Adams Papers

From John Quincy Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams, 27 December 1800

No. 20.

Berlin. 27. December. 1800—

Just as I enclosed my last letter to you, I had yet the opportunity to acknowledge the receipt of your No. 21. dated October. 25.—But its contents claimed further notice from me, which I had then neither time, nor room to bestow.

I am sensible that by being removed from the turbulent & disgusting Scene of perpetual [Scene] electioneering, I am spared many a detail of vexation, which I should otherwise be obliged to suffer, & probably none will ever again take place, in which I shall feel so near & strong an interest, as in that, which at this moment is decided—Its result is not equivocal, & in my opinion, (which on this occasion cannot well be impartial) is far from doing honor to the discernment, or to the gratitude of the people, upon whose voice the issue depended. The administration of the present President, however hurtful to his personal interest & influence has been in the highest degree useful & honorable to his country—Whether that of his successor will be equally distinguished, for its wisdom &, firmness, as little influenced by party men & party measures, & as much devoted to the welfare of the whole Nation, it is for time to determine.—Never, since the period of our revolution, has there been a moment of more imminent danger, & more complicated embarassment for the United States, than that when the President entered upon his office—Never have they enjoyed a moment of tranquility & safety, so strongly grounded, & so probably permanent. The danger & embarassment had been only the consequences of unfortunate circumstances—More fortunate circumstances have contributed a share to produce the safety & tranquility—But these of themselves would not have sufficed—His merit in effecting them, however it may be disputed, or disregarded now, I am confident will one day be acknowledged, & duly appretiated.

Perhaps the severest of all the trials of Virtue is that of finding benefits returned with injuries, & her devotion with ingratitude—Were I therefore not acquainted with the genuine energy of your father’s character, and the pure magnanimity of his soul, my keenest feelings at this time would arise from concern at what the effect of this event would be upon his mind—I fondly hope he will meet it, as far as human nature will admit, with real indifference; that he will sincerely pardon the infatuation of his countrymen, & consider it with compassion, rather than with resentment—This temper of mind of extremest difficulty in such a case to attain, is however so essentially necessary for his own happiness, & that of his family & friends, that the bare possibility of his feeling uncontrouled, that irritation so natural to a generous spirit under such treatment, gives me more anxiety, than every other consideration.

I am not without some apprehensions on this occasion arising from another source. Although his principles of oeconomy are as rigorous as can consist with a mind, which appretiates money at its true value, & his practice has always been sufficiently conformable to his theory, to keep his estate free from serious & permanent embarassment, yet he has been so far from growing rich in the service of the public, that it is not improbable he may in his retirement have occasion for money—I therefore authorize & direct you to consider all & every part of my property in your hands, whether of principal; or interest, as subject at all times to his disposal for his own use—If you are certain (as you have means of information, which I cannot at this distance possess) that he will have no occasion for this, you will not mention to him, that I have given you this instruction; for I wish not to make a show of offering service where it is not wanted, but unless you are thus sure, let him know I have given you this order, & that it is my most urgent request, he would use it, whenever it may suit his convenience.

As at the date of my last, you had only received the numbers 2 and 3, of my Silesian Letters, the rest I suppose will come to hand with no less irregularity, so that you will not be able to follow the progress of our tour so minutely, as it was my wish you should do when I wrote them—I had not then the most distant idea that they would in any form appear before the public, but if they can be of any use to our friend Dennie, & you with him think they can afford amusement to his readers, I shall be well pleased that you complied with his request—There will undoubtedly be some passages in the letters not proper for publication, & I can safely depend upon your discretion for omitting them. The heads, hearts & souls of our countrymen, are so engrossed by politics, & money, that I presume a subject so remote from both will appear interesting to very few—Yet an exclusive abandonment of the human mind to the sordid pursuits of avarice & the rancorous passions of party politics, has an unquestionable tendency to contract & debase it. The desire of wealth is not dishonorable, inasmuch as it is founded upon the wants incidents to our nature; but there is nothing liberal, nothing amiable, nothing delightful in the ideas & speculations, with which it inspires the mind—Its pains are the distresses of a bankrupt, & its joys are the riot of the gamester—Political passions are still less calculated to render a man happy, or make him promote the happiness of others—The sweetest temper feels itself grow bitter, the most equal justice feels itself grow partial, when they once touch upon this topic—The most virtuous heart is ashamed of its own suggestions, & blushes at its involuntary turpitude—For although the great poet truly says

“Evil into the mind of god, or man,

May come & go, so unapproved, & leave

No spot, or blame behind”

Yet genuine purity will always feel it as an unpleasant guest, & always be mortified to find itself so much as a momentary shelter for so foul a visitant—If such be the effects of this fiend upon the wise & good, how must she torture those, in whose breasts she meets less with the controul of reason and virtue—If we judge of the tree from its fruit, if we infer from the complection of the newspapers & pamphlets, with which our country constantly teems, the temper of the souls from which they proceed, we must look upon them as under the lash of all the Furies—Such is the violence of these passions that they rule as tyrants, & allow no influence over the bosom but their own. They habituate the mind, to such strong agitations, that it becomes insensible to the action of any milder power, as the palate scorched by the frequent use of ardent spirits, grows callous to the temperate warmth of wine—Hence it is that our countrymen have incurred the imputation of a barbarous contempt for literature, science & the arts, an imputation with which they have been reproached by every foreign traveller, who has written concerning them from Brissot to Weld; an imputation, which has had a greater tendency to degrade our national character in the opinion of all civilized Europe, than any other circumstance whatever.

