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From John Adams to Boston Patriot, 8 September 1809

Quincy, September 8, 1809.


1780, Dec. 30—wrote to Congress: “The Province of Zealand having been opposed to the other Provinces in so many instances, and having lately protested against the resolutions of the States General, which begin to be thought spirited, it may be useful to explain to Congress the causes which influence that Province to a conduct which is generally thought to be opposite to the true interests of the republic in general. In the States of Zealand there are only five voices, three of which are absolutely in the discretion of the Prince of Orange, who has one voice as Stadtholder of the Province, another as Marquis of Veere, and a third as first noble. The Stadtholder is therefore absolute in this Province; which accounts, at once, for its conduct upon all occasions. The friends of the Prince, of England and Zealand, are not willing, however, that the world should believe that the Prince’s power in the Province, and his attachment to England, are the sole causes of its conduct upon every occasion, and therefore they enlarge upon several topics, as apologies and excuses for a behavior which cannot wholly be justified. The arguments in justification or excuse of Zealand, are drawn from four principal sources. 1. The situation of the islands which compose the province. 2. The interest of its particular commerce. 3. The weakness of its interior forces. 4. The state of its finances.

1. The territory of Zealand, consists of five or six islands, two of which are moderately large, and the rest very small.—These islands are formed by the sea, or by the different branches of the Scheld, in the mouth of that river. In case of a sudden invasion, these islands, separated from the province of Holland by an arm of the sea, are too unconnected to receive any immediate assistance. Such an invasion is so much the more easy for the English to attempt, as Zealand is very near them.—They may invade this province even before a suspicion should be conceived, that such a project had been formed. Who shall oppose their enterprize? Shall it be the French, who are now friendly? Dunkirk; it is true, is near enough. But what forces are there at Dunkirk? The only naval force there, consists of a few privateers, who could neither oppose an armament escorted by British men of war, nor venture to transport troops to oppose it, even supposing the invasion was not made by surprize. Shall the Zealanders themselves make a resistance to the English? But separated from one another by waters which would necessarily retard their junction, the island of Walcheren, the principal of all, would be in possession of the enemy, before they could put themselves in a posture to repel force by force. It is, moreover, not only possible, but easy, to make a descent upon Zealand by so many places at once, that the inhabitants, by their own forces alone, could not defend effectually all the passages. Eight thousand English troops, or even a smaller number, would force the Zealanders every where, because there is no where a fortress capable of holding out twelve hours. The ports of Flushing and Veere are the only ones which have any defence. But they are very far from the state in which they ought to be, to stop an enemy determined upon pillage, animated by revenge, and forcibly instigated by the pleasure of doing mischief. It is conceded that the English descended in Zealand, would be constrained to abandon it very soon; that they might and would be driven from it in a few days; that the figure they would make, would be neither glorious nor honorable; and that their temerity would cost them dear: But the disorder caused by an invasion remains after the expulsion of the invaders. The people invaded are always the victims of the evils which they have suffered; and these evils, always considerable to the individuals, are seldom, if ever, entirely compensated. The Zealander says, when an incendiary has burned my house, whether he is punished or not, my house is consumed and lost to me. The exactions, the pillage, and all the abominations which follow the coups de main of an unbridled soldiery, would be cruelly felt by the unfortunate Zealanders, even after the perpetrators should be driven out or sacrificed to the public resentment. For example, in 1761, fifteen thousand English forces landed in the neighborhood of the village of St. Ka, situated on the northern coast of Britany, in France: from thence they extended themselves to the village of Kankale, in the neighborhood of the former. They pillaged the houses of the inhabitants; broke their furniture; took away their provisions and cattle; and violated their wives and daughters. Six soldiers ripped open, with a knife, a woman big with child, after having satiated one after another, their brutality. In a word, the English gave a free course to their cruelty, and indulged themselves in all sorts of excesses, which the laws of war reprobate, as well as those of nature. The massacre of the pregnant woman of Britany may be put in parallel with that of the unfortunate women whom the savages, under the command of General Burgoyne, scalped in America. These acts of cruelty prove, at least, to what excesses the fury of the English army may proceed. But it is asked, if it can be said that all the disorders committed in Britany were repaired, when the ten thousand French ran to the assistance of these unfortunate Britains, and had killed, taken and drowned the whole English army?—No. The miserable inhabitants of St. Ka and of Kankale, were not less ruined; their wives and daughters were not the less dishonored; and in one word, the English fury did not remain the less deeply imprinted on this part of Britany in characters of blood. In truth, England lost fifteen thousand men, without deriving the smallest advantage from their temerity: but the French employed against the English at St. Ka, did nothing but avenge the honor of their nation: France only made her rival feel how dangerous it is to insult the firesides of her subjects. This lesson may have intimidated the English, but it is not certain that it has corrected them. A sheepfold, situated on the borders of a forest, is always exposed to the ravages of the wolves, if the shepherd cannot watch all the avenues. If the wolves enter and tear a part of the flock, the shepherd will have lost the sheep that are devoured; and if afterwards he should kill some of these carniverous animals, the skin of the wolf will not indemnify the loss of the sheep.

