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John Quincy Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams, 17 April 1799

John Quincy Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams

N: 2.
1. 15 Jany:

17. April 1799.

Somewhat more than a month ago I received the very welcome intelligence that the vessel on board of which you were a passenger had arrived at New-York. Some days later, a letter from Mr: Murray mentioned that he had seen your arrival announced in a Philadelphia newspaper of the 15th: of January.— Soon after, I received from our ever dear and honoured mother a letter of 1. Feby: fully confirming the agreeable information— Three days ago, I enjoyed the pleasure of beholding your superscription and seal enclosing three almanacks, and at the same time learnt by a letter from Mr: King that you were present at the celebration of General Washington’s birthday, at Boston—and at length, this morning have before me your letter of 28 January, which gives me the first notice of a previous letter by Mr: M.’Henry, whom Mr: Murray has long been expecting but who has not, as far as I know, yet arrived.1

By the English newspapers and letters from Mr: King I have information from Philadelphia and New-York to the last of February and 1st: of March. The most recent and most important event they announce is the nomination of a new Commission to negotiate with France, and the negative upon that measure by the Senate— I hope that these circumstances will prove to the french Government two things. first that our Executive is yet anxiously desirous of avoiding War and willing to go any lengths consistent with the national interest and honour, for that purpose—but 2dly: that the public spirit is very serious and decided in resistance to the french system, and will not acquiesce even in further negotiation, without substantial proofs of its having undergone an essential change.2

That such a change has taken place, and will soon be more material still than it has yet appeared, I am disposed to believe, not so much from what they have hitherto done, as from the situation in which they now find themselves, involved in a War with Austria, Russia and Turkey, which at least the two former of those powers appear determined to wage with every exertion of which they are capable. Nor has its commencement been under the most favourable auspices to France, notwithstanding the advantages she obtained by making the attack precede the declaration of War.— The immediate effect of this was indeed the expulsion of the Austrians from the Grison Country, and the irruption of the french into the Tyrol; but by the events of the last ten days in March the vast plan of campaign which had been drawn up for their armies in Germany, Switzerland and Italy, the object of which was the junction of the three to march with all their united forces upon Vienna, has failed.— Your newspapers will be full of the bloody battles fought on all the three points of action on the same days. Between the armies of the Archduke Charles and General Jourdan on the 21st: and 25th: the most important events occurred.— In both the Archduke was victorious, which on the latter occasion was due it is said entirely to a charge led by the Archduke in person.— Jourdan to be sure says that if a charge of cavalry had been executed at the time when he ordered it, a part of the Austrian army would have been destroyed— When a General says, if something had been done, which was not done, the victory would have been ours, it is not difficult to draw the inference— Jourdan adds however, that he is far from considering himself as beaten. The Austrians admit that their loss of men was very great; indeed not much less than that of their Enemy, but in this case as in many others the victory is ascertained by the consequences rather than by the particular fortune of the actual conflict— The french army after the 25th: constantly retreated, very much in the same manner as Jourdan did in 1796, and will probably only find safety on the left banks of the Rhine.— Jourdan is recalled to Paris, and perhaps dismissed from his extensive command. The General of cavalry Haupoult is likewise displaced or to be tried for delaying the charge, and Massena according to the general report is to command in Jourdan’s stead.— He has indeed hitherto displayed greater talents or enjoyed better Fortune than his predecessor— His scene of action has been in Switzerland, and although he was worsted on the 23d. at Feldkirch by General Hotze, yet by driving that officer previously away from the Territory of the Leagues, and by the success of a detachment from his army under General Lecourbe in penetrating into the Tyrol, he has obtained greater advantages than any other french Commander since the renewal of the War—3 It does not yet appear how far General Lecourbe has advanced in his invasion of Tyrol, or whether he will succeed in forming the junction with the army in Italy unter General Scherer.

