Papers of John Adams, volume 2

To William Tudor

Samuel Swift to Thomas Cushing

To the Boston Committee of Correspondence, September 1774 Boston, Committee of Correspondence


To the Boston Committee of Correspondence, September 1774 Boston, Committee of Correspondence
To the Boston Committee of Correspondence
Gentlemen September? 1774

As I1 am of the Opinion, that the Subjects of the Massachusetts Bay are without a King, Governor, civil or military Officers; so the People are again left in a State of Nature. For if it be Fact that the King has broke his Coronation Oath, by clipping our Charter &c.; it must be Fact, that we are at Liberty to choose what way of Government we like best. So have sent the worthy Committee, an imperfect Sketch of a Method for America to come into when all other milder Means shall fail; of securing our selves and Libertys &c. If you in your wiser Counsels, dont think of a better, which I Hope for the good of America you will: but if any thing that I have mentioned is of Service, I shall Answer my End.

1st, Let the general Congress be adjourn'd, from time, to time2 till all is compleated; Vizt. Our political Salvation wrought out.

2dly. Let there be a Congress in each County, in every Government in America; and them to choose Members, for a Congress, in each Government3 to agree, to stand by all the Measures; that shall be come into, by the present continental grand Congress;4 at all Hazards.

3dly. Let the grand Congress agree to set up a Republic Government; something like that of Holland, of our own; by the Union of as many Governments, as possibly can be got to come into it. And then let the general Congress, Choose three Men out of their Body, to negociate it for them and us; they to follow the Directions of the main Body, 179from Day to day without fail. And when agreed on Measures; send said Committee to London: and let them there be join'd by Doctor Franklin,5 or some other capable Man, and then proceed to France, Spain, and Holland; and there settle it with them in the privatest manner possible; (as all concern'd must be put under the most sacred Oaths possible) for each of them States, to furnish us with ten or fifteen large Ships of their Line, and four small ones, from each Kingdom and State; to enable the Americans to ward off the Destruction of their Seaport Towns, by a British Fleet: to act as Auxiliaries, under Americans Standard; and them to be paid by us, in our future trading with them, or in Money &c.6 Which Forces, I don't doubt, but that the above States would furnish us with; for the sake of the North-American Trade and some money; and to be reveng'd on Britain for former Drubbings. These three Nations could furnish us with the above strength, and with Ammunition, and reserve Strength enough at Home, to ward off the premeditated Blows, of the Plans of our weak Ministry at Home: And to make an Invasion on Britain if they were a mind to; if they sent Strength enough here, to stand any Chance with the above Auxiliaries: which would so humble and weaken Britain, that we could bring the Britons to acknowledge the Americans Republic, to be a distinct State;7 and we soon have the Liberty of trading with them to our Advantage.

4thly. It will be objected against by some it's Probable; that if we apply unto France, Spain or Holland, we shall be oblig'd to obey their Laws. Which is likely would be the Case, if appli'd to either of them separate, but if Application was made to all three together; I am of the Opinion, that we should be safe; for neither of them Powers, would suffer either of them, to engross this Country to themselves; for if they did, the Balance of Power would be so much against the other two, that they would not agree to it. And our Union would prevent a Division by them, of our united Governments. So that I dont apprehend any Danger by or from our Auxiliaries thus Procur'd

