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John Quincy Adams to Abigail Adams, 15 June 1795

John Quincy Adams to Abigail Adams

The Hague June 15. 1795.

My Dear Madam.

We have very seldom an opportunity of hearing from you; and still more seldom that of writing you by a direct opportunity. An indirect one presents itself, and I cannot let it pass, were it barely for the pleasure of writing you that we are well, and enjoy in profound tranquility the beauties of the Season.

The Peace and Alliance between France and Holland; the violent insurrection against the Convention recently suppressed at Paris; the revolt quelled at Toulon, the war broken out once more in the Vendee, and the surrender of Luxemburg to the french Army, are all, important events that have happened since I wrote you last;1 but this letter will be so long before it can reach you, that it would be idle to dwell upon any article of News.

Not one vessel has sailed for Boston from any port in this Country since we have been in it. Not one has arrived from thence. Once in a while I see the face of an old acquaintance, and have recently seen my friend T. H. Perkins of Boston, and Mr Hichborn; they are now both returned to France.2

My latest letters from any part of America are more than three months old. We have however accounts down to the latter end of April.— Full of new complaints against british depredations and rapine.— The Spirit of Rapine is the character of the Nation; they have commenced again the capture of neutral vessels bound to France with provisions. It is some satisfaction to find the cordiality with which they are detested by every body. I am fully convinced that not a breath of air from any quarter of the Heavens over the whole surface of the Earth is wafted along, but is loaded with some malediction against them. For my own part I have always considered the wish of Caligula, as no less atrocious than it was extravagant.3 But reasoning from analogy, I begin to suppose, that it might be dictated by the purest and most refined sentiment of Justice and humanity.

your affectionate Son

John Q. Adams.

RC (Adams Papers); addressed by TBA: “Mrs: A Adams / Quincy / near / Boston”; internal address: “Mrs: A. Adams.”; endorsed: “J.Q Adams June / 15 1795.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 128.

1Since JQA’s letter to AA of 16 May, above, several events had occurred in France and in the war in Europe. On 17 May (An. III, 28 floréal), a Jacobin revolt broke out in Toulon that took two weeks for the revolutionary government to quell. On 20 May (1 prairial), a Parisian mob again stormed the National Convention demanding bread and the reinstitution of the Jacobin Constitution of 1793. Unlike the previous mob of 1 April 1795, for which see TBA to William Cranch, 8 April, and note 2, above, this one became violent, killed one member of the Convention, and paraded his head on a pike. It took three days and the arrival of 20,000 troops in Paris before the mob surrendered.

From La Vendée, rumors emerged that the peace of 15 Feb. between the French government and one of the rebel leaders had been falsely signed by the Vendéens, and the disarmament of the rebels, a condition of the peace treaty, could not be achieved. In fact, terms were reached between the revolutionary government and other Vendéen factions in early May, and the peace, although tenuous, would hold until 1796.

The fortress town of Luxembourg, which had been besieged by the French Army in Nov. 1794, finally surrendered on 7 June 1795 (Cambridge Modern Hist., description begins The Cambridge Modern History, Cambridge, Eng., 1902–1911; repr. New York, 1969; 13 vols. description ends 8:381–382, 386–387, 388–389, 391, 442; Edward Cust, Annals of the Wars of the Eighteenth Century, 5 vols., London, 1859, 4:291).

In his long letter to JA of 27 June (Adams Papers), JQA further described these events but also questioned the actions of various foreign governments. France’s ill-conceived winter demonstration of its naval presence in the English Channel had left “the fleet so shattered and disabled, that it has not yet been repaired, and will be able to do nothing this Season.” He found in British military strategy that “the pride, pomp and circumstance of their hostility consist, not in the neighing steed, the shrill trump, the spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife, or the royal banner, but in forgery and famine. Their troops have been the terror of their friends and the derision of their enemies; but their artists are inimitable at counterfeiting an assignat, and their frigates and privateers are invincible against the merchant vessels of neutral Nations.” And about the inchoate Batavian Republic, JQA wrote, “The same languor and imbecility which characterized the former government is equally discovered by the present. No vigour, no exertions, no public spirit, but abundance of common place about liberty, equality and the rights of man; abundance of invective against the house of Orange and its partizans; abundance of patriotic exultation together with frequent ebullitions of rage restrained, and of revenge repressed but ready to burst forth in all its violence … This spirit of turbulence is preserved and stimulated by the popular societies, as numerous and almost as mischievous here as they are elsewhere.”

2During an eight-month stay in Europe, the Boston merchant Thomas Handasyd Perkins, for whom see CFA, Diary, description begins Diary of Charles Francis Adams, ed. Aïda DiPace Donald, David Donald, Marc Friedlaender, L. H. Butterfield, and others, Cambridge, 1964– . description ends 2:151, visited JQA on 31 May and 1 June. Benjamin Hichborn, whom JQA characterized as “more frenchman than ever” after their 12 June visit, was a Boston lawyer and former state representative who had been living in Europe since 1792 (DAB; description begins Allen Johnson, Dumas Malone, and others, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–1936; repr. New York, 1955–1980; 10 vols. plus index and supplements. description ends D/JQA/24, APM Reel 27; Sibley’s Harvard Graduates, description begins John Langdon Sibley, Clifford K. Shipton, Conrad Edick Wright, Edward W. Hanson, and others, Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Cambridge and Boston, 1873– . description ends 17:41–42).

3Upon hearing a crowd of spectators applaud a rival competitor, the Roman emperor Caligula reportedly said, “If only the Roman people had a single neck” (Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, Lives of the Caesars, transl. Catharine Edwards, Oxford, Eng., 2000, p. 153). Among JQA’s books at MQA is Suetonius, L’histoire de empereurs Romains, Amsterdam, 1699, which he purchased at The Hague on 9 Sept. 1795 (Catalogue of JQA’s Books; D/JQA/24, 9 Sept., APM Reel 27).

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