John Thaxter to Abigail Adams
Paris April 30th. 1780
That a Nation once distinguished in the Annals of Mankind, should by the Pride, Avarice, Ambition, Injustice and Oppression of its Governors, loose its distant Dependencies, is not an uncommon Event in the History of the World; but that the same Nation, from the Operation of the same Causes, together with Folly and Madness, should league one half the World against her, is not only a Phenomenon in Modern Times (reserved to be exhibited by a neighbouring Nation) but a melancholy Monument of divine Vengeance. That this is the present State of England is but too true. Behold her a public Enemy, hostile to the Rights of Mankind, but too impotent to sport much longer. Such extremes of Wickedness and their Consequences, unhappily for human Nature and the Peace of Nations, are not local—other States and Kingdoms become infected by them, their Virtues and Morals become shaken and debauched. Britain then is to be considered not only as attempting to subvert the Civil and political Institutions of Men but indirectly their religions also. To You, Madam, who are so well versed in History, another observation is unnecessary.
The present Picture of England is truly melancholy. Her Tyranny has dismembered the best Part of her Empire—America is independent—Ireland is perfecting her Strength in her (England’s) Weakness, and gliding on very calmly and smoothly to Independence. Behold her interrupting the Commerce of the United States, of Holland, seizing and condemning Articles not contraband by Treaty nor the Law of Nations, and insulting their Flag to crown their Injustice. The King by Proclamation has declared all Stipulations of the Treaties between England and the Republic are to be suspended, and the Republic to be considered as a Neutral Power no Ways priviledged by Treaties, because the Dutch have refused the Succours demanded in Virtue of a Treaty. Russia, from whence England expected a considerable Assistance in Men and Ships to promote her System of Rapine and Depredation, has determined upon a rigorous Neutrality between the belligerent Powers, declared her Resolution to maintain her Flag in Honor, invited Holland to make Common Cause, and sent Copies of her Resolutions and Declarations, to the Courts of the Powers at War. This Neutrality is against England—hard fate indeed that even a Neutrality is against her.1 She has insulted the Flag of Sweeden, by one of her Cruisers, attacking a Sweedish Frigate innocently and peaceably pursuing her Course. Behold her engaged in a War against America, France and Spain, singly and alone, without an ally or a Prospect of obtaining one in Europe. It is said that there is a Quintuple Alliance forming or formed between Russia, Prussia, Sweeden, Denmark and the Republic of the United States of Holland. I affirm it not for a Fact. If You recollect the System of Europe pointed out in an Judicious and ingenious Letter now in Manuscript in your Custody,2 You will probably think this Event not unlikely. The Object of it is, the protection of their Commerce and respective Flags. I cannot say that it is entered into—I can only affirm that such an Alliance is not improbable; for those Powers and no others in Europe love England with much Cordiality, but on the contrary see without Regret the decay of her Power. Add to all this, Intestine Broils and Divisions rending the Kingdom asunder. Such is the State of England internally and externally. A Tear of Pity an American is magnanimous enough to shed upon this Spectacle. Britain should shed Tears of Blood.
I had the pleasure of seeing Masters Johnny and Charley, my two dear little Friends, this day—they are well. With equal Satisfaction and equal Justice, can I send this acceptable Tribute, which is due to them, to a tender and fond Mamma, that they behave well.
I had the Honor of dining to day with his Excellency at Mr. Grand’s, where were beaucoup de monde and amongst the rest Madamoiselle Labhar is not to be forgotten. Think me not smitten, Madam. If I have any Partiality for any one in particular (which I will neither affirm nor deny) it is not on this Side the Water.
Remember me affectionately to your dear Nabby and Tommy, and respectfully and dutifully where due.
With the highest Respect & Esteem, I have the Honor to be &c.,
RC (Adams Papers).
1. The latest scholarly study of the Armed Neutrality of 1780 is by Isabel de Madariaga, Britain, Russia, and the Armed Neutrality of 1780, New Haven, 1962. Since it concentrates on the mission of Sir James Harris (later 1st Earl of Malmesbury) to the Court of Catherine the Great at St. Petersburg, it does virtually nothing to indicate American interest in this significant episode of northern European diplomacy. See, however, Bemis, Diplomacy of the Amer. Revolution description begins Samuel Flagg Bemis, The Diplomacy of the American Revolution: The Foundations of American Diplomacy, 1775–1823, New York and London, 1935. description ends , chs. 11–12; Morris, Peacemakers description begins Richard B. Morris, The Peacemakers: The Great Powers and American Independence, New York, 1965. description ends , ch. 8.
2. Undoubtedly Thaxter is alluding to the long and remarkable letter JA addressed, or at least began, to John Jay, president of Congress, within a day or two of his return to Braintree from France, 4 Aug. 1779. When composing it, JA regarded it as his last diplomatic dispatch and therefore a kind of testament, embodying his “Reflections . . . on the general State of Affairs in Europe, so far as they relate to the Interests of the united States” (RC in PCC, No. 84, I, printed in Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 3:278–286; LbC in Adams Papers, printed in JA, Works description begins The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Boston, 1850–1856; 10 vols. description ends , 7:99–110). The influence of this testament on Thaxter’s present letter is manifest. In the Adams Papers is a twelve-page contemporary copy in an unidentified hand which may possibly have been the version Thaxter saw and studied, although it is more likely that he read the letterbook copy. Numerous other contemporary copies were made, of which a number survive (four besides those already mentioned are recorded in the Adams Papers Editorial Files as in various repositories and private collections). The explanation is in a letter from James Lovell to JA, 14 Sept. 1779 (Adams Papers): “The dull letter you mention has been received , and I believe wished never to have been written, by the poor Drudges in the Secretary’s Office who are called upon for Copies by every lazy Member, and I assure you that is more than the sanctified Number 13.”