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TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 7 (Letters and State Papers 1777-1782) 
The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 7.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
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TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.
Braintree, 4 August, 1779.
At the close of the service on which congress have done me the honor to send me, it may not be amiss to submit a few remarks to their consideration on the general state of affairs in Europe, so far as they relate to the interests of the United States. As the time approaches when our relations with the most considerable States in Europe will multiply and assume a greater stability, they deserve the attention of Americans in general, but especially of those composing their supreme council.
France deserves the first place among those powers with which our connections will be the most intimate, and it is with pleasure I am able to assure congress that, from the observations I have made during my residence in that kingdom, I have the strongest reasons to believe that their august ally, his ministers and nation, are possessed of the fullest persuasion of the justice of our cause, of the great importance of our independence to their interests, and the firmest resolution to preserve the faith of treaties inviolate, and to cultivate our friendship with sincerity and zeal. This is of the more consequence to us, as this power enjoys in Europe at this hour an influence which it has not before experienced for many years.
Men are so sensible of a constant tendency in others to excesses, that a signal superiority of power never appears without exciting jealousies and efforts to reduce it. Thus, when Spain, under Charles V. and his successor, made herself dangerous, a great part of Europe united against her, assisted in severing the United Provinces from her, and by degrees greatly diminished her power. Thus, when France, under Louis XIV., indulged the spirit of conquest too far, a great part of mankind united their forces against her with such success as to involve her in a train of misfortunes, out of which she never emerged before the present reign. The English in their turn, by means of their commerce and extensive settlements abroad, arose to a degree of opulence and naval power, which excited more extravagant passions in her own breast, and more tyrannical exertions of her influence, than appeared in either of the other cases. The consequence has been similar, but more remarkable. Europe seems to be more universally and sincerely united in the desire of reducing her than they ever were in any former instance. This is the true cause why the French Court never made war with so universal a popularity among their own subjects, so general an approbation of other courts, and such unanimous wishes among all nations for her success, as at this time.
The personal character of the King; his declared patronage of morals and economy, and the great strokes of wisdom which have marked the commencement of his reign; the active spring which has been given to commerce by the division of the British empire and our new connections with his subjects; all these causes, together with the two treaties of peace which have been lately signed under his auspices and his mediation, have given to this power a reputation which the last reign had lost.
The first of these treaties has determined those controversies which had for a long time divided Russia and the Porte, and the parties have been equally satisfied with the conditions of their reconciliation; a circumstance the more honorable for the French Ministry and the Chevalier de St. Priest, their Ambassador at Constantinople, as it is uncommon. The ancient confidence of the Porte in the Court of Versailles has revived, and the coolness, or rather enmity, which divided France and Russia for near twenty years, gives place to a friendship which is at this time in all its fervor, and will probably be durable, as these powers have no interest to annoy each other; but, on the contrary, are able to assist each other in a manner the most essential.
The peace of Germany, signed at Teschen the 13th of last May, has not equally satisfied the belligerent powers, who were on the one part the Emperor, and on the other the King of Prussia and the Elector of Saxony, his ally.
From the multitude of writings which have appeared before and during this war, in which the causes, the motives, and the right of it are discussed, it appears that in 1768, at the extinction of one of the branches of the House of Bavaria, which has been separated from its trunk for near five centuries, the House of Austria thought itself able, and priests and lawyers among their own subjects were complaisant enough to tell her she had a right, to put herself in possession of the best part of the patrimony of the extinguished line.
The King of Prussia, to whose interest this augmentation of power would have been dangerous, has crowned an illustrious reign by displaying all the resources of military genius and profound policy in opposition to it. While he contended in the field, France negotiated, and the work begun by his arms was completed by the cabinet of Versailles.
The Palatine House of Bavaria, the Duke of Deux Ponts, and particularly the Elector of Saxony, have obtained all they could reasonably demand; and the empire has preserved its balance of power in spite of its head. The King of Prussia has covered himself with glory, to which he put the finishing stroke by not demanding any compensation for the expenses of the war. All parties have been satisfied except the Emperor, who has disordered his finances, ruined his kingdom of Bohemia with immense fines, has not obtained any advantage over his adversary, and, consequently, has destroyed among his own troops the opinion they had of their superiority; and, in fine, has sustained a loss the most sensible for a young prince just beginning to reign, the reputation of justice and moderation. It is the influence, the address, and ability of the French Minister, joined to the firmness of Russia, which have completed this work;1 and Louis XVI. has restored in Germany, to the nation over which he reigns, that reputation which his grandfather had lost.
The merit of the Chevalier de la Luzerne, who was Ambassador in Bavaria during the transaction of this business, and that of M. Marbois, the Secretary to that Embassy, in accomplishing an affair of such importance, which was rendered peculiarly delicate by the late family connection between the Courts of Vienna and Versailles, was probably a motive for sending them now to America, a mission of no less importance and no less delicacy.
