Papers of John Adams, volume 5

From James Lovell, 1 January 1778 Lovell, James JA


From James Lovell, 1 January 1778 Lovell, James Adams, John
From James Lovell
Dear Sir York Janry. 1st. 1778

The year is rendered quite pleasing to me, in its beginning, by the arrival of your favour of the 6th of december, which assures me you were then in health with your lovely family. May part of that happiness long continue! I say part, for I wish you may e'er long be in France, or, at York Town. Your aid has been greatly wanted upon a most important transaction. We have had a call for your stores of Grotius Puffendorf Vattel &c. &c. &c. to support reason and commonsense or to destroy both, just as your Honour and Da– and Du– and Dy–1 should interpret the text. I shall expect a long, long letter when the business which the 380bearer of this carries to General Heath2 shall have been communicated to you.

There are certain words which may be so used as to cause a vast expenditure of ink. For instance, Men may dispute a year about “just Grounds,” and each remain of the opinion he first sat out with. Calm posterity alone perhaps can make a faithful decision upon the weighty matters now in dispute between Great Britain and these States, as to the verum decens et honestum with which they are conducted.

I do not mean by that remark to deprive myself in any measure of the advantage of having your speedy and free opinion of the business before hinted at.

The next weighty affair is to settle the army after such a conference and consultation abroad as may make firm ground for determinations here within doors. Much work is to be done in a short period. One month of winter is gone. Howe will have no embarkation of troops to make in the spring to impede his early operations; and more of our soldiers perhaps will be destroyed by the galenic than by martial at this season. All possible therefore should be exerted to up the quotas by every state. Virginia will draught, and I hope the substitution acts will be repealed every where.

With the compliments of the day to your Lady and yourself be assured you receive not the product of meer custom from your affectionate humb Servt.

James Lovell

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “Honble John Adams Esqr. Braintree”; docketed: “Mr. Lovell acknowledged Feby 6”; by CFA: “Jany 1st. 1778.” MS mutilated along one edge.


Francis Dana, William Duer, and Eliphalet Dyer. The first two were members of the committee which reported at length on the Gates-Burgoyne exchange of letters, in which the latter claimed that the Americans had broken faith by violating the terms of the Saratoga Convention. Dyer may have been in Lovell's mind because the day before Dyer had been named with Dana and Duer to a committee to consider a motion for sending a congressional committee to camp to investigate the justification for reforming the army by reducing the number of officers ( JCC , 9:1034, 1074).


Very likely the bearer of Lovell's letter to JA was also carrying President Laurens' letter to Gen. Heath of 27 Dec. Enclosed in it was another letter to Heath dated simply Jan. 1778, Heath being instructed to fill in the proper day after he had taken steps over a period of days to assure that any transports furnished by Gen. Howe were in fact capable of carrying the Burgoyne army to Britain. Actually the congress wanted Heath to delay so that it would have time to prepare resolutions preventing the embarkation of Burgoyne's troops; the congress had to find ostensibly good grounds for not proceeding under the Saratoga Convention, for the prompt departure of the men would afford the British time to use them as substitutes for troops stationed in Eng-381land, which could then be sent to America. When Heath could delay no longer, he was to date the letter, which forbade embarkation until orders arrived from the congress. The congress acted finally on 8 Jan., denying embarkation until Britain explicitly ratified the Convention. Lovell's reference to JA's knowledge of authorities on the law of nations suggests the dilemma confronting some members of the congress who wanted to nullify the Convention yet wanted to do so on justifiable grounds. Burgoyne's failure fully to account for cartouche boxes and other accouterments, his refusal to identify by name officers and soldiers covered by the Convention, and his charge that Americans had breached the Convention by not providing adequately for his officers in Boston, all led the congress to its action (Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 2:598–600; JCC , 10:29–35).