IV. The “Greek Question” As An Issue of U.S. Foreign Policy
A5. Extracts from the Memoirs of Secretary of State John Quincy Adams
(Adams, vol. VI, p. 102) November 16, 1822
The President read to me the paragraphs relating to foreign affairs which he has drawn up for the message, particularly to those relating to Spain and Portugal, to South America, to Russia, Turkey, and the Greeks, and to the unsettled state of Europe. I doubted most of those concerning Spain and Portugal, in which he had spoken of their revolutionary prospects more favorably than I thought the state of facts, according to our most recent information, would warrant. He said he would revise them, and would attend particularly to the last dispatch from Mr. Forsyth. His paragraph concerning the Greeks, with a strong expression of sympathy in their favor, adds a sentiment equally explicit, that neither justice nor policy would justify on our part any active interference in their cause. The President said he hoped to be ready to bring the draft of the whole message before a meeting of the members of the Administration next Tuesday. He pro-poses also to say something of the repairs of the Cumberland Road, being satisfied that Congress have the right of appropriating money to that purpose ...
(Vol. VI, pp. 107–10) November 27, 1822
... The message had also several paragraphs relating to the Greeks, with no little invective upon the horrible despotism by which they are oppressed. Mr. Crawford suggested that these might give offence to the Sublime Porte. I thought it doubtful whether they would ever see the message; but he said that there were those who would take care to make them see it. Some passages of high panegyric upon ourselves were questioned; and there were two references to the opinion of the President sent to the House at their last session, upon the Constitutional power of Congress to make internal improvements, one of which I thought would be sufficient. About three hours were occupied with these deliberations, and the President will modify the message as he shall think proper, on consideration of all the remarks that were made ...
(Vol. VI, pp. 172–75) August 15, 1823
Cabinet meeting at the President's at one. Mr. Wirt absent from indisposition. The subject first mentioned by the President for consideration was a letter to me from Andreas Luriottis at London, styling himself Envoy of the Provisional Government of the Greeks, a copy of which was sent me some months since by R. Rush. This letter, recommending the cause of the Greeks, solicited of the United States recognition, alliance, and assistance. It was proper to give a distinct answer to this letter, and I had asked the President's directions what the answer should be.
The President now proposed the question. Mr. Gallatin had proposed in one of his last dispatches, as if he was serious, that we should assist the Greeks with our naval force in the Mediterranean-one frigate, one corvette, and one schooner. Mr. Crawford and Mr. Calhoun inclined to countenance this project. Crawford asked, hesitatingly, whether we were at peace with Turkey, and seemed only to wait for opposition to maintain that we were not. Calhoun descanted upon his great enthusiasm for the cause of the Greeks; he was taking no heed of Turkey whatever. In this, as in many other cases, these gentle-men have two sources of eloquence at these Cabinet meetings-one with reference to sentiment, and the other to action. Their enthusiasm for the Greeks is all sentiment, and the standard of this is the prevailing popular feeling. As for action, they are seldom agreed; and after two hours of discussion this day the subject was dismissed, leaving it precisely where it was-nothing determined, and nothing practicable proposed by either of them. Seeing their drift, I did not think it necessary to discuss their doubts whether we were at peace with Turkey, their contempt for the Sublime Porte, or their enthusiasm for the cause of the Greeks. I have not much esteem for the enthusiasm which evaporates in
words; and I told the President I thought not quite so lightly of a war with Turkey. I\ said I would prepare an answer to Mr. Luriottis, and an instruction to Mr. Rush for his consideration. He had proposed the question whether a secret Agent should be sent to Greece. Calhoun mentioned Edward Everett, and I named Lyman [Editor's note: probably Theodore Lyman of Boston); but we cannot send a secret Agent. Our Agents never will be secret ...
