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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-06-01-02-0006

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Cushing, Charles
Date: 1756-04-01

To Charles Cushing

[salute] My Friend1

I had the Pleasure, a few Days since, of receiving your favour of February 4th.2 I am obliged to you for your advice, and for the manly and rational Reflections with which you inforced it. I think I have deliberately weighed the subject and had almost determined as you advise. Upon the Stage of Life, we have each of us a part, a laborious and difficult Part, to Act, but we are all capable of acting our Parts, however difficult, to the best advantage. Upon common Theatres indeed the applause of the Audience is of more importance to the Actors than their own approbation. But upon the Stage of Life, while Concience Clapps, let the World hiss! On the contrary if Conscience disapproves, the loudest applauses of the World are of little Value. While our own minds commend, we may calmly despise all the Frowns, all the Censure, all the Malignity of men.

Should the whole Frame of Nature round us break

In ruin and Confusion hurld

We unconcern'd might hear the mighty crack

And stand unhurt amidst a falling World.

We have indeed the liberty of Chusing what Character we shall sustain in this great and important Drama. But to chuse rightly, we should consider in what Character we can do the most service to our fellow men, as well as to our selves. The Man who lives wholly to himself is of less worth than the Cattle in his Barn. Let us look upon a Lawyer: In the beginning of Life we see him, fumbling and raking amidst the rubbish of Writs, indightments, Pleas, ejectments, enfiefed, illatebration and a 1000 other lignum Vitae words that have neither harmony nor meaning. When he getts into Business, he often foments more quarrells than he composes, and inriches himself at the expence { 13 } of impoverishing others more honest and deserving than himself. Besides the noise and bustle of Courts, and the labour of inquiring into and pleading dry and difficult Cases, have very few Charms in my Eyes. The study of Law is indeed an Avenue to the more important offices of the state, and the happiness of human Society is an object worth the pursuit of any man. But the Acquisition of these important offices depends upon [so] many Circumstances of Birth and fortune, not to mention Capacity, which I have not, that I can have no hopes of Being Usefull that way.
The Physician If he has real Skill and Ingenuity, as things go now, will have no employment. And if he has not skill and Ingenuity, will kill rather than Cure. I have not mentioned the infinite toil and Labour of his Occupation.
The Divine has a Thousand Obstacles to encounter. He has his own and his Peoples Prejudices to Combat—the capricious Humours and Fancies of the Vulgar to submit to—Poverty to struggle with—the charge of Heresy to bear—systematical Divinity, alias systematical vexation of spirit to study and sift. But on the other hand He has more Leisure to inform his mind, to subdue his Passions—fewer Temptations to intemperance and injustice, tho' more to trimming and Hypocrisy—an opportunity of diffusing Truth and Virtue among his People. Upon the Whole I think if he relies on his own understanding more than the decrees of Councils, or the sentiments of Fathers, if he resolutely discharges the Duties of his Station, according to the Dictates of his mind, if he spends his Time in the improvement of his Head in Knowledge and his heart in Virtue, instead of sauntering about the streets, he will be able to do more good to his fellow men and make better provision for his own future Happiness in this Profession, than in any other.
However I am as yet very contented in the place of a School Master. I shall not therefore very suddenly become a Preacher. When I do I hope to live a year or two in the same neighbourhood with you. Had indulgent Heaven thrown me into the neighbourhood of a [Dalton],3 or some other such kind Friend of my former acquaintance, I think little had been wanting to compleat my satisfaction. It is late in the evening, and my Candle, my pen, and more than all, my inclination, calls upon me to subscribe my self your Sincere Friend & S[erv]t.,
[signed] J.A.
P.S. There is a story about Town that I am an Orminian.4
Pray write me, every opportunity, and be so kind as to omit 1/2 dozen wafers in your next. The last was barr'd and barricadoed with { 14 } so many Seals, that I was out of all patience before I could come to the Treasure.5
MS not found. Printed from a facsimile of RC in (The Month at Goodspeed's), 19:[134] (Feb. 1948). For other texts and a summary account of how this early and characteristic letter became publicly known, see note 5.
1. Charles Cushing (1734–1810), a classmate of JA, Harvard 1755, kept school after graduation and then studied law, but soon engaged in the “down East” trade and by 1760 had settled at Pownalborough and been appointed first sheriff of Lincoln co., District of Maine. Here he was to carry on a running quarrel with his loyalist classmate Jacob Bailey (see preceding letter) over the latter's efforts in behalf of the Society for Propagating the Gospel. Cushing was active as a militia officer during the Revolution, but in 1781 returned to Boston, where he practiced law and from 1798 to 1805 served as a judge of the inferior court of common pleas (Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates, 13:563–569).
2. Not found.
3. Apparently worn away in a crease of the original; illegible in the facsimile. The early printings and transcripts (see note 5) give the name as Dalton, which is unquestionably correct. Tristram Dalton (1738–1817), of Newburyport, was another member of the Harvard class of 1755; he was later elected to the Continental Congress and to the U.S. Senate in the first federal Congress (Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates, 13:569–578).
4. Thus clearly in the facsimile; indeed the initial letter is heavily overwritten so that it cannot be taken for anything other than “O.” No doubt there is a play on words here: an Arminian was a believer in the possibility of universal redemption and thus an anti-Calvinist; but what JA meant by an “Orminian” is his own private joke with Cushing.
5. This letter was first printed in the Nantucket Gazette, 1 Feb. 1817, followed by JA to Cushing, 19 Oct. 1756, below. It there has the caption “To Mr. Charles Cushing, School Master, in Newbury,” which we may assume is the address on the cover of the unlocated original. The contributor of both letters, who signed himself “P.,” gives no hint of how these “literary curiosities” came into his hands. Both were reprinted in the Boston Daily Advertiser of 5 March 1817, and a few days later Charles Cushing, son of the recipient, wrote to JA from Roxbury a letter very apologetic in tone, saying he could not possibly explain how these private letters, long in a trunk in the family's possession, got into circulation except by an act of theft, which he considered an “atrocity” that would have greatly distressed his father (Cushing to JA, 10 March 1817, Adams Papers). In a prompt reply, JA reassured the younger Cushing that he should give himself no further trouble about this “riddle”:
“The Letters, while they have afforded some amusement to my Friends, have excited many tender recollections as well as serious reflections in me. I was like a Boy in a Carrefour in a Wilderness in a strange Country, with half a dozen roads before him groping in a dark night to find which he ought to take. Had I been obliged to tell your Father the whole Truth, I should have mentioned several other pursuits, Farming, Merchandize, Seas, and above all War. Nothing but want of Interest and Patronage prevented me from inlisting in the Army. Could I have obtained a Troop of Horse or a company of Foot I should infallibly have been a Soldier. It is a problem in my Mind to this day whether I should have been a Coward or a Hero.” (To Charles Cushing, 13 March 1817, NhPoA; LbC, Adams Papers.)
Two early transcripts of both letters to Cushing, probably from the Advertiser text, remain among the Adams Papers. An entry in J. Q. Adams' Diary for 19 Aug. 1829 explains their presence: “copies of them made by Mrs. S. B. Clarke [Susanna Boylston (Adams) Clark (later Treadway), a niece of JQA] were among my Son George's { 15 } papers, and the Lieut. [Thomas Boylston Adams Jr., a nephew of JQA] has recopied them at my request in my father's last Letter Book.”
RC of the present letter appeared at least once in the autograph market before 1948; it was lot 3 in the Hess sale at the Anderson Galleries, New York city, 24 Jan. 1908.
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/