Papers of John Adams, volume 10

From Jonathan Loring Austin

To Benjamin Franklin

From Benjamin Rush, 23 October 1780 Rush, Benjamin JA


From Benjamin Rush, 23 October 1780 Rush, Benjamin Adams, John
From Benjamin Rush
Dear Sir Philada. Octobr. 23. 1780

The discovery of Arnold's treachery, and the new Bennington Affair1 in the South, have given fresh hopes and Spirits to the Whigs. We had forgotten former deliverances under our late losses and mortifica-303tions. But we now find that providence is on our Side, and that our independance is as secure as the everlasting mountains. We have discovered at last that God means that we should live only from hand to mouth, to keep us more dependant upon his power and goodness.

Our Citizens are not wholly corrupted—our Officers are experienced, and our soldiers are brave. We want nothing but wisdom in our Congress to collect and direct properly the Strength of our country. The representation of Pensylvania in Assembly which had degenerated to a very low degree, has improved considerably at the last election. Our men of education and ancient influence begin to take part in our governments so that we hope soon to see the Spirit, Union and dignity of 1775 revived among us.

Our friends in Europe have nothing to fear from any thing that can now happen to us. If our Stock of Virtue should ever fail us—there are certain passions in human Nature which will form as effectual barriers against British power as our Virtue did in the beginning of the controversy. There is pride and ambition eno' in certain individuals of your Acquaintance to rescue this country from the dominion of King George, if the people Should ever incline to submit to it. But the latter is impossible. Our Streets ring with nothing but the execrations of Arnold whose treachery had for its Object the Subjugation and conquest of America.2

Your Old friend Gates is now suffering not for his defeat at Camden, but for taking General Burgoyne, a persecution from a faction in Congress.3 His Officers acquit him. They say he did his duty and deserved praise. He is to be tried for his misfortune, at a time when he is deploring the loss of his only Son (a most promising youth) who died a few weeks ago.

With respectful Compts to Mr Dana I am my Dear Sir yours most Affectionately

Benjn. Rush

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “The Honble: John Adams Esqr: at Passy near Paris Capt: Bell”; endorsed by Francis Dana: “Dr. Rush's Letter”; docketed by CFA: “October 23d 1780.”


Rush likely refers to the Battle of King's Mountain on 7 Oct., news of which reached Philadelphia about the date of this letter. At King's Mountain, Maj. Patrick Ferguson and 1,000 loyalist militiamen were confronted by 1,400 backcountry riflemen. In the resulting battle, Ferguson died and 300 militiamen were killed or wounded and the remaining 700 taken prisoner. This victory over a large force detached from the main British army appeared similar to Gen. John Stark's victory at the Battle of Bennington. Since Bennington helped to seal the fate of Burgoyne's army in 1777, Rush hoped that King's Mountain would do the same for Cornwallis' forces in 1780 (Mackesy, War for America , p. 345).


Rush may have been thinking in particular of the parade on 30 Sept., the centerpiece of which was a float designed by Charles Willson Peale on which a two-faced effigy of 304Arnold was drawn through the streets of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania Gazette, 4 Oct.; Charles Coleman Sellers, Benedict Arnold: The Proud Warrior, N.Y., 1930, p. 246).


Presumably Rush means that Gates' victory at Saratoga raised unrealistic hopes for his command of the southern army and thus his defeat at Camden brought a backlash, magnified by the unreasonable expectations. On 5 Oct., Congress ordered Washington to convene a court of inquiry into Gates' conduct and appoint a new commander until its completion. While Nathanael Greene was named to replace Gates, the inquiry never took place. It remained a possibility, however, until the order was rescinded in Aug. 1782 ( JCC , 18:906; 23:466; DAB ).