(Vol. VI, pp. 194-95) November 21, 1823
... The President approved of this idea; and then taking-up the sketches that he had prepared for his message, read them to us. Its introduction was in a tone of deep solemnity and of high alarm, intimating that this country is menaced by imminent and formidable dangers, such as would probably soon call for the most vigorous energies and the closest union. It then proceeded to speak of the foreign affairs, chiefly according to the sketch I had given him some days since, but with occasional variations. It then alluded to the recent events in Spain and Portugal, speaking in terms of the most pointed reprobation of the late invasion of Spain by France, and of the principles upon which it was undertaken by the open avowal of the King of France. It also contained a broad acknowledgment of the Greeks as an independent nation, and a recommendation to Congress to make an appropriation for sending a Minister to them.
Of all this Mr. Calhoun declared his approbation. I expressed freely my wish that the President would reconsider the whole subject before he should determine to take that course. I said the tone of the introduction I apprehended would take the nation by surprise and greatly alarm them. It would come upon them like a clap of thunder. There had never been in the history of this nation a period of so deep calm and tranquillity [sic] as we now enjoyed. We never were, upon the whole, in a state of peace so profound and secure with all foreign nations as at this time. This message would be a summons to arms—to arms against all Europe, and for objects of policy exclusively European-Greece and Spain. It would be as new, too, in our policy as it would be surprising. For more than thirty years Europe had been in convulsions; every nation almost of which it is composed alternately invading and invaded. Empires, kingdoms, principalities, had been overthrown, revolutionized, and counter-revolutionized, and we had looked on safe in our distance beyond an intervening ocean, and avowing a total forbearance to interfere in any of the combinations of European politics. This message would at once buckle in the harness and throw down the gauntlet. It would have the air of open defiance to all Europe, and I should not be surprised if the first answer to it from Spain and France, and even Russia, should be to break off their diplomatic intercourse with us. I did not expect that the quiet which we had enjoyed for six or seven years would last much longer. The aspect of things was portentous; but if we must come to an issue with Europe, let us keep it off as long as possible. Let is use all possible means to carry the opinion of the nation with us, and the opinion of the world...
(Vol. VI, pp. 198-99) November 23–24, 1823
... The President said he had spoken of the Greeks and of the Spaniards in his last year's message. I said I should not object to paragraphs of a like description, in general terms and pledging nothing, but I would be specially careful to avoid anything which may be construed as hostility to the allies. He said he would fully consider what he should say, and when prepared with his draft would call a meeting of the members of the Administration.
24th. Mr. Gallatin was here, and talked much upon the topics to be touched upon in the President's message. His views coincided entirely with those which I have so earnestly urged upon the President, excepting as to the Greeks, to whom he proposes, as if he was serious, that we should send two or three frigates to assist them in destroying the Turkish fleet, and a loan or subsidy of two million dollars. I told Gallatin that I wished he would talk to the President as he had done to me, upon everything except the Greeks; but as to them, I said, the President had asked me to see and converse with him on Saturday, which I had declined on account of the same proposition that he had made in a dispatch more than a year since, to send a naval force to fight with the Turks.
He spoke with extreme bitterness of Mr. Hyde de Neuville, who, he says, said to him in the presence of ten or twelve persons that if our claimants upon France failed of obtaining indemnity it was our own fault, in refusing to connect with it the claim of France under the eighth article of the Louisiana Convention; and that if we did not adjust that claim, it was his opinion France ought to take Louisiana, and that she had a strong party there.
I called at the President's, and found Mr. Gallatin with him. He still adhered to his idea of sending a naval force and a loan of money to the Greeks; and as he is neither an enthusiast nor a fool, and knows perfectly well that no such thing will be done, I look for the motives of this strange proposal, and find them not very deeply laid. Mr. Gallatin still builds castles in the air of popularity, and, being under no responsibility for consequences, patronizes the Greek cause for the sake of raising his own reputation. His measure will not succeed, and, even if it should, all the burden and danger of it will bear not upon him, but upon the Administration, and he will be the great champion of Grecian liberty. 'Tis the part of Mr. Clay towards South America acted over again. After he withdrew, the President read me his paragraphs respecting the Greeks, Spain, Portugal, and South America. I though them quite unexceptionable, and drawn up altogether in the spirit that I had so urgently pressed on Friday and Saturday. I was highly gratified at the change, and only hope the President will adhere to his present views.
