Papers of John Adams, volume 9

To the President of Congress, No. 31

From the Comte de Vergennes

95 From William Lee, 30 March 1780 Lee, William JA


From William Lee, 30 March 1780 Lee, William Adams, John
From William Lee
Dear Sir Bruxelles March the 30th. 1780

I have had the Honor of Receiving yours of the 21st. instant. The Name of the person you wish to know is, the Duke of Brunswick, Brother to Prince Ferdinand, Field Marischall and Commander in cheif of the Dutch Land Forces. He is not liked by his Family as they conceive, he is too much attach'd to the House of Austria.1

The Quintuple Alliance that you mention, I conceive is only the conjecture of some Politicians, for there is not in Fact, any solid appearance of the D-tch resenting like Men, or an independent Nation, the cruel Injuries and insults, (that wou'd be intolerable to any other People) which they have received from the English. The Prince of Orange the better to deceive, and perhaps reflecting on the fate of DeWit,2 pretended to resent highly the insult offer'd to his Flag, but you will agree with me that it must be only a pretence, when you know that Admiral Byland is to be Honorably acquitted,3 and in consequence it is expected, that the best Capt. in the Dutch Navy will resign.4

I hope you did not construe my last into any design of drawing from you any of the secrets of your mission, for beleive me I have no such curiosity being quite satisfied with that information respecting it, which the World is, and has been a long time in possession of; and besides, I know too well how extremely necessary circumspection and secresy are to procure success to a Negotiation.

Diffidence and distrust of an Enemy is always warrantable, but particularly so, when one has had repeated experience of their Duplicity and treachery the fatal experience of the Dutch in the Negotiations at Geertruydenberg,5 as well as many other Examples, teach us, that distrust and resentment, shou'd not be carried to unreasonable lengths.

A great and good Man has wisely observ'd that the best time to make Peace is, when your Enemy wishes for it, and I hope the affairs of Ireland with vigorous and well directed operations on our part this Campaign will reduce our Enemies to wish for Peace in earnest before this year ends; altho' they seem to be getting the better of the opposition at home, which it appears they are determin'd to do, either by fraud or violence, as the papers will tell you how narrowly the Life of Ld. Shelburne has escaped one of the Scotch Assassins.6

With infinite pleasure I shall communicate to you what informa-96tion I may receive in my retirement, of the nature you require, but I apprehend that a few hundred pounds Sterling p. An: properly applied might procure you such intelligence as would be worth Millions to America; for in our Enemies quarters, every thing goes by Purchase and Sale, therefore it was high time for us to have done with them.

We have no intelligence of the arrival of Mr. Laurens, tho' there are Letters which mention his being embarked.

The Spaniards will do well to keep a watchful Eye, on the Buccaneering Expedition now preparing in England, against their Possessions in South America.7

I have the Honor to be with very great respect and esteem Dear Sir Your most Obedt. Hble Servt.

W: Lee

P.S. I shall always thank you for any American News.

RC (Adams Papers;) endorsed: “M. W. Lee ansd Ap. 2d 1780 dated March 30th.” LbC (ViHi: William Lee Letterbooks.)


Louis Ernst, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, was commander-in-chief of the Dutch army, while his brother, Ferdinand, was a former Prussian field marshall, the victorious commander at the Battle of Minden in 1758. The Duke's family probably believed that he remained attached to Austria, as opposed to Prussia, because of prior service as an Austrian field marshall. Their displeasure with the Duke is understandable in view of Ferdinand's allegiance to Prussia and the fact that one of the Duke's sisters was the wife of Frederick the Great and another the wife of Frederick's brother Charles (Alice Clare Carter, The Dutch Republic in Europe in the Seven Years War, London, 1971, p. 27–28; Hoefer, Nouv. biog. générale ).

This and the following paragraph were paraphrased and included in JA's second letter of 3 April to the president of Congress (No. 33, calendared, below).


John De Witt, grand pensionary from 1654 to 1672, had been assassinated when he lost popular support in the face of a humiliating defeat by the armies of Britain and France (Rowen, Princes of Orange , p. 126–130).


Adm. Lodewijk van Bylandt was acquitted on 7 April (Edler, Dutch Republic and the American Revolution , p. 132, note 3).


At this point in the Letterbook the following passage was canceled: “I agree with you in Opinion that the Americans on this side the Ocean, Feel and Reason differently from Our Countrymen on the other side; for the first, viz their difference of feeling is natural and therefore easily accounted for, but their Reasoning or thinking differently is a misfortune to be lamented, as it has already been the cause of great Mischiefs to our Country and may possibly occasion many more. I suppose it is no secret in America. I am sure it ought not to be one to Congress, that our Enemies had determined to treat with us, allowing Independence for the basis, which determination were prevented from being carried into effect; by the speedy advise they got of the Dessensions rising in, and against Congress in the latter end of 1778.”


In the winter of 1709–1710, negotiations to end the War of the Spanish Succession were held at Geertruidenberg in the Netherlands. The talks were finally broken off in the summer of 1710, partly because the Dutch representatives insisted on terms unacceptable to France. In 1713, faced with the withdrawal of its British ally, without whom it would be unable to continue the war, the Netherlands was forced to accede to the treaties of Utrecht, containing terms far less favorable than those that could have been obtained at Geertruidenberg in 1710 (George Edmundson, History of Holland, Cambridge, England, 1922, p. 293–297).


In January, William Fullarton, a Scotsman and member of Parliament, submitted a plan to the cabinet for a privateering expedition (mentioned by Lee in the final paragraph of this letter and further described in his letter of 9 April, below) against the Spanish colonies on the western coast of South Amer-97ica by way of the Cape of Good Hope and India. When he and a friend, Thomas Mackenzie Humberston, received commissions as lieutenant colonels to raise regiments for the expedition, Fullarton was immediately attacked by Lord Shelburne in the House of Lords as unqualified to hold such a command. This resulted in a duel on 22 March in which Shelburne was wounded. The expedition was finally approved in August, but as an undertaking by the government, rather than a private enterprise. The outbreak of war with the Netherlands, however, caused the force to be diverted for service, first at the Cape of Good Hope and then in India (Namier and Brooke, House of Commons , 2:475; Mackesy, War for America , p. 373, 380).

At this point in the Letterbook the following passage was canceled: “I apprehend with you, the chief dependence is on Sir Edward Newenham relative to Irish affairs for which reason it may be proper to inform you that his understanding is not rated very high by his Party, who adopt their plans before he is in the Secret. I presume you regularly receive the English Gazettes therefore it will be unnecessary to mention what I may chance to see in them, and in my retirement, I can't often expect to get frequent particular intelligence, but when anything material comes to my knowledge, you may be assured of my communicating it to you immediately: however I should suppose, that a few hundred pounds sterling per annum properly laid out, might command all the intelligence you would wish to have.”

Lee's reference is to Sir Edward Newenham, a member of the Irish Parliament who favored parliamentary reform ( DNB ). Newenham may have been mentioned by another of Lee's correspondents and when Lee realized his mistake he canceled the passage.


Lee was speaking of William Fullarton's plan (see note 6), but that proposal had been preceded by another put forth by Sir John Dalrymple, baron of the Scottish Exchequer. It too proposed to attack the Spanish colonies from the west, across the Pacific, but was abandoned when the government took over Fullarton's plan as its own (Mackesy, War for America , p. 373). JA made a verbatim transcription of this paragraph and enclosed it in his letter to Gabriel de Sartine of 4 April (Arch. de la Marine, Paris, Campagnes B4, vol. 182). For Sartine's replies, see Thomas Digges' letter of 28 March, note 3 (above).