• Revolutionary War Diplomat Carmichael to Elbridge Gerry: America Needs More Might on the Sea; John Adams Securing Loan for Cause

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    The American Revolution was largely caused by the colonists’ anger over taxation without fair representation, arising from the French and Indian War, and exacerbated by the British Intolerable Acts and Stamp Act. The war began April 1775 at Lexington and Concord, MA, and ended with the ratification of the Treaty of Paris in 1783.


    WILLIAM CARMICHAEL was one of America’s most important diplomats to Spain during the Revolutionary War, and a man of fortune who resided in London at the beginning of the Revolution.  He was on his way to America in July 1776, with dispatches from Arthur Lee, but was detained in Paris by illness, and assisted Silas Deane, thought by some to be a double agent, in his correspondence and business for over a year.  He communicated with the King of Prussia, at Berlin, intelligence concerning American commerce, and assisted the commissioners at Paris.  He convinced the Marquis de Lafayette to visit America, introducing him to George Washington.  After his return in 1778, he was a delegate to congress from Maryland from 1778-1780.  He was secretary of legation during John Jay’s mission to Spain and, when the latter left Spain in June 1782, he remained as charge d’affaires.  Carmichael returned to the United States in May 1794.  His letters were published in Spark’s Diplomatic Correspondence. Carmichael was also a member of the Continental Congress.


    In this spectacular Revolutionary War letter, 12 pp, 7 ¾ x 9, dated Madrid [Spain], March 1, 1781, Carmichael writes to Elbridge Gerry [signer of the Declaration of Independence and a member of the Second Continental Congress] giving extended views of the politics of the court of Europe, and their disposition to America and the Revolution.  He states that John Adams is working on getting a loan for the American war effort, is working to settle disputes regarding captured ships and Congress needs to give him authority.  He also writes of the need for America to strengthen its ships so that she can compete with the size of Britain’s ships.  Carmichael evokes John Jay, Silas Deane, Arthur Lee and others.  The letter has a 12-line autograph endorsement by Gerry. Spectacular Revolutionary War letter.


    In part, “The situation of Europe is critical at present and puzzles much better politicians than myself to divine what it will be some months hence.  Prussia who had the armed Neutrality hath not yet take a decided part & to retard this, the Emperor hath prepared his mediation joined with the Empress to terminate the present disputes. This offer I believe is not well timed nor at Bottom is it well received.  I have been assured that our friends will make our Independence the basis of their acceptation of it. I take these assurances, but I shall like much better that by the most vigorous endeavors [of] this Campaign we should put ourselves in a situation to be respected by both…This consideration ought to be eternally in the hearts and matters of all venerable Whigs & patriots…


    “The Dutch war is not so impolitic as we may imagine. The ruin of their Commerce will inrich individuals most attached to government & the restoration of their Possessions will be good compensation for the sacrifices G.B. [Great Britain] may be constrained to make.  It is conjecture but I cannot help thinking that the Ministry had ultimately in view their own credit & safety in drawing on the Nation to many enemies as to justify themselves for a peace in its eyes & containing the jury to consent to what he would never have done otherwise… 


    “The Dutch seem in good spirits, but I am afraid they are too much disposed to think G.B.  wishes finish their disputes with them. This conduct of G.B. is meant to relax their preparations & those of the Armed Neutrality who may be disposed to support them. However you will [receive] much more accurate information from Mr. Adams who is on the spot. I am informed that he is on the point of opening a loan for the States.  May it be attended with success, for we find great difficulties here to procure money here…I shall be happy if we are able to carry on the war without assistance from hence, but while I enter bills…on Mr. Jay every day, I cannot help lamenting this apparent inconsistency…I cannot help telling you that this Court & that of France are very well informed of the most secret transactions of Congress if in the course of debate you…may make some persons cautious who are too communicative from perhaps no bad intentions…Congress ought at least to have the merit of communicating what is agreeable. There is another object which I recommend particularly to your consideration, which is to charge some of our discarded officers with the dispatches of Congress to their public [contacts] in Europe. The annual expense of this is nothing in comparison of the advantages…You will have so many more well informed & useful young men on the Continent…I fear it would be presumptuous of me to give my sentiments…freely to the Committee of Foreign Affairs…


    “The English fleet is at sea – on the 8th of last month they had 30 sail of the line ready…This is the latest & most excel state of their Marine force that I have been able to obtain. If our Frigates could carry 18 pounders instead of 12 pounders we should a great advantage & if our Privateers could have 9 & 12 pounders although few in number we should have equal advantage. The weight of metal would give a superiority & our cruisers I suppose cannot be completely manned, the guns being fewer would be better served. Congress ought to send ample powers to Mr. Adams to act in Holland & ought to authorize him to regulate the terms of advantages arising from recaptures of Dutch vessels on the same principles of those adopted by our Ally. In every thing we ought to mask our strongest desire to conform to the present system of Europe as pointedly as possible mask our opposition to the practical measures of our foreseen Mother Country.  According to present appearances, Prussia & the Northern Country if not actually engaged in the war against Britain will be in some measure hostile to their other measures.  In this latter cause & more particularly in consequence of an actual war would it not be proper to have at this Court of Prussia at least an agent to cultivate her friendship have been asked repeatedly by their Ambassador…The importance of her good will at a general treaty for peace can hardly be conceived.  Congress need not be at a great expense in this business for with 200 pounds more of salary than I possess I am confident the object might be fulfilled with as great success as with the present salaries given to their Ministries…I am informed the charges of adjusting your public acct in France. Let me recommend to you an honest & upright Independent man, a man who hath from the Commencement of the Present war taken a most decided & warm part in our affairs on the most liberal principles…This is Mr. Edmund Jennings, now at Brussels…The friends of Mr. Lee must promote this nomination & Mr. [Silas] Deane can have no objection…


    “Perhaps the long letter may fall into the hands of the Phillistines. Let it tell them that I pity almost as much as I despise them. Their gallantry and firmness of bad cause excites my compassion, while their abject subjection to ta Junto of would-be great men moves my contempt, mingled with visibility and indignation. Gracious Heaven, to see the mischief that a single individual can do. If anything could reconcile me to private assassination, this reflection would do it…”


    Letter has expected toning but is in overall excellent condition and an incredible example of Revolutionary War history.


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