John Quincy Adams.

Writings of John Quincy Adams (Volume 9) online

. (page 29 of 42)
Online LibraryJohn Quincy AdamsWritings of John Quincy Adams (Volume 9) → online text (page 29 of 42)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

long enough I fear to produce that catastrophe from which
we have so long endeavored to preserve ourselves, but in
which it seems the will of Heaven that we should be in-

At the same time while this drama draws towards a tragi-
cal conclusion, another still more terrible in its aspect is
opening in the north of Europe. Russia there stands arrayed
against the united forces of France, Germany and Italy.
The parties have been two years assembling against each
other the whole power it was possible for them to put in
motion, and last week the hostilities commenced by an in-
vasion of the Russian territories in Poland. The French,


Austrian^ Spanish, Neapolitafi, Saxon, Bavarian, Wurtem-
biirg and Westphalian ministers, and other diplomatic agents
at this court, have all asked for passports and are on the
eve of departure. The Russian ambassador at Paris has
done the same, and before this must be out of France. One
of the greatest causes of this war, indeed, in my opinion its
only immediate cause, is the same British Orders in Council
which have bred the war between our country and England.
The expectation of this explosion also may contribute to
procrastinate the final ministerial arrangements in England.
It was but yesterday that the account of the first hostili-
ties in Poland reached this city. No event of importance
is yet known to have occurred, but it is believed impossible
that many days should pass without a shock such as perhaps
is unparalleled even in the sanguinary modern annals of
Europe. What its event will be human wisdom cannot fore-
see, but here it is a moment of profound and gloomy anxiety.
And what singularly characterizes the period is that, pro-
digious as the armaments and preparations have been on
both sides, not an intimation has been given to the public
on either side of any misunderstanding between them.
Russia has declared and adhered to the determination not to
begin the war; but on the subject of the difference which had
arisen between them there has been a persevering refusal on
her part to negotiate at all, the motive for which will doubt-
less now be assigned, but which as yet is unaccountable.
The opinion prevails here that Sweden will be in alliance with
Russia, but the professed desire of Sweden is to remain
neutral. She rejected great offers made to her to join in the
alliance of France and Austria, and gave the first notice of
that alliance here. She has made her own peace with Eng-
land, upon the promise that England would acquiesce in
her neutrality. But it does not appear that by this was


understood the revocation of the Orders in Council, without
which there can be no neutrality.

The publication of the documents communicated to our
government by Mr. Henry took place very shortly after
the date of your letter of 19 February. I perceive by the
Boston newspapers that the federalists there wish Mr.
Henry's evidence to be construed as a testimony to their
political virtue, and he certainly has taken pains to have it
understood that he did not intend to expose the individuals
with whom he treated. You observe that the tory projects
of H. and P. were not to be dreaded. I have perhaps thought
them more formidable than they were, but Mr. Henry's
mission and his letters have given further countenance to my
opinions. If the leaders of the Massachusetts and Connec-
ticut legislatures in 1809 were not ripe for open and avowed
negotiation with Henry, it was evidently not owing to any
scruples of their own, but to their fears that the people
would not go with them in their plan of rebellion. Henry's
letters throw a new and powerful light on the compilation
entitled Works of Fisher Ames. It was published while
Henry was in Boston, and I knew at the time that an extraor-
dinary number of copies were purchased for the express
purpose of extensive circulation in the state of Vermont,^

1 "Of this mission of Henry, your son had got wind in the time of the embargo
and communicated it to me. But he had learned nothing of the particular agent,
although, of his workings, the information he had obtained appears now to have
been correct. He stated a particular which Henry has not distinctly brought
forward, which was that the Eastern States were not to be required to make a
formal act of separation from the Union, and to take a part in the war against it;
a measure deemed much too strong for their people; but to declare themselves in
a state of neutrality, in consideration of which they were to have peace and free
commerce, the lure most likely to insure popular acquiescence. Having no indica-
tions of Henry as the intermediate in this negotiation of the Essex junto, suspi-
cions fell on Pickering, and his nephew Williams, in London. If he was wronged
in this, the ground of the suspicion is to be found in his known practices and avowed


