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Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 4


Docno: ADMS-04-04-02-0250

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Adams, Abigail
Date: 1782-09-17

John Adams to Abigail Adams

[salute] My dearest Friend

I have transmitted Money to the young Men, whom you mentioned to me, and have expected every day for a long time to hear of their Sailing in a Cartel for America. They have been better treated since the Change of Ministers. My Respects to their Parents.
It is now five Months since my publick Reception here but We have not yet learned, that any News of it, has arrived in America.1
{ [fol. 380] } { [fol. 380] } { [fol. 380] } { [fol. 380] } { 381 }
The Refugees in England are at their old Game again. Andrew Sparhawk has published in the Morning Post, that his Brother has received a Letter from New York, that Massachusetts and several other States were upon the Point of overturning the new Government, and throwing off the Authority of Congress, and returning to the Government of G. Britain. Their blood thirsty Souls are not yet satiated. They are labouring to bring on again an offensive War. But I think they cant succeed.2
I suppose the unhappy Affair of the County of Hampshire, is the Thing which gave Occasion to this Representation.3 Our Countrymen, must be very unreasonable if they cant be easy and happy under the Government they have. I dont know where they will find a better— or how they will make one. I dread, the Consequences of the Differences between Chiefs.
If Massachusetts gets into Parties, they will worry one another, very rudely. But I rely upon the honesty and Sobriety as well as good sense of the People. These Qualities will overawe the Passions of Individuals, and preserve a Steady Administration of the Laws.
My Duty to my Mother, and to your Father. I hope to see them again. Love to the Children and all Friends. What shall I say of my Brother Cranch? I long and yet I dread to hear from him.
I hope to sign the Treaty, this Week or next or the Week after. All Points are agreed on, and nothing remains but to transcribe the Copies fair. This Government is so complicated, that Months are consumed in doing what might be done in another in an hour.4
I dont know what to do with the Lists of Articles you send me. It would be better for you to write to Ingraham & Bromfield. I will pay.
1. Actually, this news, as officially reported by JA, did not reach Congress until just about the time of his inquiry. Secretary Livingston began a letter to JA of 15–18 September with an acknowledgment of the receipt of “your letters from the 19th of April to the 5th of July, by the Heer Adams” (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev., 5:728). This vessel had had a slow voyage and evidently carried duplicates of dispatches JA had sent by earlier ships that had been captured.
2. These tory communications have not been traced. Others of a similar kind from London papers, enclosed in the following letter, have not been found.
3. During the preceding months of 1782 there were civil disturbances in the western counties of Massachusetts arising from similar grievances and taking the same forms of protest that the Shays insurrection did a few years later. For the background and a connected narrative of the so-called “Ely riots,” see Robert J. Taylor, Western Massachusetts in the American Revolution, Providence, 1954, p. 109–120.
4. The Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the Netherlands and the United States was finally signed on 8 October. See JA's account of the formalities in his Diary and Autobiography, 3:16–17, with notes and references there.

Docno: ADMS-04-04-02-0251

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Adams, Abigail
Date: 1782-09-24

John Adams to Abigail Adams

[salute] My dearest Friend

The Lyars Stick at nothing. The Paragraphs in the enclosed Paper, which respect me, are impudent Forgeries. So far from thinking that the French never meant to treat, I have been long of opinion that the English never meant to treat, and that the French, from the Sincerity of their Desire to treat, have given a too ready Attention to Maneuvres of the English which have been only insidious Hypocrisies. There have been many other Paragraphs in the London Papers respecting me, equally false, shameless and abominable—and probably will be many more.
You see too, they begin to abuse G. Washington, more than they used to do, for his just Friendship to France.
Billy Walter and the two Sparhawks have made themselves ridiculous enough, by their Attempts to propagate an Opinion, that the Massachusetts was wavering.
It is a long time indeed, since We have any News from America. We have not yet learnd that you had any News of our Acknowledgment here, on the 19 of April, now more than five Months.
Dont be too sanguine in your Expectations of Peace. I see no Probability of it, before 1784. We shall not find it, this Winter. The English will have another Campain, unless there should come from the East and West Indies, North America, and Gibraltar, better News for Us, and more disastrous for them, than I expect.
There is nothing, but their Finances, which will dispose them to Peace, and I fancy, they will find Ways to get Money for one feeble Campain more. I call it feeble for such it must be, with all their Exertions.
We read in the Gazettes of Motions in Poland, and upon the Frontiers of Turkey and Russia, but I dont see a Probability of a War breaking out. If there should, I dont see how it can hurt Us. The English however seem to flatter themselves with Hopes, that by persevering, they may give an Opportunity to Time to ripen into Existence, conjunctures, now only in Embrio. They talk of a different Posture of Things on the Continent, which may cutt out Work, for the Bourbon Family nearer home.1
These however are only the Ravings of the Refugees in Dissappointment and Despair. Such Conjunctures are to give Time to England to blott out the Navies of France and Spain, and after that bring { 383 } America to Reason. How many Years will this require. And how are their Taxes to be paid and Supplies to be raised?
In short if our Country men are Steady, the British Delusion cannot last much longer. If Americans go to playing Pranks, and furnishing their Ennemies in Europe, especially in England, especially the Refugees, with Arguments, and Hopes, it may be protracted some Years. The People of England is now so much awakened, the American War is so unpopular, and there is so strong a Party for Acknowledging our Independence without Conditions, that a little ill Success would turn the Scale. The Loss of Gibraltar, the Loss of Jamaica, the Loss of a naval Battle, any remarkable Disadvantage in the East Indies, the Loss of the Jamaica or Balic2 Fleet. The Difference between the State of the English and their Ennemies is this—any unfavourable Event would compleat their Discouragement and unite a Majority in an Acknowledgment of our Independence. Whereas many great Disasters would not induce their Ennemies to give it up.
RC (Adams Papers). Enclosure not found or identified.
1. On the complex international issues and maneuvers touched on in this paragraph, which indirectly but effectively caused the failure of Dana's mission to the Empress Catherine's court, see the enlightening article by David W. Griffiths, “American Commercial Diplomacy in Russia, 1780–1783, WMQ, 3d ser., 27:379–410 (July 1970).
2. Thus in MS, for “Baltic”?

