Papers of John Adams, volume 11

To the President of Congress, 7 May 1781 JA President of Congress Huntington, Samuel


To the President of Congress, 7 May 1781 Adams, John President of Congress Huntington, Samuel
To the President of Congress
Sir Amsterdam May 7th. 1781

On the fourth of May I did myself the Honour to wait on Peter Van Bleiswick Esqr., Grand Pensionary of Holland, and presented him a Letter containing a Copy of my Memorial to the States General &c.1 His Excellency said that it was necessary for me to go to the President and Secretary of their High Mightinesses, and that it was not customary for foreign Ministers to communicate any thing to the Pensionary of Holland. I told him that I had been advised by the French Ambassador to present Copies to him, and they were only Copies which I had the Honour to offer him. He said he could not recieve them: that I must go to the President: but says he, it is proper for me to apprize You that the President will make a difficulty or rather will refuse to recieve any Letter or Paper from You, because the State You say You represent is not yet acknowledged to be a Sovereign State by the Sovereign of this Nation. The President will hear what you have to say to him, make Report of it to their High Mightinesses, and they will transmit it to the several Provinces for the deliberation of the various Members of the Sovereignty. I thanked his Excellency for this Information and departed.


I then waited on the President of their High Mightinesses for the Week the Baron Linde de Hemmen, a Deputy of the Province of Guelderland, to whom I communicated, that I had lately recieved from my Sovereign, the United States of America in Congress assembled, a Commission with full Powers and Instructions to treat with the States General concerning a Treaty of Amity and Commerce: that I had also recieved a Letter of Credence as Minister Plenipotentiary to their High Mightinesses, and I prayed him to lay before their High Mightinesses either the Originals, or a Memorial2 in which I had done myself the Honour to state all these facts and to inclose Copies.

The President said that he could not undertake to recieve from me either the Originals nor any Memorial; because that America was not yet acknowledged as a Sovereign State by the Sovereign of this Country: but that he would make Report to their High Mightinesses of all that I had said to him, and that it would become the subject of deliberation in the several Provinces: that he thought it a matter of great Importance to the Republick. I answered that I was glad to hear him say that he thought it important: that I thought it was the Interest of the two Republicks to become connected.

I thanked him for his politeness and retired, after having apprized him that I thought in the present Circumstances, it would be my duty to make public in print my Application to their High Mightinesses.

I had prepared Copies of my Memorial &c. for the Secretary Mr. Fagel: but as the President had refused to recieve the Originals, I thought it would be inconsistent for the Secretary to recieve Copies, so I omitted the Visit to his Office.

I then waited on the Baron de Ray, the Secretary of the Prince, with a Letter addressed to his most Serene Highness, containing a Memorial, informing him of my Credentials to his Court, and Copies of the Memorial to their High Mightinesses: the Secretary recieved me politely, recieved the Letter and promised to deliver it to the Stadtholder. He asked me where I lodged: I answered at the Parliament of England, a public House of that Name.

Returning to my Lodgings, I heard about two Hours afterwards that the Prince had been to the Assembly of the States General for about half an hour; and in about another Hour, the Servant of the House where I lodged announced to me the Baron de Ray: I went down to the Door to recieve him, and invited him to my Room. He entered and said that he was charged on the part of the Prince with his Compliments to me, and to inform me, that as the Independence of my Country was not yet acknowledged by the Sovereign of his, he 307could not recieve any Letter from me and therefore requested that I would recieve it back, which I did respectfully. The Secretary then politely said he was very much obliged to me for having given him an Opportunity to see my Person, and took his Leave.3

The President made Report to their High Mightinesses as soon as they assembled, and his Report was ordered to be recorded: where-upon the Deputies of each of the seven Provinces demanded Copies of the Record to be transmitted to the respective Regencies for their deliberation and decision; or in the technical Language of this Country, it was taken ad referendum on the same day.4

The next morning I waited on the French Ambassador, the Duke de la Vauguion, and acquainted him with all the Steps I had taken. He said he still persisted in his Opinion that the Time was not the most favourable, but as the Measure was taken, I might depend upon it he would, as an Individual, support and promote it to the utmost of his Power.

It would take a large Space to explain all the Reasons and Motives which I had for choosing the present Time in preference to a later: but I think I can demonstrate, that every Moments delay would have been attended with danger and inconvenience. All Europe is in a Crisis, and this Ingredient thrown in at this Time will have more Effect than at any other. At a future Time I may enlarge upon this Subject.5

I have the Honour to be with the greatest Respect, Sir your most obedient and most humble Servant. John Adams

RC in John Thaxter's hand (PCC, No. 84, f. 133–136). LbC (Adams Papers); notation: “Note Feb. 20. 1782. The late Evacuation of the Barrier Towns and Demolition of their Fortifications, may Serve as a Comment on the D. de la Vauguions opinion against the Point of time but if it shews that he was right for his Country, it shews also that I was right for mine, and the Dutch only have been wrong in being blind.” The notation indicates that JA consulted his Letterbook when he wrote to the secretary for foreign affairs on 19 and 21 Feb. 1782 (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 5:185–189, 192–199). See also note 5.


