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Ambassador to France
In February, 1778, he embarked for that country on board of the frigate Boston. On his arrival in France, he found that Dr. Franklin, and Arthur Lee, who had been appointed commissioners the preceding year, and were then in France, had already concluded a treaty with the French government. Little business, therefore, of public nature was left him to do. In the summer of 1779, he returned to America.
About the time of his arrival, the people of Massachusetts were adopting measures for calling a convention to form a new state constitution. Of this convention he was elected a member, and was also a member of the committee appointed by the convention to report a plan for their consideration. A plan which he drew up was accepted, and was made the basis of the constitution of that state.
In August following, in consequence of an informal suggestion from the court of St. James, he received the appointment of minister plenipotentiary for negotiating a treaty of peace, and a treaty of commerce, with Great Britain. A salary of twenty-five hundred pounds sterling was voted him. In the month of October, he embarked on board the French ship La Sensible, and after a tedious voyage was landed at Ferrol, in Spain, whence he proceeded to Paris, where he arrived in the month of February. He there communicated with Dr. Franklin, who was at the time envoy of the United States at the court of France, and with the Count de Vergennes, the French Prime Minister. But the British government, it was found, were not disposed to peace, and the day seemed far distant when any negotiation could be opened with a hope of success. Mr. Adams, however, was so useful in various ways, that towards the close of the year, Congress honoured him by a vote of thanks, "for his industrious attention to the interest and honour of these United States abroad."
In June, 1780, Congress being informed that Mr. Laurens, who had been appointed to negotiate a loan in Holland for the United States, had been taken prisoner by the English, forwarded a commission to Mr. Adams to proceed to Holland, for the above purpose. To this, soon after, was added the new appointment of commissioner to conclude a treaty of amity and commerce with the States General of Holland; and, at the same time, authority was given him to pledge the faith of the United States to the "armed neutrality" proposed by the Russian government.
Mr. Adams repaired with promptitude to Holland, and engaged with great zeal in the business of his commission. From this station he was suddenly summoned by the Count de Vergennes, to consult, at Paris, with regard to a project for a general peace, suggested by the courts of Vienna and St. Petersburgh.
This was one of the most anxious periods in the eventful life of Mr. Adams. France was, indeed, ready to fulfill her guaranty of independence to the United States; but it was the politic aim of the Count de Vergennes, to secure important advantages for his own country, in the settlement of American difficulties. Hence, no effort was spared to make Mr. Adams, in this important matter, the subordinate agent of the French cabinet. He, on the other hand, regarded solely the interests of the United States, and the instructions of Congress; and his obstinate independence, unshaken by the alternate threats and blandishments of the court of Versailles, occasioned an effort by the Count de Vergennes to obtain, through the French minister in Philadelphia, such a modification of the instructions to Mr. Adams, as should subject him to the direction of the Federal cabinet.
The effect of this artful and strenuous measure was, a determination on the part of Congress, that Mr. Adams should hold the most confidential intercourse with the French ministers; and should "undertake nothing in the negotiation of a peace, or truce, without their knowledge and concurrence."
Under these humiliating restrictions, the independent and decisive spirit of Mr. Adams was severely tried. The imperial mediators proposed an armistice, but without any withdrawal of troops from America. Mr. Adams firmly opposed this stipulation; and the negotiation proceeded no farther at that time.
It was obviously, the policy of the French minister, not to facilitate the peace between Great Britain and the United States, without previously securing to France a large share in the fisheries; and at the same time so establishing the western boundary, as to sacrifice the interests of the United States to those of Spain.
Finding all attempts at negotiation unavailing, Mr. Adams returned to Holland.
Meantime, the apprehensions of congress being much excited by the insinuations of the French minister in Philadelphia, they added to the commission for forming a treaty with Great Britain, Dr. Franklin, then plenipotentiary at Paris; Mr. Jay, the minister at Madrid; Mr. Henry Laurens, who had recently been appointed special minister to France; and Mr. Jefferson. The whole were instructed to govern themselves by the advice and opinion of the ministers of the king of France. This unaccountable and dishonorable concession, in effect, made the Count de Vergennes minister plenipotentiary for the United States.
But the indefatigable exertions of Mr. Adams in Holland, had a most important bearing upon the proposed negotiations. By a laborious and striking exhibition of the situation and resources of the United States, he succeeded in so far influencing public opinion, as to obtain a loan of eight millions of guilders, on reasonable terms. This loan, effect in the autumn of 1782 was soon followed by a treaty of amity and commerce with Holland, recognizing the United States as independent and sovereign states.
The disposition towards peace, on the part of the English ministry, was wonderfully quickened by the favorable negotiation of this loan. During Lord Shelburne's administration, the independence of the states was unconditionally acknowledged, and the first effectual steps were taken to put an end to the war.
During the negotiations that followed, the disposition of France again evinced itself, to cut off the United States from a share of the fisheries, and to transfer a portion of the American territory to Spain. The American commissioners, therefore, were not a little embarrassed by their instructions from Congress, to govern themselves by the opinion and advice of the French minister. But, as Mr. Adams had, on a former occasion, found it necessary to depart from instructions of a similar import; the other commissioners now joined with him, in the determination to secure the best interests of their country, regardless of the interference of the French minister, and of the inconsiderate restrictions imposed on them by Congress.
Accordingly, provisional articles were signed by them, on the 30th of November, 1782; and this measure was followed by an advantageous definitive treaty in September, 1783.
| (1) Birth and Education | (2) Legal Career | (3) Continental Congress | (4) Declaration of Independence | (5) Meeting with Lord Howe | (6) Ambassador to France | (7) Ambassador to England | (8) Vice President and President | (9) Retirement and Death |
Designed and Edited by John Vinci
Last modified July 21, 2008