2. The peculiar commerce of Zealand. This province has no other than that small commerce, which is known by the name of coasting trade. This kind of intercourse is considerable in the provinces of Holland, North Holland and Friesland: the number of vessels employed in it, in these three Provinces, is inconceivable, and the greatest part of them is destined for the service of France. All which, France receives from foreigners, and all that it furnishes to foreigners is carried in these Holland vessels; and if there were no other than the freight for the masters and owners of these vessels, this profit would still be of the greatest consideration. Thus it is not surprizing that the province of Holland has taken such strong measures in favor of France. Its particular commerce would naturally determine it that way. On the contrary, Zealand employs the small number of her merchant ships in a commerce with England: a commerce so much the more lucrative, as it is almost entirely contraband, or smuggled. The profits to be made on brandy, and other spirituous liquors, imported clandestinely into England, are very great: and it is Zealand that makes these profits, because they are her citizens who entertain a continual correspondence with the English smugglers. The proximity of the coasts of Zealand to those of England, renders this commerce, which is prohibited to English subjects, sure for the inhabitants of Zealand. Fishing boats are sufficient to carry it on; and these barques are rarely taken, whether it is, that they are difficult to take, or whether there is not much desire to take them. These barques, arrived on the coasts of England, find others which come to take what they bring. The place where this traffic is held, is generally some creek, upon the coast of England, where the vessels may be loaded and unloaded in secrecy. Moreover, those whom the English ministry appoint to prevent this commerce at sea, are those who favor it. We know, very well, the decided inclination of the English in general, and above all, of their seamen for strong liquors. Zealand, concurring openly in the measures which the republic is now taking against England, or if you will, against the powers at war, would draw upon itself particularly, the anger, hatred and vengeance of a nation, without which it is impossible to sustain its trade. And this Province would by this means deprive a great number of its citizens of a source of gain, which places them in a condition to furnish the imposts which they have to pay. Is it not then the part of prudence in the states of Zealand, to avoid with care, every thing that might embroil them particularly with England? Is it not also the wisdom of the States General, to have a regard to the critical situation of one of the seven provinces which compose the union?

3. The weakness of her internal forces. Zealand is open, on all sides, to the English. To set them at defiance, she ought to have in herself, forces capable of intimidating Great Britain. But where are such forces to be found? In the garrisons which the republic maintains there? Two or three thousand men, dispersed at Flushing, at Veere, and in some other cities, are but a feeble defence against a descent of six or seven thousand English, well determined. Will these troops of the republic be supported by armed citizens? Suppose it—Their defeat will not be less certain. Those citizens who have never seen a loaded musquet discharged, are more proper to carry an empty fusee, to mount guard at a State-House which is never to be attacked, than to march to the defence of a coast threatened with a descent, or to present themselves upon a parapet of a fort, battered with machines that vomit forth death, and scatter it on the ramparts. These citizens, or rather these soldiers of a moment, would carry disorder into the ranks, and do more injury than service, by giving countenance to the flight of those brave warriors, who make it a point of honor to combat with a stedfast foot. Moreover, who are these citizens that might be joined to the regular troops? Are they the principal inhabitants? Those who have the most to loose? Those to whom birth and education have given sentiments of honor and glory? No. These have, by paying sums of money, exemptions, which excuse them from taking arms to defend the country in time of peace. Is it credible, that in the most critical moment, they will generously renounce these exemptions? It will be then, the citizens of the second order, the artizans, or people who have little or nothing to loose, who will serve for the reinforcement of the veterans. Experience demonstrates what dependence is to be placed at this day, upon such militia. It would be in vain to oppose to this reasoning the time of the revolution, those times of the heroism of the ancestors of the Dutch. The cause is not the same. They attack, at this day, in a different fashion, and perhaps the defence too would be made in a very different manner. It might be otherwise, if the coasts of Zealand were fortified with good forts, or if the cities of Flushing and Veere were in a condition to sustain a siege of some months, and with their little garrisons, stop the assailants until the arrival of succors; but one must be very little informed not to know that the English, although they might be incommoded in their landing, would nevertheless effect it with little loss.

