Papers of John Adams, volume 13

Introduction Introduction
The Business of Diplomacy

John Adams declared Dutch recognition of the United States, which occurred on 19 April 1782, to be a “signal Triumph” for the new nation.1 And so it was. But Adams had little time to reflect on what was also a great personal victory. The documents appearing in volume 13 chronicle a six-month period during which Adams, the now-recognized American minister at The Hague, successfully obtained a loan from a consortium of Dutch bankers and negotiated a commercial treaty with the States General. But they also chart Adams' reaction to events in London and Paris as Anglo-American peace negotiations slowly gained momentum.

The precarious financial position of the United States made a loan more immediately important than a commercial treaty, which could have but limited effect in wartime. Prior to 19 April few bankers sought the American business, and those that did—Horneca, Fizeaux & Co. in 1778 and Jean de Neufville & Fils in 1781—failed to raise any significant amount of money, partly because of the firms' lack of standing in the banking community, but more importantly because of the reluctance to lend money to a country that, in so far as the Dutch government was concerned, did not exist.2 But Dutch perceptions of the new nation's creditworthiness were drastically altered by recognition, and more substantial and respected banking firms were soon competing for Adams' favor. He became “a Man in the midst of the Ocean negotiating for his Life among a School of Sharks.”3 Adams finally decided on a consortium of three Amsterdam firms with strong ties to the pro-American Patriot Party, and on 11 June he signed a contract for a five-million-guilder loan at 5 percent, a rate higher than the one paid by Britain but lower than the one paid by France.4 The effect of recognition on Dutch perceptions xviiiof the United States as an investment opportunity is evident from the fact that by mid-October, when Adams left the Netherlands, over two million guilders had been raised, far surpassing anyone's expectations. A unique window into the arcane world of eighteenth-century finance is provided by the extensive correspondence on the loan and other financial matters between Adams and his bankers, Wilhem & Jan Willink, Nicolaas & Jacob van Staphorst, and De la Lande & Fynje, as well as Jean de Neufville & Fils, Robert Morris, and Robert R. Livingston.

In terms of John Adams' diplomacy in the Netherlands, recognition was never an end in itself but was intended to pave the way for the negotiation of a Dutch-American treaty of amity and commerce. The access to the American market that such a treaty would provide had been a key argument in Adams' 19 April 1781 memorial to the States General and was seen as an important objective in many of the petitions from merchants and others demanding recognition. Thus four days after the Dutch recognized the United States, Adams submitted a draft commercial treaty to their High Mightinesses.5 Adams' correspondence with Livingston, Pieter van Blieswyck, Engelbert François van Berckel, and Adriaan van Zeeburgh, among others, documents the slow but steady progress of the treaty from the States General's initial deliberations through its consideration by the admiralties, towns, and provinces of the Netherlands. For Adams the slowness of this preliminary process was frustrating, but when formal negotiations began on 22 August, they went more rapidly than he expected, being completed by mid-September, with the final treaty and a convention on recaptures signed on 8 October. The smoothness of the negotiations was owing to the general lack of controversy over the provisions proposed by Adams or the revisions suggested by the Dutch. Indeed, the only real controversy involved Articles 22 and 23 of Adams' draft, which referred directly to the Franco-American treaties of 1778. The first article prohibited any conflict between the Dutch-American Treaty and those signed with France, and the second article ensured that nothing in the treaty would deter Spain from acceding to the Franco-American treaties. The Dutch believed that neither article was necessary and proposed their deletion. In the end a compromise was reached, with the Dutch agreeing to a provision that they considered meaningless, to satisfy Adams, who had been instructed to include such a provision xixin any treaty he negotiated. The negotiations are dealt with in a group document that includes the texts of the draft and final treaty, as well as comments by the Dutch and John Adams on changes made in the course of the negotiations.6 A major problem faced by the editors is the absence of any extant English-language version of Adams' draft, which has led them to reconstruct the draft from the sources that Adams is known to have used. For a detailed explanation of why and how this was done, see the editorial notes to the group document and the draft treaty.

