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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 11


Docno: ADMS-06-11-02-0324

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: President of Congress
Recipient: McKean, Thomas
Date: 1781-08-03

To the President of Congress

[salute] Sir

I have the honor to inclose Copies of some Papers which passed between the Comte de Vergennes and me, lately at Paris.1 The Conjecture, that the British Court would insist upon their two Preliminaries, is become more probable by the publication of the King's Speech at the Prorogation of Parliament.2
“The Zeal and Ardor which You have shewn for the Honor of my Crown,” says the King; “your firm and steady support of a just Cause, and the great efforts You have made to enable me to surmount all the difficulties of this extensive and complicated War, must convince the World, that the ancient Spirit of the British Nation is not abated or diminished.”
“While I lament the continuance of the present Troubles, and the Extension of the War, I have the conscious satisfaction to reflect that the constant aim of all my Councils has been to bring back my deluded subjects in America to the happiness and liberty they formerly enjoyed, and to see the tranquility of Europe restored.”
“To defend the dominions, and to maintain the rights of this Country, was on my part the sole Cause and is the Object of the War. Peace is the earnest wish of my heart; but I have too firm a Reliance on the spirit and resources of the Nation; the powerful Assistance of my Parliament, and the Protection of a just and all ruling Providence, to accept it upon any other terms or conditions than such as may consist with the honor and dignity of my crown, and the permanent interest and security of my people.”
We all know very well what his meaning is, when he mentions “the honor and dignity of his crown, and the permanent interest and security of his people.” Could the Minister, who composed this Speech, expect, that anybody would believe him when he said, that the constant Aim of all his Councils had been to bring back the Americans to the happiness and liberty they formerly enjoyed?
{ 437 }
The whole of this Speech is in a Strain, which leaves no room to doubt that the Cabinet of St. James's is yet resolved to persevere in the War to the last Extremity, and to insist still upon the Return of America to british Obedience, and upon the rupture of the Treaty with France, as Preliminaries to the Congress at Vienna. Thus the two Imperial Courts will find themselves trifled with by the British. It is not to be supposed that either will be the voluntary bubble of such trickish Policy. The Empress of Russia is supposed to be as sagacious as She is spirited: yet She seems to have given some attention to the pacific professions of the English. If She should see herself intentionally decieved, She will not probably be very patient. The Emperor, in his late Journey through Holland, made himself the Object of the Esteem and Admiration of all: affable and familiar, as a great Sovereign can ever allow himself to be with dignity, he gave to many Persons unequivocal Intimations of his sentiments upon public affairs. Patriotism seemed to be the object, which he wished to distinguish. Whoever espoused with zeal the honor and interest of his own Country, was sure of some mark of his Approbation: whoever appeared to countenance another Country in preference to his own, found some symptom of his dislike: even the Ladies French or Dutch, who had any of the English Modes in their Dress recieved from his Majesty some Intimation of his disapprobation of their taste. Every body here, since his departure, is confident of his entire detestation of the principles on which the English have conducted this War, and of his determination to take no part in it, in their favor. His Sentiments concerning America are inferred [from] a very singular Anecdote, which is so well attested, that it may not be improper to mention to Congress.
His Majesty condescended in a certain Company to enquire after the Minister of the United States of America to their high Mightinesses—said he was acquainted with his Name and Character, and should be glad to see him: a Lady in Company asked his Majesty if he would drink Tea with him at her House? He replied in the affirmative in the Character of the Comte of Falkenstein.3 A Lady in Company undertook to form the Party: but upon Enquiry, the American was at Paris. It is supposed with good reason that there could be nothing personal in this Curiosity, and therefore that it was intended as a political signification of a certain degree of complaisance towards America.
Thus it is, that the Words, Gestures and Countenances of Sovereigns are watched, and political Inferences drawn from them: but { 438 } there is too much Uncertainty in this Science, to depend much upon it. It seems however that the Emperor made himself so popular here, as to excite some appearance of Jealousy in Prussia.
For my own part, I think that the greatest political stroke, which the two Imperial Courts could make, would be, upon recieving the answer from England adhering to their Preliminaries, immediately to declare the United States independent. It would be to their immortal honor: it would be in the Character of each of these extraordinary Genius's: it would be a blessing to Mankind: it would even be friendship to England.
I have the honor to be, with the greatest Respect, Sir, your most obedient humble Servant.
[signed] John Adams
RC in John Thaxter's hand (PCC, No. 84, III, f. 343–346); endorsed: “Letter Aug 3. 1781 Amsterdam J Adams Read Oct 3. Britain will probably insist on her two Preliminaries Conduct of the Emperor of Germany while in Holland.” LbC (Adams Papers). The RC is damaged at one point and the missing word supplied from the Letterbook.
1. Enclosures not found. Presumably JA enclosed copies of his complete correspondence with Vergennes in July.
2. JA's source for George III's speech of 18 July was likely an English newspaper; he provides a virtually verbatim transcription of the 3d, 8th, and 9th paragraphs of the speech as it appeared in the London Chronicle of 17–19 July.
3. The pseudonym Joseph II used when traveling or acting incognito (Gazette de Leyde, 13 July). A meeting between JA and Count Falkenstein would have had no official implication, particularly with regard to Austrian recognition of the U.S. as independent and sovereign.

