Adams Family Correspondence, volume 4

James Lovell to Abigail Adams

Joseph Gardoqui & Sons to Abigail Adams

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 28 April 1781 JA AA John Adams to Abigail Adams, 28 April 1781 Adams, John Adams, Abigail
John Adams to Abigail Adams
My dearest Friend Amsterdam April 28. 1781

Congress have been pleased to give me so much other Business to do, that I have not Time to write either to Congress, or to private Friends so often as I used.

Having lately received Letters of Credence to their High mightinesses the states General of the United Provinces of the Low Countries and to his most serene Highness the Prince of Orange, I am now fixed to this Country, untill I shall be called away to Conferences for Peace, or recalled by Congress. I have accordingly taken a House in Amsterdam upon the Keysers Gragt i.e. the Emperors Canal, near the Spiegel Straat i.e. the Looking Glass street, so you may Address your Letters to me, there.1

I have hitherto preserved my Health in this damp Air better than I expected. So have all of us, but Charles who has had a tertian fever but is better.

I hope this People will be in earnest, after the twentyeth of June. Americans are more Attended to and our Cause gains ground here every day. But all Motions are slow here, and much Patience is necessary. I shall now however be more settled in my own Mind having something like a Home. Alass how little like my real home.—What would I give for my dear House keeper. But this is too great a felicity for me.

I dont expect to stay long in Europe.—I really hope I shall not—Things dont go to my Mind.

Pray get the Dissertation on the Cannon and feudal Law printed in a Pamphlet or in the Newspapers and send them to me by every 109Opportunity untill you know that one has arrived. I have particular Reasons for this.2—My Nabby and Tommy, how do they do.3

RC (Adams Papers).


On his return from Leyden to Amsterdam late in February JA gave up his lodgings at Madame Schorn's in “the Agterburgwal by de Hoogstraat” and set up interim headquarters at the Arms of Amsterdam. It appears that there had been some “whisperings” and “remarks” among the Dutch and others about the obscurity or even impropriety of such lodgings for the American minister, whether or not his status was yet officially recognized. See JA, Diary and Autobiography , 2:450–451; Corr. in the Boston Patriot , p. 345–346. Though JA spent much of his time in March and April at Leyden and The Hague, the question of a suitable residence was very much on his mind, and in letters to the newly formed American firm of Sigourney, Ingraham & Bromfield in Amsterdam, he instructed them to find, rent, furnish, and staff a house “fit for the Hotel des Etats Unis de L'Amerique” (9, 11, 13 April, LbC's in Adams Papers; JA, Corr. in the Boston Patriot , p. 426–428). On 27 April he announced to Edmund Jenings: “I have taken an House on Keysers Gragt near the Spiegel Straat, and am about becoming a Citizen of Amsterdam—unless their High mightinesses should pronounce me a Rebel, and expel me their Dominions, which I believe they will not be inclined to do” (Adams Papers). For two views of what is now No. 529 Keizersgracht, one from an engraving in Het Grachtenboek (“The Canal Book”), 1771, and the other from a photograph in 1960, see JA, Diary and Autobiography , vol. 2, facing p. 322.


JA's “Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law” (as it came to be called, though he had given it no name) was his first major political tract. It argued on historical and philosophical grounds for the necessity of resistance to tyranny, and was published in installments in the Boston Gazette in the year of the Stamp Act, reprinted in the London Chronicle before the end of that year, with the title (furnished by Thomas Hollis) it has generally been given since, and reprinted, still without the author's name, by Hollis in the collection he entitled The True Sentiments of America, London, 1768. There were later editions issued in London, 1782, and Philadelphia, 1783, but their bibliographical history is complex, and whether JA directly or indirectly promoted either of them is not clear. See JA, Diary and Autobiography , 1:255–258; 3:284; and, for the most accessible text, JA's Works , 3:445–464.


A background note on how the Dutch drifted into war with England in the winter of 1780–1781 appears in JA's Diary and Autobiography , 2:452–453. Late in February, at the very crisis of Anglo-Dutch relations, JA received his powers and instructions to negotiate a treaty of amity and commerce with the Dutch Republic. See above, JA to AA, 11 March, note 2. Despite the deeply divided state of Dutch opinion over whether to fight or humbly submit to England, JA determined to do what he could to obtain recognition of American sovereignty by the Republic, for he now realized that this was an absolute prerequisite to not only a treaty but a loan, all the efforts of Dutch friends to America having so far failed to raise more than insignificant sums.

He chose a characteristic way to proceed, namely through the press. From the end of March through mid-April he spent such time as he could at his sons' lodgings in Leyden composing a paper appealing to the ancient spirit of patriotism among the Dutch people, drawing parallels between their country's successful struggle for independence and America's current struggle, and urging the immediate and future advantages to them of closer commercial relations with the American states. A fellow lodger in the house in the Langebrug at this time was Benjamin Waterhouse, who many years later drew from memory a vivid account of this episode which was to have such momentous results for the United States:


“I never shall forget the day and the circumstances of Mr. Adams's going from Leyden to the Hague with his Memorial to their High Mightinesses the States General dated, whether accidentally or by design April 19! I know not. He came down into the front room where we all were—his secretary, two sons, and myself—his coach and four at the door, and he full-dressed even to his sword, when with energetic countenance and protuberant eyes, and holding his memorial in his hand, said to us, in a solemn tone—Young men! remember this day—for this day I go to the Hague to put seed in the ground that may produce Good or Evil—GOD knows which,—and putting the paper into his side-pocket, he steped into his coach, and drove off alone—leaving us his juniors solemnized in thought and anxious, for he had hardly spoken to us for several days before—such was his inexpressible solicitude.” (Waterhouse to Levi Woodbury, 20 Feb. 1835, DLC:Woodbury Papers, vol. 16; photoduplicate in Adams Papers Editorial Files.)

This, one of the principal state papers of JA's entire career, appeared as a pamphlet issued at Leyden under the title A Memorial to Their High Mightinesses the States General of the United Provinces of the Low Countries, signed and dated by no means accidentally 19 April 1781. Its formal presentation to Dutch officials early in May and its subsequent circulation, in Dutch and French as well as in English, had, however, to await translation and printing, undertaken by JA's friends Dumas and Luzac. Various drafts and copies survive in the Adams Papers and in PCC, No. 84; readily accessible printed texts are in JA, Works , 7:396–404, and in Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 4:370–376. The story of its presentation and reception has been summarized in JA's Diary and Autobiography , 2:457; and see also, for the tussle between JA and the Duc de La Vauguyon, the French minister at The Hague, over JA's mode of proceeding, JA's Corr. in the Boston Patriot , p. 431–434. The fruits of the Memorial—Dutch recognition and the first Dutch loan—belong to the following year, 1782.