Adams Family Correspondence, volume 3

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 27 November 1778 JA AA John Adams to Abigail Adams, 27 November 1778 Adams, John Adams, Abigail
John Adams to Abigail Adams
My dearest Friend Passy Novr. 27. 1778

Mr. Brown1 is here, and I cannot miss the Opportunity by him, to write you a Line.

I know not how often you receive Letters from me, so many are taken, or sunk: but I write as often as I can.

I have received some Letters from you, which will occasion your Name to be classed with Mrs. McCaulay and Madame Dacier2 for ought I know. Johnny is very well. Stevens had a fall Yesterday which hurt him a little: but not very badly. He is in a good Way this Morning. The Things inclosed which were a present to me you will do as you please with.

Europe is the dullest Place in the World. No News but the Lyes, which the Emmissaries of England are making and spreading, in every Part. We get no News from Congress or any Part of America.

By some Hints in some Letters which I have heard of I expect that the first Vessells will bring us News of some new Regulations of Congress, concerning foreign Affairs.—It is said that Congress have determined to have but one Commissioner at this Court. If this is true, as I suppose it is as it comes from Mr. Deane, I am uncertain 123what is to be done with me. It is said that I am to be sent to some other Court,3 and that the Dr. is to be here alone. If this should be the Case, I shall be puzzled what to do.

The Motives of Congress are very good to save Expences, but this Motive will not have its Effect, if I am to be maintained here, in Idleness, or sent upon my Travells to other Countries, where I shall not be received, which would be the most painfull situation imaginable to me. In this Case I should be at a Loss, whether to return home immediately or wait untill I could write to Congress and obtain Leave.—Some of my friends here are of opinion that I ought not to return without Leave. I would not take any step that should give any just Cause of offence, to Congress or the People. But I cannot eat Pensions and Sinecures, they would stick in my Throat.4

I wish some honest Vessell would arrive and remove my Doubts.

RC and LbC (Adams Papers). Enclosures not found or identified.


Not identified.


Anne (Tanneguy Lefèvre) Dacier (1654–1720), the celebrated French classical scholar, translator, and woman of letters (Hoefer, Nouv. biog. générale ).


LbC adds: “that of Vienna is mentioned”; see the following note.


“Congress yesterday chose you to be their Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of France, and You will very soon receive their Letters, and Credentials. I am very happy on the Occasion, and the more so on Account of the Unanimity with which I learn it was carried; what other arrangements will take place I know not, nor do I much Interest myself on the Subject.” (Silas Deane to Benjamin Franklin, Phila., 15 Sept. 1778, PPAmP.)

For the election on 14 Sept. of Franklin as sole minister to France, which dissolved the Franklin-Lee-Adams commission, see JCC , 12:908. The vote is not recorded. A committee of five was at the same time appointed to prepare Franklin's letter of credence and instructions. The instructions as drafted led to debate, were not adopted until 26 Oct., were not sent until Lafayette sailed from Boston for France in mid-January, and were not received in Paris until almost mid-February (same, 12:1035–1038, 1039–1042, 1064; Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 2:807–809; JA, Diary and Autobiography , 2:353–354).

It was JA in the first place who had suggested, within a few weeks of his arrival in France, that trying to do business through three diplomatic representatives in Paris was a serious mistake when “one alone would be obliged to no greater Expence, and would be quite sufficient for all the Business of a Public Minister” (to Samuel Adams, 21 May 1778, JA, Diary and Autobiography , 4:107). But in appointing Franklin, Congress neither recalled JA nor gave him notice of what further was expected of him beyond saying that something more on this score would follow, and that “In the mean Time we hope you will exercise your whole extensive Abilities on the Subject of our Finances” (R. H. Lee and James Lovell, for the Committee for Foreign Affairs, to JA, 28 Oct. 1778, Adams Papers; Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 2:814–815).

On the very day he wrote the present letter to AA, JA wrote Lovell imploring him to hasten Congress' determination of what was to be done with him:

If you appoint me for any other diplomatic post, especially that which is mentioned to me, Vienna, it will be more disagreable to me than to be recalled. Because Vienna is the Court of all Europe, as I conceive at present, the least likely to receive your Agent. I should 124therefore be reduced to the Necessity of residing at Paris in Idleness, or of travelling to Germany and living there in greater Idleness still, in either Case at a great and useless Expence.

“In Time of Peace, nothing would give me greater Pleasure, than travelling: but at present my Heart is too much affected, with the Miseries of this War, for me to take Pleasure in a mere Gratification of Curiosity, or even in a Pursuit of Taste in Arts, or Knowledge in the Sciences.

“To return home immediately, some Persons here say would give Offence, and be wrong. To wait to write for Leave, would be loosing Time, and putting you to some Expence.—However, I will determine nothing untill I know what is done.” (LbC, Adams Papers.)

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 2 December 1778 JA AA John Adams to Abigail Adams, 2 December 1778 Adams, John Adams, Abigail
John Adams to Abigail Adams
My dearest Friend Passy Decr. 2 1778

Last Night an Express from M. De Sartine, whose Politeness upon this Occasion, was very obliging, brought me your Letters of September 29 and Octr. 10.1

The Joy which the Receipt of these Packets afforded me, was damped, by the disagreable Articles of Intelligence, but still more so by the Symptoms of Grief and Complaint, which appeared in the Letters. For Heavens Sake, my dear dont indulge a Thought that it is possible for me to neglect, or forget all that is dear to me in this World.

