Front Page Titles (by Subject) D.: (Page 393.) FROM THE BOSTON PATRIOT, 21 AUGUST, 1811. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 1 (Life of the Author)
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D.: (Page 393.) FROM THE BOSTON PATRIOT, 21 AUGUST, 1811. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 1 (Life of the Author) 
The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 1.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
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The reflections suggested by this letter are more numerous than your patience would bear to publish. A very few will be noted:—
1. This letter is a masterpiece of—what shall I call it?—French finesse? It is very true that we have experienced in most of the British administrations since the year 1761, and especially within the last ten years, models of equal excellence. The refinements of policy in many of the courtiers in the old world can scarcely be conceived by the plain genius of native Americans, nor can they be perceived without abhorrence of the heart. Our government and its servants must be upon their guard, and see and judge for themselves, placing unlimited confidence in no pretended friends. Hitherto foreign policy has obtained no essential advantage against us, except by discouraging our navy, and in that finesse France and England most cordially unite. Russia, I hope, will give us better advice.
2. What impression this letter made upon Dr. Franklin, I know not, but by conjecture. His usual reserve and taciturnity did not forsake him. At least, it made no alteration in his confidence in Vergennes. He persisted to the last, even long after the signature of the definitive treaty, in saying that “the Count de Vergennes had never deceived him.” This favorite saying of the Doctor is wholly incomprehensible to me. Did he mean that Vergennes had from the beginning communicated candidly to him his design to deprive us, with or without our own consent, of the fisheries and western territories? If this was his meaning, where was his integrity and fidelity to his country in concealing it from congress and his colleagues? Did he mean that Marbois’s letter had not convinced him that Vergennes was in combination with Marbois to deprive us of the fisheries and western territories? If this was his meaning, he had more credulity in politics than he had in philosophy, morality, or religion.
Mr. Jay’s opinion of Marbois’s letter was uniform, unreserved, and explicit. That of a downright honest man and a man of sound understanding.
3. This letter made perhaps a greater impression upon me than upon either of my colleagues, because I had been a witness to certain facts of which they knew nothing. With all my reputed vanity, it is a severe mortification to me to find myself obliged to enter into so much egotistical history, and to relate so many facts as I have done and shall be obliged to do, upon my own single testimony. I can only appeal to God and to the world, and leave it to their ultimate decision. At present, I can give but hints and sketches, and I shall certainly not live long enough to publish the documents which are in my possession, much less to collect those which I know exist, though I have them not.
On my arrival in France, in the month of April, 1778, as it has been before related perhaps more than once, I found the Americans divided into two parties, very nearly as hostile to each other as France and Great Britain are at this hour. Dr. Franklin and Mr. Deane had been at the head of one party, and Mr. Arthur Lee and Mr. Ralph Izard at the head of the other. Mr. Deane had been recalled, and was gone to Toulon to embark in the French fleet for America. I was arrived with a new commission, to Mr. Franklin, Mr. Lee, and myself, as commissioners plenipotentiary to the King of France. Both parties, therefore, looked to me as an umpire, because it would be in my power to decide which party should have the majority. In a country whose language, laws, customs, manners, and every thing was new to me, situated between gentlemen in American employments, one of whom, Dr. Franklin, was known to me, the other two, Mr. Arthur Lee and Mr. Ralph Izard, were total strangers to me but by reputation, I saw and felt the delicacy, the difficulty, the danger, and the full responsibility of my situation.
Dr. Franklin was the first I saw, and he received me like a cordial congress acquaintance of three years’ standing. He had reserved Mr. Deane’s apartments in the house, and I agreed to take them, and make a common family with the Doctor. He immediately informed me of the “coolness,” as he called it, between him, on one side, and Mr. Lee and Mr. Izard on the other, and gave me such an account of the causes of it as he thought proper. I soon saw Mr. Lee, but he was very reserved on the subject of “coolness” and differences. Mr. Izard soon made me repeated visits, and gave me in full details his account of the dissensions and quarrels among American ministers. This is not the place to unravel all these mysteries, which would fill a volume. It must suffice to say that Mr. Izard, with a fund of honor, integrity, candor, and benevolence in his character, which must render him eternally estimable in the sight of all moral and social beings, was, nevertheless, the most passionate, and in his passions the most violent and unbridled in his expressions, of any man I ever knew. Mr. Izard’s history of transactions before my arrival shocked me beyond measure, and his expressions terrified me. I knew not what to think of the man or his narrative. As to enter into particulars would lead me too far out of my way, I must confine myself at present to the point immediately before me, relative to M. Marbois’s letter.
