Papers of John Adams, volume 17

To Nathaniel Peaslee Sargeant, 27 April 1785 Adams, John Sargeant, Nathaniel Peaslee
To Nathaniel Peaslee Sargeant
Dear Sir. Auteuil April 27. 1785.

My Son, who is going home may possibly reside Sometime at his Unkle Shaw’s, or at least will make a Visit there, sometimes, and will in course according to his Duty, make his Court as we say, among the diplomatic Gentry, to you.1

I am very happy to find, that he hates the prospect of a dependent Life, & wishes to be put in a Profession where he may work for his Bread. I know very well the Number of years he must Study and serve in an Office before he can be admitted, or be qualified to Practice, and the Patience, that is requisitte to wait so long, as well as the Expence of supporting him in the meantime. But all this does not discourage me. I have seen enough of the Advantages arising to all sorts of Characters, from an early Study and practice of the Law, to wish my Sons educated in that way. I don’t know how it is, but Men who have studied Mathematics and Law in their youth, and followed the Practice for sometime, are never so much at a Loss as other Men, if you take them out of their Career and put them into any other, ever so remote or foreign. I suppose it must be the habit they acquire of a clear Conception of Things, a Love of Order, and patient thinking untill they get right.

By the latest Letters from Congress, their High Mightinesses (I beg their Pardon) have appointed me to London. I have not received however as yet any Orders. When you and I trotted Circuits together, we did not foresee all these Things to be sure. yet I have 61ever considered myself as at a kind of Bar. The Diplomatic order resembles it very much. if there was more Sociability, and could be such Friendship, and were less Pomp, Ceremony, Play and Expence I should like it as well; at present I do not.

What I shall do in England I know not. But I will do my utmost Endeavour to restore between the two Countries, so much good humour and so fair an Intercourse upon honest Principles, as shall ensure Peace and Prosperity to both, and if I can succeed in this, I will sing my Nunc Dimittis with as much Rapture as the dying Swan.2

With great & sincere Esteem &c

LbC in JQA’s hand (Adams Papers); internal address: “Judge Serjeant.”; APM Reel 107.


Nathaniel Peaslee Sargeant (1731–1791), Harvard 1750, was a justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court and an old friend of JA’s. He resided in Haverhill, where JA’s brother- and sister-in-law the Rev. John Shaw and Elizabeth Smith Shaw also lived, and where JQA would study with his uncle in preparation for Harvard. JQA visited Sargeant and his second wife, Mary Pickering Leavitt Sargeant, on 10 Oct. 1785, one of many visits that he would make to Sargeant during his time in Haverhill (Sibley, Harvard Graduates, 12:574–580; JQA, Diary , 1:338).


That is, he could sing his own elegy, perhaps in the manner of “the mournful Swan” who sings “when death is nigh” from John Dryden’s Dido to Aeneas, lines 1–2.

To Ezra Stiles, 27 April 1785 Adams, John Stiles, Ezra
To Ezra Stiles
Sir Auteuil near Paris April 27. 1785

I received with Pleasure, your Letter by Col. Humphreys whom I have found in all respects the Man of Merit and Taste whom you describe, well qualified for the Office to which Congress has appointed him.1 The last Letters from New York have given me, some Anxiety on his Account. If the Commissions to which he is attached Should be dissolved, and no Provision be made for him, he will be in a Situation like that in which I was left in 1779, when Congress dissolved the Commission, in which Dr Franklin Dr Lee and myself were joined, and without Saying any Thing to me left me to get home as I could.2 I found the Circumstance too painfull to wish my worst Ennemy in it, much less So good a Man and So worthy a Friend as Mr Humphreys. He will not however have an Ennemy to apprehend at Sea as I had.— I Sincerely hope he will not be forgotten or neglected. You probably know, before this time, his Destination.

The Adjustment of our Commerce with Europe will require much time and deliberation, and I fear that the Limitation of the 62Authority of Congress to make Treaties of Commerce, will obstruct us for a time, and at length be found detrimental. it is true that every Enlargement of the Powers, of Congress, should be cautiously considered, but it seems very difficult to govern our Commerce abroad, in any other Way [than] under one direction.

There Appears to be an Apprehension in America that the English have hostile Intentions. Multitudes of them are indeed Sour and peevish, but I believe War is very far from the Thoughts of any Body especially of any Man in Power. and as soon as they have Settled with Ireland, I hope they will agree with Us. if they do not it is they who have the most to fear.

My Son who embarks in the May Packett for New York, will have the Honour to deliver you this Letter,3 as he passes through New Haven, if he Should fall down by Water from N. York to Newport. He is returning home, after an Absence of Seven Years, excepting about 3 months when he was there with me in 1779; and I hope he will make a good Citizen.

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

John Adams

RC (CtY); addressed by JQA: “The Reverend / Ezra Stiles DD. / President of Yale College / New Haven. / Connecticut.”; internal address: “The Reverend Ezra Styles D.D. / President of Yale Colledge.”; endorsed: “Received 19 Augt 1785.”; docketed: “Dr Adams from Paris.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 107. Text lost where the seal was removed has been supplied from the LbC.


Stiles, president of Yale College and an old acquaintance of JA’s, had written on 22 June 1784 (Adams Papers) to introduce David Humphreys, newly appointed secretary to the joint commission, describing him as “an approved Patriot—no doublefaced Janus, no Whigfaced Tory.”


In 1779 JA described his situation to AA more colorfully than he does here, declaring that “the Scaffold is cutt away, and I am left kicking and sprawling in the Mire” ( AFC , 3:181).


JQA delivered this letter on 19 Aug. 1785 when he stopped over at New Haven on his way to Boston (JQA, Diary , 1:307).