Adams Family Correspondence, volume 1

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 13 February 1776 JA AA John Adams to Abigail Adams, 13 February 1776 Adams, John Adams, Abigail
John Adams to Abigail Adams
Feby. 13 1 1776

Lee is at York,2 and We have requested a Battalion of Philadelphian 347Associators, together with a Regiment of Jersey Minute Men, to march to his Assistance. Lord Sterling3 was there before with his Regiment, so that there will be about 1000 Men with Lee from Connecticutt, about 600 with Ld. Sterling from the Jerseys, one Battalion of about 720 Minute Men from Jersey and one of the same No. from Philadelphia. We shall soon have four Battalions more raised in Pensilvania, to march to the same Place and one more in the Jerseys.4

Mr. Dickinson, being the first Collonell, and Commander of the first Battalion too, claimed it, as his Right to march upon this Occasion. Mr. Reed, formerly Gen. Washingtons Secretary goes his Lt, Coll. Mr. Dickinsons Alacrity and Spirit upon this occasion, which certainly becomes his Character and setts a fine Example, is much talk'd of and applauded. This afternoon, the four Battallions of the Militia were together, and Mr. Dickinson mounted the Rostrum to harrangue them, which he did with great Vehemence and Pathos, as it is reported.

I suppose, if I could have made Interest enough to have been chosen more than a Lt., I should march too upon some such Emergency, and possibly a Contingency may happen, when it will be proper for me to do it still, in Rank and File. I will not fail to march if it should.

In the Beginning of a War, in Colonies like this and Virginia, where the martial Spirit is but just awakened and the People are unaccustomed to Arms, it may be proper and necessary for such popular Orators as Henry and Dickenson to assume a military Character. But I really think them both, better Statesmen than Soldiers, tho I cannot say they are not very good in the latter Character. Henrys Principles, and Systems, are much more conformable to mine than the others however.

I feel, upon some of these Occasions, a flow of Spirits, and an Effort of Imagination, very like an Ambition to be engaged in the more active, gay, and dangerous Scenes. (Dangerous I say but recall that Word, for there is no Course more dangerous than that which I am in.) I have felt such Passions all my Lifetime, particularly in the year 1757, when I longed more ardently to be a Soldier than I ever did to be a Lawyer. But I am too old, and too much worn, with Fatigues of Study in my youth, and there is too little need in my Province of such assistance, for me to assume an Uniform. Non tali Auxilio nec Defensoribus istis Tempus eget.

I believe I must write you soon, Lord Sterlings Character, because I was vastly pleased with him. For the future I shall draw no Characters but such as I like. Pimps destroy all Freedom of Correspondence.


RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “To Mrs. John Adams Braintree.”


JA left space for the day of the month but did not enter it. A portion of the text of this letter is printed in Burnett's Letters of Members , where it is pointed out (1:348, note) that the mustering of “the four Battallions of the [Philadelphia] Militia” (mentioned in the second paragraph) was recorded by others as occurring on 13 February.


New York City.


William Alexander (1726–1783), of New York and New Jersey, who claimed the title of 6th Earl of Stirling, though his claim had been formally disallowed; he was named a Continental brigadier general on 1 March ( DAB ).


See Congress' resolutions of 12 Feb. ( JCC , 4:127–128).

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 18 February 1776 JA AA John Adams to Abigail Adams, 18 February 1776 Adams, John Adams, Abigail
John Adams to Abigail Adams
My dearest Friend February 18. 1776

I sent you from New York a Pamphlet intituled Common Sense, written in Vindication of Doctrines which there is Reason to expect that the further Encroachments of Tyranny and Depredations of Oppression, will soon make the common Faith: unless the cunning Ministry, by proposing Negociations and Terms of Reconciliation, should divert the present Current from its Channell.1

Reconciliation if practicable and Peace if attainable, you very well know would be as agreable to my Inclinations and as advantageous to my Interest, as to any Man's. But I see no Prospect, no Probability, no Possibility. And I cannot but despise the Understanding, which sincerely expects an honourable Peace, for its Credulity, and detest the hypocritical Heart, which pretends to expect it, when in Truth it does not. The News Papers here are full of free Speculations, the Tendency of which you will easily discover. The Writers reason from Topicks which have been long in Contemplation, and fully understood by the People at large in New England, but have been attended to in the southern Colonies only by Gentlemen of free Spirits and liberal Minds, who are very few. I shall endeavour to inclose to you as many of the Papers and Pamphlets as I can, as long as I stay here. Some will go by this Conveyance.

Dr. Franklin, Mr. Chase, and Mr. Charles Carroll of Carrollton in Maryland, are chosen a Committee to go into Canada. The Characters of the two first you know. The last is not a Member of Congress, but a Gentleman of independant Fortune, perhaps the largest in America, 150 or 200, thousand Pounds sterling, educated in some University in France, tho a Native of America, of great Abilities and Learning, compleat Master of French Language and a Professor of the Roman 349catholic Religion, yet a warm, a firm, a zealous Supporter of the Rights of America, in whose Cause he has hazarded his all.

Mr. John Carroll of Maryland, a Roman Catholic Priest and a Jesuit, is to go with the Committee. The Priests in Canada having refused Baptism and Absolution to our Friends there.2

General Lee is to command in that Country, whose Address, Experience, and Abilities added to his Fluency in the French Language, will give him great Advantages.3

The Events of War are uncertain: We cannot insure Success, but We can deserve it. I am happy in this Provision for that important Department, because I think it the best that could be made in our Circumstances. Your Prudence will direct you to communicate the Circumstances of the Priest, the Jesuit and the Romish Religion only to such Persons as can judge of the Measure upon large and generous Principles, and will not indiscreetly divulge it. The Step was necessary, for the Anathema's of the Church are very terrible to our Friends in Canada.

I wish I understood French as well as you. I would have gone to Canada, if I had. I feel the Want of Education every Day—particularly of that Language. I pray My dear, that you would not suffer your Sons or your Daughter, ever to feel a similar Pain. It is in your Power to teach them French, and I every day see more and more that it will become a necessary Accomplishment of an American Gentleman and Lady. Pray write me in your next the Name of the Author of your thin French Grammar, which gives you the Pronunciation of the French Words in English Letters, i.e. which shews you, how the same Sounds would be signified by English Vowells and Consonants.

Write me as often as you can—tell me all the News. Desire the Children to write to me, and believe me to be theirs and yours.

RC (Adams Papers).


From this it appears that JA first encountered and read Thomas Paine's subsequently famous pamphlet Common Sense: Addressed to the Inhabitants of America on his way to Philadelphia during the first days of Feb. 1776. (It had been published in Philadelphia about three weeks earlier.) It also appears, from this and other letters JA wrote at the time (see especially his letter of 19 March, below), that he thought better of Common Sense and its author when he first read it than he did later on. The best he could say in old age was that Common Sense was "a tollerable Summary of the Arguments” for independence, and that it had led JA himself to correct its crudities and supply its deficiencies by writing his essay published later this spring as Thoughts on Government ( Diary and Autobiography , 3:331–334).


See the resolutions of Congress of 15 Feb. ( JCC , 4:151–152). For the Carrolls, who were cousins, see under both their names in DAB .


Lee was, however, soon sent south to Virginia rather than north to Canada.