4. The state of her finances. Zealand, of all the seven provinces, is that which costs the most for the maintenance of her Dykes. More exposed than all the others to be drowned by the sea, her coasts require continued repairs. These reparations cannot be made but at great expense. Unprovided with wood, suitable for the construction of ramparts capable of stopping the waves which beat upon her continually, she is obliged to import, from foreign countries, those numberless and enormous timbers which art substitutes in the place of those rocks which nature has granted to other countries, for holding out the ocean and restraining its fury. It is necessary, therefore, that a great part of the public revenue of the province should go to foreigners. She must, moreover, furnish her quota to the general treasury of the republic. From whence it follows, that she cannot expose herself to the indispensable necessity of increasing her imposts to furnish the new expenses, which an extraordinary armament would bring upon all the state.—More than once, in time of peace, the public coffers of the state have been obliged to furnish to the province of Zealand the succors which she could not find at home, without reducing her subjects to the most horrible distress. To what condition then would these subjects be reduced, if in the progress of the armed neutrality, such as is proposed, or in a war with England, they should be obliged to pay new contributions? All the world agrees that Zealand is poor. It must be acknowledged then, that she will be plunged in the lowest indigence, if the expenses of the country are augmented, although there are many individuals who are very rich, and grand capitalists, and luxury among the great is carried to an excess as immoderate as it is in Holland.

Zealand has so long embarrassed the republic in all their deliberations concerning the armed neutrality, and lately concerning the serious quarrel that England has commenced against her, that I thought it would at least gratify the curiosity of Congress, to see the causes which have governed her, laid open, as I find them explained in conversation and in public writings.—Zealand’s reasons seem, however, to be now overruled, and the prince’s absolute authority there of little avail. To all appearance, the English must recede, or contend with a bitter enemy in this republic. Old prejudices seem to wear off: and it is now said publicly that the friendship between the English and Dutch has been like the brotherly love between Cain and Abel.—Yet I have been so often disappointed in my expectations, that I can never depend upon any thing here until it is past."

1780, Dec. 31st—wrote to Congress. “It will scarcely be believed in Congress, that at a time when there are the strongest appearances of war, there has not been a newspaper nor a letter received in this city, (Amsterdam) from London, since the 19th or 20th of the month.

There are symptoms of a more general war. If Britain adheres to her maxims, this republic will demand the aid of Russia, Sweden, Denmark, and Prussia, in pursuance of the treaty of armed neutrality. These powers will not be duped by the artifices of the English court, and adjudge this war not a Casus Fœderis, when all the world agrees that the accession of the republic to the armed neutrality, is the real cause of it, and the treaty between Mr. Lee and Mr. De Neufville only a false pretext. If the armed neutral confederacy takes it up, as nobody doubts they will, all these powers will be soon at war with England, if she does not recede. If the neutral powers do not take it up, and England proceeds, she will drive the republic into the arms of France, Spain and America. In this possible case a minister here from Congress, would be useful. In case the armed neutrality take it up, a minister authorised to represent the United States at all the neutral courts might be of use.

The empress queen (Mary Theresia) is no more. The emperor has procured his brother Maximilian to be declared co-adjutor of the bishoprick of minister and cologne, which affects Holland and the low countries. He is supposed to have his eye on Liege. This may alarm the Dutch, the king of Prussia and France. The war may become general and the fear of it may make peace. That is, it might, if the king of England was not the most determined man in the world. But depressed, distracted and ruined as his dominions are, he will set all Europe in a blaze, before he will make peace. His exertions against us, however, cannot be very formidable. Patience, firmness and perseverance are our only remedy. These are sure and infallible. And with this observation I have the honor to take my leave of Congress for the year 1780, which has been to me the most anxious and mortifying year of my life.—God grant that more vigour, wisdom, and decision may govern the counsels, negociations and operations of mankind in the year 1781.”

John Adams.

Printed Source--Boston Patriot.

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