Adams Papers

To John Adams from John Quincy Adams, 10 February 1799

N. 58.

10. February 1799.

Dear Sir.

I received a few days ago, your letter of 16. Octr: last, written from Quincy.—With respect to the renewal of the Treaties with Sweden and Prussia, I have kept the Secretary of State regularly informed of my proceedings, and the answers given by the respective Courts, which therefore there is no occasion of repeating to you.—I have likewise given him a general sketch of the occurrences of moment in this quarter of the world—Since I wrote him last the most important event that has happened is the surrender of Ehrenbreitstein to the French on the 25th. of last month. They have also made themselves Masters of Naples, though as yet no official account has ascertained the day upon which they took possession of it. These Events together with their assumption of Piedmont have been seen by the two Great German Powers, without inducing them to take any step for preventing the progress of the conquerors—There is every probability that neither of them will engage in War untill directly attacked—This court has indeed been alarmed, more perhaps at the quietness which Austria has preserved, than at the successive crumbling of the ruins of Italy.—For a moment it appeared probable that Prussia, would engage in new hostilities; but that moment is past, and now there is little doubt but the system of standing merely upon the defensive will continue to prevail.—Mr: Thomas Grenville, an<d> elder brother of the English Secretary of State has been appointed upon a special mission to this Court, and that of Vienna.—He has been expected here these two months; but has been prevented from reaching the Continent by the severity of the Season; which has been unusually great.—The object of his mission is reported to be, to effect a concert between Austria and Prussia, in some system to withstand the encroaching power of France.—Britain is indefatigable in the pursuit of this object, in which it appears impossible that she should succeed.—At the present moment a degree of distrust more than common exists between the two rivals, and England is far from being upon terms of harmony with Austria. The cabinet of Vienna is making continual protestations to those of London and St: Petersbourg, that it is determined upon a renewal of the War, and notwithstanding all the appearances to the contrary, they believe these professions.—That the War will sooner or later recommence is beyond a doubt; but I am persuaded it will be only when France has determined upon it—The Directory will keep the election of Peace or War constantly in their own hands, and at the very moment when they find themselves ready, will strike.—This State of suspense itself is for the remaining monarchies of this Continent, of the same benefit as medecines which postpone the issue of an incurable disease—for it is extremely probable that not one of them will survive another War against them waged by France.

The Directory continue however their professions of a disposition for reconciliation with the United States. And they have lately sent to the Council of 500, a message upon the subject of sea prizes, which has every semblance of a determination to discourage privateering especially against the trade of neutral powers.—But its real object is to obtain a discretionary power, by virtue of which they might make and alter their maritime regulations at their pleasure.—They ask of the Councils to decree that all prize Causes shall finally be settled “administrativement”—that is they require not merely an united executive and Legislative, but something more comprehensive still—an arbitrary power.—Their argument, is more ingenious than ingenuous.—They say “Your Laws concerning prizes are bad—Therefore you must change them; that is, you must give us the power of dispensation from them”—Whether the Council will notice, that in this case, the explanation is in direct opposition to the thing explained, and that under the pretence of asking an alteration in the Laws, the Directory ask for a power above the Laws, is yet to be seen—But to every other eye it must be plain, that they are less concerned for a reformation of the Laws, than for an addition to their own powers.—It is however evident from the facts alledged in this document that the system which they have hitherto pursued has been as pernicious, as it has been disgraceful to France—They tell us, that the Fate of all the privateers fitted out, is to fall sooner or later into the hands of the English—That there is not a single merchant vessel under french colours sailing upon the Ocean—That by privateering alone, they have within the last three years, lost a balance of twenty thousand sailors captured by the enemy, and that under their present marine Laws, neutral vessels, laden for the account of the french government, have been taken by french cruizers, and condemned by french Courts of admiralty.—This last circumstance serves to characterize in a perfect manner, the wisdom and the Justice of their regulations—Probably if the Directory could settle all such cases administrativement, they would find a remedy for this special case—But if the loss should fall upon a neutral merchant or Government, instead of themselves, there is no reason to suppose they would be so equitable.

I shewed to the Baron de Thulemeyer, the passage in your letter, concerning him; with which he was very much delighted; and he requested me to express his gratitude for your kind remembrance. As to your political question, he did not venture to answer it, but considered it, as answering itself, and only said, you were perfectly right—In truth, upon this subject, not only his individual sentiments, but those which prevail in this Cabinet are accurate—They see the mischief plainly enough, and only lament their insufficiency to find a remedy.—The Prussian monarchy itself has contributed its share in the sacrifice which gives the Rhine to France as a Boundary—It has given its limb, for a few more years of lingering life, and while it trembles for its existence, it has scarce leisure to regret the loss which it cannot repair.

I enclose herewith a letter for you which I lately received from a Baron de Blumenstein, at Breslau; a Captain in the Prussian service, and a lover of chemical studies, as it seems.—I have no personal acquaintance with him, or further knowledge of him, than what he gives of himself in his letter, and in one to me enclosing it, and requesting me to forward it, together with the Memoir to you. Though I have not much confidence in the success of the remedy which he proposes for the prevention or extirpation of the yellow fever, I consider it as proceeding from a most laudable intention, and have thanked him in answer to his Letter, for the interest which he takes in the welfare of my Country as well as expressed my esteem for his ardour in the cause of humanity.

I am, Dear Sir, ever &c


MHi: Smith-Carter Family Papers.

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