It is impossible for me to write as I did in America. What should I write? It is not safe to write any Thing, that one is not willing should go into all the Newspapers of the World.—I know not by whom to write. I never know what Conveyance is safe.—Vessells may have arrived without Letters from me. I am 500 Miles from Bourdeaux and not much less distant from Nantes. I know nothing of many Vessells that go from the Seaports, and if I knew of all there are some that I should not trust. Notwithstanding this, I have written to you, not much less I believe than fifty Letters.2 I am astonished that you have received no more. But almost every Vessell has been taken. Two Vessells by which I sent Goods to you for the Use of your Family and one by which I sent Mr. Cranches Things, We know have been taken, in every one of these I sent large Packetts of Letters and Papers for Congress, for you and for many Friends. God knows I dont spend my Time, in Idleness, nor in gazing at Curiosities. I never wrote more Letters, however empty they may have been. But by what I hear they have been all or nearly all taken or sunk.

My Friends complain that they have not received Letters from me. I may as well complain. I have received scarcely any Letters, from America. I have written three, where I have received one. From my Friend Mr. A. I have received only one short Card—from Mr. Gerry 125not a syllable—from Mr. Lovell only two or three very short.—What shall I say? I doubt not they have written oftener—but Letters miscarry. Drs. Cooper and Gordon write to Dr. F. not to me.

My Friend Warren has been good as usual, I have received several fine long Letters full of Sound sense, Usefull Intelligence and Reflexions as virtuous as wise, as usual, from him. I have answered them and written more, but whether they arrive I know not.

I approve very much of your draught upon me, in favour of your Cousin. The Moment it arrives it shall be paid. Draw for more as you may have Occasion. But make them give you Silver for your Bills.

Your Son is the Joy of my Heart, without abating in the least degree of my Affection for the young Rogue that did not seem as if he had a Father, or his Brother or sister. Tell Nabby, her Pappa likes her the better for what she tells her Brother, vizt. that she dont talk much, because I know she thinks and feels the more.—I hope the Boston has arrived—she carried many Things for you.

Last Night a Friend from England brought me the Kings Speech. Their Delirium continues, and they go on with the War, but the Speech betrays a manifest Expectation that Spain will join against them, and the Debates betray a dread of Holland. They have Reason for both.

They have not, and cannot get an Ally. They cannot send any considerable Reinforcement to America.

Your Reflections upon the Rewards of the Virtuous Friends of the public are very just. But if Virtue was to be rewarded with Wealth it would not be Virtue. If Virtue was to be rewarded with Fame, it would not be Virtue of the sublimest Kind. Who would not rather be Fabricius than Caesar? Who would not rather be Aristides, than even William the 3d? Who? Nobody would be of this Mind but Aristides and Fabricius.

These Characters are very rare, but the more prescious. Nature has made more Insects than Birds, more Butterflys than Eagles, more Foxes than Lyons, more Pebbles than Diamonds. The most excellent of her Productions, both in the physical, intellectual and moral World, are the most rare.—I would not be a Butterfly because Children run after them, nor because the dull Phylosophers boast of them in their Cabinets.

Have you ever read J. J. Rousseau. If not, read him—your Cousin Smith has him. What a Difference between him and Chesterfield, and even Voltaire? But he was too virtuous for the Age, and for Europe—I wish I could not say for another Country.3


I am much dissappointed in not receiving Dispatches from Congress by this Opportunity. We expect Alterations in the Plan here. What will be done with me I cant conjecture. If I am recalled, I will endeavour to get a safe Opportunity, home. I will watch the proper Season and look out for a good Vessell. And if I can get safe to Penns Hill, shall never repent of my Voyage to Europe, because I have gained an Insight into several Things that I never should have understood without it.

I pray you to remember me with every Sentiment of Tenderness, Duty and Affection, to your Father and my Mother, Your and my Brothers and Sisters, Uncles, Aunts, Cousins and every Body else that you know deserves it. What shall I say too and of4 my dear young Friends by your Fireside, may God almighty bless them, and make them wise.

RC (Adams Papers).


That of 29 Sept. is printed above (from a draft with an editorially assigned date); that of 10 Oct. has not been found.


The editors' count is only eighteen, surviving or alluded to, including the present letter.


JA's reading of Rousseau had begun as early as 1765 when he was a member of the “Sodality” of young Boston lawyers who met under the eye of Jeremy Gridley. The work he then read was the Contract sociale (1762), of which he eventually owned three copies, together with the Oeuvres, 9 vols., Neuchâtel, 1764–1767, and several other works separately printed; see his Diary and Autobiography , 1:255; Catalogue of JA's Library . Zoltán Haraszti has printed JA's marginalia in his copies of Rousseau's works ( JA and the Prophets of Progress, ch. 5); and a recent article by Robert R. Palmer discusses Rousseau's influence on JA's political ideas (“Jean-Jacques Rousseau et les Etats-unis,” Annales historiques de la Révolution française, 34:529–540 [Oct.-Dec. 1962]).


Thus in MS.