Papers of John Adams, volume 17

To Joseph Willard, 22 April 1785 Adams, John Willard, Joseph
To Joseph Willard
Sir Auteuil near Paris April 22, 1785

I have received the Letter you did me the Honour to write me the fourteenth of December, with the Resolution of the President and Fellows of the University of the Sixteenth of November, which, as well as the Concurrence of the Board of Overseers, does me great Honour and demands my most grateful Acknowledgements.1

My Son, John Quincy Adams, for whom this favour is intended will have the Honour to deliver you this Letter, and I beg leave to recommend him to the kind Protection of the Corporation, and the candid Friendship of his fellow Students.2 He has wandered with me in Europe for Seven Years, and has been for the last Eighteen 34Months my only Secretary, So that it may be easily conceived, I Shall part with him with Reluctance. But the Necessity of breeding him to some Profession, in which he may provide for himself, and become a usefull Member of Society, and a Conviction that no American can be any where So well educated as in his own Country, have induced me to relinquish the Pleasure of his Company and the Advantage of his Assistance. I think I do not flatter him nor myself, when I Say, that he is a Studious youth, and not addicted to any Vice: of his Advancement in Literature and the Sciences you will form an Estimate from his Examination, which would probably be more for his Ease and Safety if it could be in French, with which Language he is more familiar than his own. But as this is not to be expected, an allowance will naturally be made [on] Account of his long absence from home.

It is somewhat delicate to give Advice upon the Point of your Travels to Europe.3 There is no doubt but considerable Advantages might be obtained, but considering the Time, the Expence and the Risque I think if I had the Honour to be a Member of the Corporation or the Overseers, I Should estimate these as probably So much more than the others, as to advise my Countrymen as they are so happy as to have a good President, to preserve him carefully at the Head of his University.

Our Commercial Negotiations, Sir, which your public Spirit naturally enquires after, proceed so slowly and to so little Effect, that I wish myself on your side the Water, and whether any other Plan would Suceed better is too uncertain to excite any Sanguine Hopes. All the Ports of Europe, however are open to our Vessells, those with whom We have no Treaties as well as the others.

I have the Honour to be, with the Utmost / Esteem and Respect, Sir Your / most obedient and most / humble Servant

John Adams

RC (MH-Ar:Corporation Papers, UA I, 5.120); addressed: “The Reverend / Joseph Willard. / President of Harvard College / Cambridge / Massachusetts.”; internal address: “The Reverend Joseph Willard / President of Harvard University”; docketed: “John Adams.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 107. Text lost where the seal was removed has been supplied from the LbC.


For Willard’s 14 Dec. 1784 letter, see vol. 16:465–466. Enclosed with it was the vote of Harvard’s board of overseers to admit JQA to the college at an advanced standing.


This is JA’s initial mention to an American correspondent of JQA’s imminent return to America and the first of many letters that the younger Adams was expected to deliver upon his arrival. JQA left Auteuil for Lorient on 12 May 1785, sailed on the packet Courier de l’Amérique on the 21st, and reached New York on 18 July (JQA, Diary , 1:266, 270, 274, 35 289). He delivered this letter to Willard on 31 Aug. ( AFC , 6:318).


In a letter of 8 June 1784, not found, Willard indicated his intention to visit Europe on behalf of Harvard. In his reply of 8 Sept. 1784, JA discouraged Willard’s plans, particularly if his intention was to seek funds for the college (vol. 16:315–316). Ultimately Willard decided not to make the journey.