Papers of John Adams, volume 3

To Charles Lee, 13 October 1775 JA Lee, Charles To Charles Lee, 13 October 1775 Adams, John Lee, Charles
To Charles Lee
Philadelphia Octr. 13. 1775 My dear Sir1

Your obliging Favour of the fifth Inst. I this Moment received, and give me Leave to assure you that no Letter I ever received, gave me 202greater Pleasure. In truth sir I have been under some Apprehensions, that a certain Passage, in a very unfortunate as well as inconsiderate Letter, might have made Some disagreable Impressions on your Mind: I was indeed relieved in some Degree by Accounts which I had from Gentlemen who knew your sentiments, especially such as were present when you first heard it read. The candid, genteel and generous Manner in which it was heard and animadverted on, gave me great Satisfaction: I had thought of writing you on the Subject, but was hindered by certain Notions of Delicacy perhaps as whimsical, as any Thing alluded to in that Letter. But I rejoice exceedingly, that this incident has induced you to write.

I frankly confess to you that a little Whim and Eccentricity, so far from being an Objection to any one in my Mind, is rather, a Recommendation, at first Blush, and my Reasons are, because few Persons in the World, within my Experience or little Reading, who have been possessed of Virtues or Abilities, have been entirely without them; and because few Persons, have been remarkable for them, without having Something at the same Time, truly valuable in them. I confess farther that a Fondness for Dogs, by no means depreciates any Character in my Estimation, because many of the greatest Men have been remarkable for it; and because I think it Evidence of an honest Mind and an Heart capable of Friendship, Fidelity and Strong Attachments being Characteristicks of that Animal.

Your Opinion of my Generosity, Valour, Good sense, Patriotism and Zeal for the Rights of Humanity, is extreamly flattering to me: and I beg leave to assure you, in the Strongest Manner and I flatter myself that my Language and Conduct in public and private upon all occasions, notwithstanding the wanton Expressions in the intercepted Letter have demonstrated, that this Opinion is reciprocal. Your Sincerity, sir, I never doubted, any more than I did my own, when I expressed or implied an opinion of your Attainments as a Scholler and a Soldier. Indeed I might have expressed a much higher opinion of these than I did, with the same Sincerity. But enough of this.

At the Story of the Surgeon General I stand astonished. A Man of Genius, of Learning, of Family, of Character, a Writer of Liberty songs and good ones too, a Speaker of Liberty orations, a Member of the Boston Committee of Correspondence, a Member of the Massachusetts Congress, an Agent for that Congress to the Continental Congress, a Member of the House, a Director General of the Hospital and Surgeon General—Good God! What shall We say of human Nature? 203What shall We say of American Patriots? or rather what will the World Say? The World however, will not be too severe. Indeed, Sir, We ought to expect, in a Contest like this, however we may detest, Such Examples as this. History furnishes Instances more or less, in all Quarells like this. The Doctors Brother Poet Waller2 in the Struggle with a Stuart, was his Antitype. We cannot be too cautious of the Persons We entrust, in such Times as these: yet We ought not to let our Caution degenerate into groundless Jealousy. There is a Medium between Credulity on one hand and a base suspicious Temper on the other from which We need not be induced to deviate, even in such Times as these, and by such Examples as the Doctors.

The Nature of the Conspiracy and the Duration and Extent of it Seem as yet in much Obscurity. I hope Time, and Care will bring the whole Truth to light that exact and impartial Justice may be done, if that is possible.

Before this Reaches you, a Committee from Congress3 will tell you News from hence. I wish, sir that I could write freely to you concerning, our Proceedings: But you know the obligations I am under to be upon the Reserve: and the danger there would be as I know not the Carrier of this Letter, if I was at perfect Liberty. But this I must Say, that I See no danger of our “displaying Timidity.” This Congress, is more united, and more determined, than ever. And, if the petrified Tyrants would but send us their Ultimatum, which is expected Soon, you would see us, in Earnest.

As to confiscating Estates, that is but a Small Part of what will be done when We are engaging seriously.

You began upon a subject, towards the Close of your Letter of infinite Importance; I read with avidity your Thoughts and was much chagrin'd, that you gave me so few of them. The Intricacy and Multiplicity of the Questions involved in it, require more extensive Knowledge and a larger Mind than mine to determine them with Precision. There is So much Uncertainty too, that I believe no Man is capable of deciding with Precision: but it must be left to Time Accident and Experience, to begin and improve the Plan of our Trade.

If We Should invite “all the maritime Powers, of the World into our Ports” would any one of them come? At least, untill they should be convinced that We were able, and determined to fight it out with G.B. to the last? Are they yet convinced of this, or will they be very soon? Besides, if they should, would it be Sound Policy in Us to admit them? Would it not be Sounder to confine the Benefit and the Bargain to one or a few?


