Papers of John Adams, volume 9

To the President of Congress, No. 44

To Thomas Digges

From Thomas Digges, 14 April 1780 Digges, Thomas Church, William Singleton JA


From Thomas Digges, 14 April 1780 Digges, Thomas Church, William Singleton Adams, John
From Thomas Digges
Dear Sir 14th Apl. 1780

I am obligd to You for the Book forwarded me by Mr. L–g–n,1 but unfortunately there is a sheet wanting in the most material part of it, that of the description and powers to the Senate, from Page 16 to 25 the leaves are wanting or rather page 17 to 24 inclusive. This however is of no material consequence as the book is but the report and not the Established new Constitution of the Massachusetts. When such should get to Your hands I should be extreemly glad of it for other reasons than those of merely making myself acquainted with the Constitution of the different States of our Country.2 Monsr. Francois Bowens Negociant Ostend 3 will forward such to me or any other parcells you may have to send, and thro him I can contrive to get you any publications from hence. The way to get News Papers in the safest way is to agree for them at the Post Officers in Paris who have a means of getting them from the same office here.

A Ship from St. Kitts the 5 March brings no other accounts than that La Mothe Puquets Squadron (as it was here currently reported to be blockd up in Guadaloupe by Adl. Parker) has saild from thence and made a junction with the other Ships at Martinico, where the numbers were 14 of the line the 1st. March, so that when Monr. Guichens Squadron gets out and the other small squadron the number of French will be 36 to about 31 English.4


The W. India fleet saild the 8th. and Greaves ships after a very serious mutiny on board some of them are gone to sea (said to be for America) the 11th Instant. No Men of War was intended for that Station but those were hastily got ready in consequence of hearing a fleet was soon to go from Brest with troops on board to N. America. Most people here suppose that fleet bound to Quebec or Hallifax.5

Every day seems to produce more advocates or wishers for withdrawing the troops from America or giving up an offensive war in that Country.

A Motion was to have been made this day in the Commons relative to the State of the War in that Country and to push the Ministry for the giving up the principles of that War and to go seriously to some accomodation.6 The voice of the majority of the People are decidedly for some such accomodation, but there is no one who can devise the means by which it can be done; tho most of my parliamentary acquaintance are for giving the Independence none of them seem bold enough to stand forth and move it in the house. The time is certainly not yet arrivd when it would go down there but I do not think it very distant, and I am sure had the topic been debated to day there would have appeard a manifest disposition in the House to abandon the principles of the War in America, and it seems as if Ministry wishd to feel the pulses of the House upon that subject. A new and unexpected matter put off the whole affair; the Speaker without appearing to be very ill, stood up and declard a wish to resign from not being Able thro illness to go on with the Business of the House. It appeard as much a political as a real illness and I dare say some new movements perhaps in the Administration may be the consequence. He has not however resignd and the House is adjournd for the benefit of his health till next Monday week; perhaps it may be then too late to renew the intended motion about America or the State of the War there.7 The possession of Charles Town if but for a week or the taking two or three men of War from their Enemys may make these wise-heads think their arms invincible and that they may have some better success by prosecuting the War a little further.

There is with me a Mr. Jonathan Loring A–s–n8 who left Boston the 29th. Jany. and was taken in Zephir Packet in the Bay. He leaves me to day and will soon be nearer You; He expects some letters to your or rather Mr. Danas care by the Protector, which vessel would sail about the 1st. March.

There is a second Paul Jones alarm near the Coast of Hull. An Express has arrivd to day that four or five Ships of the Enemy have 138got to that quarter and taken 2 or 4 prizes they appear to be french frigates and the Hull people can spy very clearly the Countess of Scarborough9 (which once belongd to that port) to be one of the Squadron. I wish you every success and happiness and am with very great regard Your Obedt. Servant,

Wm. S. C.

RC (Adams Papers;) addressed: “Monsieur Monsr. Fernando Raymond San negot chez Monsr. Hocherau Pont Neuf Paris”; endorsed: “Mr. Digges”; docketed by CFA: “14 April 1780”; calculations in JA's hand, probably in livres: 7.″5 + 114.19 = 122.4 / 7.″5 + 1.16 = 9.1.


George Logan.


