Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO SECRETARY LIVINGSTON. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 7 (Letters and State Papers 1777-1782)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
TO SECRETARY LIVINGSTON. - 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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
TO SECRETARY LIVINGSTON.
Amsterdam, 19 February, 1782.
On the 14th instant I had the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your duplicate of the 23d of October. To-day Major Porter brought me your favor of the 20th of November, and the original of that of the 23d of October.
I congratulate you, sir, on the glorious news contained in these despatches; but I cannot be of your opinion, that, great as it is, it will defeat every hope that Britain entertains of conquering a country so defended. Vanity, sir, is a passion capable of inspiring illusions which astonish all other men; and the Britons are, without exception, the vainest people upon earth. By examining such a witness as Arnold, the ministry can draw from him evidence which will fully satisfy the people of England that the conquest of America is still practicable. Sensible men see the error; but they have seen it these twenty years, and lamented it till their hearts are broken. The intention of government seems to be to break the spirit of the nation, and to bring affairs into so wretched a situation, that all men shall see that they cannot be made better by new ministers or by the punishment of the old ones.
It is suggested that some plan of conciliation will be brought into parliament; but it will be only as deceitful as all the former ones. They begin to talk big, and threaten to send Arnold with seventeen thousand men to burn and destroy in the northern States; but this will prove but an annual vapor. I rejoice the more in Colonel Willet’s glorious services, for a personal knowledge and esteem I have for that officer. Zoutman’s battle on Doggerbank shows what the nation could do. But—It is somewhat dangerous to write with perfect freedom concerning the views and principles of each party as you desire. Indeed, the views of all parties are enveloped in clouds and darkness. There are unerring indications that all parties agree secretly in this principle, that the Americans are right, if they have power. There is here and there an individual who says the Americans are wrong; but these are very few. The English party are suspected to have it in view to engage the republic to join the English in the war against France, Spain, and America.
The Prince is supposed to wish that this were practicable, but to despair of it. Some of the great proprietors of English stocks, several great mercantile houses in the service of the British ministry, are thought to wish it too; but if they are guilty of wishes so injurious to their country and humanity, none of them dares openly avow them. The stadtholder is of opinion that his house has been supported by England; that his office was created and is preserved by her. But I do not see why his office would not be as safe in an alliance with France as with England, unless he apprehends that the republican party would in that case change sides, connect itself with England, and by her means overthrow him. There are jealousies that the stadtholder aspires to be a sovereign; but these are the ordinary jealousies of liberty, and, I should think, in this case, groundless. The opposite, which is called the republican party, is suspected of desires and designs of introducing innovations. Some are supposed to aim at the demolition of the stadtholdership; others, of introducing the people to the right of choosing the regencies; but I think these are very few in number, and very inconsiderable in power, though some of them may have wit and genius.
There is another party, at the head of which is Amsterdam, who think the stadtholdership necessary, but wish to have some further restraint or check upon it. Hence the proposition for a committee to assist his Highness. But there is no appearance that this project will succeed. All the divisions of the republican party are thought to think well of America, and to wish a connection with her and France. The opposite party do not openly declare themselves against this; but peace is the only thing in which all sides agree. No party dares say any thing against peace; yet there are individuals very respectable, who think that it is not for the public interest to make peace.
As to congress’ adapting measures to the views and interests of both parties, they have already done it in the most admirable manner. They could not have done better if they had been all present here, and I know of nothing to be added. They have a plenipotentiary here with instructions; they have given power to invite the republic to accede to the alliance between France and America, with a power to admit Spain. All this is communicated to the Comte de Vergennes and the Duc de la Vauguyon; and I wait only their advice for the time of making the proposition. I have endeavored to have the good graces of the leaders, and I have no reason to suspect that I do not enjoy their esteem; and I have received from the Prince repeatedly, and in strong terms by his secretary, the Baron de Larray, assurances of his personal esteem.
I wrote, sir, on the 3d and 7th of May, as full an account of my presenting my credentials, as it was proper to write, and am astonished that neither duplicates nor triplicates have arrived. I will venture a secret. I had the secret advice of our best friends in the republic to take the step I did, though the French ambassador thought the time a little too early. My situation would have been ridiculous and deplorable indeed, if I had not done it, and the success of the measure, as far as universal applause could be called success, has justified it. Those who detested the measure, sir, were obliged to applaud it in words. I am surprised to see you think it places us in a humiliating light. I am sure it raised me out of a very humiliating position, such as I never felt before, and shall never feel again, I believe. I have lately, by the express advice of all our best friends, added to that of the Duc de la Vauguyon and the Comte de Vergennes, demanded a categorical answer. I knew very well I should not have it; but it has placed the United States and their minister in a glorious light, demanding candidly an answer, and the republic has not yet equal dignity to give it. In this manner we may remain with perfect safety to the dignity of the United States and the reputation of her minister, until their High Mightinesses shall think fit to answer, or until we shall think it necessary to repeat the demand, or make a new one, which I shall not do without the advice of the French ambassador, with whom I shall consult in perfect confidence.
