John Quincy Adams.

Writings of John Quincy Adams (Volume 9) online

. (page 36 of 42)
Online LibraryJohn Quincy AdamsWritings of John Quincy Adams (Volume 9) → online text (page 36 of 42)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

rogatives to political Quixotism. We did not consider
Britain at all as the champion for the liberties of mankind,
but as another tyrant pretending to exclusive dominion upon
the ocean — a pretension full as detestable, and I trusted in
God full as chimerical, as the pretension of universal mon-
archy upon the land. Madame de Stael "was of her opinion


still." But on the point of impressment she admitted that
my observations were reasonable. I have never yet found
an European of any nation but the British who on having
this question in its true statement brought to a precise point
had a syllable to say for the English side. In conclusion I
told her that the pretended retaliation of England had com-
pelled her to resort to real retaliation upon them, and that
as long as they felt a necessity to fight for the practice of
stealing men from American merchant vessels on the high
seas we should feel the necessity of fighting against it. I
could only hope that God would prosper the righteous

Madame de Stael on my taking leave of her charged me if
ever I should be again in any place where she should be at the
same time not to neglect paying her a visit, which I very
willingly promised. She left St. Petersburg the same day. I
should ask Sir Francis d'lvernois' pardon. I began this
letter with him, but whom can one help deserting for Madame
de Stael? I will return to Sir Francis by the next oppor-
tunity, having now only room to say that I am, etc.


St. Petersburg, 25 March, 1813.

My last letter to you, dated 27 February, acknowledged
the receipt of your favor of 29 July, the latest letter I have
from America, and which you mention in it was to be for-
warded by Mr. B. Beale, junior.

I have now an opportunity to write by Mr. Plummer,^ a
young man who had been here several years as an agent of
Col. Thorndike. He himself belongs to Salem, and as he

' Ernestus Plummer.




intends returning as directly as he can to Boston he has
offered personally to deliver any letters which I may wish
to send to you. I therefore charge him with this and with
one for my father, which I hope will safely reach him.

We have learnt through the only channel now open for
news to reach us from America, that is, the English news-
papers, that Mr. Madison has been re-elected and that Mr.
Gerry is chosen Vice President. It may give you a sample
of the degree of ignorance in which we live of American af-
fairs to be informed that we did not know until this account
of the votes came who was the candidate for the Vice Presi-
dent to be run with Mr. Madison. We had heard mention
of Mr. Langdon and Mr. Gerry, and in the first instance had
been told that Mr. Langdon was the person fixed upon.
We had been assured that the federalists were to vote for
Mr. De Witt Clinton as President, and Mr. Jared Ingersoll as
Vice President, candidates so singularly coupled together, and
the first of them so strange a name for a federal candidate,
that I assure you it was long before I believed it possible
that it should be so, and for which even now I can account
only upon the principle of Shakespeare's Trinculo that,
"Misery acquaints a man with strange bed fellows." We
have heard no reason whatever assigned why General C.
C. PInckney and Mr. King, federal men, and the federal
candidates at the two preceding elections, men so respect-
able by their personal characters, by their talents, by their
public services, have on this occasion been totally aban-
doned by their party for two candidates, entirely new, cer-
tainly very respectable, and I doubt not very able men, but
one of whom has for five and twenty years employed him-
self with something more profitable than politics, and whose
federalism has always been questionable, while the other
has risen to power and importance by the very ardor and


vehemence of his opposition to federalism. It is said that
opposition to the war with England is the connecting prin-
ciple which has brought together parties hitherto hetero-
geneous. But were General Pinckncy and Mr. King less
averse to the British war than Mr. Clinton and Mr. Ingersoll.?'
Or have the federalists voted for those gentlemen upon the
same basis as their representatives, and voted for Mr. Burr
not for the sake of choosing him but for that of excluding Mr.
Jefferson ,'*

