Lot 1: (JOHN ADAMS) Secretarial 1780 Contemporary Copy 22 Page Letter to John Jay
29 October 2016
Rancho Santa Fe, CA, USALive Auction
Extraordinary (John Adams) Secretarially Signed 1780 Revolutionary War Rare Contemporary Copy of a 22 Page Letter to John Jay, President of the Continental Congress
(JOHN ADAMS) (1735 - July 4, 1826). 2nd President of the United States (1797-1801), American Founding Father, Lawyer, Statesman, Diplomat and Leading Champion of American Independence in 1776, Defended the British Soldiers involved in the "Boston Massacre," a Leading Federalist.
August 4, 1780-Dated Revolutionary War Period, Manuscript Letter Secretarially Signed, (John Adams), 22 pages (seperated) in total (written front and back), measuring 7.25" x 8.75", on high quality watermarked "C. Taylor" laid period paper, Braintree (Mass.), Choice Very Fine. Written to John Jay, President of the Continental Congress, being a Period Copy of Adams' exhaustive Letter to Congress concerning the state of European international relations and the influence of the American Revolution upon them.
This extraordinarily detailed report serves as a basic primer assessing all the major (and minor) powers of Europe including France, Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, Russia, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Prussia, and Austria together with the lesser states and principalities of Germany and Italy. Methodically, Adams dissects each power, assessing each in terms of their status in Europe and their real (or potential) value to the interests of the United States. Adams began drafting this letter while aboard ship as he returned from Paris in the summer of 1779. He composed his final draft to be sent to John Jay in Philadelphia only two days following his arrival back in Braintree, on August 2, 1779.
The signature for (John Adams) at the conclusion of this Letter is in a hand that is different than the person's handwriting of 22 manuscript pages preceding it. The (John Adams) signature leaves us just short of conclusively attributing it to John Adams himself, and thus we conclude it to be Secretarially Signed as part of this amazing Contemporary Copy. Research conducted with the papers of Adams shows similar handwriting to the body of the letter, being at a contemporary time period, and undoubtedly, the paper is from the period. If we thought this Letter was positively signed by Adams, its value would be upwards of $300,000 or so.
This is one of the finest Adams Letters to appear in the market in some time. It is an important piece at once revealing Adams' understanding of European affairs and his view of America's prospects for future relations. This Secretarially Signed Contemporary Copy Letter was likely transcribed from the original in 1780. There are 2 Known Manuscript Copies of this historic Letter. 1. The copy actually sent to John Jay resides at the New York Public Library and his letter book. 2. The other copy is housed at the Massachusetts Historical Society. This historic Revolutionary War foundational Letter is published in the Papers of John Adams (Vol. 8, pages 108-120) and Papers of the Continental Congress (No. 84, I f. 69.). ** Please see additional information made available on our Online Auction Site: www.EarlyAmerican.com
Freshly arrived from his first overseas mission to Europe on behalf of the United States, where he served alongside Benjamin Franklin at the French Court, Adams acquaints Congress with the intricate nuances of European power politics. He opens with the most appropriate subject, France -- the first nation to recognize American independence:
"...France deserves the first place among those powers with which our connections will be the most intimate; and it is with pleasure that I am able to assure Congress, that from the observations I have made during my residence in that kingdom, I have the strongest reason to believe, that their August Ally, his Minister and Nation are possessed of the fullest persuasion of the Justice of our cause of the great importance of our Independence to their Interest, and the firmest resolution to preserve the faith of Treaty inviolate, and to cultivate our friendship with sincerity and Zeal. This is of the more consequence to us as their power enjoys in Europe, at this hour, an influence which it has not before experienced for many years."
This is perhaps the most optimistic assessment of French intentions Adams ever expressed. Privately he was less sanguine about the intentions of Louis XVI, but he would not voice them, lest he sour relations between the United States and her most important benefactor. Though Adams does not immediately voice suspicion, he also does not attribute France's motivations to pure altruism. Rather, he places the motivations of France in the context of European power politics by observing the historical tendency for European powers to combine against those that become disproportionately powerful.
