Diary of John Adams, volume 4

May 20. Wednesday. 1778.

May 21. Thursday. 1778.

To Samuel Adams
My dear Sir Passi May 21. 1778

I have never yet paid my respects to you, since my Arrival in Europe, for which seeming Neglect of Duty, the total Novelty of the Scasnes about me, and the incessant Avocations of Business and Ceremony and Pleasure, for this last I find in Europe, makes an essential part of both the other two, must plead my excuse.

The Situation of the general Affairs of Europe, is still critical and of dubious Tendency. It is still uncertain, whether there will be War, between the Turks and Russians; between the Emperor and the King of Prussia; and indeed between England and France, in the Opinion of many People; my own Conjecture however is, that a War will commence and that soon.

Before this reaches you, you will be informed, that a strong Squadron of thirteen Capital Ships and several Frigates, has sailed from Toulon, and that another Squadron is ordered to sail from Spithead. Whatever I may have heard of the destination of the first, I am not at Liberty to mention it. We have yet no intelligence that the latter has sailed.

Chatham the great is no more: but there is so much of his wild Spirit in his last Speech, yet left in the Nation, that I have no doubt but Administration will put all to the hazard.

We are happy to hear, by the Frigate Le Sensible, which has returned to Brest, that the Treaty arrived safe at Casco Bay. We hope to have the earliest Intelligence of the ratification of it.... The Commissioners from England, who sailed about the twenty second of April, will meet as We suppose with nothing but ridicule.


Prussia is yet upon the reserve concerning America, or rather, forgetting his Promise has determined not to acknowledge our Independance, at present. His Reason is obvious. He wants the Aid of those very German Princes who are most subservient to Great Britain, who have furnished her with Troops to carry on the War against Us, and therefore he does not1 choose to offend them by an Alliance with Us, at present. Spain is on the reserve too: but there is not the least doubt entertained here, of her intentions to support America. In Holland there is more Friendship for Us, than I was aware before I came here. At least, they will take no part against Us.

Our Affairs in this Kingdom, I find in a State of confusion and darkness, that surprizes me. Prodigious Sums of money have been expended and large Sums are yet due. But there are no Books of Account, or any Documents, from whence I have been able to learn what the United States have received as an Equivalent.

There is one Subject, which lies heavily on my Mind, and that is the expence of the Commissioners. You have three Commissioners at this Court, each of whom lives at an Expence of at least Three thousand Pounds Sterling a Year, I fear at a greater Expence. Few Men in this World are capable of living at a less Expence, than I am. But I find the other Gentlemen have expended, from three to four Thousand a Year each, and one of them from five to six. And by all the Enquiries I have been able to make, I cannot find any Article of Expence, which can be retrenched.

The Truth is, in my humble Opinion, our System is wrong in many Particulars, 1. In having three Commissioners at this Court. One in the Character of Envoy is enough. At present each of the Three is considered in the Character of a Public Minister; a Minister Plenipotentiary, which lays him under an absolute Necessity of living up to this Character. Whereas one alone would be obliged to no greater Expence, and would be quite sufficient for all the Business of a Public Minister. 2. In Leaving the Salaries of these Ministers at an Uncertainty. You will never be able to obtain a satisfactory Account, of the public Monies, while this System continues. It is a Temptation to live at too great an Expence, and Gentlemen will feel an Aversion to demanding a rigorous Account. 3. In blending the Business of a public Minister with that of a Commercial Agent. The Businesses of various departments, are by this means so blended and the public and private Expences so confounded with each other, that I am sure no Satisfaction can ever be given to the Public, of the disposition of their 108Interests and I am very confident that Jealousies and Suspicions will hereafter arise against the Characters of Gentlemen, who may perhaps have Acted with perfect Integrity and the fairest Intentions for the public Good.

My Idea is this, seperate the Offices of Public Ministers from those of commercial Agents....Recall, or send to some other Court, all the Public Ministers but one, at this Court. Determine with Precision, the Sum that shall be allowed to the remaining one, for his Expences and for his Salary, i.e. for his Time, Risque, Trouble &c., and when this is done see that he receives no more than his allowance.

The Inconveniences arising from the Multiplicity of Ministers and the Complications of Businesses are infinite.

Remember me, with the most tender Affection to my worthy Colleagues, and to all others to whom you know they are due. I am your Friend and Servant.

John Adams
The Honourable Samuel Adams2