Papers of John Adams, volume 9

From John Bondfield

From C. W. F. Dumas

To Edmund Jenings, 29 May 1780 JA Jenings, Edmund


To Edmund Jenings, 29 May 1780 Adams, John Jenings, Edmund
To Edmund Jenings
Dr Sir May 29. 1780

I have received yours of 22, with the Letter, which I return, unable to comprehend the meaning of it.1 I am informed by Mr Jay and Mr Charmichael both, that Sir John Dalrymple2 is at Madrid, with his Lady, travelling from Portugal, thro Spain and France for her Health, as is given out.3 He had a Passport from the Spanish minister. He has seen the Imperial Ambassador, the Duke of Alva, and Some other Grandees, to whom he is Supposed to have been recommended by Lord Grantham, who, it Seems was much esteemed there. But I am under no Allarm about this, nor can I think that Sir John is intended by Hussey.4 If he is Farmer Jay,5 is enough on his Guard. But I suspect Hussey is intended for the secretary, of whom you know more than I.6 I never saw him. I have heard the Words bustling and intriguing temper before,7 or others synonimous which made me wonder at the Suddenness of Maryland, but after what has happened I cannot harbour Suspicions of any thing so black and base. Nor do I believe, that if they existed, they could answer their End. Tis a Pity that such Jealousies should be So easily taken up and so lightly propagated. The malignant Cry of the Vulgar about Gold and Guineas and Treasons of so black a die, are ten times ill founded, where they are once true. Ministerial People in England propagate Such suspicions as much as any. The other day, you know the immense sum obtained8 by that Spirited Statesman Lord North, from the E. I. Company, had enabled him to corrupt Russia. This Mistake is pretty well cleared up. Denmark too, had five and forty9 ships of the Line, which England was to hire and could easily man. This and 20 other Tales equally extravagant, were believed when I arrived here last February. I was really amazed, to hear Some Gentlemen of high Characters great sense, and indisputable affection to the Cause of the new World,10 say, they believd them. There is nothing but what the English can make many people believe for a time. I rest assured that this Insinuation, is as groundless, as it is cruel.11

Husseys Gaiety,12 will do him, nor his Country any good. Depend upon it, it is not by Gaiety, nor by Shew, that America is to be essentially served. It would be easy to be as gay and as shewy as any Americans, have been in Europe, and to do ones Country as much harm by it. The Gaiety of Some in13 her service, has cost her very 361dear, both in cash and reputation. She knows it, and remembers it.14 Was it by Gaiety15 that Demosthenes and Cicero served their Countries? I dont mention Aristides, Cincinnatus or Fabricius.16 Was it thus that Pit served his Country? De Wit his? Is it by Gaiety that Vergennes and Neckar, are doing more for the good of Man kind, than all the Fops and Coxcombs ever did, put together,17 from the first Example of Gaiety that is recorded, when my Ancestors wife, made him put on Fig Leaves? For Shame Americans, for shame! For shame pretended Friends of America.

I am glad you have written for Explanations and Proof.18 But in fact, I am much disgusted with this letter.


You see I have recd., yours of 2 6 7th. for which Thanks.19 I believe your Letters will go Safe by the Post, to Madrid. But any Banker—Mr Grand for Example, will cover them.

RC (Adams Papers). LbC (Adams Papers). The Letterbook copy is a heavily edited draft and the recipient's copy contains passages that are not in the Letterbook. Significant changes entered in the Letterbook, as well as those done while copying out the recipient's copy, are indicated in the notes.


Jenings had written on 22 May (Adams Papers), enclosing a letter from his “Confidential Friend in London” and requesting JA to return the letter with his comments. The return of the enclosure makes it impossible to know precisely what Jenings' “Confidential Friend” wrote, but JA's comments in this letter and others to Jenings of 6 and 11 June as well as Jenings' comments in his letters of 2 June and 5 May i.e. June (all below) provide some basis for speculation. Since Jenings did not mention Sir John Dalrymple, Thomas Hussey, or John Jay in his letters of 22 (Adams Papers) or 27 May (above), JA's comments here make it likely that the enclosure centered on them and their activities in Spain, but see note 4.


For Dalrymple's unsuccessful efforts to promote an Anglo-Spanish peace settlement, see John Jay's letter of 26 April, note 1 (above). JA's comments concerning Dalrymple in this letter are largely a digest of those by John Jay and William Carmichael, the latter in his letter of ca. 26 April (above).


In the Letterbook this sentence ended “as is pretended.”


The reference by Jenings' correspondent to Thomas Hussey is potentially more significant than a mention of Dalrymple, for while Dalrymple's efforts were well known, Hussey's were not. Thomas Hussey was an Irish priest educated in Spain, a secret agent of the Spanish government, and, until the outbreak of war in 1779, chaplain to the Spanish ambassador to Great Britain, the Marqués de Almodóvar. British awareness of Hussey's role as a Spanish secret agent may have lent him credibility when he approached Richard Cumberland, playwright and secretary to the Board of Trade, in Nov. 1779 about initiating Anglo-Spanish peace negotiations, with himself as the intermediary. There is no evidence that Hussey's initial approach was at the behest of Spain, but it produced results. On 28 May, Hussey arrived at Aranjuez, Spain, soon to be joined by Cumberland to begin negotiations with the Spanish foreign minister, Conde de Floridablanca.