Adams' correspondence with Robert R. Livingston, the secretary for foreign affairs, remained contentious on both sides. Livingston's letters, all of which he showed to the Chevalier de La Luzerne, the French minister at Philadelphia, reflected his determination to be an active participant in the formulation and execution of foreign policy.7 The secretary criticized Adams for moving too quickly, providing insufficient information on his activities, and failing to consult with the French ambassador at The Hague and be guided by his advice. Adams was frustrated and irritated by Livingston's comments, which he believed displayed little understanding of diplomacy as practiced in the Netherlands or of the operation of the Dutch government, and which were often written before the outcome of events was apparent. Adams' exasperation with Livingston is evident in his replies where he vigorously defended his actions, but he also complied with Livingston's demands for more information. A letter written on 4 September stands out for its very detailed account of the political and diplomatic personages with whom Adams dealt in his efforts to promote American interests.8 Supplementing the annotation of the letters to Livingston are Adams' comments that he later published in the Boston Patriot between April and July 1811, there attributing much of the tone and content of the foreign minister's letters to French influence.9

John Adams continued an extensive private correspondence on public matters. Edmund Jenings in Brussels remained a source for intelligence and a sounding board for Adams' opinions on a variety of subjects, including the progress of his diplomacy in the Netherlands, the political situation in England, the prospects for Anglo-xxAmerican peace negotiations, and his opinions of Benjamin Franklin and the French government. Francis Dana at St. Petersburg continued to provide valuable information and advice on events in Russia, Adams' diplomatic activities in the Netherlands, and the impending peace negotiations. Dana also was John Quincy Adams' guardian in St. Petersburg, and his letters reported on the impending departure of the younger Adams from Russia on his return journey to the Netherlands. A new correspondent was the English-born merchant Matthew Ridley, who was in Europe charged with raising a loan for Maryland. His letters from Paris contain information on the progress of peace negotiations, but even more important are his diary entries recording very candid conversations with John Adams at The Hague, which have been used extensively in the annotation.10 Arthur Lee wrote from Congress to inform Adams of events there and, in particular, his distaste for the influence of the French minister, La Luzerne, on its deliberations. It was from Lee that Adams first learned of the instructions, which he had been unable to decipher, to the joint peace commission requiring its members to consult with the French government and follow its advice.11 James and Mercy Warren resumed their correspondence, providing Adams with information on events in Massachusetts and the progress of the war. Their accounts were supplemented by letters from other Massachusetts friends such as Tristram Dalton, William Gordon, Elbridge Gerry, Samuel Cooper, and James Sullivan. Since both Adams and C. W. F. Dumas were at The Hague, the number of letters exchanged by the two men diminished significantly, but Dumas continued to act as Adams' advisor and translator and was of particular assistance during the treaty negotiations.

John Adams, in his capacity as one of the peace commissioners, followed events in Paris concerning the impending peace negotiations as closely as possible. To a degree at least, Adams was frustrated at having to remain at The Hague to complete his work in the Netherlands, while at Paris the parameters for negotiations were being set and substantive discussions were taking place. Benjamin Franklin kept Adams up to date on developments there, even sending Adams copies of his correspondence with the British politicians Lord Shelburne and David Hartley. Adams and Franklin exchanged fewer letters than in the past, partly because of Franklin's health, but also because of the likelihood that letters passing between Paris xxiand The Hague would be read by French or Dutch authorities. That concern also inhibited Adams' correspondence with John Jay, whom the prospect of formal negotiations had brought to Paris from Madrid. In his letters Jay pressed Adams to come to Paris as soon as possible, in part, although it is nowhere stated explicitly, to be a counterweight to Franklin. Henry Laurens, the fourth peace negotiator present in Europe, also corresponded with Adams regarding the negotiations, although he indicated his reluctance to become involved.