Docno: ADMS-04-04-02-0252

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Adams, Abigail (daughter of JA and AA)
Date: 1782-09-26

John Adams to Abigail Adams 2d

[salute] My dear Daughter

I have received your charming letter, which you forgot to date, by Mrs. Rogers.1 Your proposal of coming to Europe to keep your papa's house and take care of his health, is in a high strain of filial duty and affection, and the idea pleases me much in speculation, but not at all in practice. I have too much tenderness for you, my dear child, to permit you to cross the Atlantic. You know not what it is. If God shall spare me and your brother to return home, which I hope will be next Spring, I never desire to know of any of my family crossing the seas again.
I am glad you have received a small present. You ask for another; and although it would be painful for me to decline the gratification of your inclination, I must confess, I should have been happier if you had asked me for Bell's British Poets.2 There is more elegance and beauty, more sparkling lustre to my eyes, in one of those volumes, than in all the diamonds which I ever saw about the Princess of Orange, or the Queen of France, in all their birth-day splendour.
{ 384 }
I have a similar request under consideration, from your brother at P[etersburg].3 I don't refuse either, but I must take it ad referendum,4 and deliberate upon it as long as their H[igh] M[ightinesses] do upon my propositions. I have learned caution from them, and you and your brother must learn patience from me.
If you have not yet so exalted sentiments of the public good as have others more advanced in life, you must endeavour to obtain them. They are the primary and most essential branch of general benevolence, and therefore the highest honour and happiness both of men and Christians, and the indispensable duty of both. Malevolence, my dear child, is its own punishment, even in this world. Indifference to the happiness of others must arise from insensibility of heart, or from a selfishness still more contemptible, or rather detestable. But for the same reason that our own individual happiness should not be our only object, that of our relatives, however near or remote, should not; but we should extend our views to as large a circle as our circumstances of birth, fortune, education, rank, and influence extend, in order to do as much good to our fellow men as we can.
You will easily see, my dear child, that jewels and lace can go but a very little way in this career. Knowledge in the head and virtue in the heart, time devoted to study or business, instead of show and pleasure, are the way to be useful and consequently happy.
Your happiness is very near to me. But depend upon it, it is simplicity, not refinement nor elegance [that]5 can obtain it. By conquering your taste, (for taste is to be conquered, like unruly appetites and passions, or the mind is undone,) you will save yourself many perplexities and mortifications. There are more thorns sown in the path of human life by vanity, than by any other thing.
I know your disposition to be thoughtful and serene, and therefore I am not apprehensive of your erring much in this way. Yet no body can be guarded too much against it, or too early.
Overwhelmed as I have been ever since you was born, with cares such as seldom fall to the lot of any man, I have not been able to attend to the fortunes of my family. They have no resource but in absolute frugality and incessant industry, which are not only my advice, but my injunctions upon every one of them.

