Adams Papers

To John Adams from John Quincy Adams, 25 September 1798

25. September 1798.

My dear Sir

I have not for some weeks, perhaps for some months, written directly to yourself.—The current information in this part of the world, which could prove interesting, I have however communicated from time to time in letters which though not directed to yourself, were intended for your perusal—and amidst the numerous dangers of capture which every letter must be exposed to, on its passage, I could not write with confidence, not having a cypher with you, and doubting the propriety of using that which I have with the Secretary of State, for private correspondence with you—I now enclose however, by my brother, who will be the bearer of this Letter, a cypher, which may be used in future in case of necessity, though I shall willingly spare you the trouble of decyphering, as well as myself that of cyphering, upon every occasion which shall not positively require it.

This Country is at present far from fruitful in materials for a political correspondence. I have heretofore informed you what for some years past has been the system of this Government in its foreign affairs, and that a change of reign has produced no alteration it. A system of neutrality must indeed depend upon a state of War, between other powers, and as Peace has been now made upon the Continent, almost a year and an half between the great powers towards which the Prussian neutrality was applied, it should seem that there could be no further occasion for its continuance.—But that Peace has been hitherto nothing more than an armistice always ready to break out in new hostility, and during which the most strenuous exertions have been made to draw Prussia into a new combination to contend against the all destroying doctrines and all devouring domination of France.—This however has been steadily refused here—The doctrines indeed are detested; but Peace and prosperity are considered as the best security against them—The domination is dreaded; but War, it is apprehended would only render it more inevitable.—And there is a consideration of great weight to be taken into the account when the conduct of this Government is to be estimated; the feelings of the Nation.—The angry passions of this people, are all directed against its two formidable neighbours, the Russians and Austrians: these, they consider as their natural enemies, and it would be easy to animate their resentments against them, to such a degree as prepares men for obstinate and violent struggles. But France they consider as their natural friend and ally—they have no fear of her doctrines, but on the contrary their secret wishes rather favour their progress, and as they feel nothing of her domination, they cannot or will not perceive the danger of it so long as she makes not her direct attack against them.—These sentiments not only pervade the people in general, but they are very prevalent through the army, which did not willingly fight the french five years ago, and which would undoubtedly be still more reluctant now.

Besides this, it is certain that the army itself is no longer what it was under Frederic the second. Even the twenty-three last years of his life, with the exception of a single campaign in 1778, were years of Peace. The military discipline was relaxed by his immediate successor—In his polish and french campaigns this army was found not invincible, and its latest recollections are not crowned with the trophies of victory.—The treasure which Frederic the 2d: and his father, during two long reigns had accumulated, eleven short years were more than sufficient entirely to dissipate, and at the accession of the present king those two great pillars of the Prussian power, were so weakend and dissolved, that with all the new additions of territory and revenue, which the final partition of Poland brought with it, cannot restore without years of constant vigilance, and rigorous œconomy, the vigour and energy, which an extraordinary man had given, and a weak one had lost to the power of Prussia.

The king appears to be fully sensible of what the interest of his Country and his own requires, and turns an unremitted attention to the restoration of a severe discipline, and to the recovery of the pecuniary resources, the sinews of War—For both these purposes, Peace is absolutely necessary, and upon these grounds the pacific system of Prussia, so severely censured, and subject to such great and serious objections rests for its justification.

Peace is likewise an object of the greatest importance to the Emperors both of Germany and of Russia. But they would have sacrificed it again by the formation of a new Coalition, if Prussia had consented to join them. The disposition of Russia has been discovered by the fleats which she has already sent to join those of England in the North Seas, and by other measures which I shall not repeat here, because they have been detailed elsewhere in letters which will undoubtedly be submitted to your perusal.—To the same source I refer for an account of the Events which have produced a state of War between France and the Porte, and for the current news relative to the great french expedition against Egypt, and the fate of the fleat which escorted their army thither.

It is however very doubtful to me whether the war between Austria and France will be seriously renewed. The appearances of such an Event, have been owing altogether to that domineering tone which France has constantly preserved, and to her maintaining extravagant pretensions, upon the construction of the articles in the Peace of Campo Formio, and upon the satisfaction for the insult upon Bernadotte—Her late check will teach her to withdraw some of those pretensions, and the Emperor will be glad to seize the opportunity of preserving Peace sometime longer

