Americana Corner: John Adams, Ambassador to the Netherlands
John Adams retired from the Second Continental Congress early in November 1777 and returned home to Braintree. He hoped to revive his law practice and enjoy some quiet time with Abigail and the rest of the family. However, his stay was short-lived as America had another task in mind for this tireless patriot, this time as an ambassador to Europe.
On November 27, 1777, Congress appointed Adams Commissioner to France to develop a trade and military alliance with that nation. Adams quickly accepted the job, despite Abigail’s protests. Not one to linger, Adams left for Europe in February 1778, but he did not go alone. At Abigail’s insistence, their eldest son, ten-year-old John Quincy, accompanies the new envoy. The parents felt it would give the boy a once in a lifetime experience.
After a harrowing journey that included storms and encounters with British ships, the Adams party arrived in France on April 1, 1778. However, the treaty Adams was sent to negotiate had already been concluded in February by Benjamin Franklin, his colleague Diplomat. This treaty of friendship and commerce establishes formal relations between France and the American colonies, a first for our new nation. The terms recognized the independence of the United States, established a mutual defense pact, and guaranteed greater navigational rights to Americans. It is widely regarded as our most important colonial-era agreement.
Adams was disappointed that he had made the dangerous trip for nothing, and grew increasingly frustrated with Franklin for his softness towards the French. To add insult to injury, in September 1778 Congress appointed Franklin Minister Plenipotentiary to France, without giving Adams any assignment.
This designation meant that Franklin had all the diplomatic power within our delegation and Adams had none. Finally, after more than a year of underuse, John Adams and his son John Quincy returned home and arrived in Massachusetts in August 1779.
Just three months later, Adams was on the road and at sea again. This time back in Paris, with John Quincy and his nine-year-old son, Charles, to open talks with the French and British about the end of the war. After another arduous journey that included landing in Spain due to a leaking ship and a six-week trek over the Pyrenees, John and his sons finally arrived in the French capital on February 9, 1780.
As usual, Adams pushed for stronger French intervention in our still-ongoing war and, as usual, this annoyed the French, especially the Comte de Vergennes, the Foreign Secretary. In July 1780 Vergennes informed Adams that he would deal only with Franklin.
Never resting, Adams immediately set out for Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, to secure America’s recognition as an independent state and secure a loan for our fledgling nation.
However, the States General (their version of Congress) was not receptive to Adams’ advances. It was a nation that lived and died on trade and the seas were controlled by the English. The Dutch could not afford the British Navy to shut down their sea trade. Until the American cause showed some signs of success, they would not budge.
Finally, when news of Lord Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown arrived in November 1781, attitudes began to change in the Dutch Republic, and Adams immediately took his case to the people.
Stepping outside normal diplomatic channels, Adams published several articles in Dutch newspapers, explaining the American cause. He also appealed to representatives of eighteen Dutch cities to ask for their support.
On April 19, 1782, Adams’ efforts paid off when the States General at The Hague formally recognized the United States of America as a sovereign nation.
Two months later, in June, Adams secured a loan of 5 million guilders (about $2 million) from a syndicate of three Amsterdam banks. This money not only provided much-needed aid to financially strapped colonies, it also helped to establish the fledgling nation’s credit.
Finally, on October 8, 1782, Adams and Dutch representatives concluded the Dutch-American Treaty of Friendship and Commerce, dealing primarily with commerce, shipping, and other commercial enterprises.
Thus, John Adams, through his unilateral efforts in the Netherlands, gained not only credit but also credibility for the country to which he was so devoted.
Next week we’ll talk about John Adams securing peace with England and his time as Ambassador to King George.
Until next time, let your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae”, Love of country guides me.
Tom Hand is a resident of Ford Field & River Club, a West Point graduate, and an Army veteran. He has his own website, www.americanacorner. com. Check it out.