Papers of John Adams, volume 11

To the President of Congress, 4 August 1781 JA President of Congress McKean, Thomas


To the President of Congress, 4 August 1781 Adams, John President of Congress McKean, Thomas
To the President of Congress
Sir Amsterdam August 4. 1781

I should Scarcely be credited, if I were to describe the present State of this Country. There is more Animosity against one another, than against the common Ennemy. They can agree upon nothing. Neither upon War, nor Peace: neither upon acknowledging the Independency of America, nor upon denying it. Hopes of a general Peace, which flatter all Parties, are continually kept up by Tales and Artifices, which are too gross to impose upon any Man who has the free Use of his Reason. There is yet as much fear of provoking England, as if she was their Freind, or their Protector.

The naval force of England, is held in check, by her other Ennemies in Such a manner, that the Ships of the Republick, would be able to do a great deal, if they were employed: but they do nothing: and there is as little done, by Individuals in Privateering, as by the national Marine.


They however, or Somebody for them do their full Share with the other Powers of War in writing Paragraphs in the Gazettes, in which their Forces and Efforts are exagerated.

It will be three or four Years, according to every present Appearance before this nation will get warm enough to do any Thing, and therefore Americans, I think have no ground at all to expect any Kind of Assistance or Encouragement from hence. The Dutch Officers would fight, if they had opportunity: and the English are not without Apprehensions from them, So that probably they will think themselves obliged to keep more of their Forces at home, than they would if the Dutch were not in the War. This is all the Advantage, that We shall derive.

I have taken some Pains to discover the true Motives and Causes of that Aversion, which prevails, against acknowledging American Independence,—to consider it, in the Strongest Light, even as the English themselves consider it, it is but an Hostility against an open Ennemy. The English themselves are laughing at them for their Blindness and Timidity, in not doing it. The immediate Advantages from it, in Trade, War, and Policy are obvious: The Disadvantages, no Man can see , but a Dutchman.

I never could get any other Answer to my Questions Why dont you acknowledge America? What Reasons have you against it? What are you afraid of? What harm could it do you? than this. We are Small and weak. We have no desire to do a brillant Action. We ought to avoid coming to Extremities with England, as long as possible. We ought not to provoke England. England must See, and know that she can never prevail in America, and therefore, if We were to provoke her, She will withdraw her Fleets and Armies from thence, fall upon this Republick and tear it to Pieces. This is So weak, that it is impossible, they should be in Earnest. There must be Some other View. None of them will avow it: but I take the Secret to be, they think they may be brought low by the English, and in such Case they might be able to purchase Peace by the Sacrifice of America. In this they are deceived again: but if they were not, there is a baseness of Soul in it that would disgrace Shylock the Jew. Thanks be to God it is neither not in the their Power of Jews or Dutchmen to Sacrifice America.

In Short the Nation has no Confidence left in its own Wisdom, Courage, Virtue or Power. It has no Esteem nor Passion, nor desire for either. It loves and Seeks Wealth and that alone. The depravation of the human heart, is more Striking and Shocking in this nation 440than it is, in France, or even England, because there is preserved more of an external show of Regularity, Morals and Religion which adds the odium of Hypocrisy, to that of Profligacy, and Corruption. Before I came to this Country I hoped it was not so bad as Some others: but I have learned enough to convince me, that although external Appearances differ somewhat, the Corruption of the Heart, and the debasement of the Understanding is very nearly equal in all the nations of Europe, and therefore that America can never be too much upon her Guard against them all.

I have the Honour to be

LbC (Adams Papers); notation: “not Sent.”

To the President of Congress, 6 August 1781 JA President of Congress McKean, Thomas


To the President of Congress, 6 August 1781 Adams, John President of Congress McKean, Thomas
To the President of Congress

Amsterdam, 6 August 1781. RC in John Thaxter's hand PCC, No. 84, III, f. 347–350. printed : Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 4:623..

