Papers of John Adams, volume 7

To Arthur Lee, 10 October 1778 JA Lee, Arthur


To Arthur Lee, 10 October 1778 Adams, John Lee, Arthur
To Arthur Lee
Dear Sir Passy Octr 10. 1778

I have sometimes complained, that having no Place appointed for the public Papers, nor any Person to keep them in order, was an Inconvenience and Interruption to the public Business; I have added, that to have the Papers in my Chamber, as they are in disorder, and many Persons going to them at Pleasure, taking out Some, and removing others, was unequal upon me, as making me in a Sort responsible for the order, which I could not preserve, and for Papers themselves which I could not secure: Besides that it occasioned continual Applications to me alone, and necessitated me, to Spend a great Part of my Time, in writing orders, Notes of Hand, Copies of Letters, Passports, and twenty other Things, which ought at all Times to be written by our Clerks; at least as long as it is thought necessary to put the public to the Expence, of keeping so many.

I have not asked Dr. Franklins opinion concerning your Proposal of a Room in your House, for the Papers, and an Hour to meet there; because I knew it would be in vain: for I think it must appear to him as it does to me, more unequal still. It cannot be expected that two should go to one, when it is as easy again for one to go to two: not to mention Dr. Franklins Age, his Rank in the Commission, or his Character in the World: nor that nine tenths of the public Letters, are constantly brought to this House, and will ever be carried where Dr. Franklin is.

I will venture to make a Proposition in my Turn in which I am very 127Sincere. It is, that you would join Familys with Us. There is Room enough in this House to accommodate Us all. You shall take the Appartments which belong to me at present, and I will content myself with the Library Room and the next to it. Appoint a Room for Business, any that you please, mine or another. A Person to keep the Papers, and certain Hours to do Business.

This Arrangement will save a large sum of Money to the Public, and as it would give us a Thousand Opportunities of conversing together1 which now We have not, and by having but one Place for our Countrymen and others to go to, who have occasion to visit Us, would greatly facilitate the public Business. It would remove the Reproach We lye under, of which I conf ess myself very much ashamed, of not being able to agree together, and will render the Commission more respectable, if not in itself, yet in the Eyes of the English the French and the American Nations,2 and I am Sure, if we judge by the Letters We receive, it wants to be made more respectable, at least in the Eyes of many Persons of the Latter.

If it is any objection to this, that We live here, at no Rent, I will agree with you in fixing the Rent or leave the House.

As I Suppose the Proposal I made of appointing Mr. W. T. Franklin to take the Care of the Papers, occasioned your Letter of the sixth Instant, I cannot conclude this Answer to it, without repeating that Proposal. This Appointment can be but temporary, as a secretary will probably arrive from Congress, e'er long.

But in the mean Time Mr. Franklin, who keeps Papers in good order, and writes very well, may be of more service to Us than he is at present. We shall then have a Right to call upon him to do Business, and We shall know what situation he is in, and what reward he is to have.

I3 agree perfectly with you, that an Hour should be fixed for Business and I beg Leave to propose Nine O Clock in the Morning, to which Hour and from thence to any other Hour in the Day, you please, I will endeavour to be punctual. If you have any Objection to this Hour, you will be so good as to name another. I am, dear sir, with an earnest Desire and a Settled4 Determination to cultivate an Harmony, nay more a Friendship,5 with both my Colleagues,6 as far as I can consistently with the public service, and with great Respect and Esteem, your Friend and Colleague

John Adams

RC (Adams Papers). LbC (Adams Papers). Where damage to the right margin has resulted in the loss of letters and words, these have been supplied from the Letterbook and are placed in brackets. This was one of 128twelve letters written by JA, from this date through 6 Sept. 1785, that were sent to JQA by Richard Henry Lee, Arthur Lee's grandnephew, who had used them in preparing his Life of Arthur Lee, LL.D. (2 vols., Boston, 1829). JQA received the letters, and an additional one from Arthur Lee to JA written in 1788, in 1827 and 1828. In April 1837, as JQA was organizing his papers, he reread them and was deeply affected by the memories they evoked. In his Diary he wrote: “I now read them all, and they took me back a full half century, and more; even to the days of my boyhood. The Letters written at different times mark each the feelings and the interests of a different epoch.” JQA, then nearly seventy, continued: “there is a character of romantic wildness about the memory of my travels in Europe, from 1778 to 1785, which gives to it a tinge, as if it was the recollection of something in another world. Life was new—everything was surprizing—everything carried with it a deep interest” (JQA, Diary, 26 April 1837, Memoirs, 9:352–353).


In the Letterbook copy this word was followed by “upon the pub,” which has been canceled.


In the Letterbook this passage, from the preceding comma, reads: “yet in the Eyes both of the English Nation the French Nation, and above all the American Nation.”


In the Letterbook this paragraph began: “But whether you approve of these Ideas, or not.”


In the Letterbook JA substituted “Settled” for “fixed.”


In the Letterbook “Friendship” was originally followed by “between,” which was canceled.


In the Letterbook the following ten words were interlined for insertion. In that passage “my duty” originally followed “consistent with,” but was canceled.

