Adams Papers

From John Adams to Boston Patriot, 4 August 1809

Quincy, August 4, 1809.


ON the 20th of September, 1780, wrote to his excellency Joseph Reed, Esq. President, and the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, in answer to a letter recommending Mr. Searle and his mission, that he might depend upon every civility and assistance in my power, consistent with the duties of the place I was in.

Mr. Searle was sent by them to Europe, to borrow money. Such was the distress of America for money, that there were four agents then in Europe from several states, all sent to borrow money, and all recommended to me for assistance: Commodore Gillon, from South-Carolina, Mr. Mazzei, from Virginia, Mr. Searle, from Pennsylvania, and Mr. Jonathan Loring Austin, from Massachusetts. But as agent from the United States for the same purpose, I wanted their assistance as much as they mine. Neither United States nor separate States had as yet much credit.

September 23, 1780, wrote to Mr. Jennings at Brussels. “I find that my friend in Philadelphia re-printed the letters on the spirit and resources of Great Britain, after which they were again printed in Boston and much admired. A gentleman from Boston told me, he heard there that they were written by one Mr. Jennings. I wish his countrymen knew more than they do about that same Mr. Jennings.

I take a vast satisfaction in the general approbation of the Massachusetts constitution: if the people are as wise and honest in the choice of their rulers, as they have been in framing a government, they will be happy, and I shall die content with the prospect for my children, who, if they cannot be well under such a form and such an administration, will not deserve to be at all.

I wish the “Translation” might appear as soon as possible, because it may have some effects here. It certainly will, for there are many persons here, attentive to such things in English, whether in pamphlets or newspapers. I wish it was published in a pamphlet, and I could get a dozen of them. I begin to be more fond of propagating things in English, because the most attentive people to our affairs read English, and I wish to increase the curiosity after that language, and the number of the students in it. You must know that I have undertaken to prophecy that English will be the most respectable language in the world, and the most universally read and spoken, in the next century. American population will produce a greater number of persons who will speak English than any other language: and these persons will have more general acquaintance and conversation with all nations than any other people, which will naturally introduce their language every where as the general medium of correspondence and conversation, among the learned of all nations, and among all travellers and strangers, as Latin was in the last century, and as French has been in this. Let us then encourage and advise every body to study English.

I have written to Congress a serious request that they would appoint an academy for correcting, improving, refining and ascertaining the English language. If congress should do this, perhaps the British king and Parliament may have the honor of copying their example. This I should admire. I know not whether England will ever have any more honor, excepting now and then, that of imitating the Americans.

I am not altogether in jest. I perceive a general increasing inclination after English in France, Spain and Holland, and it may extend throughout Europe. The population and commerce of America will force their language into more general use.”

The "Translation" mentioned in this letter, was the abridgment of Mr. Pownal’s memorial, which had been translated into French at my request, by Mr. Adenet, and printed by Mr. Luzac, under the title of Pensees Extraits, &c. It was afterwards published in English, in London, under the whimsical title of “A Translation into Common Sense and Plain English.”

September 23d, wrote to Mr. Searle acknowledging the receipt of the letters and dispatches brought by him from Congress, and promising to do whatever might be in my power to render his residence in Europe agreeable, and to assist him in the purpose of his mission. That his relation of the state of affairs in our country, as it has been repeated to me, was very pleasing and promised much good; that I should obey the commands of Congress with great pleasure, but with what success time only could discover.

September 25, wrote to my correspondent in London.—“The people on your side the water seem determined to revenge themselves, for the loss of their power on those who have done all they could to preserve it.—I should not say all they could.—They have never made an opposition upon any principle or system.—The man who condemns a minister in one breath for the American war, and in the next for not doing more in it, and for not succeeding in it, will never make any great hand of it. One who applauds the Americans for their resistance, and then condemns the French for coming in aid of that resistance, and the Americans for accepting that aid, will never make any great figure. An admiral who cannot serve against America, and yet will serve against the French in the American war, may well expect Keppell’s fate. Mankind are not well governed in this manner. If a man would lead others to a good end, he must lay down his principles and digest his plan. He should let others into it, and obtain their approbation of it, and then pursue it, through all its variety of fortune, and all its consequences.

But what is this to us, who is in, or who out? The nation will go to the end of its tether, as Governor Bernard did, let who will be in or out of Parliament. We know the worst and are prepared. Let it come. The weaker our enemies before they make peace, the safer we shall be, and the longer the peace will last. As to the friendship of Great Britain towards America, if they ever had any, it is gone to all eternity. She can never forgive us the injuries she has done us. Send me a few copies of the Memorial to the sovereigns of Europe, and a copy of Dr. Price’s Population, &c.

Sept. 24, wrote to Congress.—“Since the receipt of the dispatches brought by Mr. Searle, I have been uninterruptedly employed in attempts to carry into execution, their designs.

