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From John Adams to Boston Patriot, 29 August 1809

Quincy, August 29, 1809.


1780, December 9th—wrote to general James Warren, (among many other things, some too trifling, others mere repetitions of what has been said in other letters, and some perhaps, too severe to be worth transcribing:) “I am of your mind concerning flags to England, and importations from thence. There has been too much weak communication, which must be cut off.—The design of the Dutch is to keep peace, if possible. No resentment of injuries or insults; no regard to national honor or dignity, will turn them out of their pacific course. They will lend money and hire transports to the English, sell goods to America, and naval stores to France and Spain: in short, get money out of all nations, and go to war with none. They will not lend us any money, nor do any thing to favor us, but get money out of us, lest England should declare war against them, for aiding, abetting, and comforting rebellion, against treaties which the English have long since declared void, but the Dutch still hold sacred as their honor and their religion.

The republic, however, has acceded to the armed neutrality. The principle that free ships shall make free goods, will assist us in procuring present supplies, and will be more useful to America, hereafter, when she, I hope, will be neutral, although other nations may be at war, than to any nation of Europe. But I do not expect any sensible advantage will result from it to us very soon. The Prince of Orange and the States General will proceed so slowly, not to say will affect so many delays, that it will be some years before any great thing will result from it.

My eloquent friend, the Abby Raynal, whose History you mention, is publishing a new edition of that work, in which he says he has inserted a complete history of our revolution. He says he has mentioned my name as one of the characters, without which the revolution would not have been accomplished; at the same time, he says, he has cast some blame upon me. I told him I was then sure, at least, of such an immortality as he wanted, who burnt the temple; but I promised to attack him if he has abused me. He will not let me see it. Perhaps he may alter it, and erase my name. I told him he ought to do so, if he had ascribed a fifth part of the work to one as he says he has. Be it as it may, Suum cuique decus Posteritas rependit. I wish I were at home, that I might do something worthy of history; here I can do nothing. The beauteous olive branch, I fear, will never decorate my brows. I must spend my life in the pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war, without sharing any of its laurels. My most profound respects to Mrs. Warren. I dread her history more than that of the Abby. (Prophetic, to be sure!) I want to know in what colors she will draw brother Lee. He little knows what eyes were upon him.”

1780, December 9—wrote to Mrs. Warren: “I wish success to the act for cutting off all communication with England. That unfortunate nation grows every day more and more inimical to us, and to themselves. They have been wise as well as great, but that day is past. They will persecute us as they did our fathers; and the worst engine they have to play against us, are the remainders of a prejudice in their favor.

The letter, madam, which you sent me by your son, I suppose, is in the sea. His capture is no longer unknown to you.—Where he is, I know not—I hope, in America, exchanged. It would have given me great pleasure to have contributed somewhat to his entertainment in Europe. It is not, however, a country where I should wish the sons of my friends, any more than my own, to reside long. There are snares enough for youth, every where; but they are fewer in America than here. And American youth discover in Europe, I think, a greater propensity to folly and vice than the natives. I grow, every day, more and more wearied and disgusted with Europe, and more impatient to return forever, to that country where alone I ever was, or shall be, happy. Perhaps, however, I shall not be so fortunate in crossing the ocean a fourth time; a long imprisonment, or a fate more disagreeable still, may be before me. Whatever it may be, I shall meet it with fortitude, and comfort myself with the reflection that no man ever suffered in a nobler cause. There are in my power means enough for the pursuit of knowledge and of pleasure; but I have not that inclination to take advantage of them, which I should have done in earlier life, before my soul was bowed down with care. I have seen in the course of the last year a variety of kingdoms, empires and republics, and as great a variety of religions; and had a fine opportunity of remarking the effects of them upon human nature, and indeed upon the very face of the earth. The result of all has been a stronger attachment to the religion and government of my native country, than ever. I wish every American youth could have borne me company. He would not need afterwards to swear upon the high altar, enmity to Britain, nor friendship to America. It seems to me impossible, that even Arnold should have been a traitor, if he had ever made the journey from Ferrol to Amsterdam. How much should we deplore that spirit of dissipation, vanity and knavery, which infects so many Americans, in imitation of the old world, and threatens to ruin our manners and liberties. This, to be sure, madam, is preaching; but it is to a lady who knows it to be sound doctrine, and therefore will not despise the sermon, because it contains nothing new.”

