Papers of John Adams, volume 14


Volume 14 chronicles John Adams’ assumption of his duties as a member of the Joint Peace Commission and his continuing role in Dutch-American relations as American minister to the Netherlands. The documents delineate Adams’ role in and contributions to the negotiations leading to the Preliminary Anglo-American Peace Treaty of 30 November 1782 as well as the desultory discussions that began in April 1783 toward the definitive treaty of 3 September. Adams spent the entire seven months covered by this volume at Paris, but since he remained the accredited minister to the Netherlands he devoted considerable time to managing the Dutch loan he had arranged in June 1782. Those duties extended to attempting to ameliorate Dutch apprehensions when, in January 1783, the Netherlands became the only belligerent with whom Britain would not sign a preliminary peace treaty. The volume also deals with political upheaval in Britain resulting in part from dissatisfaction with the Anglo-American peace, Francis Dana's efforts in Russia, and Adams’ concerns over postwar Anglo-American trade. Letters on the pages below describe Adams’ view on the proper way to write a history of the American Revolution and tell of fifteen-year-old John Quincy Adams’ lengthy journey from St. Petersburg to The Hague.

One of the joys of editing the Papers of John Adams is that Adams’ letters, with their unfettered style and often stunning candor, reveal so much about the man and the times in which he lived. There is seldom any doubt about where John Adams stood on any issue with which he was concerned. In volume 14 Adams’ correspondence and the documents proceeding from his diplomatic efforts illuminate the events in which he participated and the world in which he lived. The seven months dealt with in this volume were perhaps the most stressful of Adams’ diplomatic career, but the result of his unease was a series of unrestrained commentaries on American foreign policy that took Adams back to the principles that guided his first entry into the world of diplomacy. In the course of the volume it becomes clear that for Adams his observation that peace with England had been achieved “in Spight of the Malice of Ennemies the Finesse of Allies and the Mistakes of Congress” was not hyperbole but reality.1

1. Negotiating the Peace

When John Adams arrived at the Hôtel de Valois in Paris on the evening of 26 October 1782 he found the Anglo-American negotiations in abeyance. The negotiators, British and American, awaited Henry Strachey's return from London with the draft treaty that John Jay and Richard Oswald had agreed to on 8 October and new instructions from the Shelburne ministry. Adams was finally present to act as one of the Joint Peace Commissioners, but he was concerned because he lacked any substantive knowledge of the ongoing discussions. John Jay's letters and other sources had informed him that talks had begun in earnest in late September, when Richard Oswald received a new commission permitting him to negotiate with the “Thirteen United States of America.”2 Adams also knew that Benjamin Franklin's ill health had made Jay the principal negotiator. But while Jay's letters beseeched Adams to join him at Paris as soon as possible, they revealed little about the negotiations.

Adams’ conversations with Jay and Matthew Ridley immediately after his arrival likely reassured him about the treaty. The basic parameters for a settlement had been set. Britain explicitly recognized the United States, and the new nation's western boundary was established on the Mississippi River. No agreement had yet been reached regarding the loyalists, American fishing rights, or the northern boundary. But Adams felt confident about the fisheries and boundaries because he came armed with ample documentation to support the American claims.

Adams’ fears about France and its influence over Congress as well as his suspicions of Franklin's acquiescence to French policies seemed confirmed when he was informed of the constraints placed on the American negotiators. Congress’ 15 June 1781 instructions, he learned, required the commissioners “to make the most candid & confidential communications to the ministers of our generous Ally the King of France to undertake nothing in the Negotiations for Peace or truce without their knowledge & concurrence & ultimately to govern yourselves by their advice & opinion.”3 Adams asserted in his Diary that, except as alluded to in a letter, no such instruction xviihad ever been communicated to him.4 In fact, Adams had been unable to read the enciphered instruction that Franklin had forwarded to him at Amsterdam in mid-August 1781. Ignoring his own failure, Adams assumed that Franklin had deliberately withheld it from him. This imagined slight combined with his suspicions of Franklin and his frustration at coming so late to the negotiations were likely the immediate causes of Adams’ initial refusal to visit Franklin.

Only with much difficulty was Adams convinced that if the negotiations were to go forward he had to meet with Franklin. When the two men did confer on the evening of 30 October, according to Adams’ account, the negotiations were transformed. On the following day, having considered Adams’ objections to the commissioners’ instructions, Franklin indicated at a meeting of the British and American negotiators that he agreed with his colleagues and would not inform the French government about the nature or progress of the negotiations.5 The commissioners thereby determined to conclude a separate peace and not even the caveat that the treaty signed on 30 November would become effective only upon the conclusion of an Anglo-French treaty could obscure the fact that they were in violation of the spirit and letter of the 1778 Franco-American Treaty of Alliance. For Adams, who in 1780 had declared that the alliance would last no longer than the war, the commissioners’ decision to violate their instructions and the treaty was the only means by which the United States was able to obtain a favorable peace and avoid the fate of the Dutch, about which more will be said below.

The commissioners’ decision clearly transformed the day-to-day negotiations between the commissioners and their British counterparts, but it had an equally important effect on the documentary record of the negotiations presented in this volume and in Adams’ Diary. For by deciding to violate their instructions the commissioners had to defend their decision or risk repudiation and censure when Congress considered the treaty. Thus virtually every letter in this volume in which Adams refers to the negotiations, from his very first to Robert R. Livingston of 31 October and including the commissioners’ joint letter to Livingston of 14 December, is a defense of the commissioners’ actions. Moreover, with the passage of time Adams’ letters to Livingston, as well as to his friends Jonathan Jackson, xviiiElbridge Gerry, and James Warren, became increasingly analytical concerning the proper course of American diplomacy. At the same time, Adams became ever more critical of the Comte de Vergennes, Benjamin Franklin, and Congress—the first two for their collaboration at the expense of vital American interests and the last for its incompetence in executing a rational and effective foreign policy.

