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TO THE SECRETARY OF STATE
No. 17 [EDMUND RANDOLPH]
This morning the Charge des affairs of Sardinia paid me a visit, and appeared to be exceedingly fearful of the events which a continuance of the present severe weather may produce. He said the Court and the States, he understood, were determined not to move from hence at any rate. That the ministers of Sweden and Denmark were resolved not to move, and those of the belligerent powers were in an embarrassing position, as their departure would have a bad effect upon the common cause, in the opinion which it would spread in public that the state of affairs is desperate, and their continuance here would expose them to be treated as enemies. That for his own part he should feel very much embarrassed in the predicament had he not recently received instruction in case of events to withdraw to England. That the Ministers of Sweden and Denmark had offered to receive and protect his movables that he could not carry off, but that he had rather lose all, than give an alarm by transporting his goods from his home. He therefore made me two proposals. First, that if I wished he would sell me his furniture and the lease of his house, which is at a low rent and would be convenient enough for me. The other, that I should take a simulated sale of them, and have the use of them, in order to cover the property ; that I should thereby render him a most important service.
Though it would be extremely agreeable to me to perform any good office for one of my diplomatic brothers, which might tend to establish a claim to gratitude towards my country, yet I cannot conceive myself justified in any departure from the obligations of the severest neutrality for that purpose.
Upon the second proposal, therefore, I could not hesitate a moment in forming my determination.
As to the other, which would at the same time suit my own convenience, and comply with his wishes without in fringing in the minutest particular upon the rights of others, I told him I would think of it, and give him my answer to-morrow morning.
Upon reflection however I have concluded to reject the whole, because if the events apprehended by him should really take place, I feel the importance of establishing the most unequivocal claim to all the regard, which the laws of nations in similar cases attribute to the character which I bear. American property to a large amount has already been put under my immediate protection, and it is not improbable that I may be under the necessity of using my exertions for the indemnity of much more. In order to retain in full perfection all the rightful means in my power to serve my own fellow citizens, if the occasion should require it, I see the necessity not only of avoiding every act but every cause of suspicion l that might tend to impair them. The measure, though perfectly innocent, would probably be observed, and might at least occasion doubts and jealousies which would weaken the confidence upon which the full possession of my neutral privileges may depend.
These are only two among a considerable number of applications which are frequently made to me on either side of the warring parties, and wherein I find myself obliged to refuse what is asked of me as a favor. It is a disagreeable task to refuse offices of kindness, but I find it not less necessary than unpleasant.
It seems from the conversation which I have just related, that the Swedish and Danish Ministers offer without scruple to cover property liable to the laws of war, nor do they think [it] necessary to be secret in pursuing this conduct. It will no doubt give them opportunities to render most essential services, and may entitle them to gratitude which is a good instrument in the hands of a negotiator.
I, too, by this singular concurrence of circumstances have this advantage in my power, and have no doubt but I might easily make myself very busy in the use of it. It might be useful ; I will not say it would be unjust. It is not, I think, expedient. I have, etc.
- Writings of John Quincy Adams,Worthington Chauncy Ford,Vol. I, 1779-1796, digitized by the Internet Archive