Papers of John Adams, volume 9

To William Carmichael

From Francis Bowens

To the Comte de Vergennes, 12 May 1780 JA Vergennes, Charles Gravier, Comte de


To the Comte de Vergennes, 12 May 1780 Adams, John Vergennes, Charles Gravier, Comte de
To the Comte de Vergennes
Sir Paris May 12th. 1780 1

I have received the letter which you did me the honor to write me on the 10th. of this month. Altho' the writer of the letter, an extract of which I had the honor to enclose to you,2 may be right in his conjecture that the British Administration wish to know more than they do at present of3 my sentiments upon the great subject of a 304pacification, yet I have had too long experience of their principles views and tempers, and I know that they are too well acquainted with mine, for me to expect that they will directly convey any propositions to me. When we hear them affirm in Parliament that America is upon the point of returning to an Allegiance to the King of England; and that they seriously believe America will return to such an Allegiance: When the Members of opposition, even those who are most inclined to peace, such as Mr. Hartley, General Conway &c. discover plainly by their motions and arguments, that their object is a seperate peace with America, in order to be the better able to gratify their revenge against France and Spain, I can have no expectations that they think of applying to me, because I think they must be convinced of this at least that I shall make no seperate peace.4

I thank your Excellency however, for your sentiments, that I ought to hear them, in case any overtures shou'd be made to me; I shou'd in such a case endeavour to hear them with decency and respect, but it wou'd require much Philosophy to hear with patience such absurd and extravagant propositions as are published in pamphlets and News-papers, and made in Parliament, even by the Members of Opposition who profess to be most zealous for Peace.5

Our Alliance with France is an honor and a security, which have ever been near my heart. After reflecting long upon the geographical situation of the old world and the new, upon the agriculture, commerce, and political relations of both; upon the connections and oppositions among the Nations of the former, and the mutual wants and Interests of both, according to such imperfect lights as I was able to obtain; the result has long since been this, that my Country in case she shou'd once be compelled to break off from Great-Britain, wou'd have more just reasons to depend upon a reciprocity of good offices of Friendship from France, Spain, and the other Sovereigns who are usually in their system; than upon those in the opposite scale of the ballance of Power. I have ever thought it therefore a natural Alliance, and contended for it as a Rock of Defence. This object I pursued in Congress with persevering assiduity, for more than a year, in opposition to other Gentlemen of much greater Name and Abilities than mine, and had at length the satisfaction to find my Countrymen very generally to fall into the same sentiment, and the honour to be appointed to draw the first Treaty which was sent to this Court.6 These facts have been well known in America even to the Tories, and the utility and importance of this Alliance being known to be deeply imprinted on my mind and heart, I suppose was a principal cause 305why the present Trust was confided to me by my Countrymen.7 These facts, altho' they may have been unknown in France, yet having been well known to the Tories in America, I cannot suppose they are ignorant of them at the Court of St. James'. I therefore think that neither Administration nor Opposition in England, will ever think of applying to me, untill they are brought into such a situation as shall compel them to sue for peace with all the Powers at War; which to be sure does not appear to be the case at present, nor likely to be; at least before the end of this Campaign, nor then neither, without some notable good fortune on the part of the Allies in the progress of the War. I have the honor to be with the greatest Respect Your Excellency's most obedient and most humble Servant

John Adams

RC in Francis Dana's hand (Arch. Aff. Etr., Paris, Corr. Pol., E.-U., vol. 12); endorsed at the top of the first page: “18 Mai” and “Reçu.” LbC (Adams Papers). Bracketed material is supplied from the LbC. This is the first letter for which Francis Dana acted as JA's secretary. It may indicate that Dana played a significant part, as he did later with JA's letter of 22 June to Vergennes (below), in revising the Letterbook copy.


The differences between the recipient and Letterbook copies of this letter are striking. In the Letterbook, JA took considerable pains to allay Vergennes' apprehensions about the conduct of his mission, while leaving his options open. Before JA's revisions (see notes 4 and 5) the Letterbook text contained a clear commitment to refuse any British offer of a separate peace. JA stated that his instructions permitted him only to participate in negotiations for a general peace. He also declared that his attachment to the Franco-American alliance was such that whatever efforts he might make to achieve a peace, he would do nothing to undermine the alliance. The recipient's copy, however, does not clearly define the scope of JA's powers, nor does it declare the alliance to be sacred under any and all conditions. Here JA does not commit himself to reject automatically a settlement that recognized American independence and satisfied the other parts of his instructions, but which amounted to a separate peace.

This letter played an important role in the evolution of JA's thinking in regard to the exercise of his powers and the nature of the peace settlement that he might negotiate. It should be compared with his letters of 17 and 26 July to Vergennes (both below), and considered also in light of his later efforts to publish his revision of Pownall's Memorial, and the “Letters from a Distinguished American” (A Translation of Thomas Pownall's Memorial, 19 April – ca. 14 July , above; “Letters from a Distinguished American,” ante 14–22 July , below), both of which indicated an inclination, had acceptable terms been offered, toward the conclusion of a separate peace.


Vergennes' letter of 10 May (above) was a reply to JA's of the 5th (Arch. Aff. Etr., Paris, Corr. Pol., E.-U., vol. 12), in which he had enclosed an extract from Thomas Digges' letter of 28 April (above).


In the Letterbook the preceding seven words are interlined.


In the Letterbook this paragraph concludes with the following canceled sentence: “In Truth my Powers are to join in a general Pacification and I have no Authority to make a particular one.”


At this point in the Letterbook JA canceled the letter's original conclusion which follows:

“Of one thing your Excellency, may be assured, that no overtures have as yet been made to me, So whenever any shall, if indeed that should ever happen I shall communicate them without Loss of Time, and without Pretense to you.

“Our Alliance with France is a Benefit an Honour and a Security, which I have ever had near my Heart. After reflecting as maturely as I could, for twenty Years, upon the geographical situation of the two Worlds, upon the Ag-306 image riculture and Commerce, of both as well as their political Relations, upon the political Connections and oppositions among the powers of Europe, the Result of the whole has long been this, that my Country in case she should once be compelled to break off from Great Britain, would forever after have more just reason to depend upon a Reciprocity of the good offices of Friendship from France and Spain, and the Nations who are usually in their system, than upon the opposite Scale, of the Ballance of Power. I have ever thought it therefore a natural Alliance, and have contended for it as a rock of defence. I may be excused upon this occasion if I open my sentiments to your Excellency a little more and inform you that I had the Honour to pursue this object in Congress, for more than a Year, with constant attention and assiduity, and for a great Part of the Time in opposition to other Gentlemen of much greater Name and abilities than mine, that I had at last the good fortune to carry this point and to be the Person who drew the Treaty which was first sent to the Court of Versailles. I take the Liberty to mention these facts to your Excellency, in order to shew that our Alliance is a Point, that I shall never injure, that I have just Ideas of its Importance, and that I believe this to have been a principal that it is perfectly well known in America that these Ideas are deeply imprinted on my mind and Heart which was probably, the true Cause, why Congress thought proper to confer upon me, my present Commission. I have the Honour to be, with great Respect, your excellencys, most obedient and humble servant.”


JA's description of his efforts on behalf of a treaty with France in this and the following two sentences should be compared with those in the Editorial Note to the Treaty Plan of 1776 (vol. 4:260–265) and JA's letter to Edmund Jenings of 18 July (below).


In the Letterbook this sentence ended the paragraph. The following sentence, the first of a new paragraph, originally read “These Facts having been known to the Tories in America, altho they may have been unknown in.”