*Editor’s Note: Chronicles of an American Diplomat: John Quincy Adams is a series following John Quincy Adams from his education at his father’s side through the American Founding Period, through to his own official embarkment on a diplomatic career, and the events that transpired during the era that he had to navigate. We know much of John Quincy Adams, and his times, from his massive writings, which collectively constitute an American Classic. This offers a chronicle of the opening of his public career from 1794-1801. The following is the eighth post in the series.
In Dispatch #7, (October 24-28, 1794), John Quincy realized that John Jay’s treaty with the British would receive a difficult reception from his countrymen. From London he sent a letter to his father with a reluctant but favorable assessment of the agreement. But as to the European war, it still appeared likely that the French would soon conquer the Netherlands, John Quincy’s assigned location. That called into question his own diplomatic status and American loans administered by the Amsterdam Bankers. He sought Jay’s opinion on his conduct as a public character during the current crisis, especially if he might be ordered out of the country. He prepared to travel to his posting at The Hague.
Wednesday, October 29, 1794. The Adams party reached Harwich at four o’clock in the afternoon, after the stage ride from London, and the packet sailed at five for Helvoetsluys, the Dutch port most convenient to The Hague. There were twenty-five passengers, jumbled together in one cabin — “a Dutch West Indian lady from Surinam, and a negro wench she has with her, Mr. East, one of the King’s messengers, a number of British officers going to the Army, three West Indians, a Dutchman belonging to the Hague, a German Baron, Frenchmen, Italians, Irishmen, Jews, & c., &c .” There were only sixteen beds, with a special accommodation for the women.
Thursday, October 30, 1794. A fresh wind sprang up at night, and soon after daybreak they approached the coast of Holland — but the weather had grown chilly and rainy, and the wind adverse, so it was not until the afternoon that the packet reached the coast. They still had to call a small boat to reach the shore. At Helvoetsluys, they found the taverns full, and with difficulty found a house to give temporary shelter from the rain for the baggage. “The Commissaire rang his bell, and immediately half a dozen or more waggons appeared. The tray and three dice were produced, and the boers alternately threw for the lucky chance of shewing us insolence and extortion.”
The wagons were light and open, drawn by four horses. Six of the packet’s party were permitted to take one wagon, but the driver insisted that the baggage was too heavy and that they must either take another wagon between them or walk on foot. John Quincy discovered that his facility with the Dutch language — one of his qualifications for diplomatic assignment — had largely deserted him. He relied on several Dutchmen who were part of the group to contest the point with the driver, who simply unhooked the horses and started to walk away. “He knew that would bring us to terms. It is an invariable expedient with them. I have seen it often tried, and never fail, because the traveller in such cases has no remedy but acquiescence.” One of the Dutchmen called the driver back and appealed to the Commissaire. But his opinion was that with the heavy load and the roads being rough, it would be much more comfortable to go on foot.
Then the negotiations began. “We had only English money about us. Guineas being in great demand, a Jew offered my brother twelve guilders four stivers apiece for any he might wish to change. Fortus [the Dutchman] thought it was not enough and said he would change one himself. He accordingly took one [from] my brother, for which he gave him twelve guilders, changed it again with a Jew for twelve and six, keeping the odd stivers, I presume, for his kindness.” They walked six miles to Brielle where they would stay the night.
Friday, October 31, 1794. In the morning, the Adams alternated between carriages and ferries to cross the waterways, and reached The Hague at five in the afternoon, where they took lodgings at the Keyzer ‘s Hoff.
Saturday, November 1, 1794. John Quincy and Thomas went to the house that John Adams had purchased and furnished in 1781, to serve as an American embassy. It was part of the elder Adams’s campaign to establish the credibility of the United States, in order to obtain Dutch diplomatic recognition and loans. It never served that purpose and Secretary of State Randolph instructed John Quincy to explore selling it. Charles F.W. Dumas, the sometime American agent, friend of John Adams and John Quincy’s former tutor, served as its caretaker. He was not there when they called, but found him later in the morning, as he apparently was not living in the house. “Old & infirm; but was however glad to see me.” He had separated from his wife and was living alone.
Sunday, November 2, 1794. Dumas came by in the evening and conversed with the brothers about the current political situation. Thomas Adams, who had been tasked by John Quincy to notify the family of their safe arrival, reported to John Adams:
The Duke of York is still at Nimeguen, and the french are yet before Maestricht. How long either of them will remain stationary is doubtful. The Hague is not considered a place of absolute safety for the Representatives of either of the powers at War with France; the choir Diplomatique therefore, it is supposed, will be very thin at this place during the winter. I think Monsr Dumas told us, that except the representatives of Denmark & Sweden there were few or none here at present.
John Quincy reached out to his Dutch contacts by post. He informed them the Amsterdam Bankers had not responded to his letter of inquiry from London and requested information on the status of the proposed new American loan. He proposed to come to Amsterdam soon for direct conversations. He wrote to Sylvanus Bourne, the American consul there, reporting that as soon as possible he planned to approach “their High Mightiness” — the federal assembly, known as the States General — in order to be recognized officially.
