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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 13

Docno: ADMS-06-13-02-0257

Author: Dana, Francis
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1782-10-26

From Francis Dana

(Secret and confidential)

[salute] My Dear Sir

Soon after my arrival here I intimated to you that I had discovered something which I thought a clew to account for the advice given me by a certain person, and which you and I then were of opinion, was calculated to throw an obstruction in my way, and of course that I ought not to follow it.2 I told you I wou'd communicate it to you by the first good opportunity. None has offered till now. Here then you have it. In the project of a Treaty of Commerce which ||France|| had proposed to ||the Empress|| there is an article to this effect. When the Subjects of ||France|| shall carry in their own vessels, goods, wares, or merchandises, of the growth, produce, or { 548 } manufacture of ||France||, into the dominions of ||the Empress|| and shall receive in exchange for them, goods, wares, and merchandises, of the growth, production, or manufacture of ||the Empress|| that in such cases, there shall be a drawback of the Duties both of Importation and of Exportation paid by the Subjects of ||France|| upon all such articles imported, or received in exchange by them as aforesaid.
Now in order to induce ||the Empress|| to grant this most advantageous privilege to ||France||||France|| alleges that it will be for the interest of ||the Empress|| to do it; because ||France|| will have a demand for great quantities of the Commodities of ||the Empress|| which she will nevertheless not be under a necessity of purchasing of ||the Empress||after the war; for these reasons, that she can then obtain the same from ||America|| and altho' perhaps not at so cheap a rate, yet it will be for her interest, if||the Empress||shall refuse to grant this priviledge, to pay ||America|| from 15 to 20. pr: Cent: more for the same articles, as by taking those articles from ||America||||France|| wou'd enable her to take off a greater quantity of the commodities of ||France|| and the more easily to discharge the debts she may contract for them in ||France||.
The foregoing project, and the reasons urged in support of it were somewhat more detailed than I have given them to you above. As I cou'd not obtain a copy of them, I read them over with care, and in the time of it, reduced them to writing from my memory. The above is a copy of that memorandum and I believe I have not made any material mistake in it. Hemp, the article of which ||the Empress|| is most jealous of a Rivalry, is particularly mention'd by ||France||. Thus I found both Friends and Foes working against us here for their own private purposes; if to support and maintain a Rivalry between the two Countries can be said to be working against our Interests. However different their views may be, the effect is the same and equally prejudicial to us let it proceed from whom it may; and this junction in their systems rendered my task of clearing away such errors, much more difficult. The immense profit which ||France|| wou'd derive from such a priviledge must have made her consider it as an object of great consequence to herself. She cou'd not therefore wish to open any communication, which might possibly bring on an eclaireissement that wou'd render her project abortive. Is it unnatural to suppose that the pendency of such a negotiation might have been a sufficient ground for the advice above alluded to, or for others to prevent my forming any connections { 549 } | view { 550 } with persons in Government here? I view it indeed in this light, but perhaps I may view it with too suspicious an eye. It has had no tendency to convince me that it is an erroneous principle in our policy. That we ought to take care of our own Interests in Foreign Courts. This is in some places an unfashionable if not an unpardonable sentiment. Shou'd you think proper to write me upon this subject, I must beg you to do it in so disguised a manner as cannot be penetrated. For I have good reasons to apprehend that it is next to impossible to avoid a detection of my correspondence thro' the posts. I this day received a second letter which had been opened at the office, from Paris. They will open every letter bro't by their post, to discover any correspondence they wish to discover, without the least hesitation. For this reason I desire you wou'd never send me a copy of any dispatches you may know I have received, but instead of it, to give me notice when you receive any such, and I will write you what to do with them. By this same opportunity you will receive a letter for Mr: L——.3 Please to open it, read it, and beg Mr: T. whom we may safely confide in, to be so kind as to make out two or three copies of it, and to forward them by careful hands. I am unable to do this myself at present, and I dare not send a letter of that sort by the Post. Desire Mr: T. not to put up either of them, with any of your or my other letters, but to send them unconnected with any thing which, in Case of Capture, might discover from whence they came. You will pardon the trouble I give you in these matters, and be assured I shall never be unmindful of the obligations I am under to you. Since the above one of my Bankers has called upon me, and tells me all my letters which came under cover to them directly will certainly be opened at the office—that it will be necessary therefore to send them all by the way of Riga. I am my dear Sir your much obliged Friend & obedient humble Servant
RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Letter by my Son. Secret & confidential.” Filmed at 15 Oct., Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 358. In this letter Dana used the code that he sent to JA in Sept. 1781 to encode several names, and they have been decoded from that source (vol. 11:480–481).
1. Francis Dana entrusted this letter to JQA, who departed from St. Petersburg for the Netherlands on 30 Oct. and reached The Hague on 21 April 1783 (JQA, Diary, 1:153, 174). On the following dayJQA wrote to his father, informing him of his arrival and the letter in his possession that Dana had absolutely forbidden him to send by the post (AFC, 5:130–131). Not mentioned in this letter or by JQA but presumably also carried by him on his journey was a code and cipher key dated 18 Oct. [29 Oct. N.S.] (Adams Papers; filmed with Ciphers and Cipher Keys, Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 602; see Descriptive List of Illustrations, No. Cipher, Francis Dana, 18 October 29 October N.S. 1782 54911, above). There, after a lengthy explanation of enciphering and deciphering, Dana wrote, “I do not expect you will ever write me in { 551 } cyphers, unless upon the most urgent occasions: nor shall I trouble you or myself in that way upon slight ones. 'Tis best to be armed at all points if possible. With this view alone, having a safe opportunity by your Son, I send you these Cyphers. We may occasionally make use of these for words at large, and when you receive these you will throw aside my former Cyphers.” For the code that Dana sent to JA in Sept. 1781 and which is used in this letter, see vol. 11:478–482.
2. It is impossible to identify the specific letter to which Dana refers because several written since his arrival at St. Petersburg hinted at information that he had obtained but could not communicate because he had no secure way of doing so. See, for example, his letters of 17 Dec. 1781 and 11 Jan. 1782 (vol. 12:145–148, 178–184). Presumably, given the content of this letter, the “certain person” was Vergennes, with whom Dana had had an interview before his departure for Russia. For Dana's March 1781 conversation with the foreign minister, as well as with Benjamin Franklin, and JA's comments on them and his advice to Dana regarding his mission, see vol. 11:266–270266–267, 267–270.
3. Dana's letter of 14 Oct. [25 Oct. N.S.] to Robert R. Livingston (PCC, No. 89, f. 650–656), which is printed at the former date in Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev., 5:812–814. Dana indicates in his letterbook that it went “By Mr. J: Q: Adams” (MHi: Francis Dana Letterbook, Official Letters, 1781 to 1782). JQA wrote in his letter of 22 April 1783 that Dana initially wanted him to hand deliver the letter to JA, but since then he had instructed him to give it to Duncan Ingraham, an American merchant at Amsterdam, to be forwarded to America (AFC, 5:130–131). Dana's concern over its transmission may be explained by the fact that it referred, somewhat obscurely, to the proposed Franco-Russian treaty mentioned in this letter, but also because he may have enclosed a cipher key similar to that sent to JA.
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.