Mr. Ralph Izard was the first person (and that in the month of April, 1778,) who suggested to me a suspicion that the Comte de Vergennes had formed a design to deprive America of the fisheries and to monopolize the greatest part of them to France. In proof of his suspicion, he quoted an article relative to the fisheries in our treaty with France of the 6th of February, 1778, in which an “exclusive right” had been stipulated to France, in certain important portions of the fishing-grounds. As I have not time to quote the article at large, I must refer to the treaty. I had been so short a time at Passy, and had so many new scenes and employments, that I am not sure that I had read the treaty. If I had, it was not with that attention that enabled me to recollect the expressions in it. In truth, I thought Mr. Izard had been heated by controversies, and I gave little or no credit to his insinuations. Mr. Izard, however, did not leave me long in this state of pyrrhonism. I met him so often at his house and mine, and we met so often at dinners and suppers upon invitations at other places, where he never failed to introduce this subject, that I was compelled to look in earnest into the treaty, and compare it with his documents. He had written to England and obtained copies from the public offices of a correspondence between the British and French ministers, in the negotiation of the peace of 1763, relative to this French claim of an “exclusive right.” These papers were produced to me, and I examined and compared them with attention. I then saw there was room for suspicion; but still hoped that the Court of France had not seriously meditated any plan to deprive us of any claim to the fisheries. These papers were transmitted to congress at the time by Mr. Lee and Mr. Izard, and now remain upon the files. I have no copies of them, and if I had, they would be too long to be here inserted. Although I had always been apprehensive that at any future negotiation for peace Great Britain would play off all her policy to deprive us of our right to any share in the fisheries, I had not hitherto entertained or conceived any jealousy that France would endeavor to exclude us, or that she would join with Great Britain in any such design. Mr. Izard and Mr. Lee, however, together with many hints and circumstances that occurred during my first residence in France, at length fastened upon me a suspicion, that whoever should be destined to confer about peace, would have to contend with all the arts and intrigues both of France and England. As Mr. Jay was in congress, as I presume, when Mr. Izard and Mr. Lee transmitted the papers before mentioned to that assembly, it is probable that he had conceived the same jealousy.
Full of these apprehensions, I embarked at Lorient on the 17th of June, 1779, in the French frigate The Sensible, in company with the Chevalier de la Luzerne, the new ambassador from the King of France to congress, and the secretary of his legation, M. Marbois, and their suite, Mr. Otto, Mr. Laforest, and others. We arrived in Boston harbor on the 3d of August. During the whole course of this voyage, I made it my business to converse with these gentlemen with the utmost frankness and candor upon every subject which could be interesting to their country and mine in their novel connection. They appeared to be vastly pleased with my freedom and familiarity, and were not less inquisitive than I was communicative. The minister could not speak or understand one word of English. I was awkward enough in French, but he was very inquisitive in his own language, and I answered him as well as I could. The secretary understood English very well, and could speak it about as well as I could speak French. We therefore found no difficulty in conversing upon any subject.
