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Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 3


Docno: ADMS-04-03-02-0251

Author: Thaxter, John
Recipient: Adams, Abigail
Date: 1780-04-30

John Thaxter to Abigail Adams

[salute] Madam

That a Nation once distinguished in the Annals of Mankind, should by the Pride, Avarice, Ambition, Injustice and Oppression of its Governors, loose its distant Dependencies, is not an uncommon Event in { 330 } the History of the World; but that the same Nation, from the Operation of the same Causes, together with Folly and Madness, should league one half the World against her, is not only a Phenomenon in Modern Times (reserved to be exhibited by a neighbouring Nation) but a melancholy Monument of divine Vengeance. That this is the present State of England is but too true. Behold her a public Enemy, hostile to the Rights of Mankind, but too impotent to sport much longer. Such extremes of Wickedness and their Consequences, unhappily for human Nature and the Peace of Nations, are not local—other States and Kingdoms become infected by them, their Virtues and Morals become shaken and debauched. Britain then is to be considered not only as attempting to subvert the Civil and political Institutions of Men but indirectly their religions also. To You, Madam, who are so well versed in History, another observation is unnecessary.
The present Picture of England is truly melancholy. Her Tyranny has dismembered the best Part of her Empire—America is independent—Ireland is perfecting her Strength in her (England's) Weakness, and gliding on very calmly and smoothly to Independence. Behold her interrupting the Commerce of the United States, of Holland, seizing and condemning Articles not contraband by Treaty nor the Law of Nations, and insulting their Flag to crown their Injustice. The King by Proclamation has declared all Stipulations of the Treaties between England and the Republic are to be suspended, and the Republic to be considered as a Neutral Power no Ways priviledged by Treaties, because the Dutch have refused the Succours demanded in Virtue of a Treaty. Russia, from whence England expected a considerable Assistance in Men and Ships to promote her System of Rapine and Depredation, has determined upon a rigorous Neutrality between the belligerent Powers, declared her Resolution to maintain her Flag in Honor, invited Holland to make Common Cause, and sent Copies of her Resolutions and Declarations, to the Courts of the Powers at War. This Neutrality is against England—hard fate indeed that even a Neutrality is against her.1 She has insulted the Flag of Sweeden, by one of her Cruisers, attacking a Sweedish Frigate innocently and peaceably pursuing her Course. Behold her engaged in a War against America, France and Spain, singly and alone, without an ally or a Prospect of obtaining one in Europe. It is said that there is a Quintuple Alliance forming or formed between Russia, Prussia, Sweeden, Denmark and the Republic of the United States of Holland. I affirm it not for a Fact. If You recollect the System of Europe pointed out in an Judicious and ingenious Letter now in Manuscript in your Cus• { 331 } tody,2 You will probably think this Event not unlikely. The Object of it is, the protection of their Commerce and respective Flags. I cannot say that it is entered into—I can only affirm that such an Alliance is not improbable; for those Powers and no others in Europe love England with much Cordiality, but on the contrary see without Regret the decay of her Power. Add to all this, Intestine Broils and Divisions rending the Kingdom asunder. Such is the State of England internally and externally. A Tear of Pity an American is magnanimous enough to shed upon this Spectacle. Britain should shed Tears of Blood.
I had the pleasure of seeing Masters Johnny and Charley, my two dear little Friends, this day—they are well. With equal Satisfaction and equal Justice, can I send this acceptable Tribute, which is due to them, to a tender and fond Mamma, that they behave well.
I had the Honor of dining to day with his Excellency at Mr. Grand's, where were beaucoup de monde and amongst the rest Madamoiselle Labhar is not to be forgotten. Think me not smitten, Madam. If I have any Partiality for any one in particular (which I will neither affirm nor deny) it is not on this Side the Water.
Remember me affectionately to your dear Nabby and Tommy, and respectfully and dutifully where due.

[salute] With the highest Respect & Esteem, I have the Honor to be &c.,

[signed] J. T.
1. The latest scholarly study of the Armed Neutrality of 1780 is by Isabel de Madariaga, Britain, Russia, and the Armed Neutrality of 1780, New Haven, 1962. Since it concentrates on the mission of Sir James Harris (later 1st Earl of Malmesbury) to the Court of Catherine the Great at St. Petersburg, it does virtually nothing to indicate American interest in this significant episode of northern European diplomacy. See, however, Bemis, Diplomacy of the Amer. Revolution, chs. 11–12; Morris, Peacemakers, ch. 8.
2. Undoubtedly Thaxter is alluding to the long and remarkable letter JA addressed, or at least began, to John Jay, president of Congress, within a day or two of his return to Braintree from France, 4 Aug. 1779. When composing it, JA regarded it as his last diplomatic dispatch and therefore a kind of testament, embodying his “Reflections . . . on the general State of Affairs in Europe, so far as they relate to the Interests of the united States” (RC in PCC, No. 84, I, printed in Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev., 3:278–286; LbC in Adams Papers, printed in JA, Works, 7:99–110). The influence of this testament on Thaxter's present letter is manifest. In the Adams Papers is a twelve-page contemporary copy in an unidentified hand which may possibly have been the version Thaxter saw and studied, although it is more likely that he read the letterbook copy. Numerous other contemporary copies were made, of which a number survive (four besides those already mentioned are recorded in the Adams Papers Editorial Files as in various repositories and private collections). The explanation is in a letter from James Lovell to JA, 14 Sept. 1779 (Adams Papers): “The dull letter you mention has been received [by Congress; see JCC, 14:981, under date { 332 } of 20 Aug. 1779], and I believe wished never to have been written, by the poor Drudges in the Secretary's Office who are called upon for Copies by every lazy Member, and I assure you that is more than the sanctified Number 13.”

