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Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 5


Docno: ADMS-04-05-02-0056

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Adams, Abigail
Date: 1783-02-27

John Adams to Abigail Adams

[salute] My dearest Friend

Dryden, whom I have always loved to read now and then, because I learn something from him, informs me,1 if I did not know it before, that “it hath been observed in former times that none have been so greedy of Employments, and of managing the Publick, as they who have least deserved their Stations. But such only merit to be called Patriots, under whom We see their Country flourish. I have laughed sometimes,2 when I have reflected on those Men, who from time to time have shot themselves into the World. I have seen many successions of them; some bolting out upon the Stage with vast applause, and others hissed off, and quitting it with disgrace. But while they were in Action, I have constantly observed, that they seemed desirous to retreat from Business—Greatness they said was nauseous, and a Crowd was troublesome; a quiet Privacy was their Ambition. Some few of them I believe said this in earnest, and were making a Provision against Futurity, that they might enjoy their Age with Ease. They saw the happiness of private Life, and promised to themselves a Blessing which every day it was in their Power to possess. But they deferred it, and lingered still at Court, because they thought they had not yet enough to make them happy. They would have more, and laid in to make their Solitude luxurious. A wretched Philosophy, which Epicurus never taught them in his Garden: they loved the prospect of this quiet in Reversion, but were not willing to have it in Possession. They would first be old, and made as sure of Health and Life, as if both of them were at their dispose. But put them to the Necessity of a present Choice, and they preferred Continuance in Power, like the Wretch who called Death to his Assistance, but refused him when he came. The great Scipio was not of their Opinion, who indeed sought Honors in his Youth, and endured the fatigues with which he purchased them. He served his Country, when it was in need of his Courage and Conduct, until he thought it was time to serve himself: but dismounted from the Saddle, when he found the Beast which bore him began to grow restif and ungovernable.”
I have constantly and severely felt this desire to retreat from Business—But have never made this Provision for futurity, that I { 101 } might enjoy my Age with Ease, much less have I ever wished for a luxurious Solitude.
I have never in any part of my public Life sought Profits or Honors. It was my Destiny to come into Life at a critical dangerous time, and to see Prospects before me that I dreaded and wished to avoid but could not, with Honor or a good Conscience. I took my Part according to the Dictates of my Heart and Head, and have gone thro' it and all its Horrors, and landed the Public safe and glorious in the Harbour of Peace. Thanks be to God! No Honors, not a Crown—no Profits, not all the Indias, would be the smallest Temptation to me now to go thro' it again, nor would ever have tempted me to begin it. I thought it my Duty and that I should be a guilty Wretch if I did not do it. I have done it to the best of my Understanding, Health and Strength.
I seek not Honors nor Profits now. But I have now a Right to be exempted from Dishonour, Spots, Stains and Disgrace. Congress have stained and soiled me. They must wipe it out, or I throw off their Livery.

[salute] Yours with the same Sentiments as ever.

LbC in John Thaxter's hand (Adams Papers). This and the two letters of the same date that immediately follow are printed here in the order in which they are entered in the LbC.
1. From Dryden's dedication to his translation of Virgil's Georgics, see JA to AA, 26 Feb., note 1, above.
2. JA here omits Dryden's parenthetical question: “for who would always be a Heraclitus?”

Docno: ADMS-04-05-02-0057

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Adams, Abigail
Date: 1783-02-27

John Adams to Abigail Adams

[salute] My dearest Friend

L'Ambition dans l'oisiveté, la Bassesse dans l'orgueil, Le Desir de s'enrichir Sans travail, l'Aversion pour la vérité; la flatterie, la Trahison, la Perfidie, l'Abandon de tous Ses Engagemens, le mépris des devoirs du Citoyen, la Crainte de la Vertu du Prince, l'espérance de Ses foiblesses, et plus que tout cela le ridicule perpétuel jetté sur la vertu, forment, je crois, le caractère du plus grand Nombre des Courtisans, marqué dans tous les lieux et dans tous les tems.1
It is Montesquieu who draws this Picture. And I think it is drawn from the Life, and is an exact resemblance. You cannot wonder then that I am weary and wish to be at home upon almost any Terms. Your Life, would be dismal, in a high degree. You would be in an hideous Solitude, among Millions. None of them would be Society for you { 102 } that you could endure. Mrs. Jay is in this Situation ardently longing to come home. Yet She is much better Circumstanced, than you are to be abroad, as her family is Smaller and younger. You must leave a Part of your Family.
No Let Us live in our own Country, and in our own Way. Educate our Children to be good for something. Upon no Consideration what ever would I have any of my Children educated in Europe. In Conscience I could not consent to it.
If Congress had been Steady, and continued in force my Commission to make a Treaty of Commerce with Great Britain, I should have gone to London, and have finished the Treaty before now, but I should not have thought of residing in London long. I should have resigned and returned to America in a Year or two at furthest. If Congress should now revive my Commission and send me a new one, which I think altogether improbable, but believe they will compleat their Work, by Sending another Man upon that Errand, I would not Stay longer in England than a Year or two at furthest. I cannot bare the Thought of a long Banishment from my own native Soil, where alone I can ever be happy, or comfortable.
I write you by every opportunity, least you should embark for Europe when I am upon my Passage home, which would be a terrible Disappointment to both. My Intention is to come home whether I receive the Acceptance of my Resignation or not, unless I receive a Commission to St. James's. Dont you embark therefore untill you receive a Letter from me desiring you to come. If I should receive Such a Commission I will write you immediately, by way of France Holland and England, and shall wish you to come to me on the Wings of the Wind. But the Same Influence, french Influence I mean, which induced Congress to revoke my Commission, will still continue to prevent the Revival of it. And I think it likely too, that English Influence will now be added to French, for I dont believe that George wishes to see my face. In this Case I shall enjoy the satisfaction of coming where I wish most to be, with all my Children, living in Simplicity, Innocence, and Repose.
What I write you, upon this subject is in Confidence and must not be communicated but with great discretion.

[salute] Yours entirely and forever

[signed] John Adams
RC (Adams Papers). LbC in John Thaxter's hand (Adams Papers.)
1. De l'esprit des lois in OEuvres, 6 vols., Amsterdam, 1777, 1:48. The capitalization is JA's; his copy of this edition of Montesquieu's works is in MB (Catalogue of JA's Library).
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/