Other more mundane matters occupied Adams' attention as the American minister at The Hague. Early in May he moved into the new legation at The Hague, the “Hôtel des Etats Unis,” the first diplomatic building owned by the United States. Of particular interest in this regard are detailed inventories of the legation's furnishings compiled between May 1782 and June 1784.12 These inventories provide important information on the contents of an eighteenth-century house, in this case a diplomatic establishment, and the way in which the people occupying it carried on their lives. Adams continued to receive appeals from Americans who had been imprisoned or found themselves in desperate straits and did what he could to alleviate their situations. Others sought his assistance regarding ships that allegedly had been wrongfully seized or immigration to and employment in America. One particularly interesting letter requested his assistance in establishing a glasshouse near Albany, New York.13

Adams continued his efforts to convince Europeans of the justness of the American cause and the need to support the new nation. In July he wrote an essay entitled “A Memorial to the Sovereigns of Europe,” which argued that the nations forming the League of Armed Neutrality should take a more active role in promoting an Anglo-American peace.14 It was published in several Dutch newspapers and in Boston. At about the same time he published A Collection of State-Papers, which contained the principal documents relating to the States General's recognition of the United States and himself as its minister at The Hague. Published first in the Netherlands, it later appeared in an expanded form in England. Of particular interest to Adams was the long-delayed publication of his “Letters from a Distinguished American.” The letters were first written xxiiin mid-1780, and Edmund Jenings finally arranged for their publication in Parker's General Advertiser and Morning Intelligencer, with the first letter appearing on 23 August and the final letter, the tenth, on 26 December.15 In 1780, Adams sought to convince the British that an immediate peace with the United States was in their vital interest, but in 1782 the letters' purpose was to convince the new Shelburne ministry that there could be no peace without unconditional independence.

The signing of the Dutch-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce on 8 October meant that Adams' work in the Netherlands was done. Nine days later he set off for Paris and the peace negotiations, and, although he retained his commission as minister at The Hague until 1788, he would never again reside there for an extended period of time. The two years that John Adams spent in the Netherlands is a study in contrasts. Faced with virtually no prospect of succeeding in his mission to obtain Dutch recognition or raise a loan, he ultimately decided that extraordinary circumstances demanded extraordinary measures. In April 1781 he drafted and sent a memorial in which he demanded that the States General recognize the United States or face the consequences. He was warned by the French ambassador against taking such action and was criticized harshly by Robert R. Livingston for an initiative that seemed to invite only rejection.16 In the end he succeeded far better than either he or anyone else could have hoped. The Dutch became the second nation to recognize the United States and signed a commercial treaty with the new nation. A loan was successfully raised that ensured the financial well-being of the United States. When he set off on the road to Paris and the challenge of negotiating an Anglo-American peace treaty, John Adams could be proud of his accomplishments. He had been victorious in his undertaking against great odds, and he would, for the remainder of his life, see his time in the Netherlands as the high point of his diplomatic career.

John Adams and His Letterbooks

During the six months covered by this volume, John Adams used two letterbooks numbered 18 and 19, which appear respectively on xxiiiReels 106 and 107 of the Adams Papers Microfilms edition. For a detailed description of the nature and contents of Letterbook 18, see the introduction to volume 12.17

Letterbook 19 is entitled “Holland France England 1782. 3. 4. 5.” It includes copies of 367 letters, beginning with Adams' 28 April 1782 letter to Edmund Jenings and ending with Comte Reventlaw's 22 August 1785 letter to John Adams (p. 5–449). Some are in John Adams' hand, but others are by various secretaries, including John Thaxter, Charles Storer, John Quincy Adams, and Abigail Adams 2d. Included on pages 1–4 and 456–457 is an index, while pages 461–462 and 470–471 contain accounts for the years 1784 and 1785, and pages 466–469 record visits exchanged by Adams at The Hague in April 1782 following Dutch recognition of the United States. Pages 450–455, 458–460, and 463–465 are blank.

