Papers of John Adams, volume 15

Descriptive List of Illustrations
Descriptive List of Illustrations
John Wheelock (1754–1817) became president of Dartmouth College in 1779 in the midst of the American Revolutionary War. At the time and for years afterward Dartmouth struggled financially, and Wheelock invested considerable effort in raising funds.
Between 1782 and 1784 Wheelock traveled to Europe with his brother James to personally solicit the support of potential benefactors in France and the Netherlands, but his trip produced a negligible return at best. Benjamin Franklin dissuaded him from attempting any appeal in France on behalf of Dartmouth for fear that it might jeopardize applications at Versailles for the benefit of the United States as a whole. Although John Adams armed him with letters of introduction to several influential men in the Netherlands (vol. 14:271, and note 2), Wheelock, as he informed Adams in a letter of 12 June 1783 (below), met few individuals in the Dutch republic willing to promote his cause in the face of popular discontent with America over the existing terms of trade. In Britain the prerevolutionary patrons of Dartmouth with whom Wheelock reconnected confirmed that bitter feelings in the wake of the Revolution precluded any hope of raising money in the mother country. Wheelock left Europe with little to show for his effort and arrived in America with even less: the brig that carried him on his return wrecked off Cape Cod, sparing his life but not his strongbox with all his papers and money.
The origins of the portrait that appears here are not known, though Wheelock wears in it a medal that he received from London pawnbroker John Flude in 1786. An ambrotype of the original miniature was taken in 1858 at the request of Dartmouth graduate Josiah Whitney Barstow. The miniature itself has not been found (Leon Burr Richardson, History of Dartmouth College, 2 vols., Hanover, N.H., 1932, 1:188–189, 195–202, 204–209, 325; Dick Hoefnagel, “John Flude’s Medal,” Dartmouth College Library Bulletin, 32:18–30 [Nov. 1991]).
Courtesy of Dartmouth College Library, Hanover, N.H.
David Hartley (1732–1813), a member of Parliament who from the start opposed Britain’s war with America, long held fast to hopes of reconciliation and reunion.
When in early April 1783 Hartley was named British negotiator of the Anglo-American definitive peace treaty, John Adams viewed the appointment with skepticism. In a 12 April letter to Arthur Lee, Adams complained of Hartley that “he is talkative and disputacious and not always intelligible so that I expect We shall be longer about the Business than is necessary” (vol. 14:398). Adams also considered Hartley to be naïve. Three years earlier Adams had made a close study of Hartley’s thinking on Anglo-American relations and found it sadly out of touch with reality (vol. 9:148–153). As the talks got under way in late April 1783, however, Adams grew optimistic. By 16 May he was encouraged enough to write to Edmund Jenings that “Mr Hartleys disposition is very fair, and if he can follow his own Ideas, We shant be long in settling Accounts” (vol. 14:484).
But Hartley was not free to follow his own ideas. While he favored “a loose and liberal line” originating in the principle of reciprocity and aiming at the ideal of free trade, public opinion in Britain held that the mother country had given away too much in the preliminary peace treaty and must concede no more (Morris, Peacemakers , p. 432). Hartley’s generous inclinations were kept in check by British foreign secretary Charles James Fox, who wished above all to preserve his fragile governing coalition. Hartley’s failure to convince Fox to look to the long term and make a liberal peace with America seems to confirm Adams’ earlier observation about the British peace commissioner, made in a 28 March 1780 letter to Edmund Jenings, that “so small a Pebble, never spreads a great Circle, where it falls” (vol. 9:88). In the end the definitive peace treaty signed on 3 September 1783 (below) was essentially the same as the preliminary treaty agreed to nine months earlier (vol. 14:103–109). As the American commissioners reported to Congress a week after concluding their talks with Hartley, “his Zeal for Systems friendly to us, constantly exceeded his Authority to concert and agree to them” (10 Sept., below).
Despite the fruitlessness of his efforts—or perhaps oblivious to it—Hartley took pride in his role in the negotiations. The portrait of him painted by George Romney commemorates his participation with a scroll lying on the table beside him bearing the label “Definitive Treaty with the United States of America” ( DNB ; Morris, Peacemakers , p. 418–423, 426–427, 429–433, 434, 436, 437).
Courtesy of Columbia University in the City of New York. Gift of the Estate of Geraldine R. Dodge.