But it is not a dissertation, or a sermon, that I promised you. I am to resume the epitome of Silesian history, which I commenced in my last.

It was during the reign of John of Luxembourg, king of Bohemia from 1310 to 1346, that most of the dukes & Princes among whom Silesia was divided, were prevailed upon by the usual intrigues & artifices, of a stronger power projecting to swallow up a weaker one, or compelled by force to submit their dominions as fiefs to the crown—The tie of subjection indeed to which they submitted, was loose & feeble, for they retained almost all their sovereign rights, and scarcely bound themselves to the performance of any duties, or services—But the great benefit of this connection to the Bohemian kings was, that upon the extinction of any one line of dukes, his dominions escheated according to the feudal principle to the crown—The effect of this circumstance soon incorporated several of the most considerable Silesian dutchies with the kingdom of Bohemia.

The kings of Poland still retained pretensions to the sovereignty of Silesia, & John had on his part pretensions to the crown of Poland. After long altercation & war, a treaty was concluded at Trenzin in Moravia, in 1335, by virtue of which these pretensions were reciprocally renounced, excepting with respect to two, or three of the dutchies, which had not yet been submitted to the Bohemian crown. The polish renunciation was afterwards in 1356, during the reign of the emperor Charles the 4th. son to John of Luxembourg, extended to the remainder of these dutchies, & in the year 1355 Charles by a solemn act, to which the electors of the German empire acceeded, formally incorporated Silesia with the Kingdom of Bohemia—Notwithstanding this example, Silesia has never been considered as properly belonging to the German empire.

Soon after this event, during the reign of Wenceslaus, son of Charles the 4th: broke out the Hussite war, which raged in Silesia with such a violence that the memorials of its desolations is to this day frequently presented to the attention of the traveller.

Charles the 4th: in the year 1347 founded at Prague an University, which was soon after frequented by a great concourse of students, not only natives of the country, but thronging from Germany, attracted by certain priviledges, which were allowed to students from abroad, in order to draw them thither, & for the encouragement of the University. These priviledges not being shared by the teachers & students, natives of Bohemia, soon gave rise to jealousies & dissentions, between them & the strangers—As by the foundations, the students of the several nations were kept distinct from one another, the temper, which was now introduced soon led the nations in the public exercises to maintain theological theses against each other, & as it always happens when the angry passions get a firm footing in the mind, it was a sufficient motive for one party to reject a doctrine, that the other had adopted it—John Huss; one of the Bohemian teachers, actuated perhaps by the hatred against all foreign usurpation, which resentment against the priviledges of the foreigners at the University would naturally inspire, began to maintain many of the principles hostile to the papal power, which Wicliff had set the example of advancing, a short time before in England. One of the principal articles upon which he insisted, was the right of the laity to the communion in both kinds—He found an antagonist to his doctrines in one of the German teachers, a Doctor Reiner—From the schools the controversy soon issued to ascend the pulpit, & to circulate among the people. Huss’ opinions, besides their own substantial weight, had all the passions of the Bohemians in their favor, & spread with great rapidity & success among them. The pope was soon alarmed for his authority—Huss was summoned as a heretic before the council of Constance, & upon refusing to retract his doctrines, was by their decree, in open, undisguished violation of the Emperor’s safe conduct, together with his friend Jerome of Prague, in the year 1415, burnt at the stake.

But the ashes of the teachers only served to kindle the enthusiasm of their opinions, & the fury of those, who had espoused them—The Hussites soon became multitudes; those multitudes did not fail to find leaders, & a civil war burst out with fury, which centuries were not able to appease, & the devastations of which are perceptible in their effects to this day—

The Silesians were invited by the Hussites to make a common cause with them against the Emperor; they not only declined this however, but the Bishop of Silesia, & the town of Breslau, were by the pope’s Legate prevailed upon to assemble troops, & make a hostile invasion into Bohemia—To revenge this assault the Hussites in the year 1426, invaded Glatz and Silesia, carrying fire & the sword, over the greatest part of those provinces—They defeated in frequent successive battles, all the armies, which the Emperor could send against them, & it was found so impossible to suppress them, that in the year 1436, by a decree of the council of Basil, the communion in both kinds was allowed them; after which they submitted themselves to the authority of Sigismond, the brother & successor of Wenceslaus—But Sigismond died in the year 1437, without leaving any heirs male, & the question of a disputed succession after his death, combined with the religious discords still prevailing to produce a new series of wars, in the course of which Silesia was successively ravaged by Hungarian, Bohemian, & Polish armies—In 1474, an agreement was concluded between the kings of these three Nations, for the settlement of their respective pretentions—It was effected by the persuasion of the Markgrave of Brandenburg John, who for his eloquence upon this occasion received the surname of Cicero—It was according to one of his descendents, the memorialist of the house of Brandenburg, a sort of eloquence, similar to that with which he obtained himself the possession of the same province—The eloquence of six thousand horsemen to support his <doctrine> arguments.

In 1478, by a peace concluded at Olmütz, the possession of Silesia was secured to Mathias, king of Hungary, & from this period begins the fourth epock in the Silesian annals, during which it is considered as an appendage of Hungary; where for the present I shall leave it, & bid you a short adieu.

MHi: Adams Family Papers, Letterbooks.

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