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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 12

Docno: ADMS-06-12-02-0221

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Franklin, Benjamin
Date: 1782-03-26

To Benjamin Franklin

[salute] Sir

One day, last Week, I recd at Amsterdam a Card from Diggs, inclosing two Letters to me from Mr David Hartley. The Card desired to see me upon Business of Importance: and the Letters from Mr Hartley contained an assurance that to his Knowledge the Bearer came from the highest Authority. I answered the Card, that in the present Situation of Affairs here and elsewhere, it was impossible for me to See any one from England without Witness, but if he was willing to see me in Presence of Mr Thaxter my Secretary and that I should communicate whatever, he should Say to me to Dr Franklin and the Comte de Vergennes, I would wait for him at home at ten o Clock, but that I had rather he should go to Paris without Seeing me and communicate what he had to Say to Dr Franklin, whose situation enabled him to consult the Court without loss of time. At ten, however he came, and told me a long story about Consultations { 351 } with Mr Pen, Mr Hartley Lord Beauchamp and at last Lord North, by whom he was finally sent, to enquire of me, if I, or any other, had Authority, to treat with Great Britain of a Truce. I answered, that I came to Europe last with full Powers to make Peace, that those Powers had been announced to the public upon my Arrival, and continued in force untill last Summer, when Congress Sent a new Commission, containing the Same Powers to five Persons, whom I named.1 That if the King of England were my father, and I the Heir apparent to his throne, I would not advise him ever to think of a Truce, because it would be but a real War under a simulated appearance of Tranquility, and would <finally> end in another open and bloody War, without doing any real good to any of the Parties.
He Said, that the Ministry would send, Some Person of Consequence over, perhaps General Conway, but they were apprehensive, that he would be ill treated or exposed. I said, that if they resolved upon such a measure, I had rather they would send immediately to Dr Franklin, because of his Situation near the French Court. But there was no doubt, if they sent any respectable Personage properly authorised, who should come to treat honourably, he would be treated with great Respect. But that if he came to me, I could give him no opinion upon any thing without consulting my Colleagues, and should reserve a Right of communicating every Thing to my Colleagues, and to our Allies.
He then Said, that his Mission was finished. That the Fact to be ascertained was Simply, that there was a Commission in Europe to treat and conclude, but that there was not one Person in G. Britain who could affirm or prove that there was such a Commission, altho it had been announced in the Gazettes.
I desired him and he promised me not to mention Mr Laurens, to the Ministry without his Consent, and without informing him that it was impossible he should Say any thing in the Business, because he knew nothing of our Instructions, because altho it was possible that his being in such a Commission might induce them to release him, yet it was also possible, it might render them more difficult concerning his Exchange.2
The Picture he gives of the situation of Things in England, is gloomy enough for them. The Distresses of the People and the Distractions in Administration and Parliament, are such as may produce any Effect, almost that can be imagined.
The only Use of all this I think is, to Strike dicisive Strokes at New York and Charlestown. There is no Position so advantageous { 352 } for Negotiation, as when We have all an Ennemies Armies Prisoners. I must beg the favour of you, Sir, to send me, by one of the C de Vergennes’s Couriers to the Duc de la Vauguion, a Copy in Letters of our Peace Instructions. I have not been able to decypher one Quarter Part of mine. Some Mistake has certainly been made.
Ten or Eleven Cities of Holland, have declared themselves in favour of American Independence, and it is expected that to day or tomorrow, this Province will take the decisive Resolution of Admitting me to an Audience. Perhaps Some of the other Provinces, may delay it for, three or four Weeks. But the Prince has declared that he has no hopes of resisting the Torrent and therefore that he shall not attempt it. The Duc de la Vauguion has acted a very friendly and honourable Part in this Business, without, however doing any ministerial Act, in it.

[salute] With great Respect, I have the Honour to be, sir, your most obedient and most humble servant

[signed] J. Adams3
RC (OClWHi:Autograph Letters of U.S. Presidents, 1782–1963).
1. In a conversation with Matthew Ridley on 20 May, JA indicated that he read his commission to Digges (MHi:Matthew Ridley Diaries).
2. For more on JA’s conversation with Digges, see letters from Digges of [26 March] and 2 April, note 1, both below; Digges to Benjamin Franklin, 22 March (Digges, Letters, p. 357–362); Henry Laurens’ memorandum, [post 18 April], below; and Matthew Ridley’s diary, 20 May (MHi:Matthew Ridley Diaries).
3. Benjamin Franklin enclosed a copy of this letter in one to Robert R. Livingston dated 30 March. Franklin wrote that the meeting between JA and Digges showed that the British “are weary of the war, and would get out of it if they knew how” (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev., 5:277).

