Circulating derogatory anonymous information, as Henry Laurens accused Edmund Jenings of doing, is a familiar tactic of intelligence services and of partisans eager to demoralize their opponents. During the American Revolution a stream of anonymous, poison pen letters were directed at the diplomatic representatives of the United States. "There has been an uninterrupted succession of them," John Adams wrote Laurens on August 15, 1782, "ever since I have been in Europe."1 Among the Adams Papers alone, in the space of seven months, between November 1781 and May 1782, there are five inflammatory anonymous letters. What is remarkable about these letters, with three of which Jenings is linked, either by his admission or by accusations of others, is their effectiveness. They exacerbated differences between Adams and Franklin and between Adams and the French, and one of them irritated a wound which, after long festering, broke open inton estrangement between Adams and Laurens. To examine these anonymous letters, to consider why and how they worked their mischief, is to add an informative footnote to the diplomacy of the American Revolution.
The impact of the anonymous letters on Adams is graphically demonstrated by his reaction to an epistle which Jenings sent him on November 14, 1781, written, allegedly, by "a Person of some Distinction at Paris to a Man not less so in London."2 The identity of the principals Jenings professed not to know. Adams flattered____________________