Adams Family Correspondence, volume 4

Abigail Adams to Elbridge Gerry, 20 July 1781 AA Gerry, Elbridge Abigail Adams to Elbridge Gerry, 20 July 1781 Adams, Abigail Gerry, Elbridge
Abigail Adams to Elbridge Gerry
Sir Braintree july 20. 1781 1

When I looked for your Name among those who form the Representative Body of the people this year I could not find it. I sought for it with the Senate, but was still more dissapointed. I however had the pleasure of finding it amongst the delegates of this Commonwealth to Congress, where I flatter myself you will still do us Honour which posterity will gratefully acknowledge; and the virtuous few now confess. But as you are no worshiper of the rising Sun, or Adulator at the shrine of power, you must expect with others, who possess an Independant Spirit, to be viewed in the shade, to be eyed askance, to be malign'ed and to have your Good evil spoken of. But let not this Sir discourage you in the arduous Buisness. I hope America has not yet arrived at so great a pitch of degeneracy as to be given up by those alone who can save her; I mean the disinterested patriot—who possessing an unconfined Benevolence will persevere in the path of his duty. Tho the Ingratitude of his constituents and the Malevolence of his Enemies should conspire against him, he will feel within himself the best Intimations of his duty, and he will look for no external Motive.

History informs us that the single virtue of Cato, upheld the Roman Empire for a time, and a Righteous few might have saved from the impending Wrath of an offended deity the Ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorah. Why then my dear Sir, may I ask you, do you wish to withdraw yourself from publick Life?

You have supported the cause of America with zeal with ardour and fidelity, but you have not met even with the gratitude of your fellow citizens—in that you do not stand alone.

You have a mind too Liberal to consider yourself only as an Individual, and not to regard both your Country and posterity—and in that view I know you must be anxiously concerned when you consider the undue Influence excercised in her Supreme Counsels. You can be no stranger I dare say Sir, to matters of the Highest importance to the 183future welfare of America as a Nation; being now before her Representitives—and that she stands in need of the collected wisdom of the United States, and the Integrity of her most virtuous members.

I will not deny Sir, that personally I feel myself much Interested in your attendance there. I fear there is a spirit prevailing, too powerfull for those who wish our prosperity; and would seek our best Interests. Mr. Lovell and Mr. Adams have informed you I suppose of the Intrigues and malicious aspersions of my absent Friends character, if they have not, I will forward to you a coppy of a Letter which will not want any comment of mine.2

The plan which appears to be adopted both at Home and abroad, is a servile adulation and complasance to the Court of our Allies, even to the giving up some of our most valuable privileges. The Independant Spirit of your Friend, abroad, does not coinside with the selfish views and inordinate ambition of your Minister, who in consequence of it, is determined upon his distruction. Stung with envy at a merit he cannot emulate, he is allarmed with the apprehension of losing the Honour of some Brilliant action; and is useing his endeavours that every enterprize shall miscarry, in which he has not the command. To Effect this purpose he has insinuated into the minds of those in power the falsest prejudices against your Friend, and they have so far influenced the united Counsels of these States, as to induce them to join this unprincipled Man, in Commission with him for future Negotiations. If Congress had thought proper to have joined any Gentleman of real abilities and integrity with our Friend, who could have acted in concert with him; he would have gratefully received his assistance—but to clog him with a Man, who has shewn himself so Enimical to him, who has discovered the marks of a little and narrow Spirit by his malicious aspersions, and ungenerous insinuations, and whose measures for a long time they have had no reason to be gratified with, is such a proof to me of what my absent Friend has reason to expect, and what you know Sir, I very early feared; that I can see nothing but dishonour, and disgrace attending his most faithfull, and zealous exertions for the welfare of his Country.

These Ideas fill me with the deepest concern. Will you suffer Female influence so far to operate upon you; as to step forth and lend your aid to rescue your Country and your Friend, without inquiring

“What can Cato do Against a World, a base degenerate World which courts a yoke and bows its Neck to Bondage.” 184

There is a very serious Light in which this matter is to be viewed; the serious light in which a late distinguished Modern writer expresses it—“that we are all embarked on the same Bottom, and if our Country sinks, we must Sink with it.”

Your acknowledged Friendship and former politeness has led me to the freedom of this address, and prevents my asking an excuse which I should otherways think necessary for her who has the Honour to subscribe herself your Friend and Humble Servant,


PS The communication of the minister at Versails being joined with my Friend was made in confidence—I wish it may not be mentiond at present.

RC (PPAmP); endorsed: “Braintree Lettr Mrs. Adams July 20 1781 & Ansr. July 30.”


It seems likely that AA did not finish, or at any rate did not send, this letter on the day that it is dated but, rather, some days later. See her remark in the following letter to Lovell about deliberating “some time” before writing Gerry, and her acknowledgment of Gerry's “very quick reply” of 30 July (to Gerry, 4 Aug., below). Ten days between Marblehead and Braintree could not by any standard be called “quick.”