[salute] With inexpressible tenderness of heart, I am Your affectionate father,

[signed] John Adams
MS not found. Printed from Journal and Correspondence of Miss Adams, . . . Edited by Her Daughter, New York, 1841–[1849], 2:18–20. (Readers may note that this is an altered form of citation for this source. See entry for { 385 } AA2, Jour. and Corr., in Short Titles of Works Frequently Cited in the front matter of vol. 3, above.) The textual corrections made by the present editors suggest the general unreliability of Caroline A. de Windt as a transcriber of MSS.
1. Letter not found, but it is mentioned by AA as enclosed in hers to JA, 17–18 July, above.
2. The Poets of Great Britain Complete from Chaucer to Churchill, issued in London by John Bell beginning in 1777, eventually ran to 109 pocket-sized volumes and was long a standard work. See DNB under Bell's name.
3. JA doubtless wrote “P,” which the editor of AA2's Jour, and Corr. mistakenly expanded to “Paris.”
4. Mrs. de Windt's rendering of this passage was: “I must take il ad referendum” which is meaningless.
5. Word supplied by the present editors.

Docno: ADMS-04-04-02-0253

Author: Tufts, Cotton
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1782-09-26

Cotton Tufts to John Adams

[salute] Dear Sir

Yours of July 2d.1 I received being the first, since you left America. I rejoice at the Success of Your Ministry, but am sorry to hear that Your Constitution has been shock'd by a nervous Fever. Our Friend Mr. Cranch has been in a most critical Scituation. In the close of last Winter, after repeated Colds, he was seized with frequent Faintings. His Perspiration and Expectoration almost entirely Suppressed; a severe Pain in his left Side extending to his shoulder Blade with slight Deliriums and a want of Heat sufficient to give any Vigour to the Circulation came on and threatned him with speedy Dissolution. In this State he lay for some Days, at length he recovered so far as to attend Court in April Sessions. On May the 2d. AM. a Debate of great Importance came on in the House of Representatives, the Room was somewhat crouded, the Members being enjoind not to leave the House; the external Air was warm the Wind being at South and the Air of the Room much more so by the Breath of those present. The Wind changed just before the House broke up to N.E. [and] became cold and damp. By this Change of Air he was soon affected—about 4:00 PM. being then in Court he found himself so unwell as to retire. I found him with all the Symptoms of an approaching Fever. Before the next Morning a large spitting of Blood came on. In a few Hours his old Pain in his Side reaching to the Shoulder Blade, and Danger seem[ed] to be near at hand. However in a fortnight or Three Weeks his Fever somewhat subsided and he recoverd to so much Strength as to return Home tho' in a very languid State and with a low state of Bowells. I soon observed an Enlargement of his Legs which dayly encreased untill his Bowells were greatly distended and a general Anasarcous Swelling appeared. By the Assiduity uncom• { 386 } mon Care and judicious Management of his tender Consort and a succesful Operation of medicines, His Health is in a great Measure restored. He is now on a Journey to Haverhill, Newbury Port, Kittery &c. Heaven I trust has reserved both You and Him for further Services and may Gracious Heaven keep You both in Health.
We have suffered much in this State by a severe Drought. The smallest Quantity of Rain has fallen for Three Months, that has been remembered. The Water above the Bridge at the Iron Works in Braintree has been dried up for near Three Weeks. Our Crops of Grass were great. Our English Grain much blasted, and Syberian Wheat almost entirely cut off. Our Indian Corn is estimated at 2/3ds of a common Crop. The Drought was extended as far as Philadelphia at the Southward. It began later than with us. Their Crops of English Grain were very good.
A Medical Society is now established amongst us under the name of the Massachusetts Medical Society, the present President Edward Augustus Holyoke Esq. of Salem.2 We wish for the Aid and Communication of the Gentlemen of the Faculty in Europe. And as You are acquainted with some of the most eminent, would pray You to mention in your next, some Gentlemen both in France and Holland or elsewhere with their Titles &c. that You should judge would be for the Interest and Honor of the Society to elect as Members.
