Diary of John Adams, volume 3

November 1. Fryday.

1782. November 3. Sunday.

41 Nov. 2. Saturday. JA


Nov. 2. Saturday. Adams, John
Nov. 2. Saturday.

Mr. Oswald, Mr. Franklin, Mr. Jay, Mr. Strechy, Mr. W. Franklin, dined with me at the Hotel du Roi, Rue du Carrousel.

Almost every Moment of this Week has been employed in Negotiation, with the English Gentlemen, concerning Peace. We have made two Propositions. One the Line of forty five degrees. The other a Line thro the Middles of the Lakes. And for the Bound between Mass. and Nova Scotia—a Line from the Mouth of St. Croix to its Source, and from its Source to the high Lands.1


The foregoing paragraph is the first in JA's “Peace Journal,” extending (with omissions) from this point through 13 Dec. 1782, which has a curious and still partly obscure history and which acquired much contemporary notoriety. It is the only portion of JA's Diary that became publicly known while he was still in public life, and he had cause to regret that it did.

The long-standing and never-questioned explanation of how the “Peace Journal” got into circulation is that given by CFA in a note in JA's Works , 3:349:

“Here ends that portion of the Diary, beginning at the place marked with an asterisk on page 300, from which extracts were made by Mr. Adams, and sent home to one of the delegates of Massachusetts in the Congress of the Confederation, Mr. Jonathan Jackson, for the sake of furnishing unofficial, but interesting information, respecting the negotiation. By some mistake in sealing up the packages, these went with the despatches to Mr. Livingston, and not with the letter to Mr. Jackson; and they were deemed so valuable that they were not given up to that gentleman when he went to claim them, and thus became official papers. This statement is necessary to explain the facts which were eighteen years afterwards made the ground of a political and personal attack upon the author, involving an insinuation even against his veracity, by Mr. Hamilton.”

This is a highly inaccurate and misleading explanation, though the fault lies by no means entirely with the conscientious editor of JA's Works . CFA was simply summarizing the diarist's own garbled explanation of this affair, in a letter dated 18 June 1811 which was published in the Boston Patriot the following 7 Sept.—one of the long series of communications in which JA tried to answer all the detractions uttered against him throughout his career that he could remember, and especially those of Alexander Hamilton. In short, this letter to the Boston Patriot is a conspicuous example of how JA's memory played tricks on him when he described political battles in which he had fought long ago. CFA's paragraph being on the whole an acceptable condensation of JA's several columns, no more needs to be said of the latter here. The task is to try to discover, from strictly contemporary evidence, how “that obnoxious Journal” (JA's own phrase) was prepared, transmitted, and received in 1782–1783.

The “Peace Journal” itself is a paper, or series of papers, totaling 55 pages of text, of which portions are alternately in the hands of John Thaxter and Charles Storer, on file among JA's dispatches to R. R. Livingston in the Papers of the Continental Congress, No. 84, IV, 242–296, between dispatches dated from Paris 11 and 21 Nov. 1782, respectively. (This may have been where Livingston himself placed it after it was read to Congress, although it could not have been received in its entirety with either of those dispatches, and its present location was more likely fixed by William A. Weaver, the State Department clerk who in the 1830's arranged the Papers of the Continental Congress in the order that they have ever since retained. See Carl L. Lokke, “The Continental Congress Papers: Their History, 1789–1952,” National Archives Accessions, 42No. 51 [June 1954], especially, p. 9–10.) The Thaxter-Storer transcript contains most of the contents of JA's Diary as found in the MS (and as printed in the present edition), 2 Nov.–13 Dec. 1782, but with frequent and sometimes substantial omissions, which have been indicated in our edition; see entry of 3 Nov., below, and note 3 there. The text was first printed from the MS in PCC by Jared Sparks in his Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution, Boston, 1829–1830, 6:465–512, with at least one further omission prompted by Sparks' extreme discretion; see entry of 10 Nov., below, and note 2 there. It was printed again by Wharton, but distributed under its dates, and docked, apparently inadvertently, of its last two entries ( Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , vols. 5–6).

The Thaxter-Storer transcript was prepared in parts, and the first part was ready by 17 Nov., when JA concluded a confidential letter to Jonathan Jackson as follows:

“When We see the French intriguing with the English against Us, We have no Way to oppose it, but by Reasoning with the English to shew that they are intended to be the Dupes. Inclosed are a few broken Minutes of Conversations, which were much more extended and particular, than they appear upon Paper. I submit them to your Discretion” (RC, MHi:Misc. Coll.; LbC, Adams Papers, has the direction at foot of text: “Jonathan Jackson Esqr. Member of Congress or in his Absence to any Delegate of Massachusetts”).