The first enquiry was, whether it was prudent to make any communication of my business to the States General, or to the Prince. Considering that my errand was simply an affair of credit, without any political authority, I thought, upon consulting gentlemen of the most knowledge and best judgment, and most undoubted inclination for a solid and lasting connection between the two republics, I found them of the same opinion, that it was best to keep my designs secret as long as I could.

I then enquired whether it would be proper to communicate any thing to the regency of Amsterdam, or any other branch of this complicated government, and was advised against it, and to proceed to endeavor to effect a loan upon the simple foundation of private credit. I have accordingly made all the enquiries possible for the best and most unexceptionable house. To-morrow I expect an answer to some propositions I made yesterday.

This business must all be settled with so much secrecy and caution, and I am under so many difficulties, not understanding the Dutch language, and the gentlemen I am concerned with, not being much more expert in French than I am, and not understanding English at all, that the business goes on slower than I could wish. Commodore Gillon, by his general acquaintance here and familiarity with the language, which is his mother tongue, has been as useful to me as he has been friendly.

I never saw the national benefit of a fine language generally read and spoken, in so strong a light as since I have been here.—The Dutch language is understood by nobody but themselves. The consequence of which has been, that this nation is not known. With as profound learning and as great ingenuity, as any people in Europe, they have been overlooked, because they were not known and were situated among others more numerous and powerful than they. I hope we shall take warning from their example, and do every thing in our power to make the language we speak, respectable throughout the world. Separated as we are from the kingdom of Great Britain, we have not made war upon the English language, any more than against the old English character. An academy for fixing and improving the English language, would strike Great Britain with envy and all the rest of the world with admiration.—The labors of such a society would unite all America in the same language for thirty millions of people to speak, by the middle of the nineteenth century.

September 25, wrote again to Congress.—“There are some persons in this republic who have been attentive to this war, and know somewhat of the rise and progress of the United States of America; but it is astonishing that the number should be so small as it is. Even in this city of Amsterdam, which is the most attentive to our affairs and the best inclined towards us, there are few persons who do not consider the American resistance as a desultory rage of a few enthusiasts, without order, discipline, law or government. There are scarcely any who have an adequate idea of the numbers, the increasing population, or the growing commerce of America.

Upon my arrival here, some gentlemen were inquisitive about our governments: I asked, if they had seen them in print? I was answered no. Upon this I made it my business to search in all the booksellers’ shops for a collection of American constitutions, which was published in French two or three years ago, but could find only two copies, which I presented to the gentlemen who made the enquiries.

Nothing would serve our cause more than having a complete collection of all our American constitutions correctly printed in English at Philadelphia, by order of Congress, and sent to Europe as well as sold in America. The Rhode-Island and Connecticut constitutions ought not to be omitted, although they have undergone no alteration, and it would be well to print the confederation, in the same volume.

This volume would be read by every body in Europe who reads English and could obtain it, and some would even learn English for the sake of reading it. It would be translated into every language of Europe, and would fix the opinion of our unconquerability, more than any thing could, except driving the enemy wholly from the United States.

There has been nobody here, of sufficient information and consideration, to turn the attention of the public towards our affairs—to communicate to the public, from time to time, in a language that is understood, intelligence from England, France or America. But on the contrary, there have been persons enough employed and well paid by our enemies, to propagate misinformation, misrepresentation and abuse.

The ancient and intimate connection between the houses of Orange and Brunswick, the family alliances and the vast advantages which the princes of Orange have derived, in erecting, establishing and perpetuating the hereditary Stadtholdership, against the inclination of the republican party: and the reliance which this family still has upon the same connection to support it, have attached the executive power of this government in such a manner to England, that nothing but necessity could make a separation. On the contrary, the republican party, which has heretofore been conducted by Barneveldt, Grotius, the De Witts, and other immortal patriots, have ever leaned towards an alliance with France, because she has always favored the republican form of government in this nation. All parties, however, agree, that England has been always jealous and envious of the Dutch commerce, and done it great injuries: that this country is more in the power of France, if she were hostile, than of England; and that her trade with France is of vastly greater value than that with England. Yet England has more influence here than France. The Dutch, some of them at least, now see another commercial and maritime power arising, with which it is their interest to form an early connection. All parties here see, that it is not their interest that France and Spain should secure too many advantages in America, too great a share in her commerce, and especially in the fisheries in the American seas. All parties too, see that it would be dangerous to the commerce and even independence of the United Provinces, to have America again under the dominion of England: And the republicans see, or think they see, that a change in this government and the loss of their liberties, would be the consequence of it, too.