Docno: ADMS-06-11-02-0325

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: President of Congress
Recipient: McKean, Thomas
Date: 1781-08-04

To the President of Congress

[salute] Sir

I should Scarcely be credited, if I were to describe the present State of this Country. There is more Animosity against one another, than against the common Ennemy. They can agree upon nothing. Neither upon War, nor Peace: neither upon acknowledging the Independency of America, nor upon denying it. Hopes of a general Peace, which flatter all Parties, are continually kept up by Tales and Artifices, which are too gross to impose upon any Man who has the free Use of his Reason. There is yet as much fear of provoking England, as if she was their Freind, or their Protector.
The naval force of England, is held in check, by her other Ennemies in Such a manner, that the Ships of the Republick, would be able to do a great deal, if they were employed: but they do nothing: and there is as little done, by Individuals in Privateering, as by the national Marine.
{ 439 }
They however, or Somebody for them do their full Share with the other Powers of War in writing Paragraphs in the Gazettes, in which their Forces and Efforts are exagerated.
It will be three or four Years, according to every present Appearance before this nation will get warm enough to do any Thing, and therefore Americans, I think have no ground at all to expect any Kind of Assistance or Encouragement from hence. The Dutch Officers would fight, if they had opportunity: and the English are not without Apprehensions from them, So that probably they will think themselves obliged to keep more of their Forces at home, than they would if the Dutch were not in the War. This is all the Advantage, that We shall derive.
I have taken some Pains to discover the true Motives and Causes of that Aversion, which prevails, against acknowledging American Independence,—to consider it, in the Strongest Light, even as the English themselves consider it, it is but an Hostility against an open Ennemy. The English themselves are laughing at them for their Blindness and Timidity, in not doing it. The immediate Advantages from it, in Trade, War, and Policy are obvious: The Disadvantages, no Man can see <, but a Dutchman>.
I never could get any other Answer to my Questions Why dont you acknowledge America? What Reasons have you against it? What are you afraid of? What harm could it do you? than this. We are Small and weak. We have no desire to do a brillant Action. We ought to avoid coming to Extremities with England, as long as possible. We ought not to provoke England. England must See, and know that she can never prevail in America, and therefore, if We were to provoke her, She will withdraw her Fleets and Armies from thence, fall upon this Republick and tear it to Pieces. This is So weak, that it is impossible, they should be in Earnest. There must be Some other View. None of them will avow it: but I take the Secret to be, they think they may be brought low by the English, and in such Case they might be able to purchase Peace by the Sacrifice of America. In this they are deceived again: but if they were not, there is a baseness of Soul in it that would disgrace Shylock the Jew. Thanks be to God it is <neither> not in <the> their Power <of Jews or Dutchmen> to Sacrifice America.
In Short the Nation has no Confidence left in its own Wisdom, Courage, Virtue or Power. It has no Esteem nor Passion, nor desire for either. It loves and Seeks Wealth and that alone. The depravation of the human heart, is more Striking and Shocking in this nation { 440 } than it is, in France, or even England, because there is preserved more of an external show of Regularity, Morals and Religion which adds the odium of Hypocrisy, to that of Profligacy, and Corruption. Before I came to this Country I hoped it was not so bad as Some others: but I have learned enough to convince me, that although external Appearances differ somewhat, the Corruption of the Heart, and the debasement of the Understanding is very nearly equal in all the nations of Europe, and therefore that America can never be too much upon her Guard against them all.
I have the Honour to be
LbC (Adams Papers); notation: “not Sent.”
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/