5ly. To effect the above Plan, let Dr. Franklin be offered to be Stadtholder, and three Committee Men, to be Statesmen for Life, for three Provinces8 if they effect their Business with France, Spain and Holland, And let there be Statesmen and Counsellors Chosen, by each Government that shall agree to the above Plan; and them to have a Power invested in them, to disallow or approve of any Acts, that shall be made in any one of the united Provinces. And every Province to have the Liberty of Choosing their own Officers yearly; such as Governors, Secretaries, Counsellors and them to appoint all under Officers once a Year; 180and to turn out any undeserving ones. And let Representation be chosen as heretofore, and them to have the Power of Chusing Governors, Secretaries, Treasurers, Captains of all Fortresses, and Thirty five Counsellors, raise money to defrey all the Charges of Government yearly; and all the Laws that are now made, that shall be approv'd of, by Governor, Council and Representatives, that shall be chosen as above; shall pass an Act in favor of them &c. &c.9 So let every Government have the Liberty, of making their own Laws, for time to come: and be approv'd by our Statesmen and their Counsellors: all but what shall be made in the first Regulation, and the first establish'd Laws, not to be disallowed of even by them but confirm'd.10 And all that shall be made by any of the agreeing Governments afterwards, shall be establish'd, (if not disallowed of by them within twelve months, after it shall pass into a Law) it shall stand good. And each Government shall choose three Counsellors, to advise and assist the Statesmen, and their Counsellors, to be chosen on the last Wednesday in May yearly; all but the four Statesmen, as above to Remain for Life. And whenever, there shall be wanted, a Stadtholder; the Representatives of the united Provinces, or the major part of them, shall choose Him. All the commercial Acts and Regulations for Trade, shall be establish'd by the Statesmen, and their Council; together with all the Governors, Councils, and Houses of Representatives agreeing thereto in form throughout the united Provinces; or the major part of them. And all the Counties, and Towns to have all their Liberties continued unto them, as by former Charters; if they like them; with this Alteration, that every Town, shall have the Liberty of making any Act, or Acts for their own internal Regulations, and Convenience; so that the penalty, dont exceed forty shillings lawful Money, so that it may be tried by a single justice. And all Judges of Superior, and Inferior Courts; to be chosen by the Legislative Body of every government, consisting of first and second Governors, their Councils, and the Representative Body of each united Government; and to be displac'd at their Pleasure.11 And all Officers both civil and Military, to be chosen and preferred, according to their Merit; by the above Legislative Body; and not by Seniority as heretofore: by which Means the united Provinces will be officer'd by men, fit for their Stations. For if by Seniority, we have Instances in our Day, that the civil, and military Officers are not all fit for their Offices. And if Men were to be advanc'd in Life, according to their Merits; it would be an Encouragement, for them to out vie each other: so that every Man in and out of office, would be diligent, frugal and Active in their several Stations, and Departments, 181from the Stadtholder, to the Peasant; all aspiring to be Stadtholder, or to be advanc'd to the extent of their Ideas: which would make an advantagious turn, on all ambitious Minds; to the Advantage of any new Method of Government; and be pleasing to the Major part of each uniting Province's Inhabitants.

6thly. Let every one of the united Provinces, forthwith build Men of War, Thus and so. Hampshire one of 60 Guns; Massachusetts Bay, Connecticutt, New York, Pensilvania, Maryland and Virginia, each a 74 Gun Ship, Rhode-Island and Jerseys a 50 Gunship each, N & S Carolina's one of 60 Guns each, Georgia's one of 24 Guns: all to be kept on account of, and all to be paid for, by the united Provinces, in proportion to the Number of Inhabitants, there is in each Government; in Building as many more Men of War, as will make an equal Balance, according to the Number of Inhabitants: making the least Number of Inhabitants in any one Government the Rule for the Rest. By which Means, in a few Years we shall be strong enough, for any Fleet, that can be spared from any Prince in Europe; and to have enough left at Home, to Defend their own Kingdoms. The great Distance there is between them and us, will be of great Service to us; And another Advantage we have, is, that if either of the European Powers, should send a Fleet against us, they are so near each other, that they will hear of it; and some one of the Neighbouring Nations, it is likely would fall upon them, which would be a grand Piece of Impolicy, for any One Power to run the risque of their own States, to disturb us; England not excepted. And it is probable, that a Plan may be laid, to get some of the English Navy, to come over to our Government in the Confusion there is and will be, in the English Nation; by our thus and so Conducting &c.

7thly. Let the united Governments agree, and encourage the raising of Hemp, as much as possible, and procure as many Duck Weavers, and Spinners to Come from Russia, Germany, and Holland as we Judge can be employ'd, by our own Produce of Hemp; and give Encouragement to all sorts of Mecanicks that it's probable we can employ, to come from England, Ireland, Scotland, and from all other Parts of the European States. And let us invite over some of our English Ship builders, that our Men of War, may be built in the English Fashion. And let us encourage the raising of Sheep, as much as possible; that we may in a few Years, be able to Clothe ourselves and others, with our manufactored Broad Cloaths and with all other Sorts of Woolen Clothes.

