Diary of John Adams, volume 3

<seg type="dagger">November 17. Sunday.</seg> JA


November 17. Sunday. Adams, John
November 17. Sunday.

Have spent several Days in copying Mr. Jays dispatches. 1

On Fryday the 15, Mr. Oswald came to Visit me, and entered with some Freedom into Conversation. I said many Things to him to convince him that it was the Policy of my Lord Shelburne and the Interest of the Nation to agree with Us upon the advantageous Terms which Mr. Stratchey carried away on the 5th. Shewed him the Advantages of the Boundary, the vast Extent of Land, and the equitable Provision for the Payment of Debts and even the great Benefits stipulated for the Tories.

He said he had been reading Mr. Paines Answer to the Abby Raynal, and had found there an excellent Argument in favour of the Tories.2 Mr. Paine says that before the Battle of Lexington We were 55so blindly prejudiced in favour of the English and so closely attached to them, that We went to war at any time and for any Object, when they bid Us. Now this being habitual to the Americans, it was excuseable in the Tories to behave upon this Occasion as all of Us had ever done upon all the others. He said if he were a Member of Congress he would shew a Magnanimity upon this Occasion, and would say to the Refugees, take your Property. We scorn to make any Use of it, in building up our System.

I replied, that We had no Power and Congress had no Power, and therefore We must consider how it would be reasoned upon in the several Legislatures of the separate States, if, after being sent by Us to Congress and by them to the several States in the Course of twelve or fifteen Months, it should be there, debated. You must carry on the War, Six or Nine months certainly, for this Compensation, and consequently spend in the Prosecution of it, Six or Nine times the Sum necessary to make the Compensation for I presume, this War costs every Month to Great Britain, a larger Sum than would be necessary to pay for the forfeited Estates.

How says I will an independant Man in one of our Assemblies consider this. We will take a Man, who is no Partisan of England or France, one who wishes to do Justice to both and to all Nations, but is the Partisan only of his own.3

Have you seen says he, a certain Letter written to the C. de V. wherein Mr. S.A. is treated pretty freely.4—Yes says I and several other Papers in which Mr. J. Adams has been treated so too. I dont know, what you may of heard in England of Mr. S.A. You may have been taught to believe, for what I know, that he eats little Children. But I assure you he is a Man of Humanity and Candour as well as Integrity, and further that he is devoted to the Interest of his Country and I believe wishes never to be, after a Peace, the Partisan to France or England, but to do Justice and all the good he can to both. I thank you for mentioning him for I will make him my orator. What will he say, when the Question of Amnesty and Compensation to the Tories, comes before the Senate of Massachusetts. And when he is informed that England makes a Point of it and that France favours her. He will say here are two old, sagacious Courts, both endeavouring to sow the Seeds of Discord among Us, each endeavouring to keep Us in hot Water, to keep up continual Broils between an English Party and a french Party, in hopes of obliging the Independent and patriotic Party, to lean to its Side. England wishes them here and compensated, not merely to get rid of them and to save them selves the Money, but to 56plant among Us Instruments of their own, to make divisions among Us and between Us and France, to be continually crying down the Religion, the Government, the Manners of France, and crying up the Language, the Fashions, the Blood &c. of England. England also means by insisting on our compensating these worst of Ennemies to obtain from Us, a tacit Acknowledgment of the Right of the War—an implicit Acknowledgment, that the Tories have been justifiable or at least excuseable, and that We, only by a fortunate Coincidence of Events, have carried a wicked Rebellion into a compleat Revolution.

At the very Time when Britain professes to desire Peace, Reconciliation, perpetual Oblivion of all past Unkindnesses, can She wish to send in among Us, a Number of Persons, whose very Countenances will bring fresh to our Remembrance the whole History of the Rise, and Progress of the War, and of all its Atrocitys? Can she think it conciliatory, to oblige Us, to lay Taxes upon those whose Habitations have been consumed, to reward those who have burn'd them? upon those whose Property has been stolen, to reward the Thieves? upon those whose Relations have been cruelly destroyed, to compensate the Murtherers?

What can be the design of France on the other hand, by espousing the Cause of these Men? Indeed her Motives may be guessed at. She may wish to keep up in our Minds a Terror of England, and a fresh Remembrance of all We have suffered. Or She may wish to prevent our Ministers in Europe from agreeing with the British Ministers, untill She shall say that She and Spain are satisfyed in all Points.

