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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 10

Docno: ADMS-06-10-02-0067

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: President of Congress
Recipient: Huntington, Samuel
Date: 1780-09-05

To the President of Congress, No. 6


[salute] Sir

As Eloquence is cultivated with more Care in free Republicks, than in other Governments, it has been found by constant Experience that such Republicks have produced the greatest purity, copiousness and perfection of Language. It is not to be disputed that the Form of Government has an Influence upon Language, and Language in its Turn influences not only the Form of Government but the Temper, the Sentiments and Manners of the People. The admirable Models, which have been transmitted through the World, and continued down to these days, so as to form an essential part of the Education of Mankind from Generation to Generation, by those two ancient Towns, Athens and Rome, would be Sufficient without any other Argument, to shew the United States the Importance to their Liberty, Prosperity and Glory of an early Attention to the subject of Eloquence and Language.
Most of the Nations of Europe, have thought it necessary to establish by public Authority, Institutions for fixing and improving their proper Languages. I need not mention the Academies in France, Spain, and Italy, their learned labours, nor their great Success. But { 128 } it is very remarkable that although many learned and ingenious Men in England have, from Age to Age, projected Similar Institutions for correcting and improving the English Tongue, yet the Government have never found time to interpose in any manner so that to this day, there is no Grammar nor Dictionary, extant of the English Language, which has the least public Authority, and it is only very lately that a tolerable Dictionary has been published even by a private Person,1 and there is not yet a passable Grammar enterprised by any Individual.
The Honour of forming the first public Institution for refining, correcting, improving and ascertaining the English Language, I hope is reserved for Congress. They have every Motive that can possibly influence a public Assembly to undertake it.2
It will have an happy effect upon the Union of the States, to have a public Standard for all persons in every part of the Continent to appeal to, both for the Signification and Pronunciation of the Language.
The Constitutions of all the States in the Union are so democratical that Eloquence will become the Instrument for recommending Men to their fellow Citizens, and the principal means of Advancement, through the various Ranks and Offices of Society.
In the last Century, Latin was the universal Language of Europe. Correspondence among the learned, and indeed among Merchants and Men of Business and the Conversation of Strangers and Travellers, was generally carried on in that dead Language. In the present Century, Latin has been generally laid aside, and French has been substituted in its place; but has not yet become universally established, and according to present Appearances, it is not probable that it will. English is destined to be in the next and succeeding Centuries, more generally the Language of the World, than Latin was in the last, or French is in the present Age. The Reason of this is obvious, because the increasing Population in America, and their universal Connection and Correspondence with all Nations will, aided by the Influence of England in the World, whether great or small, force their Language into general Use, in spight of all the Obstacles that may be thrown in their Way, if any such there should be.
It is not necessary to enlarge further to shew the Motives which the People of America have to turn their thoughts early to this Subject: they will naturally occur to Congress in a much greater detail, than I have time to hint at.
I would therefore submit to the Consideration of Congress, the { 129 } Expediency and Policy of erecting by their Authority, a Society under the Name of “The American Academy, for refining, improving and ascertaining the English Language.”
The Authority of Congress is necessary to give such a Society Reputation, Influence and Authority, through all the States and with other Nations.
The number of Members of which it shall consist: the manner of appointing those Members: whether each State shall have a certain Number of Members, and the Power of appointing them: or whether Congress shall appoint them: whether after the first Appointment the Society itself shall fill up vacancies—these and other Questions will easily be determined by Congress.
It will be necessary, that the Society should have a Library consisting of a compleat Collection of all Writing, concerning Languages of every sort ancient and modern. They must have some Officers, and some other Expences, which will make some small Funds indispensibly necessary. Upon a Recommendation from Congress, there is no doubt but the Legislature of every State in the Confederation, would readily pass a Law making such a Society a Body Politick, enable it to sue and be sued and to hold an Estate real or personal of a limited Value in that State.
I have the Honour to submit these Hints to the Consideration of Congress,3 and to be, with the greatest Respect, Sir, your most obedient & most humble servt.
Dupl in John Thaxter's hand (PCC, No. 84, II, f. 253–256); docketed: “No. 106 John Adams Sept 5. 1780 Recd. Jany 29. 1781 Expediency of establishing an Academy under the Authority of Congress for improving perfecting & fixing the Language.” LbC (Adams Papers); notation: “No. 6.”
1. Probably a reference to Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language, London, 1755.
2. The impetus for this proposal came from Hendrik Calkoen at dinner on 28 August. According to JA's Diary, Calkoen observed “that English would be the general Language in the next Century, and that America would make it so. Latin was in the last Century, French has been so in this, and English will be so, the next.” JA followed this account with the statement that “it will be the Honour of Congress to form an Accademy for improving and ascertaining the English Language” (Diary and Autobiography, 2:446). Congress received this letter with a number of others on 29 Jan. 1781, but there is no evidence that it discussed or took any action regarding the suggestion contained therein (JCC, 19:96).
The establishment of such an institution was in line with JA's intent when he drafted the language that became Chap. VI, Sect. II of The Report of a Constitution or Form of Government for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Boston, 1779 (vol. 8:260, 270–271), and was the basis for creating the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Indeed, JA had just received news of the establishment of the Academy and the revival of the American Philosophical Society and his enthusiasm for those events is evident in letters to various correspondents at this time, especially that of 5 Sept. to C. W. F. Dumas (above). When JA sent this letter to the Boston Patriot for publication in 1809, however, he prefaced it by saying that “though the idle sport of imagination { 130 } in my next letter was as little to my purpose then, as it is now, yet whimsical as it is, I will not suppress it” (JA, Corr. in the Boston Patriot, p. 160). For further comments on JA's proposal, see his letters of 23 Sept. to Edmund Jenings and 24 Sept. to the president of Congress (both below).
3. At this point in the letterbook copy is the canceled passage: “and to hope that there is nothing in them that can give offense to them or their Allies.”