American peace commissioners John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay signed and sealed the definitive peace treaty between the United States and Great Britain with their British counterpart David Hartley at Paris on 3 September 1783 (below). Although Henry Laurens participated in the negotiation of the definitive treaty, he did not join in the signing because he had traveled to London to confer directly with Foreign Secretary Charles James Fox and First Lord of the Treasury William Henry Cavendish Bentinck, 3d Duke of Portland, and then proceeded to Bath to take the waters there. The signing did not take place at Versailles, where Britain was to conclude definitive peace treaties with France and Spain on the same day, because Hartley’s instructions, as he explained to the American commissioners in a letter of 29 August (below), authorized him to act only at Paris.
The American commissioners had begun to prepare for the negotiation of the definitive treaty within days of signing the preliminaries with British commissioner Richard Oswald on 30 November 1782 (vol. 14:103–109). But the preliminaries met a hostile reception in Britain, where an array of affected interests balked at the terms, and the opposition in Parliament exploited the controversy to bring down the ministry that had acceded to them. The resignation of William Petty, 2d Earl of Shelburne, on 24 February 1783 did not end the political turmoil, because the coalition that had engineered his ouster—led by Fox and Frederick, Lord North—lacked the support of the king necessary to form their own ministry, and other leaders who enjoyed royal confidence declined to act. For weeks George III maneuvered to prevent Fox and North from taking office, but the absence of any alternative finally obliged him to yield, which he did on 2 April.
When talks on the definitive treaty got under way in late April, the American commissioners hoped for a liberal settlement of trade relations, including the opening of British ports in the West Indies to American ships. For almost three months they exchanged proposals and counterproposals with Hartley, the new British commissioner, but the talks flagged early on because Fox, the new foreign secretary, could not countenance various concessions made by Hartley. Public opinion in Britain opposed giving American ships access to British ports in the West Indies, and Fox lacked the political muscle to defy it. On 2 July the British ministry issued an Order in Council closing British ports in the West Indies to American ships. (It was the third of a series unilaterally setting terms of trade between Britain and the United States.) As a result the Anglo-American talks collapsed. On 9 August Fox instructed Hartley to submit to the American commissioners a draft definitive treaty that consisted merely of the preliminaries with a preamble. Four days later Hartley did so, and Adams, Franklin, and Jay immediately accepted. “We have agreed to this,” Adams wrote to American secretary for foreign affairs Robert R. Livingston on the xiisame day, “because it is plain, that all Propositions for alterations in the provisional Articles will be an endless discussion, and that we must give more than we can hope to receive” (13 Aug., first letter, below).
After the signing of the definitive treaty Adams retained a duplicate original, the first and last pages of which appear here. Two originals can be found in the Department of State Treaty File (vol. 14:119–120; Laurens, Papers , 16:248–254, 261, 271, 277; JA, D&A , 3:95–96; Cannon, Fox-North Coalition , p. 39–81; Morris, Peacemakers , p. 425–437; Harlow, Founding of the Second British Empire , 1:477–478; Miller, Treaties , 2:156).
From the original in the Adams Family Papers. Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
4. JOHN ADAMS’ BOOKPLATE, 1783 330[unavailable]
Among the items in John Adams’ 29 October 1783 account with London bookseller and printer John Stockdale is a charge of five shillings for “Engraving a Plate” (below). The entry may refer to a bookplate designed by Adams in commemoration of his diplomatic missions to France, the Netherlands, and Great Britain. In 1785 Adams engaged London seal engraver Aaron Carpenter to cut a seal with identical imagery.
Adams based his bookplate on the coat of arms of his mother’s family, the Boylstons, which he modified to make the device his own. In the original Boylston arms, the bottom part of the shield embraces a red field with six ornate silver crosses arranged three over two over one. The top third of the shield takes in a gold field with three solid black roundels set in a row. The crest above the shield shows a striding lion, its head in profile and a cross similar to those in the base in its raised right paw. In his bookplate, Adams replaced the blank roundels with figures—a fleur-de-lis in the center and two striding lions with heads turned outward on either side. He encircled the shield and crest with a garter bearing the motto “Libertatem amicitiam retinebis et fidem” (Keep liberty, friendship, and fidelity), a paraphrase of Tacitus, Histories, Book 1.15, lines 22–24. Outside the garter Adams placed a ring of thirteen stars. At the foot of the new device he put his own name.
