Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO SECRETARY LIVINGSTON. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 7 (Letters and State Papers 1777-1782)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
TO SECRETARY LIVINGSTON. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 7 (Letters and State Papers 1777-1782) 
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. 7.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
TO SECRETARY LIVINGSTON.
The Hague, 6 September, 1782.
In your letter of the 5th of March, you ask, “whether this power has entered into any treaty with France since the war, and whether any such thing is in contemplation?”
They have made no treaty, but a convention concerning recaptures, which you must have seen in the papers. The East India Company have concerted operations with France in the East Indies, and the Prince, by the resolution of the states, has concerted operations in these European seas for this campaign, and the city of Amsterdam has lately proposed in the states of Holland, to renew the concert for next year, and to revive an old treaty of commerce with France. In my letter of the 18th of August, I have sent you a copy of the instructions to their ministers for peace, “not to make peace, truce, or armistice, but with the simultaneous concurrence of all the belligerent powers,” among whom the United States of America are certainly one, in the sense and meaning of their High Mightinesses.
You observe, sir, “that France is interested with us, in procuring a public acknowledgment of our independence.” You desire me to write freely, and my own disposition inclines me to do so. This is a delicate subject, and requires to be cautiously handled. Political jealousy is very different from a suspicious temper. We should contemplate the vices naturally allied to the greatest virtues. We should consider the fevers that lie near a high state of health. We should consider the maxim that is laid down by all the political writers in the world, and the fact that is found in all histories, “that in cases of alliance between unequal powers, almost all the advantages ever did and ever will accrue to the greatest.” We should observe in the Abbé Raynal’s history of this revolution, that there is a party in France that blames the ministry for putting themselves into the chains (fers) of congress, and for not keeping us dependent enough upon them. Is it not natural for them to wish to keep us dependent upon them, that we might be obliged to accept such terms of peace as they should think would do for us? If the House of Bourbon should be suspected by any neutral power to grow too fast in wealth and force, and be disposed to form a league against it, is it not natural for it to wish that we may be kept from any connections with such powers, and wholly connected with it, so as to be obliged to engage with it in all its wars?
It is impossible for me to prove, that the delay of Spain to acknowledge our independence, has been concerted between the French and Spanish ministry; but I candidly ask any man, who has attended to the circumstance of this war, if he has not seen cause to suspect it? For my own part, I have no doubt of it, and I do not know that we can justly censure it. I have ten thousand reasons which convince me that one minister at least has not wished that we should form connections with Holland, even so soon as we did, or with any other power; although he had no right, and therefore would not appear openly, to oppose it. When I took leave of that minister to return to America, in the spring of 1779, he desired me expressly to advise congress to attend to the affairs of the war, and leave the politics of Europe to them (et laisser la politique à nous). In 1778 or 1779, when Mr. Lee and I proposed to Dr. Franklin to go to Holland, or to consent that one of us should go, the Doctor would not, but wrote to that minister upon it, and received an answer, which he showed me, advising against it; and when I received my letter of credence here, the minister here, who follows the instructions communicated by that minister, took all possible pains to persuade me against communicating it; and Dr. Franklin, without reserve in word and writing, has constantly declared, that congress were wrong in sending a minister to Berlin, Vienna, Tuscany, Spain, Holland, and Petersburg, and Dr. Franklin is as good an index of that minister’s sentiments as I know.
Now I avow myself of a totally opposite system, and think it our indispensable duty, as it is our undoubted right, to send ministers to other Courts, and endeavor to extend our acquaintance, commerce, and political connections with all the world; and I have pursued this system, which I took to be also the wish of congress and the sense of America, with patience and perseverance against all dangers, reproaches, misrepresentations, and oppositions, until, I thank God, he has enabled me to plant the standard of the United States at the Hague, where it will wave forever.
I am now satisfied, and dread nothing. The connection with Holland is a sure stay. Connected with Holland and the house of Bourbon, we have nothing to fear.
I have entered into this detail, in answer to your inquiry, and the only use of it I would wish to make is this; to insist upon seeing with our own eyes, using our own judgment, and acting an independent part; and it is of the last importance we should do it now thus early, otherwise we should find it very difficult to do it hereafter. I hope I have given you my sentiments, as you desired, with freedom, and that freedom, I hope, will give no offence, either in America or France, for certainly none is intended.
In your favor of the 22d of May, you direct me to draw upon Dr. Franklin for my salary, and to send my accounts to you. My accounts, sir, are very short, and shall be sent as soon as the perplexity of the treaty is over. As to drawing on Dr. Franklin, I presume this was upon supposition, that we had no money here. There is now near a million and a half of florins, so that I beg I may be permitted to receive my salary here.
