Adams Papers

Joan Derk van der Capellen tot den Pol to John Adams: A Translation, 6 October 1781

Joan Derk van der Capellen tot den Pol to John Adams: A Translation

Appeltern 6 October 1781


It has been some time since one of my closest relations wrote me to ask if one of his nephews could be enlisted in the American army. He served as captain for the republic but was obligated to sell his company because of overspending. Moreover, he is respectable and from a good family. At first I responded that I believed it was impossible, given the number of officers in the American army, in addition to the fact that Congress was going to send some back unless they were supplied with better references. However, it has been insisted that I take the liberty of addressing your Excellency, to know if even the least thing can be done for this gentleman. I have the honor of asking you by this letter, without wanting, however, to abandon my plan of never bothering you with my solicitations for anyone, no matter who he may be. 1

Your Excellency will have heard talk, without a doubt, about a brochure that has been circulating for some time throughout several Dutch cities. It is a shame that your Excellency does not understand Dutch. It is a thunderclap, and I would not want to guarantee the author’s head if he is found out. The duke’s affair and the republic’s conduct toward your Excellency are being compared to that of Granvelle and the court’s conduct toward the parliamentary ambassadors (1650). No one has ever written in this manner.2 I wish to commend myself to your good graces and to be your Excellency’s very humble and very obedient servant

J D van der Capellen

RC (Adams Papers).

1Van der Capellen’s relative has not been identified and no reply by JA has been found.

2The author of Aan het Volk van Nederland was, in fact, Joan Derk van der Capellen. The anonymously printed pamphlet was unique in Dutch political literature to that time because it appealed to the people of the Netherlands rather than to a province, city, or class. The pamphlet, which was clandestinely distributed across the Netherlands on the morning of 26 Sept. through the efforts of François Adriaan Van der Kemp, was an impassioned attack on the Orangist party and called for the Dutch people to rise in rebellion. It was immediately banned, copies were burned, and a reward offered for information regarding the identities of the pamphlet’s author and those involved in its printing and distribution. Nevertheless, it was soon translated into English, French, and German. On 28 Aug. 1782 JA sent a copy of the English translation, An Address to the People of the Netherlands, London, 1782, to Norton Quincy that is now in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society (Adams Family Correspondence description begins Adams Family Correspondence, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1963–. description ends , 4:367–369; Simon Schama, Patriots and Liberators, N.Y., 1977, p. 64, 66–67; I. Leonard Leeb, The Ideological Origins of the Batavian Revolution, The Hague, 1973, p. 136–137, 155–160).

Van der Capellen specifically refers to two passages in the pamphlet on pages 7–9 and 24–25 of the Dutch edition and pages 11–14 and 43–44 of the English edition. In the first, he equated the successful effort of William I and allied nobles in 1563 and 1564 to remove Antoine Perrenot, Cardinal Granvelle, as the chief advisor of Margaret of Parma, governess-general of the Netherlands, with the Patriot’s struggle in 1781 to remove the Duke of Brunswick as William V’s chief advisor (Geoffrey Parker, The Dutch Revolt, rev. edn., N.Y., 1985, p. 44–55). In the second passage he compared the States General’s refusal in 1650 to recognize Walter Strickland as ambassador from the Commonwealth of England with the States General’s refusal to recognize JA as minister from the United States. In both instances the Orangists ignored the interests of the Dutch republic in forming an alliance with fellow republicans (Pieter Geyl, Orange and Stuart, 1641–1672, transl. Arnold Pomerans, London, 1969, p. 83–85).

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