This officer has been nearly two years Minister at War, but he recently resigned that place to take the command of the army in the Cisalpine Republic— On the 25th: ulto: (the same day when the action between the Archduke was fought, and when General Lecourbe forced his passage into the Tyrol) he attacked the Austrian army before Verona; and from that day until the last of the month, the whole time was almost a continual battle— The attack was renewed by the french nine times, and they were as often repulsed. It was directed at once against Verona and Legnago, the two barriers of the former Venitian territories— On the 31st: of March, however they were obliged to retire beyond the Adige, and to prevent pursuit to cut away the bridges with such precipitation as to leave a rear guard of 1300 men behind; 800 of whom surrendered, and the rest endeavoured to force their passage across the mountains of Tyrol.4

The first corps of Russian troops, consisting I think of 23000 men, arrived, just about that period upon the Venetian borders— The command of all the Austrian and Russian forces in Italy is given to Marshall Suwarow, who has already left Vienna to join them, and probably by this time is on the spot.—5 You have seen enough of Europe during the last four years to conceive how great expectations are formed upon much slenderer grounds than the reputation of Suwarow and the Russians, from which I think myself something may reasonably be expected—though something infinitely short of the sangwine hopes which I daily hear expressed around me.

Prussia remains neutral—And her great concern is lest the war between France and Austria should not be in progress sufficiently bloody, or indecisive— She thinks like your friend Perponcher, (who, as I believe I have before informed you, is advanced to a Lieutenantcy,) and who seems to have adopted the genuine Prussian feelings.— I heard him not long since express considerable apprehensions that the War between France and Austria would be only a nominal War, and that it would be agreed between them not to hurt each other too much in it.— The manner in which the War has been hitherto conducted must relieve from such fears as these, the late events develope no sparing system, and the only reasons why the french comprized the Grand Duke of Tuscany in their declaration of War against Austria, must have been because he was related to the Emperor, and his dominions would afford plunder—6 On the 25th: and 26th: of March their troops took possession of Florence and Leghorn, without resistance; compelled the Grand Duke to sign orders to his subjects to submit themselves, and then gave him Passports to go wherever he can find an asylum. Thus there now remains to complete their conquest of Italy, only the small possessions of the Emperor in that Country.— The conquest will indeed be held by a precarious tenure, for every day adds to the inveterate hatred which the Italians bear to the french name, and I have two anecdotes from very good authority which shew the present dispositions in that respect— When they took Piedmont from the king of Sardinia, they forced him to sign an order to his troops to remain in service, and obey the commands of the french. Accordingly they kept them on foot, amounting to about 17000 men. 7000 of them they shut up in garrisons, and sent ten thousand to Bologna, while the campaign against Naples was going on. But of the 10,000 men, only 2500 reached Bologna, all the rest having deserted by the way— The Directory lately sent into the Cisalpine Republic an order to recruit the army— Within three days after the notice was published, upwards of 80,0007 men offered themselves to inlist— But they were persons of such a description that the french officers were convinced their only object was to obtain arms, for the purpose of using them when the occasion should offer against them—the men were not inlisted, and the recruiting order was countermanded—8 In various parts of Italy, in Piedmont, in Switzerland, insurrections rise upon insurrections faster than they can be suppressed, and there has been one extant several months in the Netherlands, which is not yet entirely quelled.—9 The internal state of France itself is more tranquil than it has been heretofore, owing to the absolute controul under which every thing is subjected to the Will of the Directory.— The new elections for the Legislative Councils have taken place, but the primary assemblies have been unattended, beyond all former example.— They have had too strong proofs of what is meant by the freedom of election, to think the privilege of voting worth being exercised, and they leave it altogether to the agents and friends of the Directory, who of course chuse themselves—10 The Press remains shackled as much as ever, and efforts more or less successful continue to be made for spreading obnoxious publications in spite of all their Inquisition— One pamphlet has lately been circulated with an avidity proportioned to the unusual exertions made for its suppression— It is an answer by your acquaintance Carnot, to the report of Bailleul upon the Revolution of 18. Fructidor.— Carnot means it no doubt as a vindication of himself, but it contains numerous anecdotes and characters of his quondam Colleagues in the Directory, which they may well endeavour by all means in their power to smother. This pamphlet has been published in English as well as French, and will certainly be known in America before this Letter can reach you— A single passage in it deserves particular attention from Americans. He says that those who negotiated the Treaty of Peace with Spain, were fools or Traitors for not obtaining by it, the cession of Louisiana, which would have been perfectly easy; and that afterwards he proposed in the Directory, to give the possessions of the Duke of Modena to the Duke of Parma, upon condition that Spain should cede the same Province of Louisiana, which then instead of languishing under a kingly Government, would have been republicanized, and become the means of procuring to France, a vast influence over the United States of America.11

