Papers of John Adams, volume 8

Leray de Chaumont to John Adams: A Translation

From James Warren

From James Lovell, 13 June 1779 Lovell, James JA


From James Lovell, 13 June 1779 Lovell, James Adams, John
From James Lovell
Confidential Dear Sir June 13th. 1779

I shall not look through the Notes in my Almanac to see whether I have written to you 22 or 24 times; I shall go upon the easier Task of acknowledging all those I have had from you vizt. Decr. 6 1778 recd. Feb 16th. 79 answered the 17th. — Sepr. 26th. 1778 recd. March 4th. 79 answd. Apr 28th.1

Three months ago Mr. G communicated to us that Spain was mediating, and that we ought to take speedy, decisive Measures for Peace.2 London Gazettes told us the first part; and it appears strange that neither Doctr. F. Mr. L. nor you have hinted this matter to us lately if you did not avow it authoritatively. We have some wise men here who are sure they could fish out all the Court Secrets. In the various Attempts to pull down A L to make way for some one to go from hence “who knows all the present Circumstances of America” and therefore could negotiate properly, your want of Ability to give us Information such as we wish or fancy can be had is said to spring from the Suspicions of the french Court respecting One of you; and Some thing like an Attempt to dictate to us a Choice has been seen here. An Extract of a Letter from the Count de V——s has been quoted Je crains Mr. A L et ses entoures;3 and we are tempted to think that 87therefore the Communication before mentioned came through Mr. G——But this is different from what was once the Conduct; for Mr. Deane tells us that he was directed to tell Doctr. F what he did not chuse to tell Mr. Lee, or, as he wishes to have it believed, which he was forbidden to tell him. I am persuaded Doctr. F would not readily disgust the french Court in such a Point. If there is any Seriousness in the Business, I suppose the Court stood upon the Punctilio of not having the Compliment of a Minister Plenipotentiary returned at that Time.4

Mr. Lees Enemies have produced nothing but Innuendoes to procure his Removal, while they dare not deny his Integrity and Abilities in our Service. Mr. Deane says the Lees are not fit for Transactions with a “gallant” Nation. But doubtless those Men who want his place would be very gallant indeed on certain Points in Negotiation. The eastern States are charged with wanting what they have no Right to and what is of “no Interest to the southern States.” Plenty are these local Sentiments lately; and R. H. L. with H. L——ns are squinted at as two monsters on the other side of Susquehanna who pursue points in which the southern States have no Interest.5 Would France or England reason thus on the Fishery? I expect however that we shall coalesce in a few days upon what may be Ultimata ready for some future day of Pacification, when Britain shall be restored to her Senses. She is quite wild and foolish yet in my Opinion.

You will be scarcely able by our motly Journals to understand what we are about. Why did I vote for your name to be inserted Apr 20 page 10?6 A Majority against me had before resolved that the Names should be added, — that Doctr. Franklins should be inserted but did not proceed by Yeas and Nays therefore I was entrapped not having my Nay7 appear on Doctr. F cou'd I say nay to Deane the Causa malorum and as it was not mutual Suspicions &c. I could not exclude you who was suspected and stigmatized in the Report of the Committee,8 tho' more to the disgrace of Mr. Izard than yourself, if there was any disgrace in the Circumstance of his imagining that your Connection with the Eaters and Distillers of Molasses had warped your Judgement against the Interest of other Parts of the Continent.9 Mr. Izard has good Testimony to his many estimable Qualities but his best Friends say he is irascible even when he has not a Fit of the Gout as he unfortunately had when he was writing of Doctr. Franklin,10 and probably too when he made his Strictures upon your Opinion of the 11th. and 12th. Articles.11

Every Appearance is that you will not be passed over without honor-88able Notice when the Report receives its finishing Discussion. My own settled opinion of you leads me the more readily to think there is no Plot concealed under the Professions in your Favor which have fallen from Men lately whose general Conduct is of a Kind to make me cry timeo Danaos vel dona ferentes.12

Within a few days only have I gained Possession of that Box which you left in charge to Miss Sprout.13 I took the easiest Method of conveying the few Things which were in it to your Lady. I sealed all the Papers in neat Packets, and sent them by an Express which was going in an Escort to Boston with Money. The other Articles go in Mr. S. A's Chest Tomorrow. Thus for my Pains I get the Use of your Box till I go home myself next Winter. The 2 Vols. of Herodotus I sent to the Library.

I firmly believe that your Friend Lincoln has got compleat Success over the southern Enemy. He will receive Permission to return hither just in the hours of Glory so that he may attend to his Wound which was greatly irritated by his Expedition to Carolina. This Night is the 14th. since we first had the News of his Victory via New Providence. Confirmation is come from several Quarters, but still we have not an Express.14

Tucker has sent in a twenty four gun Ship15 this Afternoon which did not fire a Shot at him before striking. He is at the Capes with the Confederacy, one of the finest Frigates in any Service as is said by Voyagers.

