Adams Family Correspondence, volume 4

John Adams to Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams to James Lovell

James Lovell to Abigail Adams, 13 July 1781 Lovell, James AA


James Lovell to Abigail Adams, 13 July 1781 Lovell, James Adams, Abigail
James Lovell to Abigail Adams
Ma'am July 13. 1781

I have already acknowledged the Receipt of your Favour of June 10th.1 Severely as it concluded in Regard to my Reputation I did not arraign its Justice, but wrote an ingenuous Confession, similar to one I had before made by the Opportunity of Genl. Ward.2 I thought your Conclusion was founded upon a natural Construction of what you had been reading.3 I venerated the Purity of your Sentiments. I was persuaded that no unkind Suspicions guided your Pen. But your Letter of the 23d. of that month wears a different Complexion from the former. My Fall, Ma'am was not from a Horse, but still it was an “honest” one. I had been engaged in the most benevolent Way, at my Pen for hours that Evening, witness, among others my Letter to Mr. Thos. Russel and Mr. Nathl. Barber April 24th. I was forced out, in the Rain, to procure Money for a Person who wanted it much against the Dawn of next Morning. I found when abroad that I had misguided a Stranger as to the Lodging of the Gentleman from whom I was to receive the Money. I meant to rectify that Error by taking the Stranger with me. I suddenly crossed the Street where I was, at right Angle; and looking up under my flopped Hatt saw a Vacancy immediately before me, which I took to be an Alley I had often gone through; but I found that a Shop had been drawn away and a Cellar 10 feet deep had been dug to receive me. The Consequences were nearly mortal. I had delivered my Letters at the Office. The giving of early Intelligence to Mr. R of the miserable State of his captive Unkle was honest Employment. The Endeavour to prevent an abrupt Notice to Mr. B of the death of an amiable Son was equally honest. The Seeking of money for one of my Creditors who was then in want of Cash, and the putting of a Stranger into the right Way were both of them honest Works. But, as the Honesty of my Pursuits was no Security against a Fall, neither has it been a Preventive against false Constructions of that Destiny. Michael Morgan Obrian, most naturally indeed, concluded that I had staggered sideways drunken into the Dock. Some, as naturally, and One against Nature have supposed I fell dishonestly down a Pair of dark Stairs. I have Hopes of being intirely free from Lameness in the Course of the Summer; and I am sure that Portia will rejoice at such an Event as my walking rightly for the Rest of my Life.

Give my Compliments to your amorous Friend Cornelia. I hope her Husband never leaves her for a Night. I presume she holds the 173general opinion that Friendship may be even encreased by Seperation of the Parties; tho, differently from some of Us, she thinks bodily Presence essential to Love. She may be assured that there is that mixture of Friendship and Love in the Affection which unites Mrs. L and Me that Presence does not burn up the former, nor Absence congeal the Latter.

I send you an Extract that will prove the confidential Sincerity of my former Letters to you. I would not wish that any other should see it. The Friends she alludes to are perhaps now my Enemies. I sacrifice to my Value for your Good Opinion.4

Yes, I am “Portia's affectionate Friend,” and I did not “mean to retaliate for the Pain she had given me.” I “could” not, I “would” not. Led astray by Cornelia's Fancy, your Mind had taken a “dark” Turn, and you found dreadful Things in an innocent Phraise “on this subject.” Why, Ma'am, in my Thoughts the Subject simply was Absence; and compoundly long Absence, but in yours it was a Breach of the Commandments and What not.5

I have no Copy of any Letter to you but I imagine I was not very unconnected or enigmatical. If you had ventured to converse with Mr. Samuel Adams you would have found that your All is not servile enough to gain the unbounded Affection of the foreign Court at which he resided when he had the Correspondence which produced the two Resolves of Congress already communicated to you.6 You would have found that Gravier wrote two Letters in a Pet against Mr. A to old Fkln and that the latter had also written a most unkind and stabbing one hither; which he was under no necessity of doing, as he needed only to have transmitted the Papers given to him, for the Purpose, by the former. This Knowledge would have prepared you for my last Letter in Cyphers; and for the Information that Mr. A has now no distinct powers. 7 I shall write minutely in Cyphers “on this Subject” to S.A. and you must have it at 2d. hand.8 I will only say for your Satisfaction that I cannot accuse any one or more of any want of Esteem for Mr. A, but I see him indelicately handled by Means of wrong measures on a general Scale.

