Diary of John Adams, volume 1

1765. December. 23d. Monday JA


1765. December. 23d. Monday Adams, John
1765. December. 23d. Monday

Went to Boston. After Dinner rambled after Messrs. Gridley and Otis but could find neither. Went into Mr. Dudleys, Mr. Dana’s, Mr. Otis’s office, and then to Mr. Adams’s and went with him to the Monday night Clubb. There I found Otis, Cushing Wells, Pemberton, Gray, Austin, two Waldo’s, Inches, Dr. Parker—And spent the Evening very agreably, indeed. Politicians all at this Clubb. We had many curious Anecdotes, about Governors, Councillors, Representatives, Demagogues, Merchants &c. The Behaviour of these Gentlemen is very familiar and friendly to each other, and very polite and complaisant 271to Strangers. Gray has a very tender Mind, is extreamly timid—he says when he meets a Man of the other Side he talks against him, when he meets a Man of our Side he opposes him, so that he fears, he shall be thought against every Body, and so every Body will be against him. But he hopes to prepare the Way for his Escape at next May from an Employment, that neither his Abilities, nor Circumstances nor turn of Mind, are fit for.

Cushing is steady and constant, and busy in the Interest of Liberty and the Opposition, is famed for Secrisy,1 and his Talent at procuring Intelligence.2

Adams is zealous, ardent and keen in the Cause, is always for Softness, and Delicacy, and Prudence where they will do, but is stanch and stiff and strict and rigid and inflexible, in the Cause.

Otis is fiery and fev’rous. His Imagination flames, his Passions blaze. He is liable to great Inequalities of Temper—sometimes in Despondency, sometimes in a Rage. The Rashnesses and Imprudences, into which his Excess of Zeal have formerly transported him, have made him Enemies, whose malicious watch over him, occasion more Caution, and more Cunning and more inexplicable Passages in his Conduct than formerly. And perhaps Views at the Chair, or the Board, or possibly more expanded Views, beyond the Atlantic, may mingle now with his Patriotism.

The II Penseroso, however, is discernible on the Faces of all four.

Adams I believe has the most thourough Understanding of Liberty, and her Resources, in the Temper and Character of the People, tho not in the Law and Constitution, as well as the most habitual, radical Love of it, of any of them—as well as the most correct, genteel and artful Pen. He is a Man of refined Policy, stedfast Integrity, exquisite Humanity, genteel Erudition, obliging, engaging Manners, real as well as professed Piety, and a universal good Character, unless it should be admitted that he is too attentive to the Public and not enough so, to himself and his family.

The Gentlemen were warm to have the Courts opened. Gridley had advised to wait for a Judicial Opinion of the Judges. I was for requesting of the Governor that the general Court might assemble at the Time to which they stood prorogued—and if the Town should think fit to request the Extrajudicial Opinion of the Judges. I was for petitioning the Governor and Council to determine the Question first as Supreme ordinary. Gridley will be absent, and so shall I. But I think the apparent Impatience of the Town must produce some spirited Measures, perhaps more spirited than prudent.

272 N.B. Lord Clarendon to William Pym.3

The Revolution which one Century has produced in your Principles is not quite so surprizing to me, as it seems to be to many others. You know very well that I always had a Jealousy that your Humanity was counterfeit, your Ardor for Liberty canker’d with simulation and your Integrity, problematical at least. Yet I confess, that so sudden a transition from Licentiousness to Despotism, so entire a transformation from a fiery Declaimer against arbitrary Power, to an abject Hireling of Corruption and Tyrany, gives me many painful Speculations on the frailty of human Nature, as well as a Clue to the Center of the great Labyrinth of your Politicks in 1641. It has confirmed in me, the Belief, of what was formerly suspected, vizt, that your Principles were very wicked and depraved, tho your Cunning was exquisite enough, to conceal your Crimes from the Public scrutiny. I am now brought to believe what was formerly only suspected, vizt. your subornation of Witnesses, your Perjuries, and your Briberies as well as your Cruelty.

