Papers of John Adams, volume 4

From Samuel Chase

From Joseph Greenleaf

To James Otis Sr., 29 April 1776 JA Otis, Col. James To James Otis Sr., 29 April 1776 Adams, John Otis, Col. James
To James Otis Sr.
Sir1 Philadelphia, 29 April, 1776

As the day of the general election draws nigh, I think it my duty to express my grateful acknowledgments to the honorable electors of the last year, for the honor they did me in choosing me into the council. My station in the continental Congress has made it impossible for me to attend my duty at the honorable board; and as the same cause must prevent my attendance during a great part of the ensuing year, and the dangers and distresses of the times will require the assistance of the whole number, I cannot think it becoming in me to deprive the colony of the advice of a counsellor, for the sake of keeping open a seat for me. I must therefore beg the favor of you, to make my resignation known to the two honorable Houses, and request them to choose another gentleman to that honorable seat, who will be able to discharge the duties of it.2

I am, with great respect to the two honorable Houses, Sir, your most obedient and very humble servant, John Adams

MS not found; reprinted from (JA, Works , 9:374).


JA wrote to Otis as a senior member of the Council.


Although the reasons that JA gives seem sincere and sensible enough, he may have had another motive. In the congress in late April an effort to name John Langdon of New Hampshire a naval agent did not prevail because many objected that Langdon was a member of the congress (Burnett, ed., Letters of Members , 1:434–435). A Maryland delegate, acting on the instructions from his province, sought to deny to members offices of profit under the Continental Congress and the new governments already, or soon to be, established. 152For JA's opinion of this maneuver, see JA to Samuel Chase, 14 June (below). No such resolution passed, but it has been argued that JA resigned his office out of sensitivity to the issue of plural officeholding (JA, Diary and Autobiography , 3:360–361 and discussion in the notes there). To James Warren, JA put it this way: “this is not a Time, if ever there was or can be one for Sinecures. Fill up every place. They ought to be full” (JA to Warren, 12 May, below). His inability to perform his duties seemed to weigh more heavily than the mere fact of holding more than one office; and although he thought he might have to resign his chief justiceship, he pointedly told Warren, “I shall think a little more about that and take Advice” (same). He did not resign until months later, probably hoping that he would be able to leave the congress and do the work he loved best.