Adams Family Correspondence, volume 5

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 28 March 1783 JA AA


John Adams to Abigail Adams, 28 March 1783 Adams, John Adams, Abigail
John Adams to Abigail Adams
My dearest Friend Paris March 28. 1783

On the 30 Nov. our Peace was Signed. On the 28. March We dont know that you have Yet heard of it.1 A Packet Should have been Sent off. I have not yet received the Ratification of the my Dutch Treaty.2 I know not when I Shall be able to embark for home. If I receive the Acceptance of my Resignation, I Shall embark in the first ship, the first good ship I mean, for I love you too well, to venture my self in a bad one, and I love my own Ease to well to go in a very Small one.

I am Sometimes half afraid, that those Persons who procured the

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Revocation of my Commission3 to King George, may be afraid I shall do them more harm in America, than in England, and therefore of two Evils to choose the least and manoeuvre to get my me sent to London. By several Coaxing hints of that Kind, which have been written to me and given me in Conversation, from Persons who I know are employed to do it, I fancy that Something of that is in Contemplation. There is another Motive too—they begin to dread the Appointment of some others whom they like less than me. I tremble when I think of such a Thing as going to London. If I were to receive orders of that sort, it would be a dull day to me. No Swiss ever longed for home more than I do. I Shall forever be a dull Man in Europe. I cannot bear the Thought of transporting my Family to Europe. It would be the Ruin of my Children forever. And I cannot bear the Thought of living longer Seperate from them. Our foreign Affairs, are like to be in future as they have been in times past an eternal Scaene of Faction. The fluctuation of Councils at Philadelphia have encouraged it, and even good Men Seem to be Seized with the Spirit of it.

The definitive Treaty is yet delayed, and will be for any Thing I can see till Mid Summer. It may however be signed in a few Weeks. If it should be signed I could go home with the Dutch Ambassador,4 in a Frigate which will sail from the Texel in June. But So many Points are uncertain, that I cannot determine on any thing. Dont think of coming to Europe however, unless you should receive a further desire from me, which is not at all probable. My present Expectations are to pay my Respects to you, at Braintree, before Midsummer.

My dear Daughters happiness employs my Thoughts night and Day. Dont let her form any Connections with any one, who is not devoted entirely to study and to Business. To honour and Virtue. If there is a Trait of Frivolity and Dissipation left, I pray that She may renounce it, forever. I ask not Fortune nor Favour for mine, but Prudence, Talents and Labour. She may go with my Consent whenever she can find enough of these.5

My Son, has been another Source of Distress to me. The terrible Weather has made his Journey from Petersbourg very long. But I have a Letter from him at Hamborough the 14th.6 and hope he is at the Hague by this day. I am much relieved on his Account. My Charles and Thomas how are they? Fine Boys I dare Say? Let them take Care how they behave if they desire their Fathers Approbation. My Mother and your Father enjoy I hope a good Share of Health and Spirits. Mr. Cranch's Health is perfectly restored I hope, and Uncle Quincy7 and Dr. Tufts as good and as happy as ever. Why should not my Lot in 111Life be as easy as theirs? So it would have been if I had been as wise as they and staid at home as they do. But where would have been our Cod and Haddock, our Bever skins Deer skins and Pine Trees?8 Alass all lost, perhaps. Indeed I firmly believe so, in a good Conscience. I cannot therefore repent of all my fatigues, Cares, Losses, Escapes, anxious Days and Sleepless nights.

Nothing in Life ever cost me so much Sleep, or made me so many grey Hairs, as the Anxiety, I have Suffered for these Three Years on the Score of these Objects. No body knows of it: Nobody cares for it. But I shall be rewarded for it, in Heaven I hope. Where Mayhew, and Thatcher and Warren9 are rewarded I hope, none of whom however were permitted to suffer so much. They were taken away from the Evil to come.

I have one favour for you to ask of Mr. Adams the President of the senate. It is that he would make a compleat Collection of his Writings and publish them in Volumes. I know of no greater service that could be rendered to the Rights of Mankind. At least that he would give you a List of them. They comprize a Period of forty Years.10 And although they would not find so many Rakes for Purchasers, as the Writings of Voltaire, they would do infinitely more good to mankind especially in our rising Empire. There Posterity will find a Mass of Principles, and Reasonings, Suitable for them and for all good Men. The Copy, I fancy would Sell to Advantage in Europe.

