Papers of John Adams, volume 10

To the Comte de Vergennes

From Edmund Jenings

To the Comte de Vergennes, 27 July 1780 JA Vergennes, Charles Gravier, Comte de


To the Comte de Vergennes, 27 July 1780 Adams, John Vergennes, Charles Gravier, Comte de
To the Comte de Vergennes
Sir Paris July 27th 17801

Since my Letter of the Twenty first; and upon reading over again your Excellency's Letter to me of the Twentieth, I observed one Expression which I think it my Duty to consider more particularly.


The Expression I have in view is this, That the King, without being sollicited by the Congress, had taken measures the most efficacious to sustain the American Cause.

Upon this part of your Letter, I must entreat your Excellency to recollect, that the Congress did, as long ago as the year Seventeen hundred and Seventy six, before Dr. Franklin was sent off for France, instruct him, Mr. Dean, and Mr. Lee, to solicit the King for Six Ships of the Line:2 and I have reason to believe that the Congress have been from that moment to this, persuaded that this object has been constantly solicited by their Ministers at this Court.

In addition to this, I have every personal, as well as public motive, to recall to your Excellency's Recollection, a3 Letter or Memorial4 which was presented to your Excellency in the latter end of the month of December Seventeen Hundred and Seventy Eight; or the beginning of January Seventeen Hundred and Seventy Nine in which, a great variety of Arguments were adduced to show, that it was not only good Policy, but absolutely necessary to send a superiority of Naval Force to the Coasts of the Continent of America. This Letter together with your Excellency's answer acknowledging the receipt of it, I transmitted to Congress myself, and their Journals show that they received them near a year ago;5 So that the Congress, I am persuaded, rest in the most perfect security in the persuasion that every thing has been done by themselves, and their Servants at this Court, to obtain this measure, and that the necessary arrangements of the King's naval Service, have hitherto prevented it.

But if it was only suspected by Congress, that a direct application from them to the King, was expected, I am assured they wou'd not hesitate a moment to make it.6

I am so convinced by experience, of the absolute necessity of more consultations and communications between His Majesty's Ministers, and the Ministers of Congress, that I am determined to omit no opportunity of communicating my sentiments to your Excellency, upon every Thing that appears to me of importance to the common Cause, in which I can do it with propriety. And the communications shall be direct in person, or by Letter, to your Excellency, without the Intervention of any third person. And I shall be very happy, and think myself highly honored, to give my poor opinion and advice to his Majesty's Ministers, upon any thing that relates to the United States, or the common Cause, whenever they shall be asked.7

I wish I may be mistaken, but it cou'd answer no good purpose to 50deceive myself; and I certainly will not disguise my sentiments from your Excellency. I think that Admiral Graves, with the Ships before in America, will be able to impede the operations of M. Le Chevr: de Ternay, of M. Le Comte de Rochambeau, and of General Washington, if their plan is to attack New-York.

If there shou'd be a Naval Battle between the Chevr: de Ternay and Admiral Graves the event is uncertain. From the near equality of Force, and the equality of bravery, and of naval science, which now prevails every where, I think we cannot depend upon any thing decisive in such an Engagement, unless it be from the particular character of Graves, whom I know personally to be neither a great Man, nor a great Officer. If there shou'd be no decission in a naval rencounter, Graves and his Fleet must lie at New-York, and de Ternay and his at Rhode Island. I readily agree that this will be a great advantage to the common Cause,8 for the reasons mentioned in my Letter to your Excellency, of the Thirteenth of this Month.

But still I beg leave to suggest to your Excellency, whether it wou'd not be for the good of the common Cause, to have still further Resources in view—whether circumstances may not be such in the West Indies, as to enable Monsr. de Guichen to dispatch ships to the Reinforcement of Monsr: de Ternay, or whether it may not consist with the King's Service to dispatch ships from Europe for that purpose, and further whether the Court of Spain cannot be convinced of the Policy of keeping open the Communication between the United States and the French and Spanish Islands in the West Indies, so as to cooperate with France and the United States in the system of keeping up a constant Superiority of Naval Power both upon the Coasts of North America, and in the West India Islands. This is the true plan which is finally to humble the English and give the combined Powers the advantage.