The Commissioners to C. W. F. Dumas, 10 October 1778 Franklin, Benjamin Lee, Arthur JA First Joint Commission at Paris Dumas, Charles William Frederic


The Commissioners to C. W. F. Dumas, 10 October 1778 Franklin, Benjamin Lee, Arthur Adams, John First Joint Commission at Paris Dumas, Charles William Frederic
The Commissioners to C. W. F. Dumas
Sir Passy, Oct. 10, 1778

We have received yours of the 2d Instant, with the Declaration sign'd by Mr. Van Berikel, and his explanatory Letter to you,1 which give us much Pleasure, as they show the good Disposition of that respectable Body, the Burgomasters of Amsterdam towards the United States of America, and their Willingness, as far as may depend on them, to promote, between the Republick of the United States Low Countries in Europe and the said States, “a Treaty of perpetual Amity containing reciprocal Advantages with respect to Commerce between the Subjects of the two Nations.” As that Body must be better acquainted than we with the Methods of doing public Business in their Country, and appear to be of Opinion that some previous Steps can be taken by them which may faciliate and expedite so good a Work, when Circumstances shall permit its coming under the Consideration of their HH. MM. we rely on their Judgement, and hereby request they should take those Steps, as explain'd in M. Van Berikel's Letter. And they may2 be assured that such a Treaty will be very agreable to as is above described would at this time meet with no obstacle on the Part 129of the United States of America, who have great Esteem and Respect for your Nation; and that nothing will be wanting on our Part to accomplish the End proposed. We would only remark, that the Mentioning it in the Declaration as a Thing necessary to precede the Conclusion of such a Treaty that American Independence should be acknowledged by the English, is not understood by us, who conceive there is no more Occassion for such an Acknowledgement before a Treaty with Holland, than there was before our Treaty with France. And we apprehend that if that Acknowledgement were really necessary,3 or waited for, England would probably might endeavour to make an Advantage of it in the future Treaty of Pacification, to obtain for it some Privileges in Commerce, perhaps exclusive of Holland. We wish therefore that Idea to be laid aside, and that no farther Mention may be made to us of England in this Business.

We are, Sir, Your most obedient humble Servants.4

Dft (ViU: Lee Papers); docketed by Benjamin Franklin: “Rough to M Dumas Treaty”; in another hand: “The Commrs. to M. Dumas Oct. 16th. 1778.” This mis-dating is due to the fact that at first glance the date can be read as 16. However, Arthur Lee's uncorrected copy of the draft in his Letterbook (PCC, No. 102, IV, f. 75–76) was dated the 10th; Dumas refers in his letter of 27 Oct. (below) to the recipient's copy (not found) as being of the 10th; and Arthur Lee's notation is dated 13 Oct. (see note 4). The marginal notes by Franklin and Lee (see notes 2 and 3) indicate that the draft was done at Passy and sent to Lee, who returned it with his suggestions. All alterations in the draft are in Franklin's hand. The text is worn at the right margin and on the fold in the center.


For the declaration, as well as an extract from van Berckel's letter to Dumas, see van Berckel to the Commissioners, 23 Sept., and note 2 (above).


At this point, immediately before “be,” at the beginning of a line, Lee inserted an “X” and, in the left margin of the first page, wrote: “M. Vanberkle's Letter proposes to have the commercial Treaty with France examined and accommodated to our present object, by some Merchants of Amsterdam. I submit therefore whether we can with propriety assure them that such a treaty would be agreable before we have seen it; and whether it woud be better to say—They may be assured that a treaty founded upon the principles of reciprocity and fair intercourse woud at this time meet with no obstacle on the part of the United States. I put in, at this time, to leave room for them to apprehend that if delayd it may meet with obstacles. A. Lee.”

Responding to Lee's comments, Benjamin Franklin noted in the top margin of the first page: “The Remark in the Margin is not founded; the Words such a Treaty evidently refer to the foregoing Description of the Treaty, which is taken from the Burgomasters own Declaration. B F.” Lee may also have underlined the passage, including the portion that was deleted, beginning with “be” and ending with “States.” The sixteen words beginning with “as is above described” and ending with “on the part of” were later interlined for insertion. The underscore under “the United States” was erased.


Immediately after “necessary” Lee inserted an “a” and, in the left margin of the draft's second page, noted: “Or waited for, England &c. It seems to me that this apprehension cannot be pressed upon them too often, or too much; and there-130fore I wou'd propose to add the above, and leave out probably which weakens the argument. A. Lee.” Lee's proposed insertion, as well as “might” as a substitute for “would probably,” were interlined.


After the alterations suggested by Lee had been inserted and the recipient's copy prepared, the revised draft was returned to Lee. Immediately below the comment quoted in note 3 he wrote: “Chaillot. Oct. 13th. 1778. I cannot help repeating my opinion that a personal interview to state and urge the Arguments for an immediate conclusion woud succeed; and that such a treaty woud prevent our Enemies from venturing upon another campaign. A. Lee.” In view of the political situation in the Netherlands and van Berckel's letters to the Commissioners and Dumas of 23 Sept., Lee's proposal had no chance of succeeding and such an initiative was never attempted, but see Dumas' letter of 30 Oct., note 4 (below).