Yours most affectiatly and eternally.

RC (Adams Papers).


On 22 Feb. the Boston Evening Post had printed George III's speech of 5 Dec. 1782 opening Parliament, which “admitt[ed America's] separation from the crown of these kingdoms,” and mentioned “provisional articles agreed upon.” The newspaper also included a separate report that the articles of peace were signed. Capt. Joshua Barney of the packet Washington, who left Lorient on 17 Jan. arrived in America with the preliminary articles on 12 March (Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 7:71). Definite news of the completion of the preliminary treaty, though without the text of the articles, arrived in Boston within a few days (Boston Evening Post, 15 March). Finally, on 1 April, “by a gentleman immediately from the Southward,” Bostonians learned of the contents of the treaty (MHi Broadside Coll.).


The Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the Netherlands, negotiated and signed by JA on 8 Oct. 1782, was ratified by Congress on 23 Jan., but JA did not learn of its ratification until late May. See vol. 4:381; JCC , 24:64–82; JA, Diary and Autobiography , 3:135–136, note 1; and JA to AA, 4 Feb., and note 2, above.


See JA to AA, 4 Feb., and note 4, above.


Pieter Johan van Berckel, who sailed for America on 23 June (JA, Diary and Autobiography , 3:17, note 2). JA had written to van Berckel on 11 March (JA, Works , 8:46–47), congratulating him on his appointment as minister to the United States, and advising him to sail to Boston and travel overland to Philadelphia to familiarize himself with the country.


This sentence appears crowded into the space separating this paragraph and the next. AA quotes “whereever She can find enough of these” in her letter to Royall Tyler, 14 June, below.


JQA to JA, 12 March, above, whose date 112 JA misread (see note 1 to that letter).


Norton Quincy.


See JA to Richard Cranch, 15 Dec. 1782, and note 1, above.


Rev. Jonathan Mayhew (1720–1766), Boston's fiery Whig preacher, Oxenbridge Thacher (1719–1765), an ally of James Otis in the early 1760s, and Dr. Joseph Warren, twice Massacre Day orator, who died at Bunker Hill. JA had been a good friend of Thacher, and of Warren, who was the Adams' family doctor when they lived in Boston. See AA's moving letter to JA on the occasion of Warren's death (vol. 1:222–223, and note 3).


Samuel Adams, chosen president of the Massachusetts senate in 1781, could be said to have begun his political writings in 1743, “a Period of forty Years” prior to this letter, by arguing the affirmative in his M.A. thesis, “Whether it be lawful to resist the Supreme Magistrate, if the Commonwealth cannot be otherwise preserved.” In 1748 he began contributing political pieces to the short-lived Public Advertiser. But these early works either did not survive or cannot be positively identified, and his extant political writings begin in 1764.

The genesis for this first expression of interest by JA in seeing his second cousin's work published is not certain, but he proposed this project to Samuel directly in a letter of 5 April (NN: George Bancroft Coll.), stating, more briefly, the same reasons given in this letter. JA's weariness with Europe, his longing for retirement from public life, and perhaps a belief that his sixty-year-old cousin would soon leave the public scene, may all have contributed to a desire to see Samuel's public achievement preserved. On 10 April, in a letter to William Lee (LbC, Adams Papers), JA reiterated this desire, and gave the additional reason that the publication of Samuel Adams' works would show how important a role he had played in the Revolution. Such an edition, JA implied to Lee, would also help place the inflated reputation of Benjamin Franklin in perspective.

Samuel Adams did not respond to JA's suggestion, however, and he made no attempt to publish an edition of his writings. The only editions of his work appeared much later, the first by his grandson William V. Wells, in The Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams, Boston, 1866, 3 vols.; the fullest by Harry Alonzo Cushing, ed., The Writings of Samuel Adams, N.Y., 1904–1908, 4 vols.

John Thaxter to Abigail Adams, 28 March 1783 Thaxter, John AA


John Thaxter to Abigail Adams, 28 March 1783 Thaxter, John Adams, Abigail
John Thaxter to Abigail Adams
Madam Paris 28th. March 1783

Peace seems to have closed all Communication with America. 'Tis a very long time since any Vessels or Letters have arrived either in France or Holland. We cannot account for this Circumstance, but upon the Supposition, that News had reached America of Negociations for Peace being opened, and that while this Business was pending the Merchant prefered a State of Inactivity to putting any thing at risque. I hope e'er this all doubts and uncertainty as to the Issue of the Negociation have ceased in America, by their having learnt that Peace is once more established. I flatter myself, that We shall soon hear again of the Arrival of some Vessels, and that the Stars and Stripes are waving with Dignity in various Parts of Europe.