That I may be more at Leisure to be attentive only to senatorial Subjects, I will now close the former by telling you that Mrs. L added in her Letter “I think, however, you will be obliged to come and show yourself this Fall.”—This you will find is enough, tho it is not founded in her Wishes but in her Fears. The enevitable ill Consequences which I have proved to you, and the almost enevitable ones which I was afraid to name to you or to your Husband, who glories 174in what I should be sorry for, will not deter me from obeying this Half-Call, which is what I have never had before since I quitted Home.—I add also—That the Expression, which I wish had never seen Light, was in Fact the Fruit of a Desire to pass a Compliment upon the Figure and Portrait which Mr. Gerry had drawn in his Letter, it was indiscretely worded and was very liable to the worst Interpretation by any one whose Mind was in the least Measure predisposed to make it.—What is the most decent Day Labour you can think of for me while I am there?9

I do not find Opportunity to send your Boxes. I wish you would keep a good Account of what I sent: for really I cannot tell. I think I wrote you exactly at the Time of sending. Mr. Moylan perhaps will give an Invoice some Time or other. J. P. Jones is on the Road and will see you.

RC (Adams Papers); contains ciphered passages which are here deciphered between double verticals. (On Lovell's cipher, see Appendix to this volume.) Enclosure: extract from a letter of Mrs. Lovell to James Lovell, not found. MS of the present letter consists of two small sheets each folded into four pages. At some point in the past, before CFA had the letters received by AA in the 1780's bound up, the second sheet was by mistake attached to Lovell's letter to her of 15 Sept. (below), the MS of which has a similar physical appearance; and in the Adams Papers, Microfilms it will be found there instead of in its proper place as the second sheet of the present letter. Because of this mistake a key paragraph, beginning “I have no Copy of any Letter to you,” was printed by Burnett in Letters of Members , 6:219, under the later and wrong date.


Not found. Lovell had acknowledged its receipt in his reply of 2 July, above.


Lovell to AA, 16 June, above.


In the MS at this point appears the figure 5, or possibly a capital S, in parentheses. This parallels the use of the same symbol in a cryptic passage in Lovell's letter to AA of 2 July, above, q.v. at note 3.


Thus apparently in MS, although because of ink marks that may be blots it is not clear whether a full stop, a colon, or no punctuation at all was intended by Lovell after the word “Enemies.”

Here the first sheet of Lovell's MS ends; see descriptive note.


In the foregoing paragraph Lovell is echoing and answering AA's letter to him of 23 June, above, particularly its animadversions on his letter to her of 29 May, also above.


Sent in Lovell to AA, 26 June q.v. above.


Lovell here returns to, and under the protection of ciphered phrases is a little more explicit about, what was currently happening to French-American relations in Paris and Philadelphia. The immediate background is given in his letter to AA, 26 June, above; see especially note 4 there on Congress' alteration of JA's peace instructions and its joining him with other commissioners in the peace negotiation. The incidents which led up to these actions, and which Lovell refers to here, nearly a whole year later, are set forth above in note 5 on Thaxter to JA, 7 Aug. 1780 (vol. 3:390–395).

“Gravier” is the family name of the French foreign minister, the Comte de Vergennes. His “two Letters written in a Pet against JA to old Franklin” are (1) that dated 30 June 1780, disagreeing with JA's support of Congress' new monetary policy and requesting Congress' reconsideration of that policy (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 175 3:827); and (2) that dated 31 July 1780, enclosing the mass of his recent correspondence with JA on other topics in dispute between them, and demanding that the whole of it be submitted to Congress for appropriate action, by which Vergennes certainly meant a reprimand (same, 4: 18–19; text of French original quoted at vol. 3:392, above). Franklin's “unkind and stabbing” letter transmitting the documents to Congress is dated 9 Aug. 1780 and is the fullest comment Franklin ever permitted himself to make on JA's conduct as a diplomat, contrasting it with his own more accommodating approach to the French court and condemning the whole concept of what has come to be known as “militia diplomacy.” The original is in PCC, No. 82, I; it is printed in Franklin's Writings, ed. Smyth, 8:124–130 (see esp. p. 126–128); a normalized text is in Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 4:21–25 (see esp. p. 22–23). Relevant portions are quoted in vol. 3:394, above, but to understand the deepening embitterment between the partisans of JA and of Franklin on both sides of the Atlantic, the whole passage dealing with JA should be read and pondered.

Just how Franklin's remarks got into circulation at this time in Boston and vicinity is not known, but letters that follow in the present volume make clear that they indeed did and that they stirred up strong feelings there. See AA to Lovell, 14 July; Richard Cranch to JA, 16 July; AA to Elbridge Gerry, 20 July; Gerry to AA, 30 July; all below.

