Papers of John Adams, volume 12

From Edmund Jenings

From Thomas Black and Others

On the Abbé Raynal’s <hi rendition="#italic">Révolution de l’Amérique</hi>: 22 January 1782 On the Abbé Raynal’s <hi rendition="#italic">Révolution de l’Amérique</hi>: 22 January 1782
On the Abbé Raynal’s Révolution de l’Amérique
22 January 1782



Editorial Note Editorial Note
Editorial Note

Disturbed by errors in the Abbé Raynal’s Révolution de l’Amérique, London, 1781, and encouraged by the abbé himself, John Adams set about composing a point by point rebuttal of Raynal’s work (to Raynal, 5 Jan.; from Raynal, 18 Jan., both above). Adams clearly intended to publish the following series of letters in Le politique hollandais. The fourth installment (No. IV, below), however, ends abruptly, and Adams abandoned his plan to submit any of the letters for publication. This is the first time the letters have appeared in print.

In 1780 and 1781, Adams launched several efforts to present European readers with accurate accounts of the origins, progress, and nature of the 205American Revolution. His critique of Raynal’s pamphlet should be compared with A Translation of Thomas Pownall’s Memorial, “Letters from a Distinguished American,” and Replies to Hendrik Calkoen (vol. 9:157–221, 531–588; 10:196–252); as well as the memorial to the States General, 19 April 1781 (vol. 11:272–282). Indeed, the letters to Le politique hollandais are largely an expansion of Adams’ first letter to Hendrik Calkoen, in which he responded to Calkoen’s request for an account of American affairs “before, during and after the Commencement of Hostilities” (vol. 10:200–203).

We may never know exactly why Adams set aside his evaluation of Révolution de l’Amérique. An obvious assumption is that he simply decided that it would be impolitic to openly criticize a respected public figure who supported the American Revolution. Nonetheless, Raynal would not escape criticism in the pages of Le politique hollandais. Later in 1782 Cerisier published extracts from Thomas Paine’s A Letter Addressed to the Abbe Raynal on the Affairs of North-America. In which the Mistakes in the Abbe’s Account of the Revolution of America are Corrected and Cleared Up (Phila., 1782). Paine’s work had numerous reprintings in London and elsewhere, including a Brussels edition in 1783 “augmentées d’une préface et de quelques notes, par A. M. Cerisier” (T. R. Adams, American Controversy, 2:833–836).

I. To <hi rendition="#italic">Le politique hollandais</hi>, 22 January 1782 JA Politique hollandais (newspaper) I. To <hi rendition="#italic">Le politique hollandais</hi>, 22 January 1782 Adams, John Politique hollandais (newspaper)
I. To Le politique hollandais
January 22 1782 Sir

The Mistakes of Gazettes and fugitive Pamphlets, may pass unnoticed, because they are not expected to be correct, are not read by many and are Soon forgotten: but the Inaccuracies of a Writer, so distinguished by his Genius and Eloquence as the abby Raynal, in a work embellished with ornaments to captivate every Man of Taste and Letters, and enriched with Such a Variety of usefull knowledge, to secure its Immortality, ought to be corrected in Season, lest they Should be found to injure that great Cause of Truth Liberty and Humanity, to which this Writer has devoted his Life and Labour.

It is not at present intended to remark upon any other Part of the Philosophical and political History of the Europeans in the two Indies, than that which relates to North America, in which probably there are more Errors than in any other. We shall begin with the Revolution of America as printed in the last Edition,1 reserving all the rest for the Subject of future Speculations, if ever Leisure should be found to pursue them.

J’ai l’honnour &c.

LbC (Adams Papers).

206 1.

Révolution de l’Amérique first appeared as a section in a new edition of Raynal’s Histoire philosophique et politique des établissements, et du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes (5 vols., Geneva, 1780, 4:376–459). It was published seperately in London in 1781. The page numbers provided by JA in Nos. II , III, and IV, below, and by the editors in the notes, are taken from the London edition.