1780, Dec. 14—wrote to Congress: “I am every day accepting the bills of exchange which were drawn upon Mr. Laurens; but I have no prospect of obtaining money to discharge them, but from Dr. Franklin. For some years before I came to Holland, every person I saw from this place assured me, that, in his opinion, money might be borrowed, provided application was made, with proper powers, directly from Congress, to solid Dutch houses. After my arrival here, such assurances were repeated to me, by persons whose names I could mention, and who, I thought, could not be deceived themselves, nor deceive me. But now, that powers have arrived, and application has been made to Dutch houses, undoubtedly solid, those houses will not accept the business. In short, I cannot refrain from saying that almost all the professions of friendship to America which have been made, turn out, upon trial, to be nothing more than little adulations to procure a share in our trade. Truth demands of me these observations. Americans find here the politeness of the table, and a readiness to enter into their trade; but the public finds no disposition to afford any assistance, political or pecuniary. They impute this to a change in sentiments; to the loss of Charleston; to the defeat of General Gates; to Arnold’s desertion; to the inactivity of the French and Spaniards, &c. &c. &c. But I know better. It is not love of the English, though there is a great deal more of that than is deserved. But it is fear of the English, and the Stadtholderian party. I must, therefore, entreat Congress to make no more draughts upon Holland, until they hear from me that their bills can be accepted, of which at present I have no hopes.

People of the first character have been, and are still, constantly advising that Congress should send a Minister Plenipotentiary here; and insist upon it, that this would promote a loan: it is possible it may; but I can see no certainty that it will.—Sending a few cargoes of produce would do something.

The Dutch are now glorifying themselves upon the depth and felicity of their politics. They have joined the neutrality, and have disavowed Amsterdam, and this, they think, has appeased the wrath of the English, the appearance of which in Sir Joseph Yorke’s memorial terrified them more than I ever saw any part of America intimidated in the worst crisis of her affairs. The late news we have of advantages gained by our arms in several skirmishes in Carolina, contributes a little to allay the panic. All, in Europe, depends upon our successes. But I say

Careat successibus opto

Quisquis ab eventu, facta notanda, putat.”

1780, December 17—wrote to England: “I regularly receive the newspapers; but have not received the books or pamphlets of any kind. If the majority of the people your way think America still theirs, they might as sensibly think Gascoigne and Guienne still theirs. Poor, deluded fools, how I pity them!

Sir Joseph Yorke is pelting the Dutch with memorials, in the style of Bernard’s speeches and Hillsborough’s letters. The Dutch hate war. They will not be aggressors. But your ministers have war in their hearts against Amsterdam, if not the whole republic. The ministry labored to divide the people of Boston from their leaders; the people of Massachusetts from Boston, and the other colonies from Massachusetts, until they united all in one independent sovereignty, which will be an example in arms, arts, liberty and glory, for the admiration and envy of the rest of mankind. They are now laboring to divide the people of Amsterdam from the regency, the other cities of Holland from Amsterdam, and the other six provinces from Holland. That ministry have no other maxims of government than corruption and division. But they take their measures so awkwardly, every where but in England, that they produce union. They will do so in this case, and presently the Seven United Provinces will be as independent as the thirteen United States of America.”

1780, Dec. 18th—wrote to Congress: “War is, to a Dutchman, the greatest of evils. Sir Joseph Yorke is so sensible of this, that he keeps alive a continual fear of it, by memorials after memorials, each more affronting than the former, to any sovereignty of delicate notions of dignity. By these means he keeps up the panic, and while this panic continues, I shall certainly have no success at all. No man dares to engage for me. Very few dare see me. On Tuesday last, the 12th of December, the British ambassador had a conference with the President of the States General, and upon that occasion presented to their High Mightinesses the following memorial:—

High and Mighty Lords,

The uniform conduct of the King towards the republic; the friendship which has so long subsisted between the two nations; the right of sovereigns, and the faith of engagements the most solemn, will, without doubt, determine the answer of your High Mightinesses to the memorial which the subscriber presented some time ago, by the express order of his court. It would be to mistake the wisdom and the justice of your High Mightinesses, to suppose that you could balance one moment to give the satisfaction demanded by his majesty. As the resolutions of your High Mightinesses, of the 27th of November, were the result of a deliberation, which regarded only the interior of your government, and it was not then in question to answer the said memorial: the only remark which we shall make upon those resolutions is, that the principles which dictated them prove evidently the justice of the demand made by the King.—In deliberating upon this memorial, to which the subscriber hereby requires, in the name of his court, an answer, immediate and satisfactory in all respects, your High Mightinesses will recollect, without doubt, that the affair is of the last importance; that the question is concerning a complaint made by an offended sovereign; that the offence, of which he demands an exemplary punishment and a complete satisfaction, is a violation of the Batavian constitution, whereof the King is the warranty; an infraction of the public faith; an outrage against the dignity of his crown. The King has never imagined that your High Mightinesses would have approved of a treaty with his rebel subjects. This would have been, on your part, a commencement of hostilities and a declaration of war. But the offence has been committed by the magistrates of a city, which makes a considerable part of the state; and it is the duty of the sovereign power to punish and repair it. His Majesty, by the complaints made by his ambassador, has put the punishment and the reparation into the hands of your High Mightinesses; and it will not be, but in the last extremity, that is to say, in the case of a denial of justice on your part, or of silence, which must be interpreted as a refusal, that the King will take this charge upon himself. Done at the Hague, the 12th of December, 1780.

