Papers of John Adams, volume 17

To the Baron Lynden van Blitterswyck

From William Gordon

To Richard Price, 8 April 1785 Adams, John Price, Richard
To Richard Price
Sir Auteuil near Paris April 8. 1785 1

I received sometime ago from Dr Franklin a Copy of the first Edition of your Observations, on the Importance of the American Revolution, and a few days Since, a Copy of the Second.2 I am very much obliged to you, Sir, for your kind Attention to me, and for these valuable Presents

I think it may be said in general, in Praise of the Citizens of the United States, that they are Sincere Enquirers after Truth in matters of Government and of Commerce, at least that there is among them as great a Number in Proportion, of this liberal Character as any Country possesses. They must therefore but be obliged to you and to all others, who are able to through Light upon those Objects, and who are willing to take the Pains to give them Advice.

I think myself happy to be perfectly agreed with you in Opinion, that the first Thing to be done, in order to the Improvement of Society, is, to Sett Conscience free.3 When all Men, of all Religions, consistent with Morals and Property, shall enjoy equal Liberty, Property, or rather Security of Property, and an equal Chance for 3Honour and Power. and when Goverment shall be considered, as nothing more misterious or divine, than any other Art or Science We may well expect Improvements in the human Character and in the State of Society. But at what an immense distance is that Period? nothwithstanding all that has been written, from Sidney and Lock down to Dr Price and Abbe de Mably, all Europe Still believes, that Sovereignty is a Sacred and divine right except a few Men of Letters; even in Holland their Sovereignty, although it resides at least in four Thousand Persons is all divine.

I did not propose however, at this time to enter into Details: But if you will give me leave, I should be glad to communicate with you now and then upon these Matters.

With great Esteem I have the Honour / to be, Sir your most obedient / and humble servant

John Adams.

RC (NHi:Gilder Lehrman Coll., on deposit); endorsed: “Letter / Adams dated / Ap: 8th. 1785.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 107.


In copying the RC from his Letterbook, JA made numerous editorial changes, but none substantially altered the letter’s tone or content.


Price’s Observations on the Importance of the American Revolution first appeared in a limited London edition in July 1784, with most of the copies going to America. In March 1785, fearing a pirated edition in England, Price issued a second London edition. Neither of the pamphlets received by JA has been found. However, among the pamphlets now in JQA’s library at MQA is a copy of the second edition into which JA’s marginalia had been copied. Purchased by CFA in 1856, it apparently had been owned by Benjamin Franklin (The Correspondence of Richard Price, ed. W. Bernard Peach and D. O. Thomas, 3 vols., Durham, N.C., 1983–1994, 2:218, 267; Catalogue of JQA’s Books , p. 118). For earlier comments by JA and Francis Dana on Price’s Observations, see vol. 16:366, 367, 503, 505.


Price advocated the establishment in the United States of “a system of perfect liberty” and explained that “the liberty I mean includes in it liberty of conduct in all civil matters—liberty of discussion in all speculative matters—and liberty of conscience in all religious matters.— And it is then perfect, when under no restraint except when used to injure any one in his person, property, or good name” (Price, Observations, London, 1785, p. 20–21).