Our private history has not been much varied since I wrote you last. The winter has been as gay and dissipated till its end as it was in the beginning, and although the king and Queen went about three weeks ago to Potzdam, the balls and evening parties and suppers, which succeeded the Operas and Masquerades, and Grandes Cours of the Carnival, have not ceased until this day.— Count Zinzendorf the Saxon Minister is upon his return to Dresden where he is appointed Minister at War— He gave two days ago upon taking leave a Ball and Fête, at which the young Ladies, clad in white crowned him with garlands and sung couplets expressive of their regard for him and regret at his departure—12 We have had a great number of foreigners here to pass the whole, or part of the Winter, and among them many Englishmen, and some Ladies. Count Bruhl’s, and Doctor Brown’s families are all well and often enquire after you; as did last Evening all the folks at Prince Ferdinand’s— Mr: Schickler’s son is returned from England, and brought with him from Hamburg a pretty wife; so that we meet there now, parties of Ladies. The old Gentleman, enquires after you, and your friend the jeweller whom you used to see there, with an earnestness that seems quite affectionate.13

I presume your determination to open an office again at Philadelphia, is the best party that offers itself to you, though I should have felt more satisfaction had you preferred a settlement nearer our original home. My most fervent wishes and prayers for your success will attend you wherever you may reside, and whatever you may undertake

I enclose with this a Letter for new York, with one addressed to me which will explain to you the wish of the writer— You will have that for Messrs Mark and Co: delivered by a safe hand, and at the same time I will thank you to make enquiries and transmit to me the result, concerning the situation of the house in point of property, reputation and credit.14

You will remember an application to me from the Cabinet Ministry here, in behalf of a Jew named Jonas Hirschel Bluch, which shortly before you left this Country I transmitted to the Secretary of State— I wish you to obtain at the Secretary of State’s Office an inspection of those papers, and make enquiries whether any thing can be done for the man.— If there is, I will desire him to send you a proper Power to recover his property for him— He has written to me to request my good offices in his behalf; and I should be glad to help him as far as may be in my power.15

I am ever affectionately your’s

——— ———

I shall write you very soon again.

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mr: T. B. Adams.”; endorsed: “No 2. J Q Adams. 17 April 1799. / 22d. June Recd: / 26. Ansd:.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 133.

1The letters from William Vans Murray and Rufus King providing JQA with information on TBA were dated 14 and 29 March, respectively (both Adams Papers).

2News of Murray’s nomination as minister plenipotentiary to France and his subsequent nomination alongside Oliver Ellsworth and Patrick Henry was first reported by the London press at the end of March; see for example the General Evening Post, 28–30 March, and Lloyd’s Evening Post, 29 March – 1 April. In a letter to JQA of 2 April, King reported the initial public reaction, commenting, “I hope and am inclined to believe that this important step has been adopted after full consideration, and upon just Proofs of sincerity on the Part of france, as will leave us no room for future Regrets; but I cannot say to you my Dear sir, that I feel all that Confidence in this important [meas]ure that I have usually h[ad in] those wh. have preceeded it” (Adams Papers).

3On 30 Jan. the French Directory ordered its field commanders to launch attacks across the continent. Its armies crossed the Rhine on 1 March and declared war on Austria on 12 March. Gen. Jean Baptiste Jourdan was ordered to march the Army of the Danube toward the Inn River where it could threaten the Austrian Tyrol. Gen. André Masséna (1758–1817), commander of the Army of Helvetia, was directed to split his force, with the left flank invading the Swiss canton of Graubünden and the Tyrol and the right flank, under Gen. Claude Joseph Lecourbe (1760–1815), gaining control of the Valtellina Valley in northern Italy. Despite initial gains, the French armies were forced to retreat after Jourdan’s army was defeated by Archduke Charles of Austria at Ostrach and Stockach, Germany, between 21 and 25 March, and Masséna’s army was bested at Feldkirch, Austria, on the 23d. Masséna’s loss, however, was at the hand of Gen. Franz Freiherr Jellačić, not Marshal David van Hotze (1740–1799), as stated by JQA.

