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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
Paris, 2 June, 1780.
When a minister of an ancient nation, which has been renowned for its wisdom and virtue as well as power rises in a popular assembly, which is the most conspicuous theatre in Europe, and declares as it were in the face of all the world, and with an air of reflection, of deliberation, and of solemnity, that such and such are his own opinions concerning the truth of facts and the probability of future events, one cannot call in question his good faith, although we may know his information to be false and his judgment erroneous.
Lord George Germaine, in the debate in the house of commons on the 6th of May, declared that “he flattered himself the completion of the chief wish of his heart, peace with America, on what he thought good and honorable terms for Great Britain, was not far off. He verily believed, and his belief was not merely speculative, but founded on recent information, that the moment of conciliation was near. His Lordship described the misery which the Americans felt at this time, and stated that the greatest majority of the people there were ready and desirous to return to their allegiance, but that they were prevented by the tyranny of those who had got the power of government into their own hands. He did not believe the congress would ever treat for peace; but, from the condition of affairs in America, from the depreciation of their paper currency, from the poverty and distress of the country, from the great debt it groaned under, from the dissatisfaction which all ranks of people expressed at the alliance with France, from the little benefit America had derived from that alliance; from all these considerations he did believe that the people of America and the assemblies of America would soon come to terms.”
There may be some ambiguity in the phrase, “good and honorable terms for Great Britain;” but there can be no reasonable doubt that his Lordship meant either to return to their allegiance to Great Britain, or at least to make a peace with her, separate from France. Whether the Americans ever will agree to such terms or not, being a question concerning a future event, cannot be decided by witnesses, nor any other way, but by probable arguments. There is one argument which his Lordship does not appear to have considered. It is of some weight. It is this,—that in order to return to their allegiance to the King of England, or make a peace with him, separate from France, they must involve themselves in a certain war with France and Spain, at least, and indeed, according to present appearances, with Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, and Portugal; for every one of these powers appears to be as decided against the claims, pretensions, and usurpations of Great Britain upon the seas, as France and Spain are. There is not an American merchant, yeoman, tradesman, or seaman but knows this, or will know it very soon. Americans must, therefore, be destitute of that common share of reason which God has given to men, to exchange the friendship of all the world for their enmity, merely for the sake of returning to a connection with Great Britain which could not protect them, and which they have the best reasons to dread as the greatest evil that could befall them, from the unheard of tyrannies and cruelties they have already experienced from her. His Lordship is desired to consider this, and to ask himself, if he was an American, whether he would wish to run under the broken fragments of an empire that is dashed in pieces, like a china vase, and commence a fresh war against a combination of all the nations of the world who now discover a degree of esteem and regard for America.
If the Americans are as miserable as his Lordship represents them, will they be likely to increase that misery tenfold and make it perpetual, by espousing the cause of a ruined empire and going to war with half a dozen that are not ruined?
If we believe the testimonies of witnesses who come from all parts of America, we shall be convinced that his Lordship deceives himself. Every man from that country who knows the principles and opinions of the people, declares that they are, with a unanimity that is unexampled in any other revolution, firmly determined to maintain their sovereignty and their alliances, and that there is nobody there who utters a wish of returning to the government of Great Britain, or even of making a separate peace.
But if his Lordship was a candid inquirer after truth, and had a mind sufficiently enlightened to discover the means that are in the power of all men of obtaining it, he might have seen his error. There are certain marks by which the opinions, principles, inclinations, and wishes of a people may be discovered with infallible certainty, without recurring to witnesses or to far-fetched arguments.
The press, the towns, the juries, and the assemblies are four sources, from whence an unerring demonstration of the true sentiments of the people of America may be drawn. There is not in any nation of the world so unlimited a freedom of the press as is now established in every State of America, both by law and practice. Every man in Europe who reads their newspapers must see it. There is nothing that the people dislike that they do not attack. They attack officers of every rank in the militia and in the army; they attack judges, governors, and magistrates of every denomination; they attack assemblies and councils, members of congress, and congress itself, whenever they dislike their conduct. But I appeal to every newspaper upon the continent, whether one paragraph, one wish or hint of returning to the government of Great Britain, or of making a separate peace, has ever appeared.
The towns in many parts of America are small districts of territory, on an average perhaps six miles square. By the ancient laws of the country, which are still in force, any seven inhabitants of one of these towns have a right to demand of the magistrates a public assembly of all. There are necessarily several of these town meetings every year, and generally a great number of them. In these assemblies, every man, high and low, every yeoman, tradesman, and even day-laborer, as well as every gentleman and public magistrate, has a right to vote, and to speak his sentiments upon public affairs, to propose measures, to instruct the representatives in the legislature, &c. This right was constantly and frequently used under the former government, and is now much more frequently used under the new. The world has seen some hundreds of sets of instructions to representatives under the former government, wherein they enjoined an open opposition to judges, governors, acts of parliament, king, lords, and commons of Great Britain. What is there now to prevent them from opposing congress? Nothing. Has a single vote of any one of these towns been read, or one speech heard, proposing or uttering a wish to return to the government of Great Britain? Not one. Is not this a demonstration of the sentiments of the people?
Juries in America were formerly another organ, by which the sentiments of the people were conveyed to the public. Both grand juries and petit juries have expressed themselves in language sufficiently bold and free against acts of parliament and the conduct of Great Britain. But has any one ever uttered a word against congress or the assemblies or the judges under their new governments? or a wish to return to the obedience of England? Not one.
