John Quincy Adams, What a Young Diplomat Should Read

In December 1816, John Quincy Adams, the U.S. Minister to Great Britain, responded to a request from Christopher Hughes, a young American, about how to prepare (specifically, to study) for a career in diplomacy.  (Hughes had been one of the secretaries to the American Peace Commission in Ghent in 1814, where he had developed a good relationship with Adams.)  Adams assumed as a matter of course that Hughes, a Princeton graduate, was familiar with the classic texts –Thucydides, Livy, Tacitus, and the like.  He therefore offered “a list of authors in general, modern history, national law and diplomatic intercourse,”
which “will more than suffice for eighteen months or two years, reading.” The authors he suggested included:

Robertson’s History of Charles the Fifth and History of America

Watson’s History of Phillip the Second and Phillip the Third

Roscoe’s Life of Lorenzo de Medici and Leo the Tenth

Coxe’s History of the House of Austria

Russell’s Letters on Ancient and Modern History

Raynal’s History of the East and West Indies

Edward’s History of the West Indies

Brougham’s Colonial Policy Annual Register from 1758 to 1815

Jenkinson’s or Chalmer’s collection of Treaties

Smith’s Wealth of Nations

Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws

Grotius Rights of War and Peace with Barbeyrac’s Commentary

Puffendorf, Law of Nature and Nations with Barbeyrac’s Commentary

Vattel’s Law of Nations

Marten’s Summary of the Modern Law of Nations

Burlamaqui, Law of Nature and Nations

Ward’s History of the Law of Nations

Adams explained further:

Many of them will prove by no means attractive. To Smith, Montesquieu, Grotius and Ward, I would recommend your particular attention for the development of the principles which are generally recognized in the intercourse of nations. Vattel is the author most commonly resorted to in practical diplomacy, and his work being written in a popular and easy style is among those that you will find the least tedious in reading. If your object were to form a diplomatic library, the list should be much larger, and would include
many books in other languages than the English; several voluminous collections of treaties, particular as well as general histories of the European nations, and numerous dissertations and treatises upon special questions of national law. The enclosed list contains only books of a general nature and all published in Europe which I thought most conforming to your request.   They will sufficiently absorb your time for two years.

But as you have a career before you, and do me the favor to consult my opinion, I would suggest to you the utility of preparing your mind for application when you return home to the history, the internal interests, and the external relations of our own country. In the history of the several colonial establishments united together by the war of our independence, you will find the source of the various and in some respects
conflicting interests which it is the first duty of an American statesman to conciliate and unite. In the collections of American state papers and the Journals of Congress under the confederation you will find the best key to the interests and rights of our country in her internal administration and in her intercourse with foreign powers. But all the books upon these subjects are to be procured in America, and many of them are not to be found elsewhere.

It should be noted that Adams offered this advice before he reached the pinnacle of his own diplomatic career (Secretary of State, 1817-1825).  But it is unlikely his advice would have changed.  In 1795, in his first overseas posting as Minister Resident to the Netherlands, he looked about for role models.  He admired particularly the way in which the Portuguese Minister, the Chevalier d’Araujo, managed himself.  D’Araujo had to walk an especially fine line; he had remained at his post in the French-occupied Netherlands even though his country was still at war with France.  At one dinner in which French officials were present, he spoke skillfully on the arts and sciences, while using the conversation to introduce political topics subtly through references to the written works of men such as Rousseau and the Abbé Raynal.  His clever discourse, John Quincy thought, was a kind of “armed neutrality” – d’Araujo said certain things which were calculated to be agreeable to a Frenchman, others which were not so.  “Perhaps he wants to obtain the means of getting on foot a negotiation for peace between his country and Spain with France,” John Quincy
speculated.  “Perhaps he only means to observe as accurately as possible, and for that purpose aims at establishing a sort of familiarity with them.”

But when John Quincy told d’Araujo that he was studying memoirs of diplomats from decades or centuries before, the Portuguese Minister told him he was wasting his time.  “Mr. d’Araujo says we must henceforth not look back to anything that has ever been done heretofore.”  John Quincy agreed that “there is not, indeed, the same advantages in possessing the principles and experience of able negotiations, because the present state of opinions and practice require a different theory.”  But he bristled at the suggestion his studies over the past months had been useless.  “At least it increased the knowledge of history, and given lessons of analogy which have some use for application to every position among the affairs of men.”