Abigail Adams to Mercy Otis Warren
May 10 1785
I cannot let my son return to America without a few lines to you, nor will I doubt their being acceptable altho it is nine months since I left Home during all which time neither Mr. Adams or I have had the honour of receiving a line either from the General or your Ladyship, altho we have repeatedly written to you.1 Your Son who is resident in Lisbon and mine who has inhabited France have regularly corresponded2 by which means I have had the pleasure of knowing that there was one Branch of the Family yet on this side the land of forgetfullness. I left America not a little anxious for the Health of my two young Friends Mr. Charles and Henery, and tho I have heard from them by way of my Braintree Friends, it would have been more agreeable to me to have received the account from the Hand of their Mama. My son has made a wise choice I think in prefering to return to his own country and compleat his education at Harvered that he may become acquainted with the Youth of his own Standing and form connextions in early life amongst those with whom he is to pass his days. An acquaintance and intimacy in your family will be an object with him, and as you and I Love to praise our children and why when deserving should we not? I think you will find him as intelligent as most young Men of his age, and as little tincturd with the vices and follies of Europe. He loves his Studies too well to be much addicted to any thing else. Having spent ten years abroad uncorrupted, I hope he will not be less cautious in his own country where there is little less danger than in Europe. But as he is yet young the advice and Friendship of the ancient Friends of his Parents will ever be usefull to him.
You will hear before this reaches you of the completion of an ancient prophecy of yours, but I do not recollect whether you auguerd good or evil from it.3 At present there are so many Clouds to peirce, some of them armd with thunder and lightning that I query whether the Electrical Phylosopher himself could devise means to secure a person from the burning flashes. I think too it has been said that when clouds meet from opposite directions the severest tempest ensues. What then can a person expect who stands unshelterd beneath so inclemnant a hemisphere?
But to quit Allegory we are destined to England. An embassy I dare say in which your penetration discovers many difficulties, some arising from one side of the Atlantick and Some on the other. I never could find either sufficient honour or profit to balance the anxiety which I have both seen and felt in the various employments to which my friend has been call’d. His Success and the benifit derived to our Country from that, has given me great pleasure. Whether his usual good fortune in negotiation will follow him in this embassy time must unfold, but it has brought a weight of care and a load of anxiety upon him. I shall feel some Regreets at quitting so agreeable a climate and the delightfull Garden which is just unfolding all its Beauties. My acquaintance with French Ladies is rather small and none that I value much save Madam da la Fayette, who is a Lady with whom you would be much pleased. Her high Rank and family have not made her like most others forget eitheir the Maternal or Domestick Character. She said to me in conversation one day that she dissapr[o]ved very much the Manner in which the conjugal connection was formed in this Country. I was married said she before I was capable of Love. It was very happy for me that my friends made so wise a choice. I made it the Study of my Life to perform my duty and I have always been so happy as to find my pleasures result from the performance of my duty. I am happier says she and I have more reason to be so than many others of my sex and country. They seek their pleasures in dissapation and amusement, they become insipid to them; and they have no resource in Domestick Life. She is passionately fond of America and she has reason to be so, for America has shewn itself passionately fond of her family. The Marquis you know. He is dangerously amiable, sensible, polite, affible insinuating pleasing hospitable indefatiguable and ambitious. Let our Country Gaurd let them watch let them fear his virtues and remember that the summit of perfection is the point of declension. This Gentleman has had the offer of going to America in the quality of minister Plenipotentiary, but he would not accept it because it would forfeit him the right of citizenship.4 The Apotheose of the ancient Romans is not yet introduced into our Country, but it may follow the Knights of Cincinnatus,5 as regularly as Statues &c., and these are honours which are paid only to Military Characters, that the people may look to them, and them only as the preservers of their Country and the supporters of their freedom. That they have deserved well of their Country no one will dispute. But no Man or body of Men can Merit the sacrifice of the Liberties of a people for the agrandizement of them or their families. It is not a little mortifying that both the Secretarys of Legation are knights of the order. Col. Humphries is a sensible worthy Man, and I believe abhors the Idea which those who have more maturely traced concequences fear from these family distinctions, but tis dissagreeable laying aside a Badge of Merit, which he sees and feels give him weight and distinction here. Col. Smith is a perfect stranger to us. Col. Humphries gives him a good Character and so does the Marquiss of whose family he has been.
We are told here that Governour Hancok has resignd the Chair!!!— and are much at a loss for his Successor out of the many candidates which will no doubt be upon the list. I hope our state will not get so divided as to fall into unhappy parties. I hear Mrs. Macauly says that she does not find so much Republicanism as she expected. She went there ten years too late. Yet let her serch whatever part of the Globe she pleases, it is not probable that she will find a larger Proportion of it else where. Pray make my Respectfull compliments to her,6 and remember me to all my Friends of your family. Be assured Dear Madam that frequent communication with you will give real pleasure to your Friend and Humble Servant
Dft (Adams Papers); notation by AA: “To Mrs Warren”; docketed by CFA: “To Mrs. J. Warren. Auteuil.”