8thly. Let every one of the united Governments, raise a fund for the 182common Stock; exclusive of each Governments Charges, to be taxed on the Poles, and Estates of all the Inhabitants, as we us'd to be tax'd in Years pass'd; before a Union of the Colonies took Place; to be under the Direction and Inspection of the Statesmen, and their Counsellors, and to be in the Care of a Treasurer yearly Chosen, by the Legislative Body of each Government: And such money or Moneys, to be drawn out for the use of the Public, by the Statesmen and their Counsel; who shall be accountable to their Constituents therefor Yearly, for all Money they shall draw out of the Treasury; And the Treasurer for the Remainder: And all Accompts to be clos'd, and a Balance Struck, by the first Thursday in May yearly without fail. So that at every yearly Election, all the States Accompts may be laid before a New Assembly, for their Inspection; and they to Acquaint their Constituents, at their annual Town Meetings how their Money is spent &c. That every Government's new Assembly, may the better know how much Money its probable will be wanted to be rais'd for the ensuing Year, According to the best of their Judgment; so as not to let the Treasury be empty, in Order to keep up the Credit of the new State at Home, and abroad; and to the Dread of our Enemies.

9ly. Let the United Governments get the Loan of about a Million or more Sterling of France, Spain, or Holland or of all three; or of some other state, at least as much as will enable us to pay our Charges for the first Year till we can raise and procure Money some other Way, by Taxes &c. to enable us to Strike some bold Strokes, by Sea and Land; to our hereafter Credit in our valiantly defending our just rights and Liberties, against the Assassin of them: Lord North and his Minions.

10ly. Let the Fees of the United Provinces public Officers be stated, Thus and so. The Stadtholder to have two thousand Sterling pr. Ann. Statesmen eighteen hundred; Their Counsellors, and Secretary one thousand pr Ann apiece; Clerks one hundred and fifty. All the single Governments, also to be settled—Governor Twelve Hundred, pr. Ann. Lieutenant Governor five Hundred. Secretary three Hundred. Treasurer Two hundred and fifty. Counsellors two Hundred pr. Ann. Chief Judge of the Superior Court two hundred and fifty pr. Ann. The under Judges two Hundred apiece pr. Ann. County High Sheriff five £ pr. Ann., and all other Officers in Proportion, where office will not honourably Support them, by the Judgment of the Legislative Body, they to agree on their Stipends.

11ly. Let a well disciplin'd Militia be kept up, throughout all the united Provinces, by every town therein, without fail; under spirited 183officers, and them to be try'd couragious Men if such may be found: let Merit be the Just Reason, of every Officers Advancement, and not by Seniority; which ought to be out of Date, for the Preservation of the State.

12ly. When ever the United Governments, want to raise Men for the Defence of the Republic; let every single Government furnish their Numbers, according to the Number of Men in each Government: by inlistments, or Draughts or Impressments, from each Town as each Province, shall think best: and them to be ordered to their Place of Rendezvous, by the Statesmen and their Council, there to wait for their further Orders; and to do whatsoever they shall be Commanded by Order of the Statesmen till discharg'd, or recalled by the Legislative Power of each united Province, to receive their Wages and be returned to the Towns from whence they came.12

MS (Adams Papers), microfilmed under the date ca. 1774; addressed: “To the Committee of Correspondence in Boston”; a fair copy in a formal, clerk's hand, showing both “Round Hand” and “Italian Hand” characteristics, but also showing enough individuality to identify as probably that of Edward Hill's. See Ray Nash, American Writing Masters and Copybooks, Boston, 1959, plate V, and Hill to JA, 8 Aug. 1774 and 4 Aug. Sept. 1774. Although the MS is in two sheets, it very likely was originally a single folded sheet written on four sides. Other documents in the Adams Papers from this period show the same two watermarks: a crown and a GR on one side of the fold, and on the other side a seated Britannia in a double circle topped by a crown. Letters from AA in the fall of 1774 are on this kind of paper. Other correspondence in the Adams Papers at this time reveals a variety of watermarks. Although there is probably nothing unique about the paper, we can say that this type was in the Adams household.


No clue to the provenance of this MS has been found. Before final editing, it and accompanying comment were shown to three scholars for their opinions on dating and authorship: Professors Bernard Bailyn, Richard D. Brown, and L. Kinvin Wroth. All made useful suggestions, as did former editors of the Adams Papers. Professor Wroth's views, written persuasively and at some length, have been most influential in shaping interpretation.

