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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 4


Search for a response to this letter.

Docno: ADMS-06-04-02-0077

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Warren, James
Date: 1776-05-12

To James Warren

[salute] My dear Friend

Yours of Ap. 30. was handed me yesterday. My Writing So seldom to you, proceeds from Necessity not Choice, I assure you. I can Sympathize with you in your ill Health, because I am always unwell my• { 182 } self. Frail as I am, at best, I am feebler in this Climate than at home. The Air here has no Spring—And My Mind is overborne with Burdens. Many Things are to be done here and many more to think upon by day and by night. Cares come from Boston, from Canada, from, twelve other Colonies, from innumerable Indian Tribes, from all Parts of Europe and the West Indies. Cares arise in this City, and in the most illustrious Assembly and Cares Spring from Colleagues. Cares enough! Dont you pity me. It would be some Comfort to be pitied—But I will scatter them all. Avaunt ye Daemons!
An Address to the Convention of Virginia,1 has been published here as an Antidote to the popular Poison, in “Thoughts on Government.” Read it, and see the Difference of sentiment. In New England, the “Thoughts on Government” will be disdained, because they are not popular enough. In the Southern Colonies, they will be despised and dissected, because too popular.
But my Friend, between you and me, there is one Point, that I cannot give up. You must establish your Judges Salaries—as well as Commissions—otherwise Justice will be a Proteus. Your Liberties, Lives and Fortunes will be the Sport of Winds.
I dont expect, nor indeed desire that it should be attempted to give the Governor a Negative, in our Colony. Make him President, with a casting Voice. Let the Militia Act remain as it is. But I hope you will make a Governor, or President in May. Congress have passed a Vote, with remarkable Unanimity for assuming Government in all the Colonies, which remains only for a Preamble.2 You will see it in a few days. It is the Fate of Men and things which do great good that they always do, great Evil too. Common sense by his crude, ignorant Notions of a Government by one Assembly, will do more Mischief, in dividing the Friends of Liberty, than all the Tory Writings together. He is a keen Writer, but very ignorant of the Science of Government. I see a Writer in one of your Papers, who proposes to make an Hotch Potch of the Council and House.3 If this is attempted, farewell.
Who will be your Governor, or President, Bowdoin or Winthrop, or Warren. Dont divide. Let the Choice be unanimous, I beg. If you divide you will Split the Province into Factions. For Gods Sake Caucass it, before Hand, and agree unanimously to push for the Same Man. Bowdoins splendid fortune, would be a great Advantage, at the Beginning. How are his Nerves and his Heart? If they will do, his Head and Fortune ought to decide in his favour.
The office of Governor of the Massachusetts Bay, Surrounded as it will be with Difficulties, Perplexities, and Dangers, of every Kind, { 183 } and on every side will require the clearest and coolest Head, and the firmest Steadyest Heart, the most immoveable Temper and the profoundest Judgment, which you can find any where in the Province. He ought to have a Fortune too, and extensive Connections. I hope that Mr. Bowdoins Health is such, that he will do—if not you must dispense with Fortune, and fix upon Winthrop I think. I know not where to go, for a better—unless the Major General for the old Colony,4 can be agreed on with equal Unanimity whom I should prefer to both of the other, provided an equal Number would agree to it—for I confess, my Rule should be to vote for the Man upon whom the Majority run that the Choice might be as unanimous and respectable as possible. I dread the Consequences of Electing Governors, and would avoid every Appearance of and Tendency towards Party and Division, as the greatest Evil.
I have sent down a Resignation of my Seat at the Board, because this is not a Time, if ever there was or can be one for Sinecures. Fill up every Place. They ought to be full. I believe I must resign the Office, which the Board have assigned me for the same Reason. But I shall think a little more about that and take Advice.5
RC (MHi:Warren-Adams Coll.); docketed: “Mr J A Lettr May 1776 X.”
1. By Carter Braxton. See Thoughts on Government, ante 27 March–April, Editorial Note (above).
2. See JA 's Service in the Congress, 9 Feb. – 27 Aug., No. V, note 1 (above).
3. He called for a single-house legislature: “To act separately is aping the two houses of parliament in the British constitution.” Moreover, he wanted no governor as such but one or more wise men chosen by the legislature for executive responsibilities. Borrowing, somewhat surprisingly, the pseudonym of a loyalist writer, he signed himself Massachusettensis (New-England Chronicle, 2 May).
4. James Warren, who was elected by the House second major general of the militia on 8 May but declined (Mass., House Jour. , 1775–1776, 4th sess., p. 260). JA probably knew in advance that Warren was a likely choice.
5. On 17 May, James Sullivan wrote to urge JA , chief justice, to attend the Superior Court session in Essex co., ordered by the Council for the third Tuesday in June (Sullivan to JA , 17 May, Adams Papers).

