Adams Papers

From John Adams to Boston Patriot, 25 August 1809

Quincy, August 25, 1809.


1780, Nov. 30th—wrote to Congress: “The state of parties in this republic is still critical. Many anonymous pamphlets appear, on both sides. Those which proceed from the English party, are virulent against Mr. Van Berckel. The republic itself wavers, according to events and causes, which are impenetrable. A few days ago, the plan appeared to be to accede to the armed neutrality, in order to satisfy one party; and to disavow the conduct of Amsterdam, in forming with Mr. Lee the project of a treaty, in order to appease the other. Fifteen cities, even in the Province of Holland, have disavowed this measure. Haerlem and Dort are the only two which have approved it. The grand Pensionary of Holland (Van Bleiswick) has sent after the courier who had been dispatched to the plenipotentiaries at Petersburg, and brought him back to the Hague. What alteration is to be made is unknown. It is now given out, that they have determined to increase the fortifications of the maritime towns, and augment their garrisons. I see, every day, more and more of the inveterate prejudices of this nation in favor of the English, and against the French; more and more of the irresistible influence of the Stadtholder; and more and more of the irresolution, uncertainty and confusion of the nation. How the whole will conclude I know not. One thing is certain, that Congress can depend upon no money from hence. Confiding in the assurances of Dr. Franklin, I have accepted all the bills drawn upon Mr. Laurens, Which have, as yet, been presented to me, amounting to 34,358 guilders. But I have no prospect of discharging them, or even of deriving my own subsistence from any other source than Passy. Congress will, therefore, I presume, desist from any further draughts upon Holland, at least until they receive certain information that money has been borrowed, of which I see no present prospect.”

1780, December 1—sent to Congress a complete list of the French and Spanish fleets at Cadiz, with the names of all the ships and their commanders, a force which the English were not then in a condition to blockade or to meet. It is long, and not worth transcribing at present.

1780, December 1—wrote to Mr. Jennings: “I thank you, sir, for your favor of the 20th of November. I am really weary of reading such follies as motions to address the King for peace. They are only delusions to the people of England, the people of America, and all the other nations of the earth. The case of Mr. Laurens, and those of Mr. Trumbull and Mr. Tyler, among millions of other incidents, shew with whom we have to do.

The States General have acceded to the armed neutrality, and disavowed the conduct of Amsterdam, which I suppose is intended, to trim between the two parties in the republic, and between the belligerent and neutral powers. Whether they will keep themselves in peace by it, time will shew. I do not see the practicability of the British ministry’s seizing upon the Dutch money in their funds; how can they distinguish it?

Arnold’s desertion is no loss to us, nor gain to our enemies. I am shocked and grieved, however, as well as you, that such an example should be exhibited to the world of so much bravery and so much baseness in the character of a native American. He had forfeited the esteem of his country; he had incurred her displeasure and her censure; and then he sold himself to her enemy, wounded, maimed and mutilated as he is. Much good may he do them. I wish that every such plunderer would go over after him. I expect that several others will. We shall be purified and strengthened by it.

Mr. Amory’s packet I have sent by the way of St. Eustatia. The duplicate I will send by a better opportunity.

We must prepare our minis and hearts for another scene of exultation and triumph among our enemies. We shall soon have the news, I fear, that they have taken post at Portsmouth, in Virginia; and by this means the nation will be thrown into a fermentation of joy—They will believe that all the trade of Chesapeake Bay will be theirs; that Virginia and Maryland will be theirs, in addition to Georgia, the two Carolinas, &c. &c. &c. This will be delivered you by my friend Mr. Dana, whom you will find worthy of your friendship.”

Same day—wrote to Mr. William Lee: “I have only time at this moment to introduce to you my friend Mr. Dana, who, however, would want no introduction to you, who know his character. The list of naval forces, under D’Estaing, at Cadiz, shews that the English have much to do, before they will have conquered all their enemies. After the armed neutrality shall be formed, perhaps there may be more activity.”

1780, December 6th—wrote to Mr. Arthur Lee: “I have received your favor of September 10th, and am very glad to hear of your visit to Braintree and Plymouth.—I have traced your path as far as Governor Trumbull’s, at Lebanon. I hope you found things in the Eastern States, as well as in all others, agreeable. Gov. Trumbull’s son and Mr. Tyler are taken up in England, and committed for high treason. This will cure the silly itch, of running over to London: but how shall we relieve those gentlemen, who behaved as prudently there as any body could. Mr. Laurens’s confinement is relaxed only by one walk in the yard a day.