II. To <hi rendition="#italic">Le politique hollandais</hi>, 22 January 1782 JA Politique hollandais (newspaper) II. To <hi rendition="#italic">Le politique hollandais</hi>, 22 January 1782 Adams, John Politique hollandais (newspaper)
II. To Le politique hollandais
22 January 1782 Sir

The abby Raynal in his History of the American Revolution p. 19. Speaking of the Repeal in 1770 of the Act of Parliament which imposed Duties on Glass, Paints, Paper, Tea &c says “on n’en excepta que le Thé encore cette reserve n’eut elle pour objet que de pallier la honte d’abandonner entiérement la Superiorité de la métropole Sur Ses colonies: car ce droit ne fut pas plus exigé que les autres ne l’avoient été.”1

With all the Defference that becomes us, to the opinion of an author of such distinguished Talents and Reputation, it is presumed that the true Motive both of the Repeal of the Duties upon other articles and the Exception of that of Tea are here represented in a Light too favourable to the Ministry for the Truth of History. The Repeal was not made, to give Satisfaction to the Colonies, nor the Exception, to palliate the Humiliation of the Nation. A Repeal of the Statute without any Exception, would not have been abandoning the Superiority of the Metropolis.

Nor can it be properly Said that the Duty upon Tea was not exacted, more than the others had been, because all the Duties that upon Tea as well as those upon the other Articles had been exacted. They were not paid, in very large Sums it is true but this was not because the duties were not exacted, but because the Articles were not imported. Upon all the articles which were imported the Duties were both exacted and paid.

The real Motive of the Ministry, for repealing the Duties upon Glass &c was the apparent Impracticability of obtaining them. The Act of Parliament imposing these Duties, was passed in the latter End of the year 1766 or the Beginning of 1767. In 1768, the Ministry Sent over, a new Board of Commissioners of the Customs consisting of five Members, with a Swarm of Subordinate officers, for the express Purpose of overseeing the Collection of the Revenue, and Sent at the Same Time about four Thousand Troops, with the express Purpose of protecting the Board of Commissions and their Subordinate officers in the Collection of the Revennue.


This new Board, and this army for their Body Guards, were a new Phenomenon in America, and convinced all discerning Men of the decided Intentions of the British Ministry to pursue, to the last Extremities, their Plan of a Revenue. The americans held in Detestation the Idea of a Revenue, to be imposed and collected by foreign authority. They held in greater Horror Still a Standing Army, in time of Peace for the Support of any authority much more a foreign Power. Accordingly all these Jealousies and apprehensions, had produced a general Consent, a kind of tacit association, throughout all the Collonies, against the Importation of the Articles upon which the Duties were laid. This association was adopted in Boston and all the maritime Towns of the Massachusetts, in New York, in Philadelphia, in Charlestown and in all the other Collonies. This association was, well observed in all the Collonies, except in the Town of Boston. Here a few Persons, 8 or 10 in Number, corrupted by the favours, and the Hopes of favours from the British Government, added to the Prospect of great Gain and protected as they were in the Town of Boston by an Army had the Effrontery and obstinacy to expose themselves to the universal Hatred of their fellow Citizens, by constantly importing the Taxed articles, against the general association of all america. This occasioned continual Discontent, and quarrells, between the Inhabitants and these Importers, between the Same Inhabitants and the Custom house officers, and the Soldiers. Discontent which finally broke out into an Outrage, on the night of the 5th of March 1770, when a Party of Soldiers fired upon a Crowd of Inhabitants, and killed 5 or 6 upon the Spot and wounded several others. This produced a Whirlwind. All Men, but the few Tories, were determined to deliver the Town of Boston from these Tyrants in red Coats. Accordingly twelve thousand Men assembled every day for near a Week, in the old South Church, opened a negotiation with the Governor and the Commander of the Troops, and obliged both to consent to order both Regiments out of Town to the Barracks upon Castle Island. These were Such Symptoms of War, that the Ministry thought it necessary to retreat for a Time, as they had done before in the affair of the stamp act, and she rather, because the Dispute with Spain about Falkland Islands, happening at that time, they expected a War with the House of Bourbon, and they always knew very well how much soever they may have disguised it, that the Colonists if dissatisfied would not fail to connect themselves with the Ennemies of Britain in Case of War.