In this letter, which was read in Congress on 16 Nov., John Adams provided an English translation of a report dated 13 July at St. Petersburg. Taken from the Gazette d'Utrecht of 6 Aug., it disclosed that the Russian government had instructed its minister in London to join with the Swedish and Danish ministers in representations concerning Britain's declaration of war against the Netherlands. The report also indicated that the British minister at St. Petersburg had received his government's answer to the preliminary articles proposed for the Austro-Russian mediation, but that its contents remained unknown. The same report appeared in the Gazette de Leyde of 10 August. Adams indicated that one need only look to experience and George III's speech on 18 July to know the likely nature of Britain's response. He then declared: “Thus all Europe is to be bubbled by a species of Chicanery, that has been the derision of America for a Number of Years. In time the Courts of Europe will learn the nature of these british tricks by Experience, and receive them with the Contempt or the Indignation they deserve.”

RC in John Thaxter's hand (PCC, No. 84, III, f. 347–350). printed : (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 4:623).

To the President of Congress, 6 August 1781 JA President of Congress McKean, Thomas


To the President of Congress, 6 August 1781 Adams, John President of Congress McKean, Thomas
To the President of Congress
Sir Amsterdam August 6th. 1781

In several of the London Newspapers of July 26th. appeared the following paragraph.

“An order has been sent from Lord Hillsborough's Office for bringing Curson and Governieur, whom We sometime ago mentioned to have been confined by Command of Sir George Rodney and General Vaughan for having carried on a traiterous Correspondence with the Enemy at St. Eustatia, to Town to be confined in Newgate to take their Trial for the Crime of High Treason. The whole Circumstances 441of their Case and all their Correspondence has been submitted to the Inspection of the Attorney and Solicitor General, and they consider the Offence in so serious a light, that a direct refusal has been given to a Petition from Mr. Curson to be indulged with the priviledge of giving Bail for Appearance on account of the ill health which he has experienced on board the Vengeance, where he and his Colleague have been for some Months confined, and which is now lying at Spithead. It has been discovered from an Inspection of their Papers, that Mr. Adams, the celebrated Negotiator to Holland, was the Man, with whom they held their illicit Correspondence, and it is said that the Appearance of Proof against them, has turned out much stronger, than was originally supposed.”1

Last Fall Mr. Searle informed me, that Messieurs Curson and Governieur were Continental Agents at Statia, and advised me to send my Dispatches to their Care, as worthy Men, a part of whose Duty it was to forward such things to Congress. I accordingly sent several packets of Letters, Newspapers and Pamphlets to their Address, accompanied only with a Line simply requesting their Attention to forward them by the first safe Opportunity.2 I never saw those Gentlemen, or recieved a Line from either. It must have been Imprudence, or Negligence, to suffer my Letters to fall into the hands of the Enemy. I have looked over all the Letters, which I wrote about that time, and I find no Expression in any that could do Harm to the Public if printed in the Gazettes; yet there are some things which the English would not choose to publish I fancy. What other Correspondences of Messieurs Curson and Governieur might have been discovered I know not.

The British Ministry seem to be growing outrageous. The more they dispair, the more angry they are. They think not at all of Peace. America should think of it as little: sighing, longing for Peace, will not obtain it. No Terms short of eternal disgrace and irrecoverable ruin would be accepted. We must brace up our Laws, and our military Discipline, and renounce that devoted and abandoned Nation forever. America must put an End to a foolish and disgraceful Correspondence and Intercourse, which some have indulged, but at which all ought to blush as inconsistent with the Character of Man.

I have the honor 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, III, f. 351–352).


For an example of this report, see the London Courant of 26 July. With regard to Curson and Gouverneur, the same newspaper noted on 2 Aug. that “To pervert the meaning 442of any statute, is to destroy it. . . . if they were English subjects, it was unjust to seize their property along with the other inhabitants; if they were Dutch, and the seizure of their property was a legal measure, the detaining and imprisoning them, on a charge of high treason, for corresponding with the American Congress, or the French, is the most arbitrary stretch of the law that can be imagined—much as we have been used of late years to perversion and misinterpretation.”


On 23 Oct. 1780, JA wrote a first and second letter two letters to the firm presumably covering identical packets going by different vessels (both LbC's, Adams Papers). JA indicated that the packets contained dispatches for Congress, but the specific letters enclosed have not been identified. In a letter of 1 Sept. (Adams Papers), Curson & Gouverneur reported that they forwarded the packets. No other correspondence between JA and the firm has been found.