After forewarning van Bleiswyck of his intentions on 2 May (to the president of Congress, 3 May, above), JA returned to his residence at Leyden and set out from there on the morning of 4 May. Upon arriving at The Hague, JA met with Dumas who, as he had on 2 May, accompanied JA on his rounds, presumably to act as his interpreter. JA's account in this letter of his meetings with the Grand Pensionary, Pieter van Bleiswyck; the president of the States General, Baron Lynden van Hemmen; and William V's secretary, Thomas Isaac, Baron de Larrey, is substantially the same, although longer, than that by Dumas in his letter of 1 May – 13 July to the president of Congress (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 4:393–394). See also note 4.

In a letter to Levi Woodbury, dated 20 Feb. 1835, Benjamin Waterhouse recalled JA's departure.

“I never shall forget the day and the circumstances of Mr. Adams's going from Leyden to the Hague with his Memorial to their High Mightinesses the States General dated, whether accidentally or by design April. 19! I 308know not. He came down into the front room where we all were—his secretary, two sons, and myself—his coach and four at the door, and he full-dressed even to his sword, when with energetic countenance and protuberant eyes, and holding his memorial in his hand, said to us, in a solemn tone—'Young men! remember this day—for this day I go to the Hague to put seed in the ground that may produce good or evil—GOD knows which,'—and putting the paper into his side-pocket, he steped into his coach, and drove off alone—leaving us, his Juniors solemnized in thought and anxious; for he had hardly spoken to us for several days before—such was his inexpressible solicitude”

(DLC: Woodbury Papers).


Diplomatic propriety required that the original, not a copy, be presented to the States General, the body for which the memorial was intended and from which action was requested. The original manuscript has not been located.


On 8 May the Gazette de Leyde contained a brief note indicating that it had learned that JA, in his character of minister plenipotentiary to the Netherlands, had visited the president of the States General and several other gentlemen. All that could be said at present of the démarche, however, was that it offered the Republic connections with the American confederation, particularly with regard to commerce.


Dumas' letter of 1 May – 13 July to the president of Congress and reports in newspapers, such as the Mercure de France of 2 June, indicate that the deputies from Zeeland did not take a copy of the president's report to communicate to their constituents (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 4:394).


JA's most comprehensive statements on the memorial of 19 April, may be found in his letters of 19 and 21 Feb. 1782 to the secretary for foreign affairs. In those letters JA mounted a spirited defense of his memorial to the States General and argued that Joseph II's 1781 abrogation of the Barrier Treaty of 1715 justified his decision to present a memorial, as well as its timing (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 5:185–189, 192–199; and 25 Feb. 1782 to James Lovell, LbC, Adams Papers).

During the negotiations to end the War of the Spanish Succession three Barrier Treaties, each guaranteed by Great Britain, were negotiated to protect the Netherlands against invasion by France. The third, which superseded the others and was signed on 15 Nov. 1715, allowed the Dutch to garrison fortresses in the Austrian Netherlands at the towns of Namur, Tournay, Menen, Furnes, Warneton, Ypres, and Knokke, and, with Britain, maintain a joint force at Dendermonde. The outbreak of the Anglo-Dutch war in 1780 meant that Britain had neither the power nor the inclination to meet its obligations. As a result, Joseph II unilaterally abrogated the Barrier Treaty and demanded that the Dutch garrisons depart, which they did in November. Joseph II's ability to demand and enforce the evacuation, and France's unwillingness to oppose the humiliation of a potential ally, exposed the weakness of the Netherlands and was a severe blow to Dutch pride ( Cambridge Modern Hist. , 5:459; Orville Murphy, Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes: French Diplomacy in the Age of Revolution, 1719–1787, Albany, 1982, p. 405– 414; Edler, Dutch Republic and the American Revolution , p. 203; vol. 9:286).

To C. W. F. Dumas, 7 May 1781 JA Dumas, Charles William Frederic


To C. W. F. Dumas, 7 May 1781 Adams, John Dumas, Charles William Frederic
To C. W. F. Dumas
Dear sir Amsterdam May 7. 1781

I have this moment received yours of 6th.

I have no Objection against your Plan. I informed the Grand Pensionary and the President that I should think it my duty to publish my Memorial. I persist in the Same opinion. The manner is indifferent to me. I shall avow the Publication. Your omission of the Commission will be agreable to me.

I communicated to the last Person I saw at the Hague all that I had done. He still persisted in the opinion that the time was a little 309too early, but this Point apart approved of every step I had taken, and promised to support it, “comme Homme.” I never had a more agreable or satisfactory Interview, with him.1

I Shall be agreably Surprized, if the Provinces determine so soon as in 3 or 4 Weeks. The Time, for them to take is their own. I shall wait it, with entire Respect, if it should be Eight or ten Weeks.

If other People will allow me to judge for myself in what I am responsible for, they will always find me willing to allow them the same Prerogative.

I have the Honour to be, with great Esteem & Respect, sir, your most obedient & most humble sert.

John Adams

RC? (Adams Papers). This letter may not have been sent.


The Duc de La Vauguyon.