Papers of John Adams, volume 14

To Henry Laurens

From Edmund Jenings

To Benjamin Vaughan, 12 March 1783 Adams, John Vaughan, Benjamin
To Benjamin Vaughan
Dear Sir, Paris March 12th. 1783.

Mr. Storer arrived yesterday with your favor of 25th. Ulto.— I thank You for the Pamphlets, which are an Amusement in this place, how little soever there is in them of Sense or Candor.

The Refugees however seem to judge right in their own Affair— Sensible that they have no Claim at all upon America for Compensation, they demand it of Great Britain, upon whom the pretensions of some of them may be very just.

But why has no Man dared to mention tens of thousands of Sufferers in America, as innocent, as meritorious at least, as any of the Refugees? Who is to make Restitution and Compensation to these?—

Inclosed are Letters for your Friend Mr. Joshua Grigby Junr.1 329With five hundred a Year however a Man will not stand in need of Letters of Recommendation or Introduction in America.

Those who say you might have had a better Peace, speak from Conjecture, not from Knowledge— They reason from a false Comparison of the Forces of the belligerent Powers— Their Imaginations magnify the Finances and military Power of Great Britain, and diminish those of France, Spain, Holland & America, & then they reason from this delusive Comparison, that the Peace is inadequate to the relative Situations— I am afraid that the Vote to this purpose, will be unhappy one for Great Britain— Will it not nourish a continual discontent in your Nation, & a continual Jealousy in all the Powers that have been at War with You?2

I will answer You with great Sincerity, I do not believe you could possibly have obtained a better Treaty with America— On the contrary, the least delay would have lost You some Advantages which you now have.

What Conditions might have been obtained from France and Spain, I know not.— France appears in the Treaty with great Moderation in the Eyes of Europe, and her Aversion to continue the War could arise from no other Motive— Spain appears to have conquered her predeliction for Gibraltar— If therefore instead of wasting the Force of 40. or 50 Ships to guard that Rock, She had acted with France in the West Indies or against New York or both with 25. 20 or even only 15. Dutch Ships in the North Seas or the Channel, where would have been your Hopes? Surely only in the defensive— Admitting, what is very extravagantly improbable, that you could have defended all another year at an expence of 20. Millions, would you have been then able to demand better Terms, or your Adversaries disposed to grant them? I trow not— On the contrary, their Courage & Pretensions would have advanced.3

America did you a very kind Turn you may depend upon it, when She rapidly hastened on the Signature of the Provisional Treaty— Think of it as you will, you would have had no Peace at this hour, but for this able Seizure of the Moment of the Tide in the Affairs of Men, for which you are indebted to Mr. Oswald & his Principals— Without this, the Negotiations would have dreamed on, until D’Estaing had sailed from Cadiz, and then voila! une autre Campaigne.

I should be very glad to see the better sort of Pamphlets you mention, & particularly some to shew the Policy & the Necessity of an immediate Evacuation of New York & Penobscot.

I have the honor to very respectfully, / Sir &c


LbC in John Thaxter's hand (Adams Papers); internal address: “Benjamin Vaughan Esqr.”; APM Reel 108.


For JA's recommendations of Grigby, both dated 12 March, see Vaughan's letter of 25 Feb., note 1, above.


Here and in the following three paragraphs JA echoes the argument favoring the Anglo-American preliminaries put forward by Lord Shelburne, among others, during the 17 Feb. parliamentary debates over the treaty, namely that Britain's political and economic situation vis-à-vis its enemies left it no choice but to make peace. By contrast, JA notes the views of those who saw Britain's position as less dire and certainly not requiring the concessions allowed the Americans and paraphrases to a degree the amendment offered by Frederick Howard, 5th Earl of Carlisle, to the main motion to send an address of thanks to George III. There, after admitting that the Lords had no option but to approve the treaty since to do otherwise would violate “the national faith,” Carlisle declared that “at the same time, we cannot help lamenting the necessity, which bids us subscribe to articles, which, considering the relative situation of the belligerent powers, we must regard as inadequate to our just expectations, and derogatory to the honour and dignity of Great Britain” ( Parliamentary Hist. , 23:375–380, 418–420).


JA had long considered the commitment of French and Spanish naval forces to European waters, particularly for operations against Gibraltar, shortsighted and counterproductive. He believed that those forces would have been better deployed to American waters, where their effect would have likely been to bring the war to an end much sooner. For this issue as a recurring theme in JA's correspondence, not just with individuals like Vaughan, but also in letters directed to Congress and the French government, see the indexes to vols. 7–13.