J[ohn] T[emple] Esq. since his Return to America from his last Tour to England has been questioned with Respect to his Designs &c. Pains were taken to induce the Legislature to make Enquiry into his Conduct. The Legislative Body considered it as belonging to the Executive, the supreme Executive at length directed the State Attorney to take it up, he presented a Bill, the Grand Jury returned Ignoramus, previous to this he had been laid under heavy Bonds, these he requested to be cancelled, still they are detained. At length he petitioned to the General Court that he might be released from his Bonds and have an Opportunity to lay before them Proofs of his Attachment to his Country, the Uprightness of his Intentions, the Services he had done &c. His Petition was sustained—a Committee appointed—they report in his Favour, the Consideration of it however was refered to the next Session after this. J[ames] S[ullivan] Esq. (lately one of the Justices of the Superior Court who not long since resigned his Seat and returnd to the Bar) attacked J.T. charging him with Falsehood, Toryism &c. This brought on a Paper War, which seems to be disagreable to the Friends of both. J.T. supposes his Antagonist to be the Tool of a certain Great Man and is not alone in his supposition. { 387 } Should he be proved a Tory it would be a favourable Circumstance—to [project?] in the Minds of People a Jealousy against his Rival. By the People I mean Populace to secure whom every little Art is to be practised.—After all it is generally thought that the Toryism of J.T. has been nothing more than Don Quixotism.3
Sir Guy Carlton and Admiral Digby in a Letter to General Washington Dated Aug. 2d. said to be written in Consequence of Directions from England, write as follows. “We are acquainted Sir by Authority, that Negociations for a general Peace have already commenced at Paris and that Mr. Grenville is invested with full Powers to treat with all the Powers at War and is now at Paris in the Execution of his Commission. And We are further Sir made acquainted that his Majesty in order to remove every Obstacle, to that Peace which he so ardently wishes to restore, has commanded his Ministers to direct Mr. Grenville, that the Independency of the Thirteen Provinces should be proposed by him in the first Instance instead of making it a Condition of a general Treaty; however not without the highest Confidence that the Loyalists shall be restored to their Possessions and a full Compensation made them for whatever Confiscations may have taken Place.”—This insidious Letter was published. People in general were amused for a while with the Ideas of a full Acknowledgement of American Independency and a speedy Peace. But the Eyes of People are now generally open, being pretty well satisfied that Carltons Independence is a Dependance on the King and Independance on the Parliament, &c. which is inadmissable with Americans.
On the 10th, of August Marquiss de Vaudreuil arrived here with 14 or 15 Ships of the Line from the West Indies; unfortunately the Magnifique of 74 Guns in entring the Harbour ran a ground near Lovells Island (in the Seamens Phrase) broke her Back and is ruined. Congress informed of this Event, immediately voted to present to Monsr. Lucerne for his most Christian Majesty the America a 74 now laying at Portsmouth, which seems to [be] very pleasing to People and I make no Doubt will be so to the French Nation.4 Admiral Pigot arrived sometime since at New York from the West Indies with 22 Sail of the Line. We have Accounts from thence of Embarkation, some say of Troops, some of Refugees. Some say the former destined here or to Rhode Island and the Latter to Hallifax. However a more probable Opinion is that they will bend the whole of their Force to the West Indies. Accounts from the Southward inform us that General Leslie has announced to the People of Charlestown S.C. the speedy Evacuation of that Place, and some of the Inhabitants have { 388 } made Application to be received into the Favour and Protection of their Country in consequence of it.
It gives me great Pleasure that Your Address has baffled the Arts of the British Court and that Your Patience and Perseverance has triumphed over every Opposition to Hollands Acknowledging our own Independence. This is an Event that will raise the Importance of America among the Nations in Europe, will secure her many commercial Advantages and render her Independance more compleat. As a Member of the United States I could wish Your Continuance in Europe till the Grand Object of our Wishes was obtained. As a Member of this Commonwealth and as a Friend I wish Your Presence here. Our Policy and Manners &c. are not improved of late Years. Were You to return, Your Talents would find full Exercise. But I must forbear and explain myself hereafter.
Mr. Thaxter would have received a Line with this, did I not suppose him to be on his Voyage here, if he is still with You be pleas'd to present my Regards to him. Your Connections are in Health.

