Adams Papers

From John Quincy Adams to Abigail Smith Adams, 11 July 1800

11. July 1800.

A few days ago, I received your favours of 27. April and 15. May; together. The latter was forwarded from England by Mr Treat, and had on its passage been inspected by the officer of a french privateer.

With respect to the changes of the heads of departments, I have not the means of forming a judgment—That they were necessary I can as little doubt, as I can avoid lamenting that necessity.—If it be true that the new mission to France was the primary cause of them, I cannot conceive that the policy of this measure can any longer be questionable.—The british government pursued the other system; they refused to negotiate with France, at a moment when her situation was critical and dangerous; they have now full leisure to repent of that refusal, and must solicit negotiation themselves.

I find by your letter of 27. April, that the President has express’d an intention to recall me; upon the ground that I can do more good at home, than here—I have already written to him that in my own opinion I can be of so little service to the public, here, that the expence of maintaining me, is much greater than any good I can do, and that if he should think proper to recall me upon that ground I cannot reasonably object to it—At home, I might perhaps do more good to my country, but what would be my own situation?—I could not accept there, any public office at the nomination of my father—Governor M’Kean may turn worthy men and good officers out of places to heap them upon his own sons—He is a republican of the new stamp—The President of the United States has principles less subservient to his own and his family interests—He would not exclude other meritorious men from office, to place his son; and his son’s soul is not reduced quite so low as to desire it—I hold it is true my present situation under his appointment; but no person was removed or excluded to make way for me;—I held already a place of the same rank, with the same pay, before I was removed to this, and the removal was a burden instead of a benefit to myself, and no additional charge to the public—But perhaps in a course of time I might obtain some popular election in the state legislature—perhaps even to congress. Neither of these, however, would enable me to cope with the expences, of a family, which circumstances over which I have no controul, render very heavy; and you know how a large part of what I had saved by the most rigorous oeconomy, for times when occasion would require it, has been sunk by those in whom I had confided to render it useful.—I know it is my father’s opinion that the bar would afford me an independent subsistence, but my own experience gives me no encouragement to expect it, besides the disinclination I feel to returning after seven years intermission to that profession—I have therefore left it entirely to the President’s own judgment to determine upon the propriety of recalling me, without asking for it—If the change at the head of the government should take place, which you think probable, I shall no doubt be recalled immediately, and I have accordingly made my arrangements for quitting this place the next Spring. My desire to see once more all my good friends in America, but especially my dear and respected parents is strong beyond expression; but otherwise I cannot say that I look with satisfaction to the prospect of a speedy residence in my native Country—I see so much party bitterness and rancour, such a boiling of foul and malignant passions, apparently growing worse from day to day there, that I cannot feel a strong desire to live in the midst of it, and should prefer waiting, untill a calmer temper, and more moderation in party spirit should promise a greater degree of tranquility.—This is perhaps what Mr. Jefferson calls preferring the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty—It may be so; genuine liberty is one of the dearest objects on this earth to me; but it is that liberty which I can enjoy myself, and allow others to enjoy in the same degree—But the liberty of insulting with impunity, every thing that is entitled to the veneration of mankind; the liberty of turning the very basest passions of the human heart into public virtues; the liberty of becoming a pander to the ignorance and malignity of the populace; of writing or speaking elegies upon murderers and lampoons upon virtue; the liberty of abusing private friendship by undue solicitation for public office, and upon failure of success, of betraying and libelling that friendship itself—no! I am not yet philosopher enough to love such liberty as this, and though I see specimens of it in abundance coming from America, I rejoyce to see that at least it is not of native American growth.

You will have heard of the extraordinary success which has attended the french arms through the course of the present campaign.—If it were possible for the governments of Europe to take lessons from experience, there was an opportunity last winter which might have produced a general peace—Buonaparte had just seated himself at the head of the french government. His powers had in form few limits, in substance scarcely any; but his authority was new, and extremely precarious. Peace was for his interest, and he probably wished for it—But Austria refused the terms he offered, and England refused even to negotiate—The refusal of Austria, was solely and professedly because she expected by continuing the war to make greater conquests of territory; and such was her blind, infatuated confidence in her own means that she wantonly threw away from the same spirit of conquest the alliance of Russia, which had been the great means of her success in the last campaign—The french had treacherously despoiled the king of Sardinia, of all his dominions on the continent—One of the express purposes for which Austria and Russia began the war, was to restore them to him—But no sooner had Austria got in possession of the strong places of Piedmont, than she herself lays claim to the country itself, and refuses to restore it to the king of Sardinia—Nothing could be more natural than the indignation of the emperor of Russia, at this conduct of his ally, nor is it surprizing that in consequence of it, he should immediately withdraw his troops, and enter into a negotiation with Prussia to defeat the ambitious views of Austria.—Not content with this, the Austrian government remov’d from the command of their army upon the Rhine, the archduke Charles, whose military talents were certainly great, who had repeatedly repelled the invasions of the french, on this side of the Rhine; and who was worth a large army by the mere attachment and enthusiasm of his army to him—It is beyond all doubt that he was remov’d, because the Austrian prime minister the baron de Thugut was afraid of his influence against himself—Thus with one hand Austria lam’d herself for war, and with the other rejected peace—She is now suffering the penalties of her infatuation; her armies both in Germany and Italy have been defeated with immense loss; and she has by the issue of a single day been expelled from the whole of that Piedmont for which she so strangely spurned the alliance of Russia—She will now deem herself extremely fortunate to settle again with the same territory which she had when the war began

The english government, without being chargeable on this occasion with such extreme folly, as that of the Austrians, can by no means be complimented for their wisdom—They who had twice sent to ask for Peace of the french directory, now twice rejected the offers of Buonaparte to treat, and aggravated this rejection by public personalities in both houses of Parliament against Buonaparte—They will now again be compelled to implore peace of the very man whose offers they spurned and whose person they insulted.

Of the three allies, after all, the conduct of Russia is the most excusable; though the violent starts from one extreme of policy to another, which she has discovered are not arguments of penetration or of consistency; and the disgrace into which every person has fallen who had any agency in the former system, has been extended beyond the bounds of justice and of prudence—That country has now furnish’d the world with one more example, “on what foundation stands the warrior’s pride”—Suwarrow, nine months ago the greatest general in Europe; whom through a long military life, victory had scarcely once abandoned on the field of battle—invested by two Sovereigns with princely titles and dignities, pray’d for by name, in conjunction with the emperor, in all the churches throughout Russia; within the space of six months is recalled home, entirely disgraced, and dies in solitude and obscurity, deserted by all the world; the emperor himself having refused to see him—And for all this not a pretext even is made known to the public.

“Oh! how wretched

Is that poor man, who hangs on princes favours!”

To return to ourselves—Next week we propose making a tour into Silesia; which in many respects is one of the most interesting provinces of the Prussian dominions.—I intend writing to you again before I return.—Louisa desires affectionately to be remembered—Her health is now tolerably good; and will I hope be strengthened still further by the journey.

Ever yours

MHi: Adams Papers.

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