Papers of John Adams, volume 13

From Tristram Dalton, 26 October 1782 Dalton, Tristram JA From Tristram Dalton, 26 October 1782 Dalton, Tristram Adams, John
From Tristram Dalton
Boston October 26th. 1782 Sir

I esteem myself greatly honor'd by the receipt of your Favor's of the 18th August last—and much obliged by the attention paid to my request respecting Capt Armstrong who, soon after my writing, returned from a severe confinement, having made his escape—of which I immediately advised to prevent any further trouble in that affair.1

You express yourself at a loss, Sir, to know, to what intelligence, thro' the war, I refer, in supposing the enemy to have been better informed of than her Friends.2 I did not mean such as Congress might have duly received, but such as the wellwishers of the cause we are engaged in seemed frequently to be without. The Decisions of Congress, thro' the contest, fully prove that their informations have been much better than those of the Court of Great Britain, whose insiduous designs and proposals have, thereby, in a great degree, been frustrated. But, Sir, it has been a frequent remark in this part of the Country, that any particular plans designs or movements of the enemy have been known to suspected Characters long before those of the opposite denomination have scarcely had a hint, which, I confess, might have been owing to the great vigilance and industry the former exercised, while the friends of our Country, putting the utmost confidence in the Persons to whom they had committed the management of their public concerns, neglected too much the means of informing themselves—a fault too common—and to a free Country, much more to one struggling for Freedom, often, if not always, proving in the end fatal to their Liberties.

Sensible of this in my private Sphere of Life, I felt doubly the obligation to procure all useful Intelligence when I had taken a Seat in the Legislative of this Commonwealth. This I plead in excuse for intruding on your important hours, so far as to ask the favor of any 545advice you had time, or thought proper, to afford me. Permit me now to return thanks for the political intelligence You have honor'd me with, and for the pamphlet accompanying3—by that and other information it appears that the ancient spirit of freedom, which wrested the United Provinces from the hand of tyranny, but which has lain dormant a long time, revives, and promises to shine in its original Splendor.

The Success of these American States in the Cause of Liberty has been productive already of much good in the European World—and it is to be presumed the Effects of our Independence are scarcely visible yet. Ireland may, and ought to, thank us for the Blessings they have lately acquired, notwithstanding their Patriot, M Grattan, in his celebrated Speech, so insiduously contrasts the merit of the American Contest, with that of his Country.4

The People of the United Provinces will feel the happy influences by the revival of their ancient constitution, if they are as wisely conducted in future as they have been directed lately. They need only the Influence of the American Spirit and Firmness to lead them to wise measures. Their sluggish disposition may try the patience of Job, as I doubt not You have experienced—but that there is a latent spark of Freedom sufficient to kindle the Mass is evident from the great effects which your unremitted labours have caused. However easy it may be to obtain the favor of a Court, it appears to me far otherwise to rouse a whole People, who have been long buried under the influence of selfish pursuits, and a tyrannical Exercise of Government—to inspire them with new political life so as to see their public interest, and to feel their importance. This task was reserved for yourself. Your friends rejoyce in the important success that has crowned your Pursuits. The Alliance formed under your sole Endeavours, appears to me permanent, considering it proceeds from the united voice of a people—which, in such general concerns, tho' harder to obtain, is more to be depended upon, than the promises of Crowned Heads—as, in the one Case, a secret intrigue may escape the closest Notice, and alter the disposition of the Court, which Alteration can scarsely take place in a republick but in a slow progression, giving opportunity to counteract the designs of an Enemy.

The Assistance which the United Provinces can afford the Allied Powers is contemptuously spoken of by the British. It is true it may not appear so powerful as that of France, but when any one considers the difference their joyning G B would have made—the immense 546extent of their trade, together with the similarity of many things between the Inhabitants of them and these States, as fully set forth in the first memorial presented to their H Ms5—it must be allowed, by all, that their friendship and Alliance were most desirable Objects—The Loss of which G B must lament.

Upon the first appearance of Affairs, after the Marquis of Rockingham's appointment in the British Ministry, We flatter'd ourselves an honorable Peace would soon have taken place—whatever just grounds there then was for such suggestions, our present opinion coincides with those you express, that the Court of G B. will be governed by the fate of their Armaments and of the fortress of Gibraltar.

The Situation of the different Governments in the Union you must have from various hands, much more able to acquaint you than is in my power. Thus much I am sure, that the Americans show no disposition to retreat. They seem as determined to push the war as when it began. It is true of this Commonwealth, that great are the wants of Money. The General Court are devising every means to revive public Credit, and to raise Money for current Charges, as well as to answer the demands of Congress. The People say they have not got the Cash nor can they raise it. Heretofore when pressed to what they, at the time, supposed the last extremity, the difficulties were overcome, I hope the new ones will meet the like good fortune. However, my dear Sir, it is to be sincerely wished that the Loan for the Use of Congress, solicited in Holland may be effected. I hear transiently that half a million is already negotiated—it would greatly releive at this time. The Enemy form high hopes from our apparent distresses on this account, not reflecting how often they have been the dupes of their own delusive dreams—which will again, in this instance, be their lot. New England has now more able bodied Men, more Cattle and Provisions than in 1775. Can such a Country give way—retaining the spirit of that memorable year. They do retain it. They cannot “look back—stop—or deviate.”

