Papers of John Adams, volume 16

John Adams to Samuel Osgood, 9 April 1784 Adams, John Osgood, Samuel
Dear Sir The Hague April 9. 1784

On the 5th. I recd, your Favour, which came by Coll Herman, and another long Letter with it.1 You have obliged me very much. in the 122 Six years that I have passed in Europe, I never received So much Information, concerning the Spirit of the times.

The Confederation appears to me, to be of great Importance, and that it ought to be Strengthened. This however cannot be done, but by preserving carefully the Liberties and Independence of the Seperate States. all Attempts to give Powers to Congress, incompatible with these will weaken rather than Strengthen the Confederation.— But Surely the Confederation must be essentially weakened, if Provision is not made for the Payment of our Debts. No Man in Or out of America, can have Confidence in the United States, if these are discovered not to have either Power or Will to do Justice.— What Surprizes me is, that those States which refuse Complyance with the Plan of Congress, do not propose any other. When Rhode Island refused to give Congress the Power to lay on Imposts I should have thought She would, at the Same time that she gave her Reasons for that Refusal, have declared her Readiness to lay on those Duties by her own Authority, and have passed a Bill laying on the same Duties, appropriated them to Specific Purposes, limited them to a certain duration, and commenced them from the time that the other states should do the Same, requiring as a condition than an Authentic Account of the Expenditure should be transmitted them annually. When Connecticutt remonstrated against the Half Pay or Commutation, I should have thought she would have declared her Readiness to give Congress the Power, or to lay on the duties herself, for the other Purposes, vizt, the foreign Debt, And the rest of the domestic Debt, and have prepared a Bill accordingly.

Congress by insisting upon the whole as a System, and the States by rejecting the whole as a system, may injure the Confederation, the Credit the Honour and Power of the Nation very essentially. I should think it better to divide the Matter. Lay on Duties, by the Autherity of the Seperate states Or of Congress, expressly authorised by the states, for the Payment of the principal and Interest in proper time of the foreign Debt.— Then lay on Duties for the Payment of the Interest of the domestic Debt.— Then if it can be accomplished, for the Commutation, however, I do not mean and never expected, that my sentiments, should have weight in this Matter, of which I cannot be at this distance a competent Judge.—2 All I wish to impress, is the Importance of Union, and of Supporting our Reputation and our Credit.— We have lost & suffered much already, by the Appearances of a disposition to avoid, all Measures for the 123 Payment of our just Debts, and Every Appearance of this, will embolden our Ennemies of various Sorts.

I am of your Opinion perfectly concerning the Army. I wish every military Commission annulled and every Man disbanded. if History is not a universal Lyar, there never was yet a permanent Army which did not in the End prove a Monster to devour the Land and Liberty.— annihilate it, then with all my heart to the last Cockade.

As to your civil List, I can say nothing, excepting of that part which relates to foreign Embassies. The Swiss have no Ambassadors but upon particular occasions. And Upon the whole, I really think, it will be safest for Us to pursue in general a Similar Policy. Ambassadors abroad will do you no good, but rather harm, if not Supported in all the Splendor of other Powers— This would be an enormous Expence, without any considerable Advantage.— But the Expence is nothing in Comparison, of the Sentiments and Habits which will be contracted by your Ambassadors abroad, and imported among you by those of foreign nations. You cannot refuse an Ambassador from any Power, but you are not obliged to send and if you dont send, you will not often receive. I have no Objection to your recalling every Minister you have, but I think you ought to take great Care, not to leave one Minister alone in Europe, if you have one you ought to have at least two or three more.3

The new order of Knights,4 cannot endure, I think unless adopted by Congress and the States, and these I rather hope will discourage it. indeed it must be adopted or annihilated by public Authority. but I wish the Officers would lay it aside, without any Noise. it is I agree with you, the deepest Project of Evil which has yet been laid. The Officers however I believe did not intend, what is the natural Consequence of it. You have guessed right the source, as I conceive.

I like very well the Residence of Congress, at Anapolis, or George Town or Trenton but I cannot see the Propriety of a federal Town. it is erecting a new and a 14th. sovereignty.— Mr Van Berckel can tell you what a Paye de la Generality is. a Country or Territory of the Generality. the Gentlemen here frequently Say to me, beware of a Territory of the Generality.— An Army will grow there. I can see no need of it.— Surely any state will sufficiently honour and protect the Congress, if there is no Army.