But in spite of the lack of any explanation about a missing or an unexpected enclosure, either to Jackson or to Livingston, these “broken Minutes” were sent to Livingston rather than to Jackson—and (as will be seen) not by any “mistake” on JA's part. Two further installments followed (or accompanied) them, extending in date a fortnight beyond the signing of the Preliminary Articles at the end of November, without any (recorded) explanation by JA to Livingston or acknowledgment by the latter. Livingston's Despatch Book, however, contains an entry under 12 March 1783 recording his receipt, by Capt. Joshua Barney of the packet Washington, of JA's letters dated 4, 6, 11, 18 Nov., and 14 Dec. 1782, together with “Extracts from Mr. Adam's Journal”—presumably all the installments (PCC, No. 126). No doubt, then, the “Extracts” were read in Congress as soon as the Preliminary Articles and the numerous letters from the Commissioners, also brought by Barney, had been read. This seems to be confirmed by an entry in Charles Thomson's Despatch Book dated 14 and 15 March: “Extract of a Journal [by JA] from Nov. 2 to 9 Dec.” (PCC, No. 185, II).

On 7 Dec. 1783 Samuel Osgood, a Massachusetts delegate to Congress, which was then sitting at Annapolis, wrote a very long letter to JA, ventilating his embittered feelings about American subservience to French policy and explaining what had happened to JA's “Peace Journal”:

“You will pardon me in candidly mentioning to you the Effects of your long Journal, forwarded after the signing of the provisional Treaty. It was read by the Secretary in Congress. It was too minute for the Delicacy of several of the Gentlemen. They appeared overmuch disposed to make it appear as ridiculous as possible; several ungenerous Remarks were made upon it, as being unfit to be read in Congress, and not worth the Time expended in reading it. The Day after it was read, the Delegates of Masstts. found on the Table of Congress your Letter addressd to J. Jackson or the Delegates. A Passage in that Letter led them to conclude that your Journal was not intended for Congress, as you mention that you had enclosed for his Perusal a Journal; and there was none enclosed. They therefore agreed to move that the Journal might be delivered to them. This Motion soon found Opponents. It was then said that it contained Matters of great Importance, which you had not mentioned in your other Letters—but we examined your other Letters, and found all the great Matters touch'd upon, and the smaller ones omitted. The Secretary for foreign Affairs, was sent for to know whether it came address'd to him; he produced three several Covers with your Seal, all directed to him, and the foldings corresponded to those of the Jour- 43 nal: after this, we let the Matter subside, as we found we should loose the Question; and also, that a Number of the Members were convinced, that there was some Mistake: nothing was said against it afterwards. Whatever your Intentions were respecting your Journal, it was necessary for us to take the Measure we did; and it had a very happy Effect” (NN).

This tells much, but JA's answer tells more. On 30 June 1784 he replied to Osgood from Paris:

“The Journal which caused such Wonder, was intended to be sent to Mr. Jackson. But recollecting the frequent Injunctions of your Secretary [Livingston], to be minute: to send him even the Looks of Ministers to be sure, Conversations, and considering that in the Conferences for the Peace, I had been very free, which I had Reason to expect would be misrepresented by Franklin, I suddenly determined to throw into the Packet for Livingston, what was intended for another.—Let them make the most and the worst of it” (LbC, Adams Papers).

If the “most” was made of it when it was read in Congress in 1783 amid warm debates on the conduct of the American Commissioners in violating their instruction to defer to the French ministry, the “worst” was made of JA's “Peace Journal” seventeen years later, by Alexander Hamilton; see entry of 10 Nov., below, note 2.

It is clear that JA caused still another copy of his journal of the negotiations of 1782 to be prepared, though where it is now is unknown to the editors. On 28 Dec. JA wrote AA: “I dare say there is not a Lady in America treated with a more curious dish of Politicks, than is contained in the inclosed Papers. You may shew them to discrete Friends, but by no means let them go out of your hands or be copied. Preserve them in Safety against Accidents” (Adams Papers). This is cryptic enough, but AA certainly referred to this budget of material in replying on 28 April 1783: “Your journal has afforded me and your Friends much pleasure and amusement. You will learn, perhaps from Congress that the journal, you meant for Mr. Jackson, was by some mistake enclosed to the Minister for foreign affairs; and consequently came before Congress with other publick papers. The Massachusetts Delegates applied for it, but were refused it. Mr. Jackson was kind enough to wait upon me, and shew me your Letter to him, and the other papers inclosed, and I communicated the journal to him” same. If by “communicated” AA meant she gave the journal to Jackson, this would explain its disappearance from the family papers; and though she would thus have violated the letter of JA's injunction to her, she might well have thought that Jackson was entitled to this copy since his own was irrecoverable. All this, however, is conjectural.

Even though it is now lost, we can say with some confidence that the copy sent to AA was fuller than that sent to Livingston, for the markings (“C”) in the original Diary MS that indicate what was to be copied (or possibly what had been copied) include more than one substantial passage edited out of the “Peace Journal” now in the Papers of the Continental Congress; these markings in the MS extend in fact through the entry of 26 Dec. 1782. It would be impossible to make sense of them without supposing that another transcript of the journal once existed—in all likelihood the one first begun and continued longest, from which the shorter transcript in PCC, No. 84, IV, was taken.