Is it not wiser to send our own Ships to all maritime Powers, and admit private Adventurers from foreign Nations, if by any Means We can defend them against Cutters and Cruizers, or teach them to elude them. I have upon this Subject a System of my own but am not bigoted to it, nor to any other. You will oblige me vastly by your Sentiments at large.

RC (MHi:Warren-Adams Coll.); docketed in an unidentified hand: “Mr. John Adams Oct 13. 1775 X.”


Although James Warren was thought by Worthington C. Ford to be the recipient ( Warren-Adams Letters , 1:136–139), and his judgment was accepted by William Bell Clark ( Naval Docs. Amer. Rev. , 2:445), this letter was intended for Charles Lee, for it is an almost point by point reply to Lee's letter of 5 Oct. (above), and Lee replied to it on 19 Nov. (below). It may have been enclosed with JA's letter to Warren of 13 Oct. (below), but how it got back among Warren's papers remains undetermined.


Edmund Waller (1606–1687), a noted poet and member of the House of Commons, who at the beginning of the struggle against Charles I, appeared to stand with the Commons, but who in 1643 was seized as the perpetrator of “Waller's plot,” a scheme to seize London for Charles. In 1644 he was exiled, saving his life only because he informed on other members of the conspiracy ( DNB ).


That is, Harrison, Lynch, and Franklin.

To James Warren, 13 October 1775 JA Warren, James To James Warren, 13 October 1775 Adams, John Warren, James
To James Warren
Octr. 13. 1775

Yours of october 1. and 2d I received this Morning with the Letters inclosed. These were from my afflicted Wife,1 giving me Such a continued History of her Distresses, as has affected me too much to write you a long Letter.

The Misfortune, or what shall I call it of the Surgion General had been represented here in several Letters in very glaring Colours untill one arrived from the secretary to the general, couched in Terms of more Temper and Candour.2 By your Account, and indeed by the Letter itself it appears an unaccountable Affair—Balaam praying for Leave to curse Israel, is the Emblem. A manifest Reluctance at hurting his Country, yet desirous of making a Merit, with the other Side—what shall We think! Is there reason to believe that other Letters have gone the same Way? I was so little acquainted with the World that I never heard a Suspicion to the Disadvantage of his Moral Character, untill I was lately with you at the Adjournment. I should scarcely have joined in a certain Recommendation, if I had heard before what I heard then3—for Honour and Fidelity violated in Such gross Instances in private Life, are slender securities in public. Be not concerned about your Friends at the Congress—their Recommendations 205will not be discredited by this Event. Gentlemen here have behaved universally with the Utmost Politeness, upon this occasion. They say they pitty us, for the Suspicions that there is danger may arise among us of one another, and the Hurt to that Confidence in one another which ought to be. But any Man ought to be kick'd for a Brute that shall reproach Us in Thought, Word or Deed on this account.

Our Accounts from Schuyler's Army are as agreable as yours from Arnold. We are in hourly Expectation.

Rejoice to hear of your Successes by Sea.4 Let Cargill and Obrien5 be put into continental service immediately I pray. We begin to feel a little of a Seafaring Inclination here. The Powder at Quebec, will place us all upon the Top of the House.

Your Letters are very usefull to me—and I cannot have too many, or too long.

I believe We shall take some of the twenty Gun ships before long. We must excite by Policy that Kind of exalted Courage, which is ever victorious by sea and land—which is irresistable—the Saracens, had it—the Knights of Malta—the Assassins—Cromwells soldiers and sailors—Nay N. England men have ever had it hitherto—they never yet fail'd in an Attempt of any Kind.

RC (MHi:Warren-Adams Coll.);addressed: “The Hon. James Warren Esq Speaker of the House Watertown By favour of Mr. Tracy”; docketed: “Mr J: A Lettr Octr. 13. 1775.”


See James Warren to JA, 1 Oct., note 14 (above).


Washington to the President of Congress, 5 Oct. ( Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, 4:9–13).


JA had a hand in getting Church his appointment as director of hospitals on 27 July ( JCC , 2:211).


That is, the capture of the schooner Industry and the brigantine Dolphin, mentioned in Warren's letter of 1 Oct.


Why JA mentioned James Cargill and Capt. Jeremiah O'Brien at this point is not clear. Warren does not name them, nor does the Journal of the House, in connection with the seizure of the two ships. Warren did mention Cargill on 9 Aug. (above), however. O'Brien had shown spirit in leading a group of men on board a sloop belonging to Ichabod Jones to pursue a royal tender, which had escorted Jones to Machias. This incident occurred in June and may have been reported to JA (Mass. Provincial Congress, Jours. , p. 395–396).