Papers of John Adams, volume 10

To the President of Congress, No. 26

From Henry Grand

From James Lovell, 14 December 1780 Lovell, James JA From James Lovell, 14 December 1780 Lovell, James Adams, John
From James Lovell
My dear Sir 14 Decr. 1780

In my Letter of the 9th.1 I mentioned the Receipt of yours to the 412President of June 26. I inclose a Resolve passed in Consequence of the Report of a Committee: Lovell, Houston and a judicious amiable Col. Motte of Sth. Carolina.2

On the morning of the date of the Resolve a Duplicate of that Letter had been received covering two Papers more than had been inclosed in the Original; one of which was of a nature to encrease the worth of the Resolve to you;3 because you ought to be thence induced to think that very suitable Retrospect will be made to the autrement que vous if at any time hereafter we should see or hear of a je crains Monsieur Adams.4 He is but a superficial Observer of Men and Things who does not know that Truth may shake hands with Falsehood when the Scrutiny is merely which of the two is the Cause of Offence.

In the Copies which Mr. Searle gave you respecting Mr. Laurens and his Powers you should notice well the secretary because on that ground you may advance rightly as to J. Thaxter.5 If you have any doubts on this head I will at any time and in full season remove them by Extracts from our home Constitutions.

I communicate to you by this Opportunity part of what you will perceive I requested another some time ago to make known to you. If Bell and Josiah or either of them reached France or Spain safely with their papers to your knowledge you stand in no Necessity of forwarding 28, 29.6 It is not for the most obvious reason only that I now send them. Georg. and S.C. if we properly see them in this Meridian act not wisely, resolutely, on good Foresight like Virg. in opposition to the unreasonable exclusive river claim of Madrid countenanced in some degree perhaps by Gaul as I think it was clear in the Reign of Gerard here.7

J. Jay will as appears to me manage knowingly and firmly apprehensive at the same time of what I last suggested, tho Carmichael seems either from inclination or Blindness to lean the other Way; which is I suppose one of the Causes of the Chagrin which has been very confidentially communicated to G. Morris and thence in like Manner to me; arising from the Reflection of having forwarded himself the choice of C. to be secre. C. was always a Gerardite.8

Mr. Laurens had my very particular request to tell exactly what ought in Justice and Equity Propriety to be done in the Case of Dumas. Is he alltogether an Instrument in the hands of Dean and F. and the French minister in Holland. An Expectation is formed of 413something beneficial to his wife and child. Pensionaries of this Union!!!

RC and enclosure (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mr Lovel Decr. 12 & 14. 1780 approbation of my Letter to Vergennes on Paper Money.” For the text of the enclosure, in Charles Thomson's hand and endorsed: “Resolution of Congress of Decr. 12. 1780.”; see the letter of 12 Dec. from the Committee for Foreign Affairs (above). This is the first extant letter to JA in which Lovell used the cipher enclosed with his letter of 4 May (above). The numerous enciphered passages in this letter have been deciphered and placed between double vertical lines. For several of these passages in the original, JA wrote his decipherment above the line.


No letter of 9 Dec. has been found, but it may have been that mentioned in Lovell's letter of 2 Jan. 1781, as having been carried by Col. William Palfrey, newly appointed consul to France (Adams Papers; Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates , 16:537–538). For a sketch of Palfrey, who sailed from Philadelphia in late December and was never heard from again, see Adams Family Correspondence , 4:22.


See the descriptive note to this letter and the enclosure to the letter from the Committee for Foreign Affairs of 12 Dec. (above).


For the various copies of JA's letter of 26 June that were received by Congress and the documents enclosed with each, see the descriptive note and note 8 to that letter (above).


The reference is to Vergennes' statement: “je crains M. Lee et ses entours.” Contained in Vergennes' instructions of 26 Oct. 1778 to Conrad Alexandre Gérard, it was revealed to Congress in April 1779 during its debates over peace ultimata and the conduct of its diplomatic representatives, see Lovell's letter to JA of 13 June 1779 (vol. 8:86–91).


John Thaxter served JA as his personal secretary, with neither official position nor established salary. When Congress appointed Henry Laurens its agent to raise a loan in the Netherlands, it authorized him to appoint a secretary whose salary would be paid out of public funds. When JA was appointed to negotiate with Great Britain, however, Congress appointed Francis Dana as secretary to the mission and established his salary. Lovell believed that JA, having now been appointed to act in Henry Laurens' absence, could name John Thaxter secretary to the Dutch mission and have his salary paid by Congress ( JCC , 15:1235, 1183; 17:535–537). JA never acted on Lovell's suggestion.


