John Adams to Abigail Adams
Philadelphia Feb. 9. 1794
My dearest Friend
Vive la Baggatelle! Dulce est desipere.1 I have no other Resource in my solitude, amidst all my gloomy forebodings of the future Miseries of my beloved Species. Our Allies, Our only Alies as the Demi-Crazies pathetically call them, have compleated their System by turning all their Churches into, Je ne seais quoi and if they should have any Government erected among them either by Themselves or others, they may substitute Chorus’s of Boys and Girls to chant Prayers like the Romans
Hic bellum lacrimosum, hic miseram famem
Pestemque, a populo et Principe Cæsare, in
Persas atque Britannos,
Vestra motus aget prece. Hor. Ode. 21.2
What think the Clergy of New England? What says Mr Wibird? Do they still Admire the French Republicans? Do they think them virtuous? Do they wish to see them imitated by all Nations? Do they wish to resign all their salaries? and to have their Churches all turned into Riding Houses, the Sabbath abolished, and one day in ten substituted to sing songs to the Manes of Marat. Oh my Soul! come not thou into the Secrets of such Republicans.4
The Guillotine itself would not make me a sincere Republican upon such Conditions.
The Spirit, Principals and system of rational Liberty to All Nations is my Toast: but I see no tendency to any Thing but Anarchy, Licentiousness and Despotism. Mankind will not learn Wisdom from Experience.
RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Febry 9th 1794.”
1. That is, Dulce est desipere in loco, “’Tis sweet at the fitting time to cast serious thoughts aside” (Horace, Odes and Epodes, transl. C. E. Bennett, Cambridge, 1952, Book IV, Ode 12, line 28).
2. “Moved by your prayer he shall ward off tearful war, wretched plague and famine from the folk and from our sovereign Caesar, and send these woes against the Parthian and the Briton” (same, Book I, Ode 21, lines 13–16).
3. Isaiah, 23:1–14, describes the prophesied destruction of the Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon (or Zidon).
4. Veneration of the French revolutionary leader Jean Paul Marat began immediately following his assassination by Charlotte Corday in July 1793. His funeral was orchestrated to emphasize his martyrdom, with one writer even comparing him to Jesus: “O heart of Jesus, O heart of Marat … you have the same right to our homage. O heart of Marat, sacré coeur … can the works and benevolence of the son of Mary be compared with those of the Friend of the People and his apostles to the Jacobins of our holy Mountain?” (Schama, Citizens, description begins Simon Schama, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, New York, 1989. description ends p. 741–746).
New England clergy were generally quite supportive of the French Revolution, viewing it as an important event for the promotion of liberty and, at the same time, a useful check on Roman Catholicism. Even after many Federalists turned against the Revolution in 1792–1793, citing the growing violence of the Terror and attacks on all forms of organized religion, clergy tended to remain proponents, arguing that these events were merely stages to pass through before a peaceful, republican society could be established that would naturally embrace Protestantism. These attitudes would shift in late 1794 and early 1795 because of political and social changes in the United States, but JA was premature in his expectation that events in France at this time would sway the thinking of New England’s ministers (Gary B. Nash, “The American Clergy and the French Revolution,” WMQ, description begins William and Mary Quarterly. description ends 3d ser., 22:392–412 [July 1965]).