He cites as examples the nearly united efforts to thwart Charles I of Spain in the sixteenth century and France under Louis XIV in the seventeenth. Adams now places Great Britain in this position "..by means of their commerce and extensive Settlement abroad, rose to a degree of opulence and naval Power which exciting more extravagant passions in her own Breast, and more tyrannical exertions of her Influence than appeared in either of the other cases: The consequence has been similar, but more remarkable; Europe seems to be more universally and sincerely united in the desire of reducing her than they ever were in any former Instance. This is the true cause why the French Court never made war with so universal a popularity among their own Subjects so general an approbation of other courts, and such unanimous wishes among all Nations for her success?".
Adams' letter also serves as an introduction for the new French minister to the United States, the Chevalier de Luzerne (1741-1791) with whom Adams sailed on his return to America aboard the Sensible. Citing Luzerne's able conduct during his tenure at the court at Munich during the recent struggle between Austria and Prussia over the succession to the Bavarian throne, Adams writes, "The new Minister will give to Congress information the most precise... touching the part which Spain is taking at this time; for which reason I shall refrain from entering into it; & content myself with observing, that all those considerations ought to induce us to cherish the alliance of France..."
Acknowledging the historical British enmity toward France, Adams exhorts, "every good Citizen of the United States ought to endeavour to destroy the remains of those prejudices to inspire into us; that we have nothing to fear and much to hope from France, which we conduct ourselves with good sense and firmness; and that we cannot take too much pains to multiply the commercial relations, and strengthen the political connections between the two nations..."
Adams did not, however preach a blind devotion to America's new ally. He cautioned Congress to "preserve prudence and resolution enough to receive implicitly no advice whatever, but to judge always for ourselves and to guard ourselves against those principles in Government and those manners which are so opposite to our own constitution, and to our character as a Young people called by providence to the most honourable and important of all duties, that of form[in]g establishments for a great Nation and a new World."
Despite the raging passions, it appeared natural to many that Great Britain and the United States had made peace, and as a result, the lucrative commercial ties to London would be easily renewed. Adams deftly anticipated that belief, cautioning against optimism: "In the opinion of some, the power with which we shall one day have relation the most immediate, next to that of France is Great Brittain [sic]. But it ought to be considered that this power loses every day her consideration, and runs towards her ruin. Her riches, in which her power consisted, she has lost with us, and never can regain. With us she has lost her Mediterranean Trade, her African trade, her German and Holland trade, her Ally Portugal, her Ally Russia, and her natural ally the House of Austria; at least by being unable to protect these as she once did, she can obtain no succor from them. In short, one branch of commerce has been lopped off after another, and one political Interest sacrificed after another, that she resembles the melancholy spectacle of a great wide spreading Tree that has been girdled at the root. Her endeavours to regain those advantages will continually keep alive in her breast the most malevolent passions toward us. Her envy, her jealousy & resentment will never leave us, while we are, what we must unavoidably be, her rival in the fisheries, in various branches of commerce, and even in naval power. If Peace should unhappily be made, leaving Canada, nova Scotia, the Floridas, or any of them, in her hands, jealousies, and controversies will be perpetually arising. The degree therefore of Intercourse with this Nation, which will ever again take place, may justly be considered as problematical, or rather the probability is that it will never be so great as some persons Imagine. Moreover I think that every Citizen in the present circumstances, who respects this Country, & the engagements she has taken, ought to abstain from the foresight of a return of Friendship between us and the English, and act as if it never was to be."
Adams did not prove to be the best prognosticator in certain respects. Obviously he could not foresee the consequences of the French Revolution in U.S. relations with Britain -- or in the longer term-- the firm alliance of the 20th century. However, Adams completely understood the immediate problems that would face the young nation if she had to contend with British colonies as her neighbors. Adams was absolutely correct in his prediction of strained relations between the United States and Great Britain if the latter retained territory in North America.
