Papers of John Adams, volume 13

To Robert R. Livingston, 17 September 1782 JA Livingston, Robert R.


To Robert R. Livingston, 17 September 1782 Adams, John Livingston, Robert R.
To Robert R. Livingston
Hague Septr. 17th: 1782 Sir

You will naturally enquire, whether the Neutral Powers will continue their Neutrality, or whether the Neutral Confederacy will be broken?

No certain Answer can be given to these Questions. We must content ourselves with probabilities, which are strong for the Continuance of the Neutrality. Who indeed should break it? The Emperor was thought to be the most unlikely Potentate to accede to it; but he has acceaded and has taken several Steps, which prove that he will not break it, at least by leaning towards England. Sweeden is the steady Friend of France. Prussia, whose Inclinations and Affections are certainly towards France and Holland, and alienated from England, would certainly at this age of Life, be too cautious a Politician to wage War for England against the Houses of Bourbon and Austria, Holland and America.

There remains only Russia and Denmark. What can Russia do? This is a maritime War. She can't assist the English with Land-Forces, and an hundred thousand Men would do no good to England on Land. Her boasted Fleet added to that of England would only weaken it, for several Reasons—among The rest, because England must maintain it with Money, if not with Officers and Men—for Cash is wanted in Russia. Denmark remains but what can She do? Her Islands in the West Indies and her Trade are at Mercy, and She 476would not have force enough to defend her own, much less to assist England, if She should declare War.

A Doctrine prevails, that an Acknowledgment of the Independence of America is an Hostility against England, and consequently a Breach of the Neutrality. Our Friends have sometimes favored this Idea. The Duke de la Vauguyon has often expressed this Sentiment to me, and, if I am not mistaken, the Marquis de Verac has said the same to Mr. Dana. If this Opinion is not clear, it is very impolitic to favor it. The Court of France in their public memorials have denied it, and it would be difficult to prove it, either by the Law or Practice of Nations. Sending or recieving Ambassadors; entering into peaceful Commercial Treaties, or at least negotiating at Philadelphia the Rights of Neutral Nations, is not taking Arms against Great Britain.

But if the Acknowledgment of our Independence is an Hostility, a Denial of it is so too; and if the maritime Confederation forbids the one, it forbids both. None of the Neutral Nations can take the Part of Great Britain therefore, without breaking to Pieces that great System, which has cost so much Negotiation and embraces so great a part of Mankind. The Neutral Powers set so high a Value upon it, and indeed make so great a profit by it, that I Think none of them will take the Part of Great Britain. The Connections of the Duke Louis de Brunswick in Denmark and Russia, have set some little Machines in Motion partly to favor him, and partly to hold out an Appearance of something fermenting for the benefit of Great Britain: but these will never succeed so far as to draw any Nation into the War, or to incline this Republick to make a seperate Peace.

It is to this Source that I attribute certain Observations that are circulated in Pamphlets and in Conversation, that there is at present an Incoherence in the general System of Europe; that the Emperor has deranged the whole System of the Equilibrium of Europe, so that if ever the Northern Powers should think of stopping by a Confederation the Preponderance of the Southern Powers, Holland would be unable, on account of the Demolition of the Barriers, to acceed to that Confederation.

Mr. Magis, who has been eight and twenty Years Envoy at the Hague from the Bishop of Liege,1 and who converses more with all the foreign Ministers here than any other, has said to me not long since, “Sir, the Wheel rolls on too long and too rapidly one Way; it must roll back again somewhat to come to its proper Centre. The Power of the House of Bourbon rises, and that of Great Britain sinks too fast, and I believe the Emperor, altho' he seems perfectly 477still at present, will come out at length, and take the greatest Part of any Power in the final Adjustment of Affairs.”

The Comte de Mirabel, the Sardinian Minister, said to me upon another Occasion, “Your Country, Sir, will be obliged, in the Vicissitudes of things, to wheel round and take the Part of England and such Allies as She may obtain, in order to form a proper Ballance in the World.” My Answer to both was, “these Sentiments betray a Jealousy of a too sudden Growth of the Power of the House of Bourbon: but whose fault is it if it is a Fact? (which it does not appear to be as yet) and whose fault will it be, if it should hereafter become a Fact? Why do the Neutral Powers stand still and see it, or imagine they see it, when it is so easy to put a stop to it? They have only to acknowledge American Independence, and then neither the House of Bourbon nor England will have a colourable Pretence for continuing the War, from which alone the Jealousy can arise.”

The Prince de Gallitzin said not long since, that the Conduct of this Republick, in refusing a seperate Peace &c he feared would throw all Europe into a War, there were so many Pretentions against England.