I wish you every Happiness being Sir Your affectionate humb Servant J L

A Letter from Col. Warren received this Evening left him well 12 days ago.

RC (Adams Papers); docketed: “Mr. Lovel. June 13. 79 Mediation of Spain Suggested by Mr Gerard the French Minister. The first hint of an Appointment of a Minister to treat of Peace.” JA did not receive the letter until he returned to Paris in 1780. Lovell, however, did send a partial copy of this letter together with extracts from the committee report of 24 March and Ralph Izard's letter of 12 Sept. 1778 as enclosures in his letter to JA of 14 Sept. 1779 (all below). That letter of 14 Sept. and its enclosures should be consulted in conjunction with this letter. This is because Lovell refers in this letter to the documents from which the extracts were taken and the copy differs in some respects from the version sent to France, most notably in the inclusion of full names rather than initials and the omission of information that was either known to JA or no longer relevant by 14 Sept.


Lovell is referring to the total number of letters written since his correspondence with JA began on 14 Nov. 1777 (vol. 5:328). Including this letter, the Adams Papers contain twenty-two letters from Lovell, six of which were written to 89 JA in France. In the same period the Adams Papers Editorial Files indicate that there are thirteen extant letters from JA to Lovell, nine of them written from France. Lovell also acknowledged receipt of a letter of 14 May, which has not been found (Lovell to JA, 31 Aug., below).


In accordance with his instructions from Vergennes of 26 Oct. 1778, Conrad Alexandre Gérard had on 9 Feb., for the first time, informed the congress of the Spanish offer to mediate between France and Great Britain and requested that the congress develop a set of peace ultimata for use in possible negotiations (Gérard to the president of the congress, 9 Feb., Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 3:40–41; Gérard, Despatches and Instructions , p. 355–362). The “private audience,” in which Gérard explained in some detail the French view of what would be desirable in the way of ultimata, took place on 15 Feb., and its substance was recorded in a memorandum by William Henry Drayton ( JCC , 13:184; Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 4:69–71). Gérard analyzed the political situation in Great Britain and noted Britain's unsuccessful efforts to secure allies in her struggle with America. In the French view it was an appropriate time for the United States to moderate its terms for peace; British recognition of independence would alone be sufficiently debilitating. Gérard discussed the position of Spain, most notably its opposition to the territorial claims of the United States and to free navigation of the Mississippi River, and disclosed its desire to regain possession of the Floridas and its willingness to pay the United States a subsidy to mount an expedition against the Floridas on condition that the conquered territory be returned to Spain.

Ostensibly a proposal to promote a quicker and easier peace, Gérard's message was in fact an attempt to limit American objectives in order to bring them more into line with the aims of France, particularly that of bringing Spain into the war. On 9 Feb., Gérard did not disclose those portions of his instructions in which Vergennes indicated his opposition to any effort by the United States to conquer Canada or obtain a share of the Newfoundland fishery. The French position on such acquisitions became clear only with Gérard's letter of 22 May to the president of the congress in which he declared that France was committed only to the achievement of American independence and would not continue the war for objectives not specifically mentioned in the Franco-American treaties (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 3:175–178).

On 23 Feb. a draft set of peace objectives was reported to the congress. For the next six months, largely because of sectional differences and the difficulty of reconciling French and American objectives, an often acrimonious debate raged, culminating on 14 Aug. in the adoption of instructions to a yet unnamed commissioner charged with negotiating treaties of peace and commerce with Britain ( JCC , 13:239–244; 14:956–966; see also Gregg L. Lint, “Preparing for Peace,” in Ronald Hoffman and Peter Albert, eds., Peace and the Peace Makers, Charlottesville, Va., 1986, p. 30–51).


On 30 April, William Paca rose to give the congress significant evidence on the unsuitability of Arthur Lee as a representative of the United States abroad. A long statement signed by Paca and William Henry Drayton was read by the secretary and placed in the Journal over the objection of Samuel Adams. Paca and Drayton had approached Gérard for information on Lee's early reception in Madrid and the opinion of the French court about him. Gérard furnished the letter from Vergennes, which contained the sentence quoted by Lovell here (26 Oct. 1778, in Gérard, Despatches and Instructions , p. 358). Paca and Drayton thought that it was incontestable that Lee was “disgustful to those Courts, unconciliatory to their subjects, and prejudicial to the honor and interests of the said States” ( JCC , 14:534–537).


Lovell's comments about the representations of Gérard concerning the Spanish mediation and the absence of any intelligence from the Commissioners regarding the mediation or the true intentions of France and Spain are significant. See JA's letter to Elbridge Gerry of 5 Dec. 1778, and note 2 (above). Although it is clear that neither man fully understood the implications of his remarks, together the two letters indicate that Adams and Lovell were moving toward an under-90standing of the French decision to shift the focus of Franco-American relations from substantive dealings with American representatives in Europe to efforts by its diplomats in America to influence the congress directly.