I entered largely with Mr. Oswald, into the Consideration of the Influence this Question would have upon the Councils of the British Cabinet and the Debates in Parliament. The King and the old Ministry might think their personal Reputations concerned, in supporting Men who had gone such Lengths, and suffered so much in their Attachment to them.—The K. may say I have other dominions abroad, Canada, Nova Scotia, Florida, the West India Islands, the East Indies, Ireland. It will be a bad Example to abandon these Men. Others will loose their Encouragement to adhere to my Government. But the shortest Answer to this is the best, let the King by a Message recommend it to Parliament to compensate them.

But how will My Lord Shelburne sustain the shock of Opposition? When Mr. Fox and Mr. Burke shall demand a Reason why the Essential Interests of the Nation, are sacrificed to the unreasonable demands of those very Men, who have done this great Mischief to the Empire. Should these Orators indulge themselves in Philippicks against the 57Refugees, shew their false Representations, their outragious Cruelties, their innumerable demerits against the Nation, and then attack the first Lord of the Treasury for continuing to spend the Blood and Treasure of the Nation for their Sakes.

Mr. Vaughan came to me Yesterday, and said that Mr. Oswald had that morning called upon Mr. Jay, and told him, if he had known as much the day before as he had since learned, he would have written to go home. Mr. V. said Mr. Fitzherbert had received a Letter from Ld. Townsend,5 that the Compensation would be insisted on. Mr. Oswald wanted Mr. Jay to go to England. Thought he could convince the Ministry. Mr. Jay said he must go, with or without the Knowledge and Advice of this Court, and in either Case it would give rise to jealousies. He could not go. Mr. Vaughan said he had determined to go, on Account of the critical State of his Family, his Wife being probably abed. He should be glad to converse freely with me, and obtain from me, all the Lights and arguments against the Tories, even the History of their worst Actions, that in Case it should be necessary to run them down it might be done or at least expose them, for their true History was little known in England.—I told him that I must be excused. It was a Subject that I had never been desirous of obtaining Information upon. That I pitied those People too much to be willing to aggravate their Sorrows and Sufferings, even of those who had deserved the Worst. It might not be amiss to reprint the Letters of Governor Bernard, Hutchinson and Oliver, to shew the rise. It might not be amiss to read the History of Wyoming in the Annual Register for 1778 or 9, to recollect the Prison Ships, and the Churches at New York, where the Garrisons of Fort Washington were starved in order to make them inlist into Refugee Corps. It might not be amiss to recollect the Burning of Cities, and The Thefts of Plate, Negroes and Tobacco.

I entered into the same Arguments with him that I had used with Mr. Oswald, to shew that We could do nothing, Congress nothing. The Time it would take to consult the States, and the Reasons to believe that all of them would at last decide against it. I shewed him that it would be a Religious Question with some, a moral one with others, and a political one with more, an Economical one with very few. I shewed him the ill Effect which would be produced upon the American Mind, by this Measure, how much it would contribute to perpetuate Alienation against England, and how french Emmissaries might by means of these Men blow up the flames of Animosity and 58War. I shewed him how the Whig Interest and the Opposition might avail themselves of this Subject in Parliament, and how they might embarrass the Minister.

He went out to Passy, for a Passport, and in the Evening called upon me again. Said he found Dr. Franklins Sentiments to be the same with Mr. Jays and mine, and hoped he should be able to convince Lord Shelburne. He was pretty confident that it would work right.—The Ministry and Nation were not informed upon the Subject. Ld. Shelburne had told him that no Part of his office gave him so much Paine as the Levy he held for these People, and hearing their Stories of their Families and Estates, their Losses, Sufferings and Distresses. Mr. V. said he had picked up here, a good deal of Information, about those People, from Mr. Allen and other Americans.

Ridley, Allen and Mason, dined with me, and in the Evening Capt. Barney came in, and told me that Mr. Vaughan went off to day at noon. I delivered to Barney, Mr. Jays long Dispatches, and the other Letters.

