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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 4


Docno: ADMS-06-04-02-0042

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Heath, William
Date: 1776-04-15

To William Heath

[salute] Dear sir

Altho I never had the Pleasure and the Honour of so intimate an Acquaintance with you as I wished yet I have a long Time, been sufficiently acquainted with your Character, to have the Utmost Confidence in your Patriotism and your Judgment of the true Interest of our Country.
The critical State of the Colonies, at this Time, is the Cause of my writing you, because Providence has now placed you in a situation where you have an opportunity of serving your Country in a civil and political Capacity no less essentially than in a military one.1
There is nothing of more indispensible Importance in the Conduct of this great Contention, than that New York should go Hand in Hand with the rest of the Colonies both in Politicks and War. The Number of the Tories the Weakness and Credulity of Some People, and the Treachery of others, have hitherto prevented that Colony from exerting herself in this mighty Struggle in Proportion to her Strength and Weight.
If you compare the Exertions of Connecticutt, with those of New York you will easily see the Importance of having all the Powers of Government in the Hands of the Friends of the People.
It is now perhaps the most critical Moment that America, ever saw. { 120 } There is a Tide in the affairs of Men, and Consequences of infinite Moment depend upon the Colonies, assuming Government at this Time.
So convenient an opportunity may never again present itself as the present, while a powerfull Army is there, sufficient to overawe any turbulent opposition, and prevent every danger of Convulsion.
To exercise a Government under a King, who has published such a Proclamation and signed such an Act of Parliament;2 to pray for his Salvation, temporal I mean—to take oaths of allegiance—to swear to keep his Secrets—to swear to try Issues between our sovereign Lord the King and a Criminal, at this Time, is such an Absurdity, such Immorality, such Irreligion that I am amazed it can be endured in any one Spot in America.3
Governments must be assumed or Anarchy reign, and God knows the Consequence.
I must beg of you therefore, to endeavour to convince the Citizens of New York and the Inhabitants of the Province as opportunity presents, of the Necessity of this Measure. Depend upon it, you cannot do your Country a more important, a more essential service.
I am well informed that Mr. William Smith, Mr. P. L. and I fear Coll. McDougal will retard and obstruct this Measure.4 I hope they will be perswaded to the Contrary, if they have not they may have herafter the pleasing Reflection that they destroyed their Country.
You must have seen the happy Fruits of this Measure in your own Province, so clearly, as to render it impertinent in me to point out the Benefits of it.
If Nine Months ago the Colonies had assumed Governments, they would have been infinitely better armed, trained, furnished with Ammunition, salt Petre, Powder Works—they would have been rid of the Plague of Toryism. &c.
I have Time only to hint, and that is enough to you, if you are at a Loss to know me, ask General Sullivan. I am your Friend and most obedient servant.
RC (MHi: William Heath Papers); erroneously docketed: “from Jno. Adams Esqr. april 25th. 1777.”
1. Although the tone of this letter suggests that JA believed Heath was in command, he had been superseded by Israel Putnam on 4 April (Force, Archives, 4th ser., 5:787, 815). JA may have been inspired to write, by the letter he received from Hugh Hughes of 31 March (above), which detailed conditions in New York and commented upon Gen. Heath's arrival.
2. That is, the proclamation of 23 Aug. 1775 calling for the suppression of rebellion and sedition and the Prohibitory Act of 22 Dec. 1775.
3. JA's eagerness to have New York replace the name of the king in writs { 121 } and otherwise cease referring to him is further evidence of his conviction that independence in fact, if not in name, could be achieved by indirect means.
4. The information about Smith and “P. L.” (Philip Livingston) may have come from Hughes' letter of 31 March. The source of JA's feelings about Alexander McDougall, a prominent whig, remains unidentified.

Docno: ADMS-06-04-02-0043

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Warren, James
Date: 1776-04-16

