Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO WILLIAM KETELTAS. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes)
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TO WILLIAM KETELTAS. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes) 
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. 10.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
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TO WILLIAM KETELTAS.
Quincy, 25 November, 1812.
I have received your polite letter of the 6th of the month and your present of the “Crisis.” You will excuse a question or two. In page first, you say, “Our administrations, with the exception of Washington’s, have been party administrations.” On what ground do you except Washington’s? If by party you mean majority, his majority was the smallest of the four in all his legislative and executive acts, though not in his election.
You say, “our divisions began with federalism and antifederalism.” Alas! they began with human nature; they have existed in America from its first plantation. In every colony, divisions always prevailed. In New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Massachusetts, and all the rest, a court and country party have always contended. Whig and tory disputed very sharply before the revolution, and in every step during the revolution. Every measure of Congress, from 1774 to 1787 inclusively, was disputed with acrimony, and decided by as small majorities as any question is decided in these days. We lost Canada then, as we are like to lose it now, by a similar opposition. Away, then, with your false, though popular distinctions in favor of Washington.
In page eleventh, you recommend a “constitutional rotation, to destroy the snake in the grass;” but the snake will elude your snare. Suppose your President in rotation is to be chosen for Rhode Island. There will be a federal and a republican candidate in that State. Every federalist in the nation will vote for the former, and every republican for the latter. The light troops on both sides will skirmish; the same northern and southern distinctions will still prevail; the same running and riding, the same railing and reviling, the same lying and libelling, cursing and swearing, will still continue. The same caucusing, assemblaging, and conventioning.
In the same page eleventh, you speak of a “portion of our own people who palsy the arm of the nation.” There is too much truth in this. When I was exerting every nerve to vindicate the honor, and demand a redress of the wrongs of the nation against the tyranny of France, the arm of the nation was palsied by one party. Now Mr. Madison is acting the same part, for the same ends, against Great Britain, the arm of the nation is palsied by the opposite party. And so it will always be while we feel like colonists, dependent for protection on France or England; while we have so little national public opinion, so little national principle, national feeling, national patriotism; while we have no sentiment of our own strength, power, and resources.
I thank you, Sir, for reminding me, in page twelfth, of my “many blunders in my administration,” and should have been still more obliged to you, if you had enumerated them in detail, that I might have made a confession of them one by one, repented of them on conviction, and made all the atonement for them now in my power. In the same page, you observe, that “you never knew how far I extended my views as to a maritime force.” I will tell you, Sir. My views extend very far—as far as Colonel Barré’s when, in his last speech in parliament, he exclaimed, “Who shall dare to set limits to the commerce and naval power of this country?” Yet I know that Washington city was not built in a day, any more than Rome. I am not for any extravagant efforts. Your plan of a ship of the largest size for the whole, and a frigate of the largest size for each State, would satisfy me for the present.
Your last sentence is a jewel, “a monarchy of justice, an aristocracy of wisdom, and a democracy of freedom.”
As I never knew your person, nor heard your name, till I read it in your letter, I hope you will excuse the freedom of your obedient servant.
TO J. B. VARNUM.
Quincy, 5 January, 1813.
. . . . . . . . . . .
The foundation of an American navy, which I presume is now established by law, is a grand era in the history of the world. The consequences of it will be greater than any of us can foresee. Look to Asia and Africa, to South America and to Europe for its effects. My private opinion had been for frigates and smaller vessels, but I rejoice that the ideas of Congress have been greater. The four quarters of the world are in a ferment. We shall interfere everywhere. Nothing but a navy under Heaven can secure, protect, or defend us.
It is an astonishment to every enlightened man in Europe, who considers us at all, that we have been so long insensible and inattentive to this great instrument of national prosperity, this most efficacious arm of national power, independence, and safety.
