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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 5

Docno: ADMS-06-05-02-0120

Author: Adams, John
Author: Hancock, John
Author: Adams, Samuel
Author: Gerry, Elbridge
Author: Lovell, James
Recipient: House of Representatives, Speaker of
Recipient: Warren, James
Date: 1777-05-21

Massachusetts Delegates to the Speaker of the House of Representatives

[salute] Sir

Mr. Gorham and Mr. Russel, Agents of the Town of Charlestown, have presented to Congress a Petition from the unfortunate Inhabitants of that Place, praying for a Compensation for their Losses.1 The Petition was drawn in very decent and handsome Terms, containing a lively Description of the Distresses to which the unhappy Petitioners are reduced, from a State of Ease and Affluence; and the Gentlemen who presented the Petition have urged every Motive which could either show the Justice and Policy of granting the Request, or which could move the Humanity and Charity of those who heard it.
These Endeavors of theirs have been seconded by your Delegates in Congress, but to no other Effect than to obtain a Committee to consider the Petition; whose Report, altho' it expresses much Sympathy with that virtuous People in Affliction, contains a Denyal of their Request, on Account of the present Condition of the Finances of the United States: As, the granting of Compensation, even in Part, at this Time, would set a Precedent for so many and so great Demands, of a similar Nature that the public Treasury would not be able to spare so much from the necessary Calls of the War.2
There was a great Deal of Delicacy shown thro the whole Debate upon this Subject, every one wished it was in the Power of Congress to grant the desired Relief; most acknowledged the Justice of the Demand; but, all agreed that, at present, it would be impolitic to grant it—except the Delegates from the Massachusetts Bay.
Upon a Motion that a small Part of the Losses should be made up, such was the Reluctance to giving a Negative that the previous Question was moved and put; so that a present Determination might not prejudice the Petitioners in any future Application.
{ 199 }
It may be doubtfull whether such Petitions to Congress, from particular Corporations, or Individuals in any State, are proper. Perhaps it would be better that each State should ascertain the Amount of its own Losses, in this Kind, and represent it to Congress; that so, in the End, some Adjustment may be made, between the several States.
That such an Adjustment will, sooner or later, be made is not doubted by Us; because, neither Equity nor sound Policy will admit that different States, contending in the same common Cause, having in View the same common Benefit, should be unequally loaded with Expence, or suffer disproportionate Losses. But, as it is impossible to foresee what Course the War will take, or what State will be the greatest Sufferer, it is probable this Question will be postponed untill the End of the War.
In the mean Time, our Brethren and Neighbours, virtuously struggling together with us for every Thing that is valuable, and reduced from Prosperity to Adversity, by the casual Stroke of War, must not be left to suffer unnoticed. This would be plainly repugnant to the Dictates of Humanity, to the Precepts of Christian Charity, to the Rules of common Justice and the soundest Policy;3 a Chain of Motives which doubtless produced the Grants already made by the General Assembly of our State, for the immediate Subsistence of these Sufferers. But, as the unfortunate Petitioners were deprived of their necessary Tools and Materials for Business, it was remarked, by Gentlemen who pleaded for them in Congress, that an Advance sufficient to replace those Things would be a most essential Relief, and by far the most economical in the end. And it was suggested that such Estates of disaffected Persons as may be sequestered or confiscated, throughout the Limits of our Union, might be a Fund, to insure the Loan of Monies, for compensating patriotic Sufferers. This, however was not formally recommended. Each State is competent to the Business, if judged proper.
Having represented this Affair as it has been conducted in Congress, we wish it to be communicated by you to the Honorable House, for any Improvement which their Wisdom may direct. We have the Honor to be with much Respect sir your most humble Servants.
[signed] John Hancock
[signed] Samuel Adams
[signed] John Adams
[signed] Elbridge Gerry
[signed] James Lovell
{ 200 }
RC (M-Ar:vol. 197:71–74); docketed: “Letter from the Delegates of this State at Congress relative to the suffering of the Inhabts of Charlestown &c May 21. 1777 Mr Pitts Maj Cross Mr Niles July. 1.”; discarded fair copy (MHi:H. H. Edes Papers).
1. The petition was presented on 14 May and referred to a committee composed of Charles Carroll, Thomas Heyward, and Jonathan Bayard Smith (JCC, 7:354). The petition is in PCC, No. 42, II, f. 23.
2. The committee's report further recommended that the congress suggest action by state legislatures to provide relief for those suffering the ravages of the enemy, but this part of the report was rejected (JCC, 7:365–366).
3. From this point on, the discarded fair copy is quite different, apparently because the delegates had heard meanwhile that the state had done something to help relieve the distress of Charlestown residents. Each of the signatures on the discarded fair copy is lined through. Its concluding paragraph is as follows:
“And, though we have had the pleasure of hearing the Delegates from the other States express an honorable full Confidence, built upon the Character of the Massachusetts, that the Petitioners would not be unaided in their Calamity by their own State; yet, we think it not improper for us to make a formal Sollicitation, thro your Honor, to the Court, in Behalf of the worthy the distressed Inhabitants of Charlestown and all others in similar Circumstances within its Jurisdiction, and to request that their Case may be taken into Consideration, and some Assistance and Relief granted. There is scarcely another Instance of a Desolation so compleat as that which these Petitioners have suffered; their Implements and Accommodations for Business as well as their Habitations Furniture and other Property being destroyed. Such Assistance therefore as would enable them to provide necessary Tools and Materials for Business would render them again useful Members of Society: and Sums for this Purpose might be more profitably employed for the Commonwealth than if they were in the public Treasury, or more unequally diffused among the people of the State.”

