Adams Family Correspondence, volume 7

Abigail Adams to John Quincy Adams, 20 March 1786 AA JQA


Abigail Adams to John Quincy Adams, 20 March 1786 Adams, Abigail Adams, John Quincy
Abigail Adams to John Quincy Adams
My Dear Son March 20th 1786 London

Altho I have written you a very long Letter by way of Newyork,1 yet should one vessel go to Boston without a few lines from me, I flatter myself you would be dissapointed.

Captain Cushing and Lyde both dined here yesterday. Each of them expect to sail in all this month, but Cushing in the course of the present week. By him I send you a set of shirts, as we had your measure I supposed it was as well to send them made up, as to 97trouble our Friends to do it for you. I have also sent a peice of linen which mr Jenks has engaged to pack up with some things which he is sending to mr Tufts, and which is to be deliverd to your Aunt Cranch for the use of your Brothers. By mrs Hay I have sent several little bundles to my Friends (She is gone in a British bottom by way of Newyork,) amongst which is silk for a waistcoat for you and your Brother Charles, which you are to have made for commencment day. The Books you requested are also sent by Captain Cushing. If there is any thing more you wish, write me word and I will procure it for you, because I know you will circumcribe your wish to my ability. If that was more ample, many should I rejoice to benefit by it. But if we are not the favorites of fortune, let us be; what is of much more importance to us, the Votaries of Virtue, and consider that being denied the former we are secured from many temptations that always attend upon that fickle Dame. The Prayer of Augur, was that of a wise Man, who was aware that Poverty might expose him to acts of injustice towards his fellow creatures, and riches, to ingratitude towards his Maker. He therefore desird that middle state which would secure him from the temptation of the first, and Gaurd him from the impiety of the latter.2 And in that middle State, I believe the largest portion of Humane happiness is to be found. Riches always create Luxery, and Luxery always leads to Idleness Indolence and effeminacy which stiffels every noble purpose, and withers the blossom of genious which fall useless to the ground, unproductive of fruit.

Your Sister has written you so many pages that I suppose she has not left me any thing material to write to you but as I am very rarely honourd with a sight of any of them I shall venture, tho I repeat what has already been written, to inform you that mr Jefferson is here from Paris, and that the treaty with portugal will be compleated in a few days.3 Conferences have been held with the Tripoline minister who is here. The subject terms of Treaty &c been all transmitted to Congress,4 and it is for them to decide whether they will purchase a Peace, or whether they will submit to a War which will cost them 3 times as much as a peace, provided they had Ships for the purpose, and after all, will be obliged to make a peace, redeem their prisoners, and pay a still larger tribute than is at present demanded, tho that is very great, or will they take an other whole year to decide upon the subject. This month compleats one, since the appointment of Lamb, who is not yet got to Algiers and when he 98does, get there, by all accounts, he will not find a greater Barbarian than himself. Is this for the Honour of our Country to send such characters as a specimin of our Nation!

Do the united States wish to become the Scorn of Europe and the laughing Stock of Nations, by withholding from Congress those powers which would enable them to act in concert, and give vigor and strength to their proceedings. The states dishearten many able Men from joining in their counsels, whose years and experience teach wisdom, and send their beardless Boys to cavil at words, with all the pedantick and shallow Pierian draughts which intoxicate the Brain, who know perhaps how to place their comas and points, but to the weighty matters of the State are quite incompetent, who know no more of the nature of Goverment, or possess any clearer Ideas of the politicks of nations than the Member of Parliament understood of the Geography of America when he talkd of the Island of Virginia.5

Heaven forgive me if I form too unfavourable an opinion of them, but many of the states do not certainly attend sufficiently to the experience and abilities of those to whom they commit, not only their own most important Interests, but those of generations yet to come. Nor are the states fully represented, seven are not competant to Money Matters. Nor do they chuse to transact any buisness of importance. By this means their affairs lag on from Month to Month, even when their is the greatest call for desicion. To those who love their Country and wish to serve her, this conduct becomes burdensome and puts them out of all Patience. But why should I preach, it will do no good. As to this Country—

“Full soon, full soon their envious minds shall know our Growth their ruin, and our Peace their woe”6

and thus I take my leave of them.

With respect to the conference with the Tripoline, you will mention that circumstance cautiously. Write me as often as possible & believe me ever Your affectionate Mother


PS. inclosed is a triffle.7

RC (Adams Papers); addressed by AA2: “Mr John Quincy Adams Cambridge”; endorsed: “Mamma. March 20th: 1786.”; docketed: “My Mother. 20. March 1786.”; and “Mrs: A. Adams. March 20th: 1786.”


Probably that of 16 Feb., above.


A paraphrase of Proverbs, 30:8–9: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my 99God in vain.”


The treaty was not signed until 25 April. See AA2 to JQA, 25 April, below.


