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Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 4


Search for a response to this letter.

Docno: ADMS-04-04-02-0062

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Adams, Abigail
Date: 1781-03-11

John Adams to Abigail Adams

[salute] My dear Portia

My Letters by Davis, Mr. Guild1 &c. are lost.—Pray did you get the Goods by Davis?
{ 90 }
This goes by Mr. De L'Etombe Consul of France, a worthy Man. He will do honour to his Country and good to ours.
My Boys are both Students in the University of Leyden.—All well.—Write me by the Way of Spain, France, Holland, Sweeden and every other. Jones carried your Chest, Samson carried another.—Yours with more Tenderness than it would be wise, if it were possible to express.
[signed] J.A.2
1. Benjamin Guild (on whom see sketch at vol. 3:322–323, above) was captured off Newfoundland on his return voyage in the Fame, which was carried to Ireland ( AA to James Lovell, 13 May, below). In a manner unknown, Guild soon made his way back to the Netherlands; see JQA to JA , 17 May, below.
2. It will be noted that this laconic note is the first surviving communication from JA to AA since his letter of 18 Dec. 1780, above. Presumably he had written others, as he implies in his first sentence here, but he did not keep copies of them, and it seems likely that he had not written often or at length. One reason was his fear of enemy interception at sea, but this did not cut off the flow of his dispatches to Congress on European affairs, especially in regard to the Anglo-Dutch war crisis. It may be suggested that, as sometimes before when JA was deeply troubled, he simply did not record his inmost thoughts, either in correspondence or diary entries. (His diary contains essentially no entries between the end of Aug. 1780 and the brief and scattering entries in Jan.–Feb. 1781, and a very long gap ensues.)
A more obvious, yet in some degree superficial, explanation for the lack of personal records by JA at this time would be his quite literal “busyness” on the Dutch scene. During his early months in the Netherlands he was cultivating friends among journalists, moneyed men, and political functionaries; writing and circulating pro-American propaganda; and studying Dutch life, literature, and institutions. The most detailed and thoroughly documented account of these activities yet available is by Sister Mary Briant Foley, The Triumph of Militia Diplomacy: John Adams in the Netherlands, 1780–1782, Loyola Univ. doctoral dissertation, 1968, chs. 2–3.
During the weeks immediately before he wrote the present letter JA had been much on the move between Amsterdam, Leyden, and The Hague. On 25 Feb. he received dispatches from Congress which commissioned and instructed him as minister plenipotentiary to the States General of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, in succession to the captured Henry Laurens, to negotiate a treaty of amity and commerce as voted by Congress on 29 Dec. 1780, and also to adhere on the part of the United States to the Armed Neutrality among the northern maritime powers, according to a resolve of Congress voted on 5 Oct. 1780. See Samuel Huntington to JA , 1 Jan., with duplicate of 9 Jan. 1781, and enclosures (Adams Papers; printed in JA, Works , 7:349, letter only; printed from PCC, with letter of credence, in Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 4:224–225; for the respective resolves of Congress, including JA 's instructions, see JCC , 18:905–906, 1204–1217; 19:17–19). At The Hague on 8 March JA submitted a brief memorial to the States General regarding the Armed Neutrality (Adams Papers; JA, Works , 7:373; see the related correspondence which follows in Works and also in Corr. in the Boston Patriot , p. 392–395).
For JA 's strategy and efforts to obtain recognition of American independence by the Dutch as that nation drifted into a full-scale war with Great Britain, see the notes under his next and only slightly less laconic letter to AA , 28 April, below.
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Docno: ADMS-04-04-02-0063

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Smith, Isaac Sr.
Date: 1781-03-11

John Adams to Isaac Smith Sr.

[salute] Sir

Your favour of the 18th. of Decr.1 reached me to day. I lament the Loss of my Letters by Davis, but I hope Mrs. Adams did not lose her Present, which I hear nothing of. I thank You, Sir, for the kind News of my Family. Mr. Guild is taken and all my Letters and other things sent by him lost.
I wish I could give You any good News, especially of Peace, but alass there is no hopes of it. The English are labouring with all their Art and Might to spread the Flames of War thro' all Europe. I don't know that they would get or We lose any Advantage by that: but such is their incendiary Temper at present.
I am glad to learn that the Army is to be placed on a more permanent footing. I wish to know the State of Commerce and Privateering. Your Letters Via Spain always reach me.
This will go by Mr. De L'Etombe; the new Consul, a valuable Man—so thinks your's respectfully &c.
LbC in John Thaxter's hand (Adams Papers).
1. Not found.