Letters were not the only means by which Adams and his colleagues sought to document and justify their actions. Benjamin Franklin kept a journal of the negotiations. John Jay wrote lengthy letters that took on the character of a journal. And John Adams had his Diary, which he kept almost daily from his arrival at Paris on 26 October 1782 through 23 January 1783.6 Ultimately the three men sent their chronicles of the negotiations to Congress, which received them all in mid-March.7

The account that Adams sent to Congress consisted of extracts copied by John Thaxter and Charles Storer from his Diary. Called the “Peace Journal,” it is the only portion of the Diary to be published during his lifetime. Written in Adams’ very personal and candid style, the “Peace Journal” was controversial when read before Congress in 1783 and became notorious when Alexander Hamilton used it seventeen years later in his Letter . . . Concerning the Public Conduct of John Adams Esq., N.Y., 1800, to attack Adams’ judgment and fitness for diplomacy and consequent suitability to be president. Indeed, it was largely Adams’ need to refute Hamilton that led to his correspondence with the Boston Patriot between 1809 and 1812, in the course of which he placed before the readers a detailed documentary record of his diplomatic efforts, including the “Peace Journal.”

In fact, Adams prepared two “Peace Journals.” The first, enclosed with his 14 December 1782 letter to Robert R. Livingston, begins with the Diary entry for 2 November and ends with the entry for 13 December.8 The second, which he enclosed with his 28 December letter to Abigail Adams to be shown by her to “discrete Friends,” is considerably longer, beginning with the entry for 27 October and continuing through 21 December.9 Neither “Journal” contains every word of the Diary entries from which they are derived, and some of the omissions are significant, but considering Adams’ purpose—to xixdefend the commissioners’ negotiation of the treaty—very little that was relevant to understanding the ongoing negotiations was omitted. Certainly the “Peace Journals” included all the detailed accounts of what happened at Paris in November 1782. In any case the reader should also consult the complete printed Diary in the Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, which is the best existing source for the conduct of the negotiations and has been used extensively in preparing the annotation for this volume.

The editors of John Adams’ Diary and Autobiography dealt with the “Peace Journal” enclosed with Adams’ 14 December letter to Robert R. Livingston at considerable length (the second version was not known to be extant when those volumes were prepared).10 But more needs to be said about the circumstances surrounding the dispatch of the “Journals” to America. Adams’ 11 November letter to Livingston marked his first use of material that also appeared in his Diary to report on the negotiations and the difficulties the commissioners faced. There he quoted more or less verbatim from his Diary entry for that date, describing a conversation with Caleb Whitefoord, Richard Oswald's secretary. Having once used material from his Diary to inform Livingston and thus Congress, Adams may have decided that there was merit in sending Congress a full account of the negotiations and thus all the relevant Diary entries. His decision was likely influenced by the time that he and John Thaxter spent helping John Jay copy his 17 November journal letter to Congress. It became clear to Adams that his colleagues were determined that Congress should have a detailed account of their activities, so it was probably not coincidental that on 17 November Adams wrote to Jonathan Jackson that he was enclosing some “broken Minutes of Conversations”—the first installment of the “Peace Journal.”11

But the “Journal” did not go with the letter to Jackson, who incidentally was not at Congress when it arrived, but rather with Adams’ letter of 14 December to Robert R. Livingston. Had Jackson received the “Journal,” which was submitted to his “discretion,” he would presumably have shared it with Adams’ friends and supporters in Congress. By going to Livingston, however, it was disclosed to the entire body. Adams’ contradictory explanations of his decision to send the “Journal” to Livingston were that it was an inadvertence and that it resulted from a momentary and ill-considered whim.12 xxSuch explanations are unconvincing. Certainly Adams had in the past and would in the future make decisions and author letters and documents that at best would be considered ill advised. It seems unlikely, however, considering the time and effort involved in copying from the Diary, that its dispatch to Livingston can be put down to serendipity. It is far more likely that when the dispatch of letters, including that to Jackson, was delayed, Adams became concerned about the effect of the accounts that Jay and Franklin were sending to Congress. By detailing their roles in the negotiations, his colleagues would reap not only whatever blame was assigned for their actions but also the rewards. Not to be outdone and remarkably insensitive to the likely effect of his candor on Congress, he sent the “Journal” to Livingston so that his pivotal role in the negotiations would be understood and the full range of obstacles faced by the commissioners revealed.

Whatever Adams’ reasons for sending his “Peace Journal” to Livingston or his later comments on its origin and purpose—most having more to do with Hamilton's use of it in 1800 than with Adams’ motives in 1782—its arrival at Congress had little effect. Certainly some, such as James Madison, thought Adams unsuited for diplomacy and would have preferred that he be called home. But in Congress’ official communications Adams received no more criticism for violating Congress’ instructions or for the peace treaty's provisions than did his colleagues. He was not recalled nor did Congress accept his resignation as they did those of Henry Laurens and Francis Dana.

Even without French involvement the negotiations were difficult. While the outlines of an agreement were present when Adams arrived and Britain ultimately accepted one of the American proposals regarding borders, tense discussions remained over fishing rights and the loyalists. This is evident from the correspondence between the American and British negotiators, the draft treaties of 4 and 25 November, numerous draft articles, and the preliminary treaty signed on 30 November. Adams’ battles for the fisheries, so dear to his Massachusetts brethren, led him to declare that “for the rest of my Days I shall consider my self as a Marblehead or Cape-Ann Man.”13 With regard to compensation for the loyalists, which, considering the demands on the Shelburne ministry and the grievances xxiof the Americans, could have made a treaty impossible, Adams was less hard-line than Franklin. When the commissioners signed the preliminary peace treaty on 30 November, they had achieved an agreement far more favorable to American interests than any could have expected when the negotiations began. The question remained, however, as to how Congress would react to the means by which it had been negotiated and whether the defense offered by the commissioners—together and individually—would be effective when Congress made its decision on ratification.

