Papers of John Adams, volume 10

To the President of Congress, No. 30

To the President of Congress, No. 32

437 To the President of Congress, No. 31, 25 December 1780 JA President of Congress Huntington, Samuel


To the President of Congress, No. 31, 25 December 1780 Adams, John President of Congress Huntington, Samuel
To the President of Congress, No. 31
Sir Amsterdam Decr. 265th. 17801

Affairs are Still in Suspence. This Day being Chrismas and Yesterday a sunday, there was no publick Exchange held, on either. But Business, and especially, Stock Jobbing goes on, without ceasing, being done at the Coffee houses, on Sundays and holy days, when it cannot be held upon Change.

The English Mail which had been interrupted by contrary Winds, for three Posts, arrived on Saturday. The English Gazettes of the 19th, announced, that Sir Joseph York, was recalled and a Dutch War inevitable. Private Letters informed that the Comte de Welderen was about leaving the British Court, and that an Embargo was laid on all Dutch ships in Great Britain: that the Stocks had fallen two Per Cent, and that a War was inevitable.

The Stockjobbers, Englishmen and others, at the Coffee houses had melancholly Countenances and uncommon Anxiety. News was also propagated from the Hague, that sir Joseph York was gone. Others said he had received his orders to go. As there was no Exchange the publick Judgment is not yet made up, whether there will be War or not.

Some Gentlemen of Knowledge and Experience, think all this a Farce concerted at the Hague, between Sir Joseph and his Friends there, and the Ministry in England, in order to Spread an Allarm, intimidate the States into an Answer, which may be accepted with a Colour of Honour &c, or to do something worse i.e. raise a Spirit among the Mobility against the Burgomasters2 of Amsterdam.

I cannot however but be of Opinion that there is more in this, and that the Ministry will carry their Rage to great Extremities. They have gone too far to look back, without emboldening their Ennemies, and confounding their Friends, and exposing themselves to the Contempt and Ridicule of both.

A few Hours, however, will throw more light upon this important Subject. The Plot must unravel immediately.3

I have the Honour to be, most respectfully your Excellencys most obedient and most humble sert

John Adams

RC (PCC, Misc. Papers, Reel No. 1, f. 173–175); docketed: “Letter Decr. 25. 1780 John Adams Read Nov 19 1781;” and on the first page “3.” LbC (Adams Papers).


This is the third letter to the president of Congress to be entered in JA's Letterbook under this date. This letter may have been written on the 26th and predated to the 25th. The 438Letterbook copy has the same altered date and its second sentence begins “Yesterday This Day, being Christmas, and the day before Yesterday Sunday.” If JA did predate the letter it was probably because, just after writing it early on the 26th, he saw “The public Papers of this Morning” mentioned in his letter of 26 Dec. to the president of Congress (No. 32, below). The new information made that in this first letter of the 26th obsolete, but rather than altering or not sending the letter, JA redated it.


In the Letterbook this sentence ended here, but when JA copied this letter in 1809 for publication in the Boston Patriot, he expanded the sentence to read “and Mr. Van Berckel, (or in other words, to expose them to the fate of Barneveldt, the De Witts, and Grotius)” (JA, Corr. in the Boston Patriot , p. 312).


In 1809, when he published this letter in the Boston Patriot, JA ended it at this point, but then stated that

“I cannot pass this letter without an observation upon it. This conduct of the court of London, and the court of Holland, was very skilfully adapted to the constitution and the state of society in the United Provinces. The sovereignty, by the constitution, is a pure aristocracy, residing in the regencies, which consist of about four thousand persons. The common sense, or rather the common feelings, of human nature, had instituted, or rather forced up by violence, an hereditary stadtholder, to protect the common people, or democracy, against the regencies, or aristocracy. But as the stadtholdership was always odious to the aristocracy, there had been frequent disputes between them, which must have terminated in the expulsion of the house of Orange, and the abolition of the stadtholdership, if it had not been for the interposition of the commons, the common people. These having no house of commons, no house of representatives to protect them, or even to petition, had no mode of interposing but by mobs and insurrections. This kind of democracy has always been dreadful, in all ages and countries. Accordingly Barneveldt had been sacrificed at one time, the De Witts at another, and in 1748, more sacrifices would have been made, if the aristocracy had not learned some wisdom by tragical experience, and given way in some degree to the popular enthusiasm. If there is any credit to be given to history or tradition, there has never existed on this globe a character more pure, virtuous, patriotic or wise, than John De Witt, or a greater hero than Cornelius. Yet these two citizens were murdered by their fellow citizens at the Hague, with circumstances of cruelty and brutality too shocking to describe. Yet the most savage of these assassins is universally believed in Holland, to have received a pension for life, from our great deliverer king William.

“The apprehension, at this time, was very general, that Mr. Van Berckel, and one or two of the burgomasters, Hoofdt at least, were to be immolated like the De Witts; and not a few expected that the American ambassador would not escape. I do not accuse, nor will I suspect that the two courts wished to proceed to such bloody extremities, as in the case of De Witt; but that they expected to excite insurrections that should compel the republic to submit to the English policy, there can be little doubt” (same, p. 312–313).