Adams Family Correspondence, volume 5

John Thaxter to Abigail Adams, 28 March 1783 Thaxter, John AA John Thaxter to Abigail Adams, 28 March 1783 Thaxter, John Adams, Abigail
John Thaxter to Abigail Adams
Madam Paris 28th. March 1783

Peace seems to have closed all Communication with America. 'Tis a very long time since any Vessels or Letters have arrived either in France or Holland. We cannot account for this Circumstance, but upon the Supposition, that News had reached America of Negociations for Peace being opened, and that while this Business was pending the Merchant prefered a State of Inactivity to putting any thing at risque. I hope e'er this all doubts and uncertainty as to the Issue of the Negociation have ceased in America, by their having learnt that Peace is once more established. I flatter myself, that We shall soon hear again of the Arrival of some Vessels, and that the Stars and Stripes are waving with Dignity in various Parts of Europe.

England is the same kind of England now that it has been since the last Peace, as to its Pride and Wickedness. 'Tis the Misfortune of that Country to experience political Convulsions, and, what is worse, never to profit by them. The War has enfeebled, impoverished and exhausted the Nation. They wanted Peace, and they have ob-113tained it, not by dictating but by recieving the Terms of it. They dont like the Peace, and, as usual, curse the Minister who made it.1 They think it far below their just Expectations, while reasonable People on the Continent concieve it to be fully equal to what they had a Right to expect. However Pride, Prejudices and particular Habits of thinking are not removed and changed in a moment. Tis hard to convince an Englishman, that he is not equal in Strength and Force to any two Foreigners, or that his Nation is not a Match for almost all the rest of the World, altho' he has daily proofs to the contrary. This is a laudable Confidence, when within moderate Bounds. But their Misfortune is to push it to a foolish and ridicilous Length. And the outrageous Condemnation of the Minister for the Peace he has made, is the Result of such kind of Opinions. By the last Accounts, Lord Shelburne and Mr. Pitt were out of Office. Fox has come in as one Secretary of State, and Lord North as the other. The Duke of Portland is Premier, Lord Stormont, Privy Seal, and the Earl of Carlisle, President of Council.2 The Rest are Northites, Rockinghamites and Bedfordites &c. a motley Crew—a promising Group for a Kingdom who was never in greater Want of the wisest Heads and most incorruptible Hearts than at present. This is a Coalition of Parties, resembling the Union that exists between Fire and Water. Of what Stamp must be the Character of a—3 and his Advisers, who dare to bring into Administration a set of Men, who were formerly driven in Disgrace from it, for having reduced and brought the Kingdom to the Brink of Destruction? A Nation, that will patiently bear such a Contempt of its feelings and Opinions, deserves every thing that can befal it. The Spirit of the Nation is not broke entirely, and I would flatter myself that there is still Vigour enough left to render another Epocha as memorable in their Annals as that of 1668;4 provided wicked Systems are pushed to the same violent Extremities. But I must stop, and beg You not to make this Letter too public, as Peace is now made. America has little to fear from any Power, while united and pursuing a wise, firm and independent System of Politicks. We must be upon our Guard, and remember that smooth Words and fair Promises are courtly Engines to extinguish a Flame that ought ever to burn, and that once quenched, the Republick is lost. We must beat down foreign Influence wherever it is found, and think ourselves capable and able of conducting and managing our Affairs ourselves, and convince other People that We think so. If We do not respect ourselves, nobody else will be very zealous in preserving our Dignity. This by the Bye.


As to the Natural World, it is not without its Horrors. The beautiful City of Messina is a Heap of Ruins. An Earthquake of four days Continuance5 with intermissions only of a quarter or half an hour, accompanied with every imaginable Horror has produced this dreadful Catastrophy. Every Building public and private has been totally overthrown, and many thousands buried under their Ruins. But few Inhabitants escaped, being crushed by the Fall of the Houses, or consumed by Fire. The first Shock was on the 5th. February at noon, when there was Fires for Cooking in all the Kitchens of private Houses, which communicated to other parts of the Houses in their Fall. No Tongue or Pen can describe the Horrors of this Scene. If I had time by this Opportunity, I would copy some Accounts I have seen. But they must be faint Descriptions; strong enough however to make one dread the real Picture. I have been too much affected with the following Instance of maternal Tenderness in this aweful Scene, to omit copying it. “The Marchioness of Spadara, at the beginning of the Earthquake swooned away and had been conducted by her Husband in this Situation to the Port, where he meant to embark—whilst he was engaged in making the preparations for this purpose, the Marchioness came to herself, and percieving that her Son was not with her, She availed herself of the moment, in which her Husband was too much occupied to watch her, to escape. She ran to her House, which was not yet fallen, went up Stairs and seized her Son in the Cradle—the Stairs at this moment falling cut off her Retreat by them. She flew from Chamber to Chamber, which tumbled in almost under her feet with difficulty escaping the successive Falls of the different parts of her House, and went to the Balcony, become her only Asylum. She implored Assistance in holding out her Son. But in a public Disaster Pity for another is silent, and each one trembling for himself Self sees only its own Danger. The Fire took to the Rest of the House, and in the Midst of the Flames and Destruction, this unfortunate Victim of Maternal Love fell, crushed, still holding in her Arms the Object of her Tenderness and the Cause of her Death.” Who can refrain from weeping over this glorious Martyr to maternal Affection? The tender Heart of Portia will bleed on the Occasion. Yet will She shed a Tear of Joy, that the Dignity of human Nature still exists and that it was reserved for one of the Fair Sex to display to the World an Instance of Magnanimity and parental Tenderness, unparralleled in modern Times.