Richard Henry Lee and Henry Laurens supported the position that fishing rights were an essential part of the peace ultimata, to the disgust of many Southern delegates. In the spring of 1779 North Carolina delegates threatened that their state would withhold needed defensive help from South Carolina, on the grounds that Laurens, by his vote in making peace conditional on fishing rights, must believe that his state could carry on by itself a war for more than the country's original objective — independence ( JCC , 13:348–352; 14:680–683; Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 4:129–130; see also note 2, above).


Lovell is referring to the Journals of Congress, 19–24 April 1779, Phila., 1779 (Evans, No. 16590), but his page reference is wrong. The roll call on the inclusion of Arthur Lee is on page 10; that regarding JA is on page 12.


In the copy enclosed with Lovell's letter of 14 Sept. (below), the remainder of this paragraph is substantially different and the following paragraphs are omitted.


On 20 Jan. a committee consisting of one member from each state was appointed to consider “the conduct of the late and present commissioners of these states in Europe,” its creation prompted by a letter from Silas Deane. Elbridge Gerry represented Massachusetts ( JCC , 13:93).

The committee's report, made on 24 March, was accompanied by statements of charges, together with their sources, that had been made against Deane, Arthur Lee, Franklin, Ralph Izard, JA, and William Lee. Although the report itself enumerated the names of the commissioners and their assignments, Arts. 3 and 4 of the report, which mentioned complaints against them and “suspicions and animosities” among them, referred only to “the said Commissioners” (same, 13:363–368).

The congress debated the report off and on over several weeks until 20 April, when the key issue became whose names should be specifically included in Art. 4 of the report. Gerry sought to have the phrase “some of” inserted before “late and present” Commissioners, but his motion lost. Then, without a vote count, the congress agreed to insert Franklin's name as one of those among whom “suspicions and animosities” had arisen. Following the vote, the congress, signifying its decision by yeas and nays in each case, added the names of all the other Commissioners except JA. New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maryland, and Virginia voted to include JA, but New York, Pennsylvania, and North and South Carolina were firmly opposed, and Massachusetts' vote (as well as Rhode Island's) was divided, Samuel Adams and Lovell voting to include his name; thus the attempt to include JA in the final resolve failed. Adams and Lovell then tried, unsuccessfully, to postpone any vote on the clause as amended to include the names of the five Commissioners (same, 13:479–487). Naturally, JA was astonished that his two friends voted to have his name included.


See the extracts from the committee report of 24 March 1779 and Ralph Izard's letter of 12 Sept. 1778, both enclosed with Lovell's letter of 14 Sept. (below).


The third and final charge against Franklin, that he “is not the proper person to be trusted with the management of the affairs of America, that he is haughty and self sufficient, and not guided by principles of virtue or honor,” was derived from Izard's letter of 28 June 1778 to the president of the congress ( JCC , 13:367; Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 2:629–632). Ironically, the evidence for the single charge against Izard, that “the greater part of his time has been spent in altercations with Mr. Franklin, and writing letters to Congress replete with criminations of Mr. Franklin and Mr. Deane,” was provided by his own letters ( JCC , 13:367).


That is, the original Articles 11 and 12 of the Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce that were later deleted. See the extract from Izard's letter of 12 Sept. 1778 to the president of the congress, enclosed in Lovell's letter of 14 Sept. 1779, and references in note 12 to that letter (below).


“I fear the Greeks even bearing gifts” (Virgil, Aeneid, II, 49). Lovell's 91Latin text is slightly inaccurate.


On 26 Sept. 1777, a few days after JA had begun to board with the family of Rev. James Sproat in Philadelphia, the British had occupied the city. The Sproats apparently then moved to New Jersey. After JA returned to Braintree in Nov. 1777, he requested Gerry to have his chest forwarded from the Sproats. Lovell took over this responsibility, but for some time he could not locate the Sproat family (vol. 5:366, 404–406). For the progress and eventual success of Lovell's effort, see Adams Family Correspondence , 3:58, 121–122, 198, 426.


On 30 May, Capt. Newton Cannon of the Lady Washington, arriving in Philadelphia, brought news that around Purysburg, S.C., Gen. Lincoln had bested the British, who suffered 1,400 casualties. Cannon's sources were the captains of several British ships. Then a letter of 5 June from Baltimore to a member of the congress offered congratulations on the American victory, which included the capture of 700 of the enemy. This news reportedly came from a Capt. Johnson, who, on his way from St. Eustatius, stopped in Hampton, Va., where an express had arrived describing the victory (Pennsylvania Gazette, 2 and 9 June). See also Arthur Lee to JA, 18 March, note 1 (above); and Jonathan Loring Austin to JA, 7 July, note 5 (below).


Samuel Tucker of the frigate Boston, then cruising with the frigate Confederacy off the Virginia capes, took the privateer Poole on 10 June (Pennsylvania Gazette, 16 June 1779).