Papers of John Adams, volume 16

From Thomas Barclay

From C. W. F. Dumas

John Adams to the president of Congress, 20 October 1784 Adams, John President of Congress
To the President of Congress
Sir Auteuil near Paris Oct. 20. 1784

The inclosed Letters from Mr Dumas will communicate to Congress, the present State of affairs, between their High Mightinesses and the Government general of the Austrian Low Countries.1 Those, who have negotiated for the Emperor, appear to have presumed too much upon the Fears and Divisions of the Dutch, and to have compromised too hastely his Authority and Dignity. The Dutch, neither terrified nor dejected, are arming, for the defense of their Country with Unanimity, and are labouring to accomplish a Coalition of Parties among themselves, which, if it can be effected, will be much for the Honour, Happiness and Prosperity of the Nation

If the Words of the Comte de Belgioso, were to be taken litterally, the War is already commenced as Guns have been fired, and Austrian Vessells Stopped:2 But Winter approaches too fast, for Forces to take the Field, and before the Season for opening a Campain will arrive, there will be room for much Negotiation. France will endeavour to reconcile, but if She cannot Succeed in this, She must take the Part of Holland. Besides her general Interest in the Independance of that Republick and her particular Interest in their Friendship, which She lately found Usefull both to her Finances and her Possessions in the two Indies. She is not less interested than Holland itself, in preventing Brabant and Flanders from becoming rich commercial Countries in the Hands of the House of Austria, and in preventing their Trade to the East and West Indies. How the English will act, is a Problem. But if they can find an Interest, in opening the Commerce of that Country, they have more Sagacity than their Ancestors, or than any but themselves now living

Upon the whole, there is still room to hope that the Peace will be preserved. if it is not there is great Reason to fear that the War will 344 be very general. The Object the Emperor has in View would be usefull to America, as it would open to Us some good Ports and noble Marketts, and thereby compell both France England and Holland to be more complaisant. But We need not wish Such an Advantage to ourselves at the Expence of so general a Calamity to Mankind, as We have already commercial Advantages enough to Satisfy a reasonable People. France and Holland are sensible of the Advantage We should have. Whether England is I know not. a Youth of Five and Twenty, although very promising and very virtuous, appears to have an Object in his Hands too great For his Forces.3 He does not appear to enter into the true system of his Country, nor to comprehend at all her situation relative to foreign Powers.—

With the greatest Respect I have the / Honour to be Sir your most / obedient and most humble / servant

John Adams

RC (PCC, No. 84, V, f. 347–350); internal address: “His Excellency Thomas Mifflin Esqr. / President of Congress.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 107.


Exactly which letters from C. W. F. Dumas to the president of Congress accompanied this one from JA is not known, but Dumas reported at length on the negotiations between the States General and the Dutch plenipotentiaries at Brussels on the one side and the Comte de Barbiano-Belgiojoso on the other in his letters to Congress of 18 Aug. and 3 Sept., for which see, respectively, JA’s 25 Aug. letter to Dumas, and note 2, and Dumas’ 3 Sept. letter to JA , and note 1, both above.


The final substantive point conveyed by Barbiano-Belgiojoso in his 23 Aug. memorial to the Dutch plenipotentiaries was that Joseph II would consider any insult to the Austrian flag by the Dutch Republic to be a declaration of war. On 8 Oct. the Louis, a brig from Ostend in the Austrian Netherlands, attempted to sail from Antwerp to Dunkerque by way of the Scheldt but was intercepted near Lillo by the Dutch warship Dolfijn, fired upon, and forced to strike its colors (PCC, No. 115B, f. 44–45; Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789 , 3:508; Gazette d’Amsterdam, 12, 15 Oct.). For more on Barbiano-Belgiojoso’s memorial, see JA’s 25 Aug. letter to Dumas, and note 2, above.


In belittling William Pitt for his youth, JA echoed the opposition press in Britain, which throughout 1784 and beyond routinely framed its criticisms of Pitt in terms of his supposed lack of years and adolescent faults such as inexperience, rashness, naïveté, and puerility. For examples, see the London Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser and the London Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser.