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John Quincy Adams to an Autograph Collector, 27 April 1837

John Adams to Arthur Lee, 24 March 1779

Brest, March 24, 1779.
Dear Sir: I have this moment the honour of yours of 18th. I am perfectly of your opinion, that we have yet a hard battle to fight. The Struggle will yet be long and painful, and the difficulty of it will arise from nothing more than the weak disposition in our Countrymen, as well as our allies, to think it will be short.

Long before this war began, I expected a Severe Tryal: but I never foresaw so much embarrassment, from Selfishness, vanity, flattery, and Corruption, as I find.

If these proceed much longer in their Career, it will not be worth the while of men of Virtue to make themselves miserable, by continuing in the service. If they leave it, the American system of Flattery and Corruption will still prevail over the British, but there will be an end of our virtuous visions of a kingdom of the just.

I wrote Mr. Israel, from Nantes. My regards to him and your brother.

I am no hand at a Cypher, bat will endeavour to unriddle, if you write in it.

With much esteem,
Your humble Servant,
John Adams

Letter from John Quincy Adams, inclosing the preceding

Washington, 27th April, 1837

Sir: In compliance with the request contained in your letter of the 27th ult., I enclose herewith two Autographs of Signers of the Declaration of Independence, and afterwards, successively, second and third Presidents of the United States.

The first is an original letter from John Adams to Arthur Lee, written at Brest, in France, on the 24th of March, 1779. Mr. Adams and Mr. Lee had been joint Commissioners at the Court of France, together with Dr. Benjamin Franklin, and Mr. Lee had a separate commission, as Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of Spain. After the conclusion of the treaties of Alliance and of Commerce with France, Congress superseded the joint commission, and appointed Dr. Franklin sole Minister Plenipotentiary to France. Mr. Lee retained his commission as Minister Plenipotentiary to Spain. In February, 1779, Mr. Adams left Paris and went to Nantes, and in March to Brest, with a view to embark in the frigate Alliance, then at that port, to return to the United States. The inclosed letter was then written in answer to one received from Mr. Lee, then still remaining at Paris. The destination of the frigate Alliance was afterwards changed, and Mr. Adams, in June, 1779, embarked in the French frigate La Sensible, and returned from L'Orient to the United States. I was during all that time with him—a boy of twelve years of age.
The other autograph is the cover of a letter from Thomas Jefferson, when Secretary of State, to John Adams, then Vice-president of the United States. The whole direction is in his handwriting, and the signature of the name very strongly marks the manner of his usual sign-manual.

These are all the autographs of the kind requested in your letter which I have here, and am now able to furnish yon. On my return to my residence in Massachusetts, I may, perhaps, find upon my files of papers some others, and will remember yon. It is as you conjecture; I have received and still frequently receive applications for autographs of persons whose names are distinguished in the history of our Revolution. I have always complied with such requests, so far as I have been able, with great pleasure, considering them as evidences not only of the sentiments cherished by the collectors of such relics towards the founders of our national independence, but of a spirit extending in the community far beyond the collectors themselves.

From the interest taken in those characters, I am encouraged to infer a widely spread attachment to the principles by which they were actuated, and which they maintained with the well-redeemed pledge of their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. If, at one of the most trying periods of that conflict, in March, 1779, you find Mr. Adams complaining of the dangers which beset the cause, and the difficulties which it had to encounter from the weakness, the selfishness, flattery, vanity, and corruption of the times, yet confiding without the admission of a doubt in the ultimate success of the cause itself,—may we not take it, in these times when the cause has succeeded, and the nation, formed by the labors and sufferings of those days, has enjoyed such a career of prosperity as was never before by Divine Providence allotted to man; may we not take it as an admonition, that the adherence to those principles of our fathers has been among the principal causes of that prosperity? Should we not proceed a step further, and inquire whether that half-century of unexampled prosperity might not have been still more resplendent with glory, but for our own aberrations from those principles, the contemplation of which had fired the soul of the writer of the inclosed letter with visions of an approaching kingdom of the just, to result from the success of that Revolution? In reviewing its history and our own, while we remember with exultation and gratitude the triumphant issue of the cause, and the favors of heaven by which it has been followed, is there not remaining an augury, both retrospective and prospective, upon ourselves? That kingdom of the just, which had floated in the virtuous visions of John Adams, while he was toiling for his country's independence,—that kingdom of our Father in Heaven, for which His Son taught us to approach Him in daily prayer,—has it yet come; and if not, have our advances towards it been as pure, as virtuous, as self-denying, as were those of our fathers in the days of their trial of adversity? And if we lay these questions in seriousness to our souls, are we not bound to interrogate them still further?—to cross-examine them if they answer with too confident assurance of their own righteousness, and ask them whether of late, and even now, we are not stationary, or more than stationary, moving backwards, from that progress towards the kingdom of the just, which was among the anticipated fruits of our Revolutionary warfare? The highest, the transcendent glory of the American Revolution was this—it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the precepts of Christianity. If it has never been considered in that light, it is because its compass has not been perceived. The letter which I now send you, short as it is, may disclose it. But this investigation opens a field of inquiry too important and too vast for a letter merely inclosing an autograph. I offer it here to your meditations, and if they should lead you to the conclusion that we are degenerating from the lofty energies of our Revolutionary principles, and falling into that retrograde movement which physical nature sometimes presents in the aspects of the planets, hope, with me, that this apparent deviation from the progress of moral and political improvement upon earth, is but an incidental anomaly in the promulgation of that great and universal law which the visions of John Adams beheld in the ancient prophecies of the kingdom of the just.

If I have given you a sermon for an autograph, I pray you to excuse me, and believe me, with great respect to be, your fellow-citizen and servant,

John Quincy Adams

[from The Historical Magazine, July 1860, pp. 193-194]

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