John Quincy Adams Shows He Laid Out Substantial Money From His Own Pocket to Finance the Secret Mission to Get the Imprisoned Marquis de Lafayette’s Son to Safety in the U.S.

Adams seeks reimbursement for these funds, and for his expenses while negotiating Jay’s Treaty, congratulates Thomas Pinckney on his patriotic service (as Pinckney returns to run for Vice President on John Adams’ ticket).

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He accepts Pinckney’s congratulations for his own diplomatic advancement

A decade after his important contribution as a nineteen-year-old Major General in the American Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette became a pivotal player in the democratic uprising in his native France – the French Revolution. With the fall of the Bastille in July...

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John Quincy Adams Shows He Laid Out Substantial Money From His Own Pocket to Finance the Secret Mission to Get the Imprisoned Marquis de Lafayette’s Son to Safety in the U.S.

Adams seeks reimbursement for these funds, and for his expenses while negotiating Jay’s Treaty, congratulates Thomas Pinckney on his patriotic service (as Pinckney returns to run for Vice President on John Adams’ ticket).

He accepts Pinckney’s congratulations for his own diplomatic advancement

A decade after his important contribution as a nineteen-year-old Major General in the American Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette became a pivotal player in the democratic uprising in his native France – the French Revolution. With the fall of the Bastille in July 1789, Lafayette was chosen to head the newly-formed Paris citizen’s militia.  This he subsequently converted into the Paris National Guard which he commanded until October of 1791. As the Revolution gained momentum, Lafayette found it increasingly difficult to maintain order and protect the royal family. Lafayette’s affairs reached a crisis in August 1792 after the deposition of King Louis XVI, when the Legislative Assembly passed a decree of impeachment against him. At the time, Lafayette was serving with the Army on the northern French border in the newly-declared war against the Coalition (Prussia and Austria). Unable to get the support of his troops, Lafayette fled on August 19, 1792 with hopes of returning to America. When he tried to pass through Austrian-controlled territory on his way to a Dutch port, he was quickly challenged.  Although Lafayette insisted that he was no longer a French general, but an American citizen – he had been given citizenship by several states after the American Revolution – the Austrian and Prussian rulers were unsympathetic and took him captive.  They were fighting their own wars against this idea of democracy of which Lafayette himself was a major proponent.  Imprisoned first in a Prussian fortress at Westphalia in 1792, Lafayette was transferred several times in Prussia before his final imprisonment at Olmütz in Austria in 1794.

At Olmütz prison Lafayette was reduced to a common prisoner. His few remaining possessions were taken from him – his watch, razor, and his final books pertaining to democracy. He was unable to send or receive letters, and, by this time, his friends did not know his whereabouts.  George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other prominent Americans wanted to have Lafayette released as an American citizen, but this was unsuccessful. Lafayette’s wife Adrienne had lost her mother, grandmother, and sister to the guillotine in 1794.  She was also imprisoned, and was spared only because of American diplomatic warnings to France, delivered by then-Ambassador James Monroe. In fact, Monroe’s wife Elizabeth even went to the prison where Madame Lafayette was being held and demanded to see her. This convinced the French that the death of Madame de Lafayette would inflame American public opinion, and they released her in January of 1795.

In Europe, the Lafayettes were suffering financial hardship, making life difficult for them. Word of this reached the United States, and sympathy for the family was strong. On December 30, 1793, Thomas Jefferson wrote Washington that Lafayette’s “personal restraint [imprisonment], and the peculiar situation of his fortune disabled [withheld]”, prevented  “him from drawing resources from that, and would leave him liable to suffer for subsistence, and the common necessaries of life.” He reminded Washington that Lafayette had refused any salary in his years as major general in the Continental Army, and came up with the idea that Congress could support Lafayette and his family now by paying that back salary. In conformity with Jefferson’s recommendation, Congress in March 1794 passed an act making available to Lafayette $24,424, “being the amount of the pay and emoluments of a Major General during the time he was in the service of the United States, and that the same be paid out of any moneys which may be in the Treasury, and not otherwise appropriated”. Giving Lafayette the money due to him could not make any of the European combatants unhappy, thus preserving American neutrality.

On May 31, 1794, on the subject of these funds, Hamilton wrote Secretary of State Edmund Randolph saying, “I have instructed the Treasurer to remit to Mr. Pinckney [U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain] bills for 60,449 current guilders and 8 Stivers being according to the computed par of Exchange the amount of the sum allowed to Major General La Fayette by the Act of Congress of the 27th of March 1794. These bills are drawn upon our Commissioners at Amsterdam and will be forwarded to Mr. Pinckney in triplicates by the earliest opportunities. It will remain for you to instruct him concerning the application of them to the use of Mons. La Fayette. You will recollect that this being the whole amount of what is allowed, it is requisite to replace out of the Bills the sums which have been heretofore advanced for the use of that Gentleman. As far as I am informed, these sums have been furnished by our Commissioners upon the orders of Mr. Gouverneur Morris [U.S. Ambassador to France prior to Monroe’s taking that post] and Mr. Pinckney.”

Morris himself advanced her significant funds for the support of the Lafayettes, but in August 1794 the revolutionary regime, worried that Morris was influencing the United States against France, obtained Morris’s recall. He left France forever in October 1794, and traveled throughout Europe. There was nothing more he could do for the Lafayettes.

