Adams Papers

From John Adams to Arthur Lee, 4 September 1788

The Hague, Sept. 4th, 1788.


A few days before leaving Paris I had the honour to receive your letter. Since that I have passed through London on my way to this place. The cause of my coming has been communicated to you some time ago, and I have nothing to say on that subject. Learning that a vessel is about to sail from Amsterdam for New-York in a few days, I profit of that occasion to send you a little of the reigning politics of this quarter of the globe. Three objects at present occupy the minds of all here. I say all, because every one is deeply interested, and takes an active part in one or the other of the three. The first is the affair of the Scheld, which is now negotiating, and in very fair train at Paris. I have here the most unquestionable information sir, that the matter will be accommodated in a very few days, and that an ultimate treaty with France will immediately follow; perhaps the last hand is this last moment putting to it. The conditions of this accommodation with the emperor cannot be known; yet there is no doubt I believe that the Scheld will not be opened in its greatest latitude, and in the manner the emperor wished it. It was to be wished for America, (I think) that he had succeeded. We should have been able then to have quoted this example when we come to claim as we shall do, the free use of the Mississippi. The best claim however in these cases is that of force; and this we shall probably have on our side.

The second object consists in the internal commotions of these provinces, occasioned by the two parties, of patriots and ********. The design of the former is to clip what they think the unconstitutional exuberances of the princes’ power, of the latter to oppose them in every instance. The former are composed of the middle rank of citizens, the latter of the higher and lower classes. The patriots are at present the unquestionably predominant party, consisting however of a great variety of powers and characters opposed in principle and interest; their operations are slow, yet they form at present a powerful column that must be irresistible, if it can be kept firm and unbroken. They have lately succeeded in abolishing the high council of war, and commissioners who are to enquire into the illegal growth of prerogative seem to promise a finishing stroke to overgrown power. Yet history has furnished us with so many instances of the difficulty of wresting power from hands which have once possessed it, that we might be inclined to doubt the success of the patriotic party, as they are termed, if every day did not give some proof of their decided determination to persevere. At the head of them is Mr. Van Berkel, the brother of the minister in America; he is aided by the pensionary of Dort, a gentleman of shining talents, and though young, of the most promising expectations. The most penetrating of the party consider themselves as indebted to the American war for opening their eyes and rousing them from a lethargy into which they had fallen. A spirit of opposition has pervaded this middle rank of citizens; volunteer corps are formed and disciplining. You observe their children even going through the exercise in playing about the streets, and every thing among them makes us recollect the year 1775 in America. This party views America with a venerating partiality, and so much attached are they to our opposition that they seem fond of imitating us where-ever they can, and of drawing parallels between the similar circumstances in the two countries. Not long ago an officer of one of the patriotic corps lost the spirit of opposition, and went over to the opposite interest ; he was immediately branded with the opprobrious name of the American Arnold.

The Hague itself is not free from the violence of this party rage. The flame seems fanned here with additional force by foreign aid. It being the seat of all the foreign ministers, and they are forming a body which bears a considerable proportion to the town itself, their influence seems to be felt on the modes of thinking here. Thus they appear ranged in opposite columns, and unite with this or that party as the interest of their court dictates. In this point of view the delightful seat of the prince and their high mightinesses here, which seems formed for pleasure and agreeable society, is turned into a kind of political field of battle, where the foreign troops are headed on one side by the French, and on the other by the English ambassador. Yet very much for the honour of these two gentlemen, notwithstanding they are thus necessarily opposed and forced to be active against each other, they preserve the warmest personal friendship. This was cultivated during their residence at Petersburgh, and seems to have lost nothing of its sincerity by being translated to the Hague. It is really a pleasing sight, as it does honour to these politicians to see the Marquis de Verce and Sir James Harris assembling at each other’s houses, in the appearance of the greatest intimacy, on the evening of the same mornings that they have been exerting all their talents and putting every engine of intrigue in motion to destroy the plans of each other.

It will be of great importance to America that the minister she is about to have here should know how to *** a perfect neutrality between these violent parties foreign and domestic; and from the character alone of the gentleman lately appointed we have every reason to hope it will be done.

I think it requires little foresight to see that if America is represented with prudence and circumspection for a few years in the different courts of Europe, she will necessarily have thrown into her hands such a balancing power as will enable her to secure very great advantage for herself in a variety of commercial objects; and these alone seem to be worthy of her attention.

I have said so much to you already, that I fear to add more on the third head of which I spoke above, than to say it is what is called the   signed on the 23d of last month by the king of Prussia, the elector of Saxony, and the elector of Brunswick and Lunenburg. This has been explained to their high mightinesses a few days ago by a declaration of the king of Prussia.

I have the honour to be with great esteem your most obedient and humble servant,

John Adams.

Printed Source--Richard Henry Lee. Life of Arthur Lee, LL.D. (Boston: 1829)..

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