Papers of John Adams, volume 5

To Unknown, 27 April 1777 JA UNKNOWN


To Unknown, 27 April 1777 Adams, John UNKNOWN
To Unknown
Philadelphia April 27th. 1777 Sunday1

I think it is Montesqueiu, who, Somewhere observes, that the English of Charles's days were perpetually bewildered in their Pursuit of a Republic, for being themselves extreamly corrupt, 163they Sought, in vain for that pure and disinterested Principle upon which, alone, a Commonwealth can Stand.

The Principle of Republican Government, is as little understood in America, as its Spirit is felt. Ambition in a Republic, is a great Virtue, for it is nothing more than a Desire, to Serve the Public, to promote the Happiness of the People, to increase the Wealth, the Grandeur, and Prosperity of the Community. This, Ambition is but another Name for public Virtue, and public Spirit. But the Ambition which has Power for its object, which desires to increase the Wealth, the Grandeur, and the Glory of an Individual, at the Expence of the Community, is a very heinous Vice.

What Shall We Say of Oliver Cromwell? What Shall We Say of others, his Coadjutors? Can We Say, that they were actuated by a Love of the Public? Were they not governed by Selfish Motives? I make no Scruple to confess that I think Oliver, totally destitute of the Republican Principle of public Virtue. He thought himself honest, and Sincere. So did Balaam, when he asked Leave to curse Israel. There never was a greater self deceiver than Oliver Cromwell. The Man after Gods own Heart, to whom Nathan Said Thou art the Man, deceived himself, in the Same manner.2 How sincere was he, when he felt such honest Indignation against the Man, who had taken his poor Neighbours Lambs.

We, in America, are So contaminated, with the Selfish Principles of Monarchy, and with that bastard, corrupted Honour, that Monarchy inspires, that We have no Idea, no Conception, no Imagination, no Dream, of the Passions and Principles, which Support Republics. What will become of Us? God knows.

The Commissary General,3 this Evening related me an Anecdote, which gave me great Spirits as it seemed an Evidence that Integrity was not lost out of the World.

He Said that in comparing his Accounts he missed Seventy Pounds, and puzzled himself a long Time, to no Purpose to discover, where it could be gone. For several Months he had given it up, as lost and unaccountable. At last Coll Cary4 of Bridgwater, of whose military Abilities, I have no Opinion, came to him and told him, that after he went home from Cambridge where he had commanded a Regiment of Militia, he paid off, every Bill, and had Seventy Pounds left. He recollected that he had received no Money but from the Commissary General, and therefore that he 164must have received too much. This accounted for the Commissarys Loss. Here was Integrity. If all Americans, were Carys, We should be fit for a Republic. But, how many Carys have We? I am afraid to Say how few I think We have.

LbC (Adams Papers). Since this letter lacks the usual notation “Sent,” as well as a salutation and the name of the recipient, it may not have gone out.


Preceding this letter in the Letter-book are two entries. One, dated 16 April, begins an answer to a letter dated on the 5th. Its first sentence is left incomplete. Very likely it was intended for Nathanael Greene, since it ends with “I yesterday obtained the approbation of Congress” (see Nathanael Greene to JA, 5 April, note 1, above). Next there follows this notation: “April 27. wrote ten Letters. G. Greene. G. Knox. S. Freeman Esq. Dr. Cooper. J. Hastings. Dr. Foster, Mr. Tudor. G. Warren and two to Portia. These will go by Capt. Thompson or by next Wednesdays Post. They are as well worth copying as any others, but I am weary of the Employment.” The date given was the day on which JA recorded this information; the ten letters were actually written over a period of several days. Thus, letters were written to AA on 26 and 27 April ( Adams Family Correspondence , 2:223–226). Greene mentions receiving a letter dated the 27th, but Knox and Hastings acknowledged receipt of letters dated the 25th, the latter mentioning “Your Favor per Capt. Thompson of April 25” (all below). We have located letters to Tudor and Freeman dated the 27th (both above), but letters of this period to Greene, Knox, Cooper, Hastings, Warren, and Foster have not been found. The letter to Warren dated 27 April (JA, Works , 9:462–463) should be dated 3 April May 1777 (see below).

JA wrote to more than one correspondent about his fears for the survival of republican government in America, most recently to William Gordon (8 April, above), but for whom the present letter was intended remains undetermined. That JA began it without a salutation suggests it was intended for someone well known, for only occasionally to close friends did he omit a salutation in this period. None of these had recently raised the problem of republicanism.


2 Samuel, 12:7.


Joseph Trumbull.


Col. Simeon Carey of the Massachusetts militia (Heitman, Register Continental Army , p. 143).