We have indeed had it repeated over to satiety here for the
last twelve months, both from the English periodical journals
and from private advices through federal sources, that the
war was so extremely unpopular in the United States that It
would occasion the loss of Mr. Madison's re-election. But
now the tables are so completely turned that we hear It said
Mr. Madison made the war for the sole purpose of securing
his election. Who shall decide when doctors disagree with
themselves.'' The English journals tell us that In the debates
of Congress Mr. Randolph and Mr. Quincy both charge this
intention directly upon Mr. Madison. These are reproaches
which for aught I know may gratify party feelings, but
which appear neither very politic nor very liberal. Mr. Ran-
dolph Is represented to have pleaded very pathetically against
the war between the only two nations upon earth who wor-
shipped the one only and true God, and who were jointly
engaged In the endeavor to communicate their religion to
the heathen of the East. Though I by no means think with
Mr. Randolph that Britain and America are the only wor-
shippers of the true God, and perceive nothing like the
Christian spirit of charity in the assertion, I was very much
gratified to find him using this principle of religion as a topic
of argument. For In the first place, I considered it as evi-
dence that Mr. Randolph himself is a believer In Christianity,


penetrated with Its truths, and accessible to Its principles.
Secondly, I was glad to see religious motives urged as topics
of persuasion in that house by one of Its most eloquent
speakers. It Indicated a temper In the hearers as well as In
the orator which ought to be cherished by them all, and which
I would fondly hope may eventually contribute to shorten
the war. And thirdly, it led to the hope that this motive
would have its influence upon the enemy as well as upon our-
selves. If those upon whom peace and war in the two nations
depend would on both sides seriously consider their duties
as fellow Christians, there would be nothing more necessary
to produce conciliation and peace. But manstealing Is not
a Christian practice, and when a government has brought
itself to the condition of waging war expressly and avowedly
for It, they may be very willing to preach the Gospel to the
East, but there Is very little prospect of their laying it to
their own hearts.

The people among whom I reside are religious to a very
high degree and would be strangely shocked to hear them-
selves excluded from the class of worshippers of the true
God. Their religion Is, indeed, encumbered with innumer-
able superstitions and armies of saints and miraculous relics,
and images, and trivial formalities. It Is but four days since^
I saw the two Empresses and all the members of the Imperial
family now In the city prostrate themselves before an old
picture called a miraculous image of the Virgin Mary, by
way of gratitude for the taking of Berlin by the Russian
troops. I have seen them seven or eight times go through
the same ceremony within as many months. The occurren-
ces of the last year in the history of this country have been
full of real prodigies and they have been attributed by
many of the people here to quite as many prodigies of the
spurious kind. Notwithstanding which there are no more


fervent worshippers of the true God than the Russians.
They are now in the midst of their spring Lent, the longest
and most rigorous of the four. At this season all the theatres
are shut. Neither balls nor assemblies are allowed. In the
highest ranks of society those who keep open house all the
rest of the year will scarcely receive a single visitor. Con-
certs are the only amusements which are indulged to the
public. The rule of fasting In the first and last weeks of this
Lent is so rigid that they are allowed scarcely anything but
bread and oil and dried mushrooms to subsist upon; and I
was told a few days since by a Russian that the common
people here believed murder to be a crime for which atone-
ment might be possible, but that there would be none for
dining upon animal food in Lent.

The season is becoming mild and the Ice of the River Neva
is not more than three feet thick. On one month from this
time the River Itself will be open. Oh ! that I could take, not
the wings of the morning and fly to the uttermost parts of
the East, but the wings of a fast sailing ship and swim to the
nearest parts of the West. I foster the hope of yet seeing you
and my father, and my brother, and my boys before the
close of this present year. I have not yet received my recall
and know not how I shall get home if It comes. But all
things are possible, and for what we so ardently desire bare
possibility is a foundation for hope. Of my family I have
nothing now to say. I cannot even say that my wife or
Charles Is well. They never I fear will be well during the
winter in this climate. May the approach of summer en-
tirely restore them both! I am, etc.



St. Petersburg, 3 April, 18 13.