I could give you many proofs of this, but I will confine myself to two. In June, 1779, I dined with Monsieur Thevenard, intendant of the navy at Lorient, certainly one of the most experienced, best read, and most scientific naval commanders in Europe. That excellent officer said to me, in the hearing of the Chevalier de la Luzerne, Mr. Marbois, and twenty officers of the French navy, “Your country is about to become the first naval power in the world.” My answer was, “It is impossible to foresee what may happen a hundred, or two or three hundred years hence, but there is at present no appearance of probability of any great maritime power in America for a long time to come.” “Hundred years!” said Thevenard, “It will not be twenty years before you will be a match for any maritime powers of Europe.” “You surprise me, Sir; I have no suspicion or conception of any such great things. Will you allow me to ask your reasons for such an opinion.” “My reasons!” said Mr. Thevenard, “My reasons are very obvious. You have all the materials, and the knowledge and skill to employ them. You have timber, hemp, tar, and iron, seamen and naval architects equal to any in the world.” “I know we have oak and pine and iron, and we may have hemp; but I did not know that our shipwrights were equal to yours in Europe.” “The frigate in which you came here,” said Mr. Thevenard (the Alliance, Captain Landais) “is equal to any in Europe. I have examined her, and I assure you there is not in the king’s service, nor in the English navy, a frigate more perfect and complete in materials or workmanship.” “It gives me great pleasure, Sir, to hear your opinion. I know we had or might have materials, but I had not flattered myself that we had artists equal to those in Europe.” Mr. Thevenard repeated with emphasis, “You may depend upon it, there is not in Europe a more perfect piece of naval architecture than your Alliance, and indeed several other of your frigates that have already arrived here and in other ports of France.” My reply was, “Your character forbids me to scruple any opinion of yours in naval affairs; but one thing I know, we delight so much in peace and hate war so heartily that it will be a long time before we shall trouble ourselves with naval forces. We shall probably have a considerable commerce and some nurseries of seamen, but we had so much wild land, and the most of us loved land so much better than sea, that many years must pass before we should be ambitious of power upon the ocean. We had land enough. No temptation to go abroad for conquests. If the powers of Europe should let us alone, we should sleep quietly for ages without thinking much of ships of war.”
I returned to America, and staid about three months, when Congress sent me to Europe again. We landed at Ferrol, in Spain. In a few days a French squadron of five ships of the line came in. I was soon invited to dine with the Admiral, or, as the French call him, Général or Chef d’Escadre, the Count de Sade, with all the officers of the squadron, on board his eighty gun ship. At table, in the hearing of all the company, the Count said to me, “Your Congress will soon become one of the great maritime powers.” “Not very soon, Monsieur le Comte; it must be a long time first.” “Why a long time? No people have such advantages.” “There are many causes in the way.” “What difficulties? No nation has such nurseries for seamen so near it. You have the best timber for the hulks of ships, and best masts and spars; you have pitch, tar, and turpentine; you have iron plenty, and I am informed you grow hemp; you have skilful ship-builders. What is wanting?” “The will, Monsieur le Comte; the will may be wanting and nothing else.” “We have a maxim among us mariners, that with wood, hemp, and iron, a nation may do what it pleases. If you get your independence, as I doubt not you will, the trade of all nations will be open to you, and you will have a very extensive commerce, and such a commerce will want protection.” “We must have a considerable commerce, but our lands will be so much out of proportion to our trade, that if the powers of Europe do not disturb us, it must be ages before we shall want a navy, or be willing to bear the expense of it.”
I said I would give you two anecdotes. I will add a third. In 1778 I went to France in the Boston, frigate. We took a very rich prize commanded by a captain who had served twenty years in the British navy, several of them as a lieutenant. The captain became very curious to examine the ship. Captain Tucker allowed him to see every part of her. As we lived together in the cabin, we became very intimate. He frequently expressed to me his astonishment. He said he had never seen a completer ship; that there was not a frigate in the royal navy better built, of better materials or more perfectly equipped, furnished, or armed. “However,” he added, “you are the rising country of the world, and if you can send to sea such ships as this, you will soon be able to do great things.”