If you have not read that book I beg you to procure it, and
cast your eye upon it with the recollection of the time when
it was given to the public, the manner in which it was
published, and the tendencies of its doctrines, to the state
of popular sentiments to which the object of Henry's mission
was adapted. The present time is less favorable for the
British intrigue to dismember our Union than that was,
but whenever we have a war with England, we shall have
to contend against an internal struggle of the same spirit.
God grant that it may be suppressed without blood. I
trust in God it will be suppressed.^
Ever faithfully yours.


No. 91. [James Monroe]

St. Petersburg, ii July, 1812.

There was an inaccuracy in the statement of circum-
stances immediately preceding the rupture between France
and Russia contained in my No. 88 which in a more recent

opinions, as that of his accomplices in the sameness of sentiment and of language
with Henry, and subsequently by the fluttering of the wounded pigeons." Jefferson
to John Adams, April 20, 18 12, Writings of Jefferson (Ford), VIII. 347.

^ War with Great Britain was declared by act of Congress June 18, 1812.

"In resorting to war against Great Britain as the United States has done by
inevitable necessity, it is their desire and hope that it may be confined to her.

"It is seen with much regret that the Emperor of Russia Is also likely to be re-
duced to the necessity of becoming a party to the war, if he has not already done
it. Should that event take place there is no reason why it should affect in the slight-
est degree the very friendly relations which now exist between the United States
and Russia. // is the serious desire of this government to preserve to their utmost ex-
tent those relations with that power." Secretary of State to John Quincy Adams,
July I, 1812. Ms. Italics represent cypher.


conversation with the late French ambassador I have perceived,
and ^ which, In the wish to give you the most precise in-
formation, I think it proper to notice. The proposition
made by Russia to France "that the French troops should
evacuate Prussia and Swedish Pomerania, and withdraw
beyond the Elbe, as a preliminary to negotiation upon the
points at variance between the two governments," was
made, not with Prince Kurakin's third demand for pass-
ports, but at a prior period. It was dispatched from hence
a short time before the Emperor Alexander's departure,
and in the first Instance was communicated by Prince
Kurakin, with a letter of complimentary form, from his
sovereign to the Emperor Napoleon. He is said to have
listened very coolly to the proposition as made by Prince
Kurakin, and to have said In answer, "C'est forte blen!
J'aime qu'on me parle franchement," at the same time
referring the Prince to the Duke of Bassano, for the official
notice of his determination. It is added, that there was so
much calmness In his manner, that the Russian ambassador
entertained some hopes that the proposal would be com-
plied with. But on repeating It In form to the Duke of
Bassano the Duke told him that he should not answer It,
because such a proposition could admit of no other formal
answer than a declaration of war. That If It had been made,
as the basis of a negotiation. It would have been unobjection-
able; but to comply with It, dictated as a preliminary after
the engagements France had made with the king of Prussia,
and when the French troops were on the banks of the Vistula,
would be dishonorable. France could neither hearken nor
reply to It. Then It was that the Emperor Napoleon resolved
upon his departure, and that Prince Kurakin first asked
for his passports without saying that it was by order of his

^ Cypher.


government. The statement of the preliminary terms,
required by Russia which appeared in the English newspapers
was not therefore as I had at first understood prior in date to
Prince Kurakin's communication of them to the French govern-
ment, hut it was so nearly at the same time as to have produced
in the Emperor Napoleon's mind the conviction suggested
in my letter, and in no small degree aggravated his irri-