• •••*••

I cheerfully acquiesced in the arrangement by which my
two sons were placed at Atkinson, where I knew they would
receive every kind attention that our excellent Aunt could
show them; but I am more gratified to know them so much
nearer to my father and mother and you as they are at
Hingham. It is more than a year since the date of the last
letter received from them. They have now reached an
age, George particularly, when he ought to write me by
every opportunity and I beg you to remind him of this duty.
I trust he will be seriously preparing himself for College,
and I hope he will devote his most strenuous application
to the Latin and Greek languages. I wish he may have no
occasion to change his school again, unless it be for tuition
from myself, until he enters College. For a frequent change
of schools very much abstracts and delays the progress of a
boy in the acquisition of classical learning. It was one of the
Inconveniences in my own education, that from the com-
mencement until the close of my classical studies I was con-
tinually changing schools and teachers. In my case It was
unavoidable and the Injury resulting from It on one side
was compensated by advantages which It afforded on the
other. But the consequence has been that I have always had
"small Latin and less Greek." And the httle I have has
contributed so much to the uses, the comforts and the pleas-
ures of my life that I have always lamented the shallowness
of the streams with which I have been indulged from those
inexhaustible fountains of virtue, elegance, and taste. I
hope my sons will be much more accomplished scholars than


their father Is or can ever be, but If they often change their
schools I shall not expect It.

As the walk from HIngham to Quincy Is now only five
miles, they will I doubt not traverse It as often as the usual
relaxations from their attendance at the Academy will admit.
When I was of their age I remember with what delight I used
to walk over to Grandfather's at Weymouth, which was then
about at the same distance. It Is as you remark about
the old walnut desk and the spot where we were born. There
Is a charm In the remembrance of our Infancy which to my
feelings becomes more vivid the farther I advance in years.
Those were times of public distress, and terrors, and suffer-
ings, still more than the present. I remember the melting
of the pewter spoons In our house Into bullets immediately
after the 19th of April, 1775. I remember the smoke and
the flames of Charlestown which I saw from the orchard on
Penn's Hill. I remember the packing up and sending away
of the books and furniture from the reach of Gage's troops,
while we ourselves were hourly exposed for many months
to have been butchered by them. All this has passed away
like a troublous dream, and all this adds pleasure to every
recollection of that time. The same spirit from the same
nation has now kindled against us another war. I pray God
that it may not expose the Infancy of our children to such
perils as those which surrounded your childhood and mine.
But if it Is the will of Providence that it should, my next
prayer Is that to them, as to me, after the lapse of forty
years, the alarms and dangers which befall them in con-
sequence of their country's struggle for her rights may serve
but to rivet their affections to their country and her cause,
and to mingle the remembrance of evils overcome and of
deliverance from distress with all the first traces of conscious
existence and of opening Intellect. Complete redemption


from imminent calamity is among the sweetest enjoyments
of human life. You and I sympathize so generally in our
sentiments upon political affairs that even while separated
at this distance from each other I seldom have occasion to
ask what you think upon any public concern in any other
manner than by consulting my own heart. Your remarks
upon the issue of the presidential election have given me a
fresh example of the identity in the process of our thoughts
concerning the same event. I rejoice at Mr. Madison's
reelection and at Mr. Gerry's election, because it has proved
the spirit of the nation to be still determined in support
of their rights. They have trials to go through in its progress
which give me already many a bitter pang of anticipation,
and among the keenest of them is that of witnessing our own
section of the Union at heart in the enemy's quarters. If
our people were united, I should neither have a doubt of our
ultimate success nor consider the war itself as seriously for-
midable. On the question of impressment, the only hinge
upon which the war now turns, all the parties In England
have combined against us. They have, therefore, besides
all their other advantages that of united counsels against us,
while ours are fearfully divided in opposing them. They
have in short everything against us but a righteous cause.
It is for the practice of manstealing from our ships upon the
ocean that the nations are to be drenched in blood. Is it
possible that a righteous providence should smile upon such a
cause.? Is it possible that our country should submit to a
peace stipulating formally or tacitly to endure the contin-
uance of such an indignity.? It is now for the God of Battles
to decide and to him only must It be left.

