Papers of John Adams, volume 4

From John Sullivan, 4 May 1776 Sullivan, John JA


From John Sullivan, 4 May 1776 Sullivan, John Adams, John
From John Sullivan
My Dear Sir New York May 4th 1776

I had the pleasure of receiving your agreeable favour of the 15th ultimo.1 I Delayed answering it till I could give you information how matters were Like to go in this City. Soon after I received your Letter I Sent for Colo. Sears2 Mr. John Smith and Some others (which I knew to be Staunch) to Spend An Evening with me that I might Converse with them upon the Subject. I was Some what at a Loss to Introduce the Subject as I knew it would not do to Show your Letter or Even hint that I had received it but I Soon found an oportunity.

A Captain of my Guard came and Reported that the Committee of Safety had Sent Some persons to the Main Guard who had no Crime Lodged against them and Defered to know of me what to do with them. I immediately Sent to the Committee and they Sent a Sub Committee to wait on me. I asked them what was to be done with these persons and what Charge they had to Lay against them. They informed me that one was a Collector who had not Accounted for the money Collected and refused to Deliver up Some Lists in his possession and had abused their Congress. The others were in for Different Crimes. I told them that I could by no means Consent to have Free Citizens Subjected to Tryals by Court martial That they must try them by the proper Courts if Such there were and if not the offenders must run at Large till necessity oblidged them to Constitute the proper Courts. This opened the Door for me and I took advantage of it. The 168Sub Committee thankd me for my Care over the Liberties of their fellow Citizens and owned the necessity of taking up Government. Sears Smith &c. were Strongly of that opinion and all went home perfectly Satisfied and without Suspecting that the Conversation was any thing more than Accidental.

The next Day General Green and I were ordered to the Goal to See Some prisoners of war. There I found Some persons in for Robbery and one for Murder. As I found that I had good Success in the beginning I Determined to keep on and frequently Took occasion to mention the great Difficulties which must attend their present State That it would be Tyranical to Execute those persons without a Tryal. To Try and Execute them by process in the name of a King with whom we were at war would be absurd and if neither of those methods were taken they must whether Guilty or not Suffer perpetual imprisonment. I found the argument took Effect and Even Toreys themselves Acknowledged it was best to take up Government till a Reconciliation Should take place. This Doctrine pleased me well for I knew if Government was once assumed upon whatever motives They would find the Rubicon was passed and that they could never Return to their Ancient forms. I then by advice of my privy council Drew up a piece purporting a petition to the Committee of Safety to request Leave from the Continental Congress to take up Government.

This piece I Inclose3 you and though badly wrote Steers So Directly between Whiggism and Toryism that no persons can tell whether it was Drawn by a Whig or a Torey. My privy Councill Informed me that it had the Desired Effect. The Whigs were fond of it because if it took Effect their point was Carried and no retreat would Ever take place. The Toreys were fond of it because it Seemed to hold up the xxxxx Reconciliation they were Seeking. After being well informed of my Success I thought it time to Sound our Colonel.4 I sent for him to Dine with me and afterward invited him to Spend an Evening. We conversed freely upon the matter of taking up Government. He owned the necessity and Said it would be carried into Execution at all Events at the meeting of their Convention. He informed me that almost Every person began to see the Necessity of it and That the instructions then Drawing up for their Delegates mentioned nothing about Effecting a Reconciliation but to protect and Defend America. When I found him in the True way to happiness I Dismissed him and attacked others. To Toreys I painted the Evils attending their present State and to Whigs I held up the advantages of Seizing the precious moment. I soon found my party Increase with Surprizing Rapidity but 169in the midst of my Career I was ordered to Quebeck. My Brigade has gone and I am this moment going to Embark. May heaven Long preserve you my Dear friend to assist and Counsel your Countrymen and among them beg you'd Ever be mindful of Dr Sir your Sincere friend and obedt. Servt.,


RC (Adams Papers); docketed: “Sullivan. May 4. 1776 an. June. 23.”


Not found.


Isaac Sears (1730–1786), active Son of Liberty and popular leader, who was once rescued from British arrest by enthusiastic supporters. Late in 1775 he led a raid against New York loyalists, imprisoning some and destroying the press of James Rivington ( DAB ).


Enclosure not found.


Sears. Alexander McDougall.

