Come celebrate with us!

Visit our homepage» for more details about the engaging programs, educational activities, publications, and exhibitions we have planned throughout the year.

Adams Family Papers : An Electronic Archive
Next Letter (by date)
Previous Letter (by date)

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 27 February 1783, "I read in a great Writer...," letterbook copy


My dearest Friend

I read in a great Writer, Montesquieu that "l'honneur, en imposant la loi de servir, veut en tre l'arbitre; et, s'il se trouve choqu, il exige ou permet qu'on se retire chez Soi."

C'est une des R gles supr mes de l'honneur, Que lorsque nous avons t une fois plac s dans un rang, nous ne devons rien faire ni souffrir qui fasse voir que nous nous tenons inferieurs ce rang m me."

These being the supream Laws of Honor in all the Countries of Europe, it is astonishing that Congress should wound the feelings of their Servants whom they send to Europe in such delicate Points, and by this means lessen their Reputations and Influence, at a time when they wanted Support to their Reputations more than any other Men.

It may be said that Virtue, that is Morality, applied to the Public is the Rule of Conduct in Republicks, and not Honor. True. But American Ministers are acting in Monarchies, and not in Republicks. Such a Slur may not hurt a Man in America so much as in France, or England or Holland, but in these Countries it certainly diminishes him and his Utility exceedingly.

But upon the Rule of Virtue, I hold that Virtue requires We should serve, where We can do most good. I am soberly of Opinion, that for one or two Years to come I could do more good in


England to the United States of America, than in any other Spot upon Earth. Much of the immediate Prosperity of the United States, and much of their future Repose, if not the Peace of the World, depends upon having just Notions now forthwith instilled in London. But I think the British Court will be duped by the French and will entertain that dread of me, which neither ought to entertain, but which France will inspire because She thinks I should be impartial -- so that I expect some bodyBooby will be sent, in Complaisance to two silly Courts, upon that most important of all Services. If Heaven has so decreed, I must submit, and the Submission will be most pleasant to me as an Individual and as a Man. I shall be in a Situation where I shall think that I could do more good in another. But I have been often in such a Situation. And things must take their Course. We must wait for Things to arrange themselves, when We cannot govern them.

My Mind and Body stand in need of Repose. My Faculties have been too long upon the Stretch. A Relaxation of a few Years would be the Life the most charming to me, that I can concieve.

Dont be concerned at any thing I have written concerning Spots, Blemishes, Stains and Disgraces. When all is known, they will be universally acknowledged to be Laurels, Ornaments and Trophies. They will do neither You nor me nor Ours harm in the End.

I cannot say precisely, when You will see me. I hope by the Month of June or July, but it may be August or September, and it is possible it may be in April or May. It will depend upon the Time


when I shall recieve the Acceptance of my Resignation. Dont think of embarking for Europe, not even if Congress should send me a Letter of Credence to King George, until You hear from me, because I think it is most probable I shall come home without Leave, if the Acceptance of my Resignation, or the Answers to my Letters should be delayed.

Yours most tenderly.


Cite web page as: Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 27 February 1783, "I read in a great Writer...," letterbook copy [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/
Original manuscript: Adams, John. Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 27 February 1783, "I read in a great Writer..." letterbook copy. 3 pages. Original manuscript from the Adams Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.
Source of transcription: Ryerson, Richard Alan, ed. Adams Family Correspondence. Vol. 5. Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1993.
Next Letter (by date)
Previous Letter (by date)