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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 13

Docno: ADMS-06-13-02-0087-0002

Author: Uhl, Jean Henri David
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1782-07-01

Jean Henri David Uhl to John Adams: A Translation

[salute] Sir

It is because of the fact that your excellency, minister plenipotentiary of the united provinces of America, has displayed so many of the great qualities of his character, in view of the High Mightinesses, the States General at The Hague, that I have the confidence to ask for assistance in a very singular situation involving an American ship owner.
The Fredericdorp plantation in Suriname belongs to my wife and her family through an usufructuary bequest1 by J. F. Knoffel. The heiresses are the two daughters of the late P. L. Knoffel, finance minister for his Prussian majesty, brother of the testator, and consequently Prussian-born subjects in Berlin. The coffee crop aboard the Dutch ships was ours and was addressed in the name of the Fredericdorp plantation for our correspondent Mr. Pieter van der Meulen in Amsterdam.
It so happens often in the war that the English take Dutch ships loaded with Suriname's goods, but any goods belonging to neutral Prussian subjects on board these Dutch ships are returned by the English admiralty. The heirs of the Count de Neal in Berlin, who have several plantations in Suriname, have reclaimed and received their crops seized by the British from Dutch vessels. I am currently reclaiming 10,000 pounds of coffee from the Fredericdorp plantation in England. Recently, an English ship-owner took the ship of Captain C. G. Weis. An American took it back and sold the vessel and its cargo in Martinique. The 8,679 pounds of coffee from the Fredericdorp plantation, addressed to my correspondent van der Meulen, were on board the Dutch ship in question. The American took what is rightfully the Prussians'; the English would have returned it to them according to the European price in London or Amsterdam.2
{ 145 }
If the neutral Prussians cannot recover the goods taken by the Americans, then the mistake would be to fear the Americans, who are friends with the Dutch and with whom the Prussians trade, rather than to fear the English who are Holland's declared enemy.
The ship owner had the right to confiscate Dutch property taken back from the English by the rules of war but not the property of a neutral party. He ignored this, and being informed that the 8,679 pounds of coffee from the Fredericdorp plantation belong to the neutral Prussians, the law of nations demands that he return them. I no doubt have the right to reclaim the price of the 8,679 pounds according to the value in Amsterdam. It is a trifle for the ship owner who suddenly took 300,000 pounds of coffee from a Dutch ship and the ship itself; but what great pity and ruination for a Berlin family whose livelihood depends on the profits from a Suriname plantation!
I am certain that the united provinces of America are animated with the same spirit of love of justice and respect for the universal rights of free people as the English nation from which it descended, and that justice will be brought to the neutrals. But the difficulty in achieving this lies in not knowing the common ways in America, and that is the reason I am asking your excellency for assistance.
My correspondent and proxy for reclamations for the Fredericdorp plantation in Suriname, Mr. P. van der Meulen Dirckz in Amsterdam, will send authenticating proof to your excellency that 8,679 pounds of coffee from Fredericdorp plantation were taken from Captain Weis' ship by an American and sold in Martinique; that the Fredericdorp plantation's products belong to Knoffel's heirs, the neutral Prussian subjects in Berlin; and that the reclamation is based on fact. I ask that your excellency, being convinced of the truth of the facts and the law, grant me the favor of giving you the above attestation and of informing you in the easiest way possible so that you may recover the Amsterdam price for the 8,679 pounds of coffee in question for the Prussian neutrals, and provide us with the knowledge we lack about America.
Your excellency's character is already well known in Europe and makes me hope that you will give me this occasion to praise and recognize the love of justice in the country you represent in the case of the law of nations toward neutral Prussian subjects. I am, with the deepest respect for your excellency, sir, the very humble and very obedient servant,
[signed] Jean Henri David Uhl
Member of the Supreme German
Court of His Majesty the King of Prussia
RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mr J. H. D. Uhl. Berlin 1. Juiller 1782 ansd. 9.”
1. That is, the bequest permitted Uhl's wife and family to enjoy the profits of the plantation but did not transfer ownership to them (OED).
2. Uhl's complaint concerns the differing views of the status of neutral property. The British followed the traditional principle of the law of nations that enemy property was { 146 } subject to seizure wherever found, even on a neutral ship, while neutral property, unless it was contraband, was free or not subject to seizure wherever found, even on an enemy ship (Emerich de Vattel, The Law of Nations or the Principals of Natural Law, bk. 3, ch. 7, § 115–116). Thus when a British warship or privateer found Prussian merchandise on a Dutch ship, that property would be counted free and returned to the owner. The United States and France followed the alternative principle that free ships made free goods, which provided that all, even neutral, property was subject to seizure on an enemy ship and that all, even enemy, property was free on a neutral ship so long as it was not contraband (Miller, Treaties, 2:20–21). In the case cited by Uhl, the Dutch vessel recaptured from the English had apparently been judged to have been long enough in the hands of its British captors to have assumed the character of an enemy ship and thus all of its cargo was good prize. Nothing further is known about Uhl's case, which was apparently never pursued in the United States, but see JA's reply of 9 July, below.

