Papers of John Adams, volume 9

To Edmund Jenings

From John Jay

238 To the President of Congress, No. 53, 26 April 1780 JA Huntington, Samuel President of Congress


To the President of Congress, No. 53, 26 April 1780 Adams, John Huntington, Samuel President of Congress
To the President of Congress, No. 53
Sir Paris April 26th. 1780

At last, even the Morning Post, of the eighteenth of April, confesses, that1 the Memorial from the Empress of Russia to the States General, has dissipated all their golden dreams of an Alliance, with the Czarina. It was announced to us last Week, that a Russian Squadron had left Cronstad, with an Intention to sail to our Assistance, nay some of the public Papers went so far as to announce their Arrival at Plymouth, how sadly are we, now disappointed! instead of Alliance, we find her Czarish Majesty talks of Neutrality. So that at present it is pretty clear, that the various powers in Europe seem determined to stand off, and leave us to our fate.

In some confused Minutes of a debate in the House of Lords on the fourteenth of April, it is said that Lord Cambden expressed2 his Astonishment and regret at the Memorial from Russia, in which, contrary to the established Laws of Nations, the Empress insisted upon free Ships and free Goods: he pointed out, how injurious to the Country it must be, if neutral Vessels were permitted to supply our Enemies, whom we might blockade, with every thing they might want, and remarked, the Queen of the Seas was now deposed, and the Empress had taken possession of her Throne. In another Paper Lord Shelburne3 is represented remarking the very dangerous and alarming Situation they stand in with regard to their Wars and foreign Alliances: of the former, said his Lordship we have three, of the latter none; even the Empress of Russia, that great Potentate, who was constantly held out by the noble Lord in the green Ribbon, Lord Stormont4 to be our principal Ally, now shows to all Europe, by her late maritime Manifesto, what sort of an Ally She meant to be to England. The thought of that Manifesto made him shudder, when he first read it, particularly as he knew how this Country stood, in respect to other Powers, when Denmark must follow wherever Russia led, and when Sweeden was nearly at the Nod of France. Think of the probability of having the whole force of the Northern Powers against Us, already engaged in three Wars, and striving all we can to make a fourth with our old Friends and natural Allies, the States General.

There have appeared, few other Reflections, as yet, upon this great Event, the Russian declaration. Even Opposition seem afraid to lay it open, in all its Terms to the people. They repeat the Word Neutral-239ity, Neutrality, but it is very nearly 5 as decisive a determination against them, as a declaration of War would have been, perhaps more so, because now there is a probability that the maritime Powers will be unanimous, whereas in the other Case they might have been divided. It is very surprising that the Peace between Russia and the Turk, and that between the Emperor and the King of Prussia, in which the Empress of Russia took a part as decided and spirited, as She has upon this Occasion, in both of which Negotiations the British Ministry ought to have known that Russia and France, acted in perfect Concert,6 should not have earlier dissipated their golden Visions: but so it is: and so it has been. England, as Governor Pownal says, cannot or will not see.7

The Improvement in the Law of Nations which the Empress aims at, and will undoubtedly establish, is hurtful to England, it is true, to a very great degree: but it is beneficial to all other Nations, and to none more than the United States of America, who will be Carriers, and I hope forever Neuters.

I have the Honor to be, with the greatest Respect & Esteem, Sir, your most obedient and most humble Servant,

John Adams

RC in John Thaxter's hand (PCC, No. 84, I, f. 504–507); endorsed: “Letter from John Adams April 26. 1780 recd. Feb 19. 81 Influence of the Northern Association on England.” LbC (Adams Papers); notation: “No. 53.”


Except for minor changes, the remainder of this paragraph is an exact quotation from the Morning Post of 18 April. As late as 12 April, the day after it had printed the text of the Russian memorial to the States General, the Morning Post reported “it is confidently said, that a treaty of alliance offensive and defensive is at last actually signed with Russia” and would “be announced to parliament soon after the recess.” On the 14th it declared that “the Russian declaration at the Hague has had the desired effect; the Dutch now finding how much the Czarina interests herself in favour of Great Britain, begin seriously to think of returning such an answer to Sir Joseph Yorke's memorial as may at least not irritate the Court of London to set them on a footing with other neutral powers.”


The remainder of this sentence is an exact quotation from the Morning Post of 15 April. In another account of the speech by Charles Pratt, 1st earl of Camden and former Lord Chancellor, that is much longer and quite different, he is reported to have stated that the Russian declaration “was totally subversive of the first principle of the law of nations, which had never went so far as to say that neutral bottoms protected the goods and effects of an enemy” ( Parliamentary Hist. , 21:446).


The newspaper from which this report of Lord Shelburne's speech in the House of Lords on 14 April was taken has not been identified. For a much fuller account of the speech, see Parliamentary Hist. , 21:426–428.


David Murray, 7th viscount Stormont, was secretary of state for the southern department and responsible for European affairs. The “green Ribbon” signified his membership in the Order of the Thistle ( DNB ).


Supplied from the Letterbook.


JA is referring to the Russo-Turkish Convention of Ainalikawak signed in 1779 which clarified their 1774 Treaty of Kutschuk-Kainardji and to the Peace of Teschen which brought an end to the War for the Bavarian Succession between Prussia and Austria. In the first instance the French ambassador to the Ottoman Empire had assisted in the negotiations and in the second, France had been as eager as Russia to end the war (De Madariaga, Armed Neutrality of 1780 , p. 98–99).

240 7.

A reference to Pownall's A Memorial Most Humbly Addressed to the Sovereigns of Europe. See A Translation of Thomas Pownall's Memorial, 19 April – ca. 14 July (above).