Adams Papers

From John Quincy Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams, 30 December 1800

No 21.

30. December. 1800.

The transfer of Silesia from the Bohemian to the Hungarian dominions which as I have before informed you was the result of the Hussite wars, complicated with a disputed succession to the crowns of both those kingdoms, was followed by much more important changes in the condition of the inhabitants, than had been produced by the preceeding revolutions. The numerous petty princes, who had been successively been persuaded, or forced to recognize a common Sovereign, had retained almost all their prerogatives, & the Bohemian kings never could depend upon that province either for military service, or pecuniary contribution. The private feuds between the now subordinate princes, were nearly, or quite as frequent as they had been before their subjection, & the consideration & power of the monarck were seldom competent to suppress them. It was the manifest interest of the kings to reduce the strength of such turbulent vassals, & for this purpose they granted frequent & considerable privileges to the <people> inhabitants of the towns—These had a thorough detestation for their princely lords, whom they much more often found their tyrants than their protectors—The quarrels between these princes accordingly to the ideas of the times were held for regular wars, but between sovereigns of so little power, & who were so numerous, they naturally degenerated into little more than high way robberies. The people of the towns were continually placed between the rapacity of the lord, & that of his enemies. They were glad therefore to seek in the favor of the kings, such privileges, as might afford them a protection, which they could not hope from their arms—Hence during the Bohemian dominion the constant tendency of affairs had been to depress the princes, & to raise the people. But Mathias, the first of the kings of the <Bohemian> Hungarian rase, made them all bend alike under the weight of an iron sceptre—As by his personal character he was one of the ablest princes of his age, so, by means of his standing army (for he was among the first kings in Europe who kept one) he became one of the most powerful. His supremacy was felt both in its good & evil consequences. He suppressed the private wars between the princes, & the high way robberies resulting from them. He established a vice-roy with authority to settle all controversies of that nature by a regular course of justice, & suffered no new fortified castle to be built, & no new tax, or contribution to be imposed with his special permission—These measures were all carried into effect by the energy, with which he provided for their execution, & by introducing that public security, which one of the principal ends for which human societies are instituted, he was the benefactor of all classes of his people—But on the other hand he oppressed the princes by compelling some of them to sell their estates to him, & by levying heavy fines as penalties upon others. At the same time he burthened all the people by a land tax, from which untill then they had always been exempt, & which they felt the more severely for its novelty.

Mathias died in the year 1490, and was succeeded by Uladislaus, king of Bohemia, conformably to the peace of Olmütz concluded in the year 1478—Uladislaus was about the same time elected king of Hungary, & hence a dispute arose whether Silesia was henceforth to be held as an appendage to the Hungarian, or to the Bohemian kingdom. By the peace of Olmütz it was to have been restored to Bohemia upon the payment of 40,000 ducats—And as they were not paid, the Hungarians contended that Silesia must still be viewed as a province of theirs—The Bohemians and Silesians insisted upon a reunion, & their wishes finally prevailed—

This Udislaus was remarkable for that kind of weakness of character, which never can refuse anything, & one of its consequences was that his grants & ordonnances were often in direct contradiction to one another—Thus by one of his regulations it was established that none of the Bohemian domains should be subject to alienation, while by another he granted to Frederic 2nd., Duke of Liegnitz, the right of alienating his dutchy by testaments or by compact of mutual inheritance. This was one of the expedients in frequent practice in the german constitution to counteract the consequence of the perpetual divisibility of kingdoms & provinces. It was common among brothers, & among different <lines> branches of the same family. It consisted of stipulations that upon the extinction of either of the contracting lines, the other should come in possession of his estates—The duke of Liegnitz, to whom likewise Brieg, & Wohlau belonged, accordingly, did make such a compact in the year 1537, with Joachim, elector of Brandenburg—This event deserves particular notice, because it was the first foundation of the claim, which more than two centuries after placed the whole province in the possession of the kings of Prussia.

Uladislaus disbanded his father’s army, &nd having thus resigned almost all the instruments of power, which were in those days efficacious, it was not surprizing that his authority fell into contempt. The old anarchy of private wars, & high way robberies, practised by the nobility, was renewed in as great violence as ever. They had reduced it to a sort of regular system, & the noble robbers exercised their trade with nice distinctions—A Silesian chronicle mentions one of these uncorteous knights, who became celebrated by the name of black Ritt, & with his squire, was hung in 1509. He had made it a rule <and> to plunder merchants & jews, but not the learned. His tests of learning were like those, which in the english courts entitled felons to the benefit of clergy. At the gallows he declared some of the dukes had promised to support him, <begged hard for his,> & by way of last words sung, Put not your trust in Princes—His squire, who was hung with him, begged hard for his life, and offered if they would spare it, to be put upon hard labor, in the fortress, or to take a wife.

Uladislaus died in the year 1516, & was succeeded by his son Lewis, a child of ten years, who in 1526, was killed in battle against the turks under Soliman the second. Lewis left no children, & as his only sister Anna had married Ferdinand 1. Archduke of Austria, afterward Emperor, Silesia, together with Bohemia became a possession of the house of Austria, & from this occurence commences the fifth period in the history of the Province.

