Diary of John Adams, volume 2

1779 July 31 Saturday.


1779 November 13th. Saturday.<a xmlns="http://www.tei-c.org/ns/1.0" href="#DJA02d498n1" class="note" id="DJA02d498n1a">1</a> JA 1779 November 13th. Saturday. Adams, John
1779 November 13th. Saturday.1

Took Leave of my Family, and rode to Boston with my Son Charles, nine years of Age last May. At four O Clock went on board the french Frigate the Sensible, Mr. Thaxter,2 my Son John, twelve Years old last July, and my Servant Joseph Stevens having come on Board in the Morning.—I find the Frigate crouded with Passengers, and Sailors, full 350 Men. They have recruited a great Number here.3


First entry in “Paper Book No. 30” as labeled and numbered by CFA (our D/JA/30), an unstitched gathering of leaves without cover bearing the 401following title in JA's hand on the front leaf: “Journal from 13 Nov. 1779 to 6. January 1780.”

On 9 Aug. JA had been elected to represent Braintree in the convention called to frame a new state constitution ( Braintree Town Records , p. 503). He attended the plenary sessions of that body in the First Church in Cambridge, 1–7 Sept., and presumably again from 28 Oct. to 11 Nov.— that is, throughout its second session, which ended two days before he sailed again for Europe. On 4 Sept. he was named one of a committee of thirty members to draft “a Declaration of Rights, and the Form of a Constitution,” to be laid before the Convention at its second session (Mass. Constitutional Convention, 1779–1780, Jour. , p. 26). The payroll records of the Massachusetts Council indicate that he was paid £90 for twenty-five days' attendance at committee meetings between the first and second sessions (M-Ar: vol. 170, fol. 413; vol. 171, fol. 20). JA told Edmund Jenings in a letter of 7 June 1780: “I was by the Convention put upon the Committee—by the Committee upon the Subcommittee—and by the Subcommittee appointed a Sub Sub Committee—so that I had the honour to be principal Engineer” (Adams Papers). He was in fact sole draftsman of the earliest form of the instrument which, after some revisions in committee and others in convention, none of them drastic, was adopted by the people in 1780 and is still in force as the organic law of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, though amended from time to time by later constitutional conventions. With its simple but eloquent preamble on the principle of government by compact, its elevated Declaration of Rights, and its unprecedented clauses requiring state support for education and the encouragement of “literature and the sciences,” it is JA's chief monument as a political thinker. In editing his grandfather's writings CFA provided a carefully edited text of the Constitution of 1780, together with commentary and notes showing the modifications of the author's draft (so far as it was then possible to do so) through the point of its adoption by the Convention in its third session, Jan.–March 1780 ( Works , 4:213–267). Though JA's MS appears to be irretrievably lost, copies of the 1779 printings annotated by members while the Convention was in progress have now come to light, and these will make possible a more complete and accurate presentation of the evolution of the text. See entry of 19 Dec., below, and note 1 there.

Meanwhile, on 27 Sept. 1779, after “a great deal of disagreeable altercation and debate,” JA was elected by Congress, on the nomination of Henry Laurens, minister plenipotentiary to negotiate treaties of peace and commerce with Great Britain, and John Jay was elected minister to Spain, leaving Arthur Lee, who was persona non grata to the French government, without a post ( JCC , 15:1107–1113; John Fell, Diary, in Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 4:439, 449; see also p. 437–438, 442–450; Lovell to JA, 27, 28 Sept. [1] and [2], Adams Papers; Gerry to JA, 29 Sept., same; and Gérard, Despatches and Instructions , p. 100–118, 893–898). Thus was settled an issue which had agitated Congress for months and of which perhaps the most lucid account is that by Burnett in his Continental Congress, ch. 23. JA's commissions (dated 29 Sept.) and his instructions (see below) were forwarded to him in a letter of 20 Oct. from Samuel Huntington, who had replaced Jay as president of Congress upon the latter's appointment to Spain (Adams Papers; printed in Works , 7:119–120). The instructions, though dated 16 Oct., had been adopted by Congress as early as 14 Aug., and the French minister in Philadelphia had had a material part in framing them ( JCC , 14:956–966; copied, together with the commissions, from the originals in the Adams Papers, into JA's Autobiography at the beginning of its third and last section, entitled “Peace”). JA accepted his appointment in a letter to Huntington of 4 Nov. (LbC, Adams Papers; also copied into his Autobiography). Gérard and La Luzerne proposed that he take passage in the Sensible, which was still in Boston Harbor, and gave orders to Capt. Chavagnes to that effect (La Luzerne to JA, 29 Sept. 1779, Adams Papers; copied into JA's Autobiography along with an 402undated letter from La Luzerne to Chavagnes).


John Thaxter Jr. (1755-1791), of Hingham, Harvard 1774, first cousin to AA through her aunt, Anna (Quincy) Thaxter. He had studied law in JA's office from 1774 until his admission to the bar in 1777, had at the same time been tutor to the Adams sons, and in 1778 had served as clerk in the office of the Secretary of Congress at York and Philadelphia, He was now going to Europe as JA's private secretary, a post he held until Sep. 1783, when he returned to America bringing the Definitive Treaty with Great Britain. He later settled in Haverhill and practiced law there. This note is largely based on Thaxter's correspondence with various members of the Adams famiy in the Adams Papers and a small collection of Thaxter family papers in MHi: see also History of the Town of Hingham, Mass. [Hingham,] 1893, 3:233; MHS, Procs. , 1st ser., 19 (1881–1882):152, 158; JA, Works , 3:354–355, 383; Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 7:377.


On the 14th the Sensible fell down to King's Roads (now President Roads), and on the 15th it sailed about 10 A.M. CJQA, Diary, 15 Nov. 1779; Francis Dana, Journal, 1779–1780, MHi).