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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 1

This note contained in document ADMS-01-01-02-0005-0001-0004
1. The name has been inserted in an early but unidentified hand.
The foregoing draft of an essay on the evils of licensed houses is the first of a series on this topic found in JA’s Diary during 1760–1761. They were doubtless intended for publication, but none has been found in the papers of the day. During this same period JA also drew the rough sketch map showing the locations of a dozen or more taverns in Braintree and Weymouth that is reproduced as an illustration in the present volume.
On 18 May 1761, as a direct result of JA’s intensive but short-lived temperance campaign, the town of Braintree passed the following votes:
“Voted, That although Licensed Houses so far as they are conveniently scituated well accommodated and under due Regulation for the Releif and Entertainment of Travellers and Strangers may be a usefull Institution, Yet there is Reason to apprehend that the present prevailing Depravity of Manners through the Land in General and in this Town in particular and the shamefull neglect { 130 } of Religious and Civil Duties, so highly offensive in the sight of God, and injurious to the peace and Welfare of Society are in a great measure owing to the unnecessary increase of Licensed Houses.
“Voted, That for the future there be no Persons in this Town, Licensd for retailing spiritous Liquors and that there be three persons only approbated by the Selectmen as Inn-holders, suitably situated, one in each Precinct.
“Voted, That the Persons that are approbated as Inn-holders for the ensuing year oblidge themselves by written Instruments under their Hands and Seals to retail spiritous Liquors to the Town Inhabitants as they shall have occasion therefor, at the same price by the Gallon or smaller Quantity as the same are usually sold by Retail in the Town of Boston and upon the performance of the above conditions, there be no Person or Persons approbated by the Selectmen as Retailers.
“Voted, That the Town now proceed by written votes to the choice of the Persons and places they think most conveniently scituated and best Qualifyd, for the purposes aforesaid. . . . Mr. Samll. Bass Junr. was chosen for the North Precinct, Mr. Benjamin Hayden for the Middle and Mr. Jonathan Wales for the South.
“Voted, That there be a Com[mi]ttee appointed to draw up and present a Humble Memo[randum] to the Justices of the Q[uarter] sessions to be holden at Boston on the first Tuesday of July next, praying that the present proceedings of the Town Respecting Licensd. Houses meet with their approbation, and that an authenticated copy of the votes of the Town be annexed thereto and Presented therewith.” (Joseph Crosby, Josiah Quincy, and Samuel Niles were named the members of this committee. Braintree Town Records p. 378–379.)
In his old age JA confessed that his youthful crusade had been a complete failure: “I only acquired the Reputation of a Hypocrite and an ambitious Demagogue by it; the Number of licensed Houses was soon reinstated. Drams Grog and Sotting were not diminished, and remain to this day as deplorable as ever. You may as well preach to the Indians Against Rum as to our People” (letter to Benjamin Rush, 28 Aug. 1811, CtY). JA’s difficulties in keeping his farm hands sober confirm this gloomy conclusion; see entries of 13, 18, 21 July 1796, below.
On the general subject of intemperance in early New England see CFA2, Three Episodes, 2:783 ff., where it is pointed out that JA elsewhere admitted that gatherings and discussions in the rural taverns were important stimuli to the Revolutionary movement.
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.