Papers of John Adams, volume 15

From Charles Storer

From C. W. F. Dumas

312 To Antoine Marie Cerisier, 16 October 1783 Adams, John Cerisier, Antoine Marie
To Antoine Marie Cerisier
My dear Sir Auteuil near Paris Octr: 16. 1783.1

Monsieur the Abby de Mably has prepared for the Press, some Observations upon our American Constitutions, which he has done me the Honour of addressing to me: so that I am zealous to have the Work appear to Advantage in the Impression, both as it is like to be to me, in Particular a distinguished Mark of Respect with Posterity; and what is of much more Importance, it is, probably full of Sentiments and Principles, Advice and Suggestions, which will be usefull entertaining and instructive, to all the virtuous citizens of the united States of America for Ages to come.2

Your own Sentiments in Morals and Politicks, resemble so nearly those of the Abby de Mably; you have so just a veneration for this Sage and amiable Writer; and you have the Happiness, & Prosperity of America so much at heart, that I perswade myself you will think yourself very fortunate to have the Care of the Impression of this Work committed to you An excellent Friend of us all, the Abby de Chalut, has undertaken to copy it, in a very legible Hand, and it will be sent to you Sheet by Sheet. you will correct the Press and send the sheet, printed to the Abby at Paris who will correct it again if there should be Occasion.— Mr: Holthrop will no doubt undertake to Print it upon the best paper and in the fairest Type, or if you prefer another Printer it is at your Choice: only take Care that it be one who will not trifle with the Work.3

The Abby de Mably demands an hundred and twenty Copies for himself, to give away among his friends. This has been his Rule in other Works.—

I doubt not, the Printer may Sell three Thousand Copies if he takes his Measures wisely, to dispose of as many as he can before it shall be reprinted by others.

Secrecy, I think ought to be observed as much as possible untill the Work is well advanced, indeed untill the Impression is nearly finished—4 The Printer will have it in his Power to have it translated into Dutch, Sheet by Sheet and published in that Language at the same time that it is in French; which will be to him a great Advantage and Profit.5

With great esteem, I have the Honour to / be, Sir your most obedient, and most / humble Servant.

John Adams.6

RC in JQA’s hand (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mr: A. M. Cerisier sur le Cingel, vis a vis / la tour de la Monnaie, à Amsterdam.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 107.


The presence in the Adams Papers of what appears to be a recipient’s copy of a letter like this one to Cerisier often indicates that the letter was not sent. But see JA’s 20 Nov. letter to Cerisier, below, inquiring as to Cerisier’s progress with regard to the matters raised in this letter.

With the exception of a 17 Oct. letter to Henry Grand (to the consortium, 14 Oct., note 1, above), this is JA’s last extant letter written at Paris in 1783. Indeed, they are his last extant letters of any kind until the two written to AA on 8 Nov. ( AFC , 5:264–266) and that of 9 Nov. to the president of Congress, below. This is owing to the fact that at nine o’clock on the morning of 20 Oct., JA, JQA, and a servant set out from Auteuil for London. They arrived there on 26 Oct. and initially lodged at “Osborn’s Adelphi Hotel John Street; in the Strand” but on the 29th “took private lodgings; at Mr. Stockdale’s, opposite Burlington House.” The Adamses remained at London until 2 Jan. 1784, when they set out for the Netherlands (JA, D&A , 3:146, 195; JQA, Diary , 1:196–197, 207). JA’s Diary entries for his journey and sojourn in England begin on 20 Oct. but extend only through the 27th. In 1812, however, he prepared a detailed account of his visit to England as well as his arduous winter journey to the Netherlands, which appeared in the Boston Patriot of 9, 13, and 16 May 1812. To fill a large gap in JA’s Diary, the editors included the account verbatim, following the entry for 27 Oct. (JA, D&A , 3:146–154). JQA’s Diary chronicles the period from 20 Oct. through 6 Dec., and there the younger Adams provides considerably more detail than did his father about the journey to England and subsequent stay in London (JQA, Diary , 1:195–207). However, the most detailed contemporary account by either of the Adamses appears in a remarkable series of fifteen letters written by JQA to his friend Peter Jay Munro between 26 Oct. 1783 and 13 Jan. 1784 that together constitute a virtual journal of JQA’s daily activities (NNMus). For JA’s brief summary of his activities from his departure from Paris through 9 Nov., see his letter of that date to the president of Congress, below.

