Papers of John Adams, volume 9

To the President of Congress, No. 52

To Edmund Jenings

From William Lee, 25 April 1780 Lee, William JA


From William Lee, 25 April 1780 Lee, William Adams, John
From William Lee
Dear Sir Bruxelles Apl. 25. 1780

I thank you for the intelligence contain'd in your favor of the 13th. and when there are any other arrivals from America you will greatly oblige me by communicating any intelligence they may bring. I confess I am uneasy to hear from Chas. Town, for there is no doubt of Clinton having design'd his principle Force against that Town; as I cannot give any credit to the surmises of some people, that the rendevouze was at Tybee, in order to be ready for an attack on some of the Spanish possessions.


The infatuation of our Enemies is evidently the work of Providence therefore I have no expectation of a speedy Peace because the measure of their punishment is not yet full.

Their frenzy is turn'd into raving madness, as you will see by the proclamation against the Dutch,1 which is tantamount to a declaration of War, and the insulting language used against the Russians in the Ministerial papers; therefore as you say, we need not be surprised if they were to declare War against the whole World. This would be a favorable minute for Mr. Laurens, if he was in Holland, where no doubt his prudence will direct him to examine well his ground before he moves, for he may meet with, Characters both inimical and selfish, who under the garb of Patriotic and friendly zeal, may endeavor to lead him into error. The Dutch who are so jealous of any other nation but themselves, catching a Hering in the open Sea, think it not unreasonable or immodest to expect exclusive privileges in some part of the American trade and an equal freedom with others, to the fishery on the banks of Newfoundland.

By the last accounts from England Walsingham was not sail'd So that the fleet from Brest may get the start, if it has kept to the time appointed viz the 15th. of this month.

If you can prevail where you are to have a good look out kept to intercept the first West India fleet, which probably will be coming into the channel in June or July, I think our Enemies cannot have this year for channel service more than 30 Ships of the Line at the utmost for want of Men.2

Pray tell me if you heard before you left America, of my answer to Mr. Deanes charges having been read in Congress.3 That Gentlemans Agent and Correspondent in Holland,4 it is said, has reported there, that he is again in Congress, but I do not hear of any letters from America that mention such a circumstance.

With great regard I remain &c. Adieu.

RC (Adams Papers).


This was the Order in Council of 17 April, which formally suspended the provisions of existing Anglo-Dutch treaties relating to Dutch trade in time of war and placed subjects of the Netherlands under the same restrictions as the subjects of other neutral nations with whom Great Britain had no treaties. The order was printed in various London newspapers on or about 19 April, including the London Courant and the Morning Post.


In fact, this estimate was too high. When Adm. Francis Geary took command of the channel fleet in May, he had but 24 ships of the line, placing him at a serious disadvantage in the event he met with a combined Franco-Spanish fleet. The number of ships committed to the channel fleet did not significantly increase in 1781 or 1782, although the balance became less lopsided in favor of France and Spain as the focus of naval activities changed to American and East Indian waters (Mackesy, War for America , p. 356; Dull, 235 French Navy and Amer. Independence , p. 365–376).


This was Lee's 36-page rebuttal to Silas Deane's address of 5 Dec. 1778 “To the Free and Virtuous Citizens of the United States.” Lee's response was dated 8 March 1779 and was sent under a covering letter of 17 March to the president of Congress. The two documents were received on 11 Oct. 1779 (PCC, No. 90, f. 472–507; No. 105, f. 107–110; JCC , 15:1161–1162).


The source of this false report was probably C. W. F. Dumas, with whom Deane had corresponded between 1776 and 1778 ( Deane Papers , 3:149–150). See also Lee's letter of 10 May and JA's reply of 6 June (both below).