Papers of John Adams, volume 8

Bidé de Chavagnes to John Adams: A Translation

To Elbridge Gerry

From James Lovell, 1 November 1779 Lovell, James JA From James Lovell, 1 November 1779 Lovell, James Adams, John
From James Lovell
Dear Sir Novr. 1st. 1779

Your Favor of Octr. 17th. came this day to hand by the Post and contains such flattering Sentiments in regard to my subserving your Mission as almost to intoxicate me into a Wish that I had not spurned much personal Honor and family Emolument in pursuing a comparitively evident public Interest. But, nearly drunken as you have made 274me, depend upon it I am sober enough to distinguish between the Champaign with which my Regale began and the adulterated Cup which you hold out to me while you pledge yourself, in Case of future Correspondence, not to be in debt more than by the Difference in the intrinsic Value of the Letters will be unavoidable. Let me ask you where you learnt such Language. It is not roman, it is not even french, and I am sure it is not such english as you were accustomed to talk before you travailed into strange Countries. Be that as it may, un peu égaré,1 you recover your whole Self again shortly after, in the Affair of Mr. Iz. I shall pursue your Injunctions.

I sat about giving you some Idea of the Temper of Congress as to the Ultimata by extracting the Propositions and offered Amendments, but I found myself soon bewildered.2 You may by a little Conversation with our Friend S A know more than a great deal of my Fatigue in the Way mentioned would convey. In short the great Difference sprung from our varying Quantum of Obsequiousness to the Dictations of a Foreigner as they were retailed to us through the mouths of either Fear or Roguerey, and not from our being wide of each other in Opinion of our Rights, if we were in Condition to assert them or if our Ally would consent to join in a determined Assertion. But this said some must be quite on new Ground and not on the subsisting Treaties, for the whole End of these is the Assurance of our Independence formally or tacitly. And France to be sure would never think, at least would never insist that a common Right in the Fishery was included in our Independence in Matters of Commerce. 3 For if this should be done, the Principle established would let in other nations, which France and England would both chuse not to do. I am greatly pleased with the Confirmation by your travailed Experience to Sentiments springing from my own natural Temper—that the way to insure the lasting Regard of France is by showing independent Virility instead of colonial Effeminacy.

Novr. 2d.

The Bearer unexpectedly calls me to seal. I see my Correspondence with Portia is all over. She cannot write because I should see the mark of the Tear on the Paper.

Heaven bless you both


I do not think it will be easy for me to send you the Vols. you wish by Way of Boston but if you can borrow a few Sets there I will be upon Honor to repay them as Opportunity serves and I will attend to chances from this River but I cannot promise 20 setts.4


RC with two enclosures (Adams Papers); docketed: “Mr Lovel Nov. 1. 1779 Ultimata. Fisheries &c.” Enclosures not printed here; see notes 2 and 4. According to JA's docketing on one enclosure, it was “recd. on Board La Sensible Novr. 14 1779.”


That is, a bit astray.


To inform JA of the issues raised during the debates over the peace ultimata adopted on 14 Aug. and included in JA's instructions of 29 Sept., Lovell apparently had intended to send him copies of the various resolutions proposed during the debates, together with their amendments. Lovell presumably was defeated in his undertaking by the vast number of motions proposed during the six months of debate. He did, however, enclose several extracts from the Journal. First, he transcribed resolutions Nos. 3–6 as reported by a committee of five on 23 Feb. 1779. These had to do with fishing rights off Newfoundland and curing rights on its shores, the right to navigate the Mississippi, trade from ports on that river outside the southern boundary of the United States, and the future status of Nova Scotia ( JCC , 13:241–242). Opposite the sixth resolution, Lovell indicated that it was voted down on 17 June (same, 14:742). Next he transcribed the third resolution as amended by the committee of the whole and the substitute for it offered and adopted on 22 March (same, 13:348–352). Then he transcribed a motion further to alter resolution No. 3 and the substitute adopted on 24 March (same, 13:371–373). Finally, he included an unsuccessful proviso offered on 24 March to the resolution on navigation of the Mississippi (same, 13:369–371). Lovell concluded his transcriptions with this comment: “Since which a free Navigation is insisted on, perhaps it will delay the proposed Treaty with Spain.”


In this paragraph Lovell is referring to the efforts of Conrad Alexandre Gérard (the “Foreigner”), under instructions from Vergennes, to limit the objectives to be sought by the United States in a peace treaty. The italicized phrase is from Art. 2 of the Treaty of Alliance: “The essential and direct End of the present defensive alliance is to maintain effectually the liberty, Sovereignty, and independance absolute and unlimited of the said united States, as well in Matters of Gouvernement as of commerce.” It was further stated in Art. 8 that the two parties “mutually engage not to lay down their arms, until the Independence of the united states shall have been formally or tacitly assured by the Treaty or Treaties that shall terminate the War” (Miller, ed., Treaties , 2:36–37, 38–39). In a letter to the president of the congress on 22 May, Gérard gave France's interpretation of its obligations under the Treaty of Alliance and, in particular, the two articles just noted. He observed “First. That the king has engaged to procure for the United States, by means of arms, the acknowledgment of their independence, and that his majesty is faithful to fulfill this obligation. . .; Second. That he has made no other engagements than those expressed in the stipulations of the treaty” (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 3:177). France, therefore, would not prolong the war to secure formal, as opposed to tacit, recognition of American independence. Nor would it do so to procure American fishing rights on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland or a western boundary on the Mississippi River, neither of which was mentioned in the treaty. Lovell's main concern was American fishing rights, which French pressure had already caused to be relegated to an object to be achieved in an Anglo-American commercial treaty, rather than in a peace ultimatum. He suggested that JA speak with Samuel Adams, perhaps because he had been a member of the committee that had prepared the draft peace ultimata, but more likely because he was in Massachusetts and would be able to provide a more candid account of the French efforts to limit American ambition than Lovell could in a letter ( JCC , 13:194–195).


Lovell also enclosed copies of two other resolutions, the first calling for a letter to Franklin requesting him to supply money to the ministers plenipotentiary to Spain and Great Britain, and the second authorizing the appointment of a person to negotiate a loan from Holland. Also included was a copy of the letter to 276Franklin naming ministers and their secretaries and stating the salaries for each, as well as for Franklin himself. A final extract from the Journal gave the names of the three persons nominated to negotiate a Dutch loan on 18 Oct., of whom JA was one (same, 15:1179–1180, 1186; see Lovell to JA, 19 Oct., note 1, above).