2. Peacemaking and the Postwar World

The documents in volume 14 also make clear that more than the peace negotiations placed demands on John Adams’ time, energy, and always limited patience. Soon after his arrival at Paris the ratified Dutch loan contracts that he had negotiated in June arrived from Congress.14 Adams was immediately drawn into determining how the proceeds from the loan would be distributed in conformance with instructions from Robert Morris, superintendent of finances. The correspondence between Adams and the Amsterdam bankers and Morris in Philadelphia is extensive and complex, and it soon became evident that the available funds would not be sufficient to meet American needs.15

Adams also maintained an extensive correspondence with Francis Dana at St. Petersburg. Dana wrote frequently about his efforts to obtain Russian recognition and his frustration with Congress’ refusal to allow him to act as Adams had in the Netherlands. Adams responded with advice and encouragement, but in the end, and despite Dana's best efforts, his mission failed because Russia was unwilling to recognize the United States under any circumstances.16

Adding to Adams’ worries was John Quincy Adams’ return to The Hague from St. Petersburg. The younger Adams left the Russian capital on 30 October and did not reach his destination until the end of April. During that time his father received one letter and saw xxiia newspaper account of his presence at Stockholm.17 In the end the elder Adams was reduced to relying on reports from diplomats and merchants in such places as Copenhagen and Hamburg to follow his son's progress.18

These ongoing concerns combined with the pressures of the peace negotiations made November 1782 perhaps the most taxing single month of Adams’ diplomatic career. It is not surprising, therefore, that with the preliminary treaty signed, Adams submitted his resignation as minister to the Netherlands and peace commissioner on 4 December. His decision reflected the expectation, shared by his colleagues, that Britain would soon conclude agreements with the other belligerents and that a definitive Anglo-American treaty would be agreed to shortly thereafter. But it also reflected his weariness from the rigors of diplomacy and his desire to return home in the spring of 1783 after four years abroad. Despite Adams’ wish to leave, events in England caused the negotiations for the definitive treaty to be delayed until the end of April and, in any case, Congress never acted on his resignation.

The interval between the signing of the Anglo-American preliminaries and the resumption of negotiations in April seemed initially to have little effect on Adams. Certainly his official duties were not onerous. He and Franklin witnessed the signing of preliminary peace treaties among Britain, France, and Spain on 20 January and, since the Anglo-American treaty was now in effect, signed an armistice and a month later issued a proclamation of the cessation of hostilities. The war thus ended “with as little Ceremony, and in as short a Time as a Marriage Settlement,”19 Adams turned his thoughts to writing the history of the American Revolution. Responding to a letter from Antoine Marie Cerisier and conversations with the Abbé de Mably he listed the materials that an author would need to consult. Ultimately Adams recommended against Europeans’ making the attempt because the crucial American sources were unavailable, and without them the Revolution could not be fully understood.20


By early February 1783 John Adams was becoming progressively less satisfied with his and the nation's situation, and as was his wont he put pen to paper. Partly this reflected the amount of free time available to consider past mistakes, current crises, and future opportunities. But, in addition to his general distaste for Congress’ handling of foreign policy, two concerns stimulated him to action. The first was the commissioners’ failure to include provisions concerning Anglo-American trade in the preliminary treaty or to negotiate a separate commercial agreement. Adams believed that the Shelburne ministry's conduct of the negotiations, particularly with Richard Oswald as its chief negotiator, had offered a window of opportunity to settle, even if only on an interim basis, the nature of postwar Anglo-American trade. Unfortunately, from Adams’ viewpoint, it was becoming increasingly clear that Shelburne could not remain much longer in office, and in fact the ministry fell on 24 February. For over a month, until the Fox-North coalition came to power in early April, England had no effective government. During this period it became clear to Adams that British trade policies were becoming far more restrictive toward America.

The failure to negotiate a trade agreement and, indeed, the way in which the United States would deal with Britain in the postwar world had a special resonance for Adams. This was not only because he was genuinely interested in free trade between the two countries, sometimes sounding like Adam Smith,21 but because in 1779 he had been commissioned as minister plenipotentiary to negotiate an Anglo-American commercial treaty. When Congress revoked this commission in July 1781, no one was left in Europe empowered to conclude such an agreement. Adams looked back at Congress’ decision, condemned it, and wondered whether it was intended “as a Punishment to me, or with a charitable design not to lead me into Temptation . . . a Punishment to the English for their Insolence and Barbarity” or as a means “to prevent or remove Suspicions of Allies, or the Envy and green eyed Jealousy of Co-Patriots.”22 Adams likely assumed it resulted from the usual French influence at his expense as well as Benjamin Franklin's wanting the post of minister to England for himself. Indeed, contemporary reports in London newspapers indicated that Franklin was to take up the post momentarily.23 But whatever the reason, Adams believed that the mistake should be xxivcorrected and a new minister appointed so that Anglo-American relations could be conducted on a rational basis.

Adams’ decision to raise the issue of the revoked commission in letters to the president of Congress and Thomas McKean24 in early February 1783 likely indicates that he was reconsidering his decision to resign or at least the implications for him when and if Congress appointed a minister to the Court of St. James. Adams believed that the 1779 commission had made him the de facto if not the de jure minister to Great Britain. Congress, therefore, had no choice but to appoint him minister unless it wished to repudiate him and all of his efforts in Europe on behalf of the United States, effectively debarring him from any further service to the nation. To that end he sent Congress a description of the ideal minister to Great Britain that could be mistaken for no one other than John Adams.

The second issue was the failure of the Netherlands and Great Britain to conclude a preliminary peace treaty at the same time that the British signed agreements with France and Spain on 20 January 1783. Adams was drawn into this issue because as minister to the Netherlands it was to him that his Dutch friends appealed for assistance. Letters from C. W. F. Dumas, acting American chargé d’affaires at The Hague, indicated that many Dutch felt betrayed by France in the negotiations. The instructions to the Dutch negotiators at Paris charged with ending the Anglo-Dutch War required them to defer to France in the negotiations with the understanding that the French foreign minister, the Comte de Vergennes, would preserve and protect Dutch interests.25 Adams was quick to point out that the Dutch instructions were so similar to those from Congress to the commissioners that they served as an object lesson in what likely would have happened had the commissioners not violated their instructions.

