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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 9

Docno: ADMS-06-09-02-0116

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Jenings, Edmund
Date: 1780-04-20

To Edmund Jenings

[salute] Secret and confidential
My dear Sir

There is a little Pamphlet, which was written by me in the Year 1765, and published at Boston, afterwards reprinted in England, under the Title of “a Dissertation on the Cannon and the feudal Law.” It is a kind of philosophical and political Rhapsody, written when I was not very old, and when I had certainly Seen very little of this World, and knew but little of Men or Things. It was ascribed, in the time of it to Jeremiah Gridley Esq, the greatest Lawyer, that ever was in Boston, who was my Patron in my Youth. He died before the Pamphlet came over under his name or he would have publickly disclaimed it, because he was on the other side in Politicks. It was printed, or bound up in a small Pamphlet under the Tittle of the true sentiments of America, with Letters from the House of Representatives of Mass Bay, to several great Men. I want to beg the favour of you to write to England to obtain it for me, and to get it printed in the Remembrancer.2 They may put my name to it, if they please. It may be thought vanity in me, perhaps to say it, but it had an Effect upon the People of New England beyond all Imagination. It appeared to them to point out the means by which human nature had been degraded in Europe, to shew them that their Ancestors had wisely and virtuously endeavored, to Screen them from those means, and perhaps no one thing that ever was written or done contributed more than that Publication, to unite the People of New England, as one Man in the Resolution of opposing force, to the stamp Act, and of having recourse to Arms rather than submit to it. I have Reasons of a public nature to wish to see this published at this time,3 which perhaps sometime or other you may know. I shall, take occasion to let you further, into some particulars of my History, which is altogether unknown I find in Europe. You will never find me any, very great Matter, but you will find, that I have been twenty Years, in the midst of Politicks and through the whole of it, invariably constant to the same Principles and the same system, through all Opprobriums, Obloquies, Dangers, Terrors, Losses, and Allurements.
I ask your Pardon sir, for giving you so much trouble, but I take Advantage of your friendly Professions, and I assure you confidence { 222 } is a Plant of slow growth in my Bosom, Altho it was very far otherwise twenty years ago. I have not yet found in Europe another Person, to whom I can unbosom myself.
I shall put you to expence, perhaps for Postage or otherwise, which I shall be glad to repay.
RC (Adams Papers); filmed at 20 April 1778, Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 349.
1. This letter was long thought to be the first from JA to Jenings (JA, Diary and Autobiography, 2:355–356). It is now apparent that it was written in 1780, since Jenings' letter of 24 April (below) is clearly a reply.
2. For the text of “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law,” together with an account of its origin, importance, and various printings, including that referred to here by JA: The True Sentiments of America, London, 1768, see vol. 1:103–128. Despite JA's request in this letter, the “Dissertation” was not reprinted until 1782 and then as part of A Collection of State-Papers, Relative to the First Acknowledgment of the Sovereignty of the United States of America, and the Reception of Their Minister . . . by . . . the states General of the United Netherlands. To which is Prefixed the Political Character of John Adams, Ambassador . . . to . . . the Netherlands. By an American. Likewise an Essay on Canon and Feudal Law, by J. Adams, Esq., London, 1782. See also Jenings' reply of 24 April, and JA's letter to Jenings of the 29th (both below).
3. JA's motivation for having the “Dissertation” reprinted was almost certainly his reading of Thomas Pownall's pamphlet, A Memorial, Most Humbly Addressed to the Sovereigns of Europe, London, 1780. For the linkage perceived by JA between the “Dissertation” and Pownall's Memorial, see JA's Translation of Pownall's Memorial, 19 April – [ca. 14 July], Editorial Note and No. I., note 13 (above).

Docno: ADMS-06-09-02-0117

Author: Wilson, James
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1780-04-20

From James Wilson


[salute] Sir

Your Inclination to oblige will excuse the Trouble, which I intend to give you. I was nominated by Mr. Gerard to be Advocate General for the French Nation in the United States, subject to the Ratification of the King.1 If his Majesty shall be pleased to honour me with his Commission, I have requested that two hundred Pounds Sterling may be appropriated for the Purchase of Books; and have taken the Liberty to mention you to Mr. Gerard, as the Gentleman, who would perform the good Office of purchasing them for me. I aim at a good Collection of Treaties, and of Books on the Laws of Nations, the Laws maritime, and the Laws of France respecting Navigation and commercial Affairs. I wish to have also some of the best Books on the History and Policy of the Kingdom. You can form the Catalogue much better than I can do. Mr. Deane will be good enough to take the Care of sending them to America.
{ 223 }
I have been favoured, by Mr. Marbois, with the Perusal of the Plan of a Constitution for Massachussets, reported by a Committee of the Convention of that Commonwealth. From the masterly Strokes of profound Jurisprudence, and of refined and enlarged Policy, which distinguish that Performance, I can easily trace it to its Author. The Constitution of every State in the Union is interesting to the Citizens of every other State; as each spreads, in some Degree, its Influence over all. For this Reason, I feel a very sensible Pleasure, when I see a Prospect that happy Governments will be established around me. This Sentiment has, in no Instance, been more highly gratified, than by the Plan reported for the Government of Massachussets.
I have the Honour to be, with the greatest Esteem, Sir Your most obedient and most humble Servant
[signed] James Wilson
Dupl (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mr. Wilson. 20 April. Duplicate. recd. 21st. of June. and. 24. June 1780;” addressed: “His Excellency John Adams Esquire Hotel de Valois Rue de Richlieu.” The intended recipient's copy, which JA received later, is also in the Adams Papers.
1. In anticipation of profiting from a greatly expanded Franco-American trade, Wilson had proposed his appointment as “advocate-general” to John Holker, French Consul-general at Philadelphia, in Dec. 1779. Although Holker and Silas Deane, after Deane's return to France in July as Wilson's agent in various matters, strongly supported his candidacy, the French court balked at Wilson's fee and did not grant him the desired appointment (Charles Page Smith, James Wilson: Founding Father, 1742–1798, Chapel Hill, 1956, p. 140–142).
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.