Congress had considered the JA-Vergennes exchanges on 26 Dec. 1780, together with numerous dispatches from JA dating between the previous July and October ( JCC , 18:1194). Not a word was recorded at this time concerning Franklin's dispatch of 9 Aug., which according to the Journals was not read in Congress until 19 Feb. 1781, together with other Franklin letters and enclosures (same, 19:174). While a good deal of discussion “out-of-doors” must have followed from the revelation of the disputes between JA and Vergennes, Congress officially noticed only three of the letters read in December, namely JA to Vergennes, 17 and 26 July, and Vergennes to JA, 25 July, in which JA had asked leave to communicate to the British ministry his powers to negotiate a commercial treaty, and Vergennes had refused to give such leave (texts in Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 3:861–863; 4:3–6, 7–11). A committee consisting of Thomas Burke, John Witherspoon, and James Duane was appointed to report on these letters ( JCC , 18:1194), and on 10 Jan. it brought in a draft of a letter which was agreed to and sent over Pres. Huntington's signature to JA on that day (same, 19:41–42). Although the letter recognized the “zeal and assiduity” displayed by JA in his request of Vergennes, it amounted to a rebuke because it approved Vergennes' reasons for refusing the request (Adams Papers; printed in JA, Works , 7:353; JCC , 19:42).

During the following months La Luzerne, under guidance from Vergennes that was hardly needed, conducted his campaign among friendly delegates in Congress that culminated in the measures taken by that body in June to curb JA's freedom of action. A further measure to the same effect was taken the day before Lovell dated the present letter. This was the outright revocation of JA's commission and instructions to negotiate a treaty of commerce with Great Britain, issued to him in Sept.–Oct. 1779 simultaneously with his peace commission (see Diary and Autobiography , 4:179–180, 183–184; see also vol. 3:230–233, above). The immediate initiative for this had come from the committee of conference with La Luzerne in May, and an attempt was made on 19 June to transfer these powers from JA to the five newly named peace commissioners (of whom JA was one), but this failed at the moment ( JCC , 20:619, 676). After further maneuvers which cannot be traced here, James Madison moved on 12 July that JA's commercial powers be revoked and that, among other things, the peace commissioners be instructed to place the territorial claims of the United States all the way to the Mississippi on an equal footing with its claims to the Atlantic fisheries—neither of these claims being any longer ultimatums because of the alterations in the instructions for peace and the contemplated revocation 176of JA's commission to negotiate a treaty of commerce. This motion passed by a large majority, only the New England delegates dissenting (same, 713–714, 746–747; Madison, Papers, ed. Hutchinson, 3:188–189). Madison's multiple and complex motives have been discussed by Brant in his Madison, 2:143–145, from Madison's point of view. Justly or not, Madison had by this time come to distrust JA's egotism and impulsiveness, his New Englandism, and his suspected partiality for British as opposed to French interests. Subsequent events deepened Madison's prejudices toward JA, as will later appear.

JA's view of these transactions was that they constituted the most humiliating stroke ever dealt him in the house of his supposed friends. See his confidential conversation in Jan. 1783 with Benjamin Vaughan as recorded in Diary and Autobiography , 3:103–105; also his letter to Secretary R. R. Livingston, 5 Feb. 1783, in which he endeavored to reconstruct Congress' motives, as shaped by French intrigue, and to show how mistaken they were (LbC, Adams Papers; JA, Works , 8:33–40).


No letter from Lovell to Samuel Adams on this subject at this time has been found. In forwarding to JA the resolution of 12 July, Lovell was laconic in his official note for the Committee of Foreign Affairs, but he added a “private” postscript, partly in cipher, that was more revealing:

“The whole of the Proceedings here in regard to your two Commissions are, I think, ill-judged but I persuade myself no dishonour intended. The business greatly in every View chagrins me. This you will have learnt from my former Letters written in an half-light”

(21 July, Adams Papers; JA, Works , 7:453; Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 6:151).


The allusions in this paragraph can be only partially clarified. The “ill Consequences” of Lovell's now seriously contemplated return home would be poverty, which JA might glory in but Lovell would not. It would appear from this and similar remarks elsewhere in Lovell's correspondence that he feared outright impoverishment if he gave up his seat in Congress. (See especially Lovell to Gerry, 13 July and 14 Sept., MHi: Gerry-Knight Coll.; and Lovell to AA, 10 Aug., below.) The letter from Gerry to Lovell here mentioned must have been one of the several acknowledged in Lovell's by now notorious intercepted reply of 20 Nov. 1780 (see AA to Lovell, 17 March, above, and notes and references there).