The English in the Course of the last War, derived all their Triumphs both upon the Continent of America, and the Islands, from the succours they received from their Colonies. And I am sure that France and Spain, with attention to the subject, may receive assistance in this War, from the same source, equally decisive. I have the honor to be with great Respect and Attachment, Sir, your Excellency's most obedient, and most humble Servant

John Adams

RC in Francis Dana's hand (PCC, No. 84, II, f. 483–487); endorsed on the first page: “M. de R.” and “rep.”; and an additional notation: “No. 13.” For the presence 51of this letter in the PCC, see the Editorial Note, 13–29 July (above). LbC (Adams Papers).


Although dated 27 July, the Letterbook copy of this letter precedes that of JA's letter to Vergennes of 26 July (above) and was probably written on the 26th. In the Letterbook, the space before the “7” in “27” appears to have been erased. Moreover, JA left Paris at mid-day on the 27th. This would have allowed him little time to draft the letter, revise it, and wait for Dana to copy it for his signature.

In any event, except for a letter to Mark Lynch dated, probably erroneously, 28 July (LbC, Adams Papers; see Lynch's letter of 8 July, note 1, above), this letter as dated is the last written by JA from Paris in 1780. On 26 July, JA obtained passports from Benjamin Franklin at Passy and, under cover of a letter of the same date from William Temple Franklin (Adams Papers), received Franklin's letters to be dispatched from Amsterdam. At about 1 o'clock in the afternoon of 27 July, after receiving passports from the police enabling them to leave France, JA, JQA, and CA set out for Amsterdam, arriving there on 10 Aug. (JQA, Diary , 1:35, 52). Because JA's Diary entries are brief and lacking in detail ( Diary and Autobiography , 2:442–445), it is to JQA's Diary that one must turn for a full account of the journey. Fortunately, he described in great detail the country through which the Adamses passed, the stops along the way, and the people with whom they met (JQA, Diary , 1:35–52). JA would not return to Paris until July 1781, when Vergennes called him back to discuss the proposed Austro-Russian mediation.


On 22 Oct. 1776, Congress resolved that the Commissioners should obtain from France, “either by purchase or loan, eight line of battle ships of 74 and 64 guns” and, because of the dire need for the vessels, “the Commissioners be directed to expedite this negotiation with all possible diligence” ( JCC , 6:895–896).


At this point in the Letterbook the text reads “very lengthy Letter or Memorial, which I had my self the Honour to draw up, when I had the Honour to be one of the Ministers Plenipotentiary to this Court.”


For the memorial, and JA's role in drafting it, see vol. 7:292–311.


Vergennes acknowledged receiving the Commissioners' memorial in a brief note of 9 Jan. 1779 (vol. 7:348). JA sent a copy of the memorial to Congress with his letter of 21 Oct. 1779, but neither that letter nor the Journals of Congress for 1 Nov., the date on which JA's letter arrived, make any mention of Vergennes' reply of 9 Jan. (vol. 8:222; JCC , 15: 1231).


At this point in the Letterbook are the following three canceled paragraphs. “In the months of September, October and November 1778, I intreated Mr. Chaumont, Mr. Garnier, and Mr. Genet, to represent to your Excellency and to Mr. de Sartine or to Mr. de Sartine, the Necessity of such a Measure, and was told by each of these in Turn, that he had done it.

“I offered to each of these Gentlemen such Reasons, as convinced them, of the Propriety, the Expediency, the Policy and the necessity of the Measure. And they each of them assured me they had been heard by your Excellency upon the subject with great Patience, Candour and satisfaction. I therefore took it for granted, that every Thing had been done which could with Propriety be done.

“The Reason why I did not apply myself, in Person or by Letter to your Excellency was this. Dr. Franklin, Mr. Lee and Myself were joint Ministers at this Court, and such was the Misunderstanding between my two Colleagues that if any one of the three attempted to conduct any Negotiations or Conference with his Majestys ministers, at that time, when it was an object of Jealousy, and it was true in Fact that neither no one nor any two of the three had a legal Right to make any Request or even any Representation to Court without consulting his Colleagues and procuring the Vote of his Colleagues. This was the only Cause why I did not apply in Person.”


Compare JA's comments in this paragraph with those in the next to last paragraph of his letter of 26 June to the President of Congress (No. 87, above).


At this point in the Letterbook the following passage was enclosed in parentheses and canceled: “by preventing the Ennemy from Cruising, by giving scope to Trade, by supplying the french Fleets and Armies in the West Indies, by giving an open Field to Privateers, and by distressing and terrifying the English.” In the Letterbook the remainder of the sentence was added, perhaps by Francis Dana.