England is the same kind of England now that it has been since the last Peace, as to its Pride and Wickedness. 'Tis the Misfortune of that Country to experience political Convulsions, and, what is worse, never to profit by them. The War has enfeebled, impoverished and exhausted the Nation. They wanted Peace, and they have ob-113tained it, not by dictating but by recieving the Terms of it. They dont like the Peace, and, as usual, curse the Minister who made it.1 They think it far below their just Expectations, while reasonable People on the Continent concieve it to be fully equal to what they had a Right to expect. However Pride, Prejudices and particular Habits of thinking are not removed and changed in a moment. Tis hard to convince an Englishman, that he is not equal in Strength and Force to any two Foreigners, or that his Nation is not a Match for almost all the rest of the World, altho' he has daily proofs to the contrary. This is a laudable Confidence, when within moderate Bounds. But their Misfortune is to push it to a foolish and ridicilous Length. And the outrageous Condemnation of the Minister for the Peace he has made, is the Result of such kind of Opinions. By the last Accounts, Lord Shelburne and Mr. Pitt were out of Office. Fox has come in as one Secretary of State, and Lord North as the other. The Duke of Portland is Premier, Lord Stormont, Privy Seal, and the Earl of Carlisle, President of Council.2 The Rest are Northites, Rockinghamites and Bedfordites &c. a motley Crew—a promising Group for a Kingdom who was never in greater Want of the wisest Heads and most incorruptible Hearts than at present. This is a Coalition of Parties, resembling the Union that exists between Fire and Water. Of what Stamp must be the Character of a—3 and his Advisers, who dare to bring into Administration a set of Men, who were formerly driven in Disgrace from it, for having reduced and brought the Kingdom to the Brink of Destruction? A Nation, that will patiently bear such a Contempt of its feelings and Opinions, deserves every thing that can befal it. The Spirit of the Nation is not broke entirely, and I would flatter myself that there is still Vigour enough left to render another Epocha as memorable in their Annals as that of 1668;4 provided wicked Systems are pushed to the same violent Extremities. But I must stop, and beg You not to make this Letter too public, as Peace is now made. America has little to fear from any Power, while united and pursuing a wise, firm and independent System of Politicks. We must be upon our Guard, and remember that smooth Words and fair Promises are courtly Engines to extinguish a Flame that ought ever to burn, and that once quenched, the Republick is lost. We must beat down foreign Influence wherever it is found, and think ourselves capable and able of conducting and managing our Affairs ourselves, and convince other People that We think so. If We do not respect ourselves, nobody else will be very zealous in preserving our Dignity. This by the Bye.


As to the Natural World, it is not without its Horrors. The beautiful City of Messina is a Heap of Ruins. An Earthquake of four days Continuance5 with intermissions only of a quarter or half an hour, accompanied with every imaginable Horror has produced this dreadful Catastrophy. Every Building public and private has been totally overthrown, and many thousands buried under their Ruins. But few Inhabitants escaped, being crushed by the Fall of the Houses, or consumed by Fire. The first Shock was on the 5th. February at noon, when there was Fires for Cooking in all the Kitchens of private Houses, which communicated to other parts of the Houses in their Fall. No Tongue or Pen can describe the Horrors of this Scene. If I had time by this Opportunity, I would copy some Accounts I have seen. But they must be faint Descriptions; strong enough however to make one dread the real Picture. I have been too much affected with the following Instance of maternal Tenderness in this aweful Scene, to omit copying it. “The Marchioness of Spadara, at the beginning of the Earthquake swooned away and had been conducted by her Husband in this Situation to the Port, where he meant to embark—whilst he was engaged in making the preparations for this purpose, the Marchioness came to herself, and percieving that her Son was not with her, She availed herself of the moment, in which her Husband was too much occupied to watch her, to escape. She ran to her House, which was not yet fallen, went up Stairs and seized her Son in the Cradle—the Stairs at this moment falling cut off her Retreat by them. She flew from Chamber to Chamber, which tumbled in almost under her feet with difficulty escaping the successive Falls of the different parts of her House, and went to the Balcony, become her only Asylum. She implored Assistance in holding out her Son. But in a public Disaster Pity for another is silent, and each one trembling for himself Self sees only its own Danger. The Fire took to the Rest of the House, and in the Midst of the Flames and Destruction, this unfortunate Victim of Maternal Love fell, crushed, still holding in her Arms the Object of her Tenderness and the Cause of her Death.” Who can refrain from weeping over this glorious Martyr to maternal Affection? The tender Heart of Portia will bleed on the Occasion. Yet will She shed a Tear of Joy, that the Dignity of human Nature still exists and that it was reserved for one of the Fair Sex to display to the World an Instance of Magnanimity and parental Tenderness, unparralleled in modern Times.