The States General have acceded to the armed neutrality—It is said, the Prince was induced to acquiesce, by letters from the King of Prussia, who convinced him that he would make himself too responsible, if he held out against it. The states of Holland, excepting Haerlem and Dort, have disavowed the treaty between Amsterdam and your brother. Sir Joseph’s memorial is not yet answered. The disasters in Carolina, the inactivity of France and Spain, the desertion of Arnold, the rough treatment of Mr. Laurens, Mr. Trumbull and Mr. Tyler, the publication of Mr. Laurens’s papers, but above all, Sir Joseph’s memorial, have totally annihilated our credit here, at least for the present. No man dares any thing, lest he should be charged with aiding, abetting and comforting rebellion. We have nothing to depend upon but ourselves and providence. The English are making a bluster about sending troops. They talk of ten thousand men, and are trying to hire transports here. But we know how they annually execute these threats. Shall be always glad to hear of your welfare, and the news from our country, from want of which we suffer very much.”

1780, December 6th—wrote to Stephen Sayre, Esq. at St. Petersburg: “Am much obliged by the information in your letter of 21st of October, though I have neither instructions nor powers by which I can improve it in any other way than in speculation. I am extremely pleased with the idea of opening a trade between Russia and North America. It may be done immediately, by the way of the French or Dutch islands: but I cannot but wish to see a direct commerce between the two countries. There was formerly such a trade; and I know some families in Boston who have made handsome fortunes by it; which is sufficient to shew that the trade was profitable. America will be one of the best customers for leather, copper, linen, flax, hemp, sail cloth, drugs, linseed oil, feathers, musk, rhubarb, &c. for which, if she had a free trade, she could pay, either in produce or cash; and, therefore, I am certain, that whenever it shall be permitted, there will be a very extensive commerce in these articles with Russia. I should be obliged to you, sir, if you would inform me what American articles would find a market in Russia. There is at present such a demand in America, especially in Philadelphia and Boston, for hemp and duck, &c. that they cannot be sent to any market upon earth that will give one half so much for them. Pray what should hinder your ships from going directly to Boston or Philadelphia? The neutral powers have surely a right to navigate to America, and to trade with their inhabitants. Have they not? How long will all the nations of the earth bear with the unreasonable pretensions of England? I presume we shall soon hear important news from St. Petersburg. The Neutral Confederation, I hope, will bring our enemies to reason; for surely so many great nations are not to be trifled with.

1780, December 6—wrote to Dr. Cooper: “I have received your very agreeable letter of the 8th of September. Nothing could give me more satisfaction than to learn the peaceable establishment of the new constitution. I sincerely wish Mr. Hancock happy in his important office.—Much will depend upon the wisdom and firmness of the first Governor; and much upon the impartiality and liberality with which he hearkens to the advice of such as have abilities and dispositions to give the best. There are characters in the Massachusetts, very able, if they draw together, to conduct the State through every perplexity and danger; but if any little or great animosities, should estrange them from each other, the consequences will be very disagreeable. They may be very pernicious. I am impatient to see the list of council, senate and assembly. The attention of nations is turned to the Massachusetts more than ever. That commonwealth has a great trust in its hands, and I hope will be able to give a good account of it. It has hitherto answered the highest expectations.

Their High Mightinesses have at length determined to accede to the armed neutrality. The King of Prussia will accede to it. It is believed, that his letters to the Prince of Orange have induced his Most Serene Highness to relax his opposition, because it is supposed that he had influence enough to have prevented the republic from acceding, if he had been determined. At present, however, the Dutch are much intimidated. They are afraid of every thing; but above all things, of giving us a credit. As to peace, there is not a thought or a word spent about it. The war will last several years. If America were to seek peace, or even reconciliation, and even if France would consent that she should, Great Britain would grant her no other terms than unlimited submission. Depend upon it, there never was more malice, or deceit, nor more wicked designs, than that whole nation entertains against us, at this moment.”

1780, Dec. 6th—wrote to Isaac Smith, Esq.: “From the great number of American vessels which have arrived in Europe, in the course of the last summer, I think our commerce, as well as privateering, is on the rising hand; and I hope, that the next year it will increase, and that we shall hear oftener from home. Though I shall reside here for some time, I hope my friends will not fail to write me by the way of France and Spain. Mr. Laurens is in strict confinement, and so are Mr. Trumbull and Mr. Tyler, who imprudently went over to England. I believe that, in time, the Americans will realize that the English are their enemies. Nobody need be afraid of privateering, from apprehensions of peace. There is no peace to be had.”

