Adams Papers

From John Quincy Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams, 14 February 1801

No 25.

14. February. 1801—

The burthens, to which I referred at the close of my last letter, & to which the inhabitants of Silesia are subjected under the Prussian Government are. 1. The compulsory obligation of serving the king as soldiers. 2. The obligation of giving quarters to the troops—and 3. Of performing personal labor, & furnishing horses for the king’s use, that of his army, & of his civil officers at prescribed & underated prices. While the province belonged to the house of Austria, the people were in the same manner liable to these duties. But they were apparently far less oppressive, because proportionably speaking there was no army levied, maintained, or stationed in garrison within the province, which required the performance of these services. At present, of the 40,000 men, which formed the Silesian army about one half are natives of the Province, enroll’d as a thing of course, & doomed from their birth to military service. A certain district is allotted to each regiment within which it is to be recruited. The commander has a list of all the inhabitants of the district liable to enrollment, & sends an officer annually round to measure, inspect, and register for service the young men, who have attained the age of service. The exemptions from this duty are, Only sons and eldest sons of farmers, who are considered as necessary for the tillage of the ground—Weavers & persons engaged in some other useful trades—Persons upon whose labor infant families, or an aged mother depend for subsistance—Foreigners settled in the country & their children—The city of Breslau, & the inhabitants <of the inhabitants> of the mountains & mountain towns, for the sake of the linen manufactures. The service of the soldiers in time of peace, is required only during three months in the year, when they are assiduously trained & exercised, & which close with the month of August, when the king reviews them at Neyss & at Breslau—This, Frederic the second never failed to do. His successors have frequently omitted it, & the last summer was the first instance of it under the present reign. During the remainder of the year, the native Silesian soldiers are on furloug[h]. Their pay continues, but is not received by them. It is the perquisite of the Captain’s, whose interest is thus engaged not to keep their men longer in service than is absolutely necessary.

The author of an excellent work upon the state of Silesia before & since the year 1740, from which the information in most of my late letters is collected, alledges arguments to prove that the advantages derived from the army to the province are more than sufficient to balance its inconveniences. He says that the garrisons in the towns of course put in circulation a quantity of money, afford subsistance to tradesmen of all descriptions, & furnish a market for the produce of the farmer. He likewise mentions it as the principal means of contributing to the civilization of upper Silesia, where but for this the people would still be deep plunged in barbarism. The military service habituates the peasant youth to principles of order & cleanliness: which they communicate more, or less among their neighbours upon returning to reside among them. Yet there is no question, but that the circulation of money, the civilization of the people, order, cleanliness, & refinement of manners, is far greatest in the capital, & in the mountain towns, which are not favored with the liberal garrisons, & these civilizing soldiers.

The obligation of quartering troops is in time of peace confined to the cities—Not more than two thirds of these have garrisons, but a tax for quartering is assessed alike upon all, & the produce is applied to the payment of the householders, who actually lodge soldiers. The allowance is of eight groshen (about 25 cents) a month for a man, & six groschen for a horse. In the principal fortresses, Barracks have been built at the king’s expence, which alleviate in some degree this burthen upon the citizens.

The most oppressive & iniquitous of all these duties is that of furnishing labour, horses, and other articles at regulated & inadequate prices. The famers are thus obliged to furnish post horses for all persons travelling in the Service of the king at the rate of three groschen a mile for each horse. The post masters make them do the same for all travellers by what is called extra-post, & while they allow the peasants only three groschen they charge the traveller ten for every horse he takes. Thus by the intervention of the Government, the traveller & his conductor are both oppressed, & defrauded, for the benefit of the postmaster. Is it surprizing that the people give their horses in such cases with extreme reluctance, & that travellers are obliged to wait six hours together at a post house for horses? The government, itself as a corrective to its own iniquity is obliged to make regulations, which are meant to relieve the peasant, but which contribute no less to the vexation & delay of the traveller—Thus a limited weight of baggage is allowed, & the postilions are not obliged to drive faster than three of our miles an hour—This wretched administration of the post offices is not peculiar to Silesia—It prevails all over Germany, & every traveller with post horses through this country, witnesses the natural & unavoidable effect of such a cause. When an extraordinary number of horses is required for the service of the army, for work at the fortresses, or the magazines, the requisitions are distributed by the respective Landraths round the number of circles designated by the Domain chambers. The prices are regulated by the government. The same rule prevails with regard to the provisions, & stores necessary for the troops in time of war.

Upon the same principle all day labourers, & poor tenants to work at the building, or repairing the fortresses, for wages prescribed by the Government. When it is considered what an immense expence of labor Frederic the Second bestowed upon the fortifications of Silesia; this will appear no trifling object in his reign—It is said, that he always paid the workmen liberally; often beyond the common market rate of workmen’s wages; but still the badge of servitude remains.