To James Warren

[salute] Dear Sir

I agree with you, in yours of the 30 March, in opinion that five Regiments are too Small a Force to be left with you, considering the Necessity of fortifying the Harbour, and the Danger there is that the Enemy may renew their Designs upon our Province. Am happy to learn that you have Sent a Committee to view the Harbour of Boston and report the best Method of Securing it. When this Report is made I beg it may be transmitted to me. I wish you could transmit to me, a good Plan of the Harbour at the Same Time, for I want to convince this Congress, that that Harbour may be made as strong and impregnable as Gibralter, that they may be induced to contribute Somewhat to the Fortification of it. I have a great opinion of the Efficacy of Fire, both in Rafts And Ships, for the Defence of that Harbour, among the numerous Shoals and Narrows, and the Multitudes of Islands. Will not Row Gallies be very usefull? would not they dodge about among those Islands, and hide themselves at one Time and make themselves dangerous to a ship at another?
Batteries must not be omitted, upon the Heights on the Islands. Nor must We forget to obstruct the Channell. I am a miserable Engineer I believe, but I will not Scruple to expose my own Ignorance in this Usefull science for the Sake of throwing out any broken Hints for refreshing the Memories of others who know more. If I was to write a Letter to my little Tom, I should say, something to him about fortifying Boston Harbour.
Your Letter to the President,1 I have shown to My Friends Mr. Adams and Mr. Gerry. It has puzzled me a little what to do with it. But We are all of opinion upon the whole that it will be most for your Honour to deliver it: and indeed for your Interest, for there will be too much Risque in trusting this office to any one you can employ, at a Distance from you.
You inform me that the Council have appointed [] and [] Judges.2 What, sir, do you think must be my Feelings upon this occasion? I wish you would acquaint me whether Mr. Reed has accepted.3 And what the Court intends to do, about the Commissions and { 122 } Salaries of the Judges. Whether they are to lie at the Mercy, of Coll. Thompson, Coll. Bowers and Mr. Brown of Abington?4
This is a great Constitutional Point, in which, the Lives, Liberties, Estates and Reputations of the People are concerned, as well as the order and Firmness of Government in all its Branches and the Morals of the People besides. I may be suspected of sinister and interested Views in this, but I will give any Man a Pension out of my own private Fortune to take my Place. It is upon Principle, and from this Principle let Major Hawley think of it as he may, I cannot depart.
You will learn the Exploits of our Fleet, before you get this.5 They have behaved as all our Forces behave by sea and Land. Every day convinces us that our People are equal to every Service of War or Peace by sea or Land.
You Say the Sighh's for Independence are universal. You say too, what I can scarcely believe that Moderation and Timidity are at an End. How is this possible? Is Cunning at an End too—and Reserve—and hinting against a Measure that a Man dare not oppose directly or disapprove openly. Is trimming at an End too? and Duplicity? and Hypocricy? If they are I give you Joy sir of a group of Tyrants gone. But I have not yet Faith in all this. You deal in the Marvellous like a Traveller. As to the Sighs, what are they after? Independence? Have we not been independent these twelve Months, wanting Three days?6
Have you Seen the Privateering Resolves? Are not these Independence enough for my beloved Constituents? Have you seen the Resolves for opening our Ports to all Nations? Are these Independence enough? What more would you have? Why Methinks I hear you Say We want to compleat our Form and Plan of Government. Why dont you petition Congress then for Leave to establish such a Form as shall be most conducive to the Happiness of the People? But you Say Why dont the southern Colonies Seize upon the Government? That I cant answer. But by all We can learn, they are about it, every where. We Want a Confederation you will Say. True. This must be obtained. But we are united now they Say, and the Difference between Union and Confederation is only the same with that between an express and an implied Contract.
But We ought to form Alliances. With Whom? What Alliances? You dont mean to exchange British for French Tyranny. No, you dont mean to ask the Protection of French Armies. No. We had better depend upon our own. We only Want, commercial Treaties. Try the experiment without them. But France and England will part the { 123 } Continent between them. Perhaps so, But both will have good Luck to get it.
But you will say what is your own opinion of these Things. I answer I would not tell you all that I have Said, and written and done in this Business for a shilling, because Letters are now a days pimp'd after. Why dont your Honours of the General Court, if you are so unanimous in this, give positive Instructions to your own Delegates, to promote Independency? Dont blame your Delegates, untill they have disobeyed your Instructions in favour of Independency. The S. Colonies Say you are afraid.7
RC (MHi: Warren-Adams Coll.).)
1. Warren's resignation as paymaster of the Continental Army (see Warren to JA, 30 March, above).
2. Jedediah Foster and James Sullivan (same).
3. William Read declined his appointment (JA, Legal Papers, 1:cviii).
4. A reference to the fee bill pushed through on 2 May by reformers (see Warren to JA, 30 March, note 910, above). Samuel Thompson (1735–1798), a warm but presumably eccentric patriot from Brunswick, now in Maine; Jerathmiel Bowers (d. 1795?), a merchant from Swansea, who was thought to be sympathetic to the British; Woodbridge Browne (1714–1783), long-time town clerk of Abington—all three were members of the House of Representatives, where support for the fee bill was strong (Wroth and others, eds., Province in Rebellion, p. 2905, 2834–2835, 2838; George Augustus Wheeler and Henry Warren Wheeler, History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine, Boston, 1878, p. 811–816).
5. On 16 April the congress received news that Como. Esek Hopkins' fleet had arrived at New London on the 8th. Sailing in mid-February from Philadelphia, the fleet had descended on New Providence and captured Nassau, taking as booty 88 cannon, 15 brass mortars, and other stores. This venture was important to the American cause, for it helped to reveal the inadequacies of the British defenses in the western Atlantic and tested American sailors under fire (William M. Fowler Jr., Rebels under Sail: The American Navy during the Revolution, N.Y., 1976, p. 96–99; JCC, 4:285; PCC, No. 78, XI). News of Hopkins' exploits appeared in the Boston Gazette of 15 April.
6. A reference to the Battle of Lexington and Concord, fought on 19 April.
7. The final two sentences of the letter were written in the margin.
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/