avoid Several Difficulties; among others 1. That England may be allowed to Save her national Pride, by thinking and Saying that the { 422 } Independence of America was agreed to voluntarily, and was not dictated to her by France, or Spain. 2. To avoid the previous Acknowledgment of American Independance, and the previous Ascertaining of the Title and Character of the American Representative, which the Imperial Courts may think would be a Partiality, inconsistent with the Character of Mediators, and even of Neuters, especially as England has uniformly considered, any such Step as an Hostility against them, 'tho I know not upon what Law of Nations or of Reason.
I cannot See, that the United States, would make any Concession, or Submit to any Indignity, or do any Thing inconsistent with their Character, if their Minister should appear at Vienna, or elsewhere, with the Ministers of other Powers, and conduct any negotiation, with a British Minister, without having the Independance of the United States, or his own Title and Character, acknowledged or ascertained, by any other Power, except France, untill the Pacification Should be concluded. I dont perceive that America would loose any Thing by this, any more than by having a Minister in any Part of Europe, with his Character unacknowledged, by all the Powers of Europe. In order to remove every Embarrassment therefore as much as possible, if your Excellency should be of the same opinion and advise me to it, I would withdraw every Objection to the Congress on the Part of the United States, and decline nothing, but the Statu quo and the Armistice against which Such Reasons might be given, as I think must convince, all Men that the United States, are bound to refuse them. If your Excellency Should think it necessary for me, to assign these Reasons particularly, I will attempt some of them: but it is Sufficient for me to Say to your Excellency, that my positive Instructions forbid me, to agree, either to the Armistice or Statu quo.
I have the Honour to be, with the greatest Respect, Sir, your most obedient and most humble Servant.
[signed] J. Adams
RC (Arch. Aff. Etr., Paris, Corr. Pol., E.-U., vol. 17:411–412). LbC (Adams Papers).
1. This sentence does not appear in the Letterbook.
2. The remainder of this sentence does not appear in the Letterbook.
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.