Papers of John Adams, volume 9

To Thomas Jefferson

From Thomas Digges

To the President of Congress, No. 88, 29 June 1780 JA Huntington, Samuel President of Congress


To the President of Congress, No. 88, 29 June 1780 Adams, John Huntington, Samuel President of Congress
To the President of Congress, No. 88
No. 88 Duplicate Sir Paris June 29th. 1780

The disputes about the Alliance, have been so critical and disagreable, that Congress will pardon me, for writing a few Observations upon our Arrangements here.

I apprehend that many of the Disputes, Delays and other Inconveniences, that have attended our Affairs in this Kingdom, have arisen from blending the offices of Political Minister, Board of Admiralty, Chamber of Commerce, and Commercial Agent together.

The Business of the Minister is to negotiate with the Court, to propose and to consult upon Plans for the Conduct of the War, to collect and transmit Intelligence from the other Parts, especially concerning the designs and the forces of the Enemy. This is Business enough for the wisest and most laborious Man the United States have in their Service, aided by an active, intelligent and industrious Secretary. But added to all this our Ministers at the Court of Versailles have ever been overloaded with Commercial and Admiralty Business, complicated and perplexing in its Nature, and endless in its detail: 484But for this, I am persuaded much more might have been done in the Conduct of the War, and the United States might have had more effectual assistance, and France and Spain too fewer misfortunes to bewail.

I would therefore beg leave to propose to Congress to appoint a Consul without Loss of Time to reside at Nantes, and to him consign all Vessels from the United States. I think it should be an American, some Merchant of known Character, Abilities and Industry, who would consent to serve his Country for moderate Emoluments. Such Persons are to be found in great Numbers in the United States. There are many applications from French Gentlemen. But I think that a Want of Knowledge of our Language, our Laws, Customs and even of the Humors of our People, for even these must be considered, they never would be able to give Satisfaction nor to do Justice. Besides if it is an Honor, a Profit, or only an Opportunity to travel and see the World for Improvement, I think the native Americans have a Right to expect it and further that the Public have a Right to expect that whatever Advantages are honestly to be made in this Way, should return sometime or other to America, together with the Knowledge and Experience gained at the same time. These Consuls as well as the foreign Ministers should all be instructed to transmit to Congress, written Accounts of the Civil and Military Constitutions of the Places, where they are, as well as of all the Advantages for Commerce with the whole World, especially with the United States. These Letters preserved will be a repertory of political and commercial Knowledge, that in future Times may be a rich Treasure to the United States.

To these Consuls, the Commercial Concerns of the Public should be committed, and the Vessels of War.

It will be necessary sometimes to send a Frigate to Europe, to bring Intelligence, to bring Passengers, even perhaps to bring Commodities, or to fetch Stores: but I hope no Frigate will ever be again sent to cruise, or be put under the Command of any Body in Europe, Consul or Minister. They may recieve their orders from the Navy Board in America, and be obliged to obey them.

I have had a great deal of Experience in the Government of these Frigates, when I had the Honor to be one of the Ministers Plenipotentiary at the Court of Versailles, and afterwards at Nantes, L'Orient and Brest, when I was seeking a Passage home. Disputes were perpetually arising between officers and their Crews, between Captains and their officers, and between the officers of one Ship and another. 485There were never officers enough to compose a Court Martial and nobody had authority to remove or suspend officers without their Consent: so that in short, there was little Order, Discipline, Subordination or Decency.

Another thing, when Frigates are under the direction of an Authority, at a distance of three or four hundred Miles, so much time is lost in writing and sending Letters and waiting for Answers, as has been found an intolerable Embarrassment to the Service.

It is now two years since Consuls were expected and a Secretary to this Mission. It is a great Misfortune to the United States that they have not arrived. Every Man can see that it has been a great Misfortune, but none can tell how great. There is much Reason to believe that if our Establishments here had been upon a well digested Plan and compleated, and if our Affairs had been urged with as much Skill and Industry as they might in that Case have been, that We should at this moment have been blessed with Peace, or at least, with that Tranquility and Security which would have resulted from a total Expulsion of the English from the United States, and the West India Islands.1

I have the Honor to be, with great Respect, Sir, your most obedient Servant.

Dupl in John Thaxter's hand (PCC, No. 84, II, f. 161–164); docketed: “No. 88 Letter from honle J Adams Paris June 29. 1780 read Novr. 27. 1780 Duties of a Minister Secretary Consul no Frigates to cruise in Europe.” LbC (Adams Papers); notations: “88” and “Recd. in congress Nov. 25. duplicate.”; by John Thaxter: “July 6th. 1780. This day was delivered to Commodore Gillon, who is bound to Amsterdam, the Duplicates of Nos. 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, and the Original and Duplicate of No. 88.” The “Original,” mentioned in Thaxter's note, has not been found.


The statements in this letter reflect the long held views of both JA and Benjamin Franklin concerning the conduct of American diplomatic, commercial, and maritime business in Europe. For earlier statements by JA on these matters, see vol. 8:index; and for Franklin's views, see his letters of 31 May and 9 and 10 Aug. to the president of Congress, and of 10 Aug. to James Lovell (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 3:742–746; 4:21–22, 25– 27).