Adams Family Correspondence, volume 1

John Adams to Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams to John Adams

350 Abigail Adams to John Adams, 21 February 1776 AA JA


Abigail Adams to John Adams, 21 February 1776 Adams, Abigail Adams, John
Abigail Adams to John Adams
Febry 21 1776

Tis a month this day since you left me, and this is the first time I have taken my pen to write to you. My conscience accuses me, but I have waited in hopes of having something worth saying to you, some event worth relating; but it has been a dead calm of dull repose. No event of any importance upon either side excepting the burning of some houses by the Enemy upon Dorchester Neck has taken place since you left us.

The preparations increase and something great is daily expected, something terible it will be. I impatiently wait for, yet dread the day.—I received a Letter from you wrote at Watertown, and a Book Last week;1 for which I am much obliged, tis highly prized here and carries conviction whereever it is read. I have spread it as much as it lay in my power, every one assents to the weighty truths it contains. I wish it could gain Credit enough in your assembly to be carried speadily into Execution.

I have been uneasy upon your account. I know your delicacy must be wounded by the unjust and malicious censures of an unworthy associate, whose self conceit and vanity really makes him an object of contempt ,too dirty to soil my fingers and commisiration. He has not only treated your character in a very abusive and ungentlemanlike manner, but descended to low vulgar attacks and Language upon our Worthy Friend.2

I think from the temper in which he writes you cannot avoid altercation with him, but I hope you will be guarded. Envy and vanity will do his work very effectually.

“To all my foes dear fortune sent thy Gifts But never to my Friends. I tamely can endure the first But this with envy makes me Burst.”

I must beg the favour of you to send me a quire of paper, or I know not whether I shall be able to write you an other Letter. We cannot get any here. I was obliged to beg this, and your Daughter requests a blank Book or two. If Mack Fingal is published be so good as to send it.3

The army is full, more men now in camp than has been since the army was first together. Not very sickly there, But in the Country the 351plurisy fever prevails and is very mortal. We have lost 3 grown persons in this part of the Town this week. Many others lay bad—it carries them of in 8 days.

All our Friends send Love. Write me by every opportunity and believe me at all times Yours.

RC (Adams Papers); addressed in John Thaxter's hand: “To The Honble. John Adams Esqr. In Philadelphia Pr. favour”; franked: “Free Wm Ellery”; endorsed: “Portia. Feb. 21.”


Paine's Common Sense, the authorship of which was not yet known.


This alludes to the bitter quarrel that had sprung up during the preceding months between Robert Treat Paine and James Warren, in which JA, as Warren's confidant and close political ally and Paine's impatient colleague in Congress, was unavoidably involved. Surviving letters of Warren written in July and Aug. 1775 show that he and Paine were on fairly cordial terms until that point, but developments were about to occur that made them enemies. As for JA, he and Paine had long been rivals at the bar in Massachusetts and on somewhat touchy terms of friendship because Paine, senior in age and in professional status to JA, had watched the younger man's prestige and influence surpass his own as the Revolutionary struggle came on. When JA's intercepted letters were published by the British in August, Paine (no doubt rightly) considered himself as one of those in Congress whose “Fidgets,... Whims, and Irritability” JA was complaining of (JA to AA, 24 July 1775, above). On top of this JA was appointed chief justice of the Superior Court in the fall, and Paine was ranked fourth among the five justices then named. (See Warren to JA, 20 Oct., 5 Nov. 1775, Warren-Adams Letters , 1:150, 178.) JA was himself uneasy about this arrangement and well aware of Paine's resentment. “Mr. Paine,” he told AA, “has taken an odd Turn in his Head of late, and is so peevish, passionate and violent that he will make the Place disagreable” (18 Nov. 1775, above). Paine spared JA this trouble by refusing the appointment, but Warren soon made matters much worse. In a letter to JA of 3 Dec. he dropped some inexcusably sarcastic comments on Paine's conduct both in Congress and out ( Warren-Adams Letters , 1:190). JA received this letter on his way home from Congress and sent it on to Philadelphia for Samuel Adams to see. It fell into someone's hands who showed it to Paine when he returned from his mission to Ticonderoga, and it opened the floodgates of his resentment. Early in January he addressed a scorching protest to Warren, in which he said, among other things, that he knew perfectly well who (meaning JA) had been furnishing Warren with the calumnies now circulating and whose “machinations” had “degraded” Paine in the recent appointments. This letter Warren copied and enclosed to JA under a cover of 31 Jan. which called it “A Model of Invective and dulness” and said it might soon be properly answered. (Warren's letter of 31 Jan. is in the Adams Papers, with the copy of Paine's to Warren attached; the enclosure is dated 5 Jan., but Paine's draft in the Paine Papers in MHi is dated 1 Jan. 1776.) No answer by Warren has been found. Before long the Warrens evidently showed Paine's letter to AA, and she may have heard more on the subject from Joseph Palmer, to whom on 1 Jan. Paine had addressed a bitter complaint about the behavior of Warren and JA (draft in Paine Papers; copy in Adams Papers). Palmer's answer was so exemplary that it deserves at least partial quotation:

“I thank you for your late favour, but was exceedingly sorry to find any misunderstanding between Friends, especially at this time of public danger; I don't intend to meddle in this matter, any farther than to urge you both, as you regard the good of your distressed Country, to stifle every private resentment, incompatable with the public 352good, and conduct yourselves in every respect as your Christian profession requires” (24 Jan., Paine Papers).

From the evidence available it appears that both Paine and JA did so act toward each other in the critical months that followed.


John Trumbull, JA's law clerk during 1773–1774, wrote the first part of his M'Fingal: A Modern Epic Poem in 1775 at New Haven, where he had begun the practice of law. JA saw a MS of the poem in Philadelphia and wrote Trumbull, 5 Nov., praising it and asking who sat for the portraits of the principal characters (RC in NjP). Trumbull's interesting reply of 14 Nov. says among other things that no single person was the model for either the tory M'Fingal or the patriot Honorius; “But the Picture of the Townmeeting is drawn from the Life” (Adams Papers). “Canto I” of M'Fingal was published at Philadelphia in Jan. 1776 (though with a 1775 imprint). The complete poem, twice as long and destined to be popular for many years among American readers, was published at Hartford in 1782. See Alexander Cowie, John Trumbull, Connecticut Wit, Chapel Hill, 1936, ch. 7.