It appears that the Minister General of the Police, Balas-
chofF, had been sent from Wilna to the Emperor Napoleon's
headquarters only two days before the commencement of
hostilities. It is scarcely possible but that he should have
been charged with some other propositions than the final
one of Prince Kurakin. What they were, however, has not
yet been made known. It is circulated here that the Em-
peror Alexander, previous to his departure, formally pledged
himself that he would enter into no negotiation with France,
unless the French troops should be first withdrawn from
Prussia and beyond the Elbe. The refusal of passports to
the French ambassador to go to Wilna for the purpose of
negotiating was probably founded upon the same determina-
tion. I have reported to you the tone of opinions which were
very assiduously maintained here by certain persons Inti-
mately connected with the court: that France was reduced
to the extremity of distress; that Napoleon would not dare
to begin this war; that he could not begin It if he would.
How far the measures of the Russian cabinet were stiflPened by
ideas of this description, I cannot expressly say; but In the
transactions between independent states, I know not of an
expedient in human contrivance more effectual to defeat
all possible arrangement, than for one party to require of
the other, as a preliminary to negotiation, a public act

^ Cypher.


shrinking from its own ground previously taken. A memor-
able example In our own recent history has not a little con-
tributed to show the character and tendency of such proposi-

I shall enclose with this letter the several short narratives
of the events which have occurred since the commencement
of the war, published by official authority here. They merely
represent the Russian armies as having retreated for the
purpose of uniting their forces previous to a general action,
and as having proceeded hitherto almost without annoyance
in effecting this operation. A considerable extent of country
has thus been for a time abandoned to the invader, but as
the strength and resources of the country are unimpaired,
the spirit of the people here is rather acquiring than losing
confidence and encouragement.

An English negotiator, a Mr. Smith, is said to have arrived
at the Emperor Alexander's headquarters while they were
at Wilna; and since the campaign commenced a Mr. Novo-
siltzoff has been dispatched from them to England.

The French ambassador, and the allied ministers who asked
for their passports, at the same time with him, have now
received them, after the application had been three times
renewed. Mr. Rayneval, the first secretary of the French
embassy, was dispatched as a courier, and was furnished by
Count Soltikoff with a passport as such; but was neverthe-
less stopped at Mittau, and not permitted to proceed. The
mails from France and Germany have all been stopped, and
nothing is known here of the movements of the French armies
excepting what is mentioned in the handbills of which trans-
lations are enclosed. The three first of these handbills
though dated from headquarters, did not mention where they
were. This circumstance occasioned rumors that they had
been transferred to the northern bank of the Dwina, which


is proved by the fourth handbill to have been a mistake.
I am with great respect, etc.


St. Petersburg, 13 July, 1812.

The political condition of the world not only engrosses
all our thoughts, but absorbs all our faculties. A new war is
just blazing out in the country where I reside, and within
three days distance of where I am. I have been nearly
three years observing its causes and witnessing its approaches
with the deep concern that a common feeling of humanity,
strengthened by the peculiar interest in favor of this nation
which my situation rendered so natural, could not fail to
inspire. I long cherished the hope that some unforeseen
event, some special and providential interposition, would
avert a conflict, from the issue of which I could augur noth-
ing propitious to mankind, but which the process of time
appeared to be bringing on with almost the regularity and
certainty of the revolutions of the spheres. It has not so
seemed good to that Providence whose ways, however dark,
are wise and merciful. The trial by battle is upon its issue,
and the destinies of the civilized world are once more staked
upon its events.

With a still more anxious and painful sentiment I have
seen during the same period, and partly from the same
causes, the same scourge of war suspended over my own
country. There, too, the natural and seemingly inevitable
result of the passing events was war, and there I more fondly
indulged the hope of some sudden and unexpected light to
arise from darkness which the volume of sacred inspiration
promises to the upright. When the frantic hand of an assas-


sin, without apparent motive and without accomplice, cut
short the days of the man whom I considered as the only nec-
essary producer and efficient author of this war,^ the first
sentiment which succeeded that of horror at the deed which
sent him so instantly to his account was that of a reviving
wish, which was at that moment nearly extinct, that this
very act might in its consequences snatch my country from
that calamity which to all human appearance has become
unavoidable. After an interval of more than a month
wasted in cabals and intrigues, and serving only to prove
the irreconcilable discussions between the leaders of the
various parties squabbling for the government of England,
another event as unexpected as the first, but consequent
upon It, has again cheered me with an additional gleam of
hope, which would even be strong and vivid but for the ap-
prehension that the ardors and impatience of indignation
at our wrongs may have precipitated measures on our part
which may yet involve us in that conflict, from which we
have no otherwise the prospect of being happily extricated.

