John Adams to John Boylston
The Hague July 5. 1782
I have received your kind Letter of the 28 June, and thank you for your Congratulations.
British Politicks, it is true, are in a Labyrinth. There is never the less, one clue, and but one, which is to acknowledge American Independence, by an express Act of Parliament. This, once done, they would not find it difficult to make Peace.
Those who lend Money to the United States of America in this Country, receive their Interest, in Europe, and will ever receive it here, and much more certainly I suspect, than British Creditors will receive theirs, after some time.
I should certainly have answered your former Letter, if I had known of your Friends return, but I never knew till now, by whom the Letter came.
I am sorry they have put you in a List of Refugees because I have long known your Sentiments to be favourable to your native Country, as well as to Liberty in General.1
If you should cross the Channell I should be glad to see you here. Pray have you any News of our Relation your Name Sake. Ask him, if he has given all his fortune to Harvard Colledge, as he promised me he would. Tell him I am afraid he will forget to make his Will— if he will come over here I will make it for him, without a Fee.2
I am extreamly happy to hear, that the present Ministry have the Magnanimity and Wisdom to send home my Country men the Prisoners, and to treat them kindly. This is not only the Way to do themselves Honour, but to do real Service to their Country. If Great Britain ever excites a Sentiment in her favour, either in Europe or America, it must be, by such Measures as these.
But nothing will ever compleatly answer the End, but a frank Acknowledgment of American Independence. The United States will Support their Sovereignty, with Dignity, and their Alliances with Honour and good Faith, without ever being diverted from either, by Severity or by Flattery. The Man who now flatters the British King or Nation, with a Hope of the Contrary, is a worse Ennemy to both, than was a North or a Grenville, fifteen or 20 years ago. Delusions now will be fatal. Mistakes now will have worse Fruits than bad Intentions could have in the Beginning.
I wish for Peace, as ardently as you, or any Man. But in my opinion, our Country is less interested in it, than any Power, at war. The more is embroiled, and the longer it is embroiled the better it will be in the End for America, which is a Country so circumstanced and situated as to turn every Thing That happens to her own Advantage. People on your Side the Water, [are] exceedingly deceived in their opinions, that America sighs so ardently for Repose. But why do I scribble upon such Subjects? My Business is to preach to my Friends the Dutch.
I am &c.
LbC (Adams Papers).
2. JA is almost certainly alluding to Boylston’s cousin, Thomas Boylston of London (1721–1798), though in calling him John Boylston’s namesake an ambiguity is introduced, especially since there were no other John Boylstons alive at the time. The only other male Boylston recorded as then living in England or America was Ward Nicholas Boylston, born Hallowell (1749?–1828), on whom see JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 1:295; CFA, Diary description begins Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Cambridge, 1964– .Vols. 1–2, ed. Aïda DiPace Donald and David Donald; vols. 3–4, ed. Marc Friedlaender and L. H. Butterfield. description ends , 3:5, 13, 146; Oliver, Portraits of JA and AA description begins Andrew Oliver, Portraits of John and Abigail Adams, Cambridge, 1967. description ends , p. 35, 38; Oliver, Portraits of JQA and His Wife description begins Andrew Oliver, Portraits of John Quincy Adams and His Wife, Cambridge, 1970. description ends , p. 122–129; Adams Genealogy. But Ward Nicholas Boylston had left Boston in 1773 when still a young man, had resided in London from 1775, a loyalist, at the time was an officer in the British militia, and seems not to have been known to JA before May 1783. Though he was much later to become a benefactor of Harvard as his late uncle Nicholas (1716–1771) had earlier been, he was not at this time possessed of such a fortune as would enable him to contemplate substantial benefactions (Jones, Loyalists of Mass. description begins E. Alfred Jones, The Loyalists of Massachusetts: Their Memorials, Petitions and Claims, London, 1930. description ends , p. 48–50; Thomas Boylston to JA, 20 April; JA to Thomas Boylston, 12 June 1783, both in Adams Papers, the second LbC).
Thomas Boylston, Ward Nicholas’ uncle and sometime patron and employer, was at the moment a man of great wealth; he never married, had long been notoriously of a disposition to seize an opportunity to have legal or other work done where there was no fee, and though there is elsewhere no record of an interest in making Harvard College his heir, he did nurse philanthropic notions toward Boston, both during the time he had a fortune and after he was stripped of it in 1793 by the failure of the London firm of Lane, Son, & Frazer. Boylston, already wealthy by his own efforts and as principal heir of his even wealthier brother Nicholas, and already with a reputation for stinginess, had left Boston for London by 1779, taking a purported £100,000 with him. His emigration seems to have been dictated more by economic than political considerations, and there is little to connect him with loyalism in London. He renewed relations with JA as soon as there was a likelihood of the resumption of commerce between the United States and Great Britain, and between 1783 and 1785 developed several schemes for the import of whale oil from America and the export of sugar, processed in his refinery, to the United States. JA, bent on the encouragement of trade, lent his help to the project and recommended Boylston in letters to Jefferson as “one of the clearest and most solid Capitalists, that ever raised himself by private Commerce in North America” (25 Sept. 1785) and to Lafayette, 13 Dec. 1785: “You may depend upon it, he will do nothing but what is profitable. No man understands more intuitively, everything relating to these subjects, and no man is more attached to his interest.” JQA and TBA have provided admirable sketches of Thomas Boylston as he was just after he served his term in bankrupts’ prison, though their accounts of him, like those of others, seem heavily colored by the many unpleasant anecdotes of him given currency by Ward Nicholas after he became aware that he was not to be Thomas’ heir. See JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 1:280–281, 290–295; 2:85; Adams Family Correspondence description begins Adams Family Correspondence, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1963– . description ends , 2:295–296, 305–306; Jefferson, Papers, ed. Boyd description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd and others, Princeton, 1950– . description ends , 8:550; 9:41–42, 45–46, 88–89; Jones, Loyalists of Mass. description begins E. Alfred Jones, The Loyalists of Massachusetts: Their Memorials, Petitions and Claims, London, 1930. description ends , p. 49; H. E. Scudder, ed., Recollections of Samuel Breck, Phila., 1877, p. 159–160; [Ward Nicholas Boylston,] The Will of Thomas Boylston, Esq. [Boston, 1816]. In the Adams Papers: JQA, Diary, 25 Oct. 1794; TBA, Diary, 16, 25 Oct. 1794 (M/TBA/1 and 2, Microfilm Reel Nos. 281, 282); Thomas Boylston to JA, 23 Dec. 1782; JA to Isaac Smith Sr., 2 Sept. 1785; to James Bowdoin, 24 March 1786 (both LbC’s). See also Adams Genealogy.