I quote these Sayings of foreign Ministers, because You express a Desire to hear them, and because they show all the Color of Argument in favor of England, that any body has advanced. All these Ministers allow, that American Independence is decided—even the Minister from Portugal within a few days said it to me expressly. It is therefore very unreasonable in them to grumble, at what happens merely in Consequence of thier Neutrality.2

It is the miserable Policy of the Prince of Orange's Councillors, as I suppose, which has set a few Springs in motion here. Mr. Markov, one of the Ministers of Russia, and Mr. St. Saphorin, Minister from Denmark, are the most openly and busily in favor of England. But if instead of endeavouring to excite Jealousies and foment Prejudices against the House of Bourbon, or Compassion towards England, they would endeavour to convince her of the Necessity of acknowledging American Independence, or to persuade the Neutral Powers to decide the Point, by setting the Example, they would really serve England, and the general Cause of Mankind. As it goes at present, their Negotiations serve no Cause whatever, that I can concieve of, unless it be that of the Duke of Brunswick, and in the End it will appear, that even he is not served by it.

I have the Honor to be Sir, your humble Servant. J. Adams

RC in John Thaxter's hand (PCC, No. 84, IV, f. 177–180); endorsed: “17th Sepr 1782.”


Liège's minister at The Hague was Paul Franz von Magis. He presented his credentials in Nov. 1754 and served until Sept. 1788 ( Repertorium , 3:235).


See also JA's account of his conversations with various foreign ministers at a dinner at court on 13 Sept. (JA, D&A , 3:5–6).

From Edmund Jenings, 19 September 1782 Jenings, Edmund JA


From Edmund Jenings, 19 September 1782 Jenings, Edmund Adams, John
From Edmund Jenings
Brussells, Septr. 19. 1782 Sir

I inclose herewith some Slips which came to Hand by the last Mail.1

A Letter from Mr L of the 7th Instant has the following Paragraph.

I have had the Honour of corresponding with Mr Adams, All is well, it could not be otherwise it cannot be otherwise, when Men are not determined to be Knaves or Fools.2

I am Happy to find Mr L satisfied with your Excellencys Conduct towards Him. I have sent the Copies of the Commissions to Paris to be delivered to Him should He pass through that City, but this does not seem probable, He having desired me to write to Him at Calais post restante. He means to avoid Paris if possible.

I have the Honour of being Sir your Excellencys Most Obedient Humble Servt. Edm: Jenings

RC (Adams Papers).


These were JA's “Letters from a Distinguished American” and may have included those published in Parker's General Advertiser and Morning Intelligencer on 30 Aug. and 3 and 11 Sept. (vol. 9:550–553, 574–578, 571–574).


For Laurens' 7 Sept. letter and the use that he and Edmund Jenings made of it in the course of their dispute over the anonymous letters, see Laurens, Papers , 16:289.

From Matthew Ridley, 20 September 1782 Ridley, Matthew JA


From Matthew Ridley, 20 September 1782 Ridley, Matthew Adams, John
From Matthew Ridley
Paris Sept: 20h: 1782 Sir

I doubt not you have e'er this thought me slow in keeping the promise I made of writing to you. I have had many Reasons for defering it; but amongst others the desire of writing you with some certainty of the Tempers of People here. I have had one very serious Conversation with, J.1 He appears to me very desirous of seeing you—were it only for a few Hours—he says he has some Things to consult you upon that he cannot put to Paper. He dare not trust 479them even with Cypher—They relate to opinions of I suppose both Men and Things and which he says must only be talkd of, not written. I proposed his taking a Trip to Bruxelles to meet you there, that I had a chaise at his service and would if he thought proper go with him. This he said he could not do without advising F. and V. The latter would certainly know where he was gone—he would be asking F. F. would not be able to tell him. And suspicions would immediately arise that seperate treaties or some Clandestine Work was going forward. He said he saw one inconvenience that might arise from your coming here—that of giving rise to speculations with respect to Peace. Still he wishd he could see you. I know you are much engaged; but if you cannot meet could not this difficulty about meeting be in some measure obviated thro' a mediate Person? Our Friend at Bruxelles would I am sure think nothing of a Trip to you both to be useful. My dear Sir, the present Moments are ticklish. It is with great Pleasure I find Mr. J—— firm. I wish however he was supported. Reneval is gone to England—not for any Good I believe.2 As a Negotiator he is not equal to it. To speak the words of another a mere repeating Machine very fit. I cannot for my part see what occasion France has to send any person to England. The English have come here for Peace to send there is rather relinquishing their superiority. I have an opinion V. is suspicious of too great an Intimacy with the English Commissioners here: and Indeed I have some Reason for thinking so. The departure of R was very private and sudden and entirely unknown to our Folks. There was a moment I beleive that the prospects of Peace were flattering. I do not think they remain so—on the contrary I beleive very little if any progress is made. If Gibraltar is taken it may make some difference: but between you and me I neither expect or wish it. I am firmly perswaded that every advantage gained to the S——ds will only tend to new demands from them and consequently more embarrass the business of Peace. I wish sincerely you knew all that is passing here.

I have enquired about the blank Commission you mentioned and am informed though not filled up it is promised.3 Application was made I beleive by Letter to Mr. J—— before he came here and personal application has been made since. Under such circumstances I am not surprized a promise was extorted W. T. F is the person.

