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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 3


This foot note contained in document ADMS-01-03-02-0005-0004-0011
1. The Adams party's return to London on Friday, 28 July, is verified by a passage in AA2 's letter to JQA , 27 July-22 Aug. (Adams Papers).
Here ensues a gap in JA 's Diary of a full year, his next (and last European) entries being the fragmentary notes of his tour with AA and AA2 to the west of England in July-Aug. 1787.
American relations with Great Britain during this year remained in statu quo, no new issues of any magnitude arising and no standing issues being settled. During the spring and early summer of 1786 JA had reiterated to both official and private correspondents that no diplomatic progress would be made in London until the various state acts impeding payment to British creditors were repealed, for, as he observed to Samuel Adams, “When We have done Equity We may with a good Grace, demand Equity” (2 June 1786, NN; see also JA to Jay, 25 May, 16 June, letterbook copies, Adams Papers, printed in Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789, 2:659–661, 668–670). Ten months after JA had made his first recommendation on this point to Congress as urgently as he knew how to do, that body unanimously adopted a report by Foreign Secretary Jay that had long been on its table, the heart of which was “That all such acts or parts of Acts as may be now existing in any of the States repugnant to the treaty of Peace ought to be forthwith repealed” (21 March 1787; JCC , 32:124–125); this was to be embodied in a circular letter to the states, adopted 13 April (same, p. 177–184).
On 25 Jan. 1787 JA had the satisfaction of signing, at last, the treaty, or rather the “unilaterally executed grant” of protection for American shipping, which the gifts conveyed by Thomas Barclay to the Emperor of Morocco had purchased. Jefferson had signed this document in Paris on 1 Jan.; an English text is printed as an enclosure in Barclay's letter to the Commissioners, Cadiz, 2 Oct. 1786, together with valuable editorial notes, in Jefferson, Papers, ed. Boyd, 10:418–427; see also Miller, ed., Treaties , 2:185–227.
More important than any of the occurrences mentioned above was the Adamses' visit during Aug.-Sept. 1786 to the Netherlands. Its importance is owing to a consequence that was unexpected and has been too often overlooked. On his return from the family excursion to Essex at the end of July, JA found Congress' tardy ratification, dated 17 May 1786, of the commercial treaty with Prussia (see note 1 on entry of 27 March, above). Since by its Article 27 an exchange of ratifications was required within one year of the signing of the treaty, that is to say by 10 Sept. 1786, since there was no Prussian minister residing at either London or Paris, and since time was short, JA felt obliged to go himself to The Hague for that purpose. This would also enable him to pay his respects to officials and friends in the republic to which he was still the accredited United States minister and, by taking AA with him, to show her the country she had expected to but did not visit three years earlier. Leaving London on 3 Aug., JA and AA traveled by way of Harwich, Hellevoetsluis, and Rotterdam to The Hague, where they arrived on the 8th. On that very day JA signed and exchanged ratifications with the Prussian minister Thulemeier. The Adamses were now free for diversions, and AA characteristically provided in her letters a full and colorful record of Dutch modes of travel, social activities, and sightseeing during their stay of nearly a month; her letters to her daughter are in AA2, Jour. and Corr. , 2:53–64; see also AA to Mrs. Cranch, 12 Sept., MWA, printed in AA, Letters , ed. CFA , 1848, p. 300–305.
Among other places, they visited Utrecht, where they happened to be present when the new magistrates of that city, which had undergone a constitutional reform at the hands of the Patriot party, were sworn into office. The incident had a profound effect on JA . “In no Instance, of ancient or modern History,” he wrote Jefferson, 11 Sept., “have the People ever asserted more unequivocally their own inherent and unalienable Sovereignty” ( LbC , Adams Papers; Jefferson, Papers, ed. Boyd, 10:348). And in a letter to Jay he represented this event, which was a high-water mark in the efforts of the Dutch Patriots, as the first visible fructification in Europe of the principles of the American Revolu• { 202 } tion (3 Oct., LbC , Adams Papers; Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789, 2:676–677). His discussions with Dutch friends and his reflections on the significance of what was happening in their country became one of JA 's principal motives in undertaking the most ambitious literary work of his life, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America. The root of this treatise lay, as is well known, in JA 's objections to Turgot's critique of the American state constitutions, embodied in Turgot's letter to Price written in 1778 but first published in 1784 (see note on Turgot and JA under the entry of 9 April 1778, above). But its other immediate inspiration (besides the events occurring in the Dutch Republic) was the disturbing news he read in London about “the Seditious Meetings in the Massachusetts” that were to lead to Shays' Rebellion; see JA to Richard Cranch, 15 Jan. 1787 (NN; JA, Works , 1:432–433), and also Letter I in the Defence itself, which seriously suggested that the discontented people in Massachusetts wished to depose the governor and senate of that state “as useless and expensive branches of the constitution” because they had been reading Turgot's letter to Price (JA, Defence [vol. 1], London, 1787, p. 4).