It was therefore the fear of War with the Colonies and the House of Bourbon together that induced the English to repeal the Duties upon Glass, &c in 1770, and the Duty upon Tea was left unrepealed, not to avoid the shame of giving up, their authority, but to divide the People in america. They were taught by their Creatures in america, that the People had recourse to a thousand Inventions to supply the Place of the Dutied articles. Glass houses were set agoing to make Glass. Paper Mills were set up. The Entrails of the Mountains were searched for okers to make Paints and Colours. A Thousand Substitutes were invented for Tea and a general association not to use the genuine Indian herb. All these Things together convinced the Ministry that they could not carry their Point but by Some Artifices to deceive and divide the People. They repealed the other Duties and presevd that upon Tea. The Duty upon this, was to be paid upon Landing, would not alarm the Country People, and the attachment to this refreshment was such, that they thought, they could succeed upon this single article, preserve the Principle, and make Use of this as a President upon future occasions. The Event shewed, that they were not wholly mistaken. They did succed in Part in deceivg and dividing the People.

The Merchants of New York were the first to Swallow the Bait, and pretended as the abby Raynal, now pretends that the Duty upon Tea was only preserved, to Save the Dignity of Government and was never intended to be collected. Accordingly they renounced the Non Importation association, as far as it respected, the other articles, and continued it only upon Tea. Their Example was followed, by other Places. This Soon produced full Proof, that the object of the Ministry was Division and Deception, not Reconcillation. Indeed the Continuance of the Board of Commissioners, whose Essence was Revennue, and of the Standing army, in Boston, and in the Castle, whose Single Distinction was Tyrany, had all along convinced the most penetrating and the best Intentioned, that not Peace but deception was the object. But, Soon afterwards, the Permission given to the East India Company, to export their Tea directly to the Colonies, as they did, to Boston New York Philadelphia and Charlestown, their appointment of agents to sell it in those Places, who were Men devoted to the British Ministry, and the determined orders and Measures that followed, soon awakened, all America out of a Delusion, to which even at this late day, the Philosophical and political Historian, has given his Countenance. We have found that the English nation have rather chose to loose thirteen Colonies in-209depended and incur a War with France Spain and Holland, rather than not exact in all its vigour the actual Payment of the Duty upon Tea. If they had only waived the actual Collection of the Duties, this War would never have taken Place.

There was but one wise and honest Part, to take that was to repeal the Statute totally and absolutely, as they had before done their stamp act. The Repeal of the Stamp act, had given perfect Satisfaction, and instead of injuring the superiority of the Metropolis, had produced, an universal disposition, to comply with all the Desires and Requisitions of Great Britain which could be possibly reconciled with the Liberty of the subject, and in particular, a greater disposition than ever to consent to every Regulation of Parliament which could come under, the Denomination of a Regulation of Trade. A total Repeal of the Tea Act, would have had a similar Effect. But the Board of Commissioners, and the army, must have been removed too, in order to restore perfect good Humor. The Board, was very justly associated with the Idea of Corruption, the army with that of Compulsion, and it may be depended on, the americans had too much real Virtue and of the Delicacy and Pride, that is essentially connected with it, to bear with Patience the appearance of a Design to corrupt them or to dragoon them out of their opinions of their rights and their notions of Liberty.

I have the Honour

The Impartiality of History demands, that the real Motives of action Should be developed, and there are two many incontestible Proofs that those of the British Ministry have always been Deception, Division and Seduction, never that of Reconciliation, or Peace.

I have the Honour to be

LbC (Adams Papers).


Translation: Only tea was excepted. But the object of this exception was only to palliate the shame of wholly abandoning the superiority of the metropolis over its colonies, for this duty was not more forcibly exacted than the others had been.

