Adams Family Correspondence, volume 3

Abigail Adams to James Lovell, February – March 1779 AA Lovell, James Abigail Adams to James Lovell, February – March 1779 Adams, Abigail Lovell, James
Abigail Adams to James Lovell
Braintree, February–March 1779

Your favour of Jan'ry 19 never reachd me till the 26 of this Month. The only reason why I did not mention the recept of your Letter November 271 and acknowledge with thanks Mr. Lovell's kind care and attention to the Box which arrived safe was oweing to my not receiving the least intimation of it, till after my Letter was sent to the post office.

In reply to a certain congratulation, can only say that the Idea of suffering for those who are dear to us beyond the power of words to express, raise sensibilities in the Heart which are blendid with a delicate pleasing Melancholy, and serve to mitigate the curse entailed upon us.

Since I wrote last I have been releived from a great degree of anxiety by the arrival of the Miflin in which came a large packet of Letters of various dates, and one so late as December 2d. In reply to some pathetick complants, my Friend assures me that he has wrote 3 Letters where he has received one, and that he has full as much reason to complain of his Friends as they have of him. From Mr. Adams he writes he has received only one short card, from Mr. Gerry not a Syllable, from Mr. Lovell only 2 or 3 very short, tho he candidly allows for them supposing that they must have wrote oftner but attributes to the score of misfortune that so few have reachd him. I mention this that you may be assured he has not been unmindfull of his Friends. The occasion of my inquiry in a former Letter2 was oweing to my receiving inteligance that alterations had taken place and that my Friend was removed. He had received some such inteligance when he wrote in December. Why may I not wish that the removal might be to America. I reclined my Head upon my Hand, my pen in the other whilst I revolvd that wish in my mind.—Lie still thou flutterer. How pleasing were the Ideas that rushd upon my Soul whilst I was wholy absorbed in Self. But a superiour claim silenced the voice of pleading nature and I revoked the ardent wish—whilst I will endeavour to keep in view those patriotick sons of freedom and imitate their virtuous examples who whilst they long for private life and pant for Domestick felicity with painfull patience, incessant care and mixt anxiety are sacrificeing the vigor of their days to secure Independance and peace to the rising age.

But my Heart recoils with Indignation when I see their generous 185plans of Freedom sapped and undermined by guilefull Arts and Machinations of Self Love, Ambition and Avarice. Whether the late indiscreet appeal to the publick may be considerd in this light time will determine, but an open and Avowed Enemy to America could not have fixed upon a more successfull method of rasing Jealousys among the people or of sowing the seeds of discord in their minds, and such have been the Effects of it here that it produced a very extrodinary motion in a late assembly of which I dare say you have heard.3

Virtue! without thee, There is no ruling Eye, no Nerve in States; War has no vigour and no safety peace; Even justice warps to party, laws oppress. For, lost this social cement of Mankind, The greatest empires, by scarce felt degrees, Will moulder soft away—till tottering loose They prone at last to total ruin rush.4

Since I first took up my pen a fortnight has slid a way without any thing material taking place unless the News paper altercation upon the important Subject of Balls and assemblies may come under the head of Material. 5— More than 2 years I think has elapsed since you was even a visitor in your Native Town. If you absent yourself much longer you will be under the same necessity which it is said Timon was in Athens of lighting a candle to find a Man. Monkies, Maccoronies and pate Ma'ters6 have multiplied like Egypt Locusts. Luxery, Luxery with her enticeing charms has unbraced their Nerves and extinguished that Noble Ardor, that Zeal for Liberty, “that Manly Soul7 of Toil,” that impatient Scorn of base Subjection which once distinguished the inhabitants of your Native Town and led them first and foremost in the present glorious strugle.

Alass how changed! but I will quit a subject that I know must give you pain and ask if you are at Liberty to tell me the important News which is said to have arrived from Spain, which is good, very good and so good that nobody must know it. Various are the conjectures concerning it.

Mr. Thaxter acknowledges your reproof just and kissis the rod, makes his excuses I suppose in the enclosed Letter.

I will seek one in the benevolent Friendship of Mr. Lovell for the Freedom I take in Scribling to him. I love every one who Manifests a regard or Shews an Attachment to my Absent Friend, and will indulgently allow for the overflowings of a Heart softned by absence, 186pained by a seperation from what it holds most dear upon Earth. A similarity of circumstances will always lead to Sympathy and is a further inducement to subscribe myself your Friend & Servant,


Dft (Adams Papers); at head of text in JQA's hand: “to James Lovell,” to which CFA added: “Feby. 1779.” Enclosed letter from John Thaxter to Lovell not found.


AA apparently means that she had answered Lovell's letter (of 14 Nov. 1778, printed above) in a letter dated 27 Nov. (which has not been found).


AA to Lovell, 4 Jan., above.


If there was a motion in the Massachusetts legislature on Deane's address of Dec. 1778, no record of it has been found.


From Thomson's Liberty (1735–1736), Part V, lines 109–112, 95–98, in that order as quoted by AA. Missing punctuation has been editorially supplied for clarity.


