Adams Papers

To John Adams from John Quincy Adams, 30 October 1799

N: 59.

30. October 1799.

Dear Sir.

The fortune of War, has at all times been proverbial for its versatility, but perhaps there never was an instance in which it proved itself more strongly so, than in the Events which it has produced within the last six weeks in Europe—No longer ago than the middle of last month, the affairs of France appeared to be a State nearly desperate—Externally she had for several months suffered a continual series of defeats; she had nearly lost all Italy and was in the most imminent danger of losing Switzerland and Holland—The allies were flushed by a long and almost uninterrupted career of success—Suworow was rapidly marching into Switzerland, to strike the decisive blow there, while in Holland, the Duke of York at the head of forty thousand Britons and Russians had effected a landing and by the surrender of the dutch fleet without burning a pan full of powder, was master of the Texel and the Zuyderzee, with the fairest prospect of being within ten days in possession of Amsterdam.—At this moment, the allies have been driven, with great loss out of Switzerland, and with disgrace out of Holland—Suworow is compelled to seek a momentary and precarious refuge in the Grison Country; the Duke of York is reduced to capitulate for permission to reimbark, at the expence of eight thousand prisoners to be returned from England, as the ransom of his army; the French have retaken Manheim, and are preparing for a winter campaign in the Heart of Germany and of Italy, and Buonaparte has returned, to lead their armies again, with his considerable talents, and his more than miraculous good Fortune, to conquest.

Important as these disasters of the allies are in themselves, they will be yet more so, in their consequences, as they have laid the foundation for misunderstandings and discords, which threaten the dissolution of the coalition itself.—A certain coolness has all along prevailed between England and Austria, owing to a pecuniary controversy with which the Secretary of State is well acquainted—The loss of the battles in Switzerland on the 25th: and 26th: of September, is imputed by the Austrians, to the misconduct or the incapacity of the Russian General Korzakow, whom they represent as utterly unfit for the command of a single battalion, much more of a whole army—By the Russian cabinet it will be imputed to a change in the plan of campaign, made by the Austrians without consulting them, in consequence of which the Archduke Charles quitted Switzerland, and took with him thirty thousand men, at the very moment when the whole united force of both powers would have been a bare match for Massena’s army, reinforced as it had been for several months successively by all the recruits of the new conscription.—By the plan of campaign in Switzerland concerted between the Austrian, Russian and English governments, the forces under the Archduke and Marshal Suworow, were to have acted jointly—But upon an incursion of an inconsiderable french corps into Franconia, the Austrian cabinet made the alteration above noticed, and prevailed upon the Russian Minister at Vienna, Count Rasumoffsky to consent to it, utterly against the opinion and strong representations of Lord Minto, the English Minister—The Russian corps in Switzerland is paid by England, and the English Ministry had sent Lord Mulgrave with powers to concert with the Russian Generals their operations from time to time: he had not reached his post, when he was informed of the alteration in the plan of campaign, made at Vienna—It appeared to him, as it had to Lord Minto; so pregnant with dangerous consequences that he hastened as much as possible to join Korzakow’s army, then on its march, determined to make it halt, and not enter Switzerland at all—But before he could arrive Korzakow had got to Zurich, and the Archduke was gone—When the Emperor of Russia was informed of the change in the plan of campaign, and before he knew any thing of its result, he saw its dangers so clearly that a person present at the time declares “it is impossible to express his consternation.”—These facts upon the accuracy of which entire reliance may be placed, lead to an anticipation that the two imperial cabinets will soon be embittered against each other by the reciprocal imputation which each will make against the other, of the disasters which bear so hard upon both

The concert between the Russians and English in Holland has been if possible still more defective, and the management of affairs yet more unskilful—In the general opinion of Europe, it was an injudicious measure to entrust the command of so important an expedition to the Duke of York, who, whatever his personal courage may be had furnished no pledges to the world of great military talents. An enterprize like that, required for its success a commander in chief uniting in an eminent degree the qualities of intrepidity and of prudence, of rapid impetuosity, and profoundly meditated skill—This rare combination of faculties was certainly not centered in the Duke of York, and the consequence has been a disgraceful failure of the expedition, though it was favoured by every circumstance of good fortune which could have ensured its success—The first landing of the British was effected towards the close of the month of August—The Dutch fleet had surrendered in the beginning of <that month> September—On the 10th: the French and Dutch troops had attacked the british lines, and been repulsed with great loss—On the 17th: the third division of british, and the corps of Russians had arrived; and the 19th: <of> was determined as the day for the general attack upon the French and Dutch—The attack was made—It failed, solely from a want of proper concert in the operations of the English and Russians; the Russian General Hermann, was taken prisoner, and that day may be considered as having given the death wound to the whole expedition—The want of concert is admitted in all the relations from the allied army—The Russians say that they were not properly supported by the English forces, and the English affirm that the Russian General began the attack two hours before the time directed by the Duke of York, which was just at day break; and that he led his troops with such heedless impetuosity that it was utterly impossible for the English to support them.—They further add that General Hermann by his age, and still more by habits of intemperance, was unfit for the command which he held—On the 2d: of this month another attack was made, with better success, in consequence of which the allies obtained possession of Alkmaar—But on the 6th: they failed again in an attack upon Beverwyk; probably from the same want of concert, and owing to the same want of a clear and precise understanding of the time destined for united action, as had happened on the 19th: of the former month—Their loss however upon this occasion was not great; and it remains unexplained as yet to all Europe, why the Duke of York two days after began to retreat, and continued retiring untill on the Nineteenth of October, (a day as surely disastrous to the House of Hanover as the third of September was to that of Stuart) he ratified the capitulation, which is at once the crown of his martial fame, and the issue of this long prepared and deeply expensive expedition—.

One of the greatest errors of the allies both in Switzerland, and in Holland has been an expectation of deriving important aid and support from the people of the Country, which they have very unwisely inferred from the general disgust and hatred against the French which prevails in both those Countries. The Swiss and the Hollanders detest the French, for coming under the name of friends and deliverers, to plunder and oppress them—But they are convinced that English, and Russians and Austrians can assume the name of deliverers, to plunder and oppress, as well as French—They know that deliverance on one side, would very much resemble what they have found it on the other, and they will not <expose> offer themselves as volunteers for a cause which exposes them to the penalties of treason, without holding out to them even the hopes of real patriotism—The people therefore declare themselves everywhere, on the strongest side, or rather they declare themselves against the weakest side; and I have no doubt but this will equally appear in Italy, where the victories of the allies have hitherto encouraged the Italians to discover all their animosities and resentments against the French.

While the Duke of York was in Holland with fair prospects of succeeding, the Batavian Government sent a man here, with proposals to the king, to mediate, for the introduction of a Constitution in Holland, with a Legislature in two branches, and an hereditary Executive chief, with royal powers, but not with the title either of King or Stadtholder— But the <late> old Prince of Orange was to be set aside, in favour of his Son; and the English and Russian army was to be withdrawn—The king declined however all interference whatever—This mission was intended to be kept profoundly secret, and was probably sent without the knowledge of the French Directory—Or if they knew it, the measure was <intended> meant as a mere Stratagem, to negotiate away the Duke of York and his army. They little thought the poor Duke would be so very anxious to negotiate himself away.—If Mr. Pitt, or Lord Grenville, or Mr. Dundas, should ever find leisure to look into holy writ they will need no comment to explain to them the meaning of the wise king, when his warning voice says to them, Put not your trust in Princes!

MHi: Adams Papers.

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