Papers of John Adams, volume 9

From Pierre Landais

From William Lee

From Arthur Lee, 14 June 1780 Lee, Arthur JA


From Arthur Lee, 14 June 1780 Lee, Arthur Adams, John
From Arthur Lee
L'Orient June 14th. 1780

By the enclosed copy of a Letter I have sent Capt. Jones you will see that the dispute between him and Capt. Landais, is come to an alarming higth.1 The latter went on board the Alliance yesterday and has the command of her. The former has claimd the protection of the governing powers here, who will not employ force unless they have an express order for it from Above, or they come to blows on board the Ship. It was to prevent any such pernicious extremity, that 414I wrote the enclosed to Capt. Jones. But as it is apparently the interest and inclination of some people here to urge that extremity, I have no doubt but that attempts will be made to obtain an order from Court for violent means. You must be sensible how deep a wound it woud be to the Sovereignty and honor of the United States if a foreign Power were by force to deprive a man of the command who holds it under immediate authority of Congress, and give it to another who has no such authority. I hope therefore that you will talk with Dr. Franklin on the subject that he may be well advised before he adopts such a measure.2 I do assure you from what I can learn the Officers and Crew are so determined not to submit to any authority but that of Congress, that there will be bloodshed if it is attempted. Whereas if there is any such authority, and it were produced, they woud submit to it without hesitation. The dignity of our Country, the honor of the Laws, our National character and personal safety call upon every good American to endeavor to prevent the Commission of Congress from being insulted, and such disputes from being decided but by the Laws of America.

I have the honor to be, with great regard & esteem, Dr. Sir Your most Obedient & Humle. Servant

Arthur Lee

RC and enclosure (Adams Papers); addressed: “The Honble John Adams Esqr.”; endorsed: “Mr A. Lee”; by John Thaxter: “June 14th 1780.” The enclosure is not printed, but see note 1.


The enclosed letter, dated 13 June and probably sent to Jones after Landais had assumed command of the Alliance, constituted a vigorous endorsement by Arthur Lee of Pierre Landais as the frigate's captain. Lee noted that on 12 June, Jones had shown him his commission as captain and an order from Benjamin Franklin to take command of the Alliance, and that he had then examined Landais' commission as captain and the congressional resolution appointing Landais to the Alliance, thereby undertaking “a cool and candid consideration of the authorities on both sides.” Lee concluded that “it is clear, beyond a possibility of doubt that Capt. Landais commands that Ship under the full, direct, and express authority of Congress” and, “in this situation, Capt. Landais must answer at his peril, for the frigate which is trusted to him till he receives an order of Congress to deliver her up to another.” As a result, anyone seeking to remove Landais from command was committing “a high crime against the Laws and Sovereignty of the United States, and subject themselves to proportionable punishment.” In a letter of 12 June, Landais also had requested Lee's opinion, which Lee provided in his reply of the same date (from Landais, 14 June, note 3, above).


On 23 June, JA drafted, but did not complete or send, a reply to this letter (LbC, Adams Papers) in which he indicated that in response to Lee's appeal as well as letters of 12 June from Alexander Gillon (Adams Papers) and 14 June from Pierre Landais (above), he and Francis Dana had met with Franklin and, in response to Franklin's request, had given their opinion regarding the Alliance. The uncompleted reply does not indicate the nature of that opinion, but see JA's letter to Franklin of 26 June containing his advice regarding Landais and the Alliance in response to Franklin's query of ante 26 June (both below).