(Vol. VI, pp. 204-5) November 26, 1823
Received a note from the President, advising me to detain Mr. H. Allen here a few days, to peruse the later dispatches from R. Rush relating to South America. I sent him immediately for Mr. Allen, who called on me and agreed to wait a few days. I desired him to call at the office of the Department and read there Mr. Rush's dispatches.
I attended the adjourned Cabinet meeting at the President's, from half past twelve-four hours. At the President's request, I read the statement of what has passed between "Baron Tuyl and me since the 16th of last month, and then my proposed draft of observations upon the communications recently received from him. The President then read the draft of the corresponding paragraph for his message to Congress, and asked whether it should form part of the message. I took a review of the preceding transactions of the Cabinet meetings; remarking that the present questions had originated in a draft which he had presented merely for consideration, of an introduction to the message, of unusual solemnity, indicating extraordinary concern, and even alarm, at the existing state of things, coupled with two paragraphs, one containing strong and pointed censure upon France and the Holy Allies for the invasion of Spain, and the other recommending an appropriation for a Minister to send to the Greeks, and in substance recognizing them as independent; that the course now proposed is a substitute for that, and that it is founded upon the idea that if an issue must be made up between us and the Holy Alliance it ought to be upon grounds exclusively American; that we should separate it from all European concerns, disclaim all intention of interfering with these, and make the stand altogether for an American cause; that at the same time the answer to be given to the Russian communications should be used as the means of answering also the proposals of Mr. George Canning, and of assuming the attitude to be maintained by the United States with reference to the designs of the Holy Alliance upon South America.
This being premised, I observed that the whole of the papers now drawn up were but various parts of one system under consideration, and the only really important question to be determined, as it appeared to me, was that yesterday made by Mr. Wirt, and which had been incidentally discussed before, namely, whether we ought at all to take this attitude as regards South America; whether we get any advantage by committing ourselves to a course of opposition against the Holy Alliance. My own mind, indeed, is made up that we ought thus far to take this stand; but I thought it deserved great delib-eration, and ought not to be taken without a full and serious estimate of consequences...
(Vol. VI, p. 227) January 4, 1824
Called and saw Mr. Poinsett, and conversed with him upon Mr. Webster's resolution respecting the Greeks. I told him there was a person probably now at Constantinople upon his an errand which might suffer by these movements in Congress. He said Webster would be satisfied if the Government would appoint Edward Everett as a Commissioner to go to Greece. There were objections to that. It would destroy all possibility of our doing anything at Constantinople, and Everett was already too much committed as a partisan.
He said Everett was to be here this day, or in a day or two more. He said Clay was threatening to come out on the affair of the Greeks, and probably would suffer in public estimation by the course he would take on it.
Mr. Blunt spent the evening here. He gave me some information concerning the Hawkins Dauphin Island contract. Blunt spoke also in favorable terms of Mr. De Witt Clinton, and intimated that there were projects of coalition between him and Mr. Calhoun. I repeated what I had said to Mr. McRae on this subject, and hoped no friend of mine would make advances of any kind to Mr. Clinton, of whose talents I had a high opinion, with whom I had no personal misunderstanding, and with whose prospects I had neither community nor enmity.
(Vol. VI, pp. 324-25) May 10, 1824
Dr. Thorton called upon me this morning, to say that he had prepared a book to be deposited in the Congress library at the Capitol, to contain the subscriptions of all per-sons in the service of the United States, at Washington, for the Greeks. His project was that every individual would subscribe one day's pay. He had requested the subscription of the President, who told him he would consult the members of his Administration upon the propriety of subscribing. The Doctor hopes I should advise him to do it. The Secretaries of War and the Navy had said they would subscribe if the President and I did. Lord Eldon, the English Chancellor, had subscribed a hundred pounds sterling, and even the Quakers in England had subscribed upwards of seven thousand pounds. The Greeks were in great want of it, and in deep distress. There was a tremendous force of Turks going against them; but the Bashaw of Egypt had declared himself independent of the Sultan, and there was no doubt that, by the diversion he would make, the cause of the Greeks would be triumphant.