Docno: ADMS-06-05-02-0121

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Greene, Nathanael
Date: 1777-05-24

To Nathanael Greene

During the civil Wars in Rome, in the Time of Sylla,1 and young Marius, after the Death of the Elder Marius, Sylla commanded one Army against Mithridates King of Pontus, and Fimbria another. Both were in Arms against the Same foreign Enemy: but Sylla and Fimbria were equally Enemies to each other, commanding different Armies in the Service of different Parties at Rome, which were disputing which had the legal Authority. Sylla patched up a Peace with Mithridates and marched against Fimbria. The two Generals fortified their Camps. The Soldiers, of both Armies, of the Same Nation, the Same City, the Same Language, Religion, Manners, Tastes and Habits instead of Skirmishing, with each other, when they met upon Parties for Forage, Saluted one another, with great Cordiality. Some from Fimbria's Camp, came Secretly into that of Sylla, to see their Friends. In these clandestine Visits, Syllas soldiers, instructed by their General, and furnished with Money, won over those of { 201 } Fimbria, by Secret Bribes. These returning, corrupted others: many came off, in the Night. The Desertion became General. Shame and Punishment lost their Influence, and at last whole Companies, carried off their Colours to Sylla.
Fimbria finding himself, betrayed, Solicited an Interview with Sylla but being denyed it, returned to Pergamus, entered the Temple of Esculapius, and ran himself through with his sword.2
After this Sylla, began his March, from Asia towards Italy. The two Consulls, Cinna and Carbo, hearing of his design ordered young Marius, and other Leaders of their Party, to raise Forces, and recruit the Legions, required the Assistance of the Sammites, and formed different Armies to oppose him. At the next Election Scipio and Norbanus, were chosen Consulls in the Room of Cinna and Carbo.
Sylla landed at Brundusium, and began his March, and was joined by Metellus pius, a Proconsul, as Sylla was, and by Pompey. Sylla, who had brought back, with him from Asia, not more than Thirty Thousand Men, was much pleased with these Allies; because his Enemies had 450 Ensigns of Foot, in Several Bodies, besides their Cavalry, the whole commanded by 15 General Officers, at the Head of whom were Scipio and Norbanus, who as Consulls had the chief Command.
Sylla, as great a Master of Intrigue, as of the military Art, Surrounded by So many different Enemies, joined Craft to his Valour. Scipio, was encamped near him. To him, Sylla Sends Deputies, to make overtures, who artfully represented, that he was grieved at the Calamities, to which the Commonwealth must be exposed, by a civil War, whoever Should prevail, and that he only desired to lay down his Arms with Honour.
Scipio, Sincerely desiring Peace, and misled by Such plausible Proposals, desired Time to communicate them to Norbanus, and agreed to a Truce between the two Camps in the mean Time. Syllas Soldiers, by favour of this Truce, insinuated themselves into Scipios Camp, under Pretence of visiting their Friends, and having before in Fimbrias Affair learned the Artifice, brought over many to their Party with Bribes. Carbo Said upon this, Said, that in Sylla, he had to encounter both a Fox and a Lion; but that the Lion gave him, much less Trouble than the Fox.
Sylla, Sure of a great Number of Scipios Soldiers, presented himself before his Camp. The soldiers upon Guard, instead of charging him, Saluted him as their General, and let him into { 202 } their Camp. He made himself master of the whole, so suddenly, that Scipio knew nothing of it, untill he and his son were arrested in his own Tent.
The next Year Carbo, and young Marius, 26 years old, were chosen Consulls. The Armies took the Field, as early as the Season would permit, in the Spring. Marius at the Head of 85 Cohorts, offered Battle to Sylla, who having a secret Intelligence in his Enemys Camp, accepted the Challenge. Both Armies fought with great Bravery, the Soldiers of each Side resolving to vanquish or to die. Fortune had not yet declared for either, when Some Squadrons of Marius's Army, and five Cohorts of his left Wing, that had been bribed with Silla's Money, caused a Confusion by their unseasonable Flight, as they had agreed with Sylla to do. Their Example drew many others after them: a general Terror Struck the rest of the Army, and it was at last more a Rout than a Battle.
Howe is no Sylla, but he is manifestly aping two of Syllas Tricks, holding out Proposals of Truces and bribing Soldiers to desert. But you See, he is endeavouring to make a Fimbria of somebody. Many of the Troops from Pensilvania Maryland and Virginia, are Natives of England, Scotland and Ireland who have adventured over here and been sold for their Passages, or transported as Convicts and have lived and served here as Coachmen, Hostlers, and other servants.
They have no Tie to this Country. They have no Principles, They love Howe as well as Washington, and his Army better than ours. These Things give Howe great Opportunities to corrupt and seduce them.
LbC (Adams Papers); notation: “sent.”
1. The long account of Sulla's craftiness is paraphrased with occasional verbatim phrases from Abbé René Aubert de Vertot, The History of the Revolutions that Happened in the Government of the Roman Republic, transl. Ozell, 2 vols., 4th edn., London, 1732, 2:167–173, 175.
2. In the MS, JA at this point drew the lesson by pointing to Howe's behavior; then he went on to tell of Sulla's deceiving Scipio, indicating by a mark that this later material should precede the reference to Howe. Obviously JA wanted to reinforce his point.
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, 2017.