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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 4

Docno: ADMS-06-04-02-0022

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Warren, James
Date: 1776-03-21

To James Warren

[salute] My dear sir

I have not received more than one Letter from you since I left you and that was a very Short one.1 I have written as often as I could.
If you get a sight of the New York and Philadelphia News Papers you will see what a mighty Question is before the Tribunal of the Public.2 The Decision is yet in suspence, but a Guess may be formed what it will be.
The Day before Yesterday the Committee of Observation of this City a virtuous brave and patriotic Body of Men 100 in Number voted with only one dissentient Voice, to petition their assembly now sitting, to repeal their deadly Instructions to their Delegates in Congress.3 This assembly, a few days ago upon a Petition from the Same Committee and some other Bodies, has voted seventeen additional { 57 } Members, in order to make the Representation of this Province more adequate.4
You will soon see, a sett of Resolutions, which will please you. The Continental Vessells the Provincial Vessells, and Letters of Marque and Privateers will be let loose upon British Trade.
I hope and believe it will not be long before, Trade will be open. Foreign Nations, all the World I hope will be invited to come here, and our People permitted to go to all the World except the Dominion of him, who is adjudged to be Nerone Neronior.5 I think the Utmost Encouragement must be given to Trade—and therefore We must lay no Duties at present upon Exports and Imports—nor attempt to confine our Trade to our own Bottoms, or our own seamen. This for the present.
We have so much Work to do, by sea and Land, and so few Hands to do it, that We shall not be under any Necessity nor will it be good Policy, I think, to attempt such Restrictions as yet.
The Act of Assembly here for seventeen additional Representatives, will give a finishing Blow to the Quaker Interest in this City—at least to its ascendency. It will strip it of all that unjust and unequal Power, which it formerly had over the Ballance of the Province. The Tories here, attribute this Maneuvre to your Friends to whom you are sometimes so partial. If the Charge is true the Posterity of Pensylvania will have cause to bless your Friends from Generation to Generation. You cant think how much I am flattered with it. As I have the Pleasure of a particular Acquaintance, and frequent friendly Conversations with Several Gentlemen of this city belonging to the Committee of Observations, I am inclined to hope, that a small Portion of this Merit, is due to me. But I would not be too vain and proud of it.
RC (MHi: Warren-Adams Coll.); docketed: “Mr J Adams Lettr Mar: 21. 1776.”
1. That of 31 Jan. (above).
2. In a broad sense the “mighty Question” was independence but more particularly it concerned the American response to the Prohibitory Act of 22 Dec. 1775, news of which began to appear in New York and Philadelphia papers in late February. A printed copy of the act was read to the congress on 27 Feb., although the Journal of that day makes no mention of it (Richard Smith's Diary, 27 Feb., in Burnett, ed., Letters of Members, 1:366). Also arousing interest were the reception, or lack of it, that should be given to the commissioners coming from England and the efficacy of the doctrines of Common Sense.
The Prohibitory Act, which in effect declared Americans outlaws, drove some moderates like Robert Alexander into the extremists' camp; and JA saw the act as an “Act of Independency” (English Historical Documents, vol. 9, American Colonial Documents to 1776, ed. Merrill Jensen, N.Y., 1955, p. 853; JA to Horatio Gates, 23 March, below). Nonetheless, the forces opposed to independence still retained influence, and events moved slowly—too slowly for JA. { 58 } It took the congress three weeks to make its response. The Declaration on Armed Vessels authorized Americans to outfit ships and to seize as prizes any vessels owned by inhabitants of Great Britain, but its preamble still did not directly blame the King for acts Americans viewed as grievances (JCC, 4:229–232, esp. the note at p. 230–231; Gipson, Empire before the Revolution, 12:358; Merrill Jensen, The Founding of a Nation, N.Y., 1968, p. 659–660).
A number of newspaper essayists kept the issues before the public. In Philadelphia the debate between James Cannon as the radical “Cassandra” and Provost William Smith as the conservative “Cato” was joined by Thomas Paine as “The Forester.” (For the essays that appeared in March and April in the Pennsylvania Evening-Post, Pennsylvania Packet, and Pennsylvania Gazette, as well as in the papers of other towns such as New York and Boston, see Force, Archives, 4th ser., 5:passim; JA identified the three writers in a letter to AA of 28 April, Adams Family Correspondence, 1:400.) Although concerned in part with who would rule in Pennsylvania, the Assembly or a convention, the three men covered the whole range of issues facing Americans. “Cassandra,” who sharply opposed receiving the commissioners from England, and “The Forester” could hardly fail to affect public opinion in the highly charged atmosphere produced by the arrival of the Prohibitory Act, which, as JA pointed out more than once, gave Americans little choice about the need for independence.
3. For these instructions, see Samuel Chase to JA, 25 Nov. 1775 (above).
4. This bill was passed by the Assembly on 14 March, signed by the governor on 23 March, and printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette on 27 March. The seventeen additional members were to be apportioned among Philadelphia and eight frontier counties, where whig feeling ran high (Penna. Archives, 8th ser., 8:7446, 7456).
5. More Neronian than Nero.