On 28 March Jourdan requested an audience with the Directory to explain his recent defeats. His request was granted on 9 April, and he was relieved of his command. He subsequently attributed his defeat at Stockach, in part, to Gen. Jean Joseph Ange Hautpoul, Comte d’Hautpoul (1754–1807), who was cleared of any wrongdoing. Despite his loss at Feldkirch, the Directory appointed Masséna commander of a combined force under the Army of the Danube (T. C. W. Blanning, The French Revolutionary Wars, 1787–1802, N.Y., 1996, p. 231–232; Cambridge Modern Hist. description begins The Cambridge Modern History, Cambridge, Eng., 1902–1911; repr. New York, 1969; 13 vols. description ends , 8:655; Steven T. Ross, “The Military Strategy of the Directory: The Campaigns of 1799,” French Historical Studies, 5:175–177 [Autumn 1967]; Hoefer, Nouv. biog. générale; Ramsay Weston Phipps, The Armies of the First French Republic and the Rise of the Marshals of Napoleon I, 5 vols., London, 1926–1939, 5:74, 77, 80–82; Smith, Napoleonic Wars Data Book description begins Digby Smith, The Greenhill Napoleonic Wars Data Book, Mechanicsburg, Penn., 1998. description ends , p. 147–148; Deutsche Biographie,; Ross, Quest for Victory description begins Steven T. Ross, Quest for Victory: French Military Strategy 1792–1799, New York, 1973. description ends , p. 232–233; Philip Haythornthwaite and Patrice Courcelle, Napoleon’s Commanders, 2 vols., Oxford, 2001, 1:27).

4Gen. Barthélemy Louis Joseph Schérer (1747–1804) was the French minister of war from July 1797 until Feb. 1799 when he accepted command of France’s Army of Italy and the Army of Naples. He led the former against Austrian forces at the Battle of Verona on 26 March but was unable to secure the Austrian side of the Adige River. On 1 April Austrian forces seized Rivoli, Italy, and on the 6th Schérer was forced to withdraw across the Mincio River (Hoefer, Nouv. biog. générale; Ross, Quest for Victory description begins Steven T. Ross, Quest for Victory: French Military Strategy 1792–1799, New York, 1973. description ends , p. 238–239).

5After taking command of the Austro-Russian Army, Marshal Aleksandr Suvorov (1729–1800) launched on 19 April an extensive campaign in Italy with more than 100,000 troops. His advance toward the Piedmont forced the French to abandon southern Italy on 4 May, triggering the collapse of the Neapolitan Republic (Ross, Quest for Victory description begins Steven T. Ross, Quest for Victory: French Military Strategy 1792–1799, New York, 1973. description ends , p. 240–243; Phipps, Armies of the First French Republic, 5:262).

6Grand Duke Ferdinand III of Tuscany was the brother of Francis II.

7In the LbC, Thomas Welsh Jr. wrote “30,000.”

8After forcing the abdication of Charles Emmanuel IV, for which see JQA to TBA, [ca. 15] Jan., and note 6, above, the Directory issued an order that the Cisalpine Republic conscript 9,000 men into military service, provoking violent outbursts in some areas and enthusiastic support in others (Palmer, Age of the Democratic Revolution description begins Robert R. Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760–1800, Princeton, N.J., 1959–1964; 2 vols. description ends , 2:312–313).

9JQA was possibly referring to the Peasants’ War, an uprising against the French that primarily took place in Flanders and Brabant from October to Dec. 1798, following the imposition of conscription. In a 23 March letter to Murray (LbC, APM Reel 133), JQA noted, “Belgium, like Ireland seems made only to be in permanent rebellion under every form of Government, without ever effecting its object” (Schama, Patriots and Liberators description begins Simon Schama, Patriots and Liberators: Revolution in the Netherlands 1780–1813, New York, 1977. description ends , p. 359, 391; Ute Planert, ed., Napoleon’s Empire: European Politics in Global Perspective, Basingstoke, Eng., 2016, p. 40).

10The Directory promoted the candidacies of select individuals during the legislative elections in late March and April; however, a low turnout meant the endorsements were damaging, and only a third of the candidates were elected. With the Directory unable to respond to the results as it had in the past, the legislative councils purged the executive on 18 June, for which see JQA to AA, 3 July, and note 9, below (Malcolm Crook, Elections in the French Revolution: An Apprenticeship in Democracy, 1789–1799, Cambridge, Eng., 1996, p. 154–157, 188–189).