In his letters, most notably six to James Warren in late March and early April, Adams went far beyond merely commenting on Congress’ ill-considered instructions.26 Adams argued that he had created a foreign policy for the United States in 1776 and that in the years since, his vision had been betrayed. His Treaty Plan of 1776 had been designed to obtain a commercial treaty with France. Since the American Revolution was a unilateral abrogation of the British xxvNavigation Acts, access to the American market was incentive enough to obtain an agreement and French aid. Benjamin Franklin had sacrificed that principle when he negotiated the Franco-American Alliance in 1778 and thereby opened the door to French influence over American policy. Adams’ aim had been to avoid any agreements that would pull the United States into the maelstrom of European politics and endanger the future of the new nation. Congress, by bending to the will of France and the dictates of French policy, was doing the very thing that Adams had hoped to avoid.

In articulating these concerns Adams’ bitterness toward and distrust of Benjamin Franklin was virtually unbounded. Adams disagreed with and distrusted the Comte de Vergennes, who he thought constantly intrigued against the interests of the United States in order to make it submissive to French policy. Adams could accept, however, that Vergennes was the French foreign minister charged with promoting the interests of France. But Adams made no similar allowances for Franklin. Here was an American who had personally betrayed Adams when he negotiated the French Alliance of 1778 and then had become a creature of France and Vergennes. At every turn, in Adams’ mind, Franklin subordinated American interests to those of France and sought to frustrate Adams’ efforts, whether as minister to negotiate Anglo-American peace and commercial treaties, minister to the Netherlands, joint peace commissioner, or the rightful minister to Great Britain. Adams concluded that unless Congress abandoned its current policies of dependence on France and, in effect, repudiated Franklinian diplomacy, it would become—as it had been before the Revolution—a pawn in European politics. If that happened the very survival of the nation would be at risk.

Many of Adams’ comments regarding France, Vergennes, and Franklin, particularly in his letters written between the signing of the preliminary treaty and the resumption of negotiations in April, can only be characterized as at best injudicious and at worst unfair. Certainly Vergennes saw the United States as the junior member of the alliance, obligated to defer to France on important issues. As a result he used France's considerable power and influence to bend Congress and American diplomats in Europe to his own ends. But in the end, while French diplomats at Philadelphia enjoyed considerable sway over Congress, Vergennes had relatively little success in dictating the activities of American diplomats in Europe. Regarding xxviFranklin, Adams showed his longstanding inability or unwillingness to recognize Franklin's position. Franklin had to deal with Vergennes on a regular basis and was unwilling to alienate him for no purpose. It is unlikely that Franklin liked the commissioners’ instructions any more than John Adams or John Jay did. Certainly Franklin's views on American boundaries and the treatment of the loyalists were contrary to those favored by France. Indeed, if one compares the views of Adams and Franklin regarding an Anglo-American peace, including the conditions under which negotiations would take place, there is very little substantive difference.

But shorn of their rhetoric, Adams’ letters are more substantive than they may first appear. When his comments about France, Vergennes, and Franklin are considered with those concerning Congress’ incompetence in conducting foreign relations, it is apparent that Adams is undertaking a detailed, if somewhat unsystematic, analysis of American foreign policy. In doing so, he is unique among American diplomats of his time. Franklin's letters offer few opinions and little analysis, and John Jay's letters, while often very long, resemble journals more than substantive examinations of causes and consequences. Adams believed that the United States faced great danger if it did not pursue an independent foreign policy that kept it from being aligned with any of the great powers of Europe. The problem was that while he laid out his very personal view of a foreign policy in need of correction, no one in Europe or America was able or willing to deal with his critique. Thus, while Adams waited for Congress to act on the preliminary treaty and his resignation and hoped it would see the errors of its ways, nothing happened beyond the ratification of the treaty and criticism of the commissioners for their lack of attention to French sensibilities. Volume 14 is at its heart a chronicle of John Adams’ frustration with events and policies beyond his control, a condition that would afflict his future diplomacy and correspondence as it became increasingly evident that under the Articles of Confederation Congress lacked the power, will, or interest to create an effective foreign policy.

3. John Adams and his Letterbooks

In his lifetime John Adams found his letterbooks very useful; so too do the editors of his papers. Adams had long kept letterbook copies to defend himself in the event controversy or criticism arose xxviiover his actions.27 For the period chronicled by volume 14 that motivation took on new urgency when Adams and his colleagues violated Congress’ instructions to the peace commissioners. But with peace Adams’ thoughts likely turned increasingly to the letterbooks’ value as a source for writing the history of the American Revolution.28 For the editors, the letterbook copies permit them to fill gaps in Adams’ correspondence where no recipient's copy of a letter has been found. Since many of the letterbook copies are drafts, the editors can also explore important differences between the draft and the letter as sent. Finally, when damage to a recipient's copy has resulted in the loss of text, the editors often supply the missing words from the letterbook.

When John Adams left The Hague in mid-October he left behind most of his papers, including the letterbooks that he had been using in the Netherlands.29 As a result, when he arrived at Paris he began new letterbooks numbered 20, 21, and 22 that appear, respectively, on reels 108, 109, and 110 of the Adams Papers Microfilms. A fourth letterbook, number 15 on reel 103 of the microfilm, also exists for the period, but, as can be seen from the description below, differs significantly from the other three. Departing from past practice and in an effort to make it easier to locate specific letters, in all cases where a letterbook copy is mentioned in a descriptive note or annotation, the microfilm reel containing the letterbook is indicated.

On the cover of Letterbook 20, which consists of 294 pages, John Adams wrote “N 24. / Peace. Paris. / October 31. 1782. to September 8. 1783.” Beginning on page 3—the first two pages are blank—and continuing through page 291 are copies of 176 letters, all by Adams or his secretaries John Thaxter and Charles Storer. The first is dated 31 October 1782 and is from Adams to Robert R. Livingston, the secretary for foreign affairs, and the last is of 8 September 1783 to the president of Congress. On page 292 is an account of expenses between 6 December 1782 and 15 July 1783 and on the following page are letters dated 9 and 12 September 1783 from Adams to the Paris banking firm of Van den Yver, Frères & Company for payment of his and John Thaxter's salaries. The final page is blank.