Adams rarely used this bookplate, and he had no other. As a rule he indicated his ownership of a book simply by signing his name in it. In his bookplate as in so much else, however, Adams set an example for his descendants to follow. When later Adamses designed their own bookplates, they routinely incorporated the modified Boylston arms.
The illustration of John Adams’ bookplate that appears here comes from his copy of Constitutions des treize États-Unis de l’Amérique, Paris, 1783, which can be found in his library at the Boston Public Library ( Catalogue of JQA’s Books , p. 138–140, 141–144, 146–148; Charles Knowles Bolton, Bolton’s American Armory, Boston, 1927, p. 20; Catalogue of JA’s Library ).
Courtesy of the Boston Public Library.
John Quincy Adams described London-based wax modeler Patience Lovell Wright (1725–1786) in a 4 November 1783 letter to Peter Jay Munro as “an extraordinary Woman a very singular character” (NNMus). Abigail Adams was likewise impressed, writing to Mary Smith Cranch on 25 July 1784, in a letter begun on the 6th, that Wright was both an untidy old chatterer and a master artist ( AFC , 5:376).
The American-born Wright and her sister Rachel Lovell Wells had taught themselves to model wax and in the early 1770s won renown from Charleston to Boston for their lifelike busts and statues. Hoping to enlarge her audience and her success, Wright in 1772 moved to London and set up an exhibition space. Her portraits in wax attracted not only gentry but noble and even royal attention, affording her regular access to metropolitan circles of influence. During the Revolution Wright exploited her position to act as an American spy, gathering intelligence in Britain that she forwarded to Benjamin Franklin in France.
On 8 March 1783 Wright wrote to John Adams and John Jay to ask for their cooperation in her plan to create a series of wax busts of prominent Americans “to present to the State House in City Philadelphia for a monument of their glory and my own good Judgment.” In a letter to Adams dated 1 November Wright lamented having missed a call by Adams during his stay in London but expressed her pleasure at having seen his son (below). Although Adams interacted with Wright socially, there is no evidence to suggest that he or Jay sat for her. (Henry Laurens did and purchased the finished bust for his daughter Mary.) Still wanting to model a bust of Adams when his wife and daughter visited her waxworks in July 1784, Wright quipped, as Abigail Adams related in her letter of the 6th to Mary Smith Cranch, “I design to have his Head” (Charles Coleman Sellers, Patience Wright: American Artist and Spy in George III’s London, Middletown, Conn., 1976, p. 10, 34–41, 49–59, 98–100, 104–118, 189, 220; Jay, Unpublished Papers , 2:602–603; Laurens, Papers , 16:367; AFC , 5:376).
Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.
6, 7. RECEIPT, JOHN SINGLETON COPLEY, 10 DECEMBER 1783, AND JOHN ADAMS, BY JOHN SINGLETON COPLEY, 1783 355[unavailable] , 356[unavailable]
The portrait of John Adams painted by John Singleton Copley in the autumn of 1783 commemorates the signing of the definitive peace treaty between the United States and Great Britain. The only life-size original likeness of Adams, it presents him in grand and dramatic terms.
Adams sat for Copley during a private trip to London—Adams’ first visit to the British capital—where he arrived in the company of his eldest son on 26 October. John Quincy Adams was present at the sitting and later recalled watching Copley use a compass to xivtake his father’s measurements. Before the Adamses left the city on 2 January 1784, the senior Adams paid Copley and took in return a receipt that read “London Decr: 10 1783 Recd of John Adams Esquire, one hundred Guineas in full for his portrait J S Copley” (Adams Papers).
Abigail Adams arrived in London with her daughter on 21 July 1784 and viewed the Copley portrait of her husband three days later. Because John Adams was not able to join his wife in person until 7 August, she had to resort to the painting for her first sight of him since he had left their home in Braintree en route to Europe more than four years earlier. Perhaps uncertain of her memory of him after such a long separation, Abigail Adams wavered in her estimation of the likeness. Writing to Mary Smith Cranch on the 25th of July, in a letter begun on the 6th, she declared it “very good” ( AFC , 5:374). In a letter to Elizabeth Smith Shaw on the 28th, she retreated, remarking only that “It is said to be an admirable likeness” (same, 5:403–404).
