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John Quincy Adams to Abigail Adams, 26 June 1797

John Quincy Adams to Abigail Adams

The Hague 26. June 1797.

My dear Mother

I have not written to you, since receiving your very kind Letter of 3d: March. though I received it almost a month ago. I have determined finally to go by the way of England; you will readily conceive that this circumstance together with the necessary attention to the preparations for my departure from this Country, and since the arrival of Mr: Murray, the arrangements for introducing him to the course of our affairs here, have so thoroughly engrossed my time as to leave me little even for the pleasing employment of writing to you.

I shall quit this Country with some regret. The mission here is not indeed a station of splendor either in the line of profit or of reputation. Yet upon the whole it has been rendered very agreeable to me, both by the good dispositions of the Government here, and by the indulgence, and approbation of my own Government, particularly of the late President.— I know with what delight your truly maternal heart has received every testimonial of his favourable voice, and it is among the most precious gratifications of my life to reflect upon the pleasure which my conduct has given to my Parents.— The terms indeed, in which such a character as Washington has repeatedly expressed himself concerning me, could have left me nothing to wish, if they did not alarm me, by their very strength. How much my Dear mother, is required of me, to support and justify such a judgment as that which you have copied into your Letter.

With respect to the strong hope which he intimates, I have thought it required an explicit Declaration to my father from me. I wish not to discuss or even to dispute the propriety of the distinction suggested, to exempt me from the exclusion which the writer gave to all his own relations.— However the matter may stand as it respects my father, I know and feel how my duty operates, and you may rest assured that I never shall hold a public office under the nomination of my father.

But where is my Independence?— for this question has been made me; and I am sensible that when upon the point of assuming the weighty charge of a family, it is a most serious question to me. Still however I can answer— It is in the moderation of my wishes; and in my industry.— Far as I am from bearing an affection to the practice of the Law, I will most certainly return to it in all the humility of its first outset rather than forfeit my independence; but it must have changed essentially its character upon the score of liberality in Massachusetts, if I cannot upon my return find any mode of private employment as honest and much more productive.

We have just received the speech of the President upon the 16th: of May, at the opening of the Session of Congress. It has given us great satisfaction, and we hope that the line of policy marked out by it, will succeed in terminating our differences with France.— The Legislative Councils and even the Directory have assumed quite a different complexion since the introduction of the new third into the Legislature, and of your old acquaintance Barthelemi into the Directory.1 It is probable however that there will be a great struggle by the party who have hitherto governed with so much injustice and oppression, both at home and abroad. New conspiracies or new Revolutions are apparently forming, and whatever party prevails will hold its power by no other tenure than that of violence.

The negotiations for Peace between France and Britain are resuming. They are to be conducted it is said at Lille in Flanders.2 I still doubt very much whether they will terminate successfully. There is yet too much Ambition and too much of the disorganizing Spirit in the french Government to allow them a disposition sincerely pacific.— Their treatment of Venice and Genoa, both neutral states, which had never been engaged in the Coalition, has been in open defiance, not only of all Justice and Honour, but of all shame. They have not been satisfied with dissolving the Governments of those Republics, but are dismembering them, and taking parts of their Territories to give them for indemnity to the Emperor and the king of Sardinia, instead of the dominions they have sacrificed to the conquering Genius of France.3 Buonaparte, not only wages but formally declares War, makes Peace, dissolves Governments, orders the adoption of others, sets up or pulls down the Sovereign People just as suits his own caprice, or that of his employers, and in the midst of the deep Tragedy of massacre, pillage, Assassination, and crimes of every dye, that attends these Revolutions, the farce, of Liberty, of Equality, of Fraternity, of the Rights of Man, with its whole Babylonish Dialect4 of imposture and hypocrisy is assiduously kept up, and I verily believe still finds its dupes.