Which particular letter is meant, among the numerous ones revelatory of recent proposals and actions at Paris and Philadelphia to put restraints on JA, is not perfectly certain. In his reply of 30 July, below, Gerry assumed that AA meant Franklin's letter of 9 Aug. 1780, on which see above, Cranch to AA, 16 July, and note 1 there.

Abigail Adams to James Lovell, 20 July – 6 August 1781 AA Lovell, James Abigail Adams to James Lovell, 20 July – 6 August 1781 Adams, Abigail Lovell, James
Abigail Adams to James Lovell
Braintree, 20 July–6 August 1781 1

Your two Letters of june 26 and july 2d came safe to hand together with the resolves which would gratify me if there was a sufficient stability in the Body which confer'd it to render it truly honorary, but the Letter of Janry. 10th strikes me very dissagreably and is highly tinctured with parissian influence.2 It bears a striking likeness of a servility to a court that ought not to have so undue an influence upon an Independant Nation. Are we not throwing ourselves into hands and rendering ourselves subject If ever America stood in need of wise Heads and virtuous Hearts it is at this juncture. The ship wants skilfull hands, your old sea men are chiefly retired, your Hands are new and inexperienced. Sylla is on one Side and Caribdis on the other—how will you Stear between them? In avoiding the rocks you are in danger of being swallowed up in the sands. I am greatly agitated at your movements. I see nothing but dishonour and disgrace in the union of——with——.3 I wish I had sooner been apprized of the design. You most assuredly have a party who do not mean the best 185welfare of their country by this movement. You or Rivington will have my mind upon the Subject before this reaches you. If the union is still undecided let me beg you to oppose it with all your influence. I wish your Friend Gerry was with you. He is I hear unwilling to continue to be one of you. I will try persuasion upon him, and see if Female influence has any force with him.4

Three post days have passed since I received a line from you. You will see by the date of this Letter that I designed you a speedy reply to your favours but I really felt so unhappy and my mind was so intent upon consequences that I threw down my pen. I deliberated some time then took it up and wrote to our Friend Gerry. He very obligeingly replied to me, and assured me that he would not decline a publick station whilst there was any prospect of rendering Service to his country. He informed me that by a Late Letter from Mr. Lovell he expected him soon in Boston and that we should then be better able to judge from his information of the late measures of Congress.5 This has been the true reason why I did not write by the two last posts as I had no inclination my Letters should fall into other Hands than those for which they were designed, but hearing nothing further I shall venture to forward this, requesting you to communicate to me the whole Fraternity to whom our Friend is joined, for what reason the comercial part of his commission is taken from him. Is it because he has enterd into no private contracts nor laid any plan for a fortune for himself and others who wish to be connected with those who will? I will tell you Sir the consequence of the late movements. If British Ships and old Neptune are not more intent upon dissapointing me than Congress I shall in the course of six months embrace my Dear Friend in his own native land. He will have no part in executing orders dishonorary to his country. One path is plain before him. He can and he will resign his commission. This his Enemies know and they will effect their purpose. I could (said he to a Friend upon an occasion not unlike the present) return to my practise at the Bar and make fortunes for my children and be happier and be really more respected than I can in the hazardous tormenting employments into which Congress have always put me. I can be easy even under the marks of disgrace they put upon me, but they may depend upon it, they either mistake their own Interest in putting me into these employments, or in putting these Brands upon me—one or the other.6 Time Sir will determine which of these predictions are true.

“All humane virtue to its latest Breath Finds envy never conquer'd but by death.” 186

I hope you received all my late Letters. Yet I know not how to account for not hearing from you unless you are realy returning to your Family and Friends, and in that Number I flatter myself you will ever consider


Dft (Adams Papers); without date or indication of addressee; at head of text in CFA's hand: “1782”; see note 1.


The dates on which the first part and the longer continuation of this letter were written are established from the postscript of Lovell's letter to AA of 4 Aug. i.e. Sept. , below: “Your Letter of July 20/Aug. 6 reached me yesterday.” In the interval between beginning her present letter and completing it (see note 4), she had written a letter to Gerry bearing date of 20 July (preceding, but probably not sent until some days later) and had received Gerry's answer of 30 July, below.


Sent in Lovell's letter to AA of 26 June, above; see descriptive note there.


Adams (JA) and Franklin must be meant.


The foregoing was presumably written on the day this letter was dated. What follows was written with a different pen on 6 Aug.; see note 1.


See AA to Gerry, 20 July, preceding; Gerry to AA, 30 July, below.


AA is quoting from a letter written by JA to Elbridge Gerry, 18 Oct. 1779 (LbC, Adams Papers), which JA marked “Secret as the Grave” and then apparently did not send. See a longer passage from this letter quoted by AA in her letter to Gerry of 4 Aug., below; AA there says that the letter was never sent.