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Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-04-01-02-0209

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Adams, Abigail
Date: 1775-10-29

John Adams to Abigail Adams

Human nature with all its infirmities and depravation is still capable of great things. It is capable of attaining to degrees of wisdom and of goodness, which, we have reason to believe, appear respectable in the estimation of superior intelligences. Education makes a greater difference between man and man, than nature has made between man and brute. The virtues and powers to which men may be trained, by early education and constant discipline, are truly sublime and astonishing. Newton and Locke are examples of the deep sagacity which may be acquired by long habits of thinking and study. Nay, your common mechanics and artisans are proofs of the wonderful dexterity acquired by use; a watchmaker, in finishing his wheels and springs, a pin or needlemaker, &c. I think there is a particular occupation in Europe, which is called a paper-stainer or linen-stainer. A man who has been long habituated to it, shall sit for a whole day, and draw upon paper fresh figures to be imprinted upon the papers for rooms, as fast as his eye can roll, and his fingers move, and no two of his draughts shall be alike. The Saracens, the Knights of Malta, the army and navy in the service of the English republic, among many others, are instances to show, to what an exalted height valor or bravery or courage may be raised, by artificial means.
It should be your care, therefore, and mine, to elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage; to accelerate and animate their industry and activity; to excite in them an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to { 318 } excel in every capacity, faculty, and virtue. If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives.
But their bodies must be hardened, as well as their souls exalted. Without strength and activity and vigor of body, the brightest mental excellencies will be eclipsed and obscured.
MS not found. Printed from (Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife, ed. CFA, Boston, 1841, 1:72–73. See note 1.)
1. Place and date, including the brackets, are given here as found in CFA's text. This is the first letter in the correspondence between JA and AA known to have been available to CFA but not now to be found as an original in the Adams Papers. In the volumes of “Family Correspondence” which CFA caused to be bound up, the present editors have found no indication of the removal of this letter, so that it was evidently taken out of the sequence early, perhaps in the 1830's, and, after a transcript for publication was made, was perhaps given away to some applicant for a specimen of JA's handwriting. (See Introduction to JA, Diary and Autobiography, 1:xxxiv–xxxv.)
A close comparison of the texts of this letter as printed in 1841 and as reprinted in JA–AA, Familiar Letters, 1876 (p. 119), shows that CFA further corrected and “improved” his grandfather's epistolary style when reprinting letters he had edited before.

Docno: ADMS-04-01-02-0210

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Adams, Abigail
Date: 1775-10-29

John Adams to Abigail Adams

There is, in the human Breast, a social Affection, which extends to our whole Species. Faintly indeed; but in some degree. The Nation, Kingdom, or Community to which We belong is embraced by it more vigorously. It is stronger still towards the Province to which we belong, and in which We had our Birth. It is stronger and stronger, as We descend to the County, Town, Parish, Neighbourhood, and Family, which We call our own.—And here We find it often so powerfull as to become partial, to blind our Eyes, to darken our Understandings and pervert our Wills.
It is to this Infirmity, in my own Heart, that I must perhaps attribute that local Attachment, that partial Fondness, that overweening Prejudice in favour of New England, which I feel very often and which I fear sometimes, leads me to expose myself to just Ridicule.
New England has in many Respects the Advantage of every other Colony in America, and indeed of every other Part of the World, that I know any Thing of.
1. The People are purer English Blood, less mixed with Scotch, Irish, Dutch, French, Danish, Sweedish &c. than any other; and descended from Englishmen too who left Europe, in purer Times than { 319 } the present and less tainted with Corruption than those they left behind them.
2. The Institutions in New England for the Support of Religion, Morals and Decency, exceed any other, obliging every Parish to have a Minister, and every Person to go to Meeting &c.
3. The public Institutions in New England for the Education of Youth, supporting Colledges at the public Expence and obliging Towns to maintain Grammar schools, is not equalled and never was in any Part of the World.
4. The Division of our Territory, that is our Counties into Townships, empowering Towns to assemble, choose officers, make Laws, mend roads, and twenty other Things, gives every Man an opportunity of shewing and improving that Education which he received at Colledge or at school, and makes Knowledge and Dexterity at public Business common.
5. Our Laws for the Distribution of Intestate Estates occasions a frequent Division of landed Property and prevents Monopolies, of Land.1
But in opposition to these We have laboured under many Disadvantages. The exorbitant Prerogatives of our Governors &c. which would have overborn our Liberties, if it had not been opposed by the five preceding Particulars.
RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “To Mrs. Adams Braintree To the Care of Coll Warren”; endorsed: “ocbr. 29”; docketed in an unidentified hand.
1. The nature of New England institutions and their influence on New England character and society were subjects endlessly fascinating to JA and lifelong themes in both his private and public writings. For a few samples see his fragmentary Draft of a Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law, Feb. 1765 (Diary and Autobiography, 1:256–258); letter to Abbé Mably, 15 Jan. 1783, LbC, Adams Papers (printed in various places but most conveniently in JA, Works, 5:491–496, with an editorial note explaining the circumstances of its composition); and notes on his conversation with William Langborn of Virginia in London, 21 July 1786 (Diary and Autobiography, 3:195–196).
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/