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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 1


This foot note contained in document ADMS-01-01-02-0009-0002-0001
1. The paragraphs that follow comprise JA ’s first thoughts for the important and eloquent essay to which he gave no name but which later became known as “A Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law.” (In his Autobiography JA observed that “It might as well have been called an Essay upon Forefathers Rock”— i.e. what is now known as Plymouth Rock.) The date here assigned to this very rough draft is conjectural, but since it immediately follows the Diary entry of 21 Feb. 1765, being separated from it only by a line across the page, we can say with some confidence that JA began putting down these detached thoughts late in February. He may, of course, have continued them in the following weeks or even months.
Much revised and expanded from the early draft, JA ’s essay was published in the Boston Gazette, without a signature of any kind, in four parts, 12 and 19 Aug., 30 Sept., and 21 Oct. 1765, whence it was reprinted in the London Chronicle in corresponding installments, 23 and 28 Nov., 3 and 26 Dec. 1765, under a title furnished by Thomas Hollis: “A Dissertation on the Feudal and the Canon Law.” For its subsequent bibliographical history, see CFA ’s valuable but not completely reliable introductory note to his reprint in JA’s Works , 3:447–448. No attempt is made in the present text of the draft to show the variations between it and the published version, but readers who wish to see how JA used and revised his first thoughts will find nearly all of them embedded in the final version as reprinted in his Works , in the following order: p. 449–450, 451–452, 455–456, 452–453. It should be noted that the draft contains rudiments of only the first three parts of the essay as printed in the newspapers; the last installment, with its references to the Stamp Act (passed 22 March 1765), was doubtless composed later.