Papers of John Adams, volume 14

To James Warren, 9 April 1783 Adams, John Warren, James
To James Warren
Dear Sir Paris April 9. 17831

I hope this will find you in Congress, Supporting your Country and her Friends, where you ought to have been these many Years past.—2 For want of a few more hands of your Stamp at the Great Wheel, We poor Creatures are trembling here under a fearfull Looking for of Judgment and fiery Indignation from Philadelphia.

It is utterly inconceivable how Congress can have been deceived 388into Such Instructions as they gave Us, which without all Controversy would have ruined our Country if they had been obeyed. Those Instructions put Some of our essential Interests into the Power of the worst Ennemy of those Interests.

Great Britain is in a State that is undefineable. Unable for many Weeks to form any Administration at all, the King is now reported to have made a Combination So whimsical that it cannot be expected to last, if it can operate at all. it must be divided in Sentiment upon every material Question. The Distress for Grain, the Poverty of the Treasury, the Weakness of publick Credit, the Weight of Taxes, the general Discontents and Animosities and the Danger if not the Certainty of a publick Bankruptcy at least in Part, threaten that devoted Country with Calamities of which no Man can foresee the End.—

You are threatned with an Inundation of Emigrants from all Parts of Europe, but there will not be Such an Appearance of them as is talked of.— it is not So easy for Men to change Countries.— if you were to listen to the Conversations in private Circles or in Coffeehouses or to the Paragraphs in the Gazettes, you would think that all Europe was about to empty itself into America: But After all the Number of Emigrants will be Small.

I am in expectation every hour of receiving your Acceptance of my Resignation, and indeed I Stand in need of it.— The Scenes of Gloom Danger and Perplexity I have gone through, by Sea and Land, and the Shocks of Various Climates, have affected my health to a great degree and what is worse my Spirits. Firm as Some People have been complaisant enough to Suppose my Temper is, I assure you it has been shaken to its foundations, and more by the fluctuating Councils of Philadelphia than by any Thing else.— When a Man sees entrusted to him the most essential Interests of his Country, Sees that they depend wholly essentially upon him and that he must defend them against the Malice of Ennemies, the Finesse of Allies, the Treachery of a Colleague, and sees that he is not to be supported even by his Employers, you may well imagine a Man does not sleep on a bed of Roses. it is enough to poison the Life of Man in its most Secret Sources.

The Fever which I had at Amsterdam, which held me for five Days hickouping and Senseless over the Grave, eshausted me in such a Manner that I never have been able to recover it entirely.3 I have rode and walked and exercised incessantly now for a Year and three Quarters, and have lived in all respects with great Caution, but all does not do.— I have Weaknesses of Mind and Body, to 389which I have been all my Life before a Stranger. But I am not yet however So weak as to Stay in Europe, with a Wound upon my honour. and if I had the Health of Hercules, I would go home Leave or no Leave, the Moment another Person is appointed to Great Britain— No fooling in such a March. I will not be horse Jockeyed.— at least if I am De Vergennes & Franklin shall not be the Jockies.

It is not that I am ambitious of the Honour of a Commission to st James's or that I fondly expect an happy Life there. I could be happier, I believe at the Hague. But my Ennemies, because they are Ennemies or despisers of the Interests of my Country shall never have Such a Tryumph over me. I should think myself forever unworthy of the Confidence of Congress or of any other Body possessed of sense or Spirit if I did.— In Truth I Sigh for Repose— My Family has become an indispensible Necessary of Life to me. I am no longer a Boy, nor a Young Man.—and there is no Employment however honourable, No Course of Life however brillant, has Such a Lustre in my Imagination as absolutely a private Life. My Farm and my family glitter before my Eyes every day and night.

You may well imagine, that I shall not be beloved in London. I have been as you know, too old and atrocious an offender not to have Millions of Ennemies there.— You know too, that I have acted too daring and decided a Part in France and Holland, as well as in America not to have numerous Ennemies and powerfull ones too in all those Countries.— The Peace does not open to me in publick Life Prospects of Glory & Tryumph and Power and Wealth that can flatter or excite Ambition or Avarice in me.

