Papers of John Adams, volume 12

To the Marquis de Lafayette

From C. W. F. Dumas

To Robert R. Livingston, 10 March 1782 JA Livingston, Robert R.


To Robert R. Livingston, 10 March 1782 Adams, John Livingston, Robert R.
To Robert R. Livingston
No. 4. Amsterdam March 10th. 1782 Sir

By the Address of the House of Commons to the King, his Majesty’s Answer, and the Resolution of the House in Consequence of it, “that he would be highly criminal and an Enemy to his Country who should attempt to carry on an offensive War in America against the Sense of the House”:1 by the surrender of Minorca and the disastrous face of British Affairs in Ireland, as well as in the East and West Indies, and by the uncommon Difficulties which my Lord North finds in raising the Loan, I think We may fairly conclude, that the United States are not to expect those horrid Scenes of Fire and Sword in future, which they have so often seen heretofore. Among the Causes, which have operated this Effect, may be reckoned the late Ordinance of Congress against British Manufactures,2 and the prospect which has been opened to them in Holland of a sudden Revival of the Dutch Manufactures of Delft, Leyden, Utrecht, and indeed all the other Cities of the Republick. The English have found all their Artifices to raise mobs in their favor in the Republick to be vain: they found that there began to be an Appearance of danger of popular Tumults against them: they have seen their Friends in this Country driven out of all their strong holds and forced to combat on the Retreat: they have found that the American Cause gained ground upon them every day, and that serious Indications were given of a Disposition to acknowledge our Independence, for the sake of reviving their Manufactures and extending their Commerce: all which together has raised a kind of Panick in the Nation, and such a Fermentation in Parliament as has produced a formal Renunciation of the Principle of the American War.


The Question now arises, what Measures will the Cabinet of St. James’s pursue? Will they agree to the Congress at Vienna? I believe not. Will they treat with the American Peace Ministers now in Europe. I fancy not. They will more probably send Agents to America, to propose some mad Plan of American Vice-Roys and American Nobility, and what not except common Sense and common Utility.

I presume, with Submission however, that Congress will enter into no Treaty or Conference with them, but refer them to their Ministers in Europe.

France and Spain I think cannot mistake their Interest and Duty upon this Occasion, which is to strike the most decided Strokes; to take the British Armies in New York and Charlestown Prisoners. Without this, in all probability before another Revolution of the Seasons all the United States will be evacuated, the British Forces sent to Quebeck, Hallifax and the West India Islands, where it will cost France and Spain more Time, Blood and Treasure to dispose of them, than it will this Campaign to capture them in New York and Charlestown.

With the greatest Respect and Esteem, I have the Honour to be, Sir, your most obedient and most humble Servant J. Adams3

RC in John Thaxter’s hand (PCC, No. 84, IV, f. 17–19); endorsed: “Letter March 10. 1782 J Adams Read May 31.”


George III answered the House of Commons’ address of 27 Feb. on 1 March. He declared that pursuant to the Commons’ advice, he would “take such measures as shall appear to me to be most conducive to the restoration of harmony between Great Britain and the revolted colonies, so essential to the prosperity of both” and would prosecute the war against France and the Netherlands until such time as a peace, favorable to British interests, could be obtained ( Parliamentary Hist. , 22:1086; for the full text of George III’s reply, see Dumas’ letter of 10 March, below). The absence from the King’s reply of a commitment to end the war in America, and the deepening distrust of the North ministry, led the Commons to reply to the King’s address as quoted by JA ( Parliamentary Hist. , 22:1087–1101).

In the two paragraphs that follow, there is a noticeable lack of enthusiasm on JA’s part regarding the Commons’ actions even though they constituted a repudiation of the ministry’s American policy. This is because the resolutions offered by Conway on 22 and 27 Feb. and the ensuing debates all contemplated some measure of reconciliation between the American colonies and the mother country. While Britain might be willing to end offensive operations, it did not follow that it was necessarily willing to negotiate with an independent United States and that was the only means by which peace could be restored.


The ordinance of 4 Dec. 1781 on captures, for which see the letter of 26 Dec. from Livingston, note 5, above.


The closing and the signature are in JA’s hand.