Docno: ADMS-06-04-02-0078

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Winthrop, John
Date: 1776-05-12

To John Winthrop

[salute] Dear sir

I am favoured with yours by your son,1 who has arrived here in good Health. I wish he may be provided for in one of the Ways you mention, because I esteem him deserving of it.
The Question of Independence is so vast a Field that I have not Time to enter it, and go any Way in it. Many previous steps are necessary. The Colonies should all assume the Powers of Government in { 184 } all its Branches first. They should confederate with each other, and define the Powers of Congress next. They should then, endeavour to form an Alliance with some foreign State. When this is done, a public Declaration might be made.2 Such a Declaration may be necessary, in order to obtain a foreign Alliance—and it should be made for that End. But Some are fearfull of making it public, if they should agree to make it.
A Recommendation has pass'd to all the Colonies to institute Governments, which will be published in a few days. A Confederation will soon be thought of—Instructions against Independence and Confederation are all repealed, excepting Pensylvania and theirs will be soon. The Colonies, are about assuming Governments, and most Gentlemen are now sensible of the Necessity of Confederation.
It is a great Satisfaction to my own Mind that it was not my fault, that all these Things were not done Eleven Months ago.3 If My Country had not suffered so severely by the Neglect, I should enjoy a Tryumph, when I see Gentlemen every day converted to those sentiments and Measures which I supported ten Months ago with all my poor Endeavours and they opposed with all their great Abilities. But so it is. Mr. Dickinson himself is now an Advocate for Colony Governments, and Continental Confederation.
I was pleased to learn by your Letter that our Colony abounded with Materials for making Sulphur. Should be happy to know where and what they are and how it is manufactured. Our Province must bring this and every Thing else to perfection.
I want to know the Reason that our Courts of Justice, have not proceeded. I fear there is a disagreable Spirit among the People, but cannot learn any particulars. I heard it hinted that the Justices had been interrupted by Force in Taunton, Hampshire and Berkshire.4 Hope it is not true. If it is should be glad to know the Complaints.
RC (MHi: JA —John Winthrop Corr.); docketed: “Mr Adams.”
1. John Winthrop to JA , 5 April (above).
2. JA 's suggested order of events is of some interest. His desire for a confederation and an alliance before a formal declaration does not fit the pattern of the “radicals” program as described by Merrill Jensen. He held that when independence was inevitable, radicals “became less and less interested” in confederation, that it was conservatives who wanted confederation and an alliance before a declaration of independence (The Articles of Confederation, Madison, 1940, repr. Madison, 1963, p. 111–114). But compare JA to AA , 17 May, Adams Family Correspondence , 1:410, and JA to Patrick Henry, 3 June (below).
3. If JA is taken at his word, the Battle of Lexington and Concord altered his views on independence as expressed in the Novanglus letters. If we rely on extant correspondence in the summer and fall of 1775, he did not make such clear-cut choices as are here implied.
{ 185 } { 186 }
4. The county courts were prevented from sitting in Berkshire in February and in Hampshire in March (Force, Archives , 4th ser., 5:1275–1276; James Russell Trumbull, History of Northampton, Massachusetts, from Its Settlement in 1654, 2 vols., Northampton, 1898–1902, 2:389–390). On the court closing in Taunton, see John Winthrop to JA , 1 June (below). In Hampshire the commissions of the judges, which had not yet eliminated the king's name, were objected to; the chief complaint in Berkshire was the naming of judges and justices by the Council instead of having them elected by the people (Robert J. Taylor, ed., Massachusetts, Colony to Commonwealth, Chapel Hill, 1961, p. 17–19, 23).