I am not surprized, that certain Gentlemen Should be apprehensive of the Resentment of the United States. if their Conduct was generally known it must be disapproved.— I always knew this, and 124 therefore knew the Ground I Stood upon.— I was never apprehensive of being driven to the Necessity of justifying myself. without pretending to much Knowledge I may safly Say I knew both sides the Water too well, to be afraid of the Consequences of the Measures I have been obliged to take, either in Holland or elsewhere, though against Advice.

i can be no surprize to any Man one who knows the real, Character of the Man, that Mr Jay and I were joined by our Colleague.—5 He never joined nor would join untill he found We were United and determined, to go through without him. then he joined, because he knew his Destruction would be the Consequence of his standing out. That he had leave to join I doubt not. and that he communicated all he could I doubt not. But the Business was So conducted that he could not communicate any Thing that could hurt Us. and the Signature of the Treaty without Communicating, he could not hinder and this Secured Us from Delays which would have lost Us the Peace.

All Endeavours to confine our Trade to France will be ineffectual, and this is not I believe, so much expected, as to keep Us in a situation which may oblige Us to take a Part with France in another War with England. They must be Idiots to think of monopolizing our Trade.

The Letter in English may be given out to be denied, but it will never be publickly denied.— This is a matter which will not bear a public discussion. But My Countrymen will not I hope be the Dupes of Such Finesse.6

There has never escaped me, one unkind or disrespectful Word or deed respecting Mr Laurens, but I agree with you that great Pains have been taken to produce Uneasiness between Us.— a Fellow, born in Normandy and educated in England, as I conjecture from Parity of Hands & other Circumstances has been employed at Amsterdam, to write anonimous Letters to Mr Laurens & Dr Franklin, full of Lies, with a manifest design of Setting Us all together by the Ears.— Mr Laurens hastily suspected Mr Jennings an amiable Man, and a Friend of mine incapable of such a Thing. This has produced a dispute between them too, in which Mr Laurens has discovered, a different disposition towards me, from what I expected, but he treats the anonimous Letter with the Contempt it deserves.— This very Fellow, this Anglo Norman has been lately at Dr Franklins, who gave him a Letter to bring to Mr Dumas. he chose, instead of bringing it on as he intended to send it from Dunkirk.— This is a matter 125 in Confidence. That this Fellow was hired to do this I dont doubt. but by whom, whether English Dutch or frenchmen may be a question. nay I dont doubt he was originally hired to come & insinuate himself into Mr De Neufvilles House, for such Purposes. in short nothing is too black to be suspected.— I have Seen enough of it, to be more cautious than, is natural to me.— They will get nothing of me by this Game. But I am sorry to say, that by appearances, Arts have been employed, which have allienated Mr Laurens in some degree from me.— He has not been, enough conversant, in our affairs upon the Continent of Europe, to be aware of all the diabolical Contrivances to deceive the very [elect].— I never had an Idea, that Mr Laurens, would reside in Amsterdam as Agent to borrow Money, while I was at Court at the Hague, as Minister. besides the Loan was opened, the Obligations signed, the Money obtained and in a good Way. in short the Business was all done. I told him how it was done. He said it was prudently and carefully done. and he went from me perfectly Satisfied. I was then and am now willing that Congress should appoint him Minister here and Agent, in my stead, if they please, but he cant be Minister, without a Credence. And to be Agent without being Minister is beneath him.7

Dft (Adams Papers).


Besides the 7 Dec. 1783 and 14 Jan. 1784 letters from Osgood, Col. Josiah Harmar also brought letters from Arthur Lee and Elbridge Gerry of 14 Jan. (vol. 15:398–414, 447–455). JA replied to Lee on 6 April, above, but not to Gerry and Osgood until 27 and 30 June, respectively, both below.


JA is presumably alluding to his letters to Robert Morris of 10 and 11 July 1783, extracts from which Morris used in support of his efforts to obtain the continental impost (vol. 15:97–99, 100–102).


A considerably expanded version of JA’s comments on Congress’ diplomatic establishment in Europe takes up most of his 30 June 1784 letter to Osgood, below.


The Society of the Cincinnati.


For JA’s comments in his “Peace Journal” regarding Benjamin Franklin’s 1782 decision to join John Jay and himself in peace negotiations with Great Britain without informing France, thus joining his colleagues in violation of their instructions from Congress, see JA, D&A , 3:82. JA quoted the same passage in a letter to Franklin of 13 Sept. 1783 (vol. 15:291–292).


JA refers to the 13 March 1782 letter from François de Barbé-Marbois to the Comte de Vergennes. The British intercepted it and then gave a translation to John Jay, who sent a copy to Congress. In the letter Barbé-Marbois, secretary to the French minister at Philadelphia, was very critical of American claims to the Newfoundland fishery and of the anti-French faction in Congress. For the letter, which the secretary claimed was a forgery, see vol. 14:45, 47, 141–142; 15:412.


