Papers of John Adams, volume 15

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.

From C. W. F. Dumas, 16 October 1783 Dumas, C. W. F. Adams, John
From C. W. F. Dumas
Monsieur Lahaie 16e. Oct. 1783

Ma derniere du 14e. étoit partie, lorsque celle de Mr. votre fils à mon Epouse nous apprit que vous avez été fort malade, &, heureusement, mieux à présent.1 Nous prenons la part que nous devons & à l’indisposition passée, & à votre convalescence, dont nous vous félicitons de grand coeur.

Mrs. Matthieu Van Arp & Co: m’écrivent ce qui suit d’Amst. 15e Oct.

“Le Vaisseau Américain l’Elisabeth, Patron Abraham Brun, 315destiné d’ici aux Indes oc[ciden]tales, a été acheté par le dit Patron ici, est [encore?] sans Papiers, & doit aller trafiquer en differen[tes] Places des Indes occidentales. Je vous prie de m’envoyer pour ce Vaisseau un Passeport, signé par Mr. Adams, ou par vous com̃e son Chargé d’Affaires.— Ce Vaisseau appartient au dit Capitaine seul en propriété; & il vous demande instamment, de faire toute la diligence possible pour lui envoyer le Passeport, & aussi réponse à celle-ci par la poste de demain, avec votre promptitude connue. Au cas que vous n’ayez pas des Passeport de Mr. Adams, je vous prie de me le marquer d’abord, & de faire ensorte que je puisse, sur votre parole, assurer, que vous avez écrit sur ce sujet par premiere poste à Mr. Adams: car ce Vaisseau est très pressé de partir incessam̃ent.”2

Je marque donc ce soir à Mrs. M. Van Arp & Co: que je vous écris en conséquence.

Agréez, Monsieur, les respects de ma famille & les miens, & permettez que j’embrasse ici Mr. votre fils. / De Votre Excellence / Le très humble & très-obéissant / serviteur,

C.w.f. Dumas

P.S. La Garnison d’Utrecht en est sortie, selon les desirs de la Bourgeoisie, avant l’arrivée des troupes destinées à la remplacer; & il a fallu pour cela changer les Patentes; & moi en voyant tout ce que je vois, je m’écrie en stile oriental O Allah! qu’est-ce qu’un Prince sans Peuple? Et que n’est pas un Peuple sans Prince, dès qu’il le veut bien? 3

Sir The Hague, 16 October 1783

My last of the 14th had already left when that from your son to my wife apprised us that you had been seriously ill and, happily, are now better.1 We are as solicitous for your past indisposition as for your convalescence, which we congratulate you on wholeheartedly.

Messrs. Matheus van Arp & Company wrote the following to me from Amsterdam on 15 October:

“The American vessel Elisabeth, owner Abraham Brun, whose destination is the West Indies, was bought here by the abovementioned owner, is still without papers, and is to trade in various places in the West Indies. I ask you to send me a passport for this vessel, signed by Mr. Adams or by you as his chargé d’affaires. This vessel belongs to the aforementioned captain as the sole proprietor, and he asks you to immediately exercise all possible diligence to send him the passport and to respond to this by tomorrow’s post with your well-known promptness. In case you do not have 316passports from Mr. Adams, I ask you to make a note of that for me first and in such a way that I can make assurances that by your word of honor, you have written to Mr. Adams about this by the first post, since this vessel is in a great hurry to leave immediately.”2

I am sending a note this evening to Messrs. Matheus Van Arp & Company to let them know that I am writing you about this.

Please accept, sir, the respects of my family and of yours truly, and permit me to send warm greetings here to your son. Your excellency’s very humble and very obedient servant

C.w.f. Dumas

P.S. The garrison at Utrecht has left, following the wishes of the burgesses, before the arrival of the troops assigned to replace them, and for that reason it was necessary to change the letters patent. And I, seeing all that I see, I express myself in the oriental style: Oh, Allah! What is a prince without a people? And what cannot a people do without a prince, once they desire it? 3

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Paris à S. E. Mr. Adams Min. Pl. des E. U.” Some loss of text where the seal was removed.


Dumas’ letter of the 14th (Adams Papers) enclosed a copy of his 10 Oct. letter to Congress for JA to forward to America. Congress’ dispatch book indicates that the letter, numbered 32, reached Congress on 5 March 1784, but neither it nor five other letters dated 28 Sept. 1783, 24 Oct., 7 and 15 Nov., and 1 Dec., are in the PCC (PCC, No. 185, III, f. 95). JQA’s letter to Marie Dumas has not been found.


There is no indication that JA did anything regarding the letter from Van Arp & Company on behalf of the Elisabeth, and nothing further is known of the vessel.


The events at Utrecht are indicative of the rise of the Free Corps, Patriot military units independent of the stadholder. It was part of the Patriot Revolt and evidence of the growing ascendency of the Patriots over the Orangist forces of William V that would end with the 1787 expulsion of the stadholder and his subsequent restoration when Prussian forces occupied the Netherlands (Schama, Patriots and Liberators , p. 80–88, 103–106, 131–132). For accounts of the events at Utrecht, see the Gazette d’Amsterdam, 3, 10, 14, and 17 October. Dumas’ appeal to Allah touches directly on this conflict between William V and the people (i.e., Patriots).