American commissioners to John Jay, 28 March (Jefferson, Papers , 9:357–359).


AA may have been referring to a comment by John Fothergill in his “An English Freeholder's Address to His Countrymen” in which he writes, “The Island of Virginia has been spoken of in a Court of Judicature, by a learned pleader; and similar instances of a general ignorance, a criminal one, of this vast region, pervaded the Country, the Universities, the Courts of Law, the Legislature in too general a manner, and even Administration itself” (John Coakley Lettsom, The Works of John Fothergill, M.D. . . . with Some Account of His Life, London, 1784, p. 478).


Timothy Dwight, The Conquest of Canäan, Book 1, lines 621–622.


Not found.

John Adams to Richard Cranch, 20 March 1786 JA Cranch, Richard


John Adams to Richard Cranch, 20 March 1786 Adams, John Cranch, Richard
John Adams to Richard Cranch
Sir Grosvenor Square March 20. 1786

In a Letter to R. R. Livingston, Secretary of state for foreign Affairs, dated The Hague July 23. 1783, I gave him an account of Conversations with Mr. Van Berckel and others, in which I learn'd that there were in holland a great Number of Refineries of Sugar; “that all their own Sugars were not half enough to employ their Sugar Houses, and that at least one half of the sugars refined in Holland were the Production of the French West India Islands. That these Sugars were purchased chiefly in the Ports of France. That France, not having sugar-Houses, for the refinement of her own sugars, but permitting them to be carried to Amsterdam, and Rotterdam, for Manufacture She might be willing that they should be carried to Boston New York and Philadelphia, from her own Ports in Europe in American Bottoms.”1

That the Sugars which America might purchase, would be paid for in Articles more advantageous to France, than the Pay which is made by the Dutch. That if any Sugars refined in Holland are afterwards sold in France, it would be less against her Interest to have them refined in America, because the Price, would be laid out in french Produce and Manufactures. That there is a difference between us and the Dutch and all other nations, as We Spend in Europe all the Profits We make and more. The others do not. That if French Sugars refined in Holland, are afterwards Sold in other Parts of Europe (as they are in Petersbourg and all round the Baltic in Germany and Italy) We have Sugar Houses as well as the Dutch and it would be as Well that We should sell them, because our sugarhouses ought not to be more obnoxious to french Policy or Commerce, than theirs. That as there is in America a great Consumption of sugar, it is not the Interest of any Nation who have 100sugars to sell, to lessen the Consumption, but on the contrary they should favour it, in order to multiply Purchasers and quicken the Competition by which the Price is raised. None.

That if the worst Should happen, and all the nations who have Sugar Islands, should forbid Sugars to be carried to America, in any other, than their own Bottoms, We might depend upon having enough of this Article at the Freeports, to be brought away in our own ships, if We should lay a Prohibition or a Duty on it, in foreign ships. To do either, the States must be united, which the English think cannot be. Perhaps the French think so too, and in time they may perswade the Dutch to be of the same Opinion. It is to be hoped We shall disappoint them, all in a Point so just and reasonable, When We are contending only for an equal Chance for the Carriage of our own Productions, and the Articles of our own Consumption: When We are willing to allow to all other Nations, even a free Competition with Us, in this Carriage, if We cannot Unite; it will discover an Imperfection and Weakness in our Constitution, which will deserve a serious Consideration.

March 24.

I had begun to write you upon this Subject, but concluding to write particularly to Govr Bowdoin, I beg leave to refer you to him.2

I have given him an History of Mr Boylstons Voyage to France, Sale of a Cargo of Oil and Purchase of sugars.3 It is the first Attempt, or Experiment of the Plan which I mentioned frequently in my Letters to Mr Livingstone 3 years ago4 But every Thing written to Congress is lost. Our Merchants have not discovered so much Industry and Ingenuity as was expected. The Idea of sending to Europe from America for Sugars is odd, but We must come to it and shall find our Account in it.

J. A.

RC (MWA); endorsed: “Lettr from His Exy. John Adams Esqr Mar: 20th. 1786.”


JA to Livingston, 23–25 July 1783, PCC, No. 84, V, f. 17–25.


JA to James Bowdoin, 24 March 1786 (MHi: Winthrop Papers).


With the proceeds from the sale of whale oil in France, Thomas Boylston purchased raw sugar to ship to Boston for refining and exportation to Europe or Russia (JA to James Bowdoin, 24 March, MHi: Winthrop Papers). Boylston's effort was part of a larger plan on his part to establish a regular trade in American whale oil, French goods, and West Indian sugar. For the specifics of his plan see Jefferson, Papers , 9:29–31. His negotiations resulted in the lowering of duties on all whale oil imported by Americans into France on either French or U.S. vessels (same, 9:88).


JA to Livingston, 23–25 July, 28 July, and 30 July 1783 (all PCC, No. 84, V, f. 17–25, 45–48, 57–62).