11Jacques Charles Bailleul’s Rapport … sur la conjuration du 18 fructidor an v, au nom d’une commission spéciale, [Paris], 1798, was a lengthy justification of the 18 fructidor coup, alleging that it averted an imminent royalist uprising. In his Réponse de L. N. M. Carnot, Citoyen François, London, 1799, Lazare Nicolas Marguerite Carnot claimed that Bailleul’s statements were false and his documentary evidence was apocryphal. Carnot further outlined his views on religion, freedom of the press, and domestic and foreign relations, and he suggested that the Directory adopted dictatorial and monarchical tendencies and had subverted the republican principles of the French Revolution. JQA accurately summarized a part of Carnot’s argument for obtaining the cession of Louisiana, although Carnot also believed that the move would gain France a better buffer from Austria in Italy as well as make Spain an ally (p. 54–56). Carnot’s Réponse was translated and published in several editions in London and was likely also published in Hamburg (Cambridge Modern Hist. description begins The Cambridge Modern History, Cambridge, Eng., 1902–1911; repr. New York, 1969; 13 vols. description ends , 8:510–511; Huntley Dupre, Lazare Carnot: Republican Patriot, Oxford, Ohio, 1940, p. 247–251, 315).

12Count Friedrich August von Zinzendorf und Pottendorf 1733–1804) was the Saxon minister to Prussia for 22 years. His departure from Berlin, to serve as the Saxon minister of war, was celebrated with the 16 April ball described by JQA and also “a Picnic dinner” on 19 April (LCA, D&A description begins Diary and Autobiographical Writings of Louisa Catherine Adams, ed. Judith S. Graham and others, Cambridge, 2013; 2 vols. description ends , 1:73, 109–110; Deutsche Biographie,; D/JQA/23, APM Reel 26).

13JQA was referring to David Schickler, one of his bankers in the firm Schickler Brothers, whose son David (1777–1866) married Juliane Marie von Axen in Hamburg in June 1798 (LCA, D&A, 1:107; Friedrich Lenz and Otto Unholtz, Die geschichte des bankhauses gebrüder Schickler, Berlin, 1912, anhang 1, stammtafel; Berlin Dom:dom trauungs buch, vol. 4, 1764–1803, p. 206).

14These letters have not been found; however, the one to JQA was probably from Carl August Engel, who engaged JQA to pursue a financial claim against Jacob Mark & Co., a New York City mercantile firm run by Jacob Mark and John Speyer. Although Engel granted TBA power of attorney in November to pursue his claim, the firm went bankrupt in 1800, and as late as 1811 Engel had not received full compensation (Hamilton, Papers description begins The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett, Jacob E. Cooke, and others, New York, 1961–1987; 27 vols. description ends , 21:93–95; Jefferson, Papers, Retirement Series description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, ed. J. Jefferson Looney and others, Princeton, N.J., 2004–. description ends , 5:454; JQA to TBA, 7 Nov. 1799, LbC, APM Reel 134; JQA to TBA, 17 March 1811, MHi:Letters to Thomas Boylston Adams, 1809–1816).

15JQA sent Timothy Pickering a claim from Jonas Hirschel Bluch of Langendorff, Germany, regarding the estate of his son, Joseph Joachim Henry Bluch, who moved to the United States in 1785 and died in Pennsylvania in 1793. TBA later visited the younger Bluch’s brothers-in-law, Barnard and Michael Gratz, in Philadelphia regarding the estate. In a letter to TBA of 9 July 1799 (Adams Papers), JQA enclosed documents provided by Prussian officials showing that Bluch was entitled to lands in Virginia. TBA replied to that letter on 23 Sept. (Adams Papers), declaring that he was “very happy” that his services were no longer required and teasing his brother about the “pretty handsome fee” that further reading and translating German documents would have necessitated. He added, “I will never decypher a page of German writing without payment or the prospect of it” (D/JQA/24, 15 May, APM Reel 27; The Jews of the United States, 1790–1840: A Documentary History, ed. Joseph L. Blau and Salo W. Baron, 3 vols., N.Y., 1963, 3:779, 972).

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