On the 1 6th of June the death blow was given In the Brit-
ish House of Commons to that political pestilence which
has been raging nearly five years under the denomination of
the Orders In Council.^ Their revocation has been extorted
with the most extreme reluctance from the remnants of the
very same ministry by which they were enacted, extorted
by the cries of famine which it had spread over their own
people, and by the fear of that convulsive desperation pro-
duced among them by it. As if determined to display
before all mankind the clear unequivocal and unanswerable
demonstration of the efficacy of commercial restrictions In
America to control the willful and wanton injustice of a
British administration, they persisted In maintaining this

» Spencer Perceval. » See Henry Adams, History, VI. 267.


infamous system until the proofs that thousands upon
thousands of their manufacturers were starving under its
operation had been exhibited in the minutest detail by the
concurrent and uncontradicted evidence of an inquiry of
many weeks, daily pursued. They then in a manner, as
awkward and ungracious as that with which they had before
adhered to their folly, declared their intentions to abandon
it, and with one and the same breath avowed that they
yielded only to the gasping hunger of their people, and that
they meant to clog their concession with conditions which
America is under no obligation to grant, and some of which
she will probably reject. There is even now an appearance
of insincerity in their mode of proceeding, indicating that
they have a trickish purpose to get the American markets
open to relieve their people, and then to enforce again their
piratical orders. But as I believe the American govern-
ment is more than a match for them at negotiation, and as
they now confess they must negotiate, I have no doubt they
will be driven from this skulking hole as they have from all
their strongholds by the address and sagacity they will
have to treat with, if by a commencement of hostilities on
our part their lingering and forced compliance should not
now come too late.

My principal anxiety, therefore, now is for what may have
been done in America. The embargo of last April was
applied at the moment when its power was most effectual
and was I strongly believe, the wrenching stroke to the
stubbornness of the British ministers. Everything that
preceded viewed as preparatory for war was of similar
tendency, and the publication of Henry's correspondence
was not lost upon the two present heads of the administra-
tion. But I hear so much said foreboding a declaration of
war, or an actual commencement of hostilities by us, that


I am uneasy lest in the moment of hurry to show the serious-
ness of our intention to vindicate our right we may have
lost the benefit of their tardy repentance, and put the
weapon of defence from our own hands into theirs.


St. Petersburg, 13 July, 1812.

• ••••••

The issue of the election of governor in Massachusetts
has been already some time known to us. Entertaining a
favorable opinion of the moderation and discretion of
Mr. Strong, I augur no very great evil from his recovery by
so scanty a majority of the place which he lost by a majority
nearly as weak. That the English faction have been com-
pelled to take him for their champion is proof enough that
they are still wide of their mark. He was heretofore shy of
them and their politics. If he calculates upon a long second
career as commander in chief of Massachusetts, he will
beware of them and their measures again. If Henry's cor-
respondence gave him votes this year, I doubt whether it
will produce the same effect the next. That party as long
as they can keep up the struggle for the dominion of New
England or their hopeful eastern empire are doomed to roll
the stone of Sisyphus; it will recoil upon them every time
they succeed in rolling it up to the top of the hill.

