Papers of John Adams, volume 11

Descriptive List of Illustrations Descriptive List of Illustrations

[Note: for permissions reasons, not all illustrations from the letterpress volumes are available in this digital edition.]

Descriptive List of Illustrations
Code Used by John Adams, Francis Dana, and James Searle, ca. 14 January 1781 48

Although James Searle labeled it a cipher, this document is in fact a code. In a code, each code word has one specific counterpart in the plaintext. In the code used by Adams, Dana, and Searle, for example, “D.D.” always means Benjamin Franklin. In a cipher, however, letters or numbers are transposed or substituted according to a predetermined key.

Francis Dana and John Adams employed the code in letters exchanged between January and April 1781. The code likely originated with C. W. F. Dumas, who used the code word for Congress, “AZ,” as early as 1779, and Dana and Searle revised it to serve their needs (Weber, Codes and Ciphers , p. 63–64). The code names, at least in some cases, clearly describe individuals and institutions, or at least how they were perceived by those who devised the code. Some, such as “Steady” for John Adams, ring true. Others, such as “Grex”—Latin for herd—to describe the States General or “Nestor” an aged, wise advisor—to denote Dumas may be less evident to today's reader.

From the original in the Adams Papers.

Titlepage of John Adams' Copy of His A Translation of the Memorial to the Sovereigns of Europe upon the Present State of Affairs Between the Old and New World into Common Sense and Intelligible English, London, 1781 94

This pamphlet is John Adams' reworking of Thomas Pownall's A Memorial, Most Humbly Addressed to the Sovereigns of Europe, on the Present State of Affairs, Between the Old and New World, London, 1780, published by John Stockdale. Thomas Pownall's Memorial influenced John Adams' views of foreign policy more than any other published work and Adams' revision of Pownall's pamphlet constitutes a clear, focused exposition of the principles that guided his diplomacy for the remainder of his career. Of more importance for Adams as minister to negotiate an Anglo-American peace was Pownall's view that Britain's economic self-interest demanded an immediate peace to reopen the American market to British merchants and manufacturers. Adams believed it essential to present that argument to the British public and leadership in a clear and articulate format, and thus undertook the task of revising Pownall's work. Edmund Jenings informed Adams of the Translation's publication in his letter of 31 January and he enclosed a copy with his letter of 7 February, x which Adams acknowledged in his reply of 11 February, all below. For the origins and drafting of the Translation, see vol. 10 9 :157–221; and for a French translation with a preface by Jean Luzac published at Amsterdam in 1780, see Descriptive List of Illustrations, No. 4, vol. 10:viii–ix.

The pamphlet's publication in London was important to John Adams and he likely was gratified, if not also surprised, when it received an excellent review in the Monthly Review; or Literary Journal of February 1781. On the titlepage of the Translation reproduced below, as well as the facing page, Adams copied the words of the reviewer: “In our Review for August 1780, We gave an Account of the 'Memorial to the Sovereigns of Europe' the author of which was not then mentioned, nor even guessed at. The Work was Supposed to have been the Production of no ordinary Pen, but rather to have come from a Masterly hand, who chose to conceal himself under the disguise of a peculiar style, and a fictitious Tale, with respect to the Birth and Parentage of the nameless Foundling.

“The Language of this Piece, was variously spoken of, at the Time of its first Publication: it is stiff and affected. It is quaint. It is disguised by a Studied Obscurity. It ought to be translated into plain English. Of the Same opinion with the last Objector, was We suppose the ingenious Author of the present Republication; who not only professes to have renderd this famous memorial into intelligible English, but also to have reduced it to common Sense: a point of Improvement, in which We did not perceive the original to Stand in much need.

“With respect to the real Author of this Performance, the present Translator Scruples not to tell Us, that the Memorial, is Said to have been written by Governor P—l. Perhaps he is right: but whoever was the Parent, or whatever were his Reasons for concealment, We think he had no cause to be ashamed of his offspring.

“We have only to add, in regard to the Merit of this Translation, as it is called, that the Republisher of the Memorial, has certainly cloathed it, in a more easy, natural, and becoming dress. He has also considerably reduced it, in Size; but Some Readers will possibly think, that while it hath gained by Elegance of Form, it hath rather Suffered, by abridgment: as the rough Diamond is reduced by the Polisher. Like the Diamond however, in the Jeweller's hand this Performance appears to much greater Advantage by having its Sentiments new Set, by a Skilfull Artist.”

Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

William Jackson 209

William Jackson, best known as the secretary of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, was born in England in 1759, and after being orphaned at an early age was raised in Charleston, South Carolina. There, at the outbreak of the Revolution, he obtained a commission and ultimately served as an aide to Gen. Benjamin Lincoln with the rank of major. Taken prisoner at the fall of Charleston in the spring xiof 1780 and exchanged later in the year, he served as Col. John Laurens' secretary on the latter's European mission to obtain a loan and military supplies. The two men reached Paris in mid-March 1781 and by late April, his mission apparently a success, John Laurens prepared to return to America. Jackson, however, remained behind to serve as Laurens' agent in the Netherlands to expedite the departure of the frigate South Carolina with a cargo of military supplies ( DAB ).

Jackson reached Amsterdam in early May and found himself faced with a more arduous task than he expected. Alexander Gillon's previous efforts to outfit the South Carolina for sea, as well as a misunderstanding between Benjamin Franklin and John Laurens over the funds available to purchase the supplies that the frigate was to carry, presented formidable obstacles. Negotiations with Dutch merchants and Benjamin Franklin delayed the South Carolina's sailing until August.

John Adams first met William Jackson when the South Carolinian arrived in Amsterdam. Adams offered what little assistance he could give, but there is scant documentation in the Adams Papers of what passed between the two men during Jackson's time in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, Adams was so impressed with Jackson's probity that he entrusted his son Charles to Jackson's care when the South Carolina sailed in August. Eleven-year-old Charles, homesick and lonely since his brother John Quincy Adams departed for St. Petersburg with Francis Dana in July, was returning home. Additional letters exchanged by the two men appear in the Adams Family Correspondence , all dealing with the ill-fated voyage of the South Carolina and the welfare of Charles Adams (4:219–220, 228–229, 235–238, 243–244, 247 , 248).

This miniature of Jackson was taken from life ca. 1795 by an unidentified artist and later retouched by John Henry Brown.

Courtesy of Independence National Historical Park.

John Adams' Memorial to the States General, 19 April 1781 273

The memorial of 19 April to the States General is the single most important diplomatic document in this volume and John Adams' first major initiative as minister plenipotentiary to the Netherlands. The chain of events that began with the memorial would end a year later, on 19 April 1782, when the States General resolved to recognize the United States, admit Adams as minister plenipotentiary, and begin negotiations for a treaty of amity and commerce.

Although Adams designed the memorial to appeal to the economic self-interest of the Dutch Republic, he also emphasized the special kinship of the two republics, both born in the fires of revolution. Adams argued that if the Netherlands delayed recognizing the United States it risked exclusion from the American market. Moreover, the failure of the American Revolution through lack of support from the Dutch and other Europeans, raised the specter of a stronger and more voracious British empire.


The memorial is more than a simple diplomatic document. Adams deliberately dated it 19 April, the anniversary of the battles at Lexington and Concord. Because Adams emphasized the role of the people in determining their own political fate, his memorial was for the Dutch and other Europeans a revolutionary document. In his account of the origins and meaning of that “immortal Declaration, of the fourth of July one thousand seven hundred and seventy six,” Adams insisted that the Declaration and the American Revolution itself were not the work of a few zealous leaders, but rather the result of long, intense deliberations by the whole people. Like the Dutch in their revolt against Spain, the American people possessed an indomitable will to be free; consequently, if the Dutch refused to support the American cause they would betray their own history.

On the morning of 4 May, Adams set out to present his memorial to Pieter van Bleiswyck, grand pensionary; Baron Lynden van Hemmen, president of the States General; and Hendrik Fagel, secretary to the States General. The memorial reproduced here is one of two manuscripts in the Adams Papers, both in John Thaxter's hand and labeled “Copy,” that probably were intended for van Bleiswyck and Fagel. The memorial meant for Lynden van Hemmen has not been located.

The Dutch leadership's refusal to accept the memorial did not deter Adams' resolve to present his case to the Dutch people. He already had decided to forestall the States General from ignoring his appeal by publishing the memorial as a pamphlet in English, French, and Dutch. These pamphlets and the widespread publication of the memorial in European and American newspapers probably made it the most widely circulated of any of John Adams' political writings. For accounts of the origin, presentation, and publication of the memorial, see the notes to the memorial to the States General, 19 April, and JA's letter of 7 May to the president of Congress, both below.

From the original in the Adams Papers.

John Adams' Memorial to William V, Prince of Orange, 19 April 1781 283

John Adams' memorial to William V was a straightforward request to present his credentials as minister plenipotentiary with the power to negotiate a Dutch-American commercial treaty. Repeating the theme of his memorial to the States General of the same date, Adams invoked history as a spur for diplomatic recognition. In the final paragraph he declared: “The Subscriber thinks himself particularly fortunate to be thus accredited to a Nation, which has made such memorable Exertions in favour of the Rights of Men, and to a Prince, whose illustrious Line of Ancestors and Predecessors have so often supported in Holland and England those Liberties for which the United States of America now contend.”