On the cover of Letterbook 21, which consists of 196 pages, Adams wrote “Peace 1782. 1783 / State Papers relative to Peace / Marbois Letter.” On pages 3 and 4—the first two pages are blank—is an index of the forty letters and documents contained in the volume. The following 172 pages—157 through 168 are blank—contain a variety of documents in the hands of Adams and his secretaries Thaxter and Storer. All, with two exceptions noted below, proceeded directly from the work of the American Peace Commissioners, either in negotiating the preliminary treaty of 30 November 1782 or the definitive treaty of 3 September 1783. Included are copies of the preliminary and definitive treaties, the former in Adams’ hand. The exceptions are the English translation of François Barbé-Marbois’ letter of 13 March 1782 to the Comte de Vergennes (p. 69–73) and Francis Dana's 18 November letter to Robert R. Livingston (p. 170–173). Barbé-Marbois’ letter, intercepted by the British and supplied to Adams by John Jay, was very critical of American efforts to obtain fishing rights on the Grand Banks, while Dana's letter commented on the peace negotiations from the vantage point of St. Petersburg.30 The final twenty pages are blank.

Letterbook 22 consists of 296 pages, of which pages 1, 7–8, 15, and 17–296 are blank. On the cover Adams wrote “N 23 / Peace Paris / November 17. 1782.” Page 2 was intended as an index but its only entry is for Adams’ 17 November letter to Robert Morris. The remaining thirteen letters include three to Antoine Marie Cerisier and nine seeking to establish a relationship between the Royal Medical Society at Paris and the newly established Massachusetts Medical Society at Boston. The most important is that of 17 November from Adams to Jonathan Jackson. Adams wrote to Jackson, whom he believed to be a member of Congress, regarding the progress of the peace negotiations and originally intended to enclose with it the first installment of his “Peace Journal.”31

Letterbook 15 is not a letterbook in the usual sense but rather a volume containing 87 transcripts of documents proceeding from the work of the joint peace commission. The first document is Congress’ 5 October 1780 resolution concerning the Armed Neutrality and the last is John Thaxter's 20 September 1783 letter to the xxixcommissioners announcing his arrival at Lorient and imminent departure for America with the definitive peace treaty. It was done by Benjamin Franklin's secretary Jean L’Air de Lamotte in the course of compiling the records of the peace negotiations into duplicate “letterbooks” for each of the commissioners.32 Because of its nature, documents from this letterbook are referred to as “LbC-Tr” in the descriptive notes and general annotation.

4. Notes on Editorial Method

This is the first volume of the Papers of John Adams series to incorporate the substantially revised policy toward the presentation of documents first used in volume 8 of the Adams Family Correspondence series. It seems appropriate, therefore, to offer a full overview of the editorial method. Readers may still wish to reference the statements of editorial policy in previous volumes of the Papers series, most notably volumes 1 (p. xxxi–xxxv), 9 (p. xx–xxiii), and 11 (p. xx–xxi).

Materials Included and Their Arrangement

The criteria for the selection and arrangement of letters and documents for the Papers of John Adams was set down in the section on editorial method in volume 1 of the series (p. xxxi–xxxv). Since the 1977 publication of that volume, however, the number of documents eligible for inclusion in each volume has increased, resulting in a more rigorous selection process. It seems only proper, therefore, that there be a restatement of the principles guiding the editors.

The principal reason for including a letter or document in the Papers of John Adams is the degree to which it illuminates John Adams’ actions or state of mind. The editors, therefore, have omitted letters they consider to be of little substance or import in chronicling Adams’ life and career. Routine letters of introduction or transmittal have generally been omitted. So too have letters from prisoners, merchants, and others requesting assistance or favors, particularly when there is no evidence that Adams acted on the request. Examples of such letters have been included when warranted. Some letters that would ordinarily have been included because of their content have been omitted because of their similarity to other letters written at approximately the same time.


Other documents that the reader might expect to find in the Papers of John Adams have been calendared and sometimes omitted. This is generally owing to their appearance in other volumes of the Adams Papers, most notably the Diary and Autobiography and the Legal Papers of John Adams. But it is also true of documents forming a particular class, such as many of Adams’ letters to the president of Congress in 1780, 1781, and 1782. The majority of these letters, many of them lengthy, consist of digests of newspaper reports and most appear in Francis Wharton's Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution, Washington, 1889. While wishing to indicate the magnitude of Adams’ effort to keep Congress informed about events in Europe, the editors nonetheless decided to summarize the content of these letters in calendar form.

Since John Adams’ first arrival in Europe in 1778 a substantial number of foreign-language documents have been included in the volumes, all of them accompanied by translations. With regard to letters in French, which Adams read and very occasionally wrote, the standards for selection are identical to those for English letters. However, letters in Dutch, German, or other languages that Adams could not read do not routinely appear. Such letters have been included only where there is evidence that a letter was translated for Adams so that he could act on it or that the letter has an intrinsic value for understanding Adams’ activities and the world in which he lived.

In general, all documents appear in chronological order in the volumes. Within a given date, letters by John Adams precede letters to which he was a party, such as one of the American Peace Commissioners. Next come letters to John Adams, followed by letters to entities of which he was a part, such as the American Peace Commissioners. The only exception to this rule is the unusual case of a letter and a reply that are exchanged between two persons on the same day where the reply will immediately follow the letter to which it responds. Third-party documents appear at the end of the correspondence for a particular date. Exceptions to the chronological rule are the rare instances in which items dealing with a particular subject or event are collected into a group document covering a chronological span.33 Finally, documents dated as “ante” or “post” appear at the beginning or end of the chronological run of that date, respectively; those assigned a span of dates are placed under the xxxifirst date of the run; and those dated to a particular month or year are placed at the end of that month or year.