I note your observations on the Conduct of Denmark and Russia—and since hear that Sweden, more friendly, has proposed a treaty of Amity and Commerce with these States.6

I am sometimes of opinion that the Continuance of the war is beneficial to us, when I reflect on the intimacy and knowledge of their Trade Policy and Finances which every new Alliance with different Powers of Europe gives the Subjects of these States. Many years Peace might not furnish such opportunities. Would the Calm 547of more tranquil times have afforded you the opportunity of lighting up anew the Batavian Spirit of Liberty thro' the U Provinces, and of causing the Body of People to unite in so serious and important an Affair?

But how am I, Sir, engrossing your time to look over what can be of no other Service than to convince you that I wish it my power to make the least Amend for the favors received. From the important business which calls your Attention I dare not promise myself frequent Intelligence. Give me leave to say, it is my sincere wish to hear from you when a leisure moment may permit.

I am, with the most respectful Regard And Affection, Sir Your obliged Friend & most humble Servant Tristram Dalton

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mr Dalton Octr. 26 ansd Decr. 23. 1782.” JA's reply has not been found.


Not found, but for some indication of its content, see JA's letters of 19 Aug. to Samuel Adams, Elbridge Gerry, and James Warren, all above. For Dalton's plea on behalf of Armstrong, see his letter of 25 May, and note 2, above.


JA's reference was to Dalton's comment in his letter of 25 May.


Probably JA's A Collection of State-Papers , The Hague, 1782. James Warren indicated in his letter to JA of 1 Nov. (Adams Papers) that JA had sent him the pamphlet with his letter of 19 Aug., above.


Dalton likely is referring to Henry Grattan's speech of 16 April before the Irish Parliament that was published in the Boston Independent Ledger of 26 August. There Grattan celebrated in general the Irish drive for legislative independence through the repeal of Poyning's Law and in particular the volunteer movement. In doing so he emphasized the differences between the Irish and American situations and, in particular, Irish loyalty to the British Crown.


JA's memorial to the States General of 19 April 1781 (vol. 11:272–282), which was included in A Collection of State-Papers .


See Arthur Lee's letter of 1 Oct., and note 3, above.

From Francis Dana, 26 October 1782 Dana, Francis JA From Francis Dana, 26 October 1782 Dana, Francis Adams, John
From Francis Dana
(Secret and confidential) Octobr: 15th. 1782 26 October N.S. 1 My Dear Sir

Soon after my arrival here I intimated to you that I had discovered something which I thought a clew to account for the advice given me by a certain person, and which you and I then were of opinion, was calculated to throw an obstruction in my way, and of course that I ought not to follow it.2 I told you I wou'd communicate it to you by the first good opportunity. None has offered till now. Here then you have it. In the project of a Treaty of Commerce which France had proposed to the Empress there is an article to this effect. When the Subjects of France shall carry in their own vessels, goods, wares, or merchandises, of the growth, produce, or 548manufacture of France, into the dominions of the Empress and shall receive in exchange for them, goods, wares, and merchandises, of the growth, production, or manufacture of the Empress that in such cases, there shall be a drawback of the Duties both of Importation and of Exportation paid by the Subjects of France upon all such articles imported, or received in exchange by them as aforesaid.

Now in order to induce the Empress to grant this most advantageous privilege to France France alleges that it will be for the interest of the Empress to do it; because France will have a demand for great quantities of the Commodities of the Empress which she will nevertheless not be under a necessity of purchasing of the Empress after the war; for these reasons, that she can then obtain the same from America and altho' perhaps not at so cheap a rate, yet it will be for her interest, if the Empress shall refuse to grant this priviledge, to pay America from 15 to 20. pr: Cent: more for the same articles, as by taking those articles from America France wou'd enable her to take off a greater quantity of the commodities of France and the more easily to discharge the debts she may contract for them in France.