Our Account with the French Court is adjusted. The King has given up all Interest due to this time and has taken all the Expences of the negotiation of the Dutch Loan on himself. All Gifts are de-480ducted from the amount and one Obligation given for the whole remainder to be paid by Installments in twelve Years—the first payment to commence in three Years after the making a Peace. The Debt is much less considerable than I expected; about twenty Eight millions of Livres including the Loan from Holland.4

The Marquis de La Fayette is still here. I do not beleive he intends out. Genl. du Portail and Colo. Guvyon have been waiting untill this time to go with him but the former told me the other day he should go out next Month whether the Marquis went or not and that indeed he had no expectation he would go. The Marquis also told me he was surprized he had not heard from you lately—He loves news and I have no doubt would be very glad to know what you are about. However a Line there now and then is not amiss.5 He has been very kind to Mr B.6 respecting the stores at Brest in endeavouring to procure for him the Assistance of Government in getting them away. Mr. B. set off for that place last night.

Os and Fitz are both here. Mr. Vaughan is returned to England. Mr L. is also going there on his way to America—Indeed I imagine he may be there before this. It is I find a Step not much approved of here. I wish it does not give rise to injurious Comments.

We have nothing new from America. The present Conversation is entirely engrossd about Gibraltar. The French and Spanish Fleets are sailed from Cadiz for Algeziras. I am told by those who know the situation this position will not prevent the English throwing in supplies it being more than cannon shot distance and as the combined fleet must lay at Anchor the English may run in and do their business without much danger.

We seem convinced here Vaudreuel is on our Coast—if he is we may expect some Arrivals soon. Should there be any news you shall have it. With kind Wishes I have the honor to be: respectfully sir Yr. &c.

You know my address. Can you send a Cyhr for Mr. J——?

It is necessary to observe to you that as Reneval went off Secretly no Body here seems to know of it—you will therefore take no notice about it.

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mr Ridley 20 Septr 1782 ansd 29.”


This conversation occurred on 18 Sept., and the account given here follows very closely Ridley's journal entry for that date insofar as it concerned the proposed meeting between JA and Jay at Brussels. In the course of the conversation, Ridley also recommended Edmund Jenings to Jay as a “well informed Man and in whom he might confide every Thing and whose only wish was to serve his Country.” Ridley then asked Jay “if 481he knew the cause of the difference between Mr A and Dr F. He said not.” Ridley proceeded to inform Jay “of it in the manner Mr A. had told it me—he seemed surprized” (MHi: Ridley Journal). Ridley's account of the “difference” between JA and Franklin was probably derived from his conversation with JA on 7 July, for which see Ridley's letter of 13 July, note 1, above.


JA may have learned of Gérard de Rayneval's mission to London unofficially from a newspaper account such as that in the Gazette d'Amsterdam of 20 Sept., but a more official notification came from the Duc de La Vauguyon, and, owing to the ambassador's explanation of its purpose, he did not share the apprehensions of the Americans in Paris (to Robert R. Livingston, 23 Sept.; to Ridley, 29 Sept. [2d letter], both below). Rayneval was sent principally to discuss with Shelburne the principles on which a peace settlement between Britain, France, and Spain would be based. However, the mission's secrecy led the American negotiators at Paris, particularly John Jay, to fear that Rayneval's intention was to encourage the British to refuse recognition of American fishing rights off Newfoundland or to agree to a western border on and free navigation of the Mississippi River. Such fears were heightened by the disclosure to John Jay by the British negotiators at Paris of an intercepted letter from François de Barbé-Marbois, secretary of the French legation in Philadelphia, to the Comte de Vergennes. There Barbé-Marbois dismissed the more expansive objectives contained in Congress' instructions to its negotiators and indicated French support for little more than recognition of American independence in any Anglo-American peace treaty (Morris, Peacemakers , p. 320–330; Murphy, Vergennes , p. 359). Had JA known of Barbé-Marbois' letter in September he too would have been concerned because it confirmed his suspicions of French policy toward the United States, but in the end Rayneval's mission had no tangible effect on the peace treaty.


This was the commission to be secretary of the peace commission. JA favored the appointment of Edmund Jenings, but in a conversation with Ridley at dinner on 5 Aug., JA indicated that he did not know if Franklin would agree or if Jenings would accept the position and asked Ridley “to sound Mr Jay on the subject” (MHi: Ridley Journal).


Ridley's journal entry for 18 Sept. indicates that Benjamin Franklin informed him that day of the contract signed on 16 July by himself and the Comte de Vergennes, setting down the conditions under which the United States would repay the loans that it had received from France, including the one guaranteed by France and raised in the Netherlands (vol. 12:94). The agreement was ratified by Congress on 22 Jan. and France on 21 Dec. 1783 (Miller, Treaties , 2:48–56). The account Ridley gives here is virtually the same as in his journal.


JA last wrote to Lafayette on 21 May, above, and, presumably responding to Ridley's advice, wrote next on 29 Sept., below. Lafayette's comment on JA's correspondence may have been made during his visit to Ridley on the evening of the 16th (MHi: Ridley Journal).


Thomas Barclay.