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Lot #9
John Quincy Adams Autograph Letter Signed on Political Hypocrisy during French Revolution

Adams reports on political hypocrisy during the French Revolution: "So much for the rights of Man... So much for the rights of Citizens... So much for the liberty of the press"

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Adams reports on political hypocrisy during the French Revolution: "So much for the rights of Man... So much for the rights of Citizens... So much for the liberty of the press"

ALS signed “John Q. Adams,” four pages on two adjoining sheets, 7.25 x 8.75, November 29, 1796. Long handwritten letter from The Hague to his first cousin, William Cranch, with significant commentary on the state of politics in Europe amidst the French Revolution. In full: "I received your kind Letter of September 16, which gave me perhaps a more pointed satisfaction and pleasure because a long long interval had elapsed since I had enjoyed it before. Above all I was delighted with the charming picture you draw of your own happiness, and the description of your child so full of paternal fondness, and which could not but be highly interesting to me, as every object must be which engages so warmly the affections of my excellent friend. In such a state of felicity as that you enjoy, it is hardly possible to wish you any accession to it in degree: more can scarcely be given to man, but you will believe me when I assure you, nay I am persuaded you need not the assurance to make you believe that my most cordial wishes and prayers are that you may continue to enjoy the same in its regular variations accommodated to the different ages of life, to the last moment of it and that you may have occasion to measure the number of your days only by that of new accessions to your happiness.

Your account of the city which will doubtless hereafter recognize you as one of its founders, is also very interesting, particularly as I very frequently have enquiries made me concerning it which I have in general not hitherto been able to answer with accuracy. There are many People in this Country who are interested in the Property there, and who are anxious to hear the progress of its value, and to whom the assurance that they will make great profits, will give great comfort and satisfaction. I hope you will hereafter find moments of leisure, and opportunities to write me frequently; that you will improve them and always mention such particulars of the advancement of the City as you may think worthy of my notice. I had formed to myself in the Summer a prospect of seeing you there myself in the course of the next year, and perhaps of becoming a neighbour to you. I have not yet altogether abandoned the idea, though I have postponed it for the present. Before you receive this you will perhaps here that I am ordered upon another public service. It will perhaps detain me two or three years longer in Europe. But my heart untravell'd fondly turns to my native land, and looks forward with anxious expectation to the period of my return. Various inducements may perhaps then contribute to fix me for some time in your quarter; and the satisfaction which I promise myself from that circumstance will not be among the weakest of them. My brother Charles in his letters give me just such another family group of enjoyment, as you describe in yours. I do not, indeed I do not envy either of you, but I compare your condition with my own, and cannot help enquiring of Fortune, with a sort of reproach, why she has been so much less indulgent to me?

It is not probable that I can write you any interesting news of what is passing in Europe, for the American newspapers are filled with nothing else, and you will collect from them as much as you choose to know, earlier than my letter can reach you. The military campaign of this year began with the victories of the French in every quarter; it is terminating in their defeats alike in every part. They have two armies which were numerous to the amount of seventy or eighty thousand men, each, in Germany. One of them has been cut almost up in a retreat of nearly five hundred miles, and the other though without a loss anything like so great returned and recrossed the Rhine with the utmost difficulty, and after severely suffering on their passage. By the last accounts, their Italian army has been severely handled, during the first part of the last month, and they will probably be obliged to abandon the blockade of Mantua. In the meantime there are Negotiations in train between France and Britain at Paris, and between France and the Emperor at Vienna. Spain has joined France in the War, but will not be of great service to them. In this Country they are chiefly busied in preparing a Constitution for the Batavian Republic. They appear to be tired of federalism, and insist upon having a Government one and indivisible. Such at least is the clamour of those to whom the privilege of speech is allowed. A great majority of People are however in their hearts strongly attached to the federal Government under which they have always lived.

I have had an opportunity during my residence here to observe the practice as well as the theory of the new political religion which for some years has been every where preached with so much fanaticism. Very soon after my arrival here, a revolution was effected, with the help of a French army. The new comers who seized under their patronage the administration of affairs, began, with a formal and solemn declaration of the rights of Men & Citizens, according to the most recent amended corrected & purified French edition of that day. My honest Dutch People, who had always enjoyed a great portion of habitual freedom without thinking of it being rested upon mere metaphysical abstraction, were perfectly astonished to hear what an abundance more of their rights existed, of which they had always been deprived and had not even ever thought of. At the same time they were told that they had always been taxed beyond all toleration (which indeed was not far from the truth) and that they should soon find themselves relieved and see how much cheaper, a true rights of Man Government is than a tyrannical, aristocratical, federal despotism such as they had been used to. The Declaration of rights was not dry from the press, when two of the most eminent and popular characters who had been concerned in the preceding Government, were arrested and imprisoned; their papers seized, and examined. From that day to this no charge or accusation has ever been brought against them, although they have repeatedly reclaimed either a trial or their freedom. They are still confined, and if any one enquires why they are not tried; the rights of Man gentry answer with perfect coolness, that the reason is because no proofs can be produced against them, of any crime whatever, and that if they were tried they might be acquitted and discharged. So much for the rights of Man.

The Legislative Assembly of one of the Provinces passes a Law—a French General, sword by side matches into the Hall, accosts the President of the Assembly and tells him that the Law must be repealed, for that it shall not be executed. The Assembly puts itself in a great Passion. Talks of liberty and equality, federalism and indivisibility; rings all the commonplace changes of patriotism and independence; bitterly complains, inveighs, threatens, and last of all—submits. So much for the rights of Citizens. An unlimited freedom of the press is proclaimed as an unalienable right. The Printer of a newspaper inserts an article of news which does not perfectly suit the taste of the ruling persons. By an Executive order, without further process, he is silenced, and his paper suspended for six weeks, two months or such other term as those who signify the order deem proper. So much for the liberty of the press. In the mean time the taxes have been accumulated, beyond all former example. Forced loans, delivery of gold and silver plate, contributions proportioned now upon the capital, now upon the income of every individual, soldiers quartered upon the citizens &c &c &c furnish comment upon comment to explain the true and substantial meaning, affixed to the new code of the rights of Man, by those who publish it with the loudest emphasis. I remain with the most faithful attachment, your friend." In fine condition.

Provenance: The archive of a direct descendant of Abigail Adams's only sister, Mary Cranch. Never before offered.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Fine Autograph and Artifacts
  • Dates: #674 - Ended September 13, 2023

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