At this point Lovell wrote “28. 29,” two numbers used as blinds to confuse unwanted readers (see Adams Family Correspondence , 4:395).


On 28 Oct., the Committee for Foreign Affairs charged Capt. Thomas Bell of the Chevalier de La Luzerne and Capt. James Josiah of the Lady Washington with carrying dispatches for John Jay and Benjamin Franklin to Europe (Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates , 16:283). The dispatches included copies, for Jay and Franklin, of new instructions to guide Jay's negotiations with Spain as well as a copy of Lovell's letter of 28 Oct. to Benjamin Franklin, requesting him to inform JA of the instructions' content (same, 16:283–284). Lovell seems to indicate that he was enclosing copies of the dispatches carried by Bell and Josiah, including the letter to Franklin of 28 Oct., thus explaining the reference to “another” in the first sentence of the paragraph. JA's later letters, however, do not indicate that he received or forwarded any enclosures received with this letter nor is there any evidence that Franklin complied with Lovell's request in the letter of 28 October.

The issues raised by Lovell here are important because JA's instructions regarding the Mississippi River in an Anglo-American peace treaty complimented John Jay's with regard to a treaty with Spain (vol. 8:151, note 3; JA, Diary and Autobiography , 4:181–183; JCC , 15:1118–1120). Moreover, the forces leading to changes in Jay's instructions—French pressure and interstate conflicts over western lands—would also come into play when Congress later modified its instructions to the Peace Commissioners.

John Jay's new instructions proceeded from the Virginia delegation's reaction to Jay's letter of 26 May (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 3:724–725). There he indicated that Spain's reason for refusing a treaty with 414the United States was the American claim to unrestricted navigation of the Mississippi River. The Virginia delegates concluded, and received instructions to the effect, that no treaty was better than one that renounced the right to navigate the Mississippi, thus compromising the access to and value of the western lands. This led Congress, on 4 and 17 Oct., to approve new instructions that confirmed Jay's original instructions of 1779: the Mississippi River as the western border of the United States and the right of American citizens to unrestricted navigation of the Mississippi River to the sea remained the sine qua non for any Spanish-American treaty ( JCC , 18:900–902, 935–947; William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison [1st ser.], 17 vols., Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962-1991, 2:127–136).

France, acting for its ally Spain, opposed the new orders, just as it had the old ones. The two allies wanted the United States cut off from the Mississippi, extending no farther west than the proclamation line of 1763. That was Conrad Alexandre Gérard's position during the 1779 debates over the instructions for John Jay and JA (Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates , 12:71–73). Gérard's replacements, La Luzerne and Barbé-Marbois were no less vigorous in advocating that position in 1780, but were no more successful than Gérard in changing American policy (same, 14:396–398; 16:154–159).

What did force a change was the opposition of Georgia and South Carolina (Hutchinson, Papers of James Madison, 2:202–206). British troops occupied large areas of both states and the Southerners feared that intransigence on the Mississippi issue only deprived them of the Spanish military, financial, and diplomatic support needed to win back their territory. This would be particularly important if a general peace conference convened and resulted in a peace settlement based on uti possidetis. Georgia proposed that Jay be directed to renounce navigation of the Mississippi below the 31st parallel, if to maintain that claim meant there would be no treaty. In return, Spain would finance the American war effort by loans or subsidies and would not approve any peace settlement opposed by the United States ( JCC , 18:1070–1071). Virginia reconsidered its position and on 15 Feb. 1781 new instructions based upon Georgia's proposal were approved, but without being made contingent upon a Spanish loan or subsidy (same, 19:151–154). Although substantial, this concession was not enough to bring a Spanish-American treaty. This was because Congress still claimed the land between the 1763 proclamation line and the Mississippi and the right to free navigation above the 31st parallel, but also because Spain did not want a treaty based on any format to which the United States could conceivably agree.


Lovell probably refers to Jay's assertion, in a letter of 27 May to Gouverneur Morris, that he distrusted Carmichael (Richard B. Morris, John Jay: Unpublished Papers, 1745–1784, 2 vols., N.Y., 1975, 1980, 2:36). Morris' letter to Lovell relating that information has not been found, but for an account of the Jay-Carmichael relationship, see same, 1:769–771. The reference to Carmichael as a “Gerardite” probably stems from his actions as a member of Congress from Nov. 1778 to Sept. 1779. Lovell thought Carmichael's reconciliation with Silas Deane in the midst of the Deane-Lee controversy in 1778 strange and, upon Carmichael's appointment as Jay's secretary in late Sept. 1779, wrote JA that “I have seen full Proof of an Instance or two of radical Disingenuity in him” (vol. 7:153–154; 8:176–177).