John Adams himself soon came to regard the Copley portrait with obvious discomfort. Having sent his son John Quincy back to London to await the arrival of his wife and daughter, Adams directed him in a letter dated after 6 June to ask the artist to get a frame made for the painting. He closed the topic on a note of remorse, saying “Thus this Piece of Vanity will be finished. May it be the last” (same, 5:341). Adams may have deemed the Copley portrait too aristocratic. When in 1793 John Stockdale proposed to have an engraving made of it for use as the frontispiece to a new edition of the Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, Adams replied without enthusiasm that “I have no objection, and you may do as you please: but I own I should be much mortified to see such a Bijou affixed to those Republican Volumes” (from John Stockdale, 16 March, Adams Papers; to John Stockdale, 12 May, British Museum).
During Adams’ 1783 visit to London, Copley not only painted his portrait for pay but also welcomed him socially. After Adams returned to serve as the first American minister to Britain in July 1785, his family and the Copleys became intimate. When Abigail Adams 2d, daughter of John and Abigail Adams, married William Stephens Smith a year later, the guests at the wedding included John Singleton Copley; his wife, Susanna Clarke; and one of their daughters (Oliver, Portraits of JA and AA , p. 23–31; to Antoine Marie Cerisier, 16 Oct., note 1, below; JA, D&A , 3:170; from John Singleton Copley, [11 Nov.], below; from William Vaughan, 12 Dec., below; AFC , 7:218, 234–235).
Receipt from the original in the Adams Family Papers. Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
Portrait courtesy of the Harvard University Portrait Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard Art Museum. Bequest of Ward Nicholas Boylston to Harvard College, 1828.
Merchant Samuel Osgood (1748–1813) represented Massachusetts in the Continental Congress from 12 June 1781 to 1 March 1784, taking a special interest in fiscal affairs. Early on he supported the efforts of Superintendant of Finance Robert Morris to reform the administration of the continental purse and make it more economical, efficient, and equitable. The reorganization, however, concentrated power in Morris’ hands, and Osgood soon found himself torn between respect for the superintendant’s skill and fear of his ambition. In the end Osgood became a driving force in a new movement to reform continental finance, one that replaced the sole superintendancy of Morris with a board of treasury that included Osgood himself as a commissioner.
In the spring of 1783 John and Abigail Adams each approached Osgood in search of an insider’s insight into the mind of Congress. John Adams wrote to Osgood on 12 April. Remarking that “A Multitude of things have been transacted in Congress, the Grounds, Motives & Objects of which have never been explained to me,” Adams expressed a wish to revive the correspondence in which he and Osgood had engaged in 1775 when Adams sat in Congress and Osgood served in the Continental Army (vol. 14:399; vol. 3:231–234, 274–275, 294–295, 309–310, 328–330, 352–353). Abigail Adams arranged to be introduced to Osgood while he was in Massachusetts on leave from Congress. As she explained in a letter to her husband of 21 July 1783, she inquired of Osgood “respecting the situation of my Friend” and extracted a promise from him to “write you a state of publick affairs” ( AFC , 5:211).
In a long letter to John Adams dated 7 December, Osgood provided a full, frank, and sobering account of the play of congressional politics during his time as a delegate (below). He described in particular the unfriendly reception given the “Peace Journal” that Adams had sent to Congress a year earlier chronicling the negotiation of the preliminary peace treaty between the United States and Great Britain (JA, D&A , 3:41–96). Reflecting on his experience in a follow-up letter to Adams of 14 January 1784, Osgood lamented that “I have seen the Days of Servility, if not of Corruption & I weep over them” (below). As a consequence of his unhappy tenure in Congress, Osgood would later hesitate to support ratification of the Constitution, not joining the ranks of Federalists until convinced that amendments like those that became the Bill of Rights would be added to it (vol. 14:xviii–xx; ANB ; Smith, Letters of Delegates , 17:xxi; 18:xix, xxvii, 322, 336; 19:xxi; 20:xix; 21:xxi, 325; Morris, Papers , 2:108, 111–114).
Courtesy of Connie George, Oregon.
British foreign secretary Charles James Fox believed that this satirical print played the greatest part in the defeat of his India Bill in the House of Lords on 17 December 1783 and in the ouster of his coalition ministry a day later. One of two bills introduced by Fox in an effort to reform the administration of India, the India Bill called for a reorganization of the East India Company. The legislation met resistance not only from the opposition in Parliament and shareholders of the company but also from the press and the Crown. The public campaign waged against Fox and the India Bill in newspapers and prints fortified resistance by depicting the foreign secretary as an aspiring tyrant and his plan for India as an unconstitutional grab for patronage and power. Caricaturist James Sayers (1748–1823), who routinely used his talents to support William Pitt against Fox, Edmund Burke, and other political adversaries, joined the attack on Fox and the India Bill as a matter of course.