I think Master John has arrived at the Hague by this.6 He has had a long Journey of it, and been delayed often by the Badness of the 115Roads. By the last Accounts he was in good Health. I fancy he will be satisfied with Journeying. He has had a pretty sufficient Share of it, and will be very glad to lay by for a time.

We have nothing new here, worth communicating, except the fine Weather. This is indeed something new. For I believe that the last fifteen Months have never been equalled since the Flood. The seasons have been turned topsy turvy. While You have been scorched in America, We have half drowned in Europe. And if any Prayers have been put up for fair Weather, I suppose they have been an Abomination, for the Rains have been very constant.

My fair Maroni is in fine Health. I visit her often and have agreable tête-à-têtes with her. I get a pious Billet-doux now and then. But the confounded Grates bar me out of her Room. 'Tis almost seven Years since She has taken the Veil. She is to Appearance perfectly content. I have not yet dared to ask her, why She bid Adieu to the World, to drag out a miserable Existence in a Convent. I fear the Question would be painful, and nothing could tempt me to disturb a Moment her Tranquility. What an insipid Existence! If they are the Retreats of disappointed Love or religious Enthousiasm, they find there their Remedies in Death or an eternal Prostration before the Altar. But the Rage for Convents has much abated, and I believe no more Tombs for the living will be built. Very modern Lovers and Enthousiasts find that there are Consolations in the wide World, and that it is not so very necessary to be immured within four dead Walls to sigh away a Disappointment or moderate the Ardor of religious Frenzy. However, God bless the dear Prisoners, I wish them all well and happy.

My affectionate Regards to Miss A. and the young Gentlemen. Respects and Love as due. With perfect Respect, I have the honor to be Madam, your very obedient humble Servant JT

RC (Adams Papers).


Parliamentary criticism of the Earl of Shelburne's preliminary peace with the United States, signed on 30 Nov., had risen to a crescendo by mid-February with pointed opposition to the ministry's concessions to America on fishing rights, the northern and western boundaries, and the rights of the loyalists, and by Parliament's reluctance to concede that American independence was now irrevocable. See Morris, Peacemakers , p. 411–422; and note 3, below.


William Pitt the younger failed to prevent the censure of the Shelburne ministry in the House of Commons on 21 Feb., and on 23 Feb., Shelburne resigned. For several weeks Great Britain had no settled administration, but early in April, George III reluctantly accepted a new ministry formed along the lines Thaxter gives here. Charles James Fox and Lord North became secretaries of state, with Fox handling foreign affairs, and North the home office. The Duke of Portland became first lord of the treasury, the ministry's titular “premier” (see Morris, Peacemakers , p. 421–426; DNB ).


Thaxter's dash presumably stands for “King” or “Monarch,” that is, George III.


Thaxter probably means 1688, the year of 116England's “Glorious Revolution,” in which an alliance of Whig noblemen and a Dutch invading force led by James II's son-in-law, William of Orange, drove James from the English throne. Thaxter could, however, be referring to Parliament's decision, in 1667, to impeach and banish Edward Hyde, the first earl of Clarendon, and Charles II's most important advisor, following England's defeat in the second Dutch war ( DNB : Edward Hyde).


Early reports of the earthquake at Messina in Sicily appeared in the London Chronicle, 13–15 and 15–18 March, and the London Gazette, 15–18 and 18–22 March. Thaxter embellishes an account, from an unidentified source, that later appeared in Gentlemen's Magazine, May 1783, p. 439. A moving firsthand description of the devastation is Sir William Hamilton's “An Account of Earthquakes which happened in Italy, from February to May, 1783,” in New Annual Register, 1783, Philosophical Papers, p. 121–142.


JQA did not reach The Hague until late April.