This was The Report of a Constitution or Form of Government for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts , Boston, 1779 (vol. 8:236–261), several copies of which JA distributed to European officials and correspondents. The missing pages noted by Digges make it likely that the first British printings of a portion of the constitution in the London Courant and the Courier de l'Europe of 18 April were derived from his copy. The pages missing from Digges' copy, 17 to 24, contained most of Chap. II, Sect. I, Art. III dealing with the General Court; all of Chap. II, Sect. II, describing the Senate; and all of Chap. II, Sect. III, Art. I and part of Art. II dealing with the House of Representatives. The portion of the constitution printed in the London Courant contained James Bowdoin's prefatory letter transmitting the Report to the constitutional convention, the Preamble, and Chap. I, the Declaration of Rights. In the Report, which is paginated from the titlepage, the Declaration of Rights ends on page 15, with the initial portions of Chap. II occupying the remainder of the page and all of the following page. In the London Courant the Declaration of Rights ends with the note: “We are in hopes in a short time to lay before our readers the whole frame of the government of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, of which the foregoing is not more than a quarter part.” It was not until early June that the missing portion of the Report was received and was printed in the London Courant of 6, 7, and 8 June; and the Courier de l'Europe of 9, 13, and 16 June. In the London Courant the text was preceded by the statement that “we have, since that time [18 April], had the good fortune to obtain a complete copy of that report.” The delay forced John Almon to use the portion printed in the London Courant of 18 April in the first volume of The Remembrancer for 1780 (p. 377–381). The remainder of the constitution appeared in the second volume of The Remembrancer for 1780, but there it was taken from the text of the constitution as ratified, not the committee report (p. 202–222).


For Francis Bowens as intermediary for packages from Digges to JA, see the letters exchanged by JA and Bowens of 5 and 12 May, respectively, and Edmé Jacques Genet's letter of 17 May (all below).


A rumor without substance, either as to the movement of La Motte Picquet or the number of vessels that would be available to each side when the French and British fleets finally met off Martinique on 17 April. See JA's letters to the president of Congress of 19 Feb., note 2, and to James Warren of 23 Feb., (vol. 8:337, 359–360).


Although various London newspapers (see, for example, the London Chronicle, 11– 13 April) reported that Como. Robert Walsingham's convoy of the West Indies merchant fleet and Brig. Gen. Garth's troops had sailed on the 8th, adverse winds soon forced it back into Torbay where it remained until June (William Lee to JA, 9 April, note 2, above; Edmund Jenings to JA, 22 Feb. and note 4, vol. 8:352–353). The squadron under Rear Adm. Thomas Graves was ordered to intercept Ternay's convoy of Rochambeau's army, but because of delays in resupplying his vessels, demands by his sailors for their pay, and contrary winds which prevented him from entering the English Channel, Graves was unable to leave Plymouth until 17 May, over two weeks after Ternay left Brest (Dull, French Navy and Amer. Independence , p. 191; Mackesy, War for America , p. 326–329).


No such motion was made on 14 April, although in the course of the debates Gen. Henry Seymour Conway indicated that a motion concerning America “stood for that day” ( Parliamentary Reg. , 17:529). The intended motion or motions were probably those long 139contemplated by David Hartley that had been announced as early as 7 March (same, 17:223– 224). On 10 April Hartley again indicated his intention to introduce several propositions concerning America, but only on 1 May did he disclose their substance and not until 11 May were they formally introduced as resolutions (same, 17:485, 606, 695–696). For their content, see Thomas Digges' letter of 2 May, and note 7 (below).


The view that Sir Fletcher Norton's illness, which led to the adjournment of the House of Commons until 24 April, was as much political as physical was widespread. Norton became the Speaker in 1770 and, according to his speech of 13 March 1780, the Duke of Grafton had promised him that in return for serving he would ultimately be appointed to a high judicial position. In 1780 the chief justiceship of the Court of Common Pleas was vacated, but instead of Norton, Lord North appointed Alexander Wedderburn. North's failure to honor his predecessor's promise estranged Norton from the ministry, leading him to abandon the Speaker's traditional neutrality and even to oppose the ministry on important votes, most notably in regard to sections of Edmund Burke's economical reform bill and John Dunning's resolutions of 6 April to diminish the influence and prerogatives of the crown. Given the apparent resurgence by mid-April of the ministry's ability to frustrate the opposition's efforts at reform, the Speaker's illness and the subsequent adjournment could be seen as an effort to allow the opposition forces time to regroup and form a new strategy. When a new parliament met in Oct., Lord North replaced Norton with Charles Wolfran Cornwall (Namier and Brooke, House of Commons ; Parliamentary Reg. , 17:319–333, 461–465; for contrasting views of Norton, his illness and resignation, see the London Morning Post and Daily Advertiser for 17, 18, 19, and 21 April; and the London Evening Post for 15–18, 18–20, and 20–22 April).


For Jonathan Loring Austin, appointed by the Massachusetts General Court to seek a European loan, see Mass. Council to JA and Francis Dana, 13 Jan., and note 2 3 (vol. 8:308–309).


This report appeared in various London newspapers, including the London Courant of 15 April, but it was almost certainly not the sloop of war Countess of Scarbourough that was observed. In April the sloop, which had been captured by the Pallas during the battle between the Bonhomme Richard and the Serapis, was most likely at Dunkirk (Morison, John Paul Jones , p. 239, 266; Cal. Franklin Papers, A.P.S. , 2:207, 251).