On 12 Jan. 1779 a bill for “suppressing theatrical Entertainments, Horse-Racing, Gaming, and such other Diversions as are productive of Idleness, Dissipation, and a general Depravity of Manners,” was introduced into the Massachusetts House of Representatives; on 10 and 11 Feb. it was read and debated; and on the 12th the House voted 78 to 53 to insert “a Clause in the Bill to prevent what is generally understood by public Assemblies for Dancing” (Mass., House Jour. , 1778–1779, 3d sess., p. 94, 136, 138, 140). A newspaper debate on this momentous issue followed, begun by “A Country Representative” who accused “a certain Reverend Doctor, not far from Jamaica Plains,” which is to say Rev. William Gordon, of having meddlesomely inspired this measure and taken up the time of the House with so “frivilous a subject as that of fiddling and dancing” (Continental Journal, 25 Feb.). Gordon replied by declaring his accuser “half-witted,” denying that he had had anything directly to do with the bill, but asserting at the same time that he “hath long meddled, and, while health and strength admit, is determined to meddle in matters regarding the public weal, as oft as he apprehendeth, that, by so doing, he can assist in securing the liberties, the virtue, the innocence of the community” (same, 4 March). The controversy went on but need not be pursued here. The bill did not pass.


That is, petits-maîtres— fops or coxcombs.


Thus in MS, but AA may have intended to write “Love.”

James Lovell to Abigail Adams, 9 March 1779 Lovell, James AA James Lovell to Abigail Adams, 9 March 1779 Lovell, James Adams, Abigail
James Lovell to Abigail Adams
Mar. 9. 1779

It is hardly necessary that I should tell the amiable Portia of my having within 4 days received a letter from her worthy Husband, as the date is no later than Sepr. 26, and Capt. Bradford mentions having received others, doubtless later and inclosing some for you. We have this Morning also received one from him (Mr. A.) dated Sepr. 7th. At the Time I received the first mentioned Congress had from him one of Decr. 6th or 7th so that he was then well.1

He has seen an intercepted Letter of Simeon Deane to Silas which contained some indecent hints respecting the Adamses but he com-187ments upon it with his usual Superiority and properly despises the Writing and the Writer. He pays us, great Folks, off, as he used to do when here, for not seeing that Taxation is the only Remedy against Depreciation, in our Circumstances.2

I would close here by telling you how affectionately I esteem you, if I was not sure that it would rather mortify than please you while your mind is anxious to know how this indecisive Assembly intend to dispose of your best Friend. There is a strange Delay and something of Mystery in the Propositions that have been lately made here respecting our foreign Affairs. But, be assured, I have not yet perceived any Thing which probably will affect Mr. A—— in a disagreable Manner. I am not entitled to write so confidentially to you about the mighty Congress as Mr. A. used to. For though I think I may venture, yet I do not know how far. We are talking here about War or Peace. Would to God we were vigorously acting for one or the other. Look round you and guess which of the two we ought to talk least about. I hope that we shall not gape so eagerly after a desirable Object as to break our Necks in the Pursuit. We had better keep our Eye upon the Ditch and the Cheveaux de Frize though our Fancy will be roving.

But, I had better quit this Topic, or I shall destroy all the Credit of your Sagacity, and bring you down to a par with the Wiseacre who was called upon to tell whether his Wife had brought him a Girl or a Boy, and who guessed right at the second Tryal. I will give your Wit and Judgment fairer Play, that I may have if possible some new Cause to admire you.


What signifies putting above those Initials the particular Truth which I hope is graven among the Articles of your Belief.

RC (Adams Papers).


The letters referred to by Lovell are as follows: (1) JA to Lovell, 26 Sept. 1778 (LbC, Adams Papers), summarized by Lovell in the following paragraph and printed, in part, in Edward E. Hale and Edward E. Hale Jr., Franklin in France, Boston, 1887–1888, 1:232–233. (2) JA to President Laurens, 7 Sept. 1778 (PCC, No. 84, I; printed in Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 2:703–704); it was received and read in Congress on the day Lovell wrote the present letter ( JCC , 13:296). (3) Presumably JA to Laurens, 6 Dec. 1778 (PCC, No. 84, I; printed in Wharton, vol. 2:851); it had been read in Congress on 25 Feb. 1779 ( JCC , 13:251). (4) A letter from John Bradford at Boston to Congress, 13 Feb., which was read and referred to the Committee on Commerce on 5 March ( JCC , 13:275) but has not been found.


JA's comments on both the intercepted letter and American tax policy are in his letter to Lovell of 26 Sept. 1778 (see preceding note). Silas Deane's brother Simeon had returned from France early in 1778 bringing the Franco-American treaties for ratification, and had then set vigorously about extending the Deanes' commercial enterprises in America, for which they had great expectations because of their close official and mercantile ties in France. 188Simeon's letter to Silas here discussed was captured by the British and printed, without date or place (though quite evidently the writer was in Virginia), in Lloyd's Morning Post (London), 26 Aug. 1778. For the most part it reported on the ships and cargoes in which the Deanes had an interest and on Simeon's own plans and prospects as a trader in goods from France. But before finishing, Simeon added a revealing passage in which he first spoke indignantly of the rising complaints in Congress over Silas Deane's rumored commercial activities and then ingenuously substantiated the rumors:

“The two Adams's from N[ew] E[ngland] are both strongly against [John Hancock] and yourself. God knows what lengths they intend by their factions; yet depend they are indefatigable. I can with great truth assure you, that, notwithstanding their treatment of you, . . . they have not yet dared to attack your character, further than to say you were in trade, &c. This has been amply blazed by the imprudence of Mr. Bromfield, who has told it everywhere, in Virginia and the Carolinas, that you and M. M——owned a quarter or half of the ship commanded by Capt. Roche. The effects of that cargo, I believe, are here (or a part of them), in his possession at James River, and in case they have been laid out into tobacco, last June, at 30 to 36, may turn amazingly advantageous—but whether this has been fully done or not, I am not informed.” ( Deane Papers , 2:467–468.)