It is not probable, however, that they could have succeeded so soon, if England could have afforded subsidies to the Emperor. The Revolution in America, in which the French King has taken an earlier and a greater part than any other sovereign in Europe, has operated so as to conciliate to him a consideration that is universal. The new minister will give to congress information the most precise in this respect, and touching the part which Spain is taking at this time, for which reason I shall refrain from entering into it, and content myself with observing, that all these considerations ought to induce us to cherish the alliance of France; and that every good citizen of the United States ought to endeavor to destroy the remains of those prejudices which our ancient rulers have endeavored to inspire us with; that we have nothing to fear, and much to hope from France, while we conduct our affairs with good sense and firmness; and that we cannot take too much pains to multiply the commercial relations and strengthen the political connections between the two nations; provided always, that we preserve prudence and resolution enough to receive implicitly no advice whatever, but to judge always for ourselves, and to guard ourselves against those principles in government, and those manners, which are so opposite to our own constitution and to our own characters, as a young people, called by Providence to the most honorable and important of all duties, that of forming establishments for a great nation and a new world.
In the opinion of some, the power with which we shall one day have a relation the most immediate, next to that of France, is Great Britain. But it ought to be considered that this power loses every day her consideration, and runs towards her ruin. Her riches, in which her power consisted, she has lost with us, and never can regain. With us she has lost her Mediterranean trade, her African trade, her German and Holland trade, her ally, Portugal, her ally, Russia, and her natural ally, the House of Austria; at least, as being unable to protect these as she once did, she can obtain no succor from them. In short, one branch of commerce has been lopped off after another, and one political interest sacrificed after another. She resembles the melancholy spectacle of a great wide-spreading tree that has been girdled at the root. Her endeavors to regain these advantages will continually keep alive in her breast the most malevolent passions towards us. Her envy, her jealousy, and resentment will never leave us while we are what we must unavoidably be, her rivals in the fisheries, in various other branches of commerce, and even in naval power. If peace should unhappily be made, leaving Canada, Nova Scotia, or the Floridas, or any of them, in her hands, jealousies and controversies will be perpetually arising. The degree, therefore, of intercourse with this nation, which will ever again take place, may justly be considered as problematical; or rather the probability is, that it will never be so great as some persons imagine; moreover, I think that every citizen, in the present circumstances, who respects his country and the engagements she has taken, ought to abstain from the foresight of a return of friendship between us and the English, and act as if it never was to be.
But it is lawful to consider that which will probably be formed between the Hollanders and us. The similitude of manners, of religion, and, in some respects, of constitution, the analogy between the means by which the two republics arrived at independency, but, above all, the attractions of commercial interest, will infallibly draw them together. This connection will not probably show itself before a peace or a near prospect of peace. Too many motives of fear or interest place the Hollanders in a dependence on England, to suffer them to connect themselves openly with us at present. Nevertheless, if the King of Prussia could be induced to take us by the hand, his great influence in the United Provinces might contribute greatly to conciliate their friendship for us. Loans of money and the operations of commercial agents or societies will be the first threads of our connections with this power. From the essays and inquiries of your commissioners at Paris, it appears that some money may be borrowed there; and from the success of several enterprises by the way of St. Eustatia, it seems that the trade between the two countries is likely to increase, and, possibly, congress may think it expedient to send a minister there. If they should, it will be proper to give him a discretionary power to produce his commission or not, as he shall find it likely to succeed, to give him full powers and clear instructions concerning the borrowing of money; and the man himself, above all, should have consummate prudence, and a caution and discretion that will be proof against every trial.
If congress could find any means of paying the interest annually in Europe, commercial and pecuniary connections would strengthen themselves from day to day, and if the fall of the credit of England should terminate in bankruptcy, the seven United Provinces having nothing to dissemble, would be zealous for a part of those rich benefits which our commerce offers to the maritime powers, and, by an early treaty with us, secure those advantages, from which they have already discovered strong symptoms of a fear of being excluded by delays. It is scarcely necessary to observe to congress that Holland has lost her influence in Europe to such a degree, that there is little other regard for her remaining, but that of a prodigal heir for a rich usurer, who lends him money at a high interest. The State which is poor and in debt has no political stability. Their army is very small, and their navy is less. The immense riches of individuals may possibly be in some future time the great misfortune of the nation, because the means of defence are not proportioned to the temptation which is held out for some necessitous, avaricious, and formidable neighbor to invade her.