[salute] I am Sir with great Respect Yours.

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Dr Tufts Sept 26. 1782.”
1. Not found.
2. Cotton Tufts had been active in trying to establish a medical society in Massachusetts as early as 1765. He became one of the incorporators of the Massachusetts Medical Society chartered by the General Court in Nov. 1781. Edward Augustus Holyoke (1728–1829) served as president from 1782 to 1784. See Walter L. Burrage, A History of the Massachusetts Medical Society ... 1781–1922, privately printed, 1923, p. 5–7, 16–17, 462.
3. The controversy over John Temple's patriotism or toryism, touched on above in Richard Cranch to JA, 30 Oct. 1781 (see note 2 there), had been renewed with great virulence in 1782. The “Paper War” was principally between Temple and James Sullivan (1740–1808), Harvard 1762, a partisan of John Hancock (“a certain Great Man”), whose “Rival” was Temple's father-in-law, James Bowdoin. See Thomas C. Amory, Life of James Sullivan, Boston, 1859, 1:134–138; 2:388; Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates, 15:305.
4. The ship presented was the America, just completed at Portsmouth (Dict. Amer. Fighting Ships, 1:40).

Docno: ADMS-04-04-02-0254

Author: Adams, John Quincy
Recipient: Thaxter, John
Date: 1782-09-27

John Quincy Adams to John Thaxter

[salute] Sir

I received a few days agone your favour of the 14th. of August. You say you have had a Fire for several days. I believe there has not been a week together through the whole summer without our having one. For some flakes of Snow fell, one morning in the middle of July. It is true, this has been an Extraordinary summer, but it freezes every year in the month of August here: and sometimes in the month of { 389 } June. I think upon the whole that the climate of Holland is the most agreable of the two.
I am afraid I shall not have the pleasure of seeing you before you return to America. The season is at present too far advanced to think of going by water, and I believe I shall not be able to get away from here before the snow comes, so that I shall probably not arrive before the latter end of January, in Holland.
Mr. D[ana] desires me to tell you that he has receiv'd your letter; and does not answer it because, as he has heard that the treaty is signed; you will perhaps be gone before the letter would reach you: and because he is at present indisposed: he desires you would send him a copy of the Treaty if possible, and that you would let him know whether you have bought him a scrutoire. If so he begs you would put all his papers in it but send nothing forward, for he says he expects to set of himself in the month of May.

[salute] Permit me to reiterate the assurance of my best wishes for your safe return to our dear country, and believe me to be Sir Your most obedient humble servant.

Docno: ADMS-04-04-02-0255

Author: Adams, Abigail (daughter of JA and AA)
Recipient: Cranch, Elizabeth
Recipient: Norton, Elizabeth Cranch
Date: 1782-09

Abigail Adams 2d to Elizabeth Cranch

[salute] My Dear Eliza

Mr. Robbins1 dined with us to day and has just now told me he intends to make you a vis this afternoon. I hope he will find you quite recovered, and wish you were to return with him. I shall want the pleasure of your company a Wedensy very much—and wish I could offer a sufficient inducement for you to return, tomorrow or next day. I know of nothing to write that will either amuse or give you pleasure. My head is quite barren, my heart is warm. Could you look there you would find it full of good wishes for your health, happiness and pleasure. You are pleased with your visit I know, I wish I was with you. My good my amiable aunt is doing every thing to amuse you, her endeavours will not fail of suckcess I dare say—I hope the dignity of my Eliza will have a good affect upon her cousin.2 If he knew that his conduct was exaggerated much, and heard the speach of every one, I think he woul[d] never have given the cause—but—I can say nothing in vindication of him. You are expected at Milton this week. I dont know how the disappointment will be survived—by—the good folks—whose hearts beat with expectation—for the approach of—Miss { 390 } ——C[ranc]h. I want to say something to you, to provoke you to answer this, if my wishes will not induce you to write me. Five letters in three days and not one line, or one thought, of Amelia. It is mortifiing Betsy how shall I help it. Do as you aught, Miss, says yourself and you will be thought of.—Ah—ah—ah—ah.—I am going to write to Miss Watson; have you aney thing to say to her. Mr. T——r3 goes tomorrow morning. Adieu my Dear I will release you from aney more nonsence, by subscribing your friend,
[signed] Amelia
I open my letter to tell you I dreamed a dream last night and had the pleasing idea of our friend T——s4 return but alas twas a false vision.—My Brother Charles is unwell.
RC (MHi:Cranch Papers); addressed: “Miss Eliza Cranch Weymouth per by Mr Robbins”; endorsed: “AA Septembre 1782.” Minimal corrections of punctuation have been made, but they have not resolved all of AAz's girlish ambiguities.
1. Chandler Robbins of Plymouth, who had graduated from Harvard in July, had been engaged as tutor for CA and TBA after Thomas Perkins' departure; see AA to JA, 17–18 July, above; AA to John Thaxter, 26 Oct. 1782 (MB).
2. Which “aunt” and male “cousin” at Weymouth these may be is not clear.
3. Possibly Royall Tyler, although it does not seem likely that AA2 would at this point entrust him with letters to her friends.
4. Doubtless John Thaxter.

A Note on Citations in the Appendix

In the Appendix, minimal information is included in the notes to identify letters which are printed in Adams Family Correspondence, volumes 3 and 4. Full information as to location and printings of other letters or documents cited in the Appendix is supplied at the point of first reference. Thereafter, only sender, recipient, and date are given.