Truckle to England and go to war with France, so said in
his last days Fisher Ames. So snarled from the first embargo
time down to the argument for Captain Bingham, Timothy
Pickering. So chattered from the affair of the Chesapeake
downwards, the Yankee Farmer and Boston Rebel, the


Gentlema7i who writes analyses and comments upon sup-
pressed documents, the Gentleman ^ who began by main-
taining against me in a public insurance office of Boston,
that Berkeley's attack upon the Chesapeake to search for and
take deserters was perfectly justifiable. So openly and boldly
said Mr. Gore to the patriotic Massachusetts legislature
of 1809, and for so saying was made governor of the Com-
monwealth at the next election. So have said, still say, and
must say in so many words, or In full substance to the same
effect, not only every man who hankers after the separation
of the states, hatched between Boston, Connecticut and
Washington in 1804, but every man who pretends to have a
system concerning our foreign affairs in opposition to that
of our government. How Mr. Strong has extricated himself
from the difficulty of talking to the legislature on this sub-
ject I know not. I hope not as Mr. Griswold talked to the
legislature of Connecticut. I think Mr. Gore's open dealing
infinitely preferable to that.

But this doctrine of truckling to England for the sake of
going to war with France never will, never can, obtain an
ascendency over the people of the United States, and it
will forever end by tripping up the heels of those who build
it upon the narrow scale of a New England or Massachusetts
system. By pinning themselves upon Old England they
will not only always have to share more or less the odium
of her outrages upon our country, but the danger of her
treachery and perfidy to themselves, the depression of her
disasters in her wars with all the rest of the world, and the
contempt at the notorious profligacy and the stupid blunders
of her rulers.

I have the most respectful deference for your opinions
upon the Importance of naval armament and an inclination,

^ John Lowell.


perhaps more powerful than my own judgment, to concur
with them all. But I have read with very little edification
the speeches of Mr. Quincy and Mr. Lloyd on the subject.
Both these gentlemen are abundantly eloquent, and their
discourses appear to me to contain a great deal of everything
but persuasion. Air. Quincy threatens separation again,
peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must — "a navy, or separa-
tion." And pray if you separate, my good sir, will not such
men as General Varnum, and Mr. Cutts, and Mr. Seaver,
have as bad an opinion of a navy afterwards as they have
now, and will they not quite as probably form the majority
in your fragment of an empire as they form part of it now in
the whole one.^ Will Connecticut now, and the Genesee,
and the White and Green mountains, make their home upon
the mountain wave, any more than Ohio, or Kentucky, or
Tennessee.'' Separate, and in addition to all your external
and internal enemies look out for border wars; but do not
talk of separating for a navy while New England votes turn
the question against the navy on the floor of the present
Congress. You are afraid the Europeans will call us pigmy
statesmen; but while we can show them such great statesmen
as you, we may laugh at their derision and return them
scorn for scorn. Your excess of stature shall make up for
our deficiency, and restore all to a level according to the
modern moral doctrine of compensations. You call for a
navy to protect our commerce, and show us calculation
upon calculation of exports, tonnage, freight percentage
and what not; but In conclusion you admit that an attempt
to protect all this against Great Britain would be ludicrously
wild and [blank], and that all you ask is a force to protect
your coasts, harbors and coasting trade, which Impartially
speaking she has but little Injured, and which you have not
proved that your half a dozen 74's and your ten or twenty


frigates would not supply with both temptation and apology
for attacking.

Mr. Lloyd does not threaten a dissolution of the Union,
though he should not get his twenty frigates; but to concili-
ate the good will of his hearers he takes of their measures a
review compounded of ignorance, prejudice and party spirit
with five parts error to one of truth, and brands them all
as a series of dishonorable actions. He too is a stupendous
calculator, and to prove that commerce has been utterly
abandoned and ruined by our government, quotes official
returns stating our exports of vegetable food in 1791 to have
been about four millions and a half, and in 181 1 upwards
of twenty millions of dollars. I suspect that Edmund Burke
taught these gentlemen their custom house and counting-
house oratory. But Burke's arithmetic was in unison with
his logic. Quincy casts up one account and argues to another,
and Lloyd's returns give the lie direct to his argument.

Verily such colossal dialectics, such Patagonian ratiocina-
tion as these speeches unfold, are not suited to the diminu-
tive faculties of us "little sons of little men," of us pigmy
statesmen, at whose puny dimensions the future cynic is
to swear with such piercing truth.

Online LibraryJohn Quincy AdamsWritings of John Quincy Adams (Volume 9) → online text (page 29 of 42)