Upon his return from the Netherlands JA began with almost feverish haste and concentration to read for and compose his treatise on the dangers of republican government and the means of averting them. The first volume, an octavo of 392 pages, was published before the middle of Jan. 1787. A second followed in September, and a third in 1788. He was so absorbed in the task that he abandoned his Diary altogether; and his letterbooks during the fall, winter, and spring of 1786–1787 are more meager than at any other period of his decade in Europe. AA took up part of the burden he dropped, writing with greater frequency to American correspondents and explaining that “Mr. Adams ... says his friends must not expect any letters but printed ones from him” (to Cotton Tufts, 29 April 1787, Adams Papers). (The Defence was composed in the form of letters, nominally addressed to JA 's son-in-law, WSS .) JA recognized that the Defence was a “strange” and faulty book, but it was his chief political testament, and its composition, the complex bibliography of its successive editions, and its reception and influence in Europe and America, as well as upon his own career, deserve closer study than they have yet had—indeed could have had until his papers bearing on the subject, including a mass of notes and drafts still only partially arranged, were made available. Pending such a comprehensive study, the reader may be referred to three especially pertinent chapters in Zoltán Haraszti, JA and the Prophets of Progress (chs. 3, 8, 9), and to the excellent analysis of JA 's political theory in a world context which will be found in Robert R. Palmer's Age of the Democratic Revolution . .. : The Challenge, Princeton, 1959, p. 269 ff.
JA was obliged to interrupt work on Volume 2, dealing with the history of Italian republics, by another and quite unexpected trip to the Netherlands in May-June 1787. He went in order to execute a contract for a third American loan in Amsterdam, essential to meeting a large interest payment for which the measures of the Board of Treasury in New York had proved inadequate. Leaving London on 25 May with John Brown Cutting as a traveling companion and temporary secretary, he arrived just in time to save American credit in the Netherlands once more. Despite the serious civil disturbances then going on (there was rioting in Amsterdam during his first two nights there that presaged the extinction of the Patriot party), the bankers had prepared a contract for a loan of a million guilders at 5 per cent interest, to be redeemed in 1798–1802; JA signed it on 1 June, and during the following days signed 2,000 obligations on behalf of the United States. By 9 June he was back in London. (See JA 's correspondence with the Willinks and Van Staphorsts, May–June 1787; J. B. Cutting to AA , 25, 28 May; JA to AA , 1, 2 June; all in Adams Papers; P. J. van Winter, Het aandeel van den Amster-damschen handel aan den opbouw van het Amerikaansche gemeenebest, The Hague, 1927–1933, 1:175–178.) JA had some qualms about this transaction, since he had acted in the financial { 203 } emergency without specific authorization from Congress; see his report to Jay, 16 June, enclosing the contract ( LbC , Adams Papers; Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789, 2:787–792). Congress, however, promptly ratified the contract, 11 Oct. ( JCC , 33:649); an English translation of the contract, with the ratification signed by Pres. Arthur St. Clair and Secretary Thomson, is in Adams Papers.
In March 1787 the Smiths moved from Wimpole Street to the Legation in Grosvenor Square because AA2 was expectant. On 2 April, with Dr. John Jeffries, a former Bostonian and loyalist, in attendance, JA 's first grandchild was born; it was a boy and was christened, by Dr. Price, William Steuben Smith ( AA to Mrs. Cranch, 20 Jan., 25–27 Feb.; to Lucy Cranch, 26 April; all in MWA). In announcing this news to C. W. F. Dumas, 3 April, JA said he now expected to have “some Amusement” ( LbC , Adams Papers).