Papers of John Adams, volume 17

To William Gordon, 27 April 1785 Adams, John Gordon, William
To William Gordon
Dear Sir. Auteuil April 27. 1785.

I am like other Debtors, afraid to look into my Affairs lest I should find the balance against me. it is so with you, I very much Suspect.

You may not be sorry to be uninterrupted, for I suppose you are busy in writing your History.1 I should be glad to see it, because it is time there should be some sketch or full Draught in which there may be some Resemblance, when there are so many abroad which are called Pictures, but which have no likeness at all. indeed it is my Opinion that to collect the Materials and compose the work of a full, compleat, & impartial History, is the Labour of thirty years for a Writer of the first Talents. It is not, besides, as yet safe to publish the whole Truth. There are popular prejudices, aristocratical Jealousies, and despotic Terrors in the way, which will prevent the naked Truth from being seen by the Public for these fifty years. indeed I sometimes think that so much Quackery, and Exageration, so much Puff and Vapour has been mixed in that the Truth can never be fully distilled from the Dreggs.

I hope for the Future to have a more frequent Communication with my Friends, with less Apprehension of spies, & Copyers, and Decypherers in the post office. Letters from good authorities say that I am appointed to England. I tremble at this trust, for I know how much depends upon it. Not so much however as has depended, and has not very fatally failed. so I shall undertake it with Chearfullness, be sure to do my own Duty and leave the Event to that Providence which will decide it, as it should be.

Dr: F’s infirmity the stone, has confined him these 18 months. his Grandson is now sick of a Fever but is better, and I hope out of Danger. Mr: Jefferson is an excellent Citizen, Philosopher and Statesman, with whom I promise myself the most friendly and Cordial Correspondence, altho’ I shall leave him with regret. Mr: Humphreys our Secretary, is an accomplished Man, and when he ripens a little with years, & wears off a few Notions contracted in the Army, 59 60 will make a Figure in a higher Sphere. The Office of foreign Affairs is in so good Hands that I think our Affairs abroad were never so likely to be well managed. Where is my Friend Mr: Dana? Will he come abroad, or be promoted at home? surely our Countrymen love themselves and their own Interests enough to employ him somewhere in distinguished Service— My Son takes this Letter, for whom suffer me to solicit your good Will.2

I am Sir &c

LbC in JQA’s hand (Adams Papers); internal address: “Dr: Gordon.”; APM Reel 107.


Gordon’s History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment of the Independence of the United States of America was published in London in 1788. A copy is in JA’s library at MB.


JQA delivered this letter to Gordon at New York on 10 Aug. 1785 (from Gordon, 13 Aug., below; JQA, Diary , 1:301).

To Nathaniel Peaslee Sargeant, 27 April 1785 Adams, John Sargeant, Nathaniel Peaslee
To Nathaniel Peaslee Sargeant
Dear Sir. Auteuil April 27. 1785.

My Son, who is going home may possibly reside Sometime at his Unkle Shaw’s, or at least will make a Visit there, sometimes, and will in course according to his Duty, make his Court as we say, among the diplomatic Gentry, to you.1

I am very happy to find, that he hates the prospect of a dependent Life, & wishes to be put in a Profession where he may work for his Bread. I know very well the Number of years he must Study and serve in an Office before he can be admitted, or be qualified to Practice, and the Patience, that is requisitte to wait so long, as well as the Expence of supporting him in the meantime. But all this does not discourage me. I have seen enough of the Advantages arising to all sorts of Characters, from an early Study and practice of the Law, to wish my Sons educated in that way. I don’t know how it is, but Men who have studied Mathematics and Law in their youth, and followed the Practice for sometime, are never so much at a Loss as other Men, if you take them out of their Career and put them into any other, ever so remote or foreign. I suppose it must be the habit they acquire of a clear Conception of Things, a Love of Order, and patient thinking untill they get right.

By the latest Letters from Congress, their High Mightinesses (I beg their Pardon) have appointed me to London. I have not received however as yet any Orders. When you and I trotted Circuits together, we did not foresee all these Things to be sure. yet I have 61ever considered myself as at a kind of Bar. The Diplomatic order resembles it very much. if there was more Sociability, and could be such Friendship, and were less Pomp, Ceremony, Play and Expence I should like it as well; at present I do not.

What I shall do in England I know not. But I will do my utmost Endeavour to restore between the two Countries, so much good humour and so fair an Intercourse upon honest Principles, as shall ensure Peace and Prosperity to both, and if I can succeed in this, I will sing my Nunc Dimittis with as much Rapture as the dying Swan.2

With great & sincere Esteem &c

LbC in JQA’s hand (Adams Papers); internal address: “Judge Serjeant.”; APM Reel 107.


Nathaniel Peaslee Sargeant (1731–1791), Harvard 1750, was a justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court and an old friend of JA’s. He resided in Haverhill, where JA’s brother- and sister-in-law the Rev. John Shaw and Elizabeth Smith Shaw also lived, and where JQA would study with his uncle in preparation for Harvard. JQA visited Sargeant and his second wife, Mary Pickering Leavitt Sargeant, on 10 Oct. 1785, one of many visits that he would make to Sargeant during his time in Haverhill (Sibley, Harvard Graduates, 12:574–580; JQA, Diary , 1:338).


That is, he could sing his own elegy, perhaps in the manner of “the mournful Swan” who sings “when death is nigh” from John Dryden’s Dido to Aeneas, lines 1–2.