Docno: ADMS-06-13-02-0088

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Gerry, Elbridge
Date: 1782-07-02

To Elbridge Gerry

[salute] Dear sir

Well! how do you find yourself, after a little Repose? Are you married? or making Fortune in Trade? or Still buried in Politicks, and publick Good? I am in a longing Condition for your Letters, because they used to give me, the most comprehensive Ideas of affairs. You ought to remember me, for it was you, who sent me abroad in quest of Adventures,1 which have ruined me de fond en comble2—I am worn out and broken to Pieces—but can still laugh at the Folly, and ill Nature of the World.
I can tell you no News. The Mynheers have received us, with open Arms at last. If They should not do much for Us, they have increased our Reputation, and they have bound themselves to do nothing against Us, which is a great Point gained. The open, publick Manner in which all has been conducted, redounds much to our Honour.
The News, must be divided into that which respects War, and that which respects Peace. The War in Europe is wholly maritime. The combined Fleet Sailed from Cadiz, the 4. June, and has not been heard of Since.3 It is expected in the Channell, to be joined by the Dutch and by other French ships from Brest. But some begin to suspect, that Cordova is gone to Jamaica or New York. If they come to the Channell the English cannot meet them—they must skulk into Torbay &c certain little Intrigues, from certain Individuals in Russia and Denmark, make some suspect that these Powers wish to favour England, but they can do nothing.4 They all agree that the American Question is decided, but say there are so many Pretentions, against England, that she should be favord a little. Ireland has { 147 } carried Points for the present, which will be the foundation of a War between them and England hereafter.
Mr Grenville is at Paris, and after a long time has obtained Powers to treat with all the belligerent Powers, but as the English dont allow Us to be a Power, they mean to chicane, to raise the stocks, to get Money and to lull the sailers in to Tranquility, that they may press them without suspicion. I have no faith in the Success of this Negotiation for Peace, but wish I may be deceived.
What is become of the American Navy? Is it the System to let it die? This is not prescient. How does your Constitution Work and your Governors &c behave? does all play well like a good Instrument of Musick.
I hope you go to Congress again. Jackson and Lowell, I find are going, these are good Hands. But there is a Parsons that I want to go, if You and sullivan, Jackson Lowell, &c go, Mass. will be highly represented.5 We must send our best Men there. That is the great Wheel—The Governor himself, Councellors senators, Judges all ought to consider it, as honourable to go to Congress. We should be very carefull to send no mean Men there. <I wish I had the Honour to be there, nevertheless>.
I fancy, that in America, the Task will not be difficult—There are three subjects, which ought to be attended to above all Things, Finance, a Navy, and foreign affairs. These subjects are not yet generally well understood, and their immense Importance is not discerned. If We do not maintain an Independence in our foreign Politicks, if We do not avoid Frivolity, Intrigue and Chicane, and rest upon our proper Basis, Reason and Right our Posterity will have reason to regret it for Ages and forever. We shall be made the Sport. We are not and never shall be a Match for them, in Power and Magnificence Intrigues of Pleasure, Bribes and Corruption, and the moment We tolerate this Method in our Ministers, we are hurried down a torrent. Whereas it is the easiest Thing in the World to make ourselves respected, by standing upon national Interests.
In Time We shall have Courage equal to our Strength. It is worth while to go abroad, to see by what Men this World is governed—and by what Women!

[salute] Adieu, my dear Friend, remember me

RC (ICN: Herbert R. Strauss Coll.).
1. Gerry played a major role in obtaining JA's 1779 appointment to negotiate Anglo-American treaties of peace and commerce, but see in particular his 29 Sept. 1779 letter { 148 } informing JA of his selection and the circumstances by which it came about. There he wrote that “I flatter myself that You will not hesitate a Moment, at accepting the highest office of Honor and Trust, under the united States, when elected thereto by the Voice of eleven States” (vol. 8:179–184).
2. From top to bottom.
3. The combined fleet commanded by Spanish Admiral Córdoba, with a French contingent led by Guichen, was to be joined by a squadron from Brest under La Motte-Picquet in early July. Its objective was to block the mouth of the English Channel and thereby positioning itself to intercept convoys and hopefully bring the inferior British channel fleet to battle. While the presence of the combined fleet did free the Dutch fleet at Texel for operations in the North Sea, it produced few other tangible results. Early in his voyage, Córdoba captured nineteen vessels of a convoy bound to Newfoundland, but he was unable to intercept a far more valuable Jamaican convoy or force a decisive battle with the channel fleet (Dull, French Navy and Amer. Independence, p. 290–291; Mackesy, War for America, p. 478–479).
4. The intrigues emanating from Russia and Denmark stemmed partly from Charles James Fox's proposal for a settlement of the Anglo-Dutch War based on the terms of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1674, which would have placed Britain's maritime policy toward neutrals in accord with the principles of the Armed Neutrality. The proposal, first made in March and renewed in May, had no chance for success because of French opposition and Dutch recognition of the United States, but it encouraged Russia, supported by Denmark, to revive the proposal for an Austro-Russian mediation of the Anglo-French War (vol. 12:389–390). It is not surprising that JA dismissed as pointless an effort to revive the mediation in the summer of 1782 in view of the fact that he had rejected it unequivocally in conversations with Vergennes in July of 1781, for which see vol. 11:index. But Fox's proposal also was part of his effort to create a northern alliance composed of Britain, Russia, Prussia, and possibly Denmark, a diplomatic colossus that would enable Britain to obtain a favorable peace. It failed for a variety of reasons but most importantly because Russia had a secret alliance with Austria and thus could not enter into an alliance with Prussia (Scott, British Foreign Policy, p. 318–319).
5. Gerry and James Sullivan were elected to Congress in 1782 but neither attended. Jonathan Jackson and John Lowell each served for part of 1782 (Smith, Letters of Delegates, 18:xviii–xix; 19:xx). Parsons is likely Theophilus Parsons, who served with JA in the state constitutional convention of 1780 but never was elected to Congress.
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.