The foregoing project, and the reasons urged in support of it were somewhat more detailed than I have given them to you above. As I cou'd not obtain a copy of them, I read them over with care, and in the time of it, reduced them to writing from my memory. The above is a copy of that memorandum and I believe I have not made any material mistake in it. Hemp, the article of which the Empress is most jealous of a Rivalry, is particularly mention'd by France. Thus I found both Friends and Foes working against us here for their own private purposes; if to support and maintain a Rivalry between the two Countries can be said to be working against our Interests. However different their views may be, the effect is the same and equally prejudicial to us let it proceed from whom it may; and this junction in their systems rendered my task of clearing away such errors, much more difficult. The immense profit which France wou'd derive from such a priviledge must have made her consider it as an object of great consequence to herself. She cou'd not therefore wish to open any communication, which might possibly bring on an eclaireissement that wou'd render her project abortive. Is it unnatural to suppose that the pendency of such a negotiation might have been a sufficient ground for the advice above alluded to, or for others to prevent my forming any connections 549 image 550with persons in Government here? I view it indeed in this light, but perhaps I may view it with too suspicious an eye. It has had no tendency to convince me that it is an erroneous principle in our policy. That we ought to take care of our own Interests in Foreign Courts. This is in some places an unfashionable if not an unpardonable sentiment. Shou'd you think proper to write me upon this subject, I must beg you to do it in so disguised a manner as cannot be penetrated. For I have good reasons to apprehend that it is next to impossible to avoid a detection of my correspondence thro' the posts. I this day received a second letter which had been opened at the office, from Paris. They will open every letter bro't by their post, to discover any correspondence they wish to discover, without the least hesitation. For this reason I desire you wou'd never send me a copy of any dispatches you may know I have received, but instead of it, to give me notice when you receive any such, and I will write you what to do with them. By this same opportunity you will receive a letter for Mr: L——.3 Please to open it, read it, and beg Mr: T. whom we may safely confide in, to be so kind as to make out two or three copies of it, and to forward them by careful hands. I am unable to do this myself at present, and I dare not send a letter of that sort by the Post. Desire Mr: T. not to put up either of them, with any of your or my other letters, but to send them unconnected with any thing which, in Case of Capture, might discover from whence they came. You will pardon the trouble I give you in these matters, and be assured I shall never be unmindful of the obligations I am under to you. Since the above one of my Bankers has called upon me, and tells me all my letters which came under cover to them directly will certainly be opened at the office—that it will be necessary therefore to send them all by the way of Riga. I am my dear Sir your much obliged Friend & obedient humble Servant

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Letter by my Son. Secret & confidential.” Filmed at 15 Oct., Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 358. In this letter Dana used the code that he sent to JA in Sept. 1781 to encode several names, and they have been decoded from that source (vol. 11:480–481).


Francis Dana entrusted this letter to JQA, who departed from St. Petersburg for the Netherlands on 30 Oct. and reached The Hague on 21 April 1783 (JQA, Diary , 1:153, 174). On the following day JQA wrote to his father, informing him of his arrival and the letter in his possession that Dana had absolutely forbidden him to send by the post ( AFC , 5:130–131). Not mentioned in this letter or by JQA but presumably also carried by him on his journey was a code and cipher key dated 18 Oct. 29 Oct. N.S. (Adams Papers; filmed with Ciphers and Cipher Keys, Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 602; see Descriptive List of Illustrations, No. 11, above). There, after a lengthy explanation of enciphering and deciphering, Dana wrote, “I do not expect you will ever write me in 551cyphers, unless upon the most urgent occasions: nor shall I trouble you or myself in that way upon slight ones. 'Tis best to be armed at all points if possible. With this view alone, having a safe opportunity by your Son, I send you these Cyphers. We may occasionally make use of these for words at large, and when you receive these you will throw aside my former Cyphers.” For the code that Dana sent to JA in Sept. 1781 and which is used in this letter, see vol. 11:478–482.


It is impossible to identify the specific letter to which Dana refers because several written since his arrival at St. Petersburg hinted at information that he had obtained but could not communicate because he had no secure way of doing so. See, for example, his letters of 17 Dec. 1781 and 11 Jan. 1782 (vol. 12:145–148, 178–184). Presumably, given the content of this letter, the “certain person” was Vergennes, with whom Dana had had an interview before his departure for Russia. For Dana's March 1781 conversation with the foreign minister, as well as with Benjamin Franklin, and JA's comments on them and his advice to Dana regarding his mission, see vol. 11: 266–270 266–267, 267–270 .


Dana's letter of 14 Oct. 25 Oct. N.S. to Robert R. Livingston (PCC, No. 89, f. 650–656), which is printed at the former date in Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 5:812–814. Dana indicates in his letterbook that it went “By Mr. J: Q: Adams” (MHi: Francis Dana Letterbook, Official Letters, 1781 to 1782). JQA wrote in his letter of 22 April 1783 that Dana initially wanted him to hand deliver the letter to JA, but since then he had instructed him to give it to Duncan Ingraham, an American merchant at Amsterdam, to be forwarded to America ( AFC , 5:130–131). Dana's concern over its transmission may be explained by the fact that it referred, somewhat obscurely, to the proposed Franco-Russian treaty mentioned in this letter, but also because he may have enclosed a cipher key similar to that sent to JA.