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Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 1

This note contained in document ADMS-04-01-02-0230
2. This alludes to the bitter quarrel that had sprung up during the preceding months between Robert Treat Paine and James Warren, in which JA, as Warren's confidant and close political ally and Paine's impatient colleague in Congress, was unavoidably involved. Surviving letters of Warren written in July and Aug. 1775 show that he and Paine were on fairly cordial terms until that point, but developments were about to occur that made them enemies. As for JA, he and Paine had long been rivals at the bar in Massachusetts and on somewhat touchy terms of friendship because Paine, senior in age and in professional status to JA, had watched the younger man's prestige and influence surpass his own as the Revolutionary struggle came on. When JA's intercepted letters were published by the British in August, Paine (no doubt rightly) considered himself as one of those in Congress whose “Fidgets,... Whims, [and] Irritability” JA was complaining of (JA to AA, 24 July 1775, above). On top of this JA was appointed chief justice of the Superior Court in the fall, and Paine was ranked fourth among the five justices then named. (See Warren to JA, 20 Oct., 5 Nov. 1775, Warren-Adams Letters, 1:150, 178.) JA was himself uneasy about this arrangement and well aware of Paine's resentment. “Mr. Paine,” he told AA, “has taken an odd Turn in his Head of late, and is so peevish, passionate and violent that he will make the Place disagreable” (18 Nov. 1775, above). Paine spared JA this trouble by refusing the appointment, but Warren soon made matters much worse. In a letter to JA of 3 Dec. he dropped some inexcusably sarcastic comments on Paine's conduct both in Congress and out (Warren-Adams Letters, 1:190). JA received this letter on his way home from Congress and sent it on to Philadelphia for Samuel Adams to see. It fell into someone's hands who showed it to Paine when he returned from his mission to Ticonderoga, and it opened the floodgates of his resentment. Early in January he addressed a scorching protest to Warren, in which he said, among other things, that he knew perfectly well who (meaning JA) had been furnishing Warren with the calumnies now circulating and whose “machinations” had “degraded” Paine in the recent appointments. This letter Warren copied and enclosed to JA under a cover of 31 Jan. which called it “A Model of Invective and dulness” and said it might soon be properly answered. (Warren's letter of 31 Jan. is in the Adams Papers, with the copy of Paine's to Warren attached; the enclosure is dated 5 Jan., but Paine's draft in the Paine Papers in MHi is dated 1 Jan. 1776.) No answer by Warren has been found. Before long the Warrens evidently showed Paine's letter to AA, and she may have heard more on the subject from Joseph Palmer, to whom on 1 Jan. Paine had addressed a bitter complaint about the behavior of Warren and JA (draft in Paine Papers; copy in Adams Papers). Palmer's answer was so exemplary that it deserves at least partial quotation:
“I thank you for your late favour, but was exceedingly sorry to find any misunderstanding between Friends, especially at this time of public danger; I don't intend to meddle in this matter, any farther than to urge you both, as you regard the good of your distressed Country, to stifle every private resentment, incompatable with the public { 352 } good, and conduct yourselves in every respect as your Christian profession requires” (24 Jan., Paine Papers).
From the evidence available it appears that both Paine and JA did so act toward each other in the critical months that followed.
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2018.