But it is said the paper money embarrasses congress. What then? Does this tend to make them dissolve their union? to violate their alliances? Would the paper money embarrass congress less, if they had a war to maintain against France and Spain, than it does now? Would not the embarrassment be much greater? Does the paper money prevent the increase and the population of the States? No. Does the war prevent it? No. Both the population and the property of the States have increased every year since this war began. And all the efforts of Great Britain cannot prevent it. On the contrary, have the wealth and population of Great Britain increased? Has her commerce increased? Has the political weight of the nation in the scales of Europe increased? Let a melancholy Briton tell.
His Lordship talks about the misery of the people in America. Let him look at home, and then say where is misery! where the hideous prospect of an internal civil war is added to a war with all the world. The truth is, that agriculture and manufactures, not of luxuries, but of necessaries, have been so much increased by this war, that it is much to be doubted whether they ever fed or clothed themselves more easily or more comfortably. But, besides this, the immense depredations they have made upon the British trade have introduced vast quantities of British merchandises of every sort. And, in spite of all the exertions of the British fleet, their trade is opening and extending with various countries every year, and Britain herself is forced to aid it, and will be more and more; a recent proof of which is the permission to import American tobacco into the kingdom from any part of the world, in neutral bottoms.
The great debt is also mentioned. Do they pay an interest for this debt? Is every necessary and convenience of life taxed to perpetuity to pay this interest? Is the whole equal in proportion to their abilities to the debt of England? Would the debt be rendered less by joining Great Britain against France and Spain? Would the war against France and Spain be shorter, less expensive, or less bloody than the war against England? By returning to England, would not their debt be ten times more burdensome? This debt is as nothing to America, once give her peace. Let the Americans trade freely with one another and with all other nations, and this debt would be but a feather. Let them come under Great Britain again, and have the communication between one colony and another obstructed as heretofore, and their trade confined to Great Britain as heretofore, and this debt would be a heavier millstone about their necks than that of England is about theirs.
A general repugnance to the alliance with France is mentioned. A greater mistake was never made. On the contrary, every step of congress, every proceeding of every assembly upon the continent, every prayer that is made in the pulpit, and every speculation in the newspapers, demonstrates the high sense they have of the importance of this alliance. It is said that this alliance has been of little utility. Has it not employed the British army? has it not cut out work enough for the British navy? has it not wasted for England her annual twenty millions? has it not prevented these from being employed against America? has it not given scope to American privateers? has it not protected the American trade? has it not hurt that of Great Britain? has it not engaged Russia, Holland, Sweden, Denmark, and Portugal, at least to a neutrality? at least has it not contributed much to these vast advantages to America? has it not taken away from Great Britain the dominion of the sea so far as to allow liberty of navigation to others? It is true the alliance might have been of more utility to all the allies with the same expense, if France and Spain had sooner adopted the policy of sending more of their forces to America. But they are now so well convinced of it, that unless miracles are wrought to prevent it, America and England, too, will soon see more of the efforts of this alliance. Let Britain tremble at the consequences of her own folly and her own crime.
His Lordship says that the people would return to their allegiance if they were not restrained by the tyranny of those who have got the powers of government. These are the assemblies, senates, governors, and congress. Now what power have any of these, but what the people please to allow them? By what engine is this tyranny exercised? Is it by the militia? In order to judge of this, let us consider the constitution of the militia. The militia is, in fact, the whole people; for, by the laws of every State, every man from sixteen to sixty years of age belongs to the militia, is obliged to be armed, to train and to march upon occasion, or find a substitute. The officers are chosen by the men, except the general officers, who are appointed by the assemblies. It is this very militia which forms the body of voters, who annually choose the members of assembly and the senators and governors. Is it possible these men should tyrannize over men upon whom they are so entirely dependent? As well might it be reproached to his Lordship and his colleagues in administration, that they tyrannized over their royal master, who can displace them at his pleasure. The assemblies thus annually chosen by the people or militia, annually choose the delegates in congress, and have power to recall them at pleasure. Will the militia then obey either assemblies or congress in the execution of tyrannical orders or any orders that are not generally agreeable to them? The thing speaks for itself. Is it the continental army, then, that is the instrument of their own servitude and that of their country? Every officer holds his commission at the pleasure of congress. But his Lordship and his colleagues often represent the continental army as so small and feeble as to be unable to make head against the British troops, and it is true that they are constantly employed in that service, and it is true that they are nothing in comparison with the militia. What would become of them, then, if the militia or any considerable number of them were to join the British troops?
There has never been any part of the continental army, in more than three or four of the thirteen States at a time, watching the motions of the British army and confining them to the protection of their men-of-war. What has there been, then, in the remaining nine or ten States for an instrument of tyranny? This is too ridiculous to need many words.
His Lordship concludes with a distinction, if possible, less grounded than his assertions. He says that congress will never treat, but that the people and the assemblies will. Where does his Lordship find the ground of his difference between the congress and the assemblies? Are not the members of congress made of the same clay? Are they not themselves members of the assemblies? Are they not the creatures of the assemblies? Are they not annually created? Are they not dependent every moment upon the assemblies for their existence? Have not the assemblies a right to recall them when they please, and appoint others by law and the constitution? Have not the assemblies a right to instruct them how to act? If they do not obey these instructions, cannot the assemblies displace them and appoint others who will be more obedient? If the assemblies desired a reconciliation with England, could not they appoint a congress who desired it too? If the people desired it, could not they appoint assemblies who would soon make a congress suitable for their purpose? But I have been too long; his Lordship betrays such misinformation of facts, such an inattention to those obvious marks of the feelings of a people, as are infallible indications of their designs, and such a want of knowledge of the laws and constitution of the United States, as excite astonishment in an impartial examiner, and a real commiseration for the unhappy nation who are devoted to destruction from his errors and delusions.1
I have the honor to be, &c.
[1 ]Barriers between Great Britain and the United States of America to a Reconciliation, Alliance, or even Peace.