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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 2


Search for a response to this letter.

Docno: ADMS-06-02-02-0081

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Warren, Mercy Otis
Date: 1775-03-15

To Mercy Otis Warren

[salute] Madam

I thought myself greatly honoured, by your most polite and agreable Letter of January the thirtieth; and I ought to have answered it, immediately: but a Variety of Cares and Avocations, at this troublesome Time, which I confess are not a justification of my Negligence, as they were the real Cause of it, will with your goodness of Disposition be allowed as an Excuse.
In requesting my opinion, Madam, concerning a Point of Casuistry, you have done me great Honour, and I should think myself very happy if I could remove a Scruple from a Mind, which is so amiable that it ought not to have one upon it. Personal Reflections, when they are artfully resorted to, in order to divert the Attention from Truth, or from Arguments, which cannot be answered, are mean and unjustifiable: but We must give up the Distinction between Virtue and Vice, before We can pronounce personal Reflections, always unlawfull. Will it be Said that We must not pronounce Cataline a Conspirator, and Borgia a Rascall, least we should be guilty of casting personal Reflections? The faithfull Historian delineates Caracters truly, let the Censure fall where it will. The public is so interrested in public Characters, that they have a Right to know them, { 407 } and it becomes the Duty of every good Citizen who happens to be acquainted with them to communicate his Knowledge.
There is no other Way of preventing the Mischief, which may be done by ill Men: no other Method of administering the Antidote to the Poison.
Christianity Madam, is so far, from discountenancing the severest Discrimination, between the good and the bad, that it assures us, of the most public and solemn one conceivable, before Angells and Men: and the Practice and Example of Prophetts, and Apostles, is Sufficient to Sanctify Satyr of the Sharpest Kind.
The Truth is, Madam, that, the best Gifts are liable to the worst Uses and Abuses, a Talent at Satyr, is commonly mixed with the choicest Powers of Genius, and it has such irresistable Charms, in the Eyes of the World, that the extravagant Praise, it never fails to extort, is apt to produce extravagant Vanity in the Satirist, and an exuberant Fondness for more Praise, untill it looses that cool Judgment, which alone can justify him.
But the lawfulness of the exercise of this briliant Talent, may be argued from it being a natural one. Nature, which does nothing in vain, bestows no mental Faculties, which are not designed to be cultivated and improved. It may also be inferred from its admirable Utility and Effects. If We look into human Nature, and run through the various Classes of Life, We shall find it is really a dread of Satyr that restrains our Species, from Exorbitances, more than Laws, human moral or divine, indeed the Efficacy of civil Punishments is derived chiefly from the same source. It is not the Pain the Fine, &c that is dreaded so much as the Infamy and Disgrace. So that really the civil Magistrate may be said in a good sense to keep the World in order, by Means of Satyrs, for Goals, Stocks, Whipping Posts and Gallows's are but different Kinds of it. But classical Satyr, such as flows so naturally and easily from the Pen of my excellent Friend had all the Efficacy, and more, in Support of Virtue and in Discountenancing of Vice, without any of the Coarseness and Indelicacy of those other Species of Satyr, the civil and political ones.
If you examine the Life and Actions of your poorest, lowest and most despised Neighbour, or the meanest servant you know, you will find, that there is Some one or more Persons, of whose Esteem and good opinion he is ambitious, and whose Scorn and Derision he dreads perhaps more than any other Evil. And this Desire of Esteem and dread of Scorn is the principle that governs his Life and Actions. Now the Business of satyr is to expose Vice And vicious Men as such { 408 } to this scorn and to envoke Virtue, in all the Charms which fancy can paint, and by this Means to procure her Lovers and Admirers.
Of all the Genius's which have yet arisen in America, there has been none, Superiour, to one, which now shines, in this happy, this exquisite Faculty. Indeed, altho there are many which have received more industrious Cultivation I know of none, ancient or modern, which has reached the tender, the pathetic, the keen and severe, and at the same time the soft, the Sweet, the amiable, and the pure, in greater Perfection.

[salute] I am Madam, with great Respect your Friend,

[signed] John Adams
RC (MHi:Warren-Adams Coll.); addressed: “To Mercy Warren Plymouth”; docketed: “J Adams Esqr March 15 1775 in Braintree”; written over “Braintree”: “July.”

Docno: ADMS-06-02-02-0082

Author: Warren, James
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1775-03-15

From James Warren

[salute] Dear Sir

With some difficulty I have Obtained the Inclosed.1 Some scruples which you have not resolved, and some fears, and Apprehensions from Rumors Abroad have Occasioned the delay, and reluctance. The Copy I got last Night. Have had no time to read it over. You will please to Examine and Correct &c. and do with it as you think proper, haveing as I dare say you will, a proper regard to prudence under present Circumstances. It is A long while since I had a line from you. Perhaps some may have Miscarried. The Bearer waits and I can only Add my regards to Mrs. Adams. And that I am Yr. Friend &c,
[signed] J. Warren
1. Presumably scenes ii and iii of Act II of The Group. The two-act play with its four scenes was offered for public sale by the printers of the Boston Gazette, Edes and Gill, on 3 April 1775.

Docno: ADMS-06-02-02-0083

Author: Waite, John
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1775-03-18

From John Waite

[salute] Sir

A sacred regard to the american association on the one hand and an earnest desire not to injure my fellow subjects in Great Britain on the other is the reason of my writing you at this time to request your { 409 } advice for my future conduct and also to confirm or set me right in my judgment in a Late affair that has happened in this Port. The case is as follows a Vessell arived here from Bristol the 2d inst with rigging and sails for a new Ship owned by a Merchant in Bristol in order to carry his Ship home.2 The question was whether the puting said rigging and sails on board said Ship which had been ready to receive them ever since Last fall and go immediately back with them to England would be a breach of the association. I was of opinion that it would not being one of the Committee of Inspection. Your answer will very much Oblige Sir your most huml Servt.
[signed] John Waite
P:S: The merchant that owned said rigging and sails did not know of the american association when he shipped them.
RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “To John Adams Esqr Boston”; docketed by JA : “Waite March 18th 1775.”
1. Falmouth was the old name for what is now Portland, Maine.
2. This incident was reported in the Boston Gazette, 13 March 1775. The evening of 2 March the local Committee of Inspection put a watch on board, and the next day it was resolved that the sloop, “very old and want[ing] repairing,” would nonetheless be sent back without being permitted to unload. A fuller account of this episode may be found in William Goold, Portland in the Past with Historical Notes of Old Falmouth, Portland, 1886, p. 335–337. Apparently Waite looked upon JA as a last resort; no evidence has been found to show that JA responded in any way.