Can any Thing less abominable, have prompted you, to commence an Enemy to human Liberty—an Enemy to human Nature—an Advocate for Courts, more frightful, infamous and detestable than the star Chamber and high Commission, for Taxations more grievous, arbitrary and unconstitutional, than ship Money; on which you and your Hampden, were known to ring eternal Changes, and indeed, of which you had so much Right to complain. If ever an Infant Country deserved to be cherished it is America, if ever a People merited Honor and Happiness, they are her Inhabitants. They have the high sentiments of Romans in the most prosperous and virtuous Times of that Commonwealth: Yet they have the tenderest feelings of Humanity and the noblest Benevolence of Christians. They have the most habitual, radical sense of Liberty, and the highest Reverence for Virtue. They are descended from a Race which, in a Confidence in Providence, set the seas and skies, Monsters and savages, Tyrants and Devils at Defyance, for the sake of their Liberty and Religion. Yet this is the People on whom you are contributing, for Hire, to rivit and confirm everlasting Oppression.


A more or less conjectural reading for a word partly overwritten.


Thomas Cushing (1725–1788), Harvard 1744, a Boston merchant and political moderate, became speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1766 (as his father had been a generation earlier), served as a colleague of JA’s in the first and second Continental Congresses, but was replaced by Elbridge Gerry in Dec. 1775 (see note 1 on entry of 24 Jan. 1776, below). He continued active in state politics, however, as a follower of John Hancock, and was elected first lieutenant governor under the Constitution of 1780. 273There is a brief account of Cushing in DAB ; the fullest biography, based on scattered but fairly extensive MS sources, is in Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates , 11:377–395.


This is the first of a number of fragmentary drafts or first rough thoughts, scattered among the Diary entries from this point through 18 Jan. 1766, for JA’s three letters signed “Clarendon” published in the Boston Gazette in January. Containing some of the author’s most characteristic thinking on the British constitution and American rights, these papers were evoked by an article signed “William Pym” (a strange mistake for John Pym [1584–1643], the leader of the Long Parliament), first published in the London Evening Post, 20 Aug. 1765, and reprinted in the Boston Evening Post, 25 Nov. 1765. “Pym” loftily dismissed the colonial arguments against the validity of the Stamp Act with the simple assertion “that a resolution of the British parliament can at any time set aside all the charters that have ever been granted by our monarchs; and that consequently nothing can be more idle than this pompous exclamation about their charter exemptions, whenever such a resolution has actually passed.”

“Pym’s” position was promptly attacked by “Hampden” (doubtless James Otis; see entry of 7 Jan. 1766 and note, below) in a series of six weekly articles that began in the Boston Gazette 9 Dec. 1765 and ended 27 Jan. 1766 with congratulatory remarks to “Clarendon,” whose final letter also appeared in this issue.

In JA’s Works , 3:469–483, CFA reprints the three “Clarendon” letters from the Gazette. The rough drafts in the Diary have not hitherto been printed. Greatly revised and somewhat expanded before publication, the drafts do not always present JA’s ideas in the order in which he finally used them, and they contain some passages discarded before printing. The present earliest fragment embodies some material used in both the first and second “Clarendon” letters as printed (Boston Gazette, 13 Jan. 1766, suppl.; 20 Jan. 1766).

Decr. 24th. 1765. JA


Decr. 24th. 1765. Adams, John
Decr. 24th. 1765.

Returned from Boston. Spent the afternoon and Evening at Home.

Decr. 25th. 1765. Christmas. JA


Decr. 25th. 1765. Christmas. Adams, John
Decr. 25th. 1765. Christmas.

At Home. Thinking, reading, searching, concerning Taxation without Consent, concerning the great Pause and Rest in Business. By the Laws of England Justice flows, with an uninterupted Stream: In that Musick, the Law knows of neither Rests nor Pauses. Nothing but Violence, Invasion or Rebellion can obstruct the River or untune the Instrument.

Concerning a Compensation to the Sufferers by the late Riots in Boston.—Statute of Winchester, chap. 2. if the County will not answer the Bodies of the offenders, the People there shall be answerable for all the Robberies done, and also for the Damages.—Wingates Abridg-ment Title Robberies.

Nulli vendemus, nulli negabimus, aut deferemus Iustitiam. Every Writ supposes the King present in all his Courts of Justice.

