20 August 2011

For Love and Country: John and Abigail Adams and the United States of America, part 8

1779 - 1781

“I hope this will be the last Seperation, We shall suffer from each other,  for any Length of Time.”
--John Adams to Abigail Adams off Cape Ann, November 1779 (Butterfield, III. 235)

            On September 27, 1779, Congress appointed John Adams to negotiate treaties of peace and commerce with Great Britain.  He did not, of course, turn down the appointment, and Abigail did not ask him to stay.  The country needed him.  John’s second trip to Europe was far more successful than his first.  John spent his time negotiating treaties of commerce, friendship and peace with European nations.  Abigail worried, as usual, about John’s health and safety, and she missed him, but she was happy as she could be without him as he was successful in the name of the country.  John was successful in negotiating treaties of commerce with some European nations, as well as obtaining loans for the United States.

            On November 15, 1779, John boarded La Sensible again, this time with John Quincy and Charles, and headed across the Atlantic Ocean.  Again Abigail stayed in Massachusetts as the couple felt it was too expensive and dangerous for her to go along.  A leak in the ship forced La Sensible to stop at El Ferrol, Spain.  Instead of spending his time doing nothing while waiting for the ship to be repaired, John set off for France overland across northern Spain.  The trip was long and arduous, over many mountain ranges including the Cantabrians, the Basque and the Pyrenees.  The Adamses would not arrive in Paris until February 9, 1780, about two months after they left El Ferrol.  John took time out to write to Abigail, “After this wandering Way of Life is passed I hope to return, to my best friend and pass the Remainder of our Days in Quiet” (Butterfield, III. 252). 

            While John was in Europe, Abigail would write to him concerning the war in the Colonies, the health of family, gossip about friends and officials, weather, and business.  Abigail also wrote to him requesting goods, usually when John was in Paris.  After John would ship items such as pins and clothing items to Abigail, she would sell them for extra money.  They were, of course, also filled with loving sentiments and wishes to be together again.  “May Heaven permit you and me to enjoy the cool Evening of Life, in Tranquility, undisturbed by the Cares of Politicks or War,” John wrote in June 1780, just as the Congress in the United States was commissioning him to raise a loan in the Netherlands. “And above all,” he continued,

with the sweetest of all Reflections, that neither Ambition, nor Vanity, nor Avarice, nor Malice, nor Envy, nor Revenge, nor Fear nor any base Motive, or sordid Passion through the whole Course of this mighty Revolution, and the rapid impetuous Course of great and terrible Events that have attended it, have drawn Us aside from the Line of our Duty and the Dictates of our Consciences!  (Butterfield, III. 367)

A month later, John would take his two sons from Paris to Amsterdam to raise a loan for the American cause.  Abigail wrote to John, exclaiming how happy she was that such an important charge was given to John.  “It would not become me to write the full flow of my Heart upon this occasion,” she wrote.  In the last six years, John and Abigail had seen each other for about nine months in all, yet they still both had an intense love for each other, and both were delighted in John’s position and accomplishments for the country.  While still in Paris at a dinner John had a conversation with Marie Grand, the wife of Ferdinand Grand, who was the French banker for American funds.  John remarked that sometimes it was a citizen’s duty to sacrifice his everything for the good of the country.  Marie Grand commended the sentiment, but found it hard to believe as true.  She remarked to John that loving one’s wife and children was a natural feeling that would “operate more powerfully” than the love one had for his country.  John responded to Marie Grand that not only were his feelings truthful, but his wife felt the same way as he did (McCullough 206).  Although many people may not have understood the feelings that John and Abigail had for each other and for their country, they understood each other perfectly.

The time apart, however, resulted in loneliness and heartache.  “My Dearest Friend,” Abigail began a letter at the end of December 1780 as they began almost every letter that they wrote to each other,

How much is comprised in that short sentance? How fondly can I call you mine, bound by every tie, which consecrates the most inviolable Friend-ship, yet seperated by a cruel destiny, I feel the pangs of absence some-times too sensibly for my own repose.  There are times when the heart is peculiarly awake to tender impressions…It is then that I feel myself alone in the wide world, without any one to tenderly care for me, or lend me an assisting hand through the difficulties that surround me.  (Butterfield, IV. 50)

            John would spend most of the year 1781 in the Netherlands, traveling only briefly to Paris in July.  Abigail worried about his health in the damp climate of the country.  John, for his part, told Abigail he wished for nothing more than to be home.  In May he wrote, “If I could get back again I would never more leave the Country, let who would beg, scold, or threaten.”  John would not be in his country again for seven years, but once he got back, he would never leave it again.  In July, John wrote Abigail again.  This time, he wished for wings so “that I might fly and bury all my Cares at the Foot of Pens Hill” where the Adamses home was (Butterfield, IV. 122, 170).  Abigail, who had not received a letter from John in some time, wrote in August, “I turn to the loved pages of former days and read them with delight. They are all my comfort, all my consolation in the long long interval of time that I have not received a line” (Butterfield, IV. 191).  John and Abigail loved each other through their letters for those seven years.  They shared views on politics, their fears, their ideas and their hopes.  They depended on each other for comfort and love.  Their letters to each other were everything (Withey 58).  It would take three more years of loving through letters before they were able to see each other again.  In ten years, save for the nine months John was in Massachusetts in 1779, John and Abigail only knew each other through their letters.

In October 1781, the Americans and French would strike a huge victory at Yorktown, Virginia when the British forces commanded by Lord Cornwallis surrendered after a siege of almost three weeks.  With the surrender of about 7,500 soldiers, approximately three-quarters of the British forces remained available on the continent.  The British still maintained a large force in New York and smaller forces throughout the country.  It was not clear to either side that the end of the war was near.  In fact, Washington believed it would continue on for at least another year, if not longer.  John was to be a key player in the signing of the peace treaty between Great Britain and the United States.

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