I think Master John has arrived at the Hague by this.6 He has had a long Journey of it, and been delayed often by the Badness of the 115Roads. By the last Accounts he was in good Health. I fancy he will be satisfied with Journeying. He has had a pretty sufficient Share of it, and will be very glad to lay by for a time.

We have nothing new here, worth communicating, except the fine Weather. This is indeed something new. For I believe that the last fifteen Months have never been equalled since the Flood. The seasons have been turned topsy turvy. While You have been scorched in America, We have half drowned in Europe. And if any Prayers have been put up for fair Weather, I suppose they have been an Abomination, for the Rains have been very constant.

My fair Maroni is in fine Health. I visit her often and have agreable tête-à-têtes with her. I get a pious Billet-doux now and then. But the confounded Grates bar me out of her Room. 'Tis almost seven Years since She has taken the Veil. She is to Appearance perfectly content. I have not yet dared to ask her, why She bid Adieu to the World, to drag out a miserable Existence in a Convent. I fear the Question would be painful, and nothing could tempt me to disturb a Moment her Tranquility. What an insipid Existence! If they are the Retreats of disappointed Love or religious Enthousiasm, they find there their Remedies in Death or an eternal Prostration before the Altar. But the Rage for Convents has much abated, and I believe no more Tombs for the living will be built. Very modern Lovers and Enthousiasts find that there are Consolations in the wide World, and that it is not so very necessary to be immured within four dead Walls to sigh away a Disappointment or moderate the Ardor of religious Frenzy. However, God bless the dear Prisoners, I wish them all well and happy.

My affectionate Regards to Miss A. and the young Gentlemen. Respects and Love as due. With perfect Respect, I have the honor to be Madam, your very obedient humble Servant JT

RC (Adams Papers).


Parliamentary criticism of the Earl of Shelburne's preliminary peace with the United States, signed on 30 Nov., had risen to a crescendo by mid-February with pointed opposition to the ministry's concessions to America on fishing rights, the northern and western boundaries, and the rights of the loyalists, and by Parliament's reluctance to concede that American independence was now irrevocable. See Morris, Peacemakers , p. 411–422; and note 3, below.


William Pitt the younger failed to prevent the censure of the Shelburne ministry in the House of Commons on 21 Feb., and on 23 Feb., Shelburne resigned. For several weeks Great Britain had no settled administration, but early in April, George III reluctantly accepted a new ministry formed along the lines Thaxter gives here. Charles James Fox and Lord North became secretaries of state, with Fox handling foreign affairs, and North the home office. The Duke of Portland became first lord of the treasury, the ministry's titular “premier” (see Morris, Peacemakers , p. 421–426; DNB ).


Thaxter's dash presumably stands for “King” or “Monarch,” that is, George III.


Thaxter probably means 1688, the year of 116England's “Glorious Revolution,” in which an alliance of Whig noblemen and a Dutch invading force led by James II's son-in-law, William of Orange, drove James from the English throne. Thaxter could, however, be referring to Parliament's decision, in 1667, to impeach and banish Edward Hyde, the first earl of Clarendon, and Charles II's most important advisor, following England's defeat in the second Dutch war ( DNB : Edward Hyde).


Early reports of the earthquake at Messina in Sicily appeared in the London Chronicle, 13–15 and 15–18 March, and the London Gazette, 15–18 and 18–22 March. Thaxter embellishes an account, from an unidentified source, that later appeared in Gentlemen's Magazine, May 1783, p. 439. A moving firsthand description of the devastation is Sir William Hamilton's “An Account of Earthquakes which happened in Italy, from February to May, 1783,” in New Annual Register, 1783, Philosophical Papers, p. 121–142.


JQA did not reach The Hague until late April.

Abigail Adams to John Adams, 7 April 1783 AA JA Abigail Adams to John Adams, 7 April 1783 Adams, Abigail Adams, John
Abigail Adams to John Adams
My dearest Friend April 7 1783

Tis a long a very long time since I had an opportunity of conveying a single line to you. I have upon many accounts been impatient to do it. I now most sincerely rejoice in the great and important event which sheaths the Hostile Sword and, gives a pleasing presage that our spears may become prunning hooks;1 that the Lust of Man is restrained, or the powers and revenues of kingdoms become inadequate to the purposes of distruction.