Amidst all these conflicts of interests and parties, and all these speculations, the British ambassador, with his swarms of agents and emissaries, are busily employed in propagating reports, in which they are much assisted by those who are called Stadtholderians, and there has been nobody here to contradict or explain any thing. This should be the business in part of a minister plenipotentiary from Congress. Such a minister, however, would not have it in his power to do it effectually, without frequent and constant information from Congress.—This nation, at present, is so ignorant of the strength, resources, commerce and constitutions of the United States; it has so many doubts of our final success; so many suspicions of our falling finally into the hands of France and Spain; so many fears of offending the British ministry; the English ambassador; the great mercantile houses that are very profitably employed by both; and above all, the Stadtholder and his friends; that even a loan of money will meet with every obstruction and discouragement possible. Such chimeras and many more are held up to people, and influence their minds and conduct to such a degree, that no man dares openly and publicly to disregard them.

I hiave this day received an answer to some propositions which I made last Saturday to a very respectable house, declining to accept the trust proposed. I do not, however, despair. I still hope to obtain something; but I am fully persuaded, that without a commission of minister plenipotentiary, and without time and care to lead the public opinion into the truth, no man living will ever succeed to any large amount. Those persons who wish to lend us money, and are able to lend us any considerable sum, are the patriots, who are willing to risque British and Stadtholderian resentment for the sake of extending the commerce, strengthening the political interests, and preserving the liberties of their country. They think, that lending us money without forming a political connection with us, will not answer those ends. That cause which rests on the shoulders of patriotism, in any part of Europe, stands very insecurely: but in such a case, if patriotism is left in a state of doubt, whether she ought to sustain it, the cause must fall.

Sept. 27, wrote to Dr. Franklin. "Mr. Samuel Andrews, formerly of Boston, lately of Demarara, is going to Paris upon business respecting a vessel taken by the French and carried into Martinico. He will lay before you his papers, and hopes for your countenance in the prosecution of his appeal, though he claims as a Dutchman, I have the honor to recommend him to your excellency’s notice.

My affairs will oblige me to remain here, if Mr. Laurens should not arrive; and if he does it will be proper for me to stay until I can communicate to him all I know at least.

I have often heard mentioned a letter from your excellency to the grand pensionary of Holland, near a year ago. It is much esteemed here: but I cannot obtain a sight of it: I should be glad to support the sentiments in it, as far as I have heard them: but could do it to better purpose if I had a copy of it, which if there is no material objection I request or your excellency.

What this republic will do, in the northern confederation, is a question that divides all parties. Neither Stadtholderians nor Republicans, neither Anglomanes nor Francomanes are agreed. Time will show.”

Sept. 28, wrote to Congress. “On the fifth of this month, the Barons of Wassenaar and Heekiren, ministers plenipotentiary of the states general, had their first audience of the Empress of Russia, presented their letters of credence and were graciously received. Wassenaar in presenting his letters addressed the Empress in the following harangue.

This is long and very complimentary on her project, as great as it is just and equitable, the honor of which is solely to her imperial majesty, &c. but at present I will not copy it: nor the Empresses answer.

October 2, 1780, wrote to Mr. Tracy, among other things, “the English papers give out insurrections in south America, on account of a new tax, and committees of correspondence appointed a la Boston aise. Whether this is true I know not: and whether it will be useful or hurtful to us, if true, I am equally ignorant. I am not apprehensive of any bad consequences to us. The elections in England have gone much in favor of the ministry, and war will undoubtedly continue: whatever insinuations the Anglomanes may propagate among you."

October 2, wrote to Mr. Jackson of Newburyport. “I have long had it in contemplation to pay my respects to you, but a wandering life and various avocations have hitherto prevented me.

I am very happy to find that our labours in convention were not in vain. The constitution, as finished by the convention and accepted by the people, is published in all the public papers of Europe: the report of the committee having been published before. Both have been treated with much respect both in Europe and the other States of America. The noble simplicity of your address to the people is much admired.—The substitute for the governor’s negative is generally thought an amelioration: and I must confess it is so wisely guarded that it has quite reconciled me.

I want to hear of the elections: if these are made with as much gravity, sobriety, wisdom and integrity as were discovered in the convention, and among the people, in the whole course of this great work, posterity will be happy and prosperous. The first citizen will be one of two whom we know. Whichever it may be, I wish him support and success. It is no light trust. However ambitious any man may be of it, whoever obtains this distinction, if he does his duty will find it an heavy burthen.—There are however other great trusts.—The Governor’s office will be rendered more or less useful, according to the characters that compose the Senate and the Council. If the people are as prudent in the choice of these, as they were in the choice of the convention, let the Governor be almost what he will, he will not be able to do much harm. He will be necessitated to do right.

There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our constitution. We cannot have a bad Governor, at present. We may possibly have the best that might be found. But we shall have a good one. One who means to do no evil to his country, but all the good he can.

The convention I shall ever recollect with veneration. Among other things for bringing me acquainted with several characters that I knew little of before, of which number Mr. Jackson is one. I shall be much honored, sir, if you will be so good as to write me the state of things. There are more opportunities I think from your port to Spain and Holland, than from any other.

John Adams.

Printed Source--Boston Patriot.

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