I knew very well for many Years before I engaged in publick, that if I ever should engage, whatever Dangers I might brave whatever Loses I might Suffer, and whatever Successes I might have, Rewards and Fortunes were never made for me nor mine.—that the utmost I could ever expect would be a comfortable or even a tollerable old Age.— For this I would gladly now compound.—at home I might enjoy it—abroad I certainly cannot.— decide my fate therefore as soon as possible, if it is not yet decided, which I wish & hope and let me embrace you at Philadelphia or at Milton.

With great Affection and Esteem your Friend

John Adams

RC (MB); internal address: “General Warren.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 108.


A notation on the Letterbook copy reads: “Paris 15th. April 1783. Deliverd to Mr George Mason of Virginia.”


This is the first of four letters, the others dated 12, 13, and 16 April, all below, that JA wrote to James Warren setting down his 390views of the flawed conduct of American foreign policy since 1776 and the dangers for the new nation if the current practices continued. In addition to these four letters, JA included two others originally intended for Robert R. Livingston dated 20 and 21 March, both above. Together these six letters constitute JA's most sustained, comprehensive, and censorious analysis to date of Congress’ conduct of foreign relations and the damage done to American interests by the Comte de Vergennes and Benjamin Franklin.

The arrival of Warren's letter of 1 Nov. 1782, above, likely spurred JA to write Warren so extensively on the subject of foreign policy and to assume not only that his friend would agree with his assessment, but that Warren might be able to remedy the situation as a member of the Continental Congress. The 1 Nov. letter was likely among a number of “Lettres Americaines” that C. W. F. Dumas had received, by way of England, at The Hague and immediately forwarded to JA under cover of a 3 April letter that reached JA on the 8th, above. With that same batch of letters, JA likely also received Benjamin Guild's letter of 28 Nov., to which JA also replied on the 9th, both above. In their letters, both Warren and Guild refer to Warren's October election as a Massachusetts member of the Continental Congress, the only letters in the Adams Papers that specifically mention it. And while Warren indicated that he probably would not go to Philadelphia—and did not in fact go— the mere possibility of having a close friend and confidant in Congress likely was motivation enough for JA, particularly in view of Warren's very pessimistic assessment of Congress’ diplomacy and his allusions to the consequences of French and Franklinian manipulation. It is probably fortunate for JA's future diplomatic career that Warren was not at Congress when the letters reached Philadelphia. Indeed, by July, as he awaited Warren's reply, JA apparently had some doubts about the wisdom of laying out his views with such candor. Warren would be receiving “some long Letters from me,” he wrote to AA on 9 July. “Pray him to be very cautious of them. Neither they nor I can do any good in the present Circumstances.” On 27 Oct. Warren replied to all six letters, which according to AA he received at Milton sometime prior to 15 Oct. ( AFC , 5:198, 257–258; Warren-Adams Letters , 2:229–234).


For JA's 1781 illness at Amsterdam, which lasted almost seven weeks and during which, as he later wrote, “I have been, to the very gate of the other Mansion. My Feet had well nigh Stumbled on the dark mountains,” see vol. 11:469–470; 12:21.

To William Lee, 10 April 1783 Adams, John Lee, William
To William Lee
Sir, Paris. 10th. April. 1783—1

I know not to what extravagances Adulation may extend in regard to Dr: Franklin—nor do I much care, now the Independence of our Country, her Tom-Cod & Buckskins are so well secured. I expect soon to see a proposition to name the 18th. Century, the Franklinian Age, le Siecle Franklinnien, & am willing to leave the Question, whether it shall have this epithet or that of Fredericien, to the Dr: & the King: tho’, the latter will stand a poor Chance with a certain French Writer, who, within a few weeks, has said, that the Dr:, after a few ages, will be considered as a God, and I think the King has not eno: of the Cæsar in him to dispute with the Skies—2