Monday, November 3, 1794. The Adams party and Dumas looked for more suitable lodgings. John Quincy engaged a local man to serve as valet de place.
John Quincy reported his safe arrival to the Secretary of State and provided an update of the current situation. He expected soon to have an audience with the Dutch States General. The Stadtholder was at Nijmegen, or with the Army. He found the outward aspect of the country peaceful and tranquil, not that of a nation invaded by a powerful and victorious army. Nicholas Van Staphorst, one of the American bankers, and others who petitioned the Stadtholder not to inundate the countryside, were not imprisoned but had fled the country. As many as five thousand of the Patriot party opposition, however, had been detained. Troops had been introduced into Amsterdam to deal with any protests.
In the meantime, the French armies continued to advance, and the Allies, led by the British Duke of York, continued to retreat. In John Quincy’s opinion, the Allied troops were not competent to resist the advance, but the season was so late that the respective armies would likely go into winter quarters. The probability the French would advance as far as Amsterdam in this season was not quite so great as it previously appeared.
In the meantime, the Stadtholder and his Orangist supporters wanted to take advantage of the lull to stave off a complete invasion by the French. A representative was sent to London to persuade the British government to negotiate peace, or the Hollanders would attempt it separately. Five of the seven Dutch provinces, including Holland, had in fact declared for negotiating a peace separately, with the other two certain to follow. A mission to Vienna by Lord Spencer and Thomas Grenville to save the military situation reportedly had failed to prevail upon the Emperor, who continued the war with vigor, in order to recover his own dominions in the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium). “What will not admit of any doubt is, that the allies, as is usual among partners that play a losing game, are dissatisfied with one another; nor is there any present appearance that their armies will cooperate with any sort of cordiality the ensuing season in case the war should continue.”
As to the Patriot opposition — John Quincy’s first impression was it had no center of union and little communication amongst itself. Contrary to the Orangists, they were not inclined to peace, but not because they wanted to continue the war to defend the old order.
Their animosity against the Stadtholder and the Regencies is so great, that they would rather submit to the French as conquerors, than make peace with them as friends by the means of their present government. The inveteracy of the parties against each other is even greater than I expected, and if a revolution of the ruling power should take place, it is to be feared that humanity will suffer severely under the operation.
A Dutch Terror.
The Patriots believed the French would respect private property; the only concern was France insisting on the use of assignats (the debased paper currency issued by the revolutionary government) in transactions with the Dutch. The Patriots were also confident the French would separate the sheep from the goats — “a discrimination will be made between them and the adverse party, and as France declared war only against the Stadtholder and his adherents, the nation will fraternize with all those who were before that time and have continued to be their implacable enemies.” In that event, it was impossible to say whether the provinces would be annexed to the French Republic or left to form a new government for themselves in alliance with France.
In either case, John Quincy requested instructions on how to proceed (he had received unofficial advice from his father before leaving America, and from John Jay in London). He assumed his functions and credentials assigned by his government would be suspended, but should he regard his Commission as terminated and simply return home, or wait for further instructions once the president had an opportunity to review the situation?
This was a matter of particular personal sensitivity for John Quincy. In 1780, during the Revolutionary War, his father had preemptively decided to return to the United States from his diplomatic mission to France, despite his colleague Benjamin Franklin urging him to remain. Congress had not given definitive instructions either way, and his return was controversial — one of many instances in which the elder Adams’s judgments were challenged.
Tuesday, November 4, 1794. The Adams party moved to the Haeven Logement. To initiate the process of being recognized officially, John Quincy wrote a card to Mr. Van Hees, the agent of their High Mightinesses, requesting him to appoint a time when it would be convenient to receive a visit, and giving him notice of John Quincy’s commission and credentials. Van Hees responded he would see him the following morning.
Wednesday, November 5, 1794. The process of receiving diplomatic recognition in Europe, even in the best of circumstances, was often complex and convoluted. Each country had its own traditions and procedures. It was easy for an envoy, especially a novice, to commit some indiscretion that would offend or at least delay the proceedings. John Quincy was determined to tread carefully.
Meeting with Van Hees at the appointed time, John Quincy asked how he should proceed. He was informed that the customary course was to pay a visit to the president of their High Mightinesses — a position that rotated weekly among the various provinces — and deliver his credentials to him, who would on the same day communicate them to the States General. Assuming all was deemed in order, they would pass a resolution acknowledging him in the character with which he was vested —in John Quincy’s case, minister resident, which was lower in diplomatic rank than ambassador and minister plenipotentiary.
