Papers of John Adams, volume 16

John Adams to the president of Congress, 13 May 1784 Adams, John President of Congress
To the President of Congress
Sir The Hague May 13. 1784

The Measures taken by the Neighbouring Powers are likely to produce an intimate Friendship and Connection between this Republick and France. England, has mistaken her Policy So much as to delay the Signature of the definitive Treaty, and to keep up a Coldness and Distance, which instead of exciting the Populace, in favour of England as She expected has only accellerated the Union with France, as if She had not been blind She might have foreseen. The Emperor too, who certainly does not wish a close Connection between this Country and France, has revived so many ancient Pretentions as have allarmed this nation, and produced an Application to Versailles for her Mediation. The King of Prussia, perhaps would not be sorry to see the Republick allied to France but whether he had it in view or not his Letters have contributed Somewhat to that End.1

Hitherto, there are only two or three Provinces which have declared for a Treaty with France: But probably the whole Number will soon, embrace the same Policy. The first Step will be a Treaty of Commerce. This will be a Bar to the Renovation of the ancient Alliance with England; But if a War should break out, it will occasion an Alliance with France. a War may happen, for there are manifest Symptoms of a Fermentation in the several Courts of Europe and of a Jealousy between the two Imperial Courts and the House of Bourbon. But Still I hope the publick Tranquility will not be interrupted. The Difficulty of commanding Money will be its best Security. England would not be Sorry to See a War, if she could be neutral but She is not in a Condition to foment it, by furnishing Subsidies.

The Emperor has large Views, as it is Supposed both for his People and his Family, he is Suspected of vast Projects of Ambition Some of which have Silesia for their Object. But hitherto his Ambition has not been unjust in general, but has appeared in beneficent designs for his Subjects and Mankind, and it is much to be wished 212 it may never overleap those bounds. if his Life and that of the Empress of Russia, Should be prolonged for Some Years and England Should recover the command of Money, She may probably furnish that Instrument of Mischief, and blow up a general War. it is good to look forward as far as We can, that We may be prepared for our own Part.

With great Respect I have the Honour to be, Sir your most obedient and most humble / Servant

John Adams

RC (PCC, No. 84, V, f. 320–321); internal address: “His Excellency Thomas Mifflin Esqr / President of Congress.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 107.


As JA indicates, the Netherlands’ relations with Britain, Austria, France, and Prussia were unsettled at best and perilous at worst. This was partly owing to the growing ascendency of the anti-Orangist, pro-French Patriot Party over the forces of the stadholder, William V, Prince of Orange, but events in the wider world also contributed.

Anti-British sentiment, particularly among the Patriots, was fueled by Britain’s failure to conclude a definitive peace treaty with the Dutch until 20 May 1784, more than eight months after it had signed a preliminary Anglo-Dutch peace treaty and definitive peace treaties with France, Spain, and the United States. There were a variety of reasons for the delay, including a British proposal to move negotiations from Paris to either London or The Hague (vol. 15:232, 282, 305, 394; from C. W. F. Dumas, 25 May, below).

In the meantime, Joseph II of Austria, who in 1781 unilaterally abrogated the 1715 Barrier Treaty, undertook to accomplish his long-held ambition to reopen the Scheldt River port of Antwerp to navigation, a right denied by the 1748 Treaty of Münster. This effort began in Oct. 1783 with incidents at the fortresses of Lillo and Liefkenshoek and the town of Doel in the Austrian Netherlands. Despite Dutch efforts to resolve the conflict, tensions increased between Austria and the Netherlands until early May 1784, when Dutch negotiators at Brussels were presented with fourteen demands, including the destruction of portions of the fortresses, an end to Dutch control of navigation on the Scheldt, and an indemnity. Published in the newspapers, the Austrian demands hardened Dutch resolve, and an Austro-Dutch war became a very real possibility (vol. 15:419–420, 421; Gazette d’Amsterdam, 11, 14 May).

