Papers of John Adams, volume 14

From Francis Dana

To C. W. F. Dumas

From William Lee, 27 March 1783 Lee, William Adams, John
From William Lee
Dear Sir. Bruxelles 27 March 1783

Your obliging favor of the 15th. instt. did not come to my hands ’till the 8th day after its date, but it did not appear to have been open'd, tho’ the direction was in a handwriting that I am not acquainted with.

I can readily, from my own experience, subscribe to the Truth of every thing you have said in your Letter, & to prevent Dr. Franklin from repeating the same unwarrantable practice with the Emperor, (which from some expressions drop'd I have reason to think was in agitation) as with the K. of S.1 I have plainly Inform'd the Government here, that no Person in Europe is authorized by Congress to treat with the Emperor but Mr. Dana—who is now at Petersburg, & was I in Paris, I wou'd make a point of giving the same explicit information to the Imperial Ambassador there.2

I know it has always been the Creed at Passy that Congress ought not to presume to make any appointments in Europe which Dr. Franklin was not at the head of, or commanded to be done; upon this principle it is I suppose, that he has had the effrontery, as I am told, to nominate Mr. W. T. Franklin to Congress to be appointed Amn. Minister at the Court of Versailles; it having been previously settled between the Doctr. & Cte. DeV. that the Doctr. himself, as being the most trusty Person, shou'd be sent as Amern. Minister to London.

Doctr. Franklin I see has the superlative Modesty, by his Agents in London, to style himself, in the English papers the founder of the new American Empire;3 but I have look'd upon him to have been Born, to be a Scourge to Ama., therefore considering the penetrating & Sagacious Judgemt. of your particular Countrymen, it has surpriz'd me to see him blazon'd out in the Boston Papers,4 in nearly as 371fulsome terms, as in the Buletins that are sent from the Genl. Post Office in Paris, to most of the Gazettes in Europe. The contending Parties there, like Mr. Deane, seem to place a great deal of their merit in the Share they enjoy in his good Graces. (See the writings abt. Mr. Jno Temple &c).5

It wd. give me most sincere pleasure if our country wd. learn wisdom from experience, in that case I shall think it fortunate, that we have receiv'd such imperious & iniquitous treatment from a certain quarter, as they ought to convince every American that there is nothing due from us on the score of Gratitude, which may prevent us from hereafter being intrigued into schemes that can only be productive of injury & disgrace to us.

A plot seems already form'd to get Gl. Washington to Paris,6 which I trust America will have Wisdom enough to prevent, for I can never forget from what source the K. of Sweeden imbibed the Idea, nor by whose assistance he carried in to execution the Nefarious plan of depriving his Country of its Liberties, which he had sworn to maintain, & immediately afterwards attempted to cloath his Sacrilege with the mask of religion, by going to church Taking a Prayer Book out of his pocket, & singing Psalms; thus making a mockery both of God & Man.—7 What a Pity it was, that the genius of Sweeden did not at that moment furnish a Brutus, or a Cassius.

Please to give me a safe direction to Mr. Dana that I may write to him, tho’ I am much employed at present in preparing for my voyage to America, which may take place in the course of next month & shall be happy to be Bearer of your commands. Pray tell me if you think British Manufactures will now be admited, as I shall be almost obliged to take some of them for my own private use.

Intelligence from London mentions that great Intrigue & exertion were used from a certain quarter, to prevent the Bill for opening a Commercial Intercourse between G. B. & the U. S. from passing, in the original form, as introduced by Mr. Pitt; in which they have pretty well succeeded, but all that is wrong may be cured by a judicious Treaty.

Have you heard latelly from my Brother or do you know if he is still in Congress?8 who has succeeded Mr. Livingston as Secretary?—

With very great Esteem & Respect, I have the Honor to be / Dear Sir, / Your most Obedient / & most Hb̃le Servant

W. Lee.

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “His Excellency John Adams Esq. / at / Paris—”; endorsed: “Mr W. Lee. March 27. / ansd. April 6. / 1783.”

372 1.

The King of Sweden.


For Lee's ultimate decision not to write Dana, see his letter of 24 April, below.


There had been numerous reports in London newspapers that Benjamin Franklin had been or would be appointed minister to Great Britain. The Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser of 16 Jan. quoted a 4 Jan. Paris letter indicating that “Dr. Franklyn's friends openly declared, that he had already the appointment of Plenipotentiary from Congress to the Court of London.” In the issue of 27 Jan. Dr. Franklin was reported to be coming to London as the American minister and to have “taken lodgings in Surry-street, which he occupied some years ago, and is expected in London in a few days.” On 5 Feb. the paper carried an excerpt from a Paris letter of 29 Jan. that referred to Franklin as “the father of the Revolution in America.”


It is not known what Boston newspaper Lee may have seen, but the Continental Journal on 6 Feb. published excerpts from four letters by Franklin in which he reported that he saw “all the Marks of a constantly growing Regard for us, and Confidence in us, among those in whom such Sentiments are most to be desired” and that “our Reputation rises throughout Europe” and “our public Affairs go on swimmingly in Holland.”


John Temple, a Boston native and the son-in-law of James Bowdoin, had returned from England to America as an emissary for reconciliation and touched off a newspaper war between himself and James Sullivan over Temple's patriotism and intentions. In the Boston Evening Post of 30 Nov. 1782, Temple's supporters called Sullivan's claim that Temple and Franklin were “bitter enemies” a “groundless, inscendiary assertion.” For more on Temple, the controversy over his return, and JA's unintentional involvement in it, see vol. 11:449–452 and AFC , 4:385–388.


It is not known where Lee obtained his information, but a report from Paris in the London Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser of 22 March stated that “a pressing invitation has been sent by the King and Queen of France to General Washington, to come for some months at least to Versailles, and in person receive the investiture of the honors that await him.” A French ship of the line reportedly had been dispatched to Philadelphia to carry Washington should he accept the invitation.


Lee refers to the Comte de Vergennes’ service as the French ambassador to Sweden from 1771 to 1774. In August 1772 Gustavus III staged a successful coup d’état against the Swedish Diet to reestablish his authority and prerogatives, an event that served French policy by diminishing Russian influence. Vergennes as ambassador did not instigate the plot, but he was the paymaster who made it possible and he reaped the rewards from its success. In his biography of Vergennes, Orville T. Murphy rejects the view that Vergennes plotted against the interests of the United States but nevertheless sees the suspicions expressed by Lee, which JA shared, as “understandable” because “they knew, as well as other diplomats of Europe, that Vergennes was capable of intrigue and plotting” and his role “in the Swedish coup d’état of 1772 was public knowledge” (Murphy, Vergennes , p. 176–206, 394).


Arthur Lee served in Congress, with relatively few interruptions, from mid-Feb. 1782 to early June 1784 (Smith, Letters of Delegates , 18:xxiii; 19:xxv; 20:xxiii; 21:xxvi). He wrote to JA on 7 Aug. and 1 Oct. 1782. JA replied to the first on 10 Oct. (vol. 13:219–222, 508–510, 523–526). No reply to Arthur Lee's second letter has been found, but see JA's 12 April letter to Lee, note 1, below.