III. To <hi rendition="#italic">Le politique hollandais</hi>, 22 January 1782 JA Politique hollandais (newspaper) III. To <hi rendition="#italic">Le politique hollandais</hi>, 22 January 1782 Adams, John Politique hollandais (newspaper)
III. To Le politique hollandais
Sir 22 January 1782

Page 21. The Abby Raynal Says “Les Habitants de Boston detruisirent, dans le Port meme, trois Cargaisons de Thé qui arrivoient d’Europe.”1

As the opposition to the landing, and Consumption of the Tea and 210the Payment of the Taxes upon it, was the immediate occasion of this War, and all the vast Chain of great Events, which have succeeded, this Business ought to be Stated in great detail, and with the utmost Exactness, by any Writer who undertakes the History of the American Revolution. The History in question is very general, it is true, but it is humbly apprehended that this affair of the Tea ought to have been more particular. There is no Mention of any opposition to it, but in Boston, whereas the opposition was in reallity universal, throughout all America. Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Charlestown, conducted the opposition in concert.

Several Ships arrived at New York: the Inhabitants assembled to deliberate and determined that the Ships should return loaded as they were to London. The Consignees of the East India Company to whom the Tea was addressed, were informed that it was the universal Expectation of their fellow Citizens that they Should resign their appointments, which they did.

At Philadelphia, Several other Vessells arrived with Tea from the East India Company, consigned to distinguished Inhabitants of that City. Upon Similar assemblies of the People, and Similar Resolutions taken, the Consignees resigned and the ships returned to London.

Thus all the Tea ships, which had been to New York and Philadelphia were Seen Sailing up the River Thames, on their return in the Sight of the Nation a Spectacle which might have convinced the British Ministry of the total Impracticability of their pernicious Systems, if they had been men capable of Reflection, capable of Seeing the Character of the People of america, the State of the three Kingdoms, or that of Europe. But they were not.

At Charlestown, other Vessells arrived, the Inhabitants assembled there. The Result was, an agreement that the Tea should be landed, and Stored but none of it Sold. And this agreement was religiously observed, the Tea remaining in stores and Cellars, untill it was all spoiled.

At Boston, upon the arrival of the ships, the People met—applied to the Consignees to resign, who refused, relying upon the Protection of the army, which was then numerous in Boston, although there was none in N. York, Philadelphia or Charlestown. They applied to the owners and Masters of the ships, they were willing to return. But how to pass the Castle, where were a row of two and forty Pounders capable of Sinking the ships at a shot, and a British Garrison, to play them, and no Vessell suffered to pass, without a Certificate from the Governor. The Governor, Hutchinson was ap-211plied to, he refused to give the Certificates. Thus no alternative remained, but for the Town of Boston to give over the opposition, basely betray their Brethren in New York, Philadelphia and Charlestown, and dastardly resign their Liberties and those of their Posterity, or take a decided step. They did not hesitate a Moment, upon this alternative, and the next Mornings Sun was Saluted, with the Fragrance of Bohea, Soucheng and Hysen, from every Part of the Harbour. This detail is indispensably necessary to show, that the opposition to the Tea was a national opposition,—and the storing of it in Charlestown, the obliging the Consignees to resign, the sending the ships back from Philadelphia and New York, and the Drowning of that in Boston were all national Acts done in concert between all the United Colonies, as really so as the raising an Army, Building a Navy, forming a Confederation, or declaring themselves independent, by Congress have been Since.

During the whole Time of the deliberations, concerning the Tea, there were constant Correspondences going on between Merchants, Lawyers, Statesmen and even the Artificers and Mechanicks, in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Charlestown and, all other considerable Places on the Continent. The sentiments of the People were expressed in Gazettes, Pamphlets, and in the Resolutions of Towns, Cities and Smaller Circles; So that no Principle was adopted, no material Measure ventured on, untill the People knew each others Sentiments, from one End to the other of the Colonies.

