Papers of John Adams, volume 18

To David Ramsay

To Rufus King

From John Adams to John Jay, 14 February 1786 Adams, John Jay, John
To John Jay
Dear Sir Grosvenor Square Feb. 14. 1786.

I have received your Letter, inclosing two Pamphlets one of which I have Sent to Mr Jefferson, by Coll Humphreys who Setts out for Paris this morning.1

These Letters will be Sufficient to Shew any Man of common Decency, the Characters of the Writers. on one Side there is the Condescension of a provident but indulgent Father: on the other the Impertinence and Ingratitude of a Prodigal son, not yet reduced to the Mortification of eating Husks with the Swine.2

What with the Imprudence of some of our young Men who like Littlepage are natives of America, and what with the assurance of 158 some others who assume the American Character, with less Pretensions to it our Country Suffers very much in its Reputation.

The Scæne to which I was witness, is truly and candidly described and I have So certified to Mr Jefferson and to others.

It is indeed a mortifying Consideration that neither Purity of Character, Rank in society, nor any Degree of Merit or Reputation, Should be a Protection against Such rude and virulent Attacks, which, however despized or resented by virtuous and judicious Men, are commonly received and applauded without thinking, by the Profligate, and, with malignity by the designing. Even Such Extravagants as Littlepage, as you and I have known before, are sometimes cherrished and courted for the deliberate tho secret Purpose, of doing Business which cannot be done by fairer means. In this Case I rely upon it, that no Injury will be done to you. The Attempt is too gross.

My best Respects, in which my Family desires to join to Mrs Jay.

With great Esteem and Affection, I have / the Honour to be, dear sir, your Friend / and servant

John Adams.

RC (PCC, No. 84, VI, f. 91–94); internal address: “Mr Jay.”; endorsed: “From Mr. J. Adams / February 14. 1786 / respecting L. Littlepage—” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 112.


Jay’s letter enclosing the pamphlets has not been found, but David Humphreys likely delivered the pamphlet to Thomas Jefferson on 17 Feb., along with letters from AA and WSS of 11 and 13 Feb., respectively ( AFC , 7:50–52; Jefferson, Papers , 9:281–283). For the controversy between Jay and Lewis Littlepage, see Jay’s 2 Feb. letter, and note 1, above.


JA refers to the parable of the prodigal son’s exile in Luke, 15:16: “And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.”