The active commerce of Spain is very inconsiderable; of her passive commerce we shall not fail to have a part; the vicinity of this power, her forces, her resources, ought to make us attentive to her conduct; but if we may judge of the future by the past, I should hope we had nothing to fear from it. The genius and interest of the nation incline it to repose. She cannot determine upon war but in the last extremity, and even then she sighs for peace. She is not possessed of the spirit of conquest, and we have reason to congratulate ourselves that we have her for the nearest and principal neighbor. Her conduct towards us at this time will perhaps appear equivocal and indecisive; her determinations appear to be solely the fruit of the negotiations of the Court of Versailles. But it ought to be considered she has not had motives so pressing as those of France to take in hand our defence. Whether she has an eye upon the Floridas, or what other terms she may expect from congress, they are no doubt better informed than I am. To their wisdom it must be submitted to give her satisfaction, if her terms are moderate and her offers in proportion. This conduct may conciliate her affection and shorten delays, a point of great importance, as the present moment appears to be decisive.
Portugal, under the administration of the Marquis de Pombal, broke some of the shackles by which she was held to England. But the treaty, by which a permanent friendship is established between the Crowns of Spain and Portugal, was made in 1777, an event that the English deplore as the greatest evil, next to the irrecoverable loss of the Colonies arising from this war, because they will now no longer be able to play off Portugal against Spain, in order to draw away her attention, as well as her forces, as in former times. But as Portugal has not known how to deliver herself entirely from the influence of England, we shall have little to hope from her; on the other hand, such is her internal weakness that we have absolutely nothing to fear. We shall necessarily have commerce with her, but whether she will ever have the courage to sacrifice the friendship of England for the sake of it, is uncertain.
It would be endless to consider that infinite number of little sovereignties into which Germany is divided, and develop all their political interests. This task is as much beyond my knowledge as it would be useless to congress. They will have few relations friendly or hostile with this country, excepting in two branches of commerce, that of merchandise and that of soldiers. The latter, infamous and detestable as it is, has been established between a nation once generous, humane, and brave, and certain princes, as avaricious of money as they are prodigal of the blood of their subjects; and such is the scarcity of cash and the avidity for it in Germany, and so little are the rights of humanity understood and respected, that sellers will probably be found as long as buyers. America will never be found in either class. The State of Germany, with which we may have commerce of an honorable kind, is the House of Austria, one of the most powerful in Europe. She possesses very few countries, however, near the sea. Ostend is the principal city, where she might have established a trade of some consequence, if the jealousy of the maritime powers had not constantly opposed it. France, Spain, Holland, and England have been all agreed in their opposition; and the treaty of Utrecht, ratified more than once by subsequent treaties, has so shackled this port, that it will be impossible to open a direct trade to it without some new treaty, which possibly may not be very distant. England may possibly make a new treaty with Austria, and agree to privileges for this port, in order to draw away the advantages of the American trade from France and Spain; and in such a treaty, Holland may possibly acquiesce, if not accede to it. The port of Trieste enjoys liberty without limits; and the Court of Vienna is anxious to make its commerce flourish. Situated as it is at the bottom of the Gulf of Trieste, the remotest part of the Gulf of Venice, tedious and difficult as the navigation of those seas is, we could make little use of it at any time, and none at all while this war continues.
This Court would seize with eagerness the advantages that are presented to her by the independence of America; but an interest more powerful restrains her, and although she is certainly attentive to this revolution, there is reason to believe she will be one of the last powers to acknowledge our independence. She is so far from being rich, that she is destitute of the means of making war without subsidies, as is proved by the peace which has lately been made. She has occasion for the succors of France or of England to put in motion her numerous armies. She conceives easily, that the loss of the resources and credit of the English has disabled them to pay the enormous subsidies which in former times they have poured into the Austrian coffers. She sees, therefore, with a secret mortification, that she shall be hereafter more at the mercy of France, who may choose her ally, and prefer at her pleasure either Austria or Prussia, while neither Vienna nor Berlin will be able, as in times past, to choose between Paris and London, since the latter has lost her past opulence and pecuniary resources. It is our duty to remark these great changes in the system of mankind which have already happened in consequence of the American war. The alienation of Portugal from England, the peace of Germany, and that between Petersburg and Constantinople, by all which events England has lost and France gained such a superiority of influence and power, are owing entirely to the blind diversion of that policy and wealth which the English might have still enjoyed, from the objects of their true interests and honor, to the ruinous American war.