I have transmitted to Mr. Dana your despatches, as desired in yours of the 29th of May, reserving an extract for publication in the gazettes, which the French ambassador is of opinion, as well as others, will have a great effect in Europe. Your letter is extremely well written, and M. Dumas has well translated it, so that it will appear to advantage. Yours of the 30th of May affords me the pleasure of knowing that you have received some letters from me this year, and I am glad you are inclined to lay that of the 21st of February before congress. By this time I hope that all objections are removed to the memorial; but in order to judge of the full effect of that memorial, three volumes of the Politique Hollandais, several volumes of De Post Van Neder Rhin, all the Dutch gazettes for a whole year, and the petitions of all the cities should be read, for there is not one of them but what clearly shows the propriety of presenting that memorial, whose influence and effect, though not sudden, has been amazingly extensive. Indeed the French ambassador has often signified to me lately, and more than once in express words, Monsieur, votre fermeté a fait un très bon effet ici.
The cipher was not put up in this duplicate, and I suppose the original is gone on to Mr. Dana in a letter I transmitted him from you some time ago, so that I should be obliged to you for another of the same part.
Rodney’s victory came, as you hoped it would, too late to obstruct me. I was well settled at the Hague, and publicly received by the states and Prince before we received that melancholy news. If it had arrived some time sooner, it might have deranged all our systems, and this nation possibly might have been now separately at peace, which shows the importance of watching the time and tide which there is in the affairs of men.
You require, sir, to be furnished with the most minute detail of every step that Britain may take towards a negotiation for a general or partial peace. All the details towards a partial peace are already public in the newspapers, and have all been ineffectual. The states-general are firm against it, as appears by their instructions to their ministers. Since the conversations between me and Digges first, and Mr. Laurens afterwards, there has never been any message, directly or indirectly, by word or writing, from the British ministry to me. It was my decided advice and earnest request by both, that all messages might be sent to Paris to Dr. Franklin and the Count de Vergennes, and this has been done. Dr. Franklin wrote me, that he should keep me informed of every thing that passed by expresses; but I have had no advice from him since the 2d of June. Your despatches have all gone the same way, and I have never had a hint of any of them. I hope that Dr. Franklin and Mr. Jay have had positive instructions to consent to no truce or armistice, and to enter into no conferences with any British minister who is not authorized to treat with the United States of America.
Some weeks ago I agreed with the Duc de la Vauguyon to draw up a project of a memorial to their High Mightinesses, proposing a triple or quadruple alliance, according to my instruction to that purpose. The Duke, in his private capacity, has declared to me often that he is of opinion, that it would be advisable to make this proposition as soon as the treaty of commerce is signed; but he could not give me any ministerial advice without consulting the Count de Vergennes. We agreed that he should transmit the project to the Count. Two days ago, the Duke called upon me, and informed me that he had the Count’s answer, which was, that he did not think this the time, because it would tend to throw obscurity upon the instructions lately given by the states-general to M. Brantzen, not to make any treaty or armistice, but simultaneously with all the belligerent powers.
By the tenth article of the treaty of alliance, the invitation or admission is to be made by concert. From my instructions, I supposed, and suppose still, that the concert was made at Philadelphia, between congress and the Chevalier de la Luzerne, by the order of the King, his master; and my instruction being positive and unconditional to make the proposition, I shall be somewhat embarrassed. On the one hand, I would preserve not only a real harmony, but the appearance of it, between all steps of mine and the counsels of the French ministers. On the other, I would obey my instructions, especially when they are so fully agreeable to me, at all events. The proposition would have a good effect in England, in Holland, in France, America, and in all the neutral countries, as I think, and it could do no harm, that I can foresee. Nay, further, I am persuaded that the French ministry themselves, if they were to give me their private opinions, as the Duc de la Vauguyon does, would be glad if I should make the proposition against their advice.
It is possible, however, that they may secretly choose (notwithstanding the offer made at Philadelphia) not to be bound in an alliance with America and Holland. They may think they shall have more influence with their hands unbound even to a system that they approve and mean to pursue. It is amidst all these doublings and windings of European politics that American ministers have to decide and act. The result is clear in my mind, that although it is proper to be upon good terms, and be communicative and confidential with the French ministers, yet we ought to have opinions, principles, and systems of our own, and that our ministers should not be bound to follow their advice, but when it is consonant to our own; and that congress should firmly support their own ministers against all secret insinuations. They must see that a minister of theirs, who is determined, as he is bound in honor, to be free and independent, is not in a very delectable or enviable situation in Europe, as yet.
There is but one alternative. Either congress should recall all their ministers from Europe, and leave all negotiations to the French ministry, or they must support their ministers against all insinuations. If congress will see with their own eyes, I can assure them, without fear of being contradicted, that neither the color, figure, nor magnitude of objects will always appear to them exactly as they do to their allies. To send ministers to Europe, who are supposed by the people of America to see for themselves, while in effect they see, or pretend to see nothing, but what appears through the glass of a French minister, is to betray the just expectations of that people.
I have the honor to be, &c.