Treatment of the Texts

The editors have adopted a new textual policy. Beginning with the current volume, the texts are and will be rendered as literally as possible given the limitations of modern typography and the ability to translate handwritten manuscripts into printed documents. While some important but less extensive changes have been introduced to the edition (see Papers of John Adams, volumes 12 and 13), the publication of this volume marks the most important change from the earlier volumes in which the editors substantially intervened to regularize the presentation of the texts. The implementation of this policy to present a more literal interpretation better preserves the original document and allows the reader to determine the significance of the authors’ spelling, grammar, capitalization, and other mechanical aspects of their writing. In that spirit, the following is a summary of the specifics of the project's new policy.

Spelling is preserved as found in the manuscripts. Irregular spelling and spelling mistakes, even when obviously simple slips of the pen, are retained. The index will continue to be used to offer corrected spellings of proper names and places, but no such corrections are made in the text itself. If a proper name is otherwise unidentifiable without some clarification, that explanation is provided in a text note.

Grammar and syntax are preserved as found in the manuscripts. Ambiguous statements resulting from grammatical errors may be explained in text notes. Inadvertent repetitions of words, however, are silently corrected. Likewise, all paragraphs receive a standard indent, whether such paragraphs are indicated in the original manuscripts by indents, extra space, hanging indents, extended dashes, or other conventions.

Capitalization is preserved as found in the manuscripts, even when it violates conventional standards, such as lowercase letters used for proper nouns or at the beginnings of sentences. In indeterminate cases, where the editors cannot be certain whether the writer intended a letter to be capital or lowercase, the editors follow modern usage.

Punctuation is preserved as found in the manuscripts. Occasionally punctuation marks need to be supplied by the editors to enhance readability. In those instances, the punctuation is enclosed in xxxiibrackets and rendered in italics to indicate that it has been editorially supplied. Additionally, since Adams and many of his correspondents used periods and commas interchangeably, the editors have retained some license to interpret those marks as makes sense grammatically, relying less on the structure of the character (Adams tended to use a single mark that might either be an elongated period or an abbreviated comma) than on the context of the sentence. Finally, the punctuation around abbreviations and contractions have been standardized in a limited fashion. First, underlining below a superscript is rendered as a period following the superscript. Similarly, two periods or commas under a superscript are rendered as a colon following the superscript. Second, marks over letters used to indicate contractions or abbreviations have all been rendered as tildes. If such a mark appears over multiple letters within a word, the tilde is placed over the first letter.

Abbreviations and contractions, in general, are preserved as found in the manuscript. Ampersands are now retained in all instances, as are superscripts. Thorns, however, will be rendered as “th” and per symbols will be spelled out as “per.”

Missing and illegible matter is indicated by square brackets enclosing the editors’ conjectural readings (with a question mark appended if the reading is uncertain) or suspension points if no reading can be given. Three points are used to indicate a single missing word and four to indicate two or more missing words. When more than two words are missing, a footnote is provided indicating an estimate of the total amount of missing material. If a single letter of a word is missing, the editors may silently supply it. In cases where a letterbook copy of a letter is available, the missing or illegible matter is supplied from that source in brackets and indicated as such in the annotation.

Canceled matter in the manuscript (whether crossed out or erased) is disregarded unless the editors deem it to be of some significance. In those instances, the text is included but crossed out typographically (e.g., “I waited, forthwith, on Mr Jay, and from him learned the present State of the Conferences.”34). The editors will no longer use angle brackets and italicized text to indicate canceled matter, as in earlier volumes.

Variant readings (variations in text between two or more versions of the same letter) are ordinarily indicated only when they are xxxiiisignificant enough to warrant recording, and then always in footnotes keyed to the basic text that is printed in full.

Interlineations are silently included within the body of the text unless the editors deem the placement of the interlineated material worthy of mention, most commonly when it is written at the bottom or along the margin of a page and marked for insertion. Such explanations are provided in text notes.

Editorial insertions are now rare and used largely to indicate errors in dating or to supply necessary punctuation. The vast majority of editorial comment is provided in the annotation rather than interpolated into the text. Editorial insertions are still rendered in italicized text in brackets.

Foreign-language documents are treated textually the same as English-language documents. That is, they are rendered as literally as possible. However, translations of foreign-language texts appear in standard American English, with all abbreviations expanded and misspellings of personal and geographic names corrected. The only exceptions are quotations in languages other than the language of the letter, the signature, foreign-language names of ships, and the titles of published works in a foreign language, which are retained.

Encoded or enciphered passages are editorially decoded or deciphered, with the clear text supplied between braces. Such passages retain misspellings or garbled text caused by encoding or enciphering errors. When necessary, garbled text is clarified in the annotation.

As has been the policy from the beginning of this editorial project—and one of the few requirements of the Adams Manuscript Trust that donated the papers to the Massachusetts Historical Society and created the Adams Papers project—all letters that appear in the Adams Papers volumes are printed in full.35 The editors, however, reserve the right to omit publishing enclosures to letters. In most instances where there are multiple versions of letters, the recipient's copy—the copy intended for the recipient, whether so received or not—is favored over all others. However, when multiple copies of a letter were sent, as was often the case with Adams’ letters to or from the president of Congress and the secretary for foreign affairs, the copy that arrived first (whether it be the intended recipient's copy, a duplicate, or a triplicate) is printed. Differences between the xxxivversion of a letter printed and any other available versions of a letter (such as a letterbook copy or a draft) are explained in the annotation. In general, only significant differences (rather than mere stylistic changes) are so described.

The formal parts of each document are organized as follows:

The place- and dateline is printed as literally as possible using the standards outlined above. It is always placed at the head of the letter, even if it appears elsewhere in the manuscript (for instance, at the foot of the text). Undated and misdated letters have their dates editorially supplied or corrected using italicized text inside square brackets.

The salutation is also printed as literally as possible on the left side of the same line as the place- and dateline (space permitting). All punctuation is provided as it appears in the original except when a line is used to separate the salutation from the text. Such lines are silently omitted.