From William Tudor, 4 May 1776 Tudor, William JA


From William Tudor, 4 May 1776 Tudor, William Adams, John
From William Tudor
Dr Sir New York 4th. May 1776

I was much oblig'd by the little Essay you sent me and more so by the Letter which accompanied it.1 The Plan proposed is an exceeding good System for the Government of the young and as yet uncorrupted States of America, and approaches so near the Form of the N. England late Constitutions, stript of their Inconveniences and monarchical Appendages, that I think it must be approved and soon adopted there at least. I hope a Number of these Books are sent to the Northward. I wish a hundred thousand of them were dispersed throughout the Continent. The Chair of Government is abdicated in almost every Colony upon the Continent; long Experience of British Politicks has convinc'd Us that a Reconciliation with Britain would be ruinous if not impracticable; a Degree of Confusion has prevail'd in every Province for Want of a Regular and an establish'd Government, and our Exertions against the powerful Enemy who has attack'd Us have consequently been less ardent than otherwise they would; Toryism in some Places, dares yet shew it's Head for Want of establish'd, settled Government to define the Criminality of it and punish it's Professors and Abettors as Traitors against the State. Ten thousand other Reasons might be adduced to show the Necessity and the Wisdom of immediately establishing a new Institution of Government. There are very few Whiggs who do not admit the Cogency of the Arguments for Independency, but the Timidity of the Men of large Property stops the Declaration of it. I hope Massachusetts will no longer procrastinate what sound Policy dictates to be done immediately; and that the May Election will not stop till three Branches of the Legislature are chosen and a Government completely formed. Pray Sir be at Boston this Month, You are greatly wanted there.


It is certainly a Matter of much Importance at first to have the Chief Magistrate, or in Other Words the Governor a Man of great Respectability in Point of Fortune as well as Abilities and Virtue; in a Year or two the former may be dispensed with. I know of no Man who would be so universally approved for this high Office as Mr. Bowdoin. Though had he a little more Health and a little more Courage, he would do better.

The next Hour after I received your Book I lent it to a Gentleman of the Committee of 2 I have not had it yet returned. I must therefore take another opportunity of offering you my Sentiments on it. The Friends of Liberty in this City are Friends indeed. I never met with warmer advocates for the Freedom and Independency of America than I have found some here.

Major Austin is with his Regiment in Boston. Mr. Rice is gone with his Regiment to Quebec. I shook Hands with him at embarking, and he express'd much Satisfaction at being ordered to a Place, where he could best serve his Country. Rice is much belov'd by the Regiment in General; and is indeed a very clever Fellow.

The Regiments left at Boston are the 6th. Col. Whitcomb, the 14th. Col. Glover, the 16th. Col. Sargent, the 18th. Col. Phinney and the 27th. Col. Hutchinson—with one Company of Artillery under Capt. Burbeck. Lt. Col. Burbeck also remains.3 Your most obt. Servt,

Wm. Tudor

The Regiments gone to Quebec under B. Genl. Thompson are Col. Poor's, Patterson's, Greaton's and Bond's.4

Those under B.G. Sullivan are Stark's and Reed's5 with 4 Southern Battalions.

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “To The Honble. John Adams Esq Philadelphia”; docketed: “Tudor May 4. 1776.”


Thoughts on Government was apparently sent along with JA's letter to Tudor of 24 April (above), although JA did not mention that he was sending it.


Blank in the MS.


Cols. Asa Whitcomb, John Glover, Paul Dudley Sargent, Edmund Phinney, and Israel Hutchinson, Capt. Edward Burbeck, and Lt. Col. William Burbeck (Heitman, Register Continental Army , passim). For opinion on several of these officers and those mentioned below, see Samuel Holden Parsons to JA, 15 Aug. (below).


William Thompson; Enoch Poor, commander of the 8th Continental Infantry; John Paterson, 15th Continental Infantry; John Greaton, 24th Continental Infantry; William Bond, 25th Continental Infantry (same).


John Stark, 5th Continental Infantry; James Reed, 2d Continental Infantry; Anthony Wavne, 4th Pennsylvania Battalion; William Irvine, 6th Pennsylvania Battalion; William Winds, 1st New Jersey Regiment; Elias Dayton, 3d New Jersey Regiment (same; Washington, Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, 5:2).