The fisheries lying with great weight on my mind, I took every opportunity of conversing upon that subject both with the minister and the secretary. I mentioned nothing of the treaty, or of the doubts of Mr. Izard and Mr. Lee, or of my own, concerning the designs of France; but represented the probability that England, at the peace, whenever it should arrive, would probably exert all her art to deprive us of any share in that great source of wealth, that great instrument of commerce, that great nursery of seamen, that great means of power. I represented to them that France ought to support our claim to a share in it, if it were only to prevent England from commanding a monopoly of it; that our right to it was at least as clear and indisputable as that of England or France; that it was situated in the ocean, which was open and free and common to all nations, to us as much as to any other; that its proximity to our country seemed naturally to give us a right preferable to any European claim; but that we asked no preference, but acknowledged the right of all nations to the ocean and its inhabitants; that we were in possession, and had been so from the first settlement of our country; we had carried on the fisheries from the beginning; and that Great Britain was more indebted to our ancestors for the flourishing state of the fisheries, both of cod and whales, than to all the inhabitants of the three kingdoms; that the fisheries were an essential link in the chain of American commerce, which was one connected system; that they were more particularly indispensable to New England; that our remittances to France or England could not be made without our commerce in fish with Spain, Portugal, and Italy, as well as all the West India Islands.
I know not how many conversations I had upon this subject with those gentlemen, but I believe not less than twenty, for they both appeared as eager to talk of it as I was. The minister, though he heard me with patience and attention and complaisance, was reserved in expressing his opinion, though I understood him to nod assent to all that I had said. But the secretary, this very M. Barbé Marbois, was as frank and open as I was. He declared to me, in the most clear and positive terms, on several occasions, that I had convinced him that “we had a natural, a legal, and a possessing right to the fisheries; that they were necessary and essential to our interests; and that France ought to support us in our claim to a full and free enjoyment of them.”
After our arrival in America, when I heard that these gentlemen had recommended to congress so much moderation in their instructions to their minister for peace, and had advised not to insist on the fisheries and western territories as ultimata, and when, afterwards, I found by our instructions and by my private correspondents that they had advised an explicit renunciation of any claim to the fisheries and western lands, I knew not how to reconcile these things with our conversations on board The Sensible. But when I saw this letter of M. Marbois and compared it with all my former conversations with Mr. Izard and Mr. Lee, with all that I had heard in America, and all I had experienced in France and Holland, with all our instructions from congress, and especially with our conversations on board the ship, with one especially, which we had whilst sailing over the grand bank of Newfoundland, in which M. Marbois, in the presence of the Chevalier de la Luzerne, had been as explicit as words could express, in acknowledging his entire conviction of our right, and of our interest and duty to insist upon it, and of the duty and interest of France to support us in it, what could be my reflections? Was M. Marbois a consummate hypocrite? Had he deliberately laid a plan to deceive me, on shipboard, by the most solemn asseverations of wilful falsehoods, lest I should put my friends in congress upon their guard against his wiles after he should arrive at Philadelphia? This I could scarcely believe, for I had conceived an esteem for his character. I endeavored to account for this contradictory conduct upon two hypotheses. One was, that the Chevalier had received from the Comte de Vergennes, and then possessed in his portfolio instructions to oppose our claims to the fisheries and western lands, which instructions he had not communicated to M. Marbois. The other was that the minister and secretary had received such instructions from the Count de Vergennes after their arrival at Philadelphia. In either of these cases M. Marbois might think it his duty to obey his instructions, though it were by promoting measures in contradiction to his own private opinion of the right and the policy. One or the other of these suppositions I am still inclined to believe was the fact.
4. It is not credible that M. Marbois would have dared to write such a letter to the Comte de Vergennes, if he had not been previously instructed by that minister to promote the system developed in it. We may then fairly impute that system to the Comte.
5. That system appears to have been, 1. To persuade congress to instruct the ministers at the negotiations for peace explicitly to renounce all claim to the fisheries and western lands, and formally to acknowledge that they had no right to either. 2. If they could not carry the first point, then to persuade congress to resolve that they would not insist upon the fisheries or western lands as conditions sine quibus non of peace. They failed in the first point, but prevailed in the second. 3. Congress appear to have been reproached by their own consciences with a reflection that they had gone too far in their complaisance to their allies, and soon came to another resolution, that the right to the fisheries should in no case be expressly given up. This resolution had a spice of spirit and independence in it, and accordingly gave great offence to M. Marbois.