Docno: ADMS-06-12-02-0222

Author: Digges, Thomas
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1782-03-26

From Thomas Digges

[salute] Dear Sir

I got here this day and am nearly about the hour to Embark. I find I passd Mr Laurens Jnr at Rotterdam, as some questions were askd in the Hotel Where I put up for a person answering my description, from one who was at another Hotel who did not leave His name, but answered the description of Mr Laurens.
I stopt at the Hotel Angleterre at the Hague and found that P. Wentworth had gone from thence for England rather suddenly the day before; He went from Antwerp for Brussells, and by the time Genl Faucit2 went from hence, for Brussels also, I do suppose these Heroes in different line of action and for as little purpose (I hope) met at Brussels: Faucit is going to Hannover (as was said here) and { 353 } P. W embarkd in a purposely hird boat about 2 hours ago for England.
In the matter I lately visited You upon I have informd You of every step taken as well as my motives for acting, and shall keep nothing from You relative thereto.
Since our last conversation3 I have thought much on the subject of witholding from Dr. F a letter I bore to Him from M Hartley (wch I know is partly on a publick matter in agitation between them) as well as informing the Doctr that I had been in Holland;4 and upon much consideration I think I cannot acting fairly to Dr. F either carry back Mr Hartleys letter, or explain to Him my motives for being silent when I had got so much nearer Him and had matter of much private consequence to myself to explain and clear up, either by letter or personal appearance.5 Besides others, I have two motives for writing; the first is that of forwarding a letter wch I know contains matters of business between Dr F and David Hartley and wch would be rather unjustifiable in me to carry back to England, and the other is an explanation why I donot repair to Him while now abroad on the matter relative to myself. I cannot see another road for doing either without intimating to Him the Business I went on to You: I have mentiond my first intention to visit and explain it to You and the motives I had for altering that intention and going back as quick as possible to Engld and then Set out for Paris. That You did not think the matter in the stage it then was of so much moment as to think it necessary to make it known to your Colleagues;6 that my doing it soon and in person to Dr. F would be the best mode; That all future movements must be made known to Dr. F and Mr Vergennes, and that You urgd strongly to have any future movements in the business made directly to Dr. F whose residence made it more convenient to give the Communications to the French Minister. I am sorry in doing this that I have deviated from a purpose wch I had rather fixd with You; but on much thinking I really think I have done the best; for Dr. F would certainly here I was at Amsterdam and think rather odly of me that I had turnd my back upon Him and seemingly gone from a purpose of explaining a matter to Him which my reputation is at stake for.
I beg a thousd pardons for writing thus hastily and Desultorily to You. The Packet Boat is so near sailing I have not time to read over the letter and I am rather in the midst of hurry and noise. I will write You immediately on my arrival7 and if any thing occurs wch You want done or to say to me a line under cover to Mr Stockdale { 354 } Bookseller Piccadilly London will get safe to Sir your very Obedient Hum Servant
[signed] T Digges
RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mr Diggs. from Helvoet as I Suppose.”
1. The location and date are derived from Digges’ second letter of this date written from Ostend (Adams Papers), in which he refers to his earlier letter to JA and introduces Jacob Sarley of New York, a partner in a mercantile house in Leeds.
2. In 1782 Maj. Gen. Sir William Fawcett was the most influential officer in the British army, but for the war in America his chief importance was as the principal British negotiator of agreements with the various German states to supply troops (DNB; see also vol. 9:64).
3. According to Digges he met with JA on 21 and 22 March. See Digges to Benjamin Franklin, 22 March (Digges, Letters, p. 357–362).
4. Hartley sent two letters to Franklin, dated 11 and 12 March respectively, under the care of Digges (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev., 5:290). Both touched directly on the possibility of opening Anglo-American peace negotiations. The first announced Digges’ mission. The second letter centered on the questions of how, when, and with whom negotiations would be undertaken. Hartley indicated that he discussed the matter with Henry Laurens, but that Laurens was wholly ignorant of his appointment to the peace commission. Hartley also wrote that he had “been informed that some gentlemen in this country (not in administration) have lately entered into a correspondence with Mr. Adams, relating to his commission of treating for peace” (same, 5:237). There are no extant letters between JA and anyone in England on the subject of peace negotiations, nor is there any mention of such correspondence in JA’s papers.
5. Digges’ apprehension about visiting Benjamin Franklin at Paris was justified. Franklin believed Digges had embezzled funds that he had supplied to assist American prisoners in England (Catherine M. Prelinger, “Benjamin Franklin and the American Prisoners of War in England during the American Revolution,”WMQ, 3d ser., 32:261–294 [April 1975]).
6. In view of JA’s complete account of his conversation with Digges in his letter of 26 March to Benjamin Franklin, above, Digges’ statement seems strange. But the fact that JA took four days to send his account to Franklin may lend it some credence. If JA initially did not think it necessary to inform Franklin of his discussion with Digges, it may have been because there was nothing new to tell. The matters about which Digges inquired were already more or less part of the public record and nothing that JA said to Digges was at variance with what he had already written to Franklin.
7. Of 2 April, below.
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, 2017.