1780, Dec. 6th—wrote to Mr. Bondfield, at Bordeaux: “The non-arrival of the cloathing is a great disappointment and misfortune in America. The British ministry are never at a loss. You see they were very ready to discover how Mr. Laurens was to be treated. They will easily know how to treat Mr. Trumbull and Mr. Tyler. If Americans had understood their parts as well, Mr. Trumbull and Mr. Tyler would never have trod British ground, nor Mr. Laurens have been trusted in a cock-boat. Live and learn. The changes in the marine department (in France) will, I hope, have good effects in many points of view. But not knowing the character of the new minister, must wait for time to bring forth truth.”

1780, December 6—wrote to Dr. Franklin: “Thank you for the extract from Dr. Styles, which I have communicated to Mr. Searle and Mr. Dumas, as you desired.—Should be happy to see the detail of Arnold’s conduct. As long as Congress and courts martial inflict so gentle punishments upon flagrant criminals, and then entrust them with commands and employments, as if nothing had happened, so long we may expect to see examples of treachery, desertion, and every other villainy. What an instance of bravery and baseness this man has exhibited!

There is one measure, however, that would scatter more knaves than all the discipline of the army, or than all committees of enquiry that ever sat. It is a civil action. Let the United States sue at common law, every man who has abused the public confidence, and let a jury determine. A jury would turn many a one out of his chariot into the dirt. Arnold was accused of plunder, or rather of peculation, by the executive council of Pennsylvania. He ought to have been sued. If he had, he would never have had a command again.

There are confused rumors of Gates’s having obtained advantages of Cornwallis; but as we have nothing from England, for three or four posts, I know not their origin or credibility.

It is said, in the papers, that Mr. Rochambeau is come to solicit more troops—More troops would do no harm that I know of, but they are not wanted. All we want is money and ships. Men we have enough, and willing ones too. Without ships, troops will do no good at all. Until the courts of France and Spain shall see the policy and necessity of keeping a naval superiority in the American seas, one nation will continue to make sport of all the nations of the earth.”

1780, December 6th—wrote to Mr. Jennings: “Your kind concern for our health, is very obliging. I shall cover me with baize, flannels and furs, like a Dutchman. A man’s feelings soon remove all the ridicule of it.

The “Pensees” will serve to excite a curiosity after the memorial. Many have read it with pleasure. But the narrative of General Howe has made the greatest impression here. All who have read it, say that it is a demonstration of the universal abhorrence in America of the British government, and of the impracticability of subduing or regaining America. Gen. Washington was at Bergen, very near New-York, on the 9th of October.

Will England rush on the thick bosses of the neutral confederation, reinforced by this republic and the King of Prussia? How many troops will she be able to send out? to the islands? the continent? Quebec, &c.? and by what time will they be ready? If France and Spain should keep their combined fleets in the channel, next year will not the English merchant fleets be in danger? If they should send a superior fleet to North America, would not the whole British power be in danger? If American commerce and privateers should extend themselves next year, farther than they ever have done, would not the English suffer somewhat? What have they got, last year, but preservation from total ruin, by a series of miracles? Can they be sure that such a series will continue?”

1780, December 6—wrote to Mr. Arthur Lee: “Yours from Lebanon, 28th Sept. is just come to hand. I wish the Massachusetts happy in their Governor. It would not have been otherwise, as you suggest it would, had an absent citizen been at home. The gentleman chosen has long been popular in a high degree; the absent one could scarcely ever be said to be so. I hope, in this instance, we shall do well. More penetration, knowledge and steadiness, might perhaps have been found. But the intention is good, as I believe.

Effectual measures will, I hope, be taken to support credit; but I doubt whether our allies will send us a million. You know the difficulty we always had to obtain any money. As to borrowing in Holland, our credit is not worth a guinea. How can we expect credit abroad, when we have it not abroad? It is most assuredly in the power of the people of America to pay in taxes, and lend to the public, money for our necessities; but nobody will lend. I have now made experiments in person, and know that money cannot be borrowed here, although on my first arrival I was deceived into an opposite opinion, by people who thought by a few fair words to get a great deal of trade. The friendship for us in this country goes little farther than an inclination for our commerce.