The present situation of the affairs of France however, combining with the spirit which she at length finds roused in the United States, have produced a great and important change in her conduct towards us—It is no longer an overbearing and insolent Minister of external relations, who keeps three Ministers waiting six months without reception, and after attempting to dupe and swindle them by his pimping spies, insults us by a discrimination, injurious to the rights of an independant nation, and disgraceful to the object of his choice: no longer a self-imagined conqueror, dictating apologies and prescribing tribute, as the preliminaries to an hearing for claims of Justice—In proportion as our spirit of resistance has become manifest, theirs of oppression and extortion has shrunk back. Even Mr Gerry returned home with a full persuasion that the dispositions in France towards us were altogether pacific—That Gentleman unfortunately was not qualified for negotiation with such men as now govern France—He was charmed with words: he was duped by professions: he had neither the spirit nor the penetration absolutely necessary for dealing with adversaries at once so bold, so cunning, and so false.—Since his departure they have redoubled their pretences of moderation and peaceable dispositions. They have totally changed their system of conduct, but their purposes remain the same.—The manner in which they received Doctor Logan, who made no scruple to give himself out, as the Envoy of the french party in America, and the manner in which they wished to blind our Government by a pretence of not having received him will be known to you more directly than from hence.—You will judge from what motives such a species of duplicity could proceed.—They are at present very industrious in spreading abroad the idea that they wish reconciliation with the United States, and are extremely desirous of a new negotiation.—All this for the present is probably nothing more than a design to lull us into security, and especially to divide the people of the United States from their Government—They have discovered that by their arrogance and indignities and pretended contempt of our friendship they have only weakened their own party in America, and given strength and vigour to the friends of Government. But at the same time they have seen our people grasp at every shadow of conciliation, and cling to every transient semblance of Peace, with such ardour and anxiety, that they now think it sufficient to damp all that energy which has surprized them by its unexpected appearance, if they affect a desire of returning friendship.

All this however must be deemed mere artifice, while they continue to violate the rights of our neutrality—A mere lullaby to keep us inactive and defenceless untill they shall have more leisure to point their whole force against us.—As long as there is no offer of indemnity for past depredations or security against the future, we should be worse than idiots to trust their professions at a time when we know them contradicted by their conduct.—The Law of 29 nivose, remains yet in full force—A recent attempt was made in the Council of 500 to obtain its repeal—Its injustice and pernicious tendency were demonstrated in their full extent—But it was answered that the repeal would discourage the privateers, and that the English could purchase neutral papers by the load—The Council passed to the order day, and refused the common advantage of publication, to the speech of the member who moved the repeal.—(Couzard.) The Moniteur gave this speech in such a mutilated manner that its author openly declared the misrepresentation, and nothing further was done upon a subject in which as Couzard himself proved in his speech, France <had> was violating the most sacred Laws of Nations, and making herself enemies of every People.

She has indeed many other modes of producing the same effect—The general system of tyranny which she pursues towards all her neighbours has so often been exposed, that the perpetual repetition of its details in the current events of the time grows tedious even to disgust.—I have therefore in my late correspondence paid little attention to those details—I have left it to the newspapers to inform you how Switzerland, Sardinia, Rome, Malta and Egypt have in turn been treated by the great Nation, the Jonathan Wild of Nations—There you will find that conquest and revolution, fire and the sword are carried to every quarter of the Earth, accompanied by the very same professions of friendship and Peace, as are now lavished upon us.—No declaration of War has been made in any one of these instances.—The last is peculiarly remarkable—An army of forty thousand men has invaded Egypt by the orders of the Directory, who never hinted to the Legislative Councils, where it was destined or against whom it was directed.—They now send a message and say—“your armies have landed at Alexandria, and entered Cairo; they are to be the liberators of the Egyptians and the avengers of the wrongs inflicted by the Beys; upon frenchmen.—We declared no War because there was no one against whom to declare it—Not the Porte, because we had no enmity to the turkish government, but on the contrary go as its friends and avengers—Not against the Beys, because they are a mere banditti, not worthy the honour of a declaration of War.”—Upon such arguments as these a Country is invaded and conquered, and the Council of 500 without a murmur or a scruple pass a resolve that the Army of Egypt has deserved well of the Country—Of a Country where an express article of the Constitution says that the right of declaring War shall be exercised exclusively by the Legislature.

At Rastadt the german empire continues to implore Peace, and France continues to advance burdensome conditions for granting it—the former has now fully consented to demolish Chreubreitstein—the only fortress which has proved impregnable during the present War. The only good security against invasion for the future—They have further consented to cede the island of St: Peter upon the Rhine, with the left banks of which the great Nation is no longer satisfied, from the instant when they are yielded to her.

I am with unalterable affection and duty, your’s.

P.S. Mr: Bourne our Consul at Amsterdam, would be glad to be employed upon any temporary service, for which the Government may have occasion, as in the present circumstances his situation at Amsterdam is not advantageous to him; all commerce between that place and the United States being suspended. I have heretofore given you my opinion of his merit, and have had no reason to alter it—I believe him to be a deserving man, though I know not what occasion there may be for such an employment as he wishes, nor indeed very precisely what that is.

I have before mentioned to you the desire of the Baron de Thulemeier, to be remembered to you. I frequently meet him and scarcely ever without his renewing the request, and making enquiries after you, and whether I have lately heard from you.

MHi: Adams Papers.

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