Docno: ADMS-04-04-02-0064

Author: Adams, Abigail
Recipient: Lovell, James
Date: 1781-03-17

Abigail Adams to James Lovell

[salute] My dear Sir

It was not till the last week in Febry. that your favour of Janry. 8th reachd me. I had waited the arrival of each post with impatience but was so repeatedly dissapointed that I almost gave up my correspondent even in the way of Friendship. I struck up of1 the list of Galantry some time ago. It is a character in my mind very unbefitting a senator notwithstanding the Authority of Chesterfeild against me, yet the Stile of some Letters obliged me to balance a long time and study by detail the character I was scrutinizing. I wished to divest myself for the time of a partiality which I found predominant in my Heart, yet give to every virtue its due weight. I wished for once, for a few moments and 3 hundred miles distance observe, to consider myself in the nearest connexion possible, and then try the force of certain Epethets addressed to a Lady—we will suppose her for Arguments sake amiable, agreable and his Friend. I found from trial that those Epethets only would bear [i.e. be bearable] . If they were carried { 92 } a Syllable beyond, to Lovely, to charming, they touchd too too sensibly the fine tuned instrument and produced a discord where Harmony alone should subsist. What right has she who is appropriated to appear Lovely or charming in any Eyes but his whose property she is?2 I am pursuaded says a Lady who had seen much of the world, that a woman who is determined to place her happiness in her Husbands affections should abandon the extravagant desire of engageing publick adoration, and that a Husband who tenderly loves his wife should in his turn give up the reputation of being a Gallant. However antiquated and unpolite these Ideas may appear to our Modern refiners, I can join with Juba in the play “by Heavens I had rather have that best of Friends approve my deeds than Worlds for my admirers.”3
A particular reason has led me to wish the Man whose Soul is Benevolence itself flowing out in these exuberances would more circumspectly guard a pen.—A Captured Letter, not to Portia thank fortune, but to his Friend G[err]y published by the Enemy, has made some talk. I have tried to obtain it that I might judge whether what was said of it was true. Have not yet been able to, but his own conscience must tell him whether any thing written to a confidiential Friend should give just occasion of pain to an affectionate wife. That it has done so I know not, but ought there to be room for the world to suppose it capable of it? I will not judge unheard and unseen, only repeate an observation which I once before made to you, that no situation was more delicate, more critical or more liable to censure than that of a Lady whose Husband has been long seperated from her. The world will judge from selfish motives nor will they consider of any obligation prior to that which binds a man to his family or that the demands of his country must silence the voice of pleading Nature. A similarity of circumstances leads me to sympathize with every sufferer. I own I am exceedingly tenacious of my prerogative and it would wound me to the Soul even to have it suspected.
I had many things in mind to say to you in the political way when I took up my pen, but will defer them for the subject of an other Letter or untill you tell me that you have received this in that Spirit of Friendship with which it flowed from the pen of
[signed] Portia4
Dft (Adams Papers); without indication of addressee, but this letter set off a long train of exchanges between Lovell and AA , running all the way to the following August; see note 4 below. The (missing) RC was not received by Lovell until late in May, and then in the form of a duplicate RC (also missing) enclosed in hers to him of 10 May (below), the original having either strayed in the mail or actually been captured by the enemy. See Lovell to AA , 14, 29 May, and 16 June, all below.
{ 93 }
1. Thus in MS . AA probably meant to write: “struck him off.”
2. The reasons impelling AA at this juncture “to balance a long time and study by detail” the propriety of the language Lovell had employed in his letter of 8 Jan. (above) and, generally, in other letters he had written her, are discussed in note 4 below. In the present passage, written in some agitation, she is saying that “Epethets” like amiable and agreeable addressed to a [married] Lady” by a male friend are perfectly acceptable, but lovely and charming are not. They smack too much of the Chesterfieldian code of “Galantry,” which she rejects.
3. Initial quotation mark supplied. AA is quoting, a little inaccurately, from Addison's Cato (1713), Act II, scene v, lines 144–145.
4. AA 's concern and admonitions as expressed in this letter sprang from two different but related causes. Lovell in his correspondence with her habitually indulged in a queer sort of gallantry, imitative of Laurence Sterne's writings, which she in turn indulged him in without protest and thus apparently found acceptable. However, in his letter of 8 Jan., which she found indiscreet (see note 2 above), he spoke of her as one of the “most lovely of the Loveliest Sex,” and at the same time blandly mentioned that recent letters of his, including one to her (dated 21 Nov. 1780, not found), had fallen into the hands of “Jemmy Rivington,” the tory newspaper printer in New York. This naturally suggested to her that the combination of what she here calls Lovell's “exuberances” and the increasingly frequent British interception of American mails made her reputation more vulnerable than was pleasant to contemplate. Six weeks or so elapsed between Lovell's writing his letter of 8 Jan. and her receipt of it in late February, and meanwhile AA learned that Rivington and other loyalist printers had published one or more of Lovell's private letters, specifically one to Elbridge Gerry, 20 Nov. 1780, containing enough indiscretions to excite talk in Boston. Though she had not seen the paper or papers in question, she was bound to wonder what further epistolary indiscretions her correspondent might have committed and she was still to hear about. Waiting for several weeks, and still without sight of what Rivington had printed, AA here phrased her multiple rebukes to Lovell with care and tact. In a letter of 10 May, below (and perhaps in others intervening but not found), and still not having seen the offending letter to Gerry, AA renewed her “Stricktures” on Lovell's conduct in severe terms; see the notes and references there.