Appendix

The Lovell Cipher and Its Derivatives

The earliest instance so far located in the Adams Papers in which a passage in cipher appears is in a letter from James Lovell to JA of 14 Dec. 1780, a copy of which (also in the Adams Papers) Lovell enclosed in his letter to AA of 19 December.1 The presumption raised by the absence of any accompanying key or explanation that there had been some earlier communication in reference to the cipher, and perhaps use of it, is borne out by two letters of Lovell written six months before.2 In the letter to JA, Lovell had written that the cipher was one which had already been “communicated to Doctr. Franklin and which will serve great numbers with equal safety.” Lovell's letter to AA informed her that the cipher was being communicated to her both for her own use in letters to JA and so that she would be able to decode letters written to her in it. No instances have been found in the Adams Papers in which JA or AA employed the cipher themselves, and both continued to experience difficulty in decoding it.
A reluctance to employ the cipher and even to attempt to decode it is attributable to an aversion or hostility to the clandestine implications and attendant ambiguities of secret writing. AA had been clear on the point, and associated her husband with her view, in declining to give her attention to the cipher proffered by Lovell: “I . . . thank you for your alphabeticall cipher tho I believe I shall never make use of it. I hate a cipher of any kind and have been so much more used to deal in realities with those I love, that I should make a miserable proficiency in modes and figures. Besides my Friend is no adept in investigating ciphers and hates to be puzzeld for a meaning.”3
AA, however, with time became “more reconciled to ambiguity and ciphers, than formerly”4 when confronted by repeated instances of intercepted letters and by Lovell's affirmation in his letter of 19 Dec. 1780 that information of importance to JA and to her was being denied her because Lovell judged it safe to communicate it only in { 394 } code: “If you had not bantered me so more than once about my generally-enigmatic manner, and appeared so averse to cyphers I would have long ago enabled you to tell Mr. A some Things which you have most probably omitted, as well as to satisfy your Eve on the present Occasion.”5
Lovell responded to the modification in AA's dislike of ciphers “from the necessity of them” by enclosing another “Alphabet [i.e. key] for your use” in his letter to her of 30 Jan. 1781.6 Some months afterward, when faced with the cipher in a letter, she managed to read it with substantial help from Richard Cranch.7 Much later, upon having sight, through Lovell, of JA's letter of 21 Feb. 1782 to Secretary Livingston,8 and learning from it that JA continued to be unable to crack the code, AA undertook to induct her “dearest Friend” into its mysteries, reporting, “I have always been fortunate enough to succeed with it.”9
Lovell seems to have been the deviser of the cipher, which he employed in writing to Franklin, to Dana, and to others, as well as to the Adamses. At least it was called “M. Lovell's Cypher,” and Edmund Randolph and Madison acknowledged him as their instructor. The cipher's first recorded use was in a letter from Lovell to Horatio Gates, 1 March 1779; it had currency at least until 1784 in private communications among those in government, and seems to have been at least informally adopted for official use.10 The President of Congress, Samuel Huntington, wrote to JA in the cipher, as did R. R. Livingston after he became Secretary for Foreign Affairs.11 There were variations of Lovell's cipher, other than changes in the key-word, in use among America's representatives abroad. Dumas employed one with which Franklin was familiar, and Francis Dana sent a more complicated system based upon the same principles as Lovell's to JA from Russia.12
Lovell's cipher was of the type built upon the substitution of numerical equivalents for agreed-upon letters from a key-word or phrase. { 395 } Each of the letters adopted for use served in turn as the initial element in alphabets arranged on a sheet in parallel vertical columns. A column of corresponding numbers placed alongside these columns of alphabets provided the equivalents for the letters of encoded words, the substitutions being made alternately from two alphabets, or if more than two then in strict rotation, forward or backward as desired. Since the alphabets normally included the ampersand as a final element, the numbers used in substitution were from 1 to 27. In the cipher's purest form the numbers 28 and 29 were used at the beginning of a passage as indication that the substitutions were being made in the normal or in a reverse order, and the number 30 was used as a blind. However, more frequently all three numbers (28–30) served as blinds. Any uncoded word or words broke the continuity, the next succeeding coded passage beginning with that alphabet used at the outset of the first encoded passage, unless 28 or 29 signaled reversal.
The key letters which Lovell used and instructed others to use in communications with JA, Franklin, and Dana were the letters c and r, which he derived from and clued to (at least for JA) the name Cranch. In writing to Elbridge Gerry, Lovell used as key letters e and o, representing the second and third letters “of the maiden Name of the Wife of that Gentleman from whom I sent you a Little Money on a Lottery Score.”13 Other keys, all employing more than two alphabets, were used in ciphers of the same type by Madison and Randolph (Cupid), Jefferson and William Short (Nicholas), and Lovell with other correspondents.14