The complimentary close is printed literally, but in the interests of space it is run together in paragraph style. Virgules are used to indicate line breaks within the complimentary close.

The signature is printed literally. If a letter was unsigned, it is printed as such without comment unless special circumstances require explanation.

Enclosures are always acknowledged editorially but printed only selectively. If they belong in the sequence of Adams’ correspondence, they appear in their proper chronological places; if not and they warrant printing, they are attached to the letter that originally covered them.

Annotation and Index

While the most important function of these volumes is to provide accurate and authoritative texts, the editors also strive to offer additional information to help readers fully understand the nature of the documents and the historical context in which they were written.

Following each letter is a descriptive note that indicates the physical nature of the document printed and the manuscript repository where the original is located. If the document is no longer available in manuscript form, the source from which it is reprinted is provided. The note also contains the text of any markings on the original manuscript, including addresses (both cover and internal), endorsements (made by the recipient or on his or her behalf at the time of receipt), and docketings (made by the recipient or third parties at a later date). Additional notations on the manuscript may xxxvbe recorded if the editors deem them of value. Any relevant comment on handwriting is also provided. Archivists’ markings and postmarks/stamps are not recorded. As with the complimentary close, multiline text is printed run together and virgules are used to indicate line breaks.

In addition, the descriptive note also now lists all variant versions of the document contained within the Adams Family Papers manuscript collection. Variant texts owned by other repositories are not listed unless those variants are referenced in the annotation of the document. Enclosures to the main document are indicated here and are dealt with in the annotation if they are not printed in full.

The editors do not supply information on previous printings of letters published in the Papers of John Adams unless there are special reasons for doing so, such as the disappearance of the manuscript or earlier printing in an unexpected place or unusual form.

All other matters annotated—textual, biographical, bibliographical, and so on—are dealt with in a single series of numbered notes for each letter. In general, the editors hope that the letters in large part annotate themselves, that together they provide an overarching sense of the activities of Adams and of the events in which he was immersed. Still, certain categories of material require additional explanation and the editors attempt to supply that through brief factual notes. Among the types of information covered in the notes, the following are the most common:

1. Persons and personal names. The single largest category of notes are identifications of individuals, whether family members, friends, political colleagues, or acquaintances. While certainly not all of the people mentioned within the letters can be meaningfully identified, short biographies are provided for as many as possible at their first significant mention within one of the project's series. When an identification is tentative, the caveats “possibly” or “probably” are used to indicate the editors’ level of uncertainty. Text notes are also used to clarify spellings of names when the variations are substantial enough to make locating them in the index difficult (in most cases, names are “corrected” or regularized only in the index) and to provide cross-references to identifications available in volumes in other Adams Papers series.

2. Books and other publications. The editors attempt to supply full bibliographical information on the books and publications mentioned in the letters. Information on whether John Adams or another family member owned the item in question—either in John xxxviAdams’ library, now held at the Boston Public Library,36 or in John Quincy Adams’ library, now located at the Stone Library of the Adams National Historical Park—is also included when available.

3. Correspondence. Despite becoming increasingly selective, the editors must deal with the totality of John Adams’ correspondence. Consequently, the locations of specific letters mentioned but not printed within the volume are indicated if the editors have any record of them, while those mentioned of which no record exists are designated in the notes as “not found.” When precise identification of letters is not possible—due most commonly to faulty dating or vague references—the editors may offer likely suggestions.

4. Other subjects. These are annotated on an ad hoc basis, primarily to clarify the text, either by providing historical context or to explain topics the editors believe are unfamiliar to modern readers.

Each volume contains an appended List of Omitted Documents.37 This is a list of all letters and documents relating to John Adams that are eligible for inclusion in a particular volume but are not printed or calendared in that volume, including information on the location of the manuscript, additional copies contained in the Adams Family Papers manuscript collection, and any modern printed versions thereof. The selection principles for the Papers of John Adams are provided above. The principles for selection in the Adams Family Correspondence series are provided in the introduction to volume 8 of that series (p. xxxvi–xxxvii).

An index now appears as the final section of each volume, no longer in every other volume as was the practice through volume 10. The index, besides serving as a guide to locating people, places, and subjects covered in the book, also provides a wealth of additional information. Most notably, each individual's full name is provided (wherever possible), whether it was used in full in the text or not, along with a brief description of that individual, such as his or her profession, place of residence, or connection to the Adams family. Birth and death dates are additionally supplied for all members of the Adams family, including more distant relatives. These index entries also supply corrected spellings of names or spelling alternatives, as appropriate.

xxxvii image

Main index entries of any length are subdivided into subentries to offer easier access and more specific searching within the text. Initially, those subentries were provided in page number order, but in recent volumes (beginning with Adams Family Correspondence, volume 7, and Papers of John Adams, volume 13), the editors have supplied them alphabetically, to aid in their use.

Volume 14 documents seven tumultuous months in the life of John Adams. He and his colleagues violated their instructions from Congress and achieved the ultimate raison d’être for the American diplomatic establishment in Europe—peace with England. In his letters Adams expressed, in more detail and with greater candor than ever before, his frustration with Congress and his growing anxiety over the effect of ill-considered policies on the United States’ ability to survive and prosper in the postwar world. For additional insight into Adams’ activities, the 338 letters and documents printed in and the 145 items omitted from this volume should be considered in conjunction with the documentation provided by other volumes of the Adams Papers. The 79 letters printed in the Adams Family Correspondence (5:28–167) for this period contain additional comments by Adams and others on the peace and the future, including his exchanges with Abigail over whether she and their daughter should come to Europe. Also of interest is John Quincy Adams’ correspondence with his mother and father concerning his six-month journey from St. Petersburg to The Hague, a subject dealt with in the younger Adams’ Diary (1:153–175). Finally, John Adams’ Diary and Autobiography (3:37–154) contains the material from which his two “Peace Journals” were derived and provides important information regarding the negotiations with David Hartley toward a definitive peace treaty that began in late April 1783.