The copy of the memorial reproduced here is that which Adams presented to William V's secretary, Baron de Larrey, on the morning of 4 May; and which Larrey returned that afternoon. For an account xiiiof Adams' effort to present the memorial, see his letter of 7 May to the president of Congress, below.

From the original in the Adams Papers.

John Adams' Commission as One of Five Ministers to Negotiate an Anglo-American Peace Treaty, 15 June 1781 372

This commission, which Adams received on 24 August, superseded that of 29 September 1779 that named John Adams sole United States minister plenipotentiary empowered to negotiate an Anglo-American peace treaty (to Benjamin Franklin, 25 Aug., below; JA, Diary and Autobiography , 4:178–179, 194). The new commission was the clearest manifestation of France's determination to curb Adams' influence in any Anglo-American negotiations. Although it must have come as a severe blow, Adams' contemporary writings say little about his reaction to the appointment other than a letter to Benjamin Franklin of 25 August, below. Adams declared “I am very apprehensive that our new Commission will be as useless as my old one. Congress might very safely I believe permit Us all to go home, if We find no other business, and stay there some Years: at least until every British Soldier in the United States is killed or captivated. Till then Britain will never think of Peace, but for the purposes of Chicanery.” For an account of Congress' decision to expand the number of peace negotiators, see Commissions and Instructions for Mediation and Peace, Editorial Note, 15 June, below; and the notes to the Joint Commission to Negotiate a Peace Treaty, 15 June, below.

From the original in the Adams Papers.

Instructions to the Joint Commission to Negotiate an Anglo-American Peace Treaty, 15 June 1781 375

The instructions to the joint commission were far different from those that guided John Adams as the sole American minister pleni-potentiary empowered to negotiate an Anglo-American peace treaty (JA, Diary and Autobiography , 4:181–183). In 1779 Congress directed Adams to seek the “the Advice of our Allies,” using also his discretion and knowledge of American interests. The 1781 instructions required the American negotiators “to make the most candid and confidential communications upon all subjects to the ministers of our generous Ally the King of France to undertake nothing in the Negotiations for Peace or truce without their knowledge and concurrence and ultimately to govern yourselves by their advice and opinion.” The ability of the French minister at Philadelphia, the Chevalier de La Luzerne, to bend Congress to the dictates of French foreign policy is clearly evident from these instructions. For an account of Congress' decision to expand the number of peace negotiators, see Commissions and Instructions for Mediation and Peace, Editorial Note, 15 June, below; and the notes to the Instructions to the Joint Commission to Negotiate a Peace Treaty, 15 June, below.

In this volume Adams says no more about his instructions than he did about the commission that accompanied them (Descriptive xivList of Illustrations, No. 6, above). This reticence may be owing to Adams being unaware of the sharp contrast between the instructions of 1779 and those of 1781. As can be seen in the illustration, Adams deciphered only one passage in the third paragraph of the instructions that contains the injunction, quoted above, that the commissioners be governed by the views of the French government. Adams' failure to decipher the entire paragraph, probably because of difficulties with the Lovell cipher, lends credence to his assertion that he did not learn of the instruction until he arrived at Paris in 1782 to join the peace negotiations (JA, Diary and Autobiography , 3:38).

From the original in the Adams Papers.

John Temple, Portrait by Gilbert Stuart 451

Portrait by Gilbert Stuart, 1806, after the original by John Trumbull, 1784. Trumbull's portrait of Temple is in the Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery, Canajoharie, New York. Copies by Stuart are at the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina.

John Temple was a native Bostonian and a former royal customs official. In 1773 he moved to England, but in 1778 and 1779 he visited the United States in pursuit of a peace settlement based on reconciliation. His actions then, coupled with his previous service to the Crown, raised American suspicions; conversely he was also at odds with the North Ministry, which vilified him in the London press for his support of Americans (vol. 10:418).

In 1781 Temple planned to return to America to make a new effort at peace. To advance this goal he met with John Adams sometime before 16 August. The meeting resulted in Adams' letter of that date to the president of Congress, below, in which he indicated his view that Temple was serious in desiring to serve the United States by ending the war. Adams did not intend his letter to either recommend Temple or endorse his purpose in going to America. For an account of the controversy over Temple's loyalty and intentions that broke out immediately upon his arrival at Boston in late October, and Adams' unintentional role in it, see his letter of 16 August to the president of Congress, note 1, below.

Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.