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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 3


Docno: ADMS-01-03-02-0016-0025

Author: Adams, John
DateRange: 1775-06 - 1775-07

[In Congress, June and July 1775]

This Measure of Imbecility, the second Petition to the King embarrassed every Exertion of Congress: it occasioned Motions and debates without End for appointing Committees to draw up a declaration of the Causes, Motives, and Objects of taking Arms, with a view to obtain decisive declarations against Independence &c.1 In the Mean time the New England Army investing Boston, the New England Legislatures, Congresses and Conventions, and the whole Body of the People, were left, without Munitions of War, without Arms, Cloathing, Pay or even Countenance and Encouragement. Every Post brought me Letters, from my Friends Dr. Winthrop, Dr. Cooper, General James Warren: and sometimes from General Ward and his Aids and General Heath and many others, urging in pathetic terms, the impossibility of keeping their Men together, without the Assistance of Congress. I was daily urging all these Things but We were embarassed with more than one Difficulty. Not only the Party in favour of the Petition to the King, and the Party who were jealous of Independence, but a third Party, which was a Southern Party against a Northern and a Jealousy against a New England Army under the Command of a New England General. Whether this Jealousy was sincere, or whether it was mere pride and a haughty Ambition, of furnishing a Southern General to command the northern Army. But the Intention was very visible to me, that Col. Washington was their Object, and so many of our staunchest Men were in the Plan that We could carry nothing without conceeding to it. Another Embarrassment which was never publickly known, and which was carefully concealed by those who knew it. The Massachusetts Delegates and other New England Delegates were divided. Mr. Hancock and Mr. Cushing hung back. Mr. Paine did not come forward, and even Mr. Samuel Adams was irresolute. Mr. Hancock himself had an Ambition to be appointed Commander in Chief. Whether he thought, An Election, a Compliment due to him and intended to have the honor of declining it or whether he would have accepted I know not. To the Compliment he had some Pretensions, for at that time his Exertions, Sacrifices and general Merit in the Cause of his Country, had been incomparably { 322 } greater than those of Colonel Washington. But the Delicacy of his health, and his entire Want of Experience in actual Service, though an excellent Militia Officer, were decisive Objections to him in my Mind. In canvassing this Subject out of Doors, I found too that even among the Delegates of Virginia there were difficulties. The Apostolical Reasonings among themselves which should be greatest, were not less energetic Among the Saints of the Ancient dominion, than they were among Us of New England. In several Conversations I found more than one very cool about the Appointment of Washington, and particularly Mr. Pendleton was very clear and full against.2 Full of Anxieties concerning these Confusions, and apprehending daily that We should he[a]r very distressing News from Boston, I walked with Mr. Samuel Adams in the State house Yard, for a little Exercise and fresh Air, before the hour of Congress, and there represented to him the various dangers that surrounded Us. He agreed to them all, but said what shall We do? I answered him, that he knew I had taken great pains to get our Colleagues to agree upon some plan that We might be unanimous: but he knew that they would pledge themselves to nothing: but I was determined to take a Step, which should compell them and all the other Members of Congress, to declare themselves for or against something. I am determined this Morning to make a direct Motion that Congress should adopt the Army before Boston and appoint Colonel Washington Commander of it. Mr. Adams seemed to think very seriously of it, but said Nothing.—Accordingly When congress had assembled I rose in my place and in as short a Speech as the Subject would admit, represented the State of the Colonies, the Uncertainty in the Minds of the People, their great Expectations and Anxiety, the distresses of the Army, the danger of its dissolution, the difficulty of collecting another, and the probability that the British Army would take Advantage of our delays, march out of Boston and spread desolation as far as they could go.3 I concluded with a Motion in form that Congress would Adopt the Army at Cambridge and appoint a General, that though this was not the proper time to nominate a General, yet as I had reason to believe this was a point of the greatest difficulty, I had no hesitation to declare that I had but { 323 } one Gentleman in my Mind for that important command, and that was a Gentleman from Virginia who was among Us and very well known to all of Us, a Gentleman whose Skill and Experience as an Officer, whose independent fortune, great Talents and excellent universal Character, would command the Approbation of all America, and unite the cordial Exertions of