It is impossible for an American to contemplate this accumulated load of taxes, & services, which are the inseparable attendants of a military government without a sigh over the condition of human society in Europe, & an ejaculation of gratitude to Heaven for that in his own country—In imputing these evils to the European condition of Society, I am sensible the opinion is not conformable to that which faction so delights to prattle, & knowing ignorance to repeat; but I believe it to be the truth—Europe, being divided into a number of wholly independent States, it is by their armies alone, that they can defend themselves against the encroachments of each other. This spirit of encroachment is so far from being exti[n]guished by the flood of philosophy, which pour’d upon that self conceited dupe the eighteenth century, that it never burnt with a more consuming blaze, than at the birth of this her daughter. This system of partitions, was a contrivance of the greatest of the good old Lady’s royal favorites, & she has left it as a precious inheritance to her child. What a number of sovereign states have been swallowed up in the vortex of the last ten years, for the crime of being weak, & unable to resist an invading army! What a number more are upon the point of suffering the same fate! The tendency of Europe is so manifestly towards consolidation, that unless it should suddenly & unexpectedly take a different turn, in a few years there will be not more than four, or five sovereign states left of the hundreds, which covered the surface of this quarter of the globe—An army therefore is as necessary to every European power, which has any hope of long existence, as air to the motion of the lungs, & France, through the whole course of the revolution has been so convinced of this; that she has not only kept on foot, such armed myriads hitherto, but has settled for her peace establishment one of the largest armies in Europe—Now it is impossible that such armies should be levied, recruited & maintained, without principles & measures of continual compulsion upon the people. Hence France in her republican state has continued to practice them under the name of conscription, & requisition & loan, more than the most despotic of enemies. Hence England, a country justly renouned for its liberty, has always been obliged to adopt the system, as her insular situation modifies it with regard to her—by the impressment of seamen for her navy. And if she has hitherto avoided the other part of it, requisition, or the compulsive raising of stores, provisions, labor &c, it has only been by draining the pockets of posterity, & loading their shoulders, with debts, which will end in bankruptcy.

It is from the consideration of these things, more than from any other, that I look to the Union of our country, as to the sheet anchor of our hopes, & to its dissolution, as to the most dreadful of our dangers—So long as we remained united, a large permanent army can never be necessary among us. The only occasion, which can require a great military force will be to withstand external invasion, a danger to which we shall become daily less exposed, as our population & strength increase. If once we divide, our exposure to foreign assault will at once be multiplied in proportion to the number of States, into which we shall split, & aggravated in proportion to the weakness of every single part, compared with the strength of the whole. The temptations of foreign powers to invade us will increase with the p[r]ospect of success, which our division will present them, & fortresses & armies will be then the only security, upon which the disunited States can rely for defence against enemies from abroad—This is not the worst—Each of the separate states, will from the moment of disunion, become with regard to the others a foreign power. Quarrels, of which the seeds are too thickly sown, will shoot up like weeds in a rank soil between them—Wars will soon ensue—These must end either in the conquest of one party by the other, or in frail, precarious, jealous compromises, & momentary truces, under the name of peace, leaving on both sides the burden of its army, as the only guarantee for its security. Then must the surface of our country be bristled over with double & treble ranges of rock hewn fortresses for barriers, & our cities turned into goals by a circumference of impenetrable wars. Then will the great problem of our statesmen, too be; what proportion of the people’s sweat & blood can be squeez’d from them to maintain an army without producing absolute death—I speak in the sincerity & conviction of my soul, in declaring that I look upon standing armies, intolerable taxes, forced levies, contributions, conscriptions, & requisitions as the unavoidable & fatal chain, of which disunion is but the first link.

You will think this train of reflections has led me very far from Silesia; but if in the Roman Senate, whatever the subject in deliberation was, Cato’s opinion always concluded with the asserveration that Carthage must be destroyed, surely an American citizen with much more reason may infer from every topic the sentiment that the union must be preserved.

Since the last letter in which I took notice to you, of the current affairs of the present age, the prospect of a coalition against England has drawn considerably to a head, & spread further over the Continent of Europe. England has declared war against Russia, & laid an Embargo upon all the Swedish & Danish vessels in her ports; at the same time she professes her determination to meet the league of armed neutrality with defiance—But the Prussians vessels are excepted from the embargo, through Prussia has acceeded to the convention, & it is doubtful whether she can maintain a state of neutrality were she ever so much disposed to it. Indeed to judge from present probability there is not one state upon the continent of Europe, but will be shortly joined in the combination against Britain, & those of our countrymen, who bear the most rancerous mind against her, may flatter themselves with a seemingly well grounded hope that her profound humilition, if not her utter ruin are at hand. Meanwhile the sentimental affection between Paul the Emperor, & Buonaparte the Consul grows warmer from day to day—They promise to become the very Nisus & Euryalus of princes—Mr. Kalitchew, who had just been appointed Russian vice Chancellor, & goes as Ambassador to Paris, & the poor french Pretender, Louis. 18. is ordered to remove from his place of refuge at Mittau. The English government have sent about 20,000 men to help the Turks to drive the french out of Egypt, but the Russian Ambassador at Constantinople has protested against this, & plainly told the Turk, that if he suffers the English to assist him, he has nothing less to expect, than the whole weight of Paul’s vengeance. This interference may probably save the English army, but will not probably save the turkish empire. When Constantine tran[s]ferr’d the seat of Rome’s external dominion to Byzantium, he little thought he was only preparing a spot for its final extinction. When Mahomet II. established upon its ruins the capital of his triumphant Turks, as little did he think it the place, which would witness the last gasp of the Ottoman power. With both these examples before him, Paul dreams not that Constantinople may prove alike, the mere mausoleum of Russian greatness, & languished for it with all the fi[e]rceness of his mother’s passions.

There are reports, not yet however authenticated that the preliminaries of peace between France & Austria were signed at Luneville the 26th. of last month. The armistice is now general, & the Emperor has provisionally surrendered every place he held in Italy, except Venice. Whether he will keep even that at the peace is a great question. At Paris the Consul’s power is consolidating—Ceracchi the sculptor, Arena, & two others have just been executed for a design to assassinate him. So you see, it has already got to be treason to compass his death. Two others have been shot for being concerned in blowing up the infernal machine, which h<as>e so narrowly escaped. These examples will strike terror, & may give some security to a situation, eminently perilous, as that of the first consul must yet be esteemed.

MHi: Adams Family Papers, Letterbooks.

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