The difficulties in decoding experienced by JA, as well as by Franklin and Dana, can be attributed in part to their receiving instruction in the cipher exclusively from a distance. What was easy for domestic users by explanation and demonstration close at hand proved formidable when communicated by mail, which had to conceal as well as explain. This may account for Lovell's adopting for his tutees abroad a simplified form of the cipher in which only two letters were used as the key.
A more serious hazard was that Lovell, the expositor, was gifted with neither precision nor lucidity, and having once formulated his directions, was given more to repetition and even playful variation than to real clarification. Lovell was frequently chided, particularly by AA, for his natural bent toward obfuscation: “If Mr. L——I will { 396 } not call me Sausy I will tell him he has not the least occasion to make use of them [ciphers] himself since he commonly writes so much in the enigmatical way that nobody but his particular correspondents will ever find out his meaning.” She followed this statement with a sentence she decided not to include in the recipient's copy, attributing to JA similar sentiments about Lovell's style: “I have seen my friend sometimes rub his forehead upon the receipt of a Letter, walk the room —What does this Man mean? who can find out his meaning.”15
Lovell's first instructions to JA, communicated in May 1780, were that the “Mode ... is the Alphabet squared . . . and the key Letters are the two first of the Surname of the Family where you and I spent the Evening together before we set out from your House on our Way to Baltimore. . . . Make use of any of the perpendicular columns according to your key Letters.” To this he appended a vertical column of numbers, 1–27, a second alphabetical parallel column beginning with a and ending with &, a third and fourth column beginning with b and c respectively and carried only through the fourth letter, the rest of the “Alphabet squared” indicated by dots of elision. Aside from indicating that the key letters or key-word could be altered at will and suggesting the means to communicate the new key, there was nothing more. Explaining the cipher just afterward to AA, Lovell, less fearful of interception, added no help beyond using for his illustrative columns two alphabets in which the first letters were c and r. When AA six months later asked for help, he responded only by enclosing the same two alphabetical columns.16 His instructions to Franklin in Paris, which Franklin on request sent to Dana, differed in no essential, concentrating on the selection of the key-word or letters.17 Not until June 1781, when he wrote to JA, “I suspect that you did not before understand it from my not having said supped in Braintree,” did he undertake clarification. This time his column of numbers extended to 30, the numbers 28, 29, and 30 “to be used as Baulks in the Beginning and End or within your Words”; and apparently for the { 397 } first time explained the “rule of Sequence”: “Make 2 Columns of Letters. . . . Begin your 1st Column with the first letter and your second Column with the 2d letter of the Family Name formerly referred to. Go on to &, then follow a b &c. &c. &c. Look alternately into the Columns.”18 When Secretary Livingston unhappily concluded that JA had not understood his earlier letters in cipher, written without awareness of the difficulty, he had Lovell enclose still another explanation: “You are to form Alphabets equal in number and of the same commencement and Range, as the Letters of the first sixth part of the family Name where you and I supped last with Mrs. Adams, and you are to look alternately into these constructed Alphabets opposite to my figures, for the Elements to spell with, some figures however I may have used as Baulks.”19 Nearly a year later Lovell tried again, but in the same language.20 Livingston, meanwhile, had apparently decided to resolve the problem by adopting a different cipher: “I am sorry for the difficulty the cypher occasions you, it was one I found in the Office, and is very incomplete. I enclose one that you will find easy in the practice, and will therefore write with freedom.”21AA, during the same period, in a brave but misguided moment had decided to try her hand at explaining: “Take the two Letters for which the figure stands and place one under the other through the whole Sentance, and then try the upper Line with the under, or the under with the upper, always remembering, if one letter answers, that directly above or below must be omitted, and sometimes several must be skiped over.”22
More than two years after his first attempt at explication, Lovell wrote to JA: “I have not to this day Information that you comprehend the Cypher which I have very often used in my Letters.”23 Livingston, noting JA's lack of response, concluded earlier that JA did not comprehend “the cyphers. ... I had them from the late committee of foreign affairs, tho' they say they never received any letters from you in them.”24JA's own allusions to the cipher not only confirm fully the doubts felt in Philadelphia, but also convey an unconcern that must have had an effect there: “Your Plan of a Cypher I cannot comprehend—nor can Dr. F. his”;25 “I have Letters from the President and { 398 } from Lovell, the last unintelligible, in Cyphers, but inexplicable by his own Cypher—some dismal Ditty about my Letters of 26th July—I know not what.”26 “I am on this Occasion as on all others hitherto utterly unable to comprehend the Sense of the Passages in Cypher. ... I have been able sometimes to decypher Words enough to show, that I have the Letters right; but upon the whole I can make nothing of it, which I regret very much upon this Occasion, as I suppose the Cyphers are a very material part of your letter.”27