1. The Warrens’ only letters to the Adamses for this period known to the editors are: James Warren to JA, 29 June 1784 (Adams Papers), which AA is perhaps not counting because it followed so closely on her departure for Europe; James Warren to JA, 28–29 Jan. (Adams Papers), which was evidently slow in reaching France; and Mercy Warren’s letters of 27 April to JA (Adams Papers), and 30 April to AA, above. AA’s only known letter to Mercy Warren for this period was that of 5 Sept.  1784, above. JA, however, had written to James Warren on 30 June, and 27 Aug. 1784, and on 26 April (all LbCs, Adams Papers), and to Mercy Warren on 13 Dec. 1784, and 26 April (both MHi: Warren-Adams Coll.), and on 6 May (MB). Six of these letters, dated 30 June and 5 Sept. 1784, and 28–29 Jan., 26 April (to James Warren), 27 April, and 6 May, are printed in Warren-Adams Letters description begins Warren-Adams Letters: Being Chiefiy a Correspondence among John Adams, Samuel Adams, and James Warren, (Massachusetts Historical Society, Collections, vols. 72–73), Boston, 1917–1925; 2 vols. description ends , vol. 2.
2. The Adams Papers contains letters from Winslow Warren to JQA, dated 13 July, and 1 Sept. 1784, and 4 Jan., 1 March, and 29 June; all except the first are from Lisbon. JQA’s letters to Winslow Warren have not been found.
3. In Jan. 1776, JA had proposed to Mercy Warren that they exchange characterizations of notable people whom they met (JA, Papers description begins Papers of John Adams, ed. Robert J. Taylor, Gregg L. Lint (from vol. 6), and others, Cambridge, 1977-. description ends , 3:397). Mercy Warren responded with enthusiasm, but predicted that she would gain more than he from the bargain, because she believed that he would soon make the acquaintance “not only of the Most Distinguished Characters in America, but of the Nobility of Britain. And perhaps before the Conflict is Ended, with some of those Dignifyed personages who have held the Regalia of Crowns And Scepters” (10 March 1776, same, 4:51). JA replied, on 16 April, that Mercy Warren would be disappointed in this expectation: “Your Correspondent, has neither Principles, nor Address, nor Abilities, for such Scenes” (same, 4:125). When JA was appointed a commissioner to France, Mercy Warren wrote to AA and asked her to remind JA of her prediction, for she expected that he would keep his part of their original bargain (2 Jan. 1778, vol. 2:377).
4. The editors have found no evidence that Lafayette sought an appointment as French minister to the United States in the 1780s, but had he been appointed to that post, it seems hardly likely that the two American cities—New York and Hartford, Conn.—and the two states—Maryland and Massachusetts—that had made him a citizen between September 1784 and February 1785 would have considered his appointment grounds for terminating that honor.
From his return to France in 1782, however, Lafayette had in effect acted as an extra American minister to France, and to Spain, and in February 1783 he sought an appointment as American minister to Great Britain in order to present the peace treaty, once Congress had ratified it, to the Court of St. James’s. In letters to America’s secretary for foreign affairs, R. R. Livingston, and to George Washington, Lafayette explained that he only wanted to carry out a brief ceremonial mission, and he declared that he had no interest in being America’s “Sedentary” minister, a position for which he recommended Alexander Hamilton (Lafayette to Livingston, 5 Feb. 1783 [2d letter], Lafayette in the Age of the Amer. Rev. description begins Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776–1790, ed. Stanley J. Idzerda and others, Ithaca, 1977-. description ends , 5:88–90; Lafayette to Washington, same date, 5:90–93). Both Livingston and Washington concluded that it would be better not to have a foreigner, even the Marquis de Lafayette, make such a presentation to Great Britain.
Meanwhile, both in France, where he consulted frequently with Benjamin Franklin and with the Comte de Vergennes and the French comptroller general Calonne, and on his 1784 tour of America, Lafayette worked tirelessly to promote Franco-American commerce as a counterweight to Britain’s growing commercial power in America following the conclusion of peace. In addition to providing strong informal competition to JA as an American diplomat, Lafayette worked in greater harmony with Franklin and his diplomatic objectives than he did with either JA or John Jay, with whom he occasionally had some friction. This fact alone, quite aside from Lafayette’s association with the Society of the Cincinnati (see note 5), seems adequate to explain AA’s criticism here. The fullest account of Lafayette’s activities in this period is in Louis Gottschalk, Lafayette and the Close of the American Revolution, Chicago, 1942, chaps. 15–16; Gottschalk, Lafayette Between the American and the French Revolution, 1783–1789, Chicago, 1950, chaps. 3–15; and Lafayette in the Age of the Amer. Rev. description begins Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776–1790, ed. Stanley J. Idzerda and others, Ithaca, 1977-. description ends , vol. 5.
5. Here AA probably intends a further criticism of Lafayette, the head of the French chapter of the Society of the Cincinnati. The new military order had earned the immediate disapproval of the Adamses, of John Jay and Thomas Jefferson, and even of Lafayette’s ally Franklin, as well as that of many other Americans in France. Lafayette, sensitive to their anti-aristocratic criticism, labored to explain the Society to its critics, while urging George Washington to seek the alteration of the Society’s rules to eliminate the provision for hereditary membership. Washington supported this change, and hostility to the order, strongest in New England and among civilian servants of America in Europe, soon subsided. But AA’s remarks here and her concern, immediately below, that Col. Humphreys and Col. Smith were “Knights of Cincinnatus,” demonstrate that republican hostility to the order did not die out quickly. AA probably learned of Col. Smith’s membership in the Cincinnati in late April. See JA to Elbridge Gerry, 28 April (LbC, Adams Papers); AA to JA, 11 Feb. 1784, and note 9, above; and Louis Gottschalk, Lafayette Between the American and the French Revolution, 1783–1789, chap. 5.
6. Catherine Sawbridge Macaulay had traveled to America with her second husband, William Graham, in 1784, and visited George Washington at Mt. Vernon in 1785 (DNB description begins Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds., The Dictionary of National Biography, New York and London, 1885–1900; 63 vols. plus supplements. description ends ).