I told him he ought to have a subscription-book number two for the Bashaw of Egypt; at which he laughed, and said, yes, it would be very proper.
But, to answer seriously his question, I told him I should not subscribe for the Greeks, nor advise the President to subscribe. We had objects of distress to relieve at home more than sufficient to absorb all my capacities of contribution; and a subscription for all the Greeks would, in my view of things, be a breach of neutrality, and therefore improper.
The Doctor said he was very sorry to find in me, instead of an assistant, as he expected, an opponent, and urged all the arguments of the crusading spirit applicable to the case; but I was inflexible.
While he was flourishing for the Greeks and their cause, T. H. Benton Senator from Missouri, came in, and introduced the Reverend Salmon Giddings, of St. Louis, who had a subscription-book for building a Presbyterian church at that place. I subscribed for that instead of the Greeks.
(Vol. VI, pp. 364–65) May 28, 1824
My visitors this day at my house were a Mr. Crawson, D.P. Cook, R. Little, H. Clay, the Speaker, and J.R. Poinsett, of South Carolina, to take leave. At the office, John L. Sullivan, with Professor Silliman, and Messrs. Wadsworth and Terry, and E. Wyer. In the course of the morning I called at the President's.
Cook had not heard from N. Edwards; but Dunn, the messenger from the House sent to summon him, returned here this evening, having left Edwards at Washington, Pennsylvania, two hundred and thirty miles from hence, to come on by the next stage. Cook is in great anxiety, knowing that the majority of the committee remaining here are against Edwards, and aware of the prejudice against him in the public mind. He regret-ted greatly the absence of Owen, upon whose integrity and firmness he relied.
Clay said little upon public affairs; spoke with apparent coolness of the affair of Edwards and Crawford, and complained of having had, within these few days, a return of his dyspepsia.
Pointsett is going to New York, thence to Charleston, South Carolina, and proposes, between this and the next session of Congress, to make a voyage to Europe. He said he was willing to go to Naples, and see if anything could be done there with certain claims which had been the object of Mrs. William Pinkney's unsuccessful mission there. Poinsett said he would undertake nothing which would disqualify him for his seat in Congress, and of course should receive no compensation for what he might do. But if a frigate was going out to the Mediterranean, he would be glad to take passage in her, and to be the medium of any communication that the Government might wish to make at Naples. He said he had spoken of it this morning with the President, who had told him he would confer concerning it with me.
I asked Pointsett whether, if he should go, he could not extend his trip further, and give us some account of the condition of the Greeks. He said it would give him great satisfaction if he could, but he was afraid there would not be time. He was told the frigate would be ready to sail in three weeks, and in that case she might, without going out of her way touch and take him up at Charleston. But he knew what three weeks meant in the fitting out of a ship of war, and he believed he could go to Charleston and return to New York before she would be ready.
I spoke of this to the President, who appeared to be desirous that Pointsett should go as proposed, and that, if possible, he should extend his excursion to Greece.
(Vol. VI, p. 414) August 30, 1824
... Mr. G.B. English came again to urge the necessity of appointing him to go out immediately to Gibraltar to negotiate with the Capitan Pasha to save the American property at Smyrna from seizure and confiscation by the Turks in consequence of the subscriptions from the United States in aid of the Greeks. I referred him to the President ...
(Vol. VI, pp. 432–33) December 1, 1825
... The paragraph respecting Greece and South America was less energetic and vivid than that of the last year, but in the same spirit. That about General La Fayette distinct-ly recommended that some provision should be made for him by Congress ...
Source: Constantine G. Hatzidimitriou, Founded on Freedom and Virtue: Documents Illustrating the Impact in the United States of the Greek War of Independence, 1821-1829 (New Rochelle, New York: Aristide D. Caratzas, 2002).