The Anglo-Spanish negotiations were doomed to failure, however, because Hussey, in his role as intermediary, misrepresented each government's position and thus when concrete terms were proposed they were irreconcilable. Hussey led Spain to believe that a British cession of Gibraltar was negotiable, while to Britain he discounted Spain's de-362mand for Gibraltar and denied that it had any treaty obligations to France that might obstruct a treaty. In fact, Britain refused even to discuss the cession of Gibraltar or to permit any article touching either directly or indirectly on its war with the Americans. Spain, on the other hand, would accept nothing less than Gibraltar and required provisions that would preserve the Family Compact by permitting France to withdraw from its obligations to the United States without directly violating the treaties of 1778.

Both Britain and Spain sought to keep Hussey's activities and the impending negotiations between Cumberland and Floridablanca secret. Indeed, Spain resolved to inform its ally, France, only if the negotiations were successful. It is unlikely, therefore, that Jenings' correspondent could have known the exact nature of Hussey's activities. But according to Jenings' letter of 2 June (below), both he and his correspondent, who had seen Hussey in London and knew that he was going to Spain, concluded that Hussey's mission was to open negotiations with the American representatives in Spain—either John Jay, as the letter may have indicated, or William Carmichael. Any such charges were groundless, for the North ministry had no intention of opening negotiations with the Americans and, in fact, Floridablanca used the threat of substantive exchanges with John Jay to goad the British to action. For the genesis and ultimate failure of the Hussey-Cumberland mission, see Samuel F. Bemis, The Hussey-Cumberland Mission and American Independence, Princeton, 1931.

The enclosure from an unknown correspondent in London is intriguing in itself, but is also significant because it was not the last time that Jenings was involved in the circulation of anonymous charges against American diplomats. For other instances in 1781 and 1782, the most important of which produced a split between JA and Henry Laurens, and speculation regarding Jenings' motives, see James H. Hutson, ed., Letters from a Distinguished American, Washington, 1978, p. 51–66. The issue is important because Jenings has long been suspected of being a British agent. The question is whether Jenings was merely the purveyor of unsubstantiated reports from London, always a hotbed of rumors concerning the American war, or was acting as a provocateur to divide the Americans in Europe by raising the possibility of a separate peace, forever a troubling issue in Franco-American relations.


For the origin of the reference to “Farmer Jay,” see Jenings' letter of 2 June (below).


JA had not met John Jay's secretary, William Carmichael of Maryland. Carmichael had been involved in disputes with Arthur Lee, Silas Deane, and Benjamin Franklin, but left Europe before JA's arrival in April 1778. When he arrived in America he carried recommendations from Franklin and Deane, but Arthur Lee had written to express a lack of confidence in Carmichael's integrity. During the summer of 1778, Congress called Carmichael several times to testify regarding Silas Deane's accounts as well as his own activities, but his testimony was equivocal and came to nothing. In Nov. 1778 he was elected a delegate from Maryland and served until his departure for Spain with John Jay in Oct. 1779 ( DAB ; vol. 6:226–227; 7:153–154). Despite earlier charges against Carmichael or the insinuations of Jenings' correspondent, JA harbored no suspicions of Carmichael's loyalty and his comments here resemble those in a letter of 7 Aug. 1778 to Samuel Adams and in his autobiography (vol. 6:354–355; JA, Diary and Autobiography , 4:76–77).


In the Letterbook, what now forms the remainder of this sentence read “or other Synonimous I have heard other Things, and read other Things, that made me Wonder, at the Suddeness of Maryland. But I do not Suffer myself to after what has happened I cannot harbour such suspicions . I don't believe of any Things so black and base.”


In the Letterbook the remainder of this sentence reads “from the East India Company, had enabled that Spiritual Statesman Lord North to corrupt Russia.” For this rumor, and its lack of substance, see Edmund Jenings' letter of 22 Feb., and note 3 (vol. 8:352–353).


The Letterbook has “ I know not how many 40.”


JA interlined the preceding ten words in the Letterbook.


In the Letterbook this paragraph continues “ and I should be fully persuaded that the Insinuation came from some of the most abandoned of the Ministerialists if you had not told me it was your confidential Correspondent—and if I had not had more sense of the exact stand and sensible Whigg secretaries to see? . . . as absurd notions without Sufficient Consideration. .”


The reference to “Husseys Gaiety” probably stems from a statement by the anony-363mous correspondent.


In the Letterbook the remainder of this sentence reads “the service of America has cost it very dear—I don't mean in Cash so much as Reputation.”


This sentence does not appear in the Letterbook.


In the Letterbook this is followed by “and shew.”


The reference to Gaius Fabricius Luscinis, who's incorruptibility and austerity was seen by Cicero as a model of Roman virtue, does not appear in the Letterbook ( Oxford Classical Dictionary ).


In the Letterbook the remainder of this sentence was interlined to replace “from the creation,” which was canceled.


This refers to Jenings' statement in his letter of 27 May (above).


The Letterbook copy ends at this point.