You will excuse the shortness of my letter. I expect to sail from Rotterdam for London by the last of the month, having already engaged my passage, and taken leave of the Government here.5

I remain with the tenderest affection and duty, your son

John Q. Adams.6

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mrs: Adams.”; endorsed: “J Q Adams 26 June / 1797 N 28”; notation by TBA: “No 28.LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 130.

1During March and April, 216 members of the French legislature were retired by ballot. All were former members of the National Convention, and although most stood for reelection to the legislature, only eleven were chosen. The election gave the majority in both chambers to the Constitutionalists, who were openly hostile to the Directory. On 20 May the new members took their seats. On the 27th François Barthélemy was elected to the Directory in the place of Charles Louis François Honoré Le Tourneur, who was also retired by ballot (Cambridge Modern Hist. description begins The Cambridge Modern History, Cambridge, Eng., 1902–1911; repr. New York, 1969; 13 vols. description ends , 8:506). For the Adamses’ previous acquaintance with Barthélemy, see vol. 6:303, 305, 472; 7:40, 153.

2The Anglo-French negotiations at Lille lasted from June to October. France’s demand that all colonial possessions seized by Britain from France, Spain, and the Netherlands be returned nearly ended the negotiations in late June. But when Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord became the new French foreign minister in July, he began to work with Sir James Harris, Earl of Malmesbury, to achieve a true peace. Negotiations collapsed, however, after the 4 Sept. (An. V, 18 fructidor) political coup returned the pro-war party to power in France (Paul W. Schroeder, The Transformation of European Politics 1763–1848, Oxford, 1994, p. 173–174). For the previous negotiations between Great Britain and France in the fall of 1796, see vol. 11:392.

3Genoese attempts at neutrality were unsuccessful, and internal feuds between pro-French and pro-Austrian factions were exacerbated by Napoleon’s interference. On 6 July 1796 Napoleon instructed the French envoy at Genoa to banish the ruling Genoese families that supported Austria. Feuds arose in the city between the supporters of France and Austria, and when a few French subjects were killed in the melee Napoleon sent two French divisions to the city. The Genoese senate, realizing it could not resist the French forces, agreed to send envoys to treat with Napoleon, and on 6 June 1797 a provisional treaty was signed at Mombello that created a moderate democracy and renamed Genoa the Ligurian Republic (Cambridge Modern Hist. description begins The Cambridge Modern History, Cambridge, Eng., 1902–1911; repr. New York, 1969; 13 vols. description ends , 8:587–588). For France’s earlier armistice with Sardinia, see vol. 11:287.

4“But, when he pleased to show’t, his speech / In loftiness of sound was rich; / A Babylonish dialect, / Which learned pedants much affect” (Samuel Butler, Hudibras, Part I, canto i, lines 91–94).

5On 20 June JQA delivered his letters of recall to the Batavian National Assembly. On the 28th he and TBA left The Hague and arrived in Rotterdam in preparation for their voyage to London; two days later they boarded the Alexander & Alexander but made it only as far as Maassluis, where they were detained by bad winds for nine days. Finally on 9 July, they boarded another ship, the Alexander, Capt. de Vries, and reached Gravesend early on the morning of the 12th. Traveling by coach from Gravesend to London, they arrived at Osborne’s Hotel in the Adelphi Buildings that afternoon (D/JQA/24, APM Reel 27).

6JQA also wrote to JA twice in June. On 7 June he noted that he intended to go to London and marry but that he was still waiting on the arrival of William Vans Murray. He also reported that the Abbé Arnoux had been helpful to TBA in France, and he commented on the changes within the Directory. JQA continued the letter on 19 June, noting Murray’s arrival. JQA also wrote to JA on 29 June reporting his departure from The Hague, where he “did not conceive myself at Liberty to accept the customary present of a medal & chain which was offered me.” He commented on Napoleon’s treatment of the Italian states and reported that he would send the secretary of state copies of the Batavian National Assembly’s new constitution (both Adams Papers).

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