The title of “Founder of the American Empire,” which as you observe the Eng: Newspapers give him, does not, most certainly belong to him:3 and it is extremely fortunate for our Country that no one man has the least Color of a just pretension to that popular 391& bewitching Appellation— Gen: W. himself, who has undoubtedly acted his part, as well as any Citizen whatever, has no just pretensions to it— There has been such a Swarm, such a republic of Characters, in every State, acting material & essential parts in the great Drama, that it is very difficult to say who has done the most— For my own part I am not afraid nor ashamed to say, that I think Mr: S: Adams is the man, who has acted the longest & the most essential part, as well as the most dangerous & difficult, in this Revolution— and I say this, without fear of being contradicted by Posterity; because there are extant Writings of this Gent:, for a Succession of 40. years together, which will one day be collected, all tending to the great end we have seen, written with a Simplicity & Elegance, a majesty & energy, wh: will be read with admiration in future ages, & wd. have done honor to any that is past. He will have the honor too of a disinterestedness, equal to that of any Character in Athens or Rome,4 and, what will still add to his glory, he has done all under the constant pressure of Poverty & Distress. A Collection of his Writings wd. be one of the most usefull & important works, especially for our Country, wh: was ever was published—5

I am on a delicate & invidious Subject; but historical Justice is as essential to the formation of virtuous Citizens, & consequently as indispensable for the prosperity States, as distributive Justice— But there is such a prostitution of all Justice, such a confusion of Right & wrong, virtue & vice, to accomplish the Apotheosis of Dr: F., as ought to excite the indignation of every honest man— There is such a partiallity to him too, among our own Countrymen, their Allies & their Enemies, arising fm. the imposing bubble of his Reputation, as embarasses Congress in their Deliberations, & forces even that august body into similar Partialities. Such a Reputation is as real a Tyranny as any that can be erected among men—

If you direct a letter to Mr: Dana, under cover to Messrs: Strathborne & Wolfe, Bankers at Petersburgh, it will go safe to his hands.—

The revokation of the Commission to make a Treaty of Commerce with G: B: without issuing another, a measure wh: originated in the common source of evil, has lost us, I fear forever, the critical moment for makg: the best possible Treaty: Yet I hope the Minister, who may be appinted, will be able to convince the English where their true Interest lies.—

I can give you no advice abt: carrying to America British Manufactures, as I know not whether they will be recd. or not—


I have no letter fm. yr: Brother, since the middle of last Fall—nor do I know that Mr: Livingston's Resignation has been accepted—

I am Sir, / Yr: &c.—

LbC in Charles Storer's hand (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mr: Lee—”; APM Reel 108.


This is the second of two Letterbook copies of this letter. The first, dated 6 April, is in John Thaxter's hand and bears the notation “Not sent” (LbC, APM Reel 108). Significant differences between the two are indicated in the notes. Despite the fact that JA and Lee were in substantial agreement regarding the malignant influence of Benjamin Franklin, JA likely decided to err on the side of caution and not send the 6 April letter because of its criticism of Franklin. His reconsideration and decision to send a revised letter, at least as critical of Franklin as the first, may be another result of the arrival of James Warren's 1 Nov. letter, for which see JA's 9 April letter to Warren, and note 2, above.


JA's reference to Franklin here and to George Washington and Samuel Adams in the following paragraph likely means that he had read portions of Joseph Antoine Joachim Cérutti's L’aigle et le hibou, fable écrite pour un jeune prince que l’on osoit blâmer de son amour pour les sciences et les lettres, Glasgow (Paris), 1783, a 15-page poem accompanied by 38 pages of notes. Franklin may have shown JA the copy he received as an enclosure in a 1 March letter from Ignace d’Urtado, Marquis d’Amezaga (PPAmP:Franklin Papers). For Cérutti, Franklin was a gray-haired Jupiter, the man of the century whom future ages would regard as a god; Washington, the American Atlas, was the New World equivalent of Frederick the Great; and Samuel Adams, whose modest appearance belied the strength and wisdom of his ideas, was one of the foremost architects of American liberty (p. 8–9, 39–40).


In the first letter this sentence was followed by “He has a much better Right to be called ‘The Dæmon of Discord among American Ministers, & the Curse and Scourge of their Cause.’”


In the first letter the remainder of this paragraph reads: “a Character to which Dr. Franklin has very small Pretensions, and the still greater Glory of a Distress and Poverty, which, happily for the Public, Genl. Washington was and is exempt from.”


In the first letter this sentence begins a new paragraph, which continues “Dr. Franklin's political Works would appear much smaller, by the Comparison.”