In the Evening the Marquis de la Fayette came in and told me, he had been to see Mr. de Fleuri, on the Subject of a Loan. He told him that he must afford America this Year a Subsidy of 20 millions. Mr. de Fleuri said France had already spent 250 millions in the American War, and that they could not allow any more Money to her. That there was a great deal of Money in America. That the Kings Troops had been subsisted and paid there. That the British Army had been subsisted and paid there, &c. The Marquis said that little of the Subsistance or pay of the British had gone into any hands but those of the Tories within their Lines. I said that more Money went in for their Goods than came out for Provisions or any Thing. The Marquis added to Mr. Fleury that Mr. Adams had a Plan for going to the States General, for a Loan or a Subsidy. Mr. Fleury said he did not want the Assistance of Mr. Adams to get Money in Holland, he could have what he would. The M. said Mr. A. would be glad of it. He did not want to go, but was willing to take the Trouble, if necessary.

The Marquis said he should dine with the Queen tomorrow and would give her a hint, to favour Us. That he should take Leave in a few days and should go in the fleet that was to sail from Brest. That he wanted the Advice of Mr. F., Mr. J. and me before he went, &c. Said there was a Report that Mr. Gerard had been in England, and that Mr. de Rayneval was gone. I told him I saw Mr. Gerard at Mr. Jays a few Evenings ago.

He said he did not believe Mr. Gerard had been. That he had men-59tioned it to C. de V. and he did not appear confused at all, but said Mr. Gerard was here about the Limits of Alsace.

The Marquis said that he believed, the Reason why C. de Vergennes said so little about the Progress of Mr. Fitsherbert with him, was because the difficulty about Peace was made by the Spaniards and he was afraid of making the Americans still more angry with Spain....6 He knew the Americans were 7 very angry with the Spaniards.


That is, Jay's long memoir, including copies of his correspondence, relative to the negotiations from the time that he had arrived in Paris late in June to the time JA arrived late in October; dated 17 Nov. 1782, it is printed in Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 6:11–49. It is a severe indictment of the motives and conduct of the French ministry toward America on the eve of the peace settlement, and by implication a defense of the Commissioners' breach of their instructions to do nothing without French concurrence; see especially its last dozen paragraphs. JA's copy is in Adams Papers under the present date.


Thomas Paine, Letter Addressed to the Abbe Raynal on the Affairs of North-America ..., Philadelphia, printed; Boston, reprinted, 1782; see p. 44–45.


The present Diary booklet (D/JA/35) ends here, and JA's conversation with Oswald this day continues without break in the next booklet (D/JA/ 36), identical in format with its predecessor.


Marbois to Vergennes, No. 225, Philadelphia, 13 March 1782, in which Marbois reported that Samuel Adams, who “delights in trouble,” was the leader of an anti-French party opposed to any peace which excluded New Englanders from the Newfoundland and other North Atlantic fisheries. The writer went on to give suggestions how such “enthusiasts” could be quieted by a statement from the King of France disapproving their stand. See the text in Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 5:238–241. This dispatch was intercepted by the British and a copy placed in Jay's hands with the intent of splitting the Franco-American alliance. For its effect on Jay, see his letter to Livingston transmitting a copy, 18 Sept. 1782 (same, p. 740). In Congress it led to a reconsideration of the instructions of 15 June 1781, though the effort to revise them did not succeed; see Madison's Notes of Debates, 24, 30 Dec. 1782, 1 Jan. 1783 ( JCC , 23:870–874; 25:845). When imparted to JA (enclosed in a letter from Jay of 1 Sept., Adams Papers), it confirmed his worst suspicions of French policy; see entries of 20 Nov. 1782 and 2 May 1783, below. Several copies of the offending dispatch, in English translation, are among his papers, and in old age he devoted to it a whole series of his communications to the Boston Patriot, 14–24 Aug. 1811 (partly printed in Works , 1:669–674).


Thomas Townshend, later 1st Viscount Sydney, home secretary in Shelburne's ministry ( DNB ).


Suspension points in MS.


MS: “very.”

November 18. Monday. JA


November 18. Monday. Adams, John
November 18. Monday.

Returned Mr. Oswalds Visit. He says Mr. Stratchey who sat out the 5 did not reach London untill the 10....1 Couriers are 3, 4, or 5 days in going according as the Winds are.

We went over the old ground, concerning the Tories. He began to use Arguments with me to relax. I told him he must not think of that, but must bend all his Thoughts to convince and perswade his Court to 60give it up. That if the Terms now before his Court, were not accepted, the whole negotiation would be broken off, and this Court would probably be so angry with Mr. Jay and me, that they would set their Engines to work upon Congress, get us recalled and some others sent, who would do exactly as this Court would have them. He said, he thought that very probable....

