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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 9

Docno: ADMS-06-09-02-0140

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Genet, Edmé Jacques
Date: 1780-04-29

To Edmé Jacques Genet

[salute] Dear Sir

Do you think it worth while to work into your next Article, from London, the following Observation of Lord Bolinbroke?
“The precise Point, at which the Scales of power turn, like that of the Solstice, in either Tropic, is imperceptible to common Observation; and, in one case, as in the other, Some progress must be made, in the new direction, before the change is perceived. They who are in the sinking Scale, for in the political ballance of power, unlike to all others, the Scale that is empty Sinks, and that which is full rises; they who are in the Sinking Scale do not easily come off, from the habitual prejudices of Superiour Wealth, or power, or Skill, or courage, nor from the Confidence, that these Prejudices inspire. They who are in the rising Scale, do not immediately feel their Strength, nor assume that Confidence in it, which successfull Experience gives them afterwards. They who are the most concerned to watch the Variations of this ballance, misjudge often, in the Same manner, and from the Same Prejudices. They continue to dread a Power no longer able to hurt them, or they continue to have no apprehension of a Power, that grows daily more formidable. Spain verified, the first Observation, when proud and poor, and enterprizing and feeble, she Still thought, herself a Match for France, France verified the Second Observation, when the tripple Alliance, Stopped the Progress of her Arms, which Alliances much more considerable, were not able to effect afterwards. The other principal powers of Europe, in their turns, have verified the third Observation in both its parts.”1
Sketch of the History and State of Europe.
These Observations were never more remarkably verified, than in these times. The English proud and porr, and enterprising and feeble, { 250 } Still think themselves a Match for France and Spain, and America2 if not for all the World, but this delirium cannot last long.
France and Spain and Holland continue to dread, a Power no longer able to hurt them, but this will be over as Soon.
England continues to have Small Apprehensions of Powers, that grow daily more formidable but these Apprehensions will increase every day.
Your Correspondant from London or Antwerp, among his Lamentations over the Blindness and Obstinacy, and Madness of the Ministry, may introduce these Observations with Propriety enough.
The Ballance of Power, was never perhaps Shifted, in So remarkable a manner, and in So short a Space of Time. If the Minds of the French and Spaniards had grown in Confidence, in proportion to the Growth of their power; and if the Confidence of the English, had decreased in proportion to the diminution of theirs, it would have been all over, with England, before now.
You know very well, that Lord Bolinbroke was the most eloquent Writer, that England ever produced. His political Writings, particularly, are more admired than any in that Language. His Name and Authority, added to the obvious Truth of these Observations, and their apposite Application to the present times, will make an Impression upon many minds, in all the nations at War. If you think so, and that it will increase the Spirit of our Friends, and diminish the Insolence of our Ennemies, as it ought, you will make Use of it, in your own excellent manner. If not, burn it.
Your Friend
1. This quotation is from letter 7, “A Sketch of the State and History of Europe, from the Pyrenean Treaty in 1659, to the Year 1688,” in Henry St. John, viscount Bolingbroke, Letters on the Study and Use of History, 2 vols., London, 1752, 1:259–261. Genet printed the piece, together with JA's comments on it, in the Mercure de France, “Journal Politique de Bruxelles” (p. 128–129), of 20 May.
2. The preceding two words were interlined.

Docno: ADMS-06-09-02-0141

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Jenings, Edmund
Date: 1780-04-29