The Court of Berlin flatters itself that the connections which have heretofore so long united France and Prussia will renew themselves sooner or later. This system is more natural than that which subsists at this day. The King of Prussia may then wait without anxiety the consequences of the present revolution, because it tends to increase the resources of his natural ally. The jealousy between the Emperor and the King of Prussia, and that between the Houses of Bourbon and Austria, are a natural tie between France and Prussia. The rivalry between France and Great Britain is another motive, too natural and too permanent for the former to suffer the King of Prussia to be long the ally of the latter. One of the favorite projects of Prussia, that of rendering the port of Emden a place of flourishing trade, interests him most powerfully in our independence. Silesia, one of his best provinces, has already felt the influence of it, and, sensible of the force that empires derive from commerce, he is earnestly desirous to see it introduced between America and his States; which gives ground to believe, that as Austria will be one of the last, so Prussia will be one of the first to acknowledge our independence; an opinion which is rendered more probable by the answer which was given by the Baron de Schulenburg to Mr. Arthur Lee, and the influence of the King of Prussia in the United Provinces, which is greater than that of any other power, arising from his great military force and the vicinity of his dominions. His near relation to the Stadtholder and the Prince of Brunswick is an additional motive to cultivate his friendship. The Electorate of Saxony, with a fruitful soil, contains a numerous and industrious people, and most of the commerce between the east and the west of Europe passes through it. The fairs of Leipsic have drawn considerable advantages for these four years from our trade. This power will see with pleasure the moment which shall put the last hand to our independence. The rest of Germany, excepting Hamburgh and Bremen, have no means of opening a direct commerce with us; with the latter we have no connection at present; in the former all the commerce of Lower Germany is transacted; here we shall soon have occasion to establish an agent or consul.
Poland, depopulated by the war and a vicious government, reduced by a shameful treaty to two thirds of her ancient dominion, destitute of industry and manufactures, even of the first necessity, has no occasion for the productions of America. Dantzic sees her ancient prosperity diminish every day. There is, therefore, little probability of commerce, and less of any political connection between that nation and us.
Russia, Sweden, and Denmark, comprehended under the denomination of the northern powers, have been thought by some to be interested in our return to the domination of Great Britain. Whether they consider themselves in this light or not, their late declarations against the right of England to interrupt their navigation, and their arming for the protection of their commerce on the ocean, and even in the English channel, are unequivocal proofs of their opinion concerning the right in our contest, and of their intentions not to interfere against us. It is very true that the articles of commerce which they produce, are, in many respects, the same with those of America. Yet, if we consider that we shall have occasion to purchase from them large quantities of hemp and sail-cloth, and that our productions of timber, pitch, tar, and turpentine, are less profitable with us without bounties than some other branches of labor, it is not probable that we shall lower the price of these articles in Europe so much as some conjecture, and, consequently, our increased demand upon those countries for several articles will be more than a compensation to them for the small loss they may sustain, by a trifling reduction in the price of those articles. It is not probable that the Courts of Petersburg, Stockholm, and Copenhagen have viewed with indifference the present revolution. If they have been apprehensive of being hurt by it in some respects, which, however, I think must have been a mistaken apprehension, yet the motive of humbling the pride of the English, who have endeavored to exercise their domination even over the northern seas, and to render the Danish and Swedish flag dependent on theirs, has prevailed over all others, and they are considered in Europe as having given their testimony against the English in this war.
Italy, a country which declines every day from its ancient prosperity, offers few objects to our speculations. The privileges of the port of Leghorn, nevertheless, may render it useful to our ships when our independence shall be acknowledged by Great Britain, if, as we once flattered ourselves, the Court of Vienna might receive an American minister. We were equally in error respecting the Court of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, where an Austrian prince reigns, who receives all his directions from Vienna, in such a manner that he will probably never receive any person in a public character, until the chief of his house has set him the example. The King of the Two Sicilies is in the same dependence on the Court of Madrid, and we may depend upon it, he will conform himself to all it shall suggest to him. This prince has already ordered the ports of his dominions to be open to American vessels, public and private, and has ordered his ambassador at Paris to apply to your commissioners for a description of the American flag, that our vessels might be known, and receive no molestation upon their appearance in his harbors.
The Court of Rome, attached to ancient customs, would be one of the last to acknowledge our independence, if we were to solicit for it. But congress will probably never send a minister to his Holiness, who can do them no service, upon condition of receiving a Catholic legate or nuncio in return; or, in other words, an ecclesiastical tyrant, which, it is to be hoped, the United States will be too wise ever to admit into their territories.
The States of the King of Sardinia are poor, and their commerce is very small. The little port of Villa Franca will probably see few American vessels, nor will there be any close relations, either commercial or political, between this prince and us.
The Republic of Genoa is scarcely known at this day in Europe but by those powers who borrow money. It is possible that some small sums might be obtained there, if congress would fall upon means of insuring a punctual payment of interest in Europe.
Venice, heretofore so powerful, is reduced to a very inconsiderable commerce, and is in an entire state of decay.
Switzerland is another lender of money, but neither her position nor her commerce can occasion any near relation with us.
Whether there is any thing in these remarks worth the trouble of reading, I shall submit to the wisdom of congress, and subscribe myself, with the highest consideration,
Your most obedient and humble servant,
[1 ]See the lucid and interesting account of the masterly negotiation of the Baron de Breteuil, which brought about this result, in Flassan’s Histoire de la Diplomatie Française, tome vi. pp. 177-251.