Letters from a Distinguished American: Twelve Essays by John Adams on American Foreign Policy, 1780

By James H. Hutson; John Adams | Go to book overview

Introduction

AFTER THREE YEARS of distinguished service in the Continental Congress, John Adams was selected in the fall of 1777 to join Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee as a commissioner at the Court of Versailles. Adams arrived in France on April 1, 1778, and discovered that the principal business of his mission, the negotiation of treaties of amity and commerce, had already been accomplished. He found, nevertheless, plenty to occupy him in the French capital. Adams had been a regular writer in the American newspapers on the controversy with Great Britain and welcomed the invitation of Edmé Jacques Genet, the publisher of a newspaper controlled by the French Foreign Ministry -- Affaires de l'Angleterre et de l'Amé+00AD rique -- to join Franklin and Lee as a contributor to his journal. As Genet explained to Adams, his "periodic work" belonged "entirely to the American cause and to Ms. les Députés."1 From correspondence with Genet, it is clear that Adams produced an attack against the Carlisle Commission, a British embassy sent to the United States to propose reconciliation as an alternative to the French Alliance, and a proposal for French naval superiority on the coast of North America, but what else he wrote for Affaires before returning to America in June 1779 remains to be established (as does the extent of Franklin's and Lee's contributions).2

Adams was back in Paris in February 1780, bearing a commission to negotiate peace with Great Britain. The French tried to discourage him from publicizing his mission for the good reason that news of it would solidify the position of Lord North's ministry by permitting it to claim that its uncompromising policies were driving the Americans to sue for peace. Adams, however, was determined to inform the British government and people of his powers. The only way to reach them was through the London newspapers. Someone with connections in the British newspaper world must be found to

____________________
1
Genet to Adams, [ 1778?] (author's translation), Adams Papers microfilm, reel 349, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.
2
Genet to Adams, July 13, October 29, 1778, ibid.

-ix-

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