In another Part of his Conversation He said We should all have Gold Snuff Boxes set with Diamonds. You will certainly have the Picture.2 I told him no. I had dealt too freely with this Court. I had not concealed from them any usefull and necessary Truth, although it was disagreable. Indeed I neither expected nor desired any favours from them nor would I accept any. I should not refuse any customary Compliment of that Sort, but it never had been nor would be offered me.... My fixed Principle never to be the Tool, of any Man, nor the Partisan of any Nation, would forever exclude me from the Smiles and favours of Courts.

In another Part of the Conversation, I said that when I was young and addicted to reading I had heard about dancing on the Points of metaphisical Needles. But by mixing in the World, I had found the Points of political Needles finer and sharper than the metaphisical ones.

I told him the Story of Josiah Quincys Conversations with Lord Shelburne in 1774, in which he pointed out to him, the Plan of carrying on the War, which has been pursued this Year, by remaining inactive at Land and cruising upon the Coast to distress our Trade.

He said he had been contriving an artificial Truce since he found we were bound by Treaty not to agree to a separate Truce. He had proposed to the Ministry, to give Orders to their Men of War and Privateers, not to take any unarmed American Vessells.

I said to him, supposing the armed Neutrality should acknowledge American Independence, by admitting Mr. Dana who is now at Petersbourg with a Commission for that Purpose in his Pocket, to subscribe the Principles of their marine Treaty? The K. of G.B. could find no fault with it. He could never hereafter say, it was an Affront or Hostility. He had done it himself. Would not all Newtral Vessells have a right to go to America?—and could not all American Trade be carried on in Neutral Bottoms.

I said to him that England would always be a Country which would deserve much of the Attention of America, independently of all Considerations of Blood, Origin, Language, Morals &c. Merely as a commercial Country, She would forever claim the Respect of America, 61because a great Part of our Commerce would be with her provided She came to her Senses and made Peace with Us without any Points in the Treaty that should ferment in the Minds of the People. If the People should think themselves unjustly treated, they would never be easy, and they were so situated as to be able to hurt any Power. The Fisheries, the Mississippi, the Tories were points that would rankle. And that Nation that should offend our People in any of them, would sooner or later feel the Consequences.

Mr. Jay, Mr. Le Couteulx and Mr. Grand came in. Mr. Grand says there is a great Fermentation in England, and that they talk of uniting Lord North and Mr. Fox in Administration. D. of Portland to come in and Keppel go out.—But this is wild.

You are afraid says Mr. Oswald to day of being made the Tools of the Powers of Europe.—Indeed I am says I.—What Powers says he.—All of them says I. It is obvious that all the Powers of Europe will be continually maneuvring with Us, to work us into their real or imaginary Ballances of Power. They will all wish to make of Us a Make Weight Candle, when they are weighing out their Pounds. Indeed it is not surprizing for We shall very often if not always be able to turn the Scale. But I think it ought to be our Rule not to meddle, and that of all the Powers of Europe not to desire Us, or perhaps even to permit Us to interfere, if they can help it.

I beg of you, says he, to get out of your head the Idea that We shall disturb you.—What says I do you yourself believe that your Ministers, Governors and even Nation will not wish to get Us of your Side in any future War?—Damn the Governors says he. No. We will take off their Heads if they do an improper thing towards you.

Thank you for your good Will says I, which I feel to be sincere. But Nations dont feel as you and I do, and your nation when it gets a little refreshed from the fatigues of the War, when Men and Money are become plenty and Allies at hand, will not feel as it does now.—We never can be such damned Sots says he as to think of differing again with you.—Why says I, in truth I have never been able to comprehend the Reason why you ever thought of differing with Us.3


Suspension points, here and below, are in MS.


Of the King. See JA's conversation with Lynden van Blitterswyck, former Dutch minister to Sweden, 21 Dec., below.


Below the last line in this entry JA wrote the words “thus far,” which CFA attached to the last sentence of this paragraph, where they make perfectly good sense. But from the position of the phrase in the MS and from its not being copied in the “Peace Journal” sent to Livingston, it seems much more likely to have been a direction to the copyists than a part of the Diary text.