The frustrations attendant upon the efforts of Congress' committee and of the Secretary for Foreign Affairs to have their representatives abroad master and use the cipher derived not from JA alone. Almost a year after JA reported Franklin's inability to comprehend it, Franklin himself wrote to Dana, “If you can find the Key and decypher it, I shall be glad, having myself try'd in vain.”28 Dana, in turn, seems to have had his own difficulties. To him Livingston wrote, “I need not tell you how impatient I shall be to hear that this has reached you, since I cannot use my cipher, till I receive a line from you written in it, nor can I write with freedom to you, till I have a cipher.”29
As for JA, while it is true that he gave an impression of insouciance in reporting his inability to comprehend the encoded messages, evidence exists that he made some effort to master Lovell's instructions. To Lovell's iteration of the clue to the key letters as the source of his difficulties, JA, with asperity, wrote, “I know very well the Name of the Family where I spent the Evening with my worthy Friend Mr.—— before We set off, and have made my Alphabet accordingly. . . . The Cypher is certainly not taken regularly under the two first Letters of that Name.”30 In the Adams Papers in JA's handwriting and endorsed “cypher” by him, undated, is a complete “Alphabet squared” with a vertical numerical column, 1–27, at left. The square is without indication that the columns in which c and r are the initial letters are more important than any others. A second attempt in JA's hand, also surviving in the Papers, and illustrated in the present volume, suggests one reason why he remained unenlightened. Across the top of the sheet is an alphabet including the ampersand, at the left is a vertical column of numbers, 1–30, paralleled by three columns of alphabets with initial letters a, c, and r. Failing to understand or to heed { 399 } Lovell's belated explanation that the numbers 28–30 were “baulks,” JA utilizes these numbers in the c and r columns to begin a new alphabetical cycle. Thus, in the one column the equivalent of c is not only 1 but 28, that of d is 2 and 29, of e, 3 and 30; in the second column the same holds true for r, s, and t. The application of such a system to the material in code could only produce results unsatisfactory to all.
A further account of the kinds of difficulties that recipients experienced in decoding the Lovell cipher is presented in the Descriptive List of Illustrations in the present volume, Nos. 3 and 4. The discussion there should be read in conjunction with what has been developed here, and the pertinent facsimile illustrations themselves examined.
Examples of other ciphers constructed on systems other than numerical substitution do exist in the Adams Papers. On the various types in use during the Revolutionary period, the discussions of the subject by Burnett and Boyd should be consulted.31
1. P. 36, above.
2. To JA, 4 May; to AA, post 4 May 1780, both in Adams Papers.
3. To Lovell, 11 June 1780, vol. 3:363, above.
4. To same, 3 Jan. 1781, p. 57, above.
5. P. 36, above.
6. Adams Papers. The new key is not now, however, with Lovell's letter.
7. Lovell to AA, 26 June 1781, p. 163, above; the undated fragmentary sheet containing Cranch's efforts to decode the ciphered passages is illustrated in the present volume.
8. LbC, Adams Papers; printed in JA, Works, 7:521–530; Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev., 5:192–199.
9. To JA, 17 June 1782, p. 327, above.
10. Franklin to Dana, 2 March 1781, Adams Papers; Edmund C. Burnett, “Ciphers of the Revolutionary Period,” AHR, 22:331 (Jan. 1917); Jefferson, Papers, ed. Boyd, 7:149, 237, 451.
11. 5 July, 20 Nov. 1781, both in Adams Papers; Livingston's letter is printed without indication that passages are in cipher in Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev., 4:849–851.
12. Livingston to JA, 26 Dec. 1781, Adams Papers, printed in Wharton, 5:73–74; Dana to JA, 18 Oct. 1782, Adams Papers.
13. 5 June 1781, MHi: Gerry-Knight Collection. Other examples of the cipher in the same collection are in letters from Lovell of 17 June, 13 July 1781.
14. Burnett, AHR, 22:331.
15. To Lovell, 11 June 1780, Dft, vol. 3:363, above. The Adamses' judgment of Lovell's deficiencies is amusingly echoed by CFA when in arranging the family's papers he came to read Lovell's letters: “A man whose situation gave his letters unusual interest. Yet he is so crackbrained that his prose is hardly intelligible and his cypher utterly unreadable. This is a great pity. Such half disclosures of the course of things are worse than none at all” (Diary, entry for 3 Jan. 1835).
16. 30 Jan. 1781>, Adams Papers. It should be noted, however, that at the end of his letter to AA of 8 Jan. he said flat out, without alluding to cipher or key: “This Evening four Years [ago] I passed with you at your Brother Cranche's” (above, p. 63).
17. Franklin to Dana, 2 March 1781.
19. Livingston to JA, 26 Dec. 1781, with enclosure of same date signed by Lovell and attested by L. R. Morris, Secy., “By Order Mr. Livingston,” Adams Papers.
20. To JA, 30 Nov. 1782, Adams Papers.
22. To JA, 17 June, p. 327, above.
23. 30 Nov. 1782.
26. To Dana, 12 March 1781, LbC, Adams Papers; printed in JA, Works, 7:377–378; Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev., 4:284–285.
27. To Livingston, 21 Feb. 1782.
28. 2 March 1781. Franklin did, however, in the same letter write correctly two short passages in the cipher.
29. To Dana, 10 May 1782, in Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev., 5:411–414.
30. To Livingston, 21 Feb. 1782.
31. AHR, 22:329–334; Jefferson, Papers, ed. Boyd, 6:x–xi.
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/