Adams Papers

John Adams to John Quincy Adams, 9 September 1785

John Adams to John Quincy Adams

Grosvenor Square Westminster Septr. 9. 1785

My dear Son

I have received your Letter by Mr. Church,1 and am very happy to hear of your Safe Arrival, and kind Reception at New York. You have a good Opportunity, to See the Place and principal Characters, and from the hints you give your Sister2 I Suppose and indeed I hope, you went home by Land, and Saw the Country and Persons you wanted to See.

I want to hear from you at Boston, and to learn what is become of your Samples of Oil and your Proposals for a trafick in that Commodity. Send me the Name of the Gentleman who has the Contract for enlightening thirty Cities in France and his Address if you have it.3

We are comfortably Settled, in this Place, but See no present Prospect of doing much material Service for the Publick. There are Prejudices in the Way, too Strong to be easily overcome. I hope our Countrymen will learn Wisdom, be frugal, encourage their own Navigation and Manufactures and Search the whole Globe for a Substitute for British Commerce.

But why am I entertaining you, with publick Affairs? At your Age, and with your Prospects, Justinians Institutes or Theophilus’s Commentary, would be more proper.4 I would not advise you, to be wholly inattentive or insensible to the Prosperity or Adversity of your Country, but on the other hand I hope you will not Sour your temper or diminish the natural Chearfulness of your Disposition by dwelling too much upon the gloomy Complaints of the times. Letters and Science demand all your Time, and you must prepare yourself to get your Bread. Instead of being able to provide for you, I think it very probable that in a very little time, I shall find it very difficult to provide for myself. I have no longer youth and strength on my Side, and cannot labour as you can and as I could five and twenty Years ago. You must sett an Example of Frugality, Modesty and Sobriety among your young Friends.

I would warn you against the danger of keeping much Company. It consumes ones time insensibly, and young as you are, you will have none to Spare. Choose your Friends with caution and Reflection. There is nothing in which a young Man shews his Judgment more than in this. Have an Eye to the moral Character, and the Virtues and fine Feelings of the Heart in this Choice, as well as to Talents, Genius and Studies.

I See with Pleasure, that your Style is improving and begins to run very easy. It is well worth your while to be attentive to this. You have Time and means to make your Self a Master of your native Language.

My affectionate Regards to your Brothers, and to all our Friends.

Your affectionate Father

John Adams

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “My Father. 9. Septr. 1785,” and “Mr. Adams. Septr. 9. 1785.”

1Of 3 Aug., above.

2In his letter of 17 July, above, under 29 July.

3See JQA to AA2, 29 Aug., and note 2, above; and JQA, Diary description begins Diary of John Quincy Adams, ed. David Grayson Allen, Robert J. Taylor, and others, Cambridge, 1981-. description ends , 1:319–320, for JQA’s delivery of a proposal to establish a commerce in whale oil with France to Samuel Breck Sr. The name JA sought was Tourtille de Sangrain (Jefferson, Papers description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen (from vol. 21), John Catanzariti (from vol. 24), and others, Princeton, 1950-. description ends , 8:144–145).

4Theophilus was a member of the commission of jurists appointed by the Emperor Justinian to compile his code of Roman law (Hoefer, Nouv. biog. générale description begins J. C. F. Hoefer, ed., Nouvelle biographie générale depuis les temps les plus reculés jusqu’à nos jours, Paris, 1852–1866; 46 vols. description ends ). JA recounts his own discovery of Justinian in the Earliest Diary description begins The Earliest Diary of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1966. description ends and Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends ; his interest in Roman law, unusual among his common law-trained contemporaries, is the subject of Daniel R. Coquillette’s “Justinian in Braintree: John Adams, Civilian Learning, and Legal Elitism, 1758–1775,” in Law in Colonial Massachusetts 1630–1800, ed. Daniel R. Coquillette and others, Boston, 1984, p. 359–418. JQA would first refer to studying Justinian’s Institutes in his Diary in 1788 (Diary description begins Diary of John Quincy Adams, ed. David Grayson Allen, Robert J. Taylor, and others, Cambridge, 1981-. description ends , 2:461), during his own preparation to practice law. He would eventually acquire editions of Justinian in Latin, Italian, and French (MQA).

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