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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 7


Search for a response to this letter.

Docno: ADMS-06-07-02-0265

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Lee, Richard Henry
Date: 1779-02-13

To Richard Henry Lee

[salute] My dear Sir

I am much obliged to you for your kind Congratulations on my Arrival, and agreable Accommodation at Paris. I assure you, Sir, I have no Objection to the “Splendid Gayety of a magnificent Court,”1 in a Country, where2 Manners, Habits and the Constitution of the <Country> Government make it necessary, which I hope however, will never be the Case in America.
He must be of a Strange Disposition, indeed, who cannot be happy at Paris, where he may have his Choice, of all the Pleasures, Amusements and Studies,3 which human Life affords.
You hint that I may be Soon desired to visit Holland, and that you imagine this would be more agreable to me. In this you are mistaken. Either would be agreable to me, if I were able to do any good in it: but there are others, who are able to do more. I hope, and I fancy I shall not be desired to make this Visit, because I think it is time for me to go home, if I can get there. The Character I sustain, at present, that of a private Citizen, best becomes me, and is most agreable to me.
Congress have done wisely, in my poor Opinion, in confiding, their political affairs, at this Court to one.4 But then I think it will be necessary to appoint Consuls or other Persons to manage maritime and commercial Affaires which I presume, they mean to do. The Care of these Things is inconsistent with your Ministers Character, and the Burthen of them is too weighty for his Forces.
I feel myself honoured, by your Assurance, that my sentiments in my Letter to our Friend are conformable to yours, and that they prevail.5 And in the Sincerity of my Heart I assure you, that no Intelligence I ever heard relieved my Mind from a greater Burthen, than that which informed me I was a private Citizen.6
Keppell is acquitted,7 amidst the greatest Rejoicings, ever known. The Mob have at last become violent and pulled to Pieces Sandwichs and Palisser's Houses. Edinborough also is in Tumults about the Roman Catholics. In short the English Government seems to be in a fair Way, instead of burning your Houses and massacring your Children to be obliged to call home her Troops to save their own from the Mob.
{ 408 }
What shall I say to you, my Friend concerning a certain vicious and illiberal Address to the virtuous and free? Is it possible it should have made an Impression? Is that vain Man capable of thinking himself a Match for his Antagonist? And of weighing his Parts, his Learning, his services in the scale against the other? What Bounds can be set to the Presumption of the human Heart? But I must hasten to subscribe myself your Friend & servant
[signed] John Adams
RC (Mrs. Stephen Keiley, Massachusetts, 1976). LbC (Adams Papers).
1. Closing quotation marks have been supplied. The quotation is from Lee's letter of 29 Oct. 1778 (above).
2. In the Letterbook this word is followed by <Time.>
3. In the Letterbook this sentence originally ended <that can render human Life agreable>.
4. In the Letterbook this word is followed by <Gentleman.>
5. In the Letterbook this paragraph reads, to this point, as follows: <“It may be imagined by some that I must be in an awkward situation, and that I may be thought to be disgraced. They are mistaken. I feel no Disgrace, on the contrary I must be destitute of the sentiment of Glory, if I did not feel myself> honoured, when you tell me that my sentiments, in my Letter to <Mr. Adams,> our Friend are perfectly conformable to your own, and when our common Friend Mr. Lovell tells me that my Ideas, of distributing the Gentlemen abroad, were the prevalent Ideas at Philadelphia, and will be carried into Effect.” JA is referring to his letter of 21 May to Samuel Adams (vol. 6:144–145, calendar entry; JA, Diary and Autobiography , 4:106–108) and that from James Lovell of 24 Oct. 1778 (above).
6. The paragraph reflects JA 's public pronouncements on being superseded as a Commissioner. While he may have been relieved at his release from the burdens of the office, he expressed the unhappiness he felt at his situation two weeks later in a letter to AA : “The Scaffold is cutt away, and I am left kicking and sprawling in the Mire, I think. It is hardly a state of Disgrace that I am in but rather of total Neglect and Contempt” ( Adams Family Correspondence , 3:181).
7. The reference here to Keppel's acquittal and later to the Edinburgh riots indicate that this and the following paragraph were composed sometime after the rest of the letter, probably around 20 Feb. (see the last paragraph of JA to Samuel Adams, 14 Feb., below). This is indicated by a canceled closing before the paragraphs in the Letterbook and, more significantly, by the fact that JA could hardly have known of Keppel's acquittal and its accompanying disorders or of the Edinburgh riots as early as the 13th. The court-martial did not end until 11 Feb., and the riots in Edinburgh against repealing the penal laws against Catholics, which began on 2 Feb., were not reported in the London papers until about 9 Feb. ( JA to Francis Dana, 25 Dec. 1778, and note 4, above; London Chronicle, 6–9, 11–13 Feb.).