Papers of John Adams, volume 13

From Edmund Jenings

From Thomas Barclay

To Edmund Jenings, 17 July 1782 JA Jenings, Edmund


To Edmund Jenings, 17 July 1782 Adams, John Jenings, Edmund
To Edmund Jenings
Hague July 17. 1782 Sir

I am honoured with yours of the 14. You might well Smile at the Supposition that I know nothing about the Negotiations for Peace. I have no direct Information about it, Since the 2 of June,1 but I presume the Reason is, there is nothing to communicate. I am indirectly informed, that Greenville, after a long time recd a Commission to treat with all the belligerent Powers.2 But as our Ennemy dont acknowledge Us to be a Power, they have thus reserved to themselves a Place for Chicane.

Mr Fox has Shewn himself, an able Man. He has at last taken a decided Part, and if he adheres to it, with Fortitude and Constancy, he will carry his Point, make himself Prime Minister and give Peace to his Country and to Europe, upon the best Terms that are attainable by G. Britain. His opinion, against receiving again the Dependence of America, if offered is perfectly just.3 It would be, ruinous to G. B. to receive it, as was fully demonstrated in a Parcell of Letters I sent to you two Years ago.4 Pray what is become of them. Can you get them back? I should be very glad to see them again. Since they are not worth printing, in London I would have them published here in French.

I have the Honour to agree with you, in your opinion that the Master will get the better of the Vassal, in their Contention for Preeminence, but there is another Emulation going on, between the Same Vassal, and a certain hoary head,5 where I think the Vassal will get the better.

I have had the Honour to Sup at the great Feast at Court, in Company with the great Personages you Saw at Brussells, and had several fine opportunities to take their Phisiognomies very near.6 Their appearance and their Behaviour, were very agreable. Yet who would wish to be, in their Situation? their Forebodings may very probably be as gloomy as yours.

181 182

Will not Fox's decisive Conduct compel the Master and the Vassal to be explicit? The Declarations of Conway, Richmond, and even shelburne, are so possitive, that the Intention is to acknowledge American Independence,7 that it Seems difficult for them to evade and equivocate, much longer, especially as Fox and Burke, Cavendich8 &c will not forget their Declarations. All Europe will consider the Kings Honour Dignity, Parole, engaged to acknowledge our Independence, if he retreats he will, Sink his Character lower than ever in every Court of Europe. I think that Shelburne will not be able to with Stand the Torrent. He must call in the Bedfords to his Aid.9 These will not be able to support him long, and presently, Several of the old Ministry will come in again. But none of them can disavow, the Declarations, in which King and all are compromised, to acknowledge American Independence, either conditionally or without Conditions. Fox uttered a Volume of good Sense, when he attached the Salvation of his Country to the Words “Without Conditions.” This sentiment has convinced me that he has a more comprehensive View of the State of the Nation, of France, Spain, Holland America, and the Neutral Powers, than all the other Men in England, and has formed a more Sagacious Judgement upon the whole.

Between you and me, Where shelburne says, he has Proofs lately recd that he is not disagreable to the Americans, he means a flattering Letter that Franklin has written him.10 I dare say he has no other Proof—at least he has none from me, who confess that I have as little Confidence in him, as you have or Mr Fox. I have long foreseen, that his Ambition his Trimming System, and insideous Character, would might Slide itself into the Place of the old Ministry, and put the last finishing Hand to the Ruin of G. B. and have ever wondered, that Fox and Burke did not see it sooner. They however depended I suppose upon the Marquis of Rockingham.

There now remains nothing but for Fox Burke, &c to be Steady. They have Seized the precise Idea and the only one that can be of Service to their Country. If they persevere, they will have the Glory, far greater than even that of a Chatham,11 of restoring as much Friendship between G. B and America, as is now in the nature of Things possible, and in as short a time as possible, and at the Sametime that of obtaining the best terms possible from the other belligerent Powers. Fox appears to have considered the advantage they give to France Spain and Holland by keeping the Question of American Independence open. An immense Advantage it is, that of throwing the odium of the Continuance of the War upon America 183 184 or rather upon England, that of Saying, with Truth We cant give Peace to the World yet, because the English cant perswade themselves to pronounce the Word Independence. This Point, fairly settled America will be Steady to her plighted faith and Honour it is true, but She will say, “I am Satisfied, Satisfy my Allies.” Their Allies must then take upon themselves the sole Merit of continuing the War. This Sentiment, will constrain them to a Moderation to which they have no Motive while the other Question is open.

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “His Excellency Mr Adams July 17h. 1782.”


See Benjamin Franklin to JA, 2 June, above.


On 10 June, Fox sent Thomas Grenville a revised commission, authorizing him to negotiate with France and “with any other of the Enemies of G. Britain.” In his reply to Fox of 21 June, however, Grenville questioned whether his power to negotiate with any “Princes and States” could apply to America until it had been recognized as independent (Mary A. Giunta, ed., The Emerging Nation: A Documentary History of the Foreign Relations of the United States under the Articles of Confederation, 1780–1789, Washington, D.C., 1996, 1:428, 434–435). By the date of this letter, Fox's resignation had made moot the issue of Grenville's powers to negotiate.