all the Colonies better than any other Person in the Union. Mr. Washington, who happened to sit near the Door, as soon as he heard me allude to him, from his Usual Modesty darted into the Library Room. Mr. Hancock, who was our President, which gave me an Opportunity to observe his Countenance, while I was speaking on the State of the Colonies, the Army at Cambridge and the Ennemy, heard me with visible pleasure, but when I came to describe Washington for the Commander, I never remarked a more sudden and sinking Change of Countenance. Mortification and resentment were expressed as forcibly as his Face could exhibit them. Mr. Samuel Adams Seconded the Motion, and that did not soften the Presidents Phisiognomy at all. The Subject came under debate and several Gentlemen declared themselves against the Appointment of Mr. Washington, not on Account of any personal Objection against him: but because the Army was all from New England, had a General of their own, appeared to be satisfied with him and had proved themselves able to imprison the British Army in Boston, which was all they expected or desired at that time. Mr. Pendleton of Virginia [and] Mr. Sherman of Connecticutt were very explicit in declaring this Opinion, Mr. Cushing and several others more faintly expressed their Opposition and their fears of discontent in the Army and in New England. Mr. Paine expressed a great Opinion of General Ward and a strong friendship for him, having been his Classmate at Colledge, or at least his contemporary: but gave no Opinion upon the question. The Subject was postponed to a future day. In the mean time, pains were taken out of doors to obtain a Unanimity, and the Voices were generally so clearly in favour of Washington that the dissentient Members were persuaded to withdraw their Opposition, and Mr. Washington was nominated, I believe by Mr. Thomas Johnson of Maryland, unanimously elected, and the Army adopted. The next Question was who should be the Second Officer. General Lee was nominated, and most strenuously Urged by many, particularly Mr. Mifflin who said that General Lee would serve chearfully under Washington, but considering his Rank, Character and Experience could not be expected to serve under any other. That Lee must be aut secundus, aut nullus.— To this I as strenuously objected. That it would be a great deal to { 324 } expect of General Ward that he should serve under any Man, but that under a stranger he ought not to serve. That though I had as high an Opinion of General Lees Learning, general Information and especially of his Science and experience in War, I could not advize General Ward to humiliate himself and his Country so far as to serve under him.—General Ward was elected the second and Lee the third. Gates and Mifflin, I believe had some Appointments, and General Washington took with him Mr. Reed of Philadelphia, a Lawyer of some Eminence for his private Secretary. And the Gentlemen all sett off for the Camp. They had not proceeded twenty miles from Philadelphia before they met a Courier with the News of the Battle of Bunkers Hill, the Death of General Warren, the Slaughter among the British Officers and Men as well as among ours and the burning of Charlestown. Mr. Hancock however never loved me so well after this Event as he had done before, and he made me feel at times the Effects of his resentment and of his Jealousy in many Ways and at diverse times, as long as he lived, though at other times according to his variable feelings, he even overacted his part in professing his regard and respect to me. Hitherto no Jealousy had ever appeared between Mr. Samuel Adams and me. But many Years had not passed away before some Symptoms of it appeared in him, particularly when I was first chosen to go to Europe, a distinction that neither he nor Mr. Hancock could bear. Mr. Adams however disguised it under a pretence that I could not be spared from Congress and the State. More of this Spirit appeared afterwards, when I had drawn up at his and Mr. Bowdoins desire a Constitution for Massachusetts, and it was about to be reported in my hand Writing. But after the Coalition between Mr. Hancock and him in 1788, both these Gentlemen indulged their Jealousy so far as to cooperate in dissiminating Prejudices against me, as a Monarchy Man and a Friend to England, for which I hope they have been forgiven, in Heaven as I have constantly forgiven them on Earth, though they both knew the insinuations were groundless.
1. For the papers alluded to here, adopted by Congress in July 1775, see the texts and commentary in Jefferson, Papers, ed. Boyd, 1:187–223.
2. No evidence confirming this statement about Pendleton is known to the editors.
3. This speech and the motion that followed it must have been made on 14 June or a day or two earlier. Since they were made in a committee of the whole on “the state of America,” which had been deliberating some days, there is no record of them in the Journal. But on the 14th Congress did, in effect, “adopt the Army before Boston” (JCC, 2:89–90). On the following day “George Washington, Esq. was unanimously elected” commander in chief ( same, p. 91).