The Sayers print that appears here shows Fox as an Asian potentate seated astride an elephant parading to the offices of the East India Company. On a flag at Fox’s side the motto “The Man of the People” has been obliterated and replaced with “ΒΑΣΙΛΕΓΣ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΝ” (king of kings). The elephant, Home Secretary Frederick, Lord North, Fox’s coalition partner, is led on a rope by a retainer, Paymaster Edmund Burke, author of the India Bill. The elephant driver blows a trumpet from which hangs a fringed banner showing a map of India inscribed with Fox’s initials. A raven looks down upon the scene from a chimney top, and an epigraph appears along the eave, “The Night Crow cried, foreboding luckless Tune. Shakespear,” a reference to Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 3, Act V, scene vi, line 45.
John Adams, writing to the president of Congress from London on 14 December 1783, reported that the fate of the coalition ministry depended on the vote on the India Bill in the Lords, which in turn depended on the influence of George III. “But I think the Ministry So Strong,” Adams opined, “that unless the King is determined against it [the bill] they will carry it by a great Majority” (below). In the end the machinations of George III tipped the vote in the Lords against the India Bill, and the failure of the measure in Parliament was interpreted as a lack of confidence in the ministry requiring the removal of Fox and his governing coalition (The Historical and the Posthumous Memoirs of Sir Nathaniel William Wraxall, 1772–1784, ed. Henry B. Wheatley, 5 vols., London, 1884, 3:253–254; Cannon, Fox-North Coalition , p. 106–144; DNB ; Mary Dorothy George, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, 11 vols., London, 1935, 5:738–739).
Courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum.
10. PINE TREE, DEER, AND FISH SEAL, 1816 448[unavailable]
The pine tree, deer, and fish seal of 1816, commissioned by John Quincy Adams at the behest of his father, was modeled on a seal that John Adams himself had had engraved in 1783 but which now cannot be found.
During the negotiations that resulted in the preliminary peace treaty between the United States and Great Britain, signed at Paris on 30 November 1782 (vol. 14:103–109), John Adams led American efforts to secure access to the Newfoundland fisheries and obtain expansive boundaries in the Ohio country and Maine. In a 15 December letter to Richard Cranch, he reported that “Since my Arrival here 26 October, untill the 30 of November, We had a constant Scuffle Morning noon and night about Cod and Haddock on the Grand Bank Deer skins on the Ohio and Pine Trees at Penobscat” ( AFC , 5:47–48). Adams felt such pride in the successful assertion of these interests that he commissioned a seal to commemorate the achievement. Cut in 1783 the seal showed a pine tree and a deer situated side by side with a fish in water below and an arc of thirteen stars above. Used by Adams on a 10 September letter to William Gordon, the seal attracted Gordon’s notice, leading him to express his admiration in a 7 January 1784 reply (both below). Adams before he died gave the seal to his grandson and namesake. What subsequently became of it is not known.
John Quincy Adams reprised his father’s role in negotiating an end to the War of 1812. In the talks that led up to the Treaty of Ghent, signed on 24 December 1814, the younger Adams fought in the same way for the fisheries and the boundaries and won similar concessions. His father, wishing to see their twin victories commemorated, directed him to commission a seal like that of 1783 but with the motto “Piscemur venemur ut olim” (Let us fish, let us hunt, as in the past), a phrase from Horace, Epistles, Book I, epistle vi, line 57. John Quincy Adams had the new seal engraved at London in 1816. On 3 September 1836 he sent it to his son Charles Francis Adams and in an accompanying letter asked him to someday pass it along to his own son and namesake “as a token of remembrance of my father, who gave it to me, and of yours” (Adams Papers). The pine tree, deer, and fish seal of 1816 can now be found at the Old House at the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy ( Catalogue of JQA’s Books , p. 140–141, 143–144; Miller, Treaties , 2:574; Wilhelmina S. Harris, Furnishings Report of the Old House, The Adams National Historic Site, Quincy, Massachusetts, 10 vols., Quincy, 1966–1977, 5:535).
Courtesy of the National Park Service, Adams National Historical Park.