Here and later in the letter, JA analyzes the effect of Shelburne's replacement of Rockingham and Fox's subsequent resignation. These events had considerable significance with regard to the domestic political situation in England, but their effect on prospects for Anglo-American peace negotiations were more apparent than real. As JA points out later in the letter, it made little difference who was in power, because the debates in the Houses of Commons and Lords on 9 and 10 July, respectively, made it clear that one way or another, all parties were committed to recognizing American independence and concluding a peace treaty ( Parliamentary Hist. , 23:152–196). But the nature of the negotiations and the timing and form of the recognition remained uncertain. Fox favored recognizing the United States as independent and sovereign in advance of peace negotiations and gave the refusal of the cabinet to support his position as a reason for resigning. Fox's position led many Americans, including JA, to see him as the more desirable person with whom to negotiate. By contrast, Shelburne, who would now control the negotiations and was mistrusted by virtually everyone, had long opposed granting full independence to the United States. As a result, and despite what Shelburne might say publicly, JA and others suspected that Shelburne continued to favor some form of settlement with the United States short of full independence (Stanley Ayling, The Life of Charles James Fox, London, 1991, p. 102; Scott, British Foreign Policy , p. 325–327; see also JA's letter of 20 July to Jenings, below).


It was the perceived need to remove any illusions held by Shelburne or anyone else about an Anglo-American settlement that stopped short of full independence that finally led to the publication, beginning in August, of the “Parcell of Letters” that JA had sent to Jenings in 1780. The letters numbered twelve, ten of which were published in Parker's General Advertiser and Morning Intelligencer between 23 Aug. and 26 Dec. 1782 under the title “Letters from a Distinguished American.” All twelve letters are printed under the date of ante 14–22 July 1780, the span in which they were written (vol. 9:531–588). This was done because, significant as their publication is in 1782, JA's motives for writing them in the summer of 1780 and then sending them off to be, as he assumed, expeditiously published are perhaps even more important for understanding his diplomacy.


That is, George III was the “Master” and Shelburne was his “Vassal.” The “hoary head” was probably Benjamin Franklin, whom JA apparently believed would be outwitted by Shelburne.


That is, JA had attended the “Fête” on 16 July honoring the arrival of the Grand Duke Paul and Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna of Russia at The Hague. JA, however, was not originally invited. According to C. W. F. Dumas, it was only after he raised 185the issue with the Duc de La Vauguyon, and the ambassador took the matter up with the Dutch government, that an invitation, which arrived on the morning of the 16th, was issued to JA (PCC, No. 93, II, f. 76, 85).


For Henry Seymour Conway's declaration during the debate in the House of Commons on 9 July that recognition of American independence was a guiding principle of the Shelburne ministry, see Parliamentary Hist. , 23:165–166. In the House of Lords on 10 July, Charles Lennox, 3d Duke of Richmond, who served as the master general of ordnance in both the Rockingham and the Shelburne ministries and was Charles James Fox's uncle, reportedly declared “that the independence of America should not stand in the way of so desirable an object as peace with that country.” Shelburne followed, reiterating what Richmond had said and stating that despite his long-held belief that granting independence to the United States would be a disaster for Britain, he had concluded that there was now no other choice if peace was to be obtained (same, 23:188–195).


Lord John Cavendish had resigned as chancellor of the exchequer. For his statement during the Commons debate on 9 July, see same, 23:179–180.


The Bedford Party had taken a particularly hard-line stand with regard to the American colonies during the late 1760s. In the summer of 1782, rumors circulated in London that Shelburne might seek the support of former members of the Bedford Party to shore up his position (Lord Fitzmaurice, Life of William Earl of Shelburne, London, 1912, 2 vols., 1:321, 361–392; John Norris, Shelburne and Reform, London, 1963, p. 245–246).


During the Lords debate on 10 July, Shelburne reportedly said that “it had been insinuated elsewhere, that had his principles been known relative to American independence, the people of America would be backward to treat with him for peace; but he had learned sufficient by the information he received during the last two months that he was Secretary of State, and since, that there was no man with whom the Americans would more willingly treat than himself” ( Parliamentary Hist. , 23:193–194). The letter from Franklin to Shelburne referred to by JA was probably that of 22 March, a copy of which Franklin sent to JA with his letter of 20 April, but that letter also included another to Shelburne of 18 April (Franklin, Papers , 37:24–25, 165–167; vol. 12:432–433).


A reference to William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, known for his leadership during the Seven Years' War. Later he opposed the Stamp Act and called for its repeal, but he also strongly opposed independence for the American colonies (JA, D&A , 1:308; vol. 9:21).