(Signed) Le Chevalier Yorke.

If the Prince’s denunciation excited an alarm, and the first memorial of Sir Joseph Yorke a terror, this second memorial corroborated and augmented it to a great degree. For although the Dutch are as brave a people as any in Europe, and have in every period of their history exhibited a courage as cool, patient, persevering and intrepid as any nation, ancient or modern; nevertheless, a long course of peace and gain, an habitual study of measures of neutrality for near a century, had so established a timorous policy in their minds, that a near prospect of war astonished and confounded them. Some among them, however, felt the indignity as well as the terror.”


1780, December 18—wrote to Mr. Jennings: “I have received yours of the 11th. The enclosures I have packed with my dispatches, and the duplicate of Mr. Amory’s, to go by the first opportunity.

Sir Joseph will kick and cuff and pinch this republic, until he forces into them a little spunk. They cry shame upon his last memorial, more than the former. However, I believe he knows the nature of them enough to answer his end, which I take to be, to intimidate them from doing any thing more for America, and particularly from lending me any money. Many are apprehensive that the Prince is at the bottom of all this, and in concert with the King of England, or rather with his ambassador; and that the intention is, for the King to give orders to his ships of war and privateers, to make prizes of ships belonging to Amsterdam, in order to ruin the merchants of that city, and by these means disaffect them to the Regency. The body of merchants and the common people, are at present as well affected to the regency as they ever are. But the wish of the English party is to detach them. The constitution of the city is such, that it seems to me impossible that there should be ever a very strong attachment in the minds of the citizens to the Burgomasters. The people must consider the interest and honor of the Burgomasters, Counsellors and Schepens, (and these constitute the Regency) as distinct from their own, and therefore cannot feel any thing which touches their rulers, as touching themselves.”

1780, Dec. 21st—wrote to Congress: “The sentiments and affections of a people may be learned from many little circumstances which few persons observe. The poets and orators have been generally considered, both in ancient and modern nations, as the surest repositories of popular ideas. The clergy may be classed among the latter; and it is very certain that most public preachers accommodate both their sermons and their prayers in some degree to the general taste of their hearers, and avoid every thing which will unnecessarily give them offence.

At Rotterdam there are several English churches. The Presbyterian church, which one would think should be the least likely to be bigotted to England, I attended. The Parson, in his prayer, after petitioning Heaven for the states of Holland and West Friesland, the States General and Counsellor of State for the Prince of Orange, their hereditary Stadtholder and Governor, added a very devout supplication for England—for the King, Queen and royal family—for their health, long life and prosperity, and that he might triumph over all his enemies in the four quarters of the world.—At Amsterdam I have attended both the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches, and heard similar addresses to heaven in both, At Utrecht I attended the Presbyterian church, and there heard a prayer for the English, with much more fervor, and in greater detail. The Parson was quite transported by his zeal, and prayed for King, Queen, Prince of Wales and all the royal family; for the Ministry and Parliament; for the success of their arms in the four quarters of the world, and especially in North America; that their arms might there be completely triumphant; that the rebellion which had so long prevailed there, might be totally suppressed, and compelled to hide its head in shame. At Leyden there in another English church. The priest is a tory, but prudently omits such kind of prayers.

This is quite a work of supererogation in these reverend political zealots; and is therefore a stronger proof that such sentiments are popular. The English, who are very numerous in all these cities, are universally in favor of the British ministry.—But there are so many Dutch families who worship in these churches, that the ministers would not give them offence, if such prayers were offensive. This is the more remarkable, as the religion of North America is much more like that of this republic than like that of England. But such prayers recommend the clergymen to the Prince of Orange and to the English party, and no other party or person has influence or courage enough to take offence at them.”