As to our being forced to an accommodation, God forbid! We can gain no accommodation but unconditional submission. No propositions the English ever made us, had any sincerity, or meant any thing more than to deceive, divide and betray us.—Malice is in all their thoughts towards us.

No man or nation can do a more fatal injury to America, or lead her into a more ruinous error, than by countenancing an opinion that England will give us terms—No, sir! war we must have, and that for years, or slavery without alloy.”

1780, December 6—wrote to Mr. William Lee—after a long speculation about things of various kinds: “All these are but wanderings of imagination. Our business is, as you say, at present, to drive the English out of the thirteen States; and, as I say, to build a navy. A navy is our only defence; more necessary for us than for Great Britain. By this alone can we defend a long sea coast, and transport troops from one place to another. We need not march armies nine hundred miles, if we had a navy.”

1780, Dec 7—wrote to Mr. William Temple Franklin, in answer to one from him: “The gout, I fancy, has done the business of a physician for the Doctor, and laid the foundation for fine health and spirits for the ensuing winter. I could wish for the gout too, or any thing else, to make the scene agreeable to me, who, in this capital of the reign of Mammon, cannot find the air of Passy, nor the amusements of Paris. Here are examples of industry, simplicity and economy, which would be worthy to be translated to our country, provided there were any thing like public spirit in them. But here these are only private virtues, and begin and end in self.”

1780, Dec. 7—wrote to Mr. Lovel: “I am this moment finishing the year since my last arrival in Europe, and the dullest year it has been that I ever saw. Such another, I hope I never shall see. The last year has completely finished our credit in Europe; Unless France and Spain should lend us money, there is none to be had. As to the olive branch, the seed is not yet sown that is to produce the tree that will bear it. I have received your kind favor of the 7th of Sept. and hope soon to receive more. We hope to hear that Cornwallis is checked. The Dutch are pleasing themselves with hopes from the armed neutrality. They have sent off expresses to the several courts, to inform them of their accession. But they dare not attempt any thing else. If you ask what has become of Ireland? It was silenced by the loss of Charleston. What of the committees in England? Frightened by the executions of the mob. What is become of our credit in Holland? Annihilated by the defeat of General Gates and Sir Joseph Yorke’s memorial. Thus you see how mankind are governed in this hemisphere. I send you a pamphlet lately published here.”

1780, December 9—wrote to the Baron Vander Capellen: “I have received the letter you did me the honor to write me on the 28th ult. The pamphlet which I took the liberty to send you, may possibly excite in some minds a curiosity to read the original memorial, and turn the attention of many to a subject that deserves a serious consideration. It is very probable that Mr. Pownal meant to alarm this republic, and perhaps other nations, by several things which he has inserted in his work; for he is by no means a friend of America. The truths he tells in her favor, do not come from a willing witness.

These little alarms of merchants, or of nations, are not much to be regarded. The American question, one of the greatest which was ever decided among men, will be determined by the cabinets of Europe, according to great national interests. But let these decide as they will, America will be independent. It is not in the power of Europe to prevent it. Little mercantile apprehensions, and less family competitions, and alliances among Princes, may light up a general war in Europe. It is possible that a jealousy of the house of Bourbon, may inkindle a war of several powers against those nations who follow the several branches of that family; but this would promote, rather than retard American independence. American independence is no longer a question with one man of sense in the world, who understands any thing of the subject. That merchant must be a very superficial thinker indeed, who dreads the rivalry of independent America, in the fisheries, in freight, and in the coasting trade, and yet would not be afraid of it, connected with Great Britain. The possibility of America’s interfering with any nation, in any of these things, will certainly be retarded by her independence.

I agree with you, that the credit of America was never lower in the Low Countries than at this hour; but I am unfortunate enough to differ from your opinion concerning the causes of it. The tales of Gates and Arnold, and the French and Spanish fleets, &c. are ostensible reasons. The true one, is the apparent obstinacy and fury of England, manifested several ways, particularly in the treatment of Mr. Laurens, and the rage at the discovery of his papers.—These have intimidated every body. Every one dreads the resentment of the English party, and no man stands forth in opposition to it. So be it. Let them go on, lending their money, and hiring their ships to England, to enable her to murder people, of whom neither the lender nor the borrower are worthy. Time will shew them how much wisdom there is in their unfeeling sacrifice of every sentiment and every principle on the altar of Mammon. The less America has to do with such people, the better it will be for her. As to authentic informations, sir, no information from America would alter sentiments which are formed upon motives that lie altogether in Europe. No information from. America could alter the constitution of this republic, give the Stadtholder less decisive influence in it, or destroy the relations between the families of Hanover and Orange. I should not, therefore, think it wise or honest in me to deceive America, with any kind of hopes of assistance in any way from this republic. There are a few, a very few individuals, among the foremost of whom, you, sir, will ever be remembered, who would wish, from generous motives, to do us service; but they are so overborne by the opposite party, that they never will be able to do much, excepting in a case in which we should have no need of their assistance.”