The compact of inheritance between the Duke of Liegnitz & the Elector of Brandenburg was strengthed by a double mariage, between each of their sons & the others daughter—It was therefore very probable that Liegnitz with its appendages would soon fall to the house of Brandenburg, & under that apprehension Ferdinand prevailed upon the states of Bohemia to declare the compact of inheritance null & void, conformably to the ordinance of Uladislaus, that no part of the Bohemian dominions should be subject of alienation—The elector of Brandenburg entered a protest against this decision of the States—The duke of Liegnitz was compelled to recognize in writing the nullity of the compact, but left a solemn confirmation of it in his last will.

From the time when the house of Austria came in possession of Silesia, the weight & independence of the princes gradually dwindled away, & the power of the sovereign insensibly spread itself over all classes of people alike. But instead of the divisibility of sovereignty, which had for several centuries been the prolific seed of war among men, another had just then sprouted out of the ground, & taken firm root in it, which had its turn of three hundred years <desolation> to depeople the earth, & has but recently resigned the soil to a third kernel of desolation. I speake of the religious dissensions, which blazed out with inextinguishable violence from the moment of the controversy commenced by Luther in 1517. Of the Silesian princes nearly one half in the course of a few years embraced the doctrines of the reformation; the rest adhered to the catholic faith, & in almost every instance the vassals followed the <cause> examples of their respective lords—The Austrian sovereigns always found it necessary to tolerate in a certain degree the new sect, which had such numerous partizans, & experience proved that the policy of those emperors was the most successful, which carried toleration the farthest.

Ferdinand 1. died in 1564, & was succeeded by his son Maximilian, who after a short reign was upon his death in 1576 followed by his son Rudolph the Second—This prince lived untill the year 1612, but before his death had lost by successive follies & misfortunes all his dominions.

During the reign of Lewis the last king before the Austrian line, he had granted to George, Margrave of Anspach, who was at the same time prince of Jägerndorf in Silesia, and Lewis’ greatest favorite, the power of disposing by Will, or Deed, of this principality. George, by virtue of this authority, made a compact of mutual inheritance with the duke of Oppelm & Ratibor, who died without issue, & George came in possession of his estates. The Emperor Ferdinand had declared this compact null & void upon the same grounds as those alledged against the Duke of Liegnitz’s compact, & had taken Oppeln & Ratibor to himself, with a promise, which he never performed, to pay George 130,000 florins by way of indemnity—The Margrave George, was succeeded, as Duke of Jägerndorf, by his son George Frederic, who having no children left the principality to his cousin, Joachim, Elector of Brandenburg—Joachim soon after granted it to his son John George—This was at a time, when Rhudolphus was so reduced in power, that he did not venture to oppose the execution of the testamentary disposition; which however he did not confirm. In the year 1611, Rudolphus was succeeded as king of Bohemia by his brother Mathias.

To give you four whole pages of dry provincial history at once, without the relief of a few lines upon some other subject, would be to levy upon your patience a contribution rather too severe—I shall therefore content myself with having in this letter unfolded to you as clearly as I am able, all the original claims upon which Frederic the second so long afterwards grounded his conquest of Silesia, & for the continuation of my chronicle will give you a respite untill the next century.

When I received your last letter (of October. 25.) I did not understand altogether its last paragraph, because I had heard no circumstance to which I supposed it specially alluded—Since then, an article in the German Berlin Gazette (such must be my source of information from America) has partly explained to me your meaning. It mentions, that Tench Coxe had published a private letter, which your father wrote to him eight years ago, & containing something (I am yet ignorant what) to the disadvantage of Genl. Pinckney—Likewise that Mr. Hamilton had published a pamphlet against your father, & highly recommending Genl. Pinckney as President. Now if these are the instances, which you thought would surprize me, your conjecture was natural, but not accurate—Coxe & Hamilton I knew had both become political enemies of the President—That their enmity was bitter I had no doubt, because it was unjust, & I had no reason to <scruple> suppose that either of the men would scruple at such a mode of manifesting his enmity. It is an old maxim of prudence always to treat an enemy, as if he might one day become your friend, & a knowledge of mankind will too often prescribe an attention of the rule & direct us always to treat a friend, as if he might one day become your enemy—From the newspapers I likewise learn, that the convention with France was known in the United States before the election took place; but in the state of parties and passions prevailing in our country, that event certainly did not change a single vote.

With the scanty information I can collect, I distribute my own opinions upon American affairs—But from what I do see, it is impossible for me to avoid the supposition that the ultimate necessary consequence, if not the ultimate object of both the extreme parties, which divide us, will be a dissolution of the Union & a civil war—Your father’s policy was certainly to steer between the shoals on one side, & the rocks on the other. But as both factions have turned their arms against him & the people themselves have abandoned him, there is too much reason to expect that the purpose common to the two opposite factions will be effected—I speak of this now merely as a reason for giving you a new caution with regard to my property—That you keep a keen & steady eye upon the measures that will take place after the new administration, & if necessary place my funds in a situation, which will be as little as possible dependant upon a revolution.

I presume you do no expect from me political, or military European news. That the war upon the continent has been renewed in the middle of winter you know—That Moreau’s army gained a great victory at Hohenlinden the 3d: inst. and soon after passed the Inn is all I can yet tell you. The Archduke has resumed the command of the Austrian army, but when the patient is at the last extremity when the good physician is called in, his art can be of little avail.

MHi: Adams Family Papers, Letterbooks.

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