Diary of John Adams, volume 2

1781 January 11. Thursday.<a xmlns="http://www.tei-c.org/ns/1.0" href="#DJA02d554n1" class="note" id="DJA02d554n1a">1</a> JA 1781 January 11. Thursday. Adams, John
1781 January 11. Thursday.1

Returned from the Hague to Leyden. Was present from 12. to one O Clock, when the Praeceptor gave his Lessons in Latin and Greek to my Sons. His Name is Wenshing.2 He is apparently a great Master of the two Languages, besides which he speaks French and Dutch very well, understands little English, but is desirous of learning it. He obliges his Pupills to be industrious, and they have both made a great Progress for the Time. He is pleased with them and they with him. 452John is transcribing a Greek Grammar of his Masters Composition and Charles a Latin one. John is also transcribing a Treatise on Roman Antiquities, of his masters writing. The Master gives his Lessons in French.

This Day Dr. Waterhouse, Mr. Thaxter and my two Sons dined with me at the Cour de Hollande, and after Dinner, went to the Rector Magnificus, to be matriculated into the University. Charles was found to be too young, none under twelve Years of Age being admitted. John was admitted, after making a Declaration that he would do nothing against the Laws of the University, City or Land.

I wish to be informed concerning the Constitution and Regulations of this University. The Number of Professors, their Characters. The Government of the Students both in Morals and Studies. Their Manner of Living—their Priviledges &c. &c.3


This and the following scattered entries in Jan.–Feb. 1781 are from Lb/JA/28 (Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 116), which since it contains copies of a few of JA's letters in 1793–1794 has long been classed as a letterbook though it was begun as a diary. It is a small quarto-sized gathering of leaves stitched into a cover of marbled paper.

It is extremely unfortunate that JA kept no journal during the last months of 1780 when Anglo-Dutch relations came to a crisis that led to war between the two powers, vitally affected JA's status in the Netherlands, and greatly benefited the American cause. However, JA's long and frequent letters to Pres. Huntington and other correspondents constitute a more or less weekly and sometimes daily record of the events leading up to the rupture. Many of these letters were printed first in JA's self-justifying communications to the Boston Patriot, 1809–1812 (partly gathered and reprinted in his Correspondence in the Boston Patriot); another selection from them was made by CFA in JA's Works , vol. 7; and still another (though largely based on earlier printings) by Wharton in his edition of the Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence, vol. 4. Since relatively little use has been made, especially by European historians, of this mass of information and reflection by a lively observer, JA's correspondence will be printed comprehensively in Series III of the present edition.

The explosion in Anglo-Dutch relations was touched off by the capture at sea of Henry Laurens, when he was at last on his way to his post in the Netherlands, by a British ship in Sept. 1780. In a chest which he threw overboard but which was recovered were found papers which the British government considered evidence of unforgivable conduct on the part of Dutch citizens and especially of E. F. van Berckel, pensionary of Amsterdam and sponsor of the proposed treaty agreed upon at Aixla-Chapelle, Sept. 1778, by William Lee representing the United States and Jean de Neufville representing the Regency of Amsterdam. (See JA to Huntington, 27 Oct. 1780, LbC, Adams Papers; JA, Works , 7:320–321. See also Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 2:787–798.) The texts were dispatched at once to the British minister at The Hague, Sir Joseph Yorke, submitted by him to the Stadholder, and a disavowal of the conduct of the Amsterdam Regency demanded. In the Adams Papers, under date of 20 Oct. 1780, are printed texts, in English and Dutch, of the treaty draft and the other offending papers, and also a printed reply (with an English translation in MS) from the Burgomasters of Amsterdam. The latter defended their conduct against the British charges on the grounds, first, that the treaty was contingent on the United States' gain-453ing independence, and second, that a commercial treaty with the United States was in the ultimate interest of the whole Dutch trading community. These arguments were not likely to mollify Yorke, who memorialized the States General directly, 10 Nov., demanding that the Amsterdammers be punished for an attempt to violate the sovereignty of the nation and an abrogation of its treaties with England. JA observed that Yorke's action was “outrageous,” that Van Berckel had been singled out “for the Fate of Barnevelt, Grotius or De Wit,” and that the British were treating a sovereign power as if it were a recalcitrant colony of their own—very much as they had treated America in fact (JA to Huntington, 16, 17 Nov., and to Franklin, 30 Nov.; all letterbook copies, Adams Papers; Works , 7:329–330, 331, 338). From this point affairs deteriorated rapidly, but since JA provided a chronology of the climactic events in a letter to Huntington of 5 Jan. 1781 (LbC, Adams Papers; Works , 7:352–353), it is unnecessary to say more than that Yorke left The Hague on Christmas or the day before, without taking leave. The question in January, when JA briefly resumed his Diary, was whether the British threats and attacks on there shipping and colonies would bring the Dutch to an abject surrender. Their own dissensions prevented this, and they drifted into war.


Thaxter spells his name “Wensing” (to JA, 22 Dec. 1780, Adams Papers).


On 13 Dec. Benjamin Waterhouse, who was studying for a medical degree at Leyden, responded to inquiries from JA about schools, tutors, and accommodations for the Adams boys in that city (Adams Papers; see also JA, Corr. in the Boston Patriot , p. 572). Encouraged by Waterhouse's reply, JA sent the boys off under Thaxter's care on the 18th (JA to AA, 18 Dec. 1780, Adams Papers). They secured rooms in the house where Waterhouse was living, F. Weller's (or Willer's) on the Langebrug, not far from the Kloksteeg where John Robinson had ministered to his congregation of English Separatists before they sailed to Cape Cod in 1620 (Thaxter to JA, 19 Dec.; JQA to JA, 21 Dec. 1780; both in Adams Papers). As JA notes here, JQA was regularly enrolled as a student in the University early in January; CA was enrolled by special permission on the 29th (Thaxter to JA, 1 Feb. 1781, Adams Papers; Register of Students, MS, Leyden Univ. Libr.). Letters exchanged by JA and JQA in the following months record the older son's progress in his studies, which he found congenial.