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John Quincy Adams to John Adams

20 May 1797

My Dear Sir. The Hague 20. May 1797.

Among the papers enclosed there is one (that of the 10th) containing a pretended extract of a Letter from Philadelphia, giving an account of the manner in which the anniversary of the Treaty with France, was celebrated, and also of the opening and counting the votes for President and Vice-President at the late Election. You will see with what effrontery it lies, in speaking of you; and with how much malignity it states first an equality of force between two factions in America, and next your attachment to one that is for an union with England.—It is to be observed that this paper is published by persons who are said to be friendly towards America, and who have expressly disapproved the violent and insolent proceedings of their Government towards us.—I have already repeatedly suggested it to you; and I wish I could not have continual occasion to renew the observation. You have every think to expect from France, but Justice and good-will.

The Preliminaries of Peace between France and the Emperor have not yet been published. Mr. Hammond who was sent from England upon the business of negotiation, found the Peace made, on his arrival at Vienna.—It does not appear probable that any Peace between France and England will be made. The french Government are determined to try a descent—They are prompted at once by the hopes of plunder of producing a Revolution, and of disburthening themselves of their own troops.

I expect my brother to return from Paris, not later than this day week; and I shall immediately after complete my preparations for departure. Whether I shall go by the way of England or direct from Amsterdam, is not yet determined.

When my brother went to Paris, I gave him a letter for your old friend Arnoux, who was very glad to see him, and happy to hear from our family. M: Arnoux has answered my letter: and desires particularly to be remembered to you; the old gentleman passed a year in prison, during the time which they call the reign of terror.

The Batavian National Assembly have not yet completed their labour upon the proposed Constitution, but expect very shortly to finish.—They have been long enough about it to produce something good, but they have never been suffered to take their own course. I have more than once given you anecdotes, which shew how much under foreign controul, their deliberations have been constantly held.—The great points upon which their late discussions have turned, regard the old question of federalism or indivisibility, and, the support of religion. After all the influence of every kind that had been used to produce a decree, that indivisibility pure and simple, should be one of the fundamentals of the new Republic, and after such a decree had been extorted, and the plan of Constitution rendered conformable to it, a question was made, whether in presenting the plan to the People for acceptance, their suffrages should be taken, to count by Provinces, or by individuals throughout the Republic—The Assembly left to itself, relapsed into its old federal propensities, and decreed that the votes should be counted by Provinces.—It was immediately determined elsewhere that this disposition must not be permitted, and accordingly the table of the Assembly has been covered with Petitions, Remonstrances, Defiances &c &c against the decree.—They have all been referred to a Committee appointed to report what measure will be expedient relative to the Decree. The report of the Committee is, that the votes be taken under the direction of the respective provincial Assemblies; that is, by Provinces; but that in counting them, a majority of the whole number only shall be reckoned. This is an expedient, to defeat the provision of the former decree without repealing it. The same thing has been done upon former occasions, because they think it a point of honour not to repeal any of their decrees even when they mean to annul them.

They have settled as a Principle that the clergy shall not be paid by the Government, but the principal recent debate has been whether all the charitable foundations and donations should be declared national or private property. They have at length decided, that all those of a date subsequent to the year 1[68]1. shall be held private property. This is said to be a composition, in order to make in some sort provision for the support and maintenance of religious instruction.—But the atheist revolutionaries are indefatigable: they give a breathing spell, for the sake of renewing the struggle with fresh vigour.

Since I began this Letter General Pinckney has called upon me, and I find by Letters which he has received, and by some English newspapers that Congress were called together for the 15th: of this month. I hope their measures will shew a spirit of union, and a temper at once of firmness and moderation.I am much afraid that at all Events the french are determined to quarrel with our Government, though at present they say they are not.—Our Treaty with Britain is a stalking horse, the use of which they were taught from our own side of the Water.—But the real projects, I believe are two—The Western or Southern Republic, and the change in our Constitution, which I wrote you was concerted, in my letters from London of Decr: [14] 1795:

In order to effect their purposes, they are committing every possible provocation that can rouse our resentment and indignation; they are hunting for pretexts of offence, and for want of others use such as are perfectly ridiculous. But they are ready to seize with avidity every mark of resentment which their insolence and injustice provoke, and represent it as an offence from us.—The art of picking a quarrel is one of those which they have so constantly been exercising both at home and abroad, that they have become very expert at it. It is thus that they fabricate almost all their conspiracies, and thus that they have ruined Geneva, as they soon will do all the Italian States.—The dissolution of the Venetian Government is already completed, and the Senate have finished by requesting General Buonaparte to give the Republic a new Constitution.—Buonaparte is the coruscation or the comet of the day. He is certainly not an ordinary man; it is not easy to see what the french Republic will do with him. I think they will not treat him quite so cavalierly as they have Pichegru.

I have no late Letters from you. I expect none relating to public affairs. I am fully sensible how many spies there will be upon every word you write, and every word you say, as well as the base constructions and misrepresentations which will be studiously put upon them.—I have seen a private letter of the late President, intercepted, as is said, betrayed as I believe, and can easily guess how. Like every thing else, proceeding from that truly great man it carries not only its justification but its eulogy within itself. Yet an abominable use has been made of it. I have good reason to think also that his private conversations have been betrayed in the same manner, and for the same purposes.—While I was in England, I had an opportunity to reconnoitre the Enemys camp: I saw their perfidy and penetrated (no penetrado) their designs. If I could without ridiculous presumption, venture a word of advice to a President of the United States, it would be to fasten an eternal seal upon his lips, and burn his pen of private correspondence, with regard to public affairs.

I am with every sentiment of affection and duty, your son

John Q. Adams.

RC (MHi: Adams Papers).
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