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John Adams Calls American Neutrality from European Wars “a Moral and Religious Duty”
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“this country is as deeply interested in the investigation of the present state of society in Europe, as any nation of Europe is, and the general aphorism to be deduced … is, that perpetual neutrality in all the wars of Europe, a total abstraction from all their quarrels, is not only a moral and religious duty but their highest and soundest political interest.... Peace and friendship with all, perplexing political alliances with none, has been one of my fundamental maxims...”

John Adams effusively thanks George Alexander Otis for a translation of Archbishop de Pradt’s Europe after the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle (1820). The Congress brought defeated France back into the community of European nations and helped create a stability that would last for nearly a century, until World War I.

JOHN ADAMS. Letter Signed to George Alexander Otis. Amsterdam, “Montezillo,” April 22, 1820. 2 pp.

Inventory #23798       Price: $35,000

Complete Transcript

Montezillo April 22d 1820

Dear Sir

“My sincere thanks are due to you for the valuable present of Your Translation of Arch Bishop De Pradts Europe after the Congress of Aix-La-Chappelle. The Translation reads so much like an original—that I presume it is faithful as well as Elegant. and is a meritorious service rendered to your Country. It ought to be in the hands of every public man in America; it is a work of great experience and profound knowledge of Europe, and the condition of the world. I presume that the lame Bishop is in the secret, and I should wonder if Louis the 18th has consented to its publication, for it counsels him to a course of conduct which can alone save his family from the fate of the Stuarts. The prominent features of this work are conspicuous and self evident. I cannot enter into details, but this country is as deeply interested in the investigation of the present state of society in Europe, as any nation of Europe is, and the general aphorism to be deduced from the whole, by the United States is, that perpetual neutrality in all the wars of Europe, a total abstraction from all their quarrels, is not only a moral and religious duty but their highest and soundest political interest. If it be possible and as far as lieth in us, live peaceably with all Europe, is our duty to that quarter of the World as well as to ourselves. For by intermingling in their affairs we shall only be a plague to them, as they will <2> be a torment to us.

For five and 40 years I have invariably preached the doctrine of American neutrality but we should keep aloof from Europe, and hold her aloof from us. Peace and friendship with all, perplexing political alliances with none, has been one of my fundamental maxims for almost half a Century. And this whole work of Tallyrande and perhaps a Council of the wisest men in France is as demonstrative a proof of the rectitude of this principle as any-think I have ever read.

            Again I thank you for the present

                        and am your friend, and obliged/ humble servant

                                                John Adams

George Alexander Otis

Historical Background

From retirement, John Adams effusively thanks George Alexander Otis for the gift of a translation of Dominique Georges Frédéric de Pradt’s Europe after the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle (1820). The Congress brought defeated France back into the community of European nations and helped create a stability that would last for nearly a century, until World War I.

The Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle followed the Congress of Vienna (September 1814 to June 1815), which met with the goal creating a system to maintain the peace after nearly 25 years of warfare between the wars of the French Revolution and those of Napoleon’s conquests. It sought to reestablish national boundaries and adjust where needed to create a reasonable balance of power to keep the peace. Three years later, the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle (1818) resolved the issue of France’s occupation by the Quadruple Powers (Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia) and the restoration of France to equal status within the European community.

Washington, in his farewell address, warned against getting involved in entangling alliances and urged his countrymen to avoiding European affairs. Adams was a good Federalist, and concurred. De Pradt’s 1820 work served as a potent reminder of the threat that Europe’s instability and perpetual state of warfare posed for the United States. Considering the chaos, it is both timely and understandable why Adams pontificates on the subject of American neutrality.

“Montezillo” refers to the Adams family homestead, formally called Peacefield, in Quincy, Massachusetts. Adams once quipped “Mr. Jefferson lives at Monticello, the lofty mountain. I live at Montezillo, a little hill.” David McCullough, in his biography of Adams, notes that contrary to Adams’s beliefs, both terms mean the same thing because both “-illo” and “-cello.” are the Italian diminutive form. Otis’s presentation copy to Adams is in the collection of the Boston Public Library.

George Alexander Otis (1781-1863) was a Boston merchant, chiefly known to history as the translator. He translated Charles [Carlo] Botta’s History of the War of Independence of the United States of America and, as his reply (below) suggests, also sent copies of this work to Adams, along with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Otis, his wife, and their children were active in abolition throughout the 19th century.

Condition

Professionally mended, with small seal tear loss in left margin infilled: approximately five letters affected.

Otis’s Response (provided for reference only)

215 Market Street. Philadelphia 20 June 1820

Dear sir

The letter which you did me the great honour to write me under date of 22 April signifying your obliging acceptance of De Pradt; has added essentially to my happiness, since approbation from one So revered is more precious than fame, and at the same time its earnest.

It also gave me the sincerest pleasure to contemplate that name, charactered by the Same generous hand which affixed it to the declaration of American Independence, which has penned Constitutions for free and sovereign states, and which has developed and illustrated the principles of Government best adapted to the condition of man in a State of perfect civilization, attached to a Diploma, (for Such I look upon it,) which confers on me a rank in literature.

Encouraged by Such distinguished notice, I again presume to offer another Specimen of my literary industry, the first Volume of Botta’s history of American Independence; which I have been waiting to complete in order to give a Substantial evidence of my gratitude for the honourable terms in which you have deigned to Speak of my first attempt.

I beg many pardons for the liberty I have also taken to enclose subscription blanks, which W. S. Shaw Esqr. and President Kirkland of Harvard University, from their disposition to encourage domestic literature, will, I doubt not, circulate and patronise, Should you think favourably enough of the present Volume to recommend my interests to their attention. I have enclosed others to Mr. Jefferson and to Mr. Madison with a similar view, having been encouraged to proceed in this arduous work even by so distinguished a patron of every laudable enterprize as your own Son, the Honourable Secretary of the United States. If, after all, the Book Should fail to please, it is all my fault; for the Original is written with inspiration, and paints to the minds eye.

Dear Sir, / With veneration mingled / with grateful enthusiasm / I have the honour to be, / Your Most humble Servant

Geo. Alex: Otis.

Sources

http://founders.archives.gov/?q=Project%3A%22Adams%20Papers%22%20george%20alexander%20otis&s=1511311111&r=15


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