The continent of Europe Is just commencing the progress
of a counter revolution, the end of which it is yet impossible
to foresee. The frosts of Russia and Poland have struck at


the roots of Napoleon's laurels and of his power. In Sep-
tember he entered Moscow as a conqueror, and In March his
enemy took possession of his "good city" of Hamburg.
All Germany is in combustion. Prussia has deserted her
banners, and rallies all the remnants of her force under the
standard of Alexander. Denmark has implored peace of
England, her despollcr, and has been rejected. Austria
negotiates and dissembles, and aims probably to join at
last the new coalition against her ancient foe; and France has
the most Imminent prospect of being reduced at least to her
ante-revolutionary dimensions, and perhaps to the restora-
tion of the Bourbons. Nothing less than this is now intended,
and between this design and its accomplishment there is now
nothing but the life and the genius of Napoleon to Inter-
pose. For his fortune has deserted him, and of his genius
independent of his fortune I have never entertained a very
exalted opinion. Caesar was once in perhaps as great a
strait as he now Is and extricated himself from It. But to
extricate himself he must possess greater resources of genius
than were ever employed by Caesar, and I do not yet believe
that he has them to display. Yours affectionately


St, Petersburg, 7 April, 1813.
I know not whether it was generosity, or any other virtue,
or merely a disposition to receive the postage, that Induced
the transmission of your favor of 30 December to Mr. Wil-
liams, at London; for by him it was kindly forwarded to me,
and on the first day of this month to my inexpressible joy
came to hand. It was but so short a time before that I had
received your letter of 29 July, and excepting that, not a line



from Quincy later than April of the last year. This last
letter had apparently been opened, although the impression
of your seal upon the wax was restored — a circumstance
which Indicates that it was done in England, where they still
affect the appearance of not breaking seals at the Post Office.
On this continent they are less scrupulous about forms.
When they open letters they break the seals, and do not take
the trouble of restoring them. They send them open to their
address. It reminds me of an anecdote I have lately met
with of Prince Kaunltz when he was Prime Minister of the
Empress Maria Theresa. One of his clerks whose business
It was to copy the opened letters coming to foreign ministers
at Vienna, In the hurry of reclosing a dispatch to one of the
envoys, sent him his copy Instead of the original. The en-
voy went to Prince Kaunltz, showed him the copy that he
had received, and complained that the original was withheld
from him. The Prince immediately sent for the clerk, se-
verely reprimanded him in the envoy's presence for his
blunders, and directed him to bring Instantaneously the
original dispatch. The clerk brought It accordingly, and the
Prince gave it to the envoy with many apologies for the
trouble occasioned him by the clerk's mistake, and assur-
ances of his hope that It would never occur again.

In the present state of the relations between us and Britain
I have nothing to say. If they open letters to me or from me
which they get fairly Into their hands. But I should think
It more creditable to them If they did not attempt the im-
position of restoring the inscription of the seals.

Next to the delight which it gave me, to know that my
father and you and my boys were all in good health (which
may God Almighty preserve), was that of being Informed
that my children were so much nearer to you than at Atkin-
son. I know how kindly my dear Aunt would attend to