From James Warren, 27 April 1777 Warren, James JA


From James Warren, 27 April 1777 Warren, James Adams, John
From James Warren
My dear Sir Boston April 27th. 1777

Since I wrote you by the post on last Thursday,1 Nothing very material has taken place here. Two Frigates have for some time been Infecting our Coasts. A species of Insult that has ever Gauled me, and more especially since we had Ships sufficient either to take or drive them off, lying in our harbours for months sufficient to build and Equip A large fleet. The Ships now on the Coast have taken several Vessels mostly small ones. One of them they gave their prisoners and sent them on Shore with A Message and Challenge to Manly, and McNeil and all the Armed Vessels in this harbour, this has roused the Indignation of the Officers and Tarrs, United their wishes with Ours, and given us 165An Opportunity which many of us thought should not be Neglected. We accordingly Appointed A Committee to Confer with your Captain and Agents, and to treat and Contract with the owners and Commanders of private Vessels, to go to Sea and meet the Challengers.2 We have by lending Money to Manly and Mcneil satisfied them. We have contracted for 2 or 3, 20 Gun Ships and 6 or 7 smaller ones to be ready to sail on the first day of May and to Continue with, and be under the Command of Manly for 25 days, we Insureing the Owners against loss and damages, giveing the Men A Months pay, and puting them on your Establishment in Case they loose Life or Limbs. With these a Number of Others will go, and Agree to Continue under the Commodores Command for the same time for the sake of geting out.3 If we don't meet the Ships we shall get the Continental Ships, and the privateers to Sea, instead of detaining them here by an Embargo against all good policy. It will be therefore A great point gained. I hope Congress will Approve the measure, and refund the Expences.

I have been several times, in Company with the Colonel4 who came into Portsmouth in the Ship lately Arrived there, and am much pleased with him. He is sensible and polite, has A fine Appearance, and every Air and manner of A Soldier. He is An Irishman brought up in France from his Youth, and Talks pretty good English. He is Modest but if I have any Skill in Physiognomy will fight. He says he is determine to deserve any thing you give him, will not serve under the Baron de Bore5 who Arrived in the first Ship, had rather be A Drummer under An American Officer.

I hope the Court will rise this week and give me A little respite, and time to Study Tull6 but after all our Study, I don't know but Mrs. Adams Native Genius will Excel us all in Husbandry. She was much Engaged when I came along, and the Farm at Braintree Appeared to be Under Excellent Management. I tryed to persuade her to make A Visit to her Friend Mrs. Warren but she can't leave Home this Busy Season.

I could wish the Agents you may send here to purchase Cloathing or other necessaries for the Army may be Instructed not to violate our Laws, Assume too great A Superiority, or Interfere with our Board of War, who are really Agents for you without Commissions or pay, and do Business for you in the best manner. This wish is suggested to me by An Altercation now 166subsisting between some of them and the Board, who shall purchase the Cargo of the Frenchman lately Arrived here. Tho the Board of War had Engaged what they chose to take and have Offered the Agents every Article they may want, such things may give the French an Ill Opinion of us. My regards to all Friends, I am as Usual Yours &c.

I thank you for your two letters of the 6th. of April which came safe to hand. I am glad to hear you have it in Contemplation to put your Naval Affairs on A better footing. I have not the least difficulty in supposeing that they would have made A very different figure in Other hands. The selfishness and Incapacity you mention are well placed, and have Injured them much.

Livingston and Turnbul7 two Young Gentlemen are Employed here by your secret Committee to purchase Cloathing &c. They Inform me they are going to return soon, and Expect there will be a new Appointment in their room. Would it not be better to Appoint some person here. Mr. Otis8 on the Committee of Cloathing, last fall procured and sent forward great quantities of Cloathing for the Army. If Agreable to you I could wish you would mention him to that Committee. He has by his Conduct on that Committee and the services he did the Army deserved the Appointment.

I Intended this for A short Letter but I always fill the paper when I write to you. I want to see some Resentment shewn to the Portuguees. It wont perhaps do to declare War against them or to make Captures of their Ships for they do only what they cant help, but An Interdiction of Commerce with them made in the stile of the high and Mighty states of America might as Carmichal9 hints have An happy Effect.

RC (Adams Papers); docketed: “Warren April 27. 1777.”


Warren's letter was dated 23 April, a Wednesday.


The committee, appointed 25 April, included Warren, Tristram Dalton, William Cooper, and Capt. Jonathan Gardner from the House, and Thomas Cushing, Moses Gill, and Benjamin Austin from the Council (Mass., Province Laws , 19:908).


See resolves passed 26 April (same, 19:912–914).


Thomas Conway, a thirty-year veteran in the forces of France, was appointed a brigadier general by the congress on 13 May. He had been recommended by Silas Deane ( JCC , 7:349; Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 2:202). Conway is associated with the misnamed Conway Cabal of a later period.


Chevalier de Prudhomme de Borré, who arrived in the Mercury and whom the congress appointed a brigadier general on 11 April, his rank to be effective from 1 Dec. 1776. Like many others, he was recommended by Silas Deane (Pennsylvania Gazette, 9 April; JCC , 7:256).


Jethro Tull, English agricultural reformer and author of The New Horse-Houghing Husbandry: or an Essay on the 167Principles of Tillage and Vegetation, London, 1731 ( DNB ).


Abraham Livingston and William Turnbull were appointed at the end of 1776 ( JCC , 7:220).


Samuel Allyne Otis, brother of James and of Mercy Otis Warren, was a member of the House of Representatives. He was named Massachusetts agent of the clothier general, James Mease, in Sept. 1777 (Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates , 14:471–480).


William Carmichael, secretary to Silas Deane, wrote on his own from Amsterdam to the Committee of Secret Correspondence on 2 Nov. 1776 (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 2:184–190). How Warren learned of Carmichael's remarks about Portugal or whether he had access to the entire letter is not known to the editors. JA's letter to AA which quoted and paraphrased some of Carmichael's letter without mentioning his name did not include the passage on Portugal (to AA, 3 April, Adams Family Correspondence , 2:197–199).