The actions of Britain and Austria were enough to make a Franco-Dutch treaty an attractive possibility (from Dumas, 25 May, below). An added incentive was Frederick II’s efforts to support William V against those who sought to diminish the prerogatives of the stadholder. Frederick wrote to the States General on 19 March offering to mediate the differences between that body and William V in order to restore domestic tranquillity. On 8 April the Prussian minister, the Baron von Thulemeier, wrote to the Regency of Amsterdam requesting that it attend to Frederick’s proposals for the “rétablissement de la tranquilité intérieure & de l’harmonie entre les Membres du Gouvernement de la Republique.” On 30 April, following adverse comments on Frederick’s appeal in various newspapers, Thulemeier wrote to the States General emphasizing the seriousness of the situation and requesting that such commentary be suppressed (Gazette d’Amsterdam, 6 April, 4, 7 May).

While the Patriots saw a Franco-Dutch treaty as the only bulwark against the menaces facing their nation from abroad, no such treaty was signed until 10 Nov. 1785, two days after Austria and the Netherlands signed the Treaty of Fontainebleau. The alliance’s delay owed much to the unstable European balance of power and also to France’s declining ability to act in the years immediately before revolution erupted. France did mediate the Austro-Dutch dispute over the Scheldt and brokered the Treaty of Fontainebleau that ended the crisis. France even guaranteed that treaty, which provided concessions to Austria, while confirming the Treaty of Münster regarding navigation of the Scheldt (Georg Friedrich de Martens, ed., Recueil des principaux traités … conclus par les puissances de l’Europe, 7 vols., Göttingen, Germany, 1791–1801, 2:602–609, 612–617). But as a Dutch ally, France 213 would do nothing in 1787 when Prussia occupied the Netherlands to restore William V following his deposition and exile by the Patriots (vol. 15:316, 421).

John Adams to Edmund Jenings, 13 May 1784 Adams, John Jenings, Edmund
To Edmund Jenings
Dear Sir The Hague 13 May. 17841

I have received your Letter with the Copy inclosed,2 which has affected me too tenderly, to write any other Answer at present than this, that I have ever vindicated your Character as far as lay in my Power, from the Suspicion of having written that anonimous Libel the only case that I have ever heard of, in which it was endangered: and that I Shall ever continue to vindicate it, because I believe you as innocent of it, as an Angel in Heaven, and as incapapable of Such a Baseness.

With great Esteem, I have the Honour to be / Sir your most obedient and most humble / Servant

LbC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Edmund Jennings Esq.”; APM Reel 107.


This is JA’s last extant letter to Jenings. For Jenings’ final letter to JA, see that of 23 June, and note 1, below.


Of 7 May, above.

Thomas Barclay to John Adams, 13 May 1784 Barclay, Thomas Adams, John
From Thomas Barclay
Dear Sir Paris 13th. May 1784—

I am favor’d, with your letter of the 4th. and thank you for the Trouble you took with the letters for Amsterdam— I am about half Converted to your opinion on the subject of the Vouchers, and will try to get them by other means than your Interposition— I have made a Memorandum of the Repairs which will be Necessary at Auteuil, and will finish the affair Tomorrow. I left it unclosed untill I shou’d hear again from you; but I secured the preferance and you will Certainly have the place and may take possession as soon as you please, I Beg you will beleive me to be Ever most sincerely Your Aff.

Thos Barclay

Mr. Jay intends setting out for Calais on Saturday, and I think he will probably remain at the Hotel D’angletterre a week— Perhaps you Cou’d take that place in your way to Paris to take leave of him— I write in great haste, but Cou’d not avoid throwing out the sentiment that the advantages which our Country might reap from such an Interview are Obvious.—


RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “His Excellency John Adams Esqr / at the / Hague”; internal address: “Mr. Adams”; endorsed: “Mr Barclay / 13 May. 1784” and “recd 21. May. one o Clock.”