Papers of John Adams, volume 10

To Thomas Digges

To Edmund Jenings

From William Lee, 17 December 1780 Lee, William JA From William Lee, 17 December 1780 Lee, William Adams, John
From William Lee
Dear Sir Bruxelles Decr. 17. 1780

I have the honor of your favor of the 6th. instant and perfectly agree with you that Congress must assume a more decided authority to prevent a repetition of such infamy as Arnolds.

In our situation, I look upon a Congress without full authority and respect to its determinations, as a body without a Soul—it is the knot which tyes the union between the States; which if once dissolv'd, may be attended with fatal consequences to the whole.

I wish the Southern States had paid the same attention that the Eastern States have done, to keeping their representation compleat and respectable in that body, we shou'd not now have been in War,1 but I trust that fatal experience will teach them wisdom in future and that the late discovery of Mr. Temples conduct will show them how to treat some similar Characters that have, since last Xmass, been sent from England into the States thro' N. York.2 What think you of the publications of the Enemy, as being genuine peices taken in a Mail said to be intercepted in Connecticut?3

If there is any ground to suspect them Forgeries, it would be well to give the hint of it to some of the Gazetteers.

You are curious to see what will be the behaviour of Britain to the Neutral confederated Powers. 'Tis probable she will silently submit and now endeavor to seduce the Dutch, as they cannot frighten them; but what answer will be given to the unique memorial against the Magistracy of Amsterdam?4

At all events the Bh. Ministry have got into a cleft stick, they must either bring on themselves an irrisistable Host of Foes, or quietly submit to see France and Spain fully supplied with Naval Stores which must increase their superiority at Sea, and finally annihilate that Naval Dominion which G.B. has contended for with such insolence and obstinacy. Shou'd Leslies expedition to Virga. prove insufficient to save Cornwallis in So. Carolina, there is solid ground for expecting general terms of Peace will be profer'd by G. B. before the session of Parliament ends. Surely the Dutch Merchants will have a fleet ready loaded with Naval Stores for France against the signing and ratifying their accession to the Northern Treaty of Neutrality, after which, 'tis supposed, the States General cannot hesitate to grant 418them convoys. To compleat this Northern System the Parties should acknowlege American Independence and send Convoys with their Merchantmen to Ama.

With high regard I have the Honor to remain Dr. Sir Your most Obliged Hble Servt.


P.S. Pray tell me if I am wrong in addressing my letters to you under cover.5

RC (Adams Papers).


Lee's claim that, had the southern delegations acted together, the war might already have ended is questionable, but the South's inability to overcome interstate differences and form a voting bloc, rivaling that centered in New England, is a striking feature of congressional politics prior to 1781. The British invasion of the South in 1780 forced closer cooperation between the southern states, but it was Virginia's 1781 cession of western lands so as to achieve ratification of the Articles of Confederation that removed a major source of conflict and made Lee's hoped for southern bloc a reality (H. James Henderson, Party Politics in the Continental Congress, N.Y., 1974, p. 251–253, 259–264, 288–289).


John Temple was a Boston native, son-in-law of James Bowdoin, and former customs official. Temple strongly sympathized with the American cause, but in 1778 had believed that reconciliation short of independence was possible. That, and an exaggerated confidence in his ability to influence his American connections, led him to set out on a confidential mission in support of the Carlisle Commission. Temple was warmly received upon arriving in America and permitted to travel, first to Boston and then to Philadelphia. But as reports of his mission spread and his motives and loyalties became suspect, those whom Temple hoped to influence became wary of him, forcing his return to England in the spring of 1779, convinced that reconciliation was impossible (Lewis Einstein, Divided Loyalties, Boston, 1933, chap. 3). The others to whom Lee refers have not been identified, but it is ironic that the London Morning Post had recently vilified Temple for his longstanding and treasonous support of the American cause (24, 27, 28, 29 Nov.; 1, 7 Dec.; but see also “Cicero to Cataline the Second,” No. 3, London Chronicle, 16–19 Dec.; and Temple's anonymous defense in the London Courant of 6 Dec.).


The letters to which Lee refers were those intercepted near Stratford, Conn., on 22 Oct. (Rivington's Royal Gazette, 25 Oct.). Among them were two that appeared in the London Courant and the Morning Post of 4 December. The first was from Gens. Nathanael Greene, Samuel Holden Parsons, John Paterson, John Glover, John Stark, Jedediah Huntington, and Henry Knox to Meshech Weare, President of the Executive Council of New Hampshire; the second was from Alexander Hamilton to Isaac Sears. Both letters complained of Congress' mismanagement of military affairs and the lack of support, financial and otherwise, provided the officers and men of the Continental Army and predicted dire consequences for the American cause if the situation did not change. The Morning Post stated that the letters “proclaim . . . that deplorable state to which the Americans are reduced; and . . . that the perseverance of the present ministry in carrying on the war must . . . be crowned with certain success.” For these letters and others taken at the same time, see the London Chronicle of 2–5 December.


For resolutions by the States of Holland and the States General of 23 and 27 Nov., respectively, see JA's letter of 30 Nov. to the president of Congress, note 1 (No. 24, above).


Lee's meaning here is not altogether clear, since the address page for this letter is missing, but he may have addressed this letter to Henrich Schorn of Amsterdam, without indicating specifically that it was to JA. See JA's letter of 23 Aug. to Lee (above).