None of us has been able to identify the author, who, although he expresses himself in language hardly suggesting a well-educated person, has an unusual knowledge of and interest in government and the court system. Because he accepts the idea of independence at a very early date and sketches a detailed plan of national and state government, could he be someone who sought to hide his authorship behind crude language? JA resorted to rustic phrasing on occasion, but the language of his Plough-jogger efforts is far more transparent a device than is the language of this document. Still, certain ideas here might link it to JA. For one thing, there are many references to the terminology of Dutch government. By 1774–1775 JA had become interested in Dutch history. He refers to General Gage as “Alva Gage” (To James Burgh, 28 Dec. 1774, below), and in the Novanglus letters he refers to the struggle of the Prince of Orange against Spanish rule and to the decline in Holland's representational system (Novanglus, Nos. I and VII, below). Moreover, JA was an early advocate of the colonies' setting up governments of their own, even before 184he spoke out in the Second Continental Congress: “This Subject had engaged much of my Attention before I left Massachusetts, and had been frequently the Subject of Conversation between me and many of my Friends” ( Diary and Autobiography , 3:351). There also are a few parallels, to be noted below, with Thoughts on Government, which JA produced in early 1776. Yet most of those consulted feel that, despite its substance, the style of the document under consideration rules out JA as author.

But the piece was retained in the Adams Papers, which contain few third-party documents, in the form of a fair copy probably made by Edward Hill, one of JA's law clerks. This retention suggests that JA was interested in, and may have been influenced by, it. One plausible explanation for its being in the Papers is that it was submitted to JA for his advice before submission to the Boston Committee of Correspondence or before intended publication in a Boston newspaper. If this theory is correct, then, given its probable date, discussed below, it was submitted while JA was still absent in Philadelphia at the First Continental Congress. Certainly it was written by a Massachusetts person; the personal pronouns—“our Charter”—and the governmental arrangements indicate this. The present Adams editors believe that it may have been written by Samuel Swift, a lawyer colleague of JA whose writing style is somewhat eccentric (see his letters to JA, 20 Oct. 1774, 30 Jan., 13 March, 31 March 1775, below). Swift was one of a small group that JA describes as meeting several times informally in 1773–1774 to discuss public affairs ( Diary and Autobiography , 2:77, 82, 84, 87, 88).


The phrase “adjourn'd from time, to time” suggests continuation of the Continental Congress rather than letting it be dissolved. Since the First Congress was dissolved in Oct. 1774, the author was probably writing while it was still in session. His remark could not apply to the Second Congress because of the evidence on dating discussed in notes 3, 4, and 5, below.


Since the author draws so heavily on the Massachusetts example, his call for county meetings to elect congresses in each colony suggests that he wrote before the meeting of the Massachusetts First Provincial Congress, whose delegates came from the towns and met first as a congress on 7 Oct. 1774, after Gage had refused to hold a General Court on 5 Oct. (Mass. Provincial Congress, Jours. , p. 3–6).


The phrase “Measures; that shall be come into, by the present continental grand Congress” suggests one still in session and at work, that is, the First.


Franklin left England in March 1775, arriving in Philadelphia on 5 May (Carl Van Doren, Benjamin Franklin, N.Y., 1958, p. 521–523). Franklin's arrival was reported in the New England Chronicle in the issue of 18 May 1775, and Franklin of course became a member of the Second Continental Congress. Anyone writing about that congress could not have included this scheme for making use of Franklin.


That a commercial treaty in return for aid was preferable to one specifying reciprocal military obligations was a view held to by JA more tenaciously than almost anyone else in 1776, when serious efforts were being made to secure foreign aid ( Diary and Autobiography , 2:236, 3:328–329; Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 1:502).

The emphasis on naval power here and in sections 6 and 7, below, accords with JA's policy later, when he gave enthusiastic support to a Continental Navy, and as President, when he saw a strong navy as critical for defense ( Diary and Autobiography , 2:201–202, 3:342–351; Stephen G. Kurtz, The Presidency of John Adams, Phila., 1957, p. 230, 294, 307).


A clear call for independence.


Apparently the author intended that each state should elect one statesman, with the original three serving for life in behalf of those states from which they came. Statesmen would be assisted by councilors, three from each state. Although Thoughts on Government stresses annual elections, it suggests that in time the terms of “great offices of state” might be lengthened, even to life terms (JA, Works , 4:197).


Implied here is a veto for the governor and for a council acting as a 185separate branch of the legislature, both suggested in Thoughts on Government, as was election of the governor and the councilors by the representatives (same, 4:196–197).


That is, statesmen and councilors of the united provinces would have a right of veto over all state legislation, but could not reject the original forms of government each state adopted—a crude recognition of the distinction between constituent and statutory law. Thoughts on Government, confines the central government to a limited sphere of activity (same, p. 200).


Thoughts on Government is emphatic that judges should enjoy life tenure during good behavior (same, p. 198).


This letter to the Boston Committee of Correspondence ends abruptly. It may be that the copyist did not finish; the handwriting on the final page shows signs of fatigue.