Docno: ADMS-01-03-02-0016-0026

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1775-08

[August 1775]

I have always imputed the Loss of Charleston, and of the brave Officers and Men who fell there, and the Loss of an Hero of more Worth than all the Town, I mean General Warren, to Mr. Dickinsons petition to the King, and the Loss of Quebec and Mongomery to his subsequent unceasing though finally unavailing Efforts against Independence. These impeded and parrallized all our Enterprizes. Had our Army been acknowledged in Season, which Acknowledgement ought to have been our first Step, and the measures taken to comfort and encourage it, which ought to have been taken by Congress, We { 325 } should not have lost Charleston, and if every Measure for the Service in Canady, from the first Projection of it to the final Loss of the Province, had not been opposed, and obstinately disputed by the same party, so that We could finally carry no measure but by a bare Majority.1 And every Measure was delayed, till it became ineffectual. In the fall of the Year Congress were much fatigued with the Incessant Labours, Debates, Intrigues, and heats of the Summer and agreed on a short Adjournment.2 The Delegates from Massachusetts returned home, and as the two Houses of the Legislature had chosen Us all into the Council we went to Watertown and took our Seats: for such times as We could spare before our return to Congress. I had been chosen before, two Years sucessively, that is in 1773 and 1774 and been negatived by the Governor, the first time by Hutchinson and the second by Gage. My Friend Dr. Cooper attempted to console me under the first Negative, which he called a Check: but I told him I considered it not as a Check but as a Boost, a Word of John Bunyan which the Dr. understood. These negatives were indeed no mortification to me for knowing that neither honor nor profit were to be obtained, nor good to be done in that Body in these times I had not a wish to sit there. When a Person came running to my Office to tell me of the first of them, I cryed out laughing Now I believe in my Soul I am a clever fellow, since I have the Attestation of the three Branches of the Legislature. This vulgar, familiar little Sally was caught as if it had been a prize, and immediately scattered all over the Province.
Mr. Hancock came home, but would not call upon General Washington. Dr. Cooper told me, he was so offended, that Washington was appointed instead of himself, that his friends had the utmost difficulty to appease him. I went to head Quarters and had much Conversation with General Washington, Ward, Lee, Putnam, Gates, Mifflin and others, and went with General Lee to visit the Outposts and the Centinells, nearest the Ennemy at Charleston. Here Lee found his Dogs inconvenient, for they were so attached to him that they insisted on keeping close about him, and he expected he should be known by them to the British officers in the Fort, and he expected every moment a discharge of Balls, Grape or Langredge3 about our Ears. After visiting { 326 } my friends, and the General Court, the Army and the Country, I returned to Philadelphia, but not till I had followed My youngest Brother to the Grave. He had commanded a Company of Militia all Summer at Cambridge, and there taken a fatal Dissentary then epidemic in the Camp of which he died leaving a young Widow and three Young Children, who are all still living. My Brother died greatly lamented by all who knew him and by none more than by me, who knew the excellence of his heart and the purity of his Principles and Conduct. He died as Mr. Taft, his Minister informed me exulting, as his Father had done, in the exalted hopes of [a] Christian.4
An Event of the most trifling nature in Appearance, and fit only to excite Laughter, in other Times, struck me into a profound Reverie, if not a fit of Melancholly. I met a Man who had sometimes been my Client, and sometimes I had been against him. He, though a common Horse Jockey, was sometimes in the right, and I had commonly been successfull in his favour in our Courts of Law. He was always in the Law, and had been sued in many Actions, at almost every Court. As soon as he saw me, he came up to me, and is first Salutation to me was “Oh! Mr. Adams what great Things have you and your Colleagues done for Us! We can never be gratefull enough to you. There are no Courts of Justice now in this Province, and I hope there never will be another!” ...5 Is this the Object for which I have been contending? said I to myself, for I rode along without any Answer to this Wretch. Are these the Sentiments of such People? And how many of them are there in the Country? Half the Nation for what I know: for half the Nation are Debtors if not more, and these have been in all Countries, the Sentiments of Debtors. If the Power of the Country should get into such hands, and there is great danger that it will, to what purpose have We sacrificed our Time, health and every Thing else? Surely We must guard against this Spirit and these Principles or We shall repent of all our Conduct. However The good Sense and Integrity of the Majority of the great Body of the People, came in to my thoughts for my relief, and the last resource was after all in a good Providence.—How much reason there was for these melancholly reflections, the subsequent times have too fully shewn. Opportunities enough had been presented to me to convince me that a very great Portion of the People of America were debtors: but that enormous Gulf of debt to Great { 327 } Britain from Virginia and some other States, which have since swallowed up the Harmony of all our Councils, and produced the Tryumph of Principles too nearly resembling those of my Client, was not known to me at that time in a tenth part of its extent. When the Consequences will terminate No Man can say.
1. This fragmentary sentence requires some such concluding clause as “we would not have lost Canada.”
2. Congress adjourned on 1 or 2 Aug., to meet again on 5 Sept. (JCC, 2:239; see also note on Diary entry of 1 Aug. 1775 [Mrs. Yard's Bill]).
3. Langrage: “Caseshot loaded with pieces of iron of irregular shape, formerly used in naval warfare to damage the rigging and sails of the enemy” (OED).
4. Elihu Adams had marched from Braintree as a captain in Col. Benjamin Lincoln's company during the alarm of 19 April 1775, had participated in the action at Grape Island, off Weymouth, in May, and died on 10 or 11 Aug. (Mass. Soldiers and Sailors, 1:45; CFA2, Three Episodes, 2:857; AA to JA, 10–11 Aug. 1775, Adams Papers).
5. Suspension points in MS.
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/