The two nations would clash repeatedly over territorial issues, frontier posts, neutrality on the high seas, before finally going to war in 1812. Adams continues his report discussing the prospects for recognition by other European powers discussing the cases of Holland, with its "similitude of Manners, of Religion, and in some respects of constitution...".
Citing her military weakness and fear of British invasion, he concludes that immediate recognition was unlikely. However, he did believe that the Dutch did want to do business, and her merchants and bankers could be persuaded to extend a great deal of credit and perhaps even a loan from the government. The United States would need to shore up its credit if this was to be a possibility however: "If Congress could find any certain means of paying the interest annually in Europe, commercial & pecuniary connections would strengthen themselves from day to day; and if the fall of the Credit of England sho[ul]d terminate in Bankruptcy, the seven United Provinces, having nothing farther to dis[s]emble, would be zealous for a part of those rish [sic] benefits which our Commerce offers to the maritime powers; and by an early Treaty with us secure those advantages from which they have already discovered strong symptoms of a fear of being excluded by delays..."
Further reinforcing his caution on the Netherlands, he writes; "It is scarcely necessary to observe to Congress that Holland has lost her Influence in Europe to such a degree that there is little other regard remaining for her, but that of a Prodigal heir for a rich usurer who lends him money at an high Interest. The state which is poor and in debt has no political stability. Thier [sic] Army is very small, and thier Navy less. The immense rishes [sic] of Individuals may possibly be, in some future time, the great misfortune of the Nation; because her means of defence [sic] are not proportioned to the Temptation which is held out for some necessitous, avaricious and formidable neighbour to invade her."
These were the exact circumstances when Adams traveled to Holland in 1780 on a mission to obtain a loan from the States General. The Dutch continued to demur until the news of Yorktown reached European shores. The United Provinces recognized American independence in the summer of 1782 and Adams was able to finally negotiate a treaty of alliance in October 1782, only months before the final peace ending the war was finalized.
Adams could not stress enough the impact of the American Revolution upon European affairs: "It is our duty to mark the great changes in the History of Mankind which have already happened in consequence of the American War. The alienation of Portugal from England, the peace of Germany and that between Petersburg and Constantinople, by all which events England has lost and France gained such a superiority of Influence & power, as are owing entirely to the blind diversion of that policy and wealth, which the English might have still enjoyed, from the object of their true honour & Interest to the ruinous American War."
The balance of this Letter consists of a Country-by-Country analysis revealing Adams' broad understanding of Europe, more amazing in light of the fact that this was his first overseas journey, and before 1774, he had rarely traveled more than 20 miles from his home in Braintree, Massachusetts. He discusses Portugal and her souring relations with Britain; the prospects of opening a trade with the Austrian Empire through the Adriatic port of Trieste; as well as the possibility of relations with Prussia.
Adams even takes time to briefly assess the numerous tiny states in the Rhineland, concluding, "It would be endless to consider that infinite number of little sovereignties into which Germany is divided, and delvope [sic] all their political interests: This task is as much beyond my knowledge as it would be useless to Congress, who will have few relations, friendly or hostile, with this country, excepting in two branches of commerce, that of Merchandizes and that of Soldiers; the latter, infamous & detestable as it is, has been established between a Nations once generous, humane, and brave, and certain Princes as avaricious of Money, as they are prodigal of the Blood of their subjects: and such is the scarcity of Cash, and the avidity for it in Germany, and so little are the rights of Humanity understood or respected, that sellers will probably be found as long as buyers. American will never be found in either Class."
Adams continues his insightful text European tour making similar conclusions about Poland: "depopulated by war... reduced by a shameful treaty to two thirds of her Ancient dominion, destitute of Industries", Italy: "a country that declines every day from its ancient prosperity, offers few objects to our speculations."
He is even more pessimistic about possible relations with the Papal States: "The Court of Rome attached to Ancient customs would be one of the last to acknowledge our Independence if we were to solicit for it: but Congress will probably never send a minister to his Holiness, who can do them no service, upon condition of receiving a Catholic Legate or nuncio in return, or in other words an ecclesiastical Tyrant, which it is to be hoped, the United States will be too wise even to admit into their territories."