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[TO John Adams]
The service indeed upon which I am now ordered has nothing to please in prospect. To deal with a British Minister, to deal with him after Mr. Jay, and with the furious persecution that this gentleman has suffered for this very transaction, fresh before my eyes and yet rumbling in my ears, has nothing attractive to ambition or flattering to hope. On one side the perspective is illiberal and captious negotiation, and probable failure, or such a success as will not be much better; on the other is virulent reproach and abuse to extend as usual to my nearest friends, and lavished more on them than on me. That both these things will be combined for my endurance in the course of the business is highly probable. One or the other of them is inevitable, for the existence of the first in its utmost extent will be the only possible protection against the certainty of the second.
These anticipations do not, however, in themselves form my principal concern. I know that success is seldom at human disposal, and that censure, if unmerited, is an evil not intolerable. It is not therefore the responsibility of this agency that I dread, but it is the magnitude of the trust, and my own incompetency ; the first being only my personal concern, but the last involving the most important interests, and the welfare of my country.
It is possible that the result of my present mission may ascertain the termination of my residence in Europe, in dependent of any act of my own will, or perhaps it will serve to give a direction to it. Your recommendation to me to return to America at the close of a three years absence, un less removed to a different scene and raised to an higher trust, will have, as all advice from you will always have, great weight in my mind. But I must assure you in the most un equivocal manner that I have not the shadow of a wish for a more elevated rank than that in which I am now placed, and that, of the only two American missions in Europe where the higher character is employed, I consider the English as an object of aversion and the French of indifference.
As there is no present prospect of vacancy in either of those places, it will be unnecessary for me to give you the numerous reasons upon which my sentiments concerning them are formed. A dislike both of the government and national character, perhaps amounting even to a prejudice, is the principal ground of the first, and the unsettled revolutionary state of the country is at least a counterbalance to any predilection I might otherwise entertain in favor of the other.
Besides these considerations, if I had not collected a sufficient portion of the "Stoic spirit" to dull the edge of my ambition, if the vanity of rank or the parade of representation had in my eyes such charms as could overpower my philosophy, I should at least teach my desires a subordination to the sentiments of justice, at least command them to com pare the merits of their claims with those of others and be silent. If diplomatic promotion in this course of duty be an advantage or a reward, and the occasion should occur for bestowing it, the United States, besides all their deserving citizens at home, have other servants in Europe in the same station with me, older in years, more versed in public affairs, entitled by long and faithful service to the notice of public recompense, and without a delirium of extravagance could I expect advancement while they remain stationary? With out an arrogance of equal injustice and absurdity could I wish it?
The situation at The Hague, therefore, insignificant as it is, satisfies me with an employment which, without being tedious or painful, is adequate to my talents, and leaves me leisure to pursue any course of studies that may be recommended by its amusement or utility. Indeed, Sir, it is a situation in itself much preferable to that of eternal expectation in a lawyer's office for business which, when it comes, is scarcely sufficient to give bread, and procures one more curses than thanks. I may be reduced once more to the necessity of going through that trial, but as long as any other honest resource is left me, the remembrance of that probation will suffice me, and I shall not be willing to go through it again. . . .
- John Quincy Adams