This is perhaps the most curious and significant portion of JA’s unsent replies to Osgood. In his letter of 7 Dec. 1783, Osgood included a brief paragraph on Henry Laurens’ reaction to JA’s assumption, during Laurens’ captivity in England, of his mission to obtain Dutch recognition of the United States and raise a loan in the Netherlands. Osgood further indicated that Laurens had been unhappy with JA’s continuation as the sole American representative in the Netherlands following Laurens’ release (vol. 15:408). JA refers to his meeting with Laurens at Haarlem in April 1782, but neither his account nor that of Laurens regarding the 126 meeting indicates any conflict over JA’s activities in the Netherlands. Indeed, most of their conversation apparently centered on the impending Anglo-American peace negotiations and Laurens’ role as one of the peace commissioners (vol. 12:410–413, 418–420).

But JA deals only briefly with Laurens’ abortive mission to the Netherlands and his actions as peace commissioner and centers his attention on the conflict between Edmund Jenings and Laurens over the authorship of several anonymous letters, for which see vol. 15:13–14. This is probably owing to Laurens’ 3 Feb. 1784 letter ending his relationship with JA, but see also JA’s reply of 11 Feb., both above. JA always denied Laurens’ contention that Jenings authored a series of anonymous letters intended to sow discord among American diplomats in Europe. In June 1782 JA indicated that the letter’s origin lay with one of the Amsterdam financial houses left out of the 1782 Dutch-American loan, and Matthew Ridley had informed Franklin that the handwriting resembled that of a clerk at the firm of Jean de Neufville & Fils (vol. 13:100–101). But this is the first and only instance in which JA ties a particular individual—“this Anglo Norman”—to the letters.

JA’s identification of this individual, a M. Chouquet about whom nothing is known beyond what is stated in this letter, was apparently derived from an exchange of letters between Franklin and C. W. F. Dumas. Franklin wrote to Dumas on 1 Feb. 1784 to enquire whether he had received a packet of newspapers that Franklin had sent “by a Person whose Name I have forgot. He had formerly been in the House of Messrs de Neufville.” Dumas replied on 5 Feb. that the packet had arrived, sent by “Le Sr. Chouquet,” who had gone to Dunkerque and sent it from there to The Hague by way of Amsterdam (Franklin, Writings , 9:168–169; PPAmP:Franklin Papers). Presumably Dumas shared the newspapers with JA and likely showed Chouquet’s note to him. JA then may have compared Chouquet’s handwriting with that of the author of the anonymous letter sent to Edward Bridgen on 3 May 1782 and enclosed by Jenings in his letter to JA of 6 June (vol. 13:98–100). Presumably JA would have learned of Chouquet’s background either from Dumas or from meeting him in the course of his dealings with the Neufville firm.

John Adams to Samuel Osgood, 9 April 1784 Adams, John Osgood, Samuel
Sir The Hague April 9. 1784

on the 5th, I received your Favour which came by Coll Herman, and another long Letter with it.— You have obliged me very much. in the Six Years that I have passed in Europe, I never received So much Information, concerning the Spirit of the Times in Congress.

I very early Saw the Necessity of forming Connections with European Powers, and the Facility of doing it, but I saw equally early the infinite danger of these Connections, and that our Salvation would depend upon the manner in which they should be made and conducted, in order to guard against them, I Spared no Pains in Congress, while the first Plan of a Connection with France was under Contemplation. It is a certain Fact, that I Argued and laboured in Congress against any other Connection with France than a Commercial Treaty. and in this I succeeded, against the opinion of two of My best Friends. after this I left Congress & went home, to see my Constituents and to recruit my Health after a long & most fatiguing Attendance. While I was gone, the Term of our Army 127 expired, the little remnant of it after the Loss of Fort Washington &c retreated thro the Jersies, an Alarm if not a Panick Seized many. the Matter was brought on again by two excellent Members, and those Instructions were passed which involved Us in a Treaty of Alliance.— I dare say all these Facts were known at Versailles very soon, and I was marked out even then for too independent a Spirit.— Our Countrymen generally never had an adequate Idea of the Interest of France in our Seperation from G. B—indeed of the Necessity she was under to Secure it. nor have they now an Idea of the vast the immense Advantages she has derived from it— she has raised herself by it from the deepest Prostration in the Dust, to the highest Elevation she ever obtained. These are Ideas, which our People ought not to be strangers to, Although it is not prudent to make many Words about them at present on this side the water. It is of great Importance, to Posterity that the History of our foreign Affairs should be accurately ascertained, from the first debates in Congress on the subject in 1775 & 6, to this time, but I am afraid it will never be done. Fear, and Love and Complaisance, will prevent the Truth from being ever told, without disguise. and Posterity will have their Minds clouded with those Prejudices and Errors which have bewildered Us. Justice will never be done to those who have really Saved their Country, while unceasing Panegyricks will roll along with the Names of those who have embarrassed and betrayed it. There is, according to the most unerring of all the Ancient oracles I mean Tacitus,; There is such a Thing in human Nature as “Servitii Libido.” a Lust of servitude, a Passion to be slaves.1

The Question whether Congress shall impose Duties, is a very serious one. and if it be allowed at all, it must be under very clear Limitations, And for determinate Purposes and defined Periods and those not long ones. So far I should hope all will agree.— This Republick tryed the Experiment, and found at last, that the Seperate states must lay all Duties, and it is now established that their High Mightinesses Petition the states every Year, for the Moneys necessary for defined Purposes.— But what I contend for is, that some Method of raising Money, for paying the Debt should be fallen upon immediately. You have laid open to me Sceenes that terrify me. But all will go well. As to the Army, I wish with you that every Commission were annulled and every Man disbanded.

