Papers of John Adams, volume 4

From Richard Lee

From Samuel Cooper

195 To James Warren, 20 May 1776 JA Warren, James


To James Warren, 20 May 1776 Adams, John Warren, James
To James Warren
My dear Sir May 20. 1776

Every Post and every Day rolls in upon Us Independance like a Torrent. The Delegates from Georgia, made their Appearance, this Day in Congress, with unlimited Powers,1 and these Gentlemen themselves are very firm. South Carolina, has erected her Government and given her Delegates ample Powers,2 and they are firm enough. North Carolina, have given theirs full Powers after repealing an Instruction given last August against Confederation and Independence.3 This Days Post, has brought a Multitude of Letters from Virginia, all of which breath the same Spirit. They agree they shall institute a Government. All are agreed in this they say.

Here are four Colonies to the Southward who are perfectly agreed now with the four to the Northward. Five in the Middle are not yet quite So ripe. But they are very near it. I expect that New York, will come to a fresh Election of Delegates in the Course of this Week, give them full Powers, and determine to institute a Government.4

The Convention of New Jersey, is about Meeting, and will assume a Government.

Pensylvania, Assembly meets this Day, and it is said will repeal their Instruction to their Delegates5 which has made them So excedingly obnoxious to America in General, and their own Constituents in particular.

We have had an entertaining Maneuvre, this Morning in the State House Yard. The Committee of the City, Summoned a Meeting at Nine O Clock in the State House Yard, to consider of the Resolve of Congress of the fifteenth instant. The Weather was very rainy, and the Meeting was in the Open Air, like the Comitia of the Romans. A Stage was erected, extempore for the Moderator, and the few orators to ascend. Coll. Roberdeau was the Moderator. Coll. McKean, Coll. Cadwallader and Coll. Matlack the principal orators.6 It was The very first Town Meeting, I ever saw in Philadelphia and it was conducted with great order, Decency and Propriety.

The first Step taken was this: the Moderator produced the Resolve of Congress of the 15th instant, and read it with a loud Stentorean Voice that might be heard a Quarter of a Mile “Whereas his Britannic Majesty &c.” As soon as this was read, the Multitude, Several Thousands, some say, tho So wett rended the Welkin with three Cheers, Hatts flying as usual &c.

Then a Number of Resolutions were produced and moved and de-196termined, with great Unanimity. Those Resolutions I will send you, as Soon as published.7 The Drift of the whole was that the Assembly was not a Body properly constituted, authorized and qualified to carry the Resolve for instituting a new Government into Execution and therefore that a Convention should be call'd—and at last they voted to support and defend the Measure of a Convention, at the Utmost Hazard, and at all Events &c.

The Delaware Government, generally is of the Same Opinion with the best Americans, very orthodox in their Faith and very exemplary in their Practice. Maryland remains to be mentioned. That is so excentric a Colony—some times so hot—sometimes so cold—now so high then so low—that I know not what to say about it or to expect from it.8 I have often wished it could exchange Places with Hallifax. When they get agoing I expect some wild extravagant Flight or other from it. To be sure they must go beyond every body else, when they begin to go.

Thus I have rambled through the Continent, and you will perceive by this state of it, that We cant be very remote from the most decisive Measures and the most critical Events.

What do you think must be my sensations, when I see the Congress now daily passing Resolutions, which I most earnestly pressed for against Wind and Tide, Twelve Months ago?—and which I have not omitted to labour for, a Month together from that Time to this? What do you think must be my Reflections when I see, the Farmer himself, now confessing the Falsehood of all his Prophecies, and the Truth of mine, and confessing himself, now for instituting Governments, forming a Continental Constitution, making Alliances, with foreigners, opening Ports and all that and confessing that the Defence of the Colonies—and Preparations for defence have been neglected, in Consequence of fond delusive hopes and deceitfull Expectations?

I assure you this is no Gratification of my Vanity. The gloomy Prospect of Carnage and Devastation that now presents itself in every Part of the Continent and which has been in the most express and decisive nay dogmatical Terms foretold by me a thousand Times is too affecting to give me Pleasure. It moves my keenest Indignation—yet I dare not hint at these Things for I hate to give Pain to Gentlemen whom I believe sufficiently punished by their own Reflections.

RC (MHi: Warren–Adams Coll.); docketed: “May 1776.”


The printed records of Georgia do not contain a copy of the instructions given to its delegates to the congress, but a contemporary account is more explicit than JA: “the Convention of Georgia have authorized their Delegates in Congress to concur in any scheme which may be proposed for the benefit 197of the United Colonies, even to a total separation from Great Britain” (Force, Archives , 4th ser., 6:903).


On South Carolina, see JA to James Warren, 20 April, note 2 (above).


On North Carolina, see John Penn to JA, 17 April, note 1 (above).


New York did not elect new delegates in 1776 (Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 1 and 2: passim).


The instructions of Pennsylvania had ordered its delegates to oppose any measure that contemplated separation from Great Britain. Meeting on 20 May, but ignoring the popular protest that it was incompetent to create a new government for the province, the Assembly continued to function, but did not act upon the instructions until 14 June. Then the Assembly merely repealed its former directive; it did not instruct the delegates to vote for independence (John H. Hazelton, The Declaration of Independence, Its History, N.Y., 1906, p. 64–67, 187–190; the instructions are in Force, Archives , 4th ser., 6:755).


Daniel Roberdeau (1727–1795), merchant and patriot, was a member of the Committee of Safety and instrumental in allying the radicals of the city with voters in the back country who were angry with conservative eastern leadership. Thomas McKean (1734–1817), long active in Delaware politics, became a leader in the movement for independence and a state government for Pennsylvania, although he came to oppose its very democratic constitution. John Cadwalader (1742–1786) was a member of the Committee of Safety and a colonel of a Philadelphia battalion. Timothy Matlack (d. 1829), an assistant to the secretary of the congress, Charles Thomson, and colonel of a battalion of Associators, helped to draft the Pennsylvania constitution of 1776 (all in DAB ).


[Proceedings of a Public Meeting in Favor of Independence], 20 May 1776, Broadside, Phila., 1776 (Evans, No. 15015).


JA may have had in mind the instructions issued by the Maryland Convention on 11 Jan. to its congressional delegation. The Convention wanted grievances redressed and reconciliation, but it intended to continue military action in cooperation with other colonies. It insisted that its delegates not be bound by a majority vote for independence, confederation, or foreign alliances. Maryland's delegates had to refer such matters to the Convention for its consideration. Only if a majority of Maryland's delegates believed that separation was “absolutely necessary for the preservation” of American liberties could they vote for independence without reference to the Convention. The last instruction urged that a resolution be adopted by the congress that no one sitting in that body could hold a military command in the regular forces or an office of profit in any government “assumed since the present controversy with Great Britain began, or which shall hereafter be assumed” (Force, Archives , 4th ser., 4:653–654). It should be noted that “assumed” modifies “government” not “office of profit.” This instruction to Maryland's delegates introduced a wholly new concept, which JA regarded as aimed at him and any others who sought independence and who held office under new governments. The contention of a Maryland spokesman was that such officeholders were interested parties and would favor independence. See JA's account in Diary and Autobiography , 3:360–363; JA to James Otis Sr., 29 April, note 2 (above); and JA to Samuel Chase, 14 June (below).