Ld. Coke says, Against this ancient and fundamental Law, and in the face thereof, I find an Act of Parliament made, that As well Justices of Assize as Justices of Peace, without any finding or Present-274ment by the verdict of 12 Men, upon a bare Information for the King before them made, should have full Power and Authority, by their Discretions, to hear and determine all offences and Contempts, vs. the form, ordinance and Effect of any statute by Colour of which Act shaking this Fundamental Law, it is not credible what horrible Oppressions and Exactions were committed by Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley. And upon this unjust and injurious Act a new Office was created, and they made Masters of the Kings Forfeitures. But at the Parliament 1 H. 8. this Act II H. 7. is recited, made void and repealed. The fearful End of these two Oppressors, should deter others from committing the like, and admonish Parliaments, that instead of this ordinary and precious Tryal Per Legem Terrae, they bring not in absolute and partial Tryals by Discretion.1

Went not to Christmas. Dined at Home. Drank Tea at Grandfather Quincys.2 The old Gentleman, inquisitive about the Hearing before the Governor and Council, about the Governors and secretaries Looks and Behaviour, and about the final Determination of the Board. The old Lady as merry and chatty as ever, with her Stories out of the News Papers, of a Woman longing to throw beef Stakes in a Mans Face and giving him a Pipe of Madeira for humouring of her, and of the Doctor who could tell by a Persons Face all the Disorders he or she had suffered and would suffer.

Spent the Evening at Home, with my Partner and no other Company.

Mr. S. Adams told me he was glad I was nominated for several Reasons.—1 st. Because he hoped that such an Instance of Respect from the Town of Boston, would make an Impression on my Mind, and secure my Friendship to the Town from Gratitude. 2dly. He was in Hopes such a Distinction from Boston, would be of Service to my Business and Interest. 3d. He hoped that Braintree, finding the Eyes of Boston were upon me, would fix their’s on me too, next May. His Hopes, in the two first Particulars, may be well grounded, but I am sure not in the Third.

Clarendon to Pym.3

Pray recollect Mr. Pym, the cruel Exactions of Empson and Dudley, under an Act of Parliament, far less extravagant dangerous to Liberty than those which you defend. Recollect the old Sage Coke, and recollect Magna Charta which your Tribe used to think more sacred than scripture. Consider once more this hideous Taxation, more cruel and ruinous than Danegeld of old, which Speed says emptyed the Land 275of all the Coigne, the Kingdom of her Glory, the Commons of their Content, and the sovereign of his wonted Respects and Observance. Recollect, Mr. Pym, a scene in the Tragedy of King Henry 8th. I think you was once an Admirer of Shakespear. Vid. V. 5. 284. 285. 286.4 A scene which may be very properly recommended to modern Monarks, Queens, and Favourites. I will repeat it, Mr. Pym, for the Comfort of your Soul, for you always delighted in Ruin and Confusion—an hundred Years past you endeavoured to embroil as an Advocate for Liberty. Now it seems you are aiming at the same delightful object by enlisting under the bloody Banners of Tyranny.

You tell us that a Resolution of the British Parliament can at any Time anull all the Charters of all our Monarcks. But would such an Act of Parliament do no wrong? Would it be obeyed? Would one Member of Parliament who voted for it, return to his Country alive? No You would have been the first Man in the Kingdom, when you was in the flesh, to have taken Arms against such a Law. You would have torn up the Foundations and demolished the whole Fabrick of the Government, and have suffered Democracy, Aristocracy, Monarchy, Anarchy, any thing or nothing to have arisen in its Place.


A quotation, with inaccuracies and elisions, from Sir Edward Coke’s commentary on Magna Charta in the Second Institute, cap. 29.


Col. John Quincy of Mount Wollaston, AA’s maternal grandfather. His wife was Elizabeth Norton of Hingham (Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates , 5 : 445).


The following fragment contains part of the text of “Clarendon’s” second letter to “Pym” as printed in the Boston Gazette, 20 Jan. 1766, together with some matter never printed.


This is a volume-and-page reference to JA’s own set of Shakespeare’s Works (Edinburgh, 1761), which remains, with some volumes missing, among his books in the Boston Public Library. The passage referred to in Henry the Eighth is in Act I, Scene ii (according to modern editions, but Scene iv according to JA’s), in which Queen Katherine pleads successfully with the King for the removal of taxes burdensome to his subjects. See entry of 4 Jan. 1766, below.