5. Related Digital Resources

Beyond its continuing support of the Adams Papers editorial project, the Massachusetts Historical Society has also committed itself to making Adams resources available online. Two digital resources in particular supplement the Papers of John Adams volumes and will be of great interest to Adams scholars and readers—The Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive and The Diaries of John Quincy Adams: A Digital Collection. Both are available through the Massachusetts Historical Society's website at


The Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive offers images and transcriptions of the complete correspondence between John and Abigail Adams owned by the Massachusetts Historical Society, all of John Adams’ diaries, and his autobiography. The text is fully searchable and may also be browsed by date.

The Diaries of John Quincy Adams: A Digital Collection, provides images of all pages of John Quincy Adams’ enormous 51-volume diary, which he kept for nearly seventy years. The images may be searched by date or browsed by diary volume.

Finally, the editors are pleased to announce the forthcoming launch of a major new digital initiative to make all of the previously published Adams Papers volumes available online. Thanks to the generosity of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Harvard University Press, and the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Founding Families Digital Edition is scheduled to become available on the Massachusetts Historical Society's website in late 2008. This project will provide a fully searchable digital version of 38 Adams Papers volumes, as well as 7 volumes of the Winthrop Family Papers published by the Massachusetts Historical Society in the twentieth century. While the editors intend to continue making the Adams Papers available in letterpress editions, a complementary digital edition will greatly enhance the accessibility and utility of these volumes.

Gregg L. Lint

August 2007


To Elbridge Gerry, 14 Dec., below.


Vol. 13:483–485.


Vol. 11:374–377. JA's objection was partly due to the contrast between the 1781 instructions and his 16 Oct. 1779 instructions as sole minister to negotiate an Anglo-American peace under which he was to be governed by the Franco-American alliance and French advice, but also “by your Knowledge of our Interests, and your own discretion, in which We repose the fullest Confidence” (JA, D&A , 4:181–183).


Same, 3:38. The allusion was in Arthur Lee's letter of 7 Aug. 1782, but in his reply of 10 Oct., JA wrote that the instruction mentioned by Lee had “never been communicated to me” and “I cannot believe that any such one has passed” (vol. 13:524).


To Robert R. Livingston, 31 Oct., note 4, below.


JA, D&A , 3:35–108.


See Congress’ dispatch book, PCC, No. 185, III, f. 56.


PCC, No. 84, IV, f. 242–296.


AFC , 5:60. See also William Gordon's letter of 10 May 1783, and note 4, below. This version of the “Peace Journal” is now at the Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia.


JA, D&A , 3:41–43.


Same, 3:54; to Jonathan Jackson, 17 Nov., below.


See JA's explanations in his 30 June 1784 letter to Samuel Osgood (LbC, Adams Papers, APM Reel 107) written in reply to Osgood's letter of 7 Dec. 1783 commenting on the effect of the “Journal” when it reached Congress; and in the Boston Patriot of 7 Sept. 1811. See also CFA's comment on the dispatch of the “Journal” in JA, Works , 3:349.


To Isaac Smith Sr., 15 Dec., below.


To the loan consortium, 5 Nov., below.


See, for example, JA's letters to Robert Morris and the consortium of Amsterdam bankers of 7 and 19 Nov., respectively, as well as the consortium's letter to JA of [ca. 23 Dec.], all below.


See, for example, JA's 22 Feb. letter to Dana and Dana's letters of 9 May, and note 2, and 15 May, all below.


JQA's letter was dated 1 Feb. at Göteborg, Sweden, to which JA replied on 18 Feb. ( AFC , 5:86–88, 97), but see also JA's letter to Francis Dana of 5 Feb., below. For the newspaper account, which appeared in various London newspapers including the London Chronicle of 24–26 Dec., see Francis Dana's letter of 19 Dec., note 3, below.


See, for example, letters from Hamburg by Philippe Jean Joseph Lagau on 3 March and the firm of Parish & Thomson on 7 March, both below.


JA, D&A , 3:106.


JA and the Writing of the History of the American Revolution, 9 Jan.–8 March 1783, below.


To Edmund Jenings, 21 April 1783, below.


To the president of Congress, 5 Feb. 1783, below.


From William Lee, 27 March 1783, note 3, below.


6 Feb. 1783, below.


Vol. 13:246.


Of 20 and 21 March; 9, 12, 13, and 16 April; but see also JA's 25 May letter to Robert R. Livingston, all below.


See, for example, JA's 25 Feb. 1779 letter to James Warren, vol. 7:427.


See John Adams and the Writing of the History of the American Revolution, 9 Jan.–8 March 1783, below. The letterbooks were also the primary source for the letters copied by JA into his Autobiography and his letters to the Boston Patriot between 1809 and 1812.


These are Letterbooks 18 and 19, which appear on reels 106 and 107 of the Adams Papers Microfilms. In both cases entries ended in October 1782 and were not resumed until after he visited The Hague in the summer of 1783.


For Barbé-Marbois’ letter, see Henry Laurens’ Account of a Conversation with John Adams on the Peace Negotiations, 19 Dec. 1782, and note 4; and for Dana's letter see his [19 Dec.] letter to JA , and note 1, both below.


For JA's motivation in writing to Jonathan Jackson, see his letter to Jackson of 8 Nov., note 1, below. For the “Peace Journal” see his 17 Nov. letter to Jackson, and note 6, below; and Part 1 to the Introduction, above.


Franklin, Papers , 37:440.


See, for example, John Adams and the Writing of the History of the American Revolution, 9 Jan.–8 March 1783, below.


To Robert R. Livingston, 31 Oct., below.


Remarks of Thomas B. Adams, then president of the Massachusetts Historical Society and trustee of the Adams Manuscript Trust, in The Adams Papers: A Ceremony . . . Marking the Publication of the Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, 22 Sept. 1961, p. 5.


The Boston Public Library has recently completed a major effort to create an online catalog of the John Adams library, including record of the extensive marginalia John Adams generated in his books. See for more information.


The first such list appeared in vol. 8:381–397 and included all documents omitted from volumes 1 through 8.