Adams Papers

John Adams to Joseph Willard, 8 September 1784

To Joseph Willard

Auteuil near Paris Septr. 8. 1784.


I have received, by Mrs Adams, the Letter you did me, the Honour to write me on the eighth of June last, together with a Vote of the President and Fellows of Harvard College of the first of April 1783, and a Diploma for a Doctorate of Laws elegantly engrossed and the Seal inclosed in a Silver Box.1

This Mark of the approbation of So respectable a University does me great Honour and is more especially acceptable to me, as it comes from a Society, where I had my Education, and for which I have ever entertained the highest Veneration. Let me pray you, Sir, to present my best Respects, and most hearty Thanks to the Corporation, and to accept the Same for the polite and obliging manner, in which you have communicated their Resolution and Diploma.—

Your Design, Sir, of visiting the Universities of Europe to become acquainted with their Laws, Customs and modes of Education, is a very wise one. The Reflections you would make and the Correspondences you would form, would amply compensate the Trouble and Expence, although I can give you no Encouragement to hope, for the Smallest pecuniary Advantage. it is the general Sentiment, in Europe, even of those who are not professed Ennemies to America, that there is already in that Country, Wealth and Knowledge enough, and too many Advantages for acquiring more, to make it necessary for them to contribute any of theirs to our Assistance.

If you come, Sir, while I remain in Europe you may depend upon any Assistance, which a Residence of near Seven Years abroad, in France, Holland and England, may enable me to give you, in obtaining Introductions to Such Characters as you wish to See.

After all, the System of Education at your University is so excellent that I Should not wish to See it, essentially changed, much less conformed to the Models in Europe, where there is much less Attention to the Morals and Studies of the Youth. in this Sentiment I am So fully fixed as to be very desirous of giving my own Son an Opportunity to Study with you. He has travelled with me and Mr Dana, for near Seven Years, and has Seen the most of Europe, but he has not neglected his Studies. He has been matriculated in the University of Leyden, and Studied there Sometime, and might have a Degree there, with the Attendance of a few Months more.2 He is advanced in Age and I flatter myself in Literature So far as to render it impossible for me to offer him, at Harvard Colledge as a Freshman: But if the Laws will admit him, after an Examination And upon the Payment of a Sum of Money, for the Benefit of the Society, with the Class of the fourth or third Year, I Should chose to Send him to you, rather than to Leyden. I Should be much obliged to you for your Sentiments upon this Subject.3

With the greatest Respect and / Esteem I have the Honour to be, Sir / your most obedient and / most humble Servant

John Adams.—

RC (MH-Ar:Corporation Papers, UA I, 5.120); internal address: “The Reverend Joseph Willard / President of the University / at Cambridge.”; docketed: “John Adams / while in Europe.” Dft (Adams Papers).

1Willard’s letter has not been found. For the 1 April 1783 vote of the president and fellows of Harvard College ordering that the honorary doctorate conferred upon JA on 19 Dec. 1781 be engrossed, see vol. 14:381; for the diploma and seal, see same, p. xiii–xiv, 382–383.

2On 18 Dec. 1780 JA sent both JQA and CA to Leyden to study Latin and Greek with private instructors and to attend lectures at the university there. JQA was matriculated in the university in Jan. 1781 but remained only until the following June when he left Leyden and then the Netherlands to accompany Francis Dana to Russia (AFC, description begins Adams Family Correspondence, ed. L. H. Butterfield, Marc Friedlaender, Richard Alan Ryerson, Margaret A. Hogan, and others, Cambridge, 1963–. description ends , 4:34–35; JA, D&A, description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 2:452; JQA, Diary, description begins Diary of John Quincy Adams, ed. David Grayson Allen, Robert J. Taylor, and others, Cambridge, 1981–. description ends , 1:75).

3For JQA’s admission to Harvard College and the terms of his attendance, see Willard’s reply of 14 Dec. 1784, below. For JA’s further comments on JQA’s education at Harvard, see his 23 April 1785 letter to Benjamin Waterhouse, JA, Works, description begins The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Boston, 1850–1856; 10 vols. description ends 9:530–531 (misdated there as 24 April).

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