6. However confident M. Marbois might have been that the country and their congress were so equally divided that “our influence,” as he expresses it, could turn the scale in favor of peace or war, he did not find that influence sufficient at last to deprive America of her fisheries or western territories.
7. I cannot dismiss this letter of M. Marbois without observing that his philippic against Mr. Samuel Adams is a jewel in the crown of that patriot and hero almost as brilliant as his exception from pardon in General Gage’s proclamation. The talents and virtues of that great man were of the most exalted, though not of the most showy kind. His love of his country, his exertions in her service through a long course of years, through the administrations of the Governors Shirley, Pownall, Bernard, Hutchinson, and Gage, under the royal government, and through the whole of the subsequent Revolution, and always in support of the same principles, his inflexible integrity, his disinterestedness, his invariable resolution, his sagacity, his patience, perseverance, and pure public virtue were never exceeded by any man in America. Although he was carried away with the general enthusiasm of all parties in America in admiration of the French revolution, which I never approved for a single instant; although his ideas of a form of government necessary for the establishment of liberty were not always, nor, indeed, ever conformable to mine; and although he might have been seduced, by designing men, in his extreme old age, and his almost total retirement from the world, to injure me personally, I never can cease to esteem and admire his character or to love his memory. No man in America ever merited statues in honor of his memory more than this, unless we except his great friend and colleague, the Honorable James Otis, Junior. A collection of his writings would be as curious as voluminous. It would throw light upon American history for fifty years. In it would be found specimens of a nervous simplicity of reasoning and eloquence that have never been rivalled in America.
8. We transmitted this letter to congress, where it made a less sensation, because there was little in it new to the members of that body. They knew that the French minister and secretary had labored to persuade them to adopt the same sentiments; but I believe the letter was not soon published. It was whispered about and came to the cars of M. Marbois, though I have reason to think he never got a sight of it. My reason is this. In 1785 or 1786, when I resided in England, Dr. Edward Bancroft made me a visit, and informed me that he came from America in the same ship with Marbois, when he returned to Europe after the peace. That M. Marbois introduced a conversation with him upon the subject of this letter, said there had been a noise made about a letter of his pretended to have been intercepted: but he never could get a sight of it, and could not imagine what letter it could be. He asked Bancroft if he had ever seen it. The answer was in the affirmative. “Do you remember enough of it to know it again, if you should hear it read?” “Yes.” Upon this M. Marbois produced his letter-book and read passages in a number of letters. “Are any of these the letters you have seen?” “No.” He then read more. “Are any of these the right ones?” “No.” At last he read some passages in another, when Bancroft said, “That is the one.” They then went through the whole letter. Whether Bancroft had a copy of it in writing in English, I am not positive; but he had a distinct remembrance of it in his head, and compared it carefully from the beginning to the end, and pronounced it to be the same letter faithfully translated, except in one expression, of no consequence to the sense. Marbois exclaimed, “How the devil could they get at my cipher? I sent it only in cipher. I thought myself perfectly sure of my cipher. Well. I shall deny it. No mortal has any right to know any thing about my correspondence with my government.”
Dr. Bancroft said he thought it his duty to communicate this conversation to me, that in case any controversy should ever arise concerning the authenticity of the letter, this fact might be produced in confirmation of it. There has not, however, arisen any such controversy. The members of congress, of all parties, were satisfied that it was no fabrication; and there has been but one mind in the world concerning it wherever it has been known. It must be here added that the whole of this system of the Comte de Vergennes has been, since the French revolution, revealed to the world in the Politique des Cabinets, which shows that the Comte had meditated and planned his whole scheme long before our treaty with France in February, 1778.
Notwithstanding this letter, Dr. Franklin still persisted in his resolution to communicate all our conferences with the British minister concerning the fisheries and western lands to the Comte de Vergennes. Mr. Jay and Mr. Adams thought this would be to commit the lamb to the custody of the wolf. When Mr. Franklin found Adams and Jay perfectly united, and that they would proceed without him, he turned short about, and agreed to go on with them.