1780, December 9—wrote to Dr. Tufts: “Am obliged to you for the journal of the weather; but cannot admit your excuse for not writing me politics. Every one says you will have public affairs from others. So I get them from none. The institution of an Academy of Arts and Sciences, does you much honor in Europe, and it will, after a little time, be encouraged many ways; but do not set your heart upon benefactions from abroad. It is a shame that we should beg for benefactions. There have been but two Hollis’s. There will perhaps be no more. I wish we were wise enough to depend upon ourselves for every thing, and upon Europe for nothing. Ours is the richest and most independent country under Heaven; and we are continually looking up to Europe for help. Our riches and independence grow annually out of the ground. The English are hiring ships here to carry troops and provisions to America. They have hired about a dozen, and there are orders to hire as many as they can.—The Dutch are waiting for the English stocks to fall below sixty, and then every body will put their money into them. These gudgeons are deceived. The English emissaries give out that there will be peace; the credulous Dutch believe it, and think that after a peace the English stocks will rise, as they did after the peace of 1763.—They hope to make fifteen or twenty per cent, clear profit. The Dutch have acceded to the neutral confederation; but this I suspect, will be brutum fulmen.”

1780, December 9—wrote to Dr. Cooper, in answer to his of the 25th of July: “The promised reinforcement is not yet sailed from France. I hope they will send more ships. I sincerely wish myself at home. Peace will not be made for many years, and to what purpose I should stay here, I know not. In America I could do some good, if I could get there without going after Mr. Laurens. Our unthinking countrymen never, from the beginning, appeared to me to be sufficiently sensible of the difficulty and danger of the work they were about. They seem now to think they have nothing to do, but call upon nations of Europe to their aid. Many think they have only to propose peace, and there will be peace. Only ask for accommodation, and they shall have it. Depend upon it, accommodation is not now at the disposal of America, on any other terms than unconditional submission to Great Britain, and a war with France and Spain. How little soever France and Spain are disposed to assist us, we should find them very different enemies from what they were the last war. Their marines and finances are as much more formidable, as those of Great Britain are less. I know not the reason, but our countrymen never appeared to me to have considered seriously what it was to commit hostilities against Great Britain.—They seem to think the English still their friends. They will find themselves the dupes of their own good nature and unsuspicious temper. There is not in England one half the rancor against Frenchmen and Spaniards, that there is against Americans. The administration have found means, and had the art to inspire even the populace with a hatred of us, as bitter as that of the common soldiers who are employed to butcher us in America. If we do not in time, find out that Great Britain is our enemy: and that we must renounce all ideas of connexion, correspondence or intercourse with her, I shall be mistaken.

The Dutch politicians after the two invasions of their republic by Louis 14th and Louis 15th, published little books containing short and simple narrations, adapted to the capacities of children, and the common people, of the devastations, cruelties and brutalities of the French armies, committed in the republic, intermixed with little prints representing many of the most detestible of those scenes. The books were entitled “French Tyranny.” They were read by every body, even taught to children in the schools, and contributed to excite an universal hatred of that nation, which runs through every vein to this day. The English ministry are representing Americans in prints and caracaturas, in a light equally odious to the people of England.—Yet the gentlemen in America seem to be afraid to represent the British conduct towards them, lest it should alienate the affections of the people. If there is ever again any affection between Americans and Britons it will be miraculous indeed. Our officers too are continually expressing their admiration of British officers, troops, navy, discipline, &c. as if they thought the way to make their soldiers fight was to represent the enemy as terrible. It will not be at all wonderful, if militia fly, and continental troops too, as long as this is the case. Pray put our countrymen into a more able way of managing the best cause, and working with the best materials. If between three and four millions of people, inhabiting such a country as ours, and in a manner out of debt, cannot defend themselves against between five and six millions (this was Dr. Price’s calculation at that time) three thousand miles off, and two hundred millions in debt, it will be the most shameful discovery that ever was made.

John Adams.

Printed Source--Boston Patriot.

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