Madame Lafayette was now free, but she intended go to Lafayette’s prison later in 1795 and be with him during his imprisonment. Her thoughts turned to her son, George Washington Lafayette, and she had good reason to worry about his safety. She wanted him to go to America, where she hoped he would be taken in by his namesake, President George Washington. Because opponents were everywhere, the action of sending her son into exile would have to be done with the greatest care and secrecy, lest he he seized while trying to flee and she be charged with a subversive activity.

John Quincy Adams first won national recognition when he published a series of widely read articles supporting President Washington’s decision to keep the U.S. out of the growing hostilities surrounding the French Revolution. He began his illustrious diplomatic career in November 1794, when Washington appointed him U.S. minister to the Netherlands, a post his father had previously held. The younger Adams was 27 years old, and just 29 when he received a heartfelt letter from Madame Lafayette imploring him to send funds. She asked for 300 louis d’or, a form of money replaced by the franc after the Revolution. Her letter of January 17, 1795, stated: “Your nation is my last resource… and the only source of consolation left to me.”  She did not clarify the purpose of this request but told Adams that she felt he would not only pardon but “approve of my indiscretion once you learn the subject.”  Adams went looking for the money.

But getting the funds promised by Congress to the Lafayettes proved time consuming, and time was at a premium. John Quincy Adams responded to Madame Lafayette by laying out money from his own pocket for the relief of the Lafayettes, and getting their son to America. This letter shows clearly that getting reimbursed by the U.S. government was no simple matter. Adams wrote to James Monroe in Paris in June 1796, and also to Ambassador to England Thomas Pinckney in London, thinking these two had charge of some of the monies. Pinckney responded with some information in July. However, neither promised or sent money.

In this letter, in response to Pinckney’s to him, Adams mentions his new appointment by President Washington as the Ambassador to Portugal.  He also congratulates Pinckney on his service as U.S. Ambassador, as Pinckney was readying to leave for home. Pinckney was a Hamiltonian favorite. His earlier diplomatic success with Spain made him popular at home, and on his return the Federalist party made him a candidate in the 1796 presidential election (as the intended running-mate of John Adams). While Adams won the presidential election, complicated scheming to ensure that Pinckney would not have more presidential votes than Adams ended up making their opponent Thomas Jefferson vice-president and Pinckney finish in third place in the presidential race.

Additionally, the younger Adams had been in London helping negotiating Jay’s Treaty in 1795, and he had not been reimbursed his expenses for that. In September 1796, Timothy Pickering wrote to John Adams, “You will wonder that your son J.Q.A. should have remained so long in London: His letter of June 22d accounts for it: he wanted money to enable him to leave London: the ten thousand dollars given here to Mr. Randolph on the 14th. of Augt. 1795, were destined to defray the expences of your son’s mission to London…He assured the Clerk that he had remitted every dollar; and that he would send him the letters which accompanied the remittance. The letters have not been sent to this office; nor has any banker or foreign correspondent ever advised me of the receipt of any part of the $10,000, and your son’s letter now convinces me that Mr. R. never made the remittance…”

Autograph letter signed, The Hague, August 12, 1796, to Pinckney, relating to his London expenses, Pinckney’s service and trip home, and his aid given of the Lafayettes. “I have received your favor of the 29th unto. and request you to accept my thanks for the inquiries you had the goodness to make at my desire, concerning the remittance from the Department of State. The only material circumstance is the reality of the remittance, which I am unable to ascertain entirely. But notwithstanding some singularities in the mode of Mr. Randolph’s proceeding in this matter, I cannot imagine that the remittance was omitted.

“Please to receive my best acknowledgments for your obliging congratulations upon my advancement in the public service, and for your kind good wishes for my health and prosperity. Allow me in return to offer my warm and cordial wishes that your return to our country may be prosperous and pleasant, and your reception there in every respect such as the important services which you have rendered to the United States entitle you to expect.

“Since my return here I have written to Mr. Monroe respecting the sums placed in his hands for the use of M. Lafayette and his family. But he thinks that the whole sum remaining in his possession is pledged in such a manner that he cannot from it reimburse the 300 louis which I have some time since advanced, as I had the honor to mention to you in England. I have therefore at present only to depend upon that which is at your disposal. I have written to America again about it, and have requested authority to draw on the fund in your hands for my payments unless any other mode to refund me should be preferred. If you should quit Europe before I receive my answer, I shall beg to know to whom to apply in case I receive the order upon your fund.” 300 gold louis coins of France would be worth about $20,000 in today’s money, a large sum, particularly for a young person.

As for the money fronted by his son, the elder John Adams would write to Abigail, “Fayette’s disinterested unpaid services will cost us very dear. Your son has already advanced to his Wife three hundred Guineas. Which I hope & suppose will be reimbursed to him. Mischief always and Villany often lurks under Pretensions and Professions of service without Pay.” He may have been right, and his son not repaid any time soon, as we can find no record of repayment, and Morris was only reimbursed years later.

When Napoleon and his revolutionary armies conquered Austria in 1797, he remembered that a Frenchman sympathetic to the Revolution – the Marquis de Lafayette – was imprisoned by the Austrians. He inserted a clause into the Treaty of Campo Formio ending that war requiring the release of Lafayette.  John Parish, an American diplomat in Hamburg, was Lafayette’s host the night of his release on September 19, 1797. After two subsequent years in exile in Holland, Lafayette was finally able to return to France in 1799. Upon Lafayette’s death in 1834, on May 31 former President John Quincy Adams delivered a famous eulogy to him before both Houses of Congress .

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