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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 13


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{ 541 }

Docno: ADMS-06-13-02-0255

Author: Warren, Mercy Otis
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1782-10-25

From Mercy Otis Warren

[salute] Sir

Many Months have Elapsed, and many Great Events have taken place since I took up my pen to address you,1 among which few are more important to this Country than the Dutch Negotiation, and perhaps None have been attended with Greater Difficulties, and none more Replete with Honour to the prime actors than this. Yet I should not have Ventured to pass my Censure on Its opposers, or to Give sanction to the Measure, by a full approbation of the spirit and Dignity which has brought it to a Completion. Had it not been repeatedly Called upon in the Late Letters to your friend, a friend (who though now a private Gentleman) is not Less Attentive to the Intere[st] of the public, nor Less Attached to the Minister at the Hague than when you both stimulated by the Noblest Motives of patriotism, and bound by the strong ties of Mutual Friendship, Nursed the Embrio of opposition, Discussed the Nature of Government, and Formed the plans of Revolution by the social Fire side at Plimouth. But the Enthusiasm of poetry has Languished under the hand of Time: and the Muse Grown too Timid, amidst the Noise of War, to Attempt an Elogium on the Virtues of patience, perseverance, and patriotism. Though the sterling Worth of Those Capital Virtues have been tryed in the Fiery Furnace of Intrigue, Deception, and ingratitude.
But the Historian must be very Negligent of Fame who is not ambitious that all the Extraordinary transactions in the Diplomatic system, should stand Conspicuous in his Work. But when the poignancy of sarcasm is strongly felt by the too susceptable Heart, some Little thirst of revenge will arise in the most Good Natured of the Human Race—nor is any office so illustrious, or any Character so sacred, but he must submit (if he provokes the threatening) Even to the Menaces of a Woman. He will not find himself secure though hid in the pallaces of princes, or sheilded by the stronger Bulwark of his own integrity. Therefore Depend upon it, a Blank shall be Left (in Certain annals) for Your Dutch Negotiation, unless you Condescend to furnish with your own Hand, a few more Authentic Documents to Adorn the Interesting page.2
If the Refinements of the European World has Wroght the Divine Science of politics into a Mechanical System, Composed of all the Foperies of Life,3 be assured Sir, America is not a Century behind { 542 } them in Taste. You will not therfore be surprized when told, that the test of merit is Wealth, And that Every thing which is Lucrative is Honorable in this Country. But as Mankind in all ages are Governed Less by Reason than Opinion—it may again become Fashionable to be Virtuous, and the Man be more Respected for the probaty of his Heart, than for the Trapings of his Horses. But as the Morals of a people Depend more on the Genius of their Rulers than the Mode of Government, the Leading Characters among us do not at present promise such a Happy Revolution in Manners. And so little prospect of success is thier to the struggles of the uncorrupted few, that I do not find my self quite willing your much Esteemed friend, Mr Warren, who has but just retird from the public Walk, (sickned by the servility and weakness of Man, and wearied with the unremiting Vigalence of Near twenty years in the Field of politics) should again return to the Embarased Scene—yet Convinced of the Necessity of sending our best men to Congress, and knowing you deem it a point of the utmost importance, I dare not urge my Arguments against His repairing to philadelphia to you. Were it prudent to Transmit them beyond the Atlantic, some of them you would acknowledge Weighty, Others you might place to the score of Female Timidity, Delecacy, or perhaps pride.4
What a Many Headed Monster is a Republic Grafted on the principles of Despotism. Nor is a sovereign without a Crown a Less Dangerous Annimal than the Monarch Whose Brow is Graced with the splendor of a Diadem.5
If any Expression in this appears like a Decay of public Spirit in the Wane of Life, a line from your pen might Revive the Languid taper, though not as the Rescript of a Minister, but as the Admonishions of a Friend.6
I need say Little of your Family as Mrs Adams Neglects no opportunity of writing you. She with all her livly Children spent yesterday with us on Milton Hill.
As I have touched on the Domestic feelings to which you are not insensible, I shall Mention a son,7 Dear to his parents, and amiable in the Eyes of his Friends, has any part of his Conduct since in Europe rendered him unworthy—that Mr Adams has Never once Named him in his Long absence. If he has, your tenderness will still impose silence. If not, the Flattering hopes of a Mother, will be strengthend in your Next Letter to one who subscribes with much Respect & unabating Esteem Your assured Friend & Humble servant
[signed] M Warren
{ 543 }
RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mrs Warren Ansd Jany 29. 1783.” Some loss of text where the margin is worn. Tr (MHi: Mercy Warren Letterbook). The transcript is considerably longer than the recipient's copy and significant differences between the two are indicated below. For a description of the nature and content of the “Mercy Warren Letterbook,” which is not in Mercy Warren's hand and was done years later from copies not now extant, see AFC , 1:93–94.
1. Mercy Otis Warren's last extant letter to JA was of 28 Dec. 1780, to which no reply has been found (vol. 10:445–447).
2. In this paragraph, Mercy Warren is responding to JA 's reference in his 19 Aug. letter to James Warren, above, to the treatment of his Dutch negotiations in her planned history of the Revolution. Her request for more documents presumably means in addition to those contained in JA 's A Collection of State-Papers , which James Warren's letter to JA of 1 Nov. (Adams Papers) indicates was enclosed in the letter of 19 August.
3. In this paragraph, Mercy Warren is responding to JA 's comments in his 17 June letter to James Warren, above, but see note 4.
4. In the transcript, the commentary in this paragraph was expanded and altered as follows:
“You observe in a corner of your letter, that the refinements of the European world had wrought up the divine science of politics, into a mechanical system, composed of all the fopperies of life. Be assured Sir, that America is not a century behind them in taste. We are a people remarkable for our aptitude of improvement; yet it may require time to ripen and digest the plans both of policy and pleasure. You will not however be surprized when I tell you that already the test of merit is wealth; and that every thing lucrative is deemed honourable in your country. But as the morals of the people depend more on the genius and character of their rulers, than on the mode of government, it may in some future day again become fashionable to be virtuous, when the man may be respected more for the probity of his heart, than the trappings of his horses;—but at present there is little prospect of such a happy revolution in manners.
“Mr. Warren will write you by this opportunity, but though chosen a delegate, he will not repair to Congress this year. He has retired from the public walks—fatigued with the unremitting vigilance of near twenty years in the field of politics:—he declines engaging again in the embarrassed scene, while there is so little prospect that the struggles of the uncorrupted few, will bring back the minds of others to the point from which they have wandered. Death, desertion, indifference, or foreign employment have left few of the first capital characters in Congress.
“Several other arguments I could urge in favour of his determination; was it prudent to transmit them beyond the Atlantic. Some of them you would acknowledge weighty; others you might place to the score of female timidity, delicacy, or perhaps pride. Yet I am so convinced of the necessity of sending men of the most impeccable characters to Congress, that I rather wish him to go on.”
James Warren wrote to JA on 1 Nov. (Adams Papers; Warren-Adams Letters , 2:181–183).
5. Likely a reference to John Hancock.
6. In the transcript, Mercy Warren's comments were expanded as follows:
“I cannot conclude this without observing, that, though I may have been the last of your correspondents who has congratulated you on the success of your late negotiation, I believe I am not the least sensible of its importance: nor among the multitude of your friends, have you many who enjoy in a higher degree, your compleat triumph over the British Minister.
“We are none of us insensible of the anxieties, the fatigue, and hazard, you must have surmounted in your peregrinations from Court to Court; nor of the firmness and integrity necessary to obtain success. Your success in Holland has secured the claims of America—on a basis that promises wealth and honour:—and if we support a national character of our own, and are not wanting to ourselves, I may add happiness to posterity.
“Have you lately seen a son of mine now in Europe: a son very dear to his parents and very amiable in the eyes of his friends?
“Your lady and family spent yesterday with us on the summit of Fremont. Do you think our friends in France and Holland made any part of the conversation? I will acknowledge we wished for their company, { 544 } and sure I am that were you to behold the varigated beauties exhibited to the eye of reason and gratitude in this pleasant Villa, though you are surrounded by the glare of greatness, and caressed in the Courts of Princes—you would breathe a sigh for the social hour of private friendship, and the sweet moments of contemplation in so delightful a retreat;—'Where the free soul looks down and pities Kings.'”
In the first and second paragraphs, Mercy Warren is apparently responding to JA 's comments in his letter of 6 Sept. to James Warren, above.
7. For Winslow Warren, who had been in Europe since 1780, see vol. 11:75–76, 296. JA mentioned him in his letter to Mercy Warren of 9 Dec. 1780, the same day on which he also wrote to James Warren, but since the only extant copies of those letters are letterbook copies in the Adams Papers, they may not have been received (vol. 10:404–407).