But there was a potential snag — John Quincy’s predecessor, William Short, had not taken formal leave of his post, as strict diplomatic etiquette required, before the next envoy was received. John Quincy’s explanation relied on another bit of etiquette:
I told him that when Mr. Short went to Madrid it was under the expectation of returning here, but that the United States having further occasion for his services in Spain, the President had now appointed him to reside there; that I had been the bearer of his letters of recall to their High Mightinesses, and had already sent them to him, as it was judged by the American government most consistent with propriety that they should be transmitted to the States General by himself.
It was the sort of fine point that a government could use to put off accepting a diplomat if it found it inconvenient—in this case, a government that was currently closely aligned with Britain, with whom the United States was currently at loggerheads, pending the outcome of Jay’s negotiations. John Quincy was in no position to indicate that an agreement with Britain seemed imminent.
To his relief, Van Hees acquiesced and said he believed there were some precedents conformable to this mode of procedure. It was his judgment that John Quincy could be admitted immediately and deliver Short’s letters of recall when he should receive them. Van Hees said it was also customary, immediately after delivering the credentials to the weekly president, to leave a copy of them with the Greffier; but as he was now absent, the communication might be made to the Commis or clerk of their High Mightinesses. After the acknowledgment, it would be proper to give notice of it to the other diplomatic characters here by visiting cards.
John Quincy immediately wrote to Short, explaining the circumstances and asking him to send him copies of his recall letter and a short memorial of explanation. He hoped the two could maintain a correspondence as circumstances permitted. “I assume you are getting the English papers, and the intelligence is better there than here, where the information when feasible is suppressed.” He sent the letter to Joshua Johnson in London, asking him to see that it was forwarded to Short, confirming that he would be compensated for expenses in this and other cases. He requested that Johnson inform him of opportunities to send correspondence from London to Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.
He made the same request for information on sailings to his friend, Tom Crafts, whom he had seen in London. He invited him to visit The Hague. There was no danger; in fact, the war seemed more remote there than in England. As for the rumor of the day — “the King of Prussia has certainly made a separate peace, at least as says the Leyden Gazette.”
Thursday, November 6, 1794. John Quincy met with Van Imhoff, the president for the week, and delivered his credentials. Van Imhoff said he would communicate them to their High Mightinesses. John Quincy then went to see Mr. Lelyvelt, the Commis of the States General, and left a copy with him. He told John Quincy the acknowledgment resolution would not be passed until tomorrow or the day after. Their High Mightinesses received communications only in three languages, Dutch, French and Latin. Because John Quincy’s credentials were in English, they would have to be translated before they could be read in the Assembly. John Quincy hoped this was the only reason for the delay.
A Note About the Construction: In attempting to provide chronicles of John Quincy’s early diplomatic career, we utilize his daily diary (journal) entries as the foundation, but group these and other material so as to provide a coherent narrative, while still retaining an “as it happened” framework. For instance, he often reflects on events, and the contents of letters and documents, days after they occurred or were received. We provide footnotes to give the reader an accurate account of the sources and their dates.
APM — Adams Family Papers, Microfilm Edition, Massachusetts Historical Society, with Reel Number. The indicated transcripts were prepared from this source.
DJQA — Diary, from the Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, comprising portions of his diary from 1795 to 1848, edited by Charles Francis Adams, volume 1.
DJQA (original manuscript). Material not included in the Charles Francis Adams printed version. The indicated transcripts were prepared from this source.
FOL — Founders Online, National Archives https://founders.archives.gov
LD/SE — Line-a-day and short entries from his diary, APM, and available online through the Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/jqadiaries/php/ The indicated transcripts were prepared from this source.
WJQA — Writings of John Quincy Adams, edited by Worthington C. Ford.
 October 31, 1794, DJQA. The full diary stops at this point and was resumed on January 1, 1795. Charles Francis Adams speculated (p. 30) that “It may have been caused by the uncertainty of his position, when everything about him appeared to be shaking.” John Quincy did continue his shorter entries and correspondence.
 November 2, 1794, LD/SE; JQA (The Hague) to Willinks et al, November 2, 1794, APM 127: JQA (The Hague) to Bourne (Amersterdam), November 2, 1794, APM 126. The Amsterdam Bankers had in fact responded to his request of October 17, but John Quincy never received it before departing for The Hague. They reported that arrangements for his salary had been made. There were various opinions about future developments in the Netherlands, “but all agree that in every possible event, your person will be secure and your Character perfectly respected. We recommend you to come here, without any delay except that necessary. Things may occur, and some do already exist, wherein your presence may be useful to the interests of your Country.” As to the loan, they sounded a cautionary note — “it depends upon the call of an Agent, which has not yet taken place. The situation of matters here would have rendered its success impracticable, and we cannot foresee when it may become possible.” The letter is in the Adams family archive, which suggests it was forwarded to John Quincy after he left London. Willinks et. al (Amsterdam) to JQA, October 21, 1794, APM 374.
 November 4, 1794, LD/SE; JQA (The Hague) to Secretary of State Randolph, No. 4, November 5, 1794, WJQA. This dispatch, dated on November 5, contains information through November 11, as noted in the subsequent days.