Docno: ADMS-06-10-02-0068

Author: Lovell, James
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1780-09-07

From James Lovell

[salute] Dear Sir

Your many Letters to Congress up to June 2d.1 have been read with Pleasure and I have received two from you—March 16. 29 received July 20th. Mr. Lee is not yet in Philada. perhaps he may have another for me. You will not learn any agreable Things respecting your native Country. However, the defeat of Genl. Gates on the 16. of Augst. was not so bad as we at first had reason to think. Perhaps Baron de Kalb is mortally wounded; the others who were said to be killed are safe. I mean Genls. Guest, Smallwood, Stephens, Rutherford, Butler and Gregory so is Col. Gunby. The Militia all scandalously fled at the first fire though two deep against a single sparse file of the Enemy; all except one Regt. of Nth. Carols. commanded, on the occasion by a continental Col. Dixon. These with the Regulars bravely stood and pushed Bayonets to the last. When overpowered by Numbers they retreated well and being pursued by Horse repulsed and compleatly vanquished them. A Wounded officer is confident that only two of the Party escaped. Col. Sumpter who had been successful in taking a Party of the Enemy a day or two before with 40 Amunition Waggons was overtaken by Horse and lost all again with some Muskets into the Bargain.2 Govr. Nash and Govr. Jefferson write most agreably as to the Spirit with which this Defeat is repairing.3 Ten such are nothing if—if there is enough of Virtue to support a paper Currency, while the new money is as silver and Gold eastward it is far otherwise here. I cannot attribute the Conduct of these People to a settled Enmity to our Cause but to a damnably debauched Temper, too much riveted, which was generated by a depreciating Medium, if solid Coin only was in this Quarter it would require much time to correct the most exorbitant Disposition of the People who chop and change.
No decision is yet made upon those Parts of your Letters which demand one. I have before told you that the Disposition here is the same as you discover upon all the Points but a definite order cannot be passed to govern you under all Contingencies considering how opposite to one another they may prove in a short Space of Time.4
{ 131 }
I have not lately heard from Mrs. Adams. Doctr. Holten writes me Aug. 21 that he had not seen Mr. Lee who was gone to visit Mrs. A at Braintre.5 I have sent her Bills of Exch: on Doctr. F at 60 days Sight for 500 Dollars 501 1/4 having been decided as the Balance of the Account.6
I have told you that R I charges in a Lump 1600 Louis per Annum Expences and that his Balance was paid. He said he did not go to Vouchers of Barbers and Taylors and Bakers Bills in his private and therefore not in his public Concerns.7 Which of the Precedents already set the other Gentlemen will follow may be easily guessed.
My own family was in a distressed Condition Wife only Daughter and oldest Son in Bed the whole family a Sacrifice to Extortion and much involved. I have sold myself for 14 years, I imagine, by staying here almost 4, even if the same generous Allowance should be made to me as was to you for Service. Being here and master of Books files and Dates I will not seriously think of quitting till A. L. is as far gone as R. I.8
Give my Love to all your Connexions. I suppose Gerry will write often by way of Gardoqui from Marblehead or Boston. The Army is to have pay made good. The Genl. Officers are to have a 7 years provision proportionate to their pay and to receive Lands also proportionate. Widows and Children to have the Benifit of late Husbands and Fathers.9 In short we had once an Army fighting for Republicans but they say they are now fighting the battles of Asiatic speculators and must be so considered.
New York having ceeded Western Claims it is recommand to all who have them to do likewise and our Sister Maria is coaxed to finish the Ratification of the Confederation. If the Accomplishment of that as it now stands will give you Pleasure I think you may count upon it. She discovered that she wished to be coaxed.10
A Tax of 3 Millions hard is called for to be compleated by the last of Decr.11
We are at a Stand if we have not a Supply12 of money. Before we get what we ask for in Estimates the People have cursed it down to a quarter of its Value. We Estimate all in hard now.
[signed] J L
RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “ansd. 7. decr. 1780”; in CFA's hand: “Septr. 7th.”