JA’s arrival did not go unnoticed in the London press. The London Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser reported on 29 Oct. that on “Monday [27 Oct.] John Adams, Esq. arrived at Mr. Stockdale’s, in Piccadilly, from the Hague.” On the 30th it announced that on “Tuesday Mr. Adams, lately arrived from America, had a long conference with Mr. Fox, at his house in St. James’s Place.” On the 31st it declared that “the arrival of Messrs. Adams and Jay in England is a most fortunate incident for the news collectors; as it has afforded ample scope for their inventive genius. Whether stockjobbing purposes, Ministerial or Opposition purposes be the objects in view, certain it is, that Mr. Jay has not supped, as reported, with Mr. Secretary Fox; nor has Mr. Adams held any conference with that worthy gentleman. The fact is, that both of the Americans are here in private characters only; and as a consequence, they have not seen, nor is it probable that they wish to see a single member of the present Administration. Mr. Adams, who is first in the commission for treating with this country, has been dangerously ill in France, and he is only come to England with a view to visit Bath for the restoration of his health.” There it also noted that “Mr. Adams is accompanied to England by his son. He came last from Paris, and not from the Hague, as has been stated in the papers by mistake.”


This letter, written at the behest of the Abbé de Mably (to Cerisier, 20 Nov., below), seeks the publication of Mably’s Observations sur le gouvernement et les loix des États-Unis d’Amérique. On 26 Sept., presumably on Mably’s behalf, JA wrote to the Comte de Vergennes to request his intervention with the keeper of the seals so that the pamphlet could be printed in France. JA indicated that Mably’s work would be sent to America and that he would send Vergennes a copy (Arch. Aff. Etr., Paris, Corr. Pol., E.-U., 25:327). In his reply of 4 Oct., Vergennes indicated that JA needed to address his request to the inspector of publications, a Mr. De Neville (same, 26:11, No. 5). Upon receiving Vergennes’ response, JA apparently sent it on to Mably ([post 4 Oct.], Dft, Adams Papers, filmed at [1783–1784]), but subsequently the two men decided not to pursue the matter any further in France and turned to 314Cerisier and publication of the pamphlet in the Netherlands as a less troublesome alternative. Principally through JA’s efforts they were successful in their endeavor and in 1784, at Amsterdam, appeared the French text with the title noted above, along with an English translation, Observations on the Government and Laws of the United States of America, Translated from the French with a Preface by the Translator. That version contained notes, presumably by the translator. Later in 1784 a London edition appeared, Remarks Concerning the Government and the Laws of the United States of America, which retained the notes but omitted the preface.

The most obvious reason for JA’s efforts to have Mably’s work published was its format. The pamphlet took the form of four letters to JA, dated 24 July, 6, 13, and 20 Aug., at Passy. In the English editions, the first letter began, “I have just read, with all the attention which it was in my power to pay the subject, the different constitutions formed by the United States of America for their respective uses; and, in obedience to your desire, I do myself the honor to submit to your perusal my sentiments concerning them; but not without expressing my hopes that you will obligingly point out to me the light in which I ought to view them” (Mably, Remarks, p. 1–2). Mably’s format and his decision to focus on American constitutions and government may reflect JA’s effort in Jan. 1783 to discourage him from undertaking a more ambitious work chronicling the history of the American Revolution (vol. 14:165–167, 172–181).

But JA’s desire to have the pamphlet published likely owed less to his agreement with the Observations than to a personal liking for Mably and to the Frenchman’s status as an influential author who was placing information about American efforts to create stable republican governments before an otherwise ill-informed European public. For as JA later noted in his Defence of the Constitutions— referring to Mably and other European authors—“there are in the productions of all of them, among many excellent things, some sentiments, however, that it will be difficult to reconcile to reason, experience, the constitution of human nature, or to the uniform testimony of the greatest statesmen, legislators, and philosophers of all enlightened nations, ancient and modern” (JA, Defence of the Const. , 1:3).


JA likely thought of Willem Holtrop, an Amsterdam bookseller, because he had previously published Geschiedenis van het geschil tusschen Groot-Britannie en Amerika, zedert deszelfs oorsprong, in den jaare 1754, tot op den oegenwoordigen tijd, Door . . . John Adams, Amsterdam, 1782, a Dutch translation of an abridged version of JA’s Novanglus letters (vol. 13:458), but see note 5.


In the Letterbook, this paragraph was written below the closing and marked for insertion at this point.


J. F. Rosart & Co. published French and English editions of Mably’s work in 1784, for which see the firm’s letter of 21 March, Adams Papers. But Holtrop did not publish the Dutch translation, Brieven over de regeeringsvorm en wetten der Vereenigde Staaten van Noord-America aan zyne excellentie John Adams, at Amsterdam until 1785.


In JA’s hand.