Notes on Editorial Method

The editors of this volume of the Papers of John Adams have followed the editorial principles set down in the Notes on Editorial Method in previous volumes, especially volumes 1 (p. xxxi–xxxv), 9 (xx–xxiii), and 11 (xx–xxi). For the most recent exposition of that policy, from which there has been no deviation in volume 13, see volume 12 (p. xix–xx) and references there.

One facet of the editorial method followed in this and previous volumes of the Adams Papers is the policy regarding translations. A foreign language document is collated and presented like any other in the volume, with punctuation, capitalization, abbreviations, and contractions retained as in the original. Translations done by the Adams Papers appear in smaller type immediately following the original document and are presented in modern, standard English, with all abbreviations and contractions expanded, and all misspellings of proper names and geographical expressions corrected. However, when a contemporary translation is available, its use is indicated in the caption, and it is treated as a document in its own right: the original punctuation, capitalization, abbreviations, and contractions are retained, and it appears in the size type used for all original documents. Footnote numbers are duplicated in both the foreign language document and the translation, but only the translation is indexed.


Volume 13 of the Papers of John Adams chronicles May through October 1782, an enormously productive period in John Adams' diplomatic career. He and a consortium of Amsterdam bankers agreed to terms for a vital loan, and he negotiated the Dutch-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce. But additional documentation for the period is provided in other published volumes of the Adams Papers. The 272 letters and documents printed in and the 74 items omitted from this volume should be considered together with the 58 documents for the same period printed in the Adams Family Correspondence (4:319–390; 5:1–28). Those letters describe life in war-time America and provided much needed intelligence to support Adams' activities in the Netherlands, while giving him an unofficial conduit by which he could inform those closest to him of the situation in Europe. Abigail Adams was John Adams' most important correspondent, but the letters he exchanged with John Quincy Adams, John Thaxter, Richard Cranch, and Cotton Tufts are also important in any effort to fully understand Adams the diplomat. John Adams' Diary and Autobiography (3:5–37) and John Quincy Adams' Diary (1:124–153) also contain important information. The first describes September and October 1782 as John Adams waited for the Dutch to finally approve the treaty so that he could depart for Paris and the peace negotiations, while the latter chronicles the younger Adams' life in St. Petersburg from May through late October 1782, when he began his circuitous journey back to the Netherlands.


To Robert R. Livingston, 16 May, below.


For the unsuccessful efforts of these firms to raise an American loan in the Netherlands, see the indexes to vols. 6, 8, 11, and 12.


To Robert R. Livingston, 16 May, below.


Contract for a Loan with Wilhelm & Jan Willink, Nicolaas & Jacob van Staphorst, and De la Land & Fynje, 11 June , below.


To Robert R. Livingston, 23 April (vol. 12:450–451).


The Negotiation of the Dutch-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce, 22 Aug. – 8 Oct., below.


For notations indicating that copies were sent to La Luzerne, see Livingston's letters to JA in PCC, No. 118.


Below, but see also JA's letters to Livingston of 6 and 17 Sept. (2), all below.


To Livingston, 4 Sept., note 20, below.


See, in particular, JA's letter of 21 May to the Marquis de Lafayette, note 1, below.


See Lee's letter of 7 Aug. and JA's reply of 10 Oct., both below.


Household Inventories of the U.S. Legation at The Hague, 14 May 1782 – 24 June 1784, below.


From Jan Heefke, 7 June, below.


ca. 5–8 July, below.


“Letters from a Distinguished American,” ante 14-22 July 1780, vol. 9:531-588; to Jenings, 17 July, and note 4; from Jenings, 11 Aug., and note 6, both below.


Memorial to the States General, 19 April 1781, but see also JA's letter to the Duc de La Vauguyon, 17 April 1781, and note 1 (vol. 11:272-282, 263-265).


John Adams and His Letterbooks, vol. 12:xviii–xix.