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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-01-01-02-0012-0001-0001

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1768-01-30

1768. January 30th. Saturday Night.1

To what Object, are my Views directed? What is the End and Purpose of my Studies, Journeys, Labours of all Kinds of Body and Mind, of Tongue and Pen? Am I grasping at Money, or Scheming for Power? Am I planning the Illustration of my Family or the Welfare of my Country? These are great Questions. In Truth, I am tossed about so much, from Post to Pillar, that I have not Leisure and Tranquillity enough, to consider distinctly my own Views, Objects and Feelings.— I am mostly intent at present, upon collecting a Library, and I find, that a great deal of Thought, and Care, as well as Money, are necessary to assemble an ample and well chosen Assortment of Books.—But when this is done, it is only a means, an Instrument. When ever I shall have compleated my Library, my End will not be answered. Fame, Fortune, Power say some, are the Ends intended by a Library. The Service of God, Country, Clients, Fellow Men, say others. Which of these lie nearest my Heart? Self Love but serves the virtuous Mind to wake as the small Pebble stirs the Peacefull Lake, The Center Moved, a Circle straight succeeds, another still and still another spreads. Friend, Parent, Neighbour, first it does embrace, our Country next and next all human Race.
I am certain however, that the Course I pursue will neither lead me to Fame, Fortune, Power Nor to the Service of my Friends, Clients or Country. What Plan of Reading or Reflection, or Business can be pursued by a Man, who is now at Pownalborough, then at Marthas Vineyard, next at Boston, then at Taunton, presently at Bamstable, { 338 } then at Concord, now at Salem, then at Cambridge, and afterwards at Worcester. Now at Sessions, then at Pleas, now in Admiralty, now at Superiour Court, then in the Gallery of the House. What a Dissipation must this be? Is it possible to pursue a regular Train of Thinking in this desultory Life?—By no Means.— It is a Life of Here and every where, to use the Expression, that is applyed to Othello, by Desdemona’s Father. Here and there and every where, a rambling, roving, vagrant, vagabond Life. A wandering Life. At Meins Book store, at Bowes’s Shop, at Danas House, at Fitches, Otis’s office, and the Clerks office, in the Court Chamber, in the Gallery, at my own Fire, I am thinking on the same Plan.
1. First entry in “Paper book No. 15” (our D/JA/15), a stitched gathering of leaves which, following the present entry, has a blank leaf and irregular entries from 10 Aug. 1769 to 22 Aug. 1770.
No Diary entries have been found for the period between late May 1767 and the end of Jan. 1768. The most important event in JA’s domestic life during this interval was the birth at Braintree of a son and heir, 11 July 1767, who was, according to JA’s Autobiography, “at the request of his Grandmother Smith christened by the Name of John Quincy on the day of the Death of his Great Grandfather, John Quincy of Mount Wollaston.” After the excitements of the preceding winter, the remainder of the year 1767, at least until the arrival of the new customs commissioners in November, was comparatively quiet politically; at any rate, JA engaged in no further political activity or writing. But as a result of his growing prominence in both Braintree and Boston affairs his legal business expanded remarkably. By piecing together the evidence from his own papers and the Minute Books of the Superior Court, his itinerary during the second half of 1767 may be reconstructed as follows: in July at Plymouth Inferior Court; in August at Suffolk Superior Court; in September at Worcester Superior Court and Bristol Inferior Court; in October at Plymouth Inferior Court and Bristol and Middlesex (Cambridge) Superior Courts; in November at Middlesex (Charlestown) Inferior Court; in December at Barnstable and Plymouth Inferior Courts. Probably this is an incomplete list.

Docno: ADMS-01-01-02-0013-0001-0001

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1769-08-10

Boston August 10. 1769.1

John Tudor Esq. came to me, and for the third Time repeated his Request that I would take his Son William into my Office. I was not fond of the Proposal as I had but 10 days before taken Jona. Williams Austin, for 3 years. At last however I consented and Tudor is to come, tomorrow morning.2
What shall I do with 2 Clerks at a Time? And what will the Bar, and the World say? As to the last I am little solicitous, but my own Honour, Reputation and Conscience, are concerned in doing my best for their Education, and Advancement in the World. For their Advancement I can do little, for their Education, much, if I am not wanting to myself and them.
{ 339 }
1. A gap of a year and a half, indicated by only a single blank page in the MS, separates this entry from the preceding one. But the interval had been a busy one for JA and a critical one in the relations between the Province of Massachusetts Bay and the British government. Soon after the annual Braintree town meeting in March 1768 (at which JA declined to stand again for selectman and was thanked for this services during the past two years), JA and his family moved “into the White House as it was called in Brattle Square,” formerly the residence of William Bollan (JA, Works, 2:210, note; Autobiography). On 28 Dec. his 2d daughter, Susanna, who lived only until 4 Feb. 1770, was born in this house and was baptized on New Year’s Day by Dr. Samuel Cooper at the Brattle Street Church (HA2, John Adams’s Book, Being Notes on a Record of the Births, Marriages and Deaths of Three Generations of the Adams Family, 1734–1807, Boston, 1934, p. 4–5). In the spring of 1769 he “removed to Cole Lane, to Mr. Fayerweathers House,” which he occupied for about a year (second entry of 21 Nov. 1772, below).
Though JA rode the circuit with his usual regularity during these eighteen months (and in Sept. 1768 traveled for the first time as far as Springfield, there meeting Joseph Hawley, with whom he was to form an enduring friendship), his most important cases were related to the current political disputes. One of these was his defense of Michael Corbet and three other sailors in May–June 1769 for the killing of Lt. Panton of the British navy; see entry of 23 Dec. 1769 and note, below. Still more spectacular was his earlier defense, in the winter of 1768–1769, of John Hancock against charges of smuggling. This action in personam grew out of but was distinct from the action in rem concerning Hancock’s sloop Liberty, condemned at the instance of the board of customs commissioners in the summer of 1768. “A painfull Drudgery I had of his cause,” JA wrote in his Autobiography. “There were few days through the whole Winter, when I was not summoned to attend the Court of Admiralty.” JA’s stubborn and successful defense in a trial lasting five months was one of his major accomplishments as a lawyer, but the necessary notes and references concerning it may be deferred to his discussion of it in his Autobiography.
In June 1768 and again in May 1769 JA was named on committees to prepare instructions for the Boston representatives to the General Court, and in both instances it was he who wrote the instructions. The first is mainly a protest against the seizure of the Liberty (Works, 3:501–504). The second is a recital of a series of grievances suffered by the town as the result of the presence of British troops since the preceding autumn, and also from the formidable and growing power of the admiralty courts (same, p. 505–510).
Life was not made up exclusively of drama and drudgery. An entry in John Rowe’s Diary dated 4 Aug. 1769 begins: “fine Weather Din’d at John Champneys on A Pigy with the following Company—John Hancock, James Otis, John Adams,” and thirteen others, including Robert Auchmuty, the admiralty judge (MS, MHi).
2. Jonathan Williams Austin and William Tudor, both of the Harvard class of 1769, were JA’s first law clerks, so far as we currently know. The ordinary term of service was three years, and both these young men were recommended by the bar for admission to practice as attorneys in July 1772 (“Suffolk Bar Book,” MHS, Procs. 1st ser., 19 [1881–1882]:150. Austin was admitted attorney in the Superior Court, Aug. term, 1778, but never became a barrister (Superior Court of Judicature, Minute Book 103). Tudor was admitted to practice in the Superior Court with Austin, served as first judge advocate of the Continental army, became a barrister, Feb. term, 1784, and was a lifelong friend and correspondent of JA.
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/