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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 2


This note contained in document ADMS-01-02-02-0005-0003-0003
1. That is, JA's letter to James Warren, Philadelphia, 24 July 1775, which brought more notoriety to its writer than anything else he had yet written. Entrusted (with others) to a well-meaning but meddlesome young Boston lawyer, Benjamin Hichborn, it was captured by a British naval vessel at a ferry crossing in Rhode Island. JA had written the letter in a mood of exasperation with John Dickinson's “pacific System” and alluded to Dickinson as “A certain great Fortune and piddling Genius [who] has given a silly Cast to our whole Doings”(Tr, enclosed in Gage to Lord Dartmouth, 20 Aug. 1775, Dartmouth MSS, deposited in William Salt Library, Stafford, England). This and other reckless expressions in the same letter and in another of the same date to AA, amounting, as some thought, to “an Avowal of Independency,” and likewise intercepted, amused and outraged the British by turns. Literally dozens of MS copies of the letters are recorded in the Adams Papers Editorial Files, but the originals, supposedly sent by Vice-Admiral Samuel Graves to the Admiralty Office in London, have never come to light. Nor did JA himself retain copies. In consequence there is no way of knowing whether or how far the texts were tampered with, as JA asserted, when they were printed in Margaret Draper's Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News Letter, 17 Aug. 1775. From this source they were widely reprinted. The most readily available published texts are in JA, Works, 1:178–180; also at 2:411, note, from early transcripts in the Adams Papers. The story of the interception, Hichborn's escape from a British vessel in Boston Harbor, his efforts to clear himself with JA and others, and the sensation produced by the published letters both in America and England, is too long to tell here and more properly belongs elsewhere. But see, besides JA's account in his Autobiography, Warren-Adams Letters, 1:88–89, 106, 118; Gage, Corr., 1:412–413; Stiles, Literary Diary, 1:650–652 (an acute analysis of the offending passages in JA's letters); Hichborn to JA, 28 Oct., 25 Nov.–10 Dec. 1775, 20 May 1776 (Adams Papers); Jeremy Belknap, “Journal of My Tour to the Camp,” MHS, Procs., 1st ser., 4 (1858–1860): 79–81. Allen French deals incidentally but helpfully with the Adams letters in his article “The First George Washington Scandal,”MHS, Procs., 65 (1932–1936) : 460–474, a study of Benjamin Harrison's letter to Washington, 21–24 July 1775, which was also captured on the person of Hichborn and which, when published, was embellished with a forged paragraph on “pretty little Kate the Washer-woman's Daughter.”
Despite the buzzing of tongues and waggling of ears that ensued, it was JA's considered opinion that the inter- { 175 } ception and publication of his letters “have had no such bad Effects, as the Tories intended, and as some of our shortsighted Whiggs apprehended: so far otherwise that I see and hear every day, fresh Proofs that every Body is coming fast into every political Sentiment contained in them” (to AA, 2 Oct. 1775, Adams Papers). To Hichborn, who was still offering abject apologies, JA wrote on 29 May 1776 that he (JA) was not “in the least degree afraid of censure on your Account,” and indeed thought his own aims had been more promoted than injured by Hichborn's gaucherie (LbC, Adams Papers).
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, 2014.
http://www.masshist.org/apde2/