I have the Honour to be

Our great Historian then does too much Honour to the Town of Boston, or too little to Charlestown Philadelphia and New York when he says “cette grand Ville avoit toujours paru plus occupée des ses droits que le Reste de L’Amerique.”2 The only Difference was this, the ministry had created a Crowd of worthless officers of Revenue in Boston, more than in other Cities—they had sent an army there to protect them—and they practiced more Tyranny there and consequently more resistance than any where: but the same Causes in all the other Cities, have ever produced the same Effects.

I have &c

LbC (Adams Papers).


In Révolution de l’Amérique, this passage begins “Ses habitans detruisirent.” Translation: The inhabitants of Boston destroyed in their own port three cargos of tea which arrived from Europe.


Révolution de l’Amérique, p. 221. Translation: This great town had always appeared more occupied by a sense of its rights than the rest of America.

212 IV. To <hi rendition="#italic">Le politique hollandais</hi>, 22 January 1782 JA Politique hollandais (newspaper) IV. To <hi rendition="#italic">Le politique hollandais</hi>, 22 January 1782 Adams, John Politique hollandais (newspaper)
IV. To Le politique hollandais
Sir 22 January 1782

The Abby, in the 21 Page, represents the destruction of the Tea, as an excès blâmable, and the Town of Boston as a Cité coupable, which I apprehend is a Censure, unjust in itself and inconsistent, with, his own Principles, and with his whole moral and political System, in this ellegant Work.

Sydney and Lock, to name to others in England, John Jacques Rosseau, and a number of other Writers in France, have placed the Principles of Government in So clear a Light, and have produced Such demonstrations in Support of them, that no rational Creature, whose Faculties are not perverted by Superstition, and Fanaticism can read their Writings without seeing their Truth. Our author has not certainly read them without Conviction, and there is not one of the Writers I have mentioned, who could have vindicated the Principles of the american Revolution in a clear, shorter, or more elegant or masterly manner.

If then, “Qu’il n’est nulle form de Gouvernment, dont la Prerogative Soit d’etre immuable. Nulle autorité politique qui créée hier, ou, il y a mille ans, ne puisse être abrogée dans dix ans ou demain: nulle Puissance Si respectabble, Si Sacrée qu’elle soit, autorisée à regarder l’Etat come Sa proprieté.”1 If, “toute autorité dans ce monde, peut finir legitimement.” If, “Rien ne prescrit pour la Tyrannie contre la Liberté.”2

If it is true, that “Un peuple Soumis à la volonté d’un autre peuple qui peut disposer à son grè de son Gouvernment, et de ses Loix, de Son commerce; l’imposer come il lui plait; limiter Son Industrie et l’enchainer par des prohibitions arbitraires, est Serf, [v]oici il est Serf; et Sa servitude est pire que celle qu’il Subiroit Sous un Tyran.”3

If, Le Consentement des Aieux ne peut obliger les descendans, et il n’y a point de condition qui ne soit exclusive du Sacrifice de la Liberté. La liberté ne s’echange pour rien, parce que rien n’est d’un prix qui lui Soit comparable.4

If, Le Bonheur public est la premiere loi, comme le premier Devoir.5

LbC (Adams Papers).


Révolution de l’Amérique, p. 40. Translation: There is no form of government which has the prerogative to be immutable. No political authority, which created yesterday or a 213thousand years ago, may not be abrogated in ten years time or tomorrow. No power, however respectable, however sacred, is authorized to regard the state as its property.


Same, p. 41. Translation: All authority in this world can justly end. There is no prescription in favor of tyranny against liberty.


Same, p. 43–44. Translation: A people subjected to the will of another people, who can dispose as they choose of their government, of their laws, and of their trade; tax them at their pleasure; set bounds to their industry, and enchain them by arbitrary prohibitions, are serfs—yes serfs—and their servitude is worse than they would suffer under a tyrant.


Same, p. 45. Translation: The consent of ancestors cannot be obligatory upon descendants, and there can be no condition which must not be understood to be exclusive of the sacrifice of liberty. Liberty is not to be bartered for anything, because there is nothing which is of a comparable price.


Same, p. 47. Translation: The public happiness is the first law, as the first duty.