1780, Dec. 25th—wrote to congress: “The dispute between Great Britain and the United Provinces, is now wrought up to a crisis. Things must take a new turn in the course of a few days; but whether they will end in a war, or in the retraction of one party or the other, time only can determine. I have before transmitted to Congress, the two memorials of Sir Joseph Yorke, against Mr. Van Berckel and the Burgomasters of Amsterdam. The language of both, conformable to that domineering spirit which has actuated the counsels of St. James’s, from the beginning of this reign, has engaged the honor and dignity of the crown, and the pride of the nation, so far, that there is no retreat without the most humiliating mortification.

On the other hand, I have authentic information, that the States, proceeding according to their forms, have determined to refer the conduct of Amsterdam to a committee of lawyers to consider and report whether the Burgomasters have done any thing which they had not authority to do, by law and the constitution. It is universally known and agreed, that the report must and will be in favor of the Burgomasters: this report will be accepted, and confirmed by the States, and transmitted to all the neutral courts, in order to shew them that neither the republic in general, nor Amsterdam in particular, have done any thing against the spirit of the armed neutrality. The States have also determined to make an answer to the memorials of the British ambassador, and to demand satisfaction of the King his master, for the indignities offered to their sovereignty in those memorials. In this resolution, the States have been perfectly unanimous, the body of the nobles, for the first time, having agreed with the generality. The question, then, is, which power will recede? I am confidently assured, that the States will not; and indeed, if they should, they may as well submit to the King, and surrender their independence at once. I am not, however, very clear what they will do. I doubt whether they have firmness enough to look a war in the face. Will the English recede, if the Dutch do not? If they should, it would be contrary to the maxims which have invariably governed them during this reign. It will humble the overbearing, insolent pride of the nation. It will expose the ministry to the scoffs and scorn of opposition: it will elevate the courage of the Dutch, the neutral powers, and the house of Bourbon; not to mention the great effect it will have in America, upon whigs and tories, objects of which the British court never loses sight.

This republic is certainly, and has been for several weeks, in a very violent struggle. It has every symptom of an agony, that usually precedes a great revolution. The streets of Amsterdam swarm with libels of party against party. There have also appeared some masterly pamphlets, written in favor of the Burgomasters. Thousands of extravagant and incredible reports are made and propagated. New songs appear too, one particularly adapted to the amusement of the sailors, and calculated to inspire them with proper sentiments towards the English. A woman who sung it in the streets, the day before yesterday, sold six hundred of them in an hour, and in one spot. These are symptoms of war; but it is not easy to conquer the national prejudices of an hundred years standing, nor to avoid the influence of the Stadtholder.

In this fermentation the people can think of nothing else; and I need not add, that I have no chance of obtaining a single ducat of money. But Congress will see the necessity of having here, in these critical times, more ample powers.”

1780, December 25th—wrote again to Congress: “It is very difficult, to discover, with certainty, the secret springs which actuate the courts of Europe; but whatever I can find with any degree of probability, I shall transmit to Congress, at one time or another. The Prince of Orange himself, of the royal family of England, his mother having been a daughter of King George the Second: this relation is one among the several motives which attach the Stadtholder to England. His Princess is a niece of the King of Prussia (Frederick the Great, as they call him, who, not content with the character of a wit, a poet, an historian, a statesman, and a warrior, must needs be a foolish philosopher) and, it is believed, is not perfectly agreed with his Most Serene Highness, in his enthusiasm for the English court. Frederick is supposed to have a great esteem and affection for his niece, to correspond with her frequently, and in some of his letters to have expressed his sentiments freely, upon the Prince’s conduct, intimating that his Highness would take too much upon him, and make himself too responsible, if he persevered in a resolute opposition to the armed neutrality. The Empress of Russia, who is possessed of a masculine understanding, and it is said, a decided inclination to America, is thought to have expressed some uneasiness at the Prince’s political system. The King of Sweden, who was lately at the Hague, is reported to have had free conversation with the Prince, on the same subject. All these things together, are supposed to have made his Highness hesitate, and consider whether he was not acting too dangerous a part, in exerting all his influence in the republic, in opposition to the general inclination of the people, and all the maritime powers of the world. The English court must undoubtedly be informed of all this—They dread the accession of the Dutch to the armed neutrality, more than all the other parties to that confederation, because of the rivalry in commerce, and because the Dutch will assist the marines of France and Spain more than all the others. The present conduct of the English indicates a design to go to war with the Dutch, on pretence of an insult to their crown, committed two years ago, by a treaty with America, in hopes that the Dutch will not be supported in this quarrel by the confederated powers. But they will be mistaken. The artifice is too gross. The neutral powers will easily see that the real cause of offence is the accession to the armed neutrality, and the conduct of Amsterdam only a pretext.

John Adams.

Printed Source--Boston Patriot.

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