1. JA's two letters dated 2 June (both calendared, above) were the 77th and 78th written to the president of Congress since JA's arrival at El Ferrol, Spain, in Dec. 1779. They were received by Congress on 5 Sept. (JCC, 17:803).
2. Tactically the Battle of Camden was a catastrophic defeat for Horatio Gates and the army he commanded. Strategically, however, it was of little consequence. The Americans could replace the troops lost in the battle with relative ease, but Gen. Cornwallis, the British { 132 } | view commander, could not. Camden, therefore, is less significant as an American defeat than it is as the beginning of the slow attrition of Cornwallis' army that ended only at Yorktown in 1781 (Mackesy, War for America, p. 343–344).
Of the ten men mentioned by Lovell, only the first three were Continental Army officers. Maj. Gen. Johann Kalb was killed, while Brig. Gens. Mordecai Gist and William Smallwood were commended by Congress on 14 Oct. for their actions during the battle. Of the remaining seven, Brig. Gen. Edward Stevens was from the Virginia militia and Brig. Gen. Thomas Sumter was from the South Carolina militia, while Brig. Gens. Griffith Rutherford (wounded and captured), John Butler, and Isaac Gregory, Col. John Gunby, and Lt. Col. Henry Dixon were of the North Carolina militia (Heitman, Register Continental Army, p. 192, 249, 500–501, 519, 528, 478, 137, 262, 198; JCC, 18:924; N.C., State Records of North Carolina, 30 vols., Raleigh and elsewhere, 1886–1914, 19:995; 15:v–vi, 168).
3. The letters from Govs. Abner Nash of North Carolina and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia were dated 23 Aug. and 3 Sept. respectively and were received on 7 Sept. (PCC, No. 72, f. 97–100; Jefferson, Papers, 3:589–590; JCC, 18:809).
4. It is uncertain to which of JA's letters to the president of Congress Lovell is referring, but likely candidates are those of 20 Feb. (No. 7, vol. 8:345–346) and 23 and 24 March (Nos. 23 and 24, above). The first concerned the announcement of his mission and his relations with Vergennes, while the other two requested instructions on the proper response to an offer of a truce and the treatment of loyalists in a peace treaty. No letter from Lovell containing statements resembling those in this and the second paragraph below has been found.
5. Arthur Lee visited AA on 20 Aug., and again on 6 Sept. (Isaac Smith to JA, 21 Aug., AA to JA, 3 Sept., Adams Family Correspondence, 3:396–397, 405–407; from Arthur Lee, 10 Sept., below).
6. Lovell sent the bills of exchange to AA with his letter of 3 Sept. (Adams Family Correspondence, 3:409). Lovell states the figure in dollars, but the sum voted by Congress on 5 Aug. was 2,511.12.6 (JCC, 17:701; but see also Lovell's letter of 4 May, above).
7. The figure given by Lovell is equal to 38,400, but the amount voted by Congress on 11 Aug. was 52,113, which is equal to approximately 2,171 louis d'ors (JCC, 17:722). Lovell's source for the statement attributed to Ralph Izard has not been found.
8. Lovell is presumably referring to Arthur Lee and Ralph Izard, but his meaning is unclear.
9. On 24 Aug. Congress resolved to confirm its resolution of 15 May 1778, which extended seven years of half pay to all officers who served to the end of the war and extended the provision to include the widows and orphans of officers killed (same, 17:771–773). The resolution as adopted made no mention of providing land as compensation.
10. On 13 Feb., New York had ceded its western land claims to Congress. This partially fulfilled Maryland's condition for acceding to the Articles of Confederation, namely that all states claiming western lands cede those claims to Congress. The next major obstacle to Maryland's accession was the claims of Virginia. On 6 Sept. the committee to which New York's cession, Maryland's conditions, and Virginia's protest against the assertion of congressional control over the western lands had been submitted, presented its report. The committee congratulated New York on its action, urged Maryland to approve the Articles, and implored the other states to follow New York's example. Finally, on 2 Jan. 1781, Virginia ceded her claims to lands north of the Ohio River and one month later Maryland acceded to the Articles (Thomas Perkins Abernethy, Western Lands and the American Revolution, N.Y., 1959, p. 242–245; JCC, 17:806–808).
11. For this tax, approved on 26 Aug., see JCC, 17:783.
12. The remainder of this letter, including the signature, was written in the left 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, 2018.