I have had the good fortune to receive several Letters from you of late; I thank you for them; they are always too short, but I do not complain knowing the thousand avocations you must have upon your mind and Hands. Yours of December 4th, gave me the highest pleasure. “And shall I see his face again And shall I hear him speak” are Ideas that have taken full possession of my Heart and mind. I had much rather see you in America, than Europe. I well know that real true and substantial happiness depend not upon titles Rank and fortune; the Gay coach, the Brilliant attire; the pomp and Etiquet of Courts; rob, the mind of that placid harmony, that social intercourse which is an Enemy to ceremony. My Ambition, my happiness centers in him; who sighs for domestick enjoyments, amidst all the world calls happiness—who partakes not in the jovial Feast; or joins the Luxurious table, without turning his mind to the plain unadulterated food which covers his own frugal Board, and sighs for the Feast of reason and the flow of sense soul.2

Your Letter of Janry. 29 created perturbations, yet allayed anxiety. “Your “Image your “Superscription, Your Emelia3 would tell you, if

117 image 118

she would venture to write to you upon the subject; that it was not the superficial accomplishments of danceing, singing, and playing; that led her to a favorable opinion of Selim;4 since she knew him not, when those were his favorite amusements—nor has he ever been in the practise of either, since his residence in this Town; even the former Beau, has been converted into the plain dressing Man; and the Gay volatile Youth, appears to become the studious Lawyer. Yet certain reasons which I do not chuse to enumerate here, have led me to put a present period, as far as advise and desires would go, to the Idea of a connection, to extirpate it from the Hearts and minds of either is not I apprehend in my power, voilent opposition never yet served a cause of this nature. Whilst they believe me their best Friend, and see that their Interest is near my Heart, and that my opposition is founded upon rational principals, they submit to my prohibition, earnestly wishing for your return, and more prosperous days; as without your approbation, they never can conceive themselves happy.

I will be more particular by the first direct conveyance. Mr. Guile who kept Sabbeth with me, tells me he has a vessel which will sail tomorrow for Virgina;5 and from thence to Europe, yet he knows not for certain to what part, but as this is the only opportunity since December; I would not let it slip. We are all well, our two Sons go on Monday with Billy Cranch to Haverhill; there to be under the care and tuition of Mr. Shaw who has one in his family which he offers for colledge in july. I have done the best I could with them. They have been without a school ever since janry. I tried Mr. Shutes6 but could not get them in, he having seven in his family; and four more engaged to him. Andover7 was full and so is every other private School. They do not like the thoughts of mammas going a broad, and my little Neice who has lived 5 years with me8 prays that her uncle may return, and hopes he will not send her away when he returns comes. This day has been our meeting for the choise of a Governour. The vote in this Town was for Genll. Lincoln. There were proposals of chuseing an absent Man,9 but I discouraged it wherever I heard it mentiond. We want

Be kind enough to let the young Gentlemen who reside with you know, that their Friends are well and that I will do myself the pleasure of answering their Letters by the first vessel which sails from this port.

Adieu and believe me most affectionately and tenderly yours Portia 119

Mr. Smith10 is to be my Gaurdian and protector if I cross the Atlantick. He comes whether I do or not. Emelia has spent the winter in Boston,11 during that time it has been currently reported that preliminary articles were setled between this gentleman and her. She took no pains to discountanance this report—but alass her Heart is drawn an other way—and Mr. S. never entertaind an Idea of the kind.

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “To His Excellency John Adams Minister plenipotentiary from the United States of America to the United Provinces—at the Hague or Paris”; endorsed: “Portia April 7. 1783.”


Micah 4:3.


Alexander Pope, Satires . . . of Horace, “The First Satire of the Second Book,” line 128. AA quotes this line again on 7 May and 20 Nov., below.


AA is paraphrasing JA's greeting to AA2 in his 29 Jan. letter to AA, above.


Royall Tyler. AA's reason for giving him the name of a Moorish or an Asian youth, popularized in two or more quite different eighteenth-century English stories, is unclear. See E. Cobham Brewer, The Reader's Handbook, London, 1902.


It may have been Benjamin Guild's vessel that carried Chandler Robbins Jr. on his longdelayed trip to Europe; see AA2 to JA, 10 May, below. On Guild, see AA2 to Elizabeth Cranch, ca. 22 Dec. 1782, note 9, above.


Rev. Daniel Shute, pastor at Hingham, and friend of the Adamses from the 1760s (vol. 3:272, and note 5; JA, Diary and Autobiography , 1:278).


Phillips Academy, founded in 1778 and legally incorporated in 1780, enrolled twentyeight students in 1782, and thirty-five in 1783. They varied widely in age, but many were at the age of CA (12) and TBA (10). See Biographical Catalogue of the Trustees, Teachers and Students of Phillips Academy Andover, Andover, Mass., 1903.


Louisa Catharine Smith.


JA himself. In 1783, as in each year since 1780, John Hancock easily defeated his opponents, including James Bowdoin and Gen. Benjamin Lincoln of Hingham. See AA to JA, 7 May, below, and William M. Fowler Jr., The Baron of Beacon Hill, A Biography of John Hancock, Boston, 1980, p. 255.


William Smith, son of Isaac Smith Sr. and cousin of AA. Smith married Hannah Carter in 1787 (JQA, Diary , 2:288).


See AA2 to Elizabeth Cranch, ca. 18 Jan. and ca. 27 Jan. , both above.