Docno: ADMS-04-03-02-0252

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Adams, Abigail
DateRange: 1780-04 - 1780-05

John Adams to Abigail Adams

[salute] My dear Portia

Yesterday We went to see the Garden of the King, Jardin du Roi, and his Cabinet of natural History, Cabinet d'Histoire naturell.
The Cabinet of natural History is a great Collection, of Metals, Mineral[s], shells, Insects, Birds, Beasts, Fishes, and presscious stones. They are arranged in good order, and preserved in good condition, with the name of every thing beautifully written on a piece of paper annexed to it. There is also a Collection of Woods and marbles.
The garden is large and airy, affording fine Walks between Rows of Trees. Here is a Collection from all Parts of the World, of all the plants, Roots and Vegetables that are used in medicine, and indeed of all the Plants and trees in the World.
A fine Scaene for the studious youth in Physick or Philosophy. It was a public day. There was a great deal of Company, and I had opportunity only to take a cursory view. The whole is very curious. There is an handsome statue of Mr. Buffon, the great natural Historian whose Works you have,2 whose labours have given fame to this Cabinet and Garden. When shall We have in America, such Collections? The Collection of American Curiosities that I saw at Norwalk in Connecticutt made by Mr. Arnold, which he afterwards to my great mortification sold to Gov. Tryon, convinces me, that our Country affords as ample materials, for Collections of this nature as any part of the World.3
Five midshipmen of the Alliance, came here last night, Marston, Hogan, Fitzgerald and two others, from Norway, where they were sent with Prizes, which the Court of Denmark were absurd and unjust enough, to restore to the English. They however treated the Officers and People well, and defrayed their Expences. They say the Norwegians were very angry, with the Court of Copenhagen, for delivering up these Vessells. It was the Blunder of Ignorance, I believe, rather than any ill Will.
Every day when I ride out, without any particular Business to do, or Visit to make, I order my servant to carry me to some place where I never was before, so that at last I believe I have seen all Paris, and all the fields and scenes about it, that are near it. It is very pleasant.
{ 333 }
Charles is as well beloved here as at home. Wherever he goes, every body loves him. Mr. D[ana] is as fond of him, I think as I am. He learns very well.
There is a Volume in folio just published here, which I Yesterday, run over at a Booksellers shop. It is a description and a copper Plate of all the Engravings upon precious stones in the Collection of the Duke of Orleans. The stamps are extreamly beautiful, and are representations of the Gods and Heroes of Antiquity, with most of the fables of their Mithology. Such a Book would be very usefull to the Children in studiing the Classicks, but it is too dear—3 Guineas, unbound.
There is every Thing here that can inform the Understanding, or refine the Taste, and indeed one would think that could purify the Heart. Yet it must be remembered there is every thing here too, which can seduce, betray, deceive, deprave, corrupt and debauch it. Hercules marches here in full View of the Steeps of Virtue on one hand, and the flowery Paths of Pleasure on the other—and there are few who make the Choice of Hercules.4 That my Children may follow his Example, is my earnest Prayer: but I sometimes tremble, when I hear the syren songs of sloth, least they should be captivated with her bewitching Charms and her soft, insinuating Musick.
1. Available evidence does not permit a more precise date. The letter is related in mood and substance to another undated letter that JA wrote to AA about this time, printed below under the assigned date of post 12 May 1780. Clearly, however, the present letter, reporting JA's visit to the Jardin du Roi on the preceding day, was written before his second undated letter.
2. Among JA's books surviving in the Boston Public Library are two multi-volume editions of Buffon's Oeuvres completes, both published in Paris in the 1770's and both apparently imperfect, and also a set of the Histoire nat–urelle des oiseaux, 6 vols., Paris, 1770–1775 (Catalogue of JA's Library). Marginal markings indicate that JA read at least portions of Buffon's compilations with attention; see Haraszti, JA and the Prophets of Progress, p. 302.
3. JA had briefly viewed this collection—one of the earliest recorded museum enterprises in America—when on his way to the first Continental Congress in Aug. 1774, and it made a lasting impression on him. From Gov. William Tryon's possession it passed into the hands of Sir Ashton Lever and became part of the Leverian Museum in London, which JA was to visit in Nov. 1783 but which was dispersed by auction early in the 19th century. See above, vol. 2:236–237; JA, Diary and Autobiography, 3:151; JA to Benjamin Waterhouse, 7 Aug. 1805, printed in Ford, ed., Statesman and Friend, p. 22–24.
4. The Choice of Hercules was JA's favorite classical allegory. In 1776 he had proposed it as a theme to be used in the Great Seal of the United States. See above, vol. 2:ix–x, 96–98, and illustration following p.102.
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2014.
http://www.masshist.org/apde2/