them, but my father, and you, and my brother, nobody could
supply your places for the progress of their education, and
the thought that they could have the opportunity of seeing
you at most only two or three times in a year was an afflic-
tion to me which their residence at Hingham will relieve.
Should it be my destiny to stay much longer in Europe I
wish them to be sent to me. I hope in a few months to know
upon what I am to depend. My constant wish has been to
return to the United States the present year, and I have
long since written both to the President and the Secretary
of State. There are however circumstances, known I trust
to them ere this, and probably to you, which place it alto-
gether at the President's determination whether I shall have
either occupation or motive for remaining here some time
longer. The communications transmitted to our govern-
ment from hence last October, I presume will be no secret
in America, whatever the result of them may be. If they
are received, as It is my wish they may be, the measures
adopted in consequence of them may make it my duty, as it
will be my inclination, to postpone my return home for a
season. If they are viewed in a different light, I shall have
stronger reasons than ever for wishing myself as speedily as
possible in my native country, in the bosom of my family,
and devoted entirely and exclusively to the support of my
family and the education of my children. Should I receive
the President's permission to return this year, I suppose it
will be possible for me to return by the way of England. I
should indeed be obliged to ask It as a favor of the British
government, which would not be very pleasant to my feel-
ings. There has been one instance of the same kind since
our residence here. Count Stedingk who had been the Swed-
ish ambassador here returned home by water in July, 181 1,
while Sweden and England were at war. The British ad-


miral in the Baltic gave without hesitation a special permis-
sion to pass without annoyance to the vessel which came for
him, and in which he returned. There is more bitterness and
inveteracy in their war with America than in that against
Sweden, for they have wronged America too much to for-
give her, and Sweden had declared war against them without
provocation. Yet I do not expect they would deny me what
they so readily granted to Count Stedingk.

Of peace, unless eventually produced by a course and
through a channel at which I have already hinted, I now
utterly despair. Our new 74's and frigates will only protract
and obstruct every prospect of peace. The prodigies per-
formed by our apology for a navy (to call it a navy is ridicu-
lous) have had the same effect, and so have our disgraces
in Canada. There is a national spirit among the British
which such successes and such defeats grasp at with equal
eagerness to unite all parties against us. We are a more vir-
tuous and less vicious people than the British; but of that
national spirit which Is a political virtue of the highest order,
we have much less than they. Under our present adminis-
tration I have no fear that we shall subscribe to a disgrace-
ful and degrading peace, and from the temper of the British
government at this time there is little expectation of any
disposition in them for any other.

The conflagration of Moscow, and the sufferings of the
Russian Empire under the formidable invasion of the last
summer, were awful visitations of Heaven, but they have
been succeeded by prosperity and successes without ex-
ample in modern history. The Iron crown of Napoleon, and
his Imperial Crown too, will henceforth be but crowns of
thorns to him. His violence and Injustice are recoiling upon
his own head. Russia, Poland, Prussia, all the north of
Germany are delivered from his power, and the cities of


Liibeck and Hamburg which have been formally annexed
to the French Empire are already in possession of the Rus-
sians. His internal government is convulsed even at Paris,
and the pretensions of the House of Bourbon are again ad-
vanced, under the patronage of the British government, and
perhaps of Russia. The situation of France has never been
so precarious and in such imminent danger since the Duke of
Brunswick's invasion of Champagne in 1792; and instead of
universal monarchy, or even the preponderancy of power in
Europe, she has now the prospect before her of being called
again to contend for her ancient boundaries. Whether the
happiness of mankind or the peace of the world will gain
anything by this new revolution in the affairs of Europe is
yet among the secrets of Providence. That Russia should
maintain, and that Germany should recover their independ-
ence, and that Spain, Portugal, and Italy should have the
same good fortune in the south is undeniably desirable; but
when ambition Is controlled only by ambition, and one
boundless lust of domination is only exchanged for another,
humanity gains very little by the substitution. At present
Russia Is the arbitress of Europe. Of her wisdom and moder-
ation I am not Inclined to doubt. She has gloriously stood
the trial of adversity, which was severe but short. She has
now the stronger test of prosperity to endure. The character
of her sovereign promises much for the relief of our species.
I trust he will not catch the infection of passions which would
only prolong the scenes of horror and devastation that have
so long been desolating Europe.

I learn with much pleasure that Colonel Smith is to be a
member of the present Congress, though I should prefer see-
ing him in the field. I sicken at the name of Canada. Will
bitter experience teach us wisdom? God grant that it may!
and bless the country and the parents of your affectionate son.

Online LibraryJohn Quincy AdamsWritings of John Quincy Adams (Volume 9) → online text (page 36 of 42)