John Adams letter to Abigail Adams, 18 December 1780


Amsterdam, 18 December, 1780.


I HAVE this morning sent Mr. Thaxter with my two sons to Leyden, there to take up their residence for some time, and there to pursue their studies of Latin and Greek under the excellent masters, and there to attend lectures of the celebrated professors, in that university. It is much cheaper there than here. The air is infinitely purer, and the company and conversation are better. It is perhaps as learned a university as any in Europe.

I should not wish to have children educated in the common schools in this country, where a littleness of soul is notorious. The masters are mean spirited wretches, pinching, kicking and boxing the children upon every turn. There is besides a general littleness arising from the incessant contemplation of stivers and duits, which pervades the whole people. Frugality and industry are virtues every where, but avarice and stinginess are not frugality. The Dutch say that without a habit of thinking of every duit before you spend it, no man can be a good merchant, or conduct trade with success. This I believe is a just maxim in general, but I would never wish to see a son of mine govern himself by it. It is the sure and certain way for an industrious man to be rich. It is the only possible way for a merchant to become the first mer chant or the richest man in the place. But this is an object that I hope none of my children will ever aim at. It is indeed true, every where, that those who attend to small expenses are always rich.

I would have my children attend to duits and far things as devoutly as the merest Dutchman upon earth, if such attention was necessary to support their independence. A man who discovers a disposition and a design to be independent seldom succeeds. A jealousy arises against him. The tyrants are alarmed on one side lest he should oppose them. The slaves are alarmed on the other lest he should expose their servility. The cry from all quarters is, " He is the proudest man in the world. He cannot bear to be under obligation." I never in my life ob served any one endeavoring to lay me under particular obligations to him, but I suspected he had a de sign to make me his dependent, and to have claims upon my gratitude. This I should have no objection to, because gratitude is always in one's power. But the danger is, that men will expect and require more of us than honor and innocence and rectitude will permit us to perform.

In our country, however, any man, with common industry and prudence, may be independent. But to put an end to this stuff,

Adieu most affectionately adieu.

John Adams

Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife. Edited by His Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, Volume II, 1841