Papers of John Adams, volume 16

From Benjamin Franklin and John Jay

To Jonathan Jackson

John Adams to Samuel Adams, 1 May 1784 Adams, John Adams, Samuel
To Samuel Adams
My dear Sir The Hague May 1. 1784

I received this morning your Letter of November 4 & Decr 4, with great Pleasure.1 I had heard of your Illness and was anxious to hear of your recovery. long Voyages and Journeys, great Agitation of Mind, and the Air of putrid Cities, have given me So many Severe Fits of Sickness, that I feel myself more affected At hearing of Such Misfertunes befalling my Friends. I have recovered however, a better Share of Health than I expected, and by Writing Less and walking and riding more, I hope to preserve it.

The Refugees were a difficult Subject to manage in the Negotiations of the Peace.— We did the best We could. We were not in a Condition to prescribe all the Terms We could have wished: and We were lucky, under all Circumstances in obtaining in a very critical Moment, what We did. The Continuance of the War, which was very narrowly escaped might have reduced England lower, and might have raised her Ennemies higher, but I am fully perswaded that We instead of gaining by it, Should have lost.

had the Situation of the belligerent Powers, or the state of the Negotiation been such, that England had been ready to agree upon Terms with France and Spain, before she was ready to agree with Us, You may easily imagine, what might have been the Consequence, especially if France had advised Us to consent to terms respecting the Refugees the Fisheries and Boundaries which Britain might have proposed to Us.

We need not weigh very Scrupulously, our Obligations to France nor hers to Us.— both Sides have fullfilled their Obligations Engagements hitherto, and I doubt not will continue to do so. The Alliance has been beneficial to both, and may continue to be so.— But I think the History of the Reign of Louis the fifteenth ought to be read in America.—2 it is amuzing to Speculate, and can do no harm to put Suppositions. Suppose Britain in 1778, instead of making War with France, had taken Mauduits Advice, or perhaps Lord Norths Advice, acknowledged American Independance, and proposed an Alliance offensive and defensive with the United States?3 What would at this hour have been the Situation of France? or Suppose, 181 the Colonies had continued to this day, Subject to the Domination and Monopoly of Britain? I answer without hesitation, in the latter Case, She must have asked Leave of Britain to put a Ship to Sea.

I only wish that my Countrymen, had been possessed of a little more Confidence in their own Negotiators, and pushed their Connections with more Steadiness and Activity with other Nations. This could have done them no harm, and I am confident would have done them a great deal of good, even with their Allies.

Whether the Historian shall do me Justice or not, with regard to “my Negotiation with Holland,” I care very little, but I wish that Mr Jay and Mr Dana as well as Mr Izzard and Mr Lee may do Justice to themselves and their Country, by faithfully recording those important Facts which fell within their Knowledge, relative to their own Negotiations.— I will compound with the Historians for my self, if they will Say no ill of me. But there are Facts which ought to be remembered, and held up to View in time not to excite needless Jealousies, but as the Sailors plant Buoys upon the shallows. I have other Reasons,— I know that abandoned Calomnies will be recorded in History, if Some Care is not taken to ascertain the Truth. There are Politicians in the World who have great Numbers of Historians under their Thumbs to whom lies and slanders cost nothing at all.

Funds for the punctual Payment of our foreign Debt, are of great Importance. of all our Debts indeed. But whether it is best to divide the Debt among the States, I leave to better Judges.— This would give more general Satisfaction perhaps, and the Money be more honestly collected.

our Country, My Friend is not yet out of Danger. There are great Difficulties in our Constitution and Situation to reconcile Government, Finance, Commerce, and foreign Affairs, with our Liberties.— The Prospect before Us is joyfull, but there are Intricacies in it, which will perplex, the Wisest Heads wound the most honest hearts and disturb the coolest and firmest Tempers.

I have long been of Opinion, that our Country is the Worst in the World for a Prophet to live in.— it is not possible to foresee Events with Us, as in other Countries. Changes upon Changes may be expected, but what, when, and how, must be left to time.— Let Us enjoy the little Space that is left to Us, without distressing our selves with too distant Prospects. I believe We may rest assured, there are no Scenes destined for our Posterity, more delicate or distressing than Some that We have Seen, and felt.

I am, with much Affection


RC (NN:George Bancroft Coll.); internal address: “Hon Samuel Adams Esq.”; endorsed: “Letter from J Adams / Hague May 1. 1784.”


Vol. 15:341–344. The letter was of 4 Nov. 1783, and its postscript was dated 4 December. For a second reply to the 4 Nov. letter, see JA’s letter of 4 May 1784, below.


JA’s reference to Louis XV is not altogether clear unless he means that with Americans arrayed against him as British subjects, Louis’ efforts against Britain during his reign were unsuccessful, culminating in the humiliating loss of Canada in the Seven Years’ War, whereas Louis XVI, with Americans as his allies, had defeated England.


In early 1778 Britain was forced to come to terms with Gen. John Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga, the Franco-American alliance, and the certainty of an Anglo-French war. This led to proposals to recognize American independence or at least to open negotiations for an Anglo-American reconciliation whereby the colonists would remain British subjects but enjoy an altered status within the empire. In either case the effect would have been to end the Anglo-American war and deprive France of its ally in an Anglo-French war.

Israel Mauduit (1708–1787), Massachusetts colonial agent and pamphleteer, proposed in a broadside published at London in March 1778 that Britain grant America immediate independence. Writing perhaps at the behest of the ministry of Frederick, Lord North, Mauduit argued that the Franco-American alliance made the conquest of the former colonies impossible; even if victory was an option, it was pointless since the Americans would remain ardently pro-French; and, finally, that if independence were granted some of the colonies would return to the mother country of their own volition owing to their English heritage (Robert J. Taylor, “Israel Mauduit,” NEQ , 24:209–212, 223–226, 230 [1951]).

Under intense pressure in 1778 from the opposition, North put forth a series of propositions that ultimately resulted in the Carlisle Peace Commission. Essentially North proposed that a commission appointed by Parliament negotiate a reconciliation with the Americans that would be short of granting independence but that would fundamentally change the mother country’s relationship with the colonies by, among other things, renouncing the power to tax them. Over time North retreated significantly from his original proposals so that by the time the commission departed for America its mission was pointless (Alan Valentine, Lord North, 2 vols., Norman, Okla., 1967, 1:499–534).

The viability of any British peace proposal in 1778 was doubtful at best. But even the remote chance of an Anglo-American reconciliation caused great consternation in France. JA wrote in July 1778 to friends in America, including Samuel Adams, concerning the inviolability of the newly minted Franco-American alliance. To Samuel Adams, in a letter of 28 July, JA wrote that British proposals for peace were “a modest Invitation to a gross act of Infidelity and Breach of Faith” by the United States. Then, in language similar to that in this letter written almost six years later, JA declared “that sound Policy as well as good Faith, will induce Us, never to renounce our Alliance with France, even altho it should continue Us for some time in War. The French are as sensible of the Benefits of this Alliance to them as We are, and they are determined, as much as We, to cultivate it” (vol. 6:312, 321–322, 323, 325–327, 332).