Papers of John Adams, volume 11

From Francis Dana

From the President of Congress

From James Lovell, 8 January 1781 Lovell, James JA


From James Lovell, 8 January 1781 Lovell, James Adams, John
From James Lovell
Dear Sir Jan. 8th. 1781

Herewith goes a Letter which I this day received from Mrs. Adams with a Request that I would superscribe it and deliver it to the Care of Colonel Palfrey, or of some other, he being gone.1

The Discontent in the Pensylvania Line of the Army can give the Enemy no solid Satisfaction; for, an evident Proof that it does not rise from Disaffection to our Cause has been given by a Discovery and Delivery made by them of two Spies from Clinton, sent to make them the most tempting Offers. Perhaps the Gazette Tomorrow may be minute on this Point.2

I was yesterday vexed by a Packet of Mr. Jona. Williams's Letters Sextuples I imagine of Dates March, Apr. and July tho the Vessels left France in November.3 It is poor Comfort to our Soldiers this Janry. to know that last March and April Cloathing was sent from Nantes to Brest and Rochelle. The Execrations of Thousands are sent out to fall upon the right Pate, be it whose it may. I am not willing to give a decided Opinion upon the strange Appearances in the Conduct of our Affairs in France till I shall see each Man's Story from his own Pen, but it is almost too much to be obliged to wait from May 21st. last year till now for such Information.

I hope the Powers made out for you by Congress similar to those for Mr. Laurens of Novr. 1st. 1779 may prove usefull according to your expressed Fancy; It is even now as heretofore, our misfortune to be months behind hand in our Measures: had Mr. Searle carried what now goes, we might have been reaping the first Fruits of the Trial, to our great Satisfaction.4

If we go into the Choice of a Minister or Secretary of Finance there will be some Chance of Secrecy in Measures by which the Currency might be reduced before Speculators were aware of it and the Public might make Savings for the People in Spight of their own Plots against themselves: For, I cannot help using an Expression justified by what is every day before my Eyes. The Interest on the new Bills must be paid; if they are issued at 40 and expended at that, while Exchange 26is wickedly called eighty, He that with 80 old purchases two new gets ten pr. Ct. Interest, to be raised out of the Labour of the Land hereafter. Pensylvania and Jersey make Tendry Laws, Mass: lets exchange take its Course.5 Hence a new Speculation. We must obtain some permanent Fund from the States on which to build Plans of Finance before we can have a fair Prospect of borrowing from Strangers. Faith, Words, will not answer to our own monied Chaps much less to Foreigners.

The States are 179 millions of old Dollars behind upon our past Calls and such has been the Depreciation since the Estimates founding those Calls that the whole if now in hand would be but a pittance very inadequate to present Necessities. If Maryland was fully in Confederation,6 I do not see that our Capacity for the necessary Vigor of a Time of War would be much bettered. I am at this Moment much under the Influence of those Ideas which founded the Stadtholderate according to your History of it, but the Stadtholder does not manage the Finances.7 Therein the People must look out for, and be true to themselves.

The Enemy have met with many Disasters at the Southward, but yet they will be immensely troublesome to us in that Part unless we can get their Facility of Transportation.

Major Rogers was yesterday brought Prisoner in a little Schooner taken by Capt. Reid from France just off Penobscot River.8 The Major looks much out of Place.

Norton Braylesford from Boston tells me Monsr. Ternay died of the hyde Park Fever catched from the fr: General.9

Yrs. affectionately JL

I hope the Enemy have no Letter from you to your Lady. I do not remember forwarding more than two.

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mr Lovel Jany. 8 1781.”


Enclosed was AA's letter of 25 Dec. 1780 ( Adams Family Correspondence , 4:50–52, 61–63).


The terms Gen. Clinton offered for a mass desertion were rejected immediately by the leaders of the mutiny and to demonstrate their continuing loyalty to the American cause they arrested Clinton's emissaries: John Mason and James Ogden. The two men were tried as spies on 10 Jan. and hanged the following day (Carl Van Doren, Mutiny in January, N.Y., 1943, p. 117–118, 154–157).


For Jonathan Williams' letters, see Lovell's letter of 6 Jan., and note 5, above.


James Searle, whom Pennsylvania charged with raising funds in Europe, had reached Paris on 10 Sept. 1780 with dispatches from Congress that included JA's commission to raise a Dutch loan in Henry Laurens' absence. Lovell laments that Searle had not then carried JA's commission to negotiate a commercial treaty with the Netherlands that Congress had approved on 29 Dec., particularly since it was virtually identical to Laurens' original commission for the same purpose (vol. 9:453; 10:159, 449; JCC , 15:1232–1236).


Lovell's concern was understandable, but Congress' election of Robert Morris as superintendent of finance on 20 Feb. ( JCC , 19:180) 27did not stem the continuing depreciation of bills of credit despite Congress' revaluation of them in March 1780 at forty to one, thus explaining Lovell's reference to “80 old purchases” equaling “two new” ones. Complicating the situation were laws like that Pennsylvania adopted in Dec. 1780, which imposed fines and imprisonment for not accepting the bills as legal tender and set the exchange rate at 75 dollars in continental currency to 1 dollar in silver (James T. Mitchell and Henry Flanders, eds., The Statutes at Large of Pennsylvania, 1682–1801, 18 vols. Harrisburg, 1896– 1911, 10:249; for JA's view on the matter, see his letter of 8 Feb. to James Searle, below). Pennsylvania's effort to fix the exchange rate and Massachusetts' decision to let it float were of little consequence, for by June 1781 the currency was valueless except as a means for speculation. Note, however, that Lovell's meaning in this paragraph is not entirely clear. He may also have been referring to loan office certificates, which were “preferred securities,” on which interest continued to be paid (Ferguson, Power of the Purse , p. 65–69).


Maryland had not yet acceded to the Articles of Confederation because of concerns about western lands. The issue was resolved when Virginia ceded her lands north of the Ohio River to Congress on 2 January. On 12 Feb., the Maryland Assembly authorized its delegates to sign the Articles, which they did on 1 March, thus completing the ratification process ( JCC , 19:213–214; see also, vol. 10:132).


Lovell refers to JA's letter of 11 Oct. 1780 to the president of Congress, which contained a lengthy history of the stadholderate. Congress received the letter on 27 Dec. (vol. 10:262, calendared).


For an account of the capture of Maj. Robert Rogers by Capt. Read of the brigantine Patty, see the Pennsylvania Gazette of 10 January.


The Chevalier de Ternay, commander of the French fleet at Newport, died of a fever on 15 Dec. 1780, but Lovell's reference to its nature or source remains obscure (vol. 10:425).