Wednesday, December 21, 2005

More on John Adams: Paris and the Netherlands

My on-going post about John Adams, from an audio book biography of the Revolutionary War era statesman that I’ve been listening too....

Adams was sent to join Ben Franklin in Paris to assist in negotiations for French recognition, military support, and trade. (There were concerns about Franklin’s age.)

After an American military victory at Saratoga, France did agree to help America against the British. However, the French Foreign Minister eventually came to dislike Adams’ manner and Adams’ insistence on British recognition of American Independence. (He secretly was only interested in separating the colonies from Britain to enhance trade with America. Also, he really wasn’t that keen on democracy as he supported the French monarchy. He also wanted to keep open the option of negotiating peace in the future with Britain that did not include Independence. He knew this is something Adams would never accept.

The French Foreign Minister thus began campaign to discredit Adams in the Continental Congress via France’s representative to Congress. He also spoke poorly of him to Ben Franklin, whom he liked better. Unknown to Adams for several months, Ben Franklin wrote a letter to Congress siding with the Foreign Minister.

Eventually, Congress did indeed make Franklin the sole representative and did not even mention Adams in the letter sent to Paris. Unsure then of his status in Paris and feeling treated shabbily by the Continental Congress, John Adams returned to his family in Massachusetts.Not too much later, however, Congress gave him yet another appointment to return to Paris. This time he was sent to Paris with the sole authority to represent the Congress in any future peace negotiations with the British. I guess because of how long it took to travel to Europe in the 1700’s, the feeling was that they should send someone well in advance in anticipation that American success on the battlefield would bring the British to the negotiating table... and Congress wanted someone to be in Europe already to lead these negotiations so as to eliminate any travel delays.This time, Adams took two sons with him. It was John Quincy Adams’ second trip to Paris. His younger brother was only 9 at the time he embarked to sail across the Atlantic with his statesman father. Again, I found myself amazed at the rare opportunity the boys had to observe history being made first hand.While waiting for the British to get interested in peace talks, he began a propaganda campaign of sorts. He wrote letters to be submitted to British newspapers via American agents that would be supportive of the American cause.

The French Foreign Minister again tried to get Adams removed as the sole negotiator of peace with the British. Adams was judged as too insistent on recognition of American independence.... a point the French wanted to have the option to compromise on if it suited their interests.As a result, the French representative to the Continental Congress again disparaged Adams in Philadelphia. Instead of removing Adams, however, Congress voted to change the peace negotiations from a single person (Adams) to a team of five members of Congress from different geographies. Adams would stay on representing Massachusetts, Ben Franklin would represent Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson would represent Virginia, and there would be two others I can’t remember.Thomas Jefferson would not show up in Paris for some time for personal reasons related to the health of his wife.

While waiting on the British to seek peace, Adams was dispatched by Congress to the Netherlands to try to get official recognition of an independent United States and secure loans from banks there.With Adams in the Netherlands (and Jefferson not showing up), for all practical purposes the French Foreign Minister had arranged things temporarily so that he only had to deal with Franklin which suited him fine.

After word of the British defeat at Yorktown reached the Netherlands, they did agree to recognize the United States. Adams supervised the purchase of the first United States embassy bought in any foreign country and became the first Ambassador to the Netherlands.

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