My motives for printing the memorial were, that I had no other way to communicate my proposition to the sovereign of the country. The gentlemen at the Hague, who are called their High Mightinesses, are not the sovereign; they are only deputies of the states-general, who compose the sovereignty. These joint-deputies form only a diplomatic body, not a legislative nor an executive one. The states-general are the regencies of cities and bodies of nobles. The regencies of cities are the burgomasters, and schepens or judges and counsellors, composing in the whole a number of four or five thousand men, scattered all over the republic. I had no way to come at them but by the press, because the president refused to receive my memorial. If he had received it, it would have been transmitted of course to all the regencies; but in that case it would have been printed; for there is no memorial of a public minister in this republic, but what is printed.
When the president said, “Sir, we have no authority to receive your memorial, until your title and character are acknowledged by our constituents and sovereigns; we are not the sovereign;” I answered, “In that case, sir, it will be my duty to make the memorial public in print, because I have no other possible way of addressing myself to the sovereign, your constituents.”
The president made no objection, and there has been no objection to this day. Those who dreaded the consequence to the cause of Anglomany have never ventured to hint a word against it. The Anglomanes would have had a triumph if it had not been printed, and I should before this day have met with many disagreeable scenes, if not public affronts. This openness has protected me. To conciliate the affections of the people, to place our cause in an advantageous light, to remove the prejudices that Great Britain and her votaries excite, to discover the views of the different parties, to watch the motions that lead to peace between England and Holland, have been my constant aim since I have resided here. The secret aid of government in obtaining a loan I have endeavored to procure, but it can never be obtained until there is a treaty. I have hitherto kept a friendly connection with the French ambassador, and that without interruption. The new commission for peace, and the revocation of that for a treaty of commerce with Great Britain, I have received. My language and conduct are those of a private gentleman; but those members of congress who think this proper, know that I have held public places in Europe, too public and conspicuous for me to be able to remain incognito in this country; nor is it for the interest of the republic that I should attempt it.
I should be extremely obliged to you, sir, if you would let me know the dates of all the letters that have been received from me, since I have been in Holland, that I may send further copies of such as have miscarried.
The States of Holland have accepted the mediation of Russia, on condition of saving the rights of the armed neutrality. There has been a balancing between a treaty with France and the acceptance of this mediation. Amsterdam said nothing. The mediation was accepted; but several provinces have declared for a treaty with France. People of the best intentions are jealous of a peace with England upon dishonorable terms; but France will prevent this, though she does not choose to prevent the acceptance of the mediation, as she might have done, by consenting to my making the proposition of a triple or quadruple alliance. Her ambassador says, the King must not oppose the Empress of Russia, who will be of importance in the final settlement of peace.
France has never discovered much inclination to a treaty with the republic. The demolition of the barrier towns may explain this, as well as the ambassador’s opinion against presenting my memorial at the time it was done. I believe that France, too, can explain the reason of the delay of Spain, where we make a less respectable appearance than in this republic. The delay of Spain is fatal to our affairs. Yet I know the American minister there to be equal to any service, which makes me regret the more the delay of that kingdom. The constant cry is, “why is Spain silent? We must wait for Spain.” Nothing gives greater advantage to the English party.
The nature of the government in an absolute monarchy, would render it improper to make any application or memorial public. The nature of this government rendered it indispensably necessary. The business must begin in the public, that is, in all the regencies. De Witt and Temple, it is true, made a treaty in five days; but De Witt risked his head by it, upon the pardon and confirmation of the regencies. But it was a time and a measure which he knew to be universally wished for. The case at present is different. M. Van Bleiswyck, though he told me he thought favorably of my first application, would not have dared to take a single step without the previous orders of his masters, as he told me.
It is the United States of America which must save this republic from ruin. It is the only power that is externally respected by all parties, although no party dares as yet declare openly for it. One half the republic nearly, declares every day very indecently against France, the other against England; but neither one nor the other declares against America, which is more beloved and esteemed than any other nation of the world.
We must wait, however, with patience. After oscillating a little longer, and grasping at peace, finding it unattainable, I think they will seek an alliance with America, if not with France. I had a week ago a visit from one of the first personages in Friesland, who promised me that in three weeks I should have an answer from that Province.
I have the honor to be, &c.