Docno: ADMS-06-04-02-0023

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Gates, Horatio
Date: 1776-03-23

To Horatio Gates

[salute] Dear Sir

I had the Pleasure, a few days ago, of your Favour of 8th. Instant, for which I esteem myself under great obligations to you.
We rejoice here at the Prospect there is of your driving the Enemy from Boston. If you should Succeed in this I hope effectual Measures will be taken to fortify the Harbour, that the Navy may never enter it again. I think the Narrows may be So obstructed that large Ships will not be able to pass, and the Channell between Long Island and the Moon may be commanded by Batteries upon each of those Islands in such a manner that Boston may be Safe from Men of War. I hope my Countrymen will hesitate at no Expence to attain this End, if in order to accomplish it, they should be obliged to remove the rocky Mountains of my Town of Braintree into the Harbour.1
But I cannot yet clearly Satisfy myself that they will leave Boston. It will be a greater Disgrace to the British Arms than to be taken Prisoners in the Town in a Body. If they should abandon the Persons and Property of their dear Friends the Tories in Boston, will any other Tories in any other Part of the Continent ever trust to their Protection? It will be considered as such Impotence, or such Infidelity that { 59 } I am inclined to think, few Professors of Toryism would ever afterwards be found any where.
I agree with you, that in Politicks the Middle Way is none at all. If We finally fail in this great and glorious Contest, it will be by bewildering ourselves in groping after this middle Way. We have hither to conducted half a War, acted upon the Line of Defence &c. &c. But you will See by tomorrows Paper, that for the future We are likely to wage three Quarters of a War.2 The Continental ships of War, and Provincial ships of War, and Letters of Mark and Privateers are permitted to cruise upon British Property, whenever found on the ocean. This is not Independency you know, nothing like it.
If a Post or two more, should bring you unlimited Latitude of Trade to all Nations, and a polite Invitation to all Nations to trade with you, take care that you dont call it, or think it Independency. No such Matter. Independency is an Hobgoblin, of So frightful Mein, that it would throw a delicate Person into Fits to look it in the Face.
I know not whether you have seen the Act of Parliament call'd the restraining Act, or prohibitory Act, or piratical Act, or plundering Act, or Act of Independency, for by all these Titles is it call'd. I think the most apposite is the Act of Independency, for King Lords and Commons have united in Sundering this Country and that I think forever. It is a compleat Dismemberment of the British Empire. It throws thirteen Colonies out of the Royal Protection, levels all Distinctions and makes us independent in Spight of all our supplications and Entreaties.
It may be fortunate that the Act of Independency should come from the British Parliament, rather than the American Congress: But it is very odd that Americans should hesitate at accepting Such a Gift from them.
However, my dear Friend Gates, all our Misfortunes arise from a Single Source, the Reluctance of the Southern Colonies to Republican Government. The success of this War depends upon a Skillfull Steerage of the political Vessell. The Difficulty lies in forming Constitutions for particular Colonies, and a Continental Constitution for the whole, each Colony should establish its own Government, and then a League should be formed, between them all.3 This can be done only on popular Principles and Maxims which are so abhorrent to the Inclinations of the Barons of the south, and the Proprietary Interests in the Middle Colonies, as well as to that Avarice of Land, which has made upon this Continent so many Votaries to Mammon that I Sometimes dread the Consequences. However Patience, Fortitude { 60 } and Perseverance, with the Help of Time will get us over these obstructions.
Thirteen Colonies under such a Form of Government as that of Connecticutt, or one, not quite so popular leagued together in a faithfull Confederacy might bid Defyance to all the Potentates of Europe if united against them.
Pray continue to make me happy with your Favours, accept of my most cordial Wishes for your safety, Happiness and Honour, make my most respectfull Compliments to the General and the Ladies, and the whole Family, and believe me to be with great Respect your affectionate Friend and servant
[signed] John Adams
RC (NHi: Gates Papers).
1. JA's membership on a congressional committee to consider the fortifications of one or more American ports caused him several times to exhort those in Massachusetts to greater efforts and to propose plans for the effective fortification of Boston Harbor (JA's Service in the Congress, 9 Feb. – 27 Aug., No. IX, above).
2. The Declaration on Armed Vessels; see JA to James Warren, 21 March, note 2 (above).
3. Perhaps JA's comment here is an indication that he was working on what came to be called Thoughts on Government (ante 27 March–April, below).
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, 2018.