To Edmund Jenings

[salute] Confidential & secret
Dear Sir

Thank you for yours of 24. The Pamphlet, was printed by Almon, at the Desire of a Mr. Hollis who took <an extravagant> mild fancy to the dissertation on the cannon and feudal Law, had it printed and { 251 } bound in an elegant manner, and sent it as a present to Harvard Colledge in Cambridge, with a Compliment written in it with his own Hand. It was a long story, but it began with these Words “this is the finest Production that has ever appeared from North America, the author of it was said to be Jeremy Gridley Esq. but I find that the Author of it happily, still lives.” He wrote to his Correspondant Dr. Elliot to enquire, who wrote it. Elliot at last heard from a Gentleman that knew that it was John Adams. He came to me to know. I told him it was no secret who wrote it, he desired I would give him leave to mention my name. I told him I had rather be excused for the present. Hollis wrote over immediately that the Province ought to choose me their Agent at the Court of St. James's, and 20 other Extravagancies of the like sort.1 The thing itself is indeed but a Bagatelle: but the Time when it was written and the Effect it certainly produced at the Time, make it of some importance, in a public View as a document of History, but of more Importance to me, and my Children, as a family Memorial.
Thank you for the Newspaper, and am of your mind, that all Endeavours in parliament to reform, will be ineffectual. Reformation must be made in a Congress if any Way. Corruption has too many hereditary, and legal Supporters in Parliament. Whether it has or not out of parliament is the question. Whether there is enough of Unanimity and Firmness among the people, to struggle against this formidable phalanx? But one thing seems clear, that either the remaining Virtue in the Nation must overcome the Corruption, or the Corruption will wholly exterminate the remaining Virtue. I see but one Alternative and no middle Way. Either Absolute Monarchy, or a Republic and Congress. I am happy to see that York, Surrey and Hertford have resolved against the American War. We shall see whether these Examples will be followed.
The Astonishment is great Every, where, at the Proclamation against the Dutch, which is in Effect, little Short of a Declaration of War against Holland, and Russia. Russia has said I will. England has said you shall not. We shall see, how this question will be decided. The Lady has on several occasions discerned a Spirit that is not to be trifled with. Do you know the Character of Panin?2 We see in the Instance of England, what has been observed in a Multitude of Examples, before that nations do not easily come off, from the Prejudices, of Superiour Wealth, or Power, Skill or Courage, nor from the Confidence which these prejudices Inspire.3 We see in the Examples of France Spain and Holland, that they who are on the rising { 252 } Hand do not immediately feel their Strength, nor assume that confidence in it, which Successfull Experience gives them afterwards. They continue to dread a power, no longer able to hurt them. Observations which were applied to Spain, and the nations at War with her heretofore, when she was in a situation, very similar to the present Case of G. Britain. But her Pride came down and so must that of G. Britain. I am afraid Mr. Laurens is not coming. I see he was chosen, by Carolina, a Delegate to Congress, in January, I think.4 Your Friend Gates will have the Honour of, ruining Clinton yet.
LbC (Adams Papers); notation: “Mr <Genet.> Jenings.” In the Letterbook JA's letter of 29 April to Edmé Jacques Genet was the second letter after that to Jenings.
1. For the pamphlet, True Sentiments of America, London, 1768, see JA to Jenings, 20 April, and note 2; and Jenings' reply of 24 April, and note 2 (both above). For the letters of 27 Sept. and 17 Oct. 1768 from Rev. Andrew Eliot, then minister of Boston's New North Church, to Thomas Hollis identifying JA as the author of the “Dissertation,” see MHS, Colls., 4th ser., 4 [1858]:426–427, 434. Hollis' reply in which he recommended JA's appointment as Massachusetts' agent in England was dated 10 May 1769 (MHi:Thomas Hollis Papers).
2. The preceding two sentences were interlined. Count Nikita Ivanovitch Panin was Catherine II's chancellor, responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs as president of the college of foreign affairs (De Madariaga, Armed Neutrality of 1780, p. 17–18).
3. In this and the following five sentences JA is paraphrasing a passage from Viscount Bolingbroke's Letters on the Study and Use of History that he quotes exactly in his letter of 29 April to Edmé Jacques Genet (above).
4. Before assuming his post as commissioner to negotiate a commercial treaty and loan with the Netherlands, Henry Laurens returned to South Carolina to seek reelection to Congress as an endorsement of his mission. He was reelected on 1 Feb. (Wallace, Life of Henry Laurens, p. 353; Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates, 14: xxiii).
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, 2018.