The New order of Knights, I suppose would be laid aside, if either Congress or any one state should resolve against it. But I could wish that this might be avoided if possible and the Officers perswaded to 128 lay it, aside voluntarily. if Distinctions should arise between Cavaliers and Roundheads, and Disputes they would have unhappy Effects. some of the Officers must make a poor figure with their decorations among their Neighbours.

The Instances, for a Minister to sweeden do not surprize me. Nothing of the Kind, however extravagant can surprize me.2 The Operation of Flattery upon the human Mind is well known. Even just Praise long continued, rarely fails, perhaps never fails, to exalt and render extravagant, even the firmest coolest and most Sagacious minds. Rebus Secundis etiam agregios duces insolescere.—3 His Success, in So many of his Selfish Plans, and Hostilities against others and the Ardour with which he is Supported in all of them for his Obsequiousness, by Politicians to whom all the Arts and Maxims of Aristotle, his Disciple Machiavil, and their Disciples the Jesuits are familiar both in Theory and Practice, have emboldened a Mind enfeebled with Age the stone & the Gout, and eaten with all the Passions which prey upon old Age unprincipled, untill it is no longer under the restraint even of Hipocrisy. He told me, that the United States ought to join France in two future Wars against G. B.—the first to pay the Debt We owe her, for making War for Us. and the Second to shew ourselves as generous as she had been.— This sentiment will ensure him Protection, and Intercession in whatever he aims at.— it is high time his Resignation was accepted. He has done Mischief enough. He has been possessed of the lowest Cunning and the deepest Hypocrisy, I ever met. the latter he, evey day lays aside, more & more, it being now he thinks unnecessary. I am informed he has lately written against me to Congress. What he can have Said after allowing me to be Sensible and honest I know not.4 He has heretofore tatled to Congess and misrepresented Expressions in private Conversation between him and me, alone, in anxious Consultation upon our dearest public Interests—in the worst of times, without giving me the least hint that he disapproved what I Said.

I have been so sensible of danger from Foreigners that I was determined that no dangers of seas or Terrors of Prisons or Death, No Hardships of Voyages Journeys Climates, or Perils of Courts, Ministers or Assassins should deter me, from attempting all in my Power, to Ward it off.— But I was not aware of the Perils from false Brothren which have been worse than all the rest. Nevertheless, thro all Difficulties & Dangers, I have executed every Thing I have undertaken, and all is Secured.— I am now indifferent about all the Laughers, Weepers, Cursers & Flatterers. The first Wish of my soul, 129 is to go home. If, the People of America have not now sense & Spirit enough to put all to rights, they ought not in divine Justice to be free.

Dft (Adams Papers); docketed by CFA: “Two draughts of a letter apparently not / sent. / 9 April 1784.”


JA refers to his authorship of Congress’ 1776 Plan of Treaties. For the plan and JA’s rationale in proposing only a commercial relationship with France, see vol. 4:260–302. This is not the first time that JA commented on his original intentions regarding the Franco-American relationship, and comments here should be compared with those in letters of 5 Feb. and 20 March 1783 to the president of Congress and James Warren, respectively, vol. 14:239–240, 346–347. JA saw Benjamin Franklin’s negotiation of the 1778 Franco-American Treaty of Alliance as a betrayal of the principals that Franklin, as a member of the committee to draft the treaty plan, had supported in 1776. This had a significant impact on JA’s relationship with Franklin and his view of Franklin’s diplomacy.


In his 22 July 1783 letter to Robert R. Livingston, Franklin requested that Congress appoint as minister to Sweden William Temple Franklin, his grandson and secretary to the American peace commissioners (vol. 15:414). The appointment never took place, but JA’s comments in this paragraph indicate that, in his mind, the very fact that Benjamin Franklin would seek it embodied all that was wrong with his diplomacy.


In prosperity, they reflected, even great generals degenerate (Tacitus, Histories, transl. Clifford H. Moore, Cambridge, 1925, Book II, chapter vii).


For Franklin’s comment, see JA’s 6 April 1784 letter to Arthur Lee, and note 2, above.