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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 4


Docno: ADMS-06-04-02-0098

Author: Winthrop, John
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1776-06-01

From John Winthrop

[salute] Dear Sir

I wrote you last week1 acknowledging the receit of your favor of May 6. Since that, have had the pleasure of another, of May 12, by my Son—am greatly obliged to you for the favorable opinion you are pleased to express of him. I cannot but regret, however, that so large a proportion of the paper was left blank.
I have often wondered, that so much difficulty should be raised about declaring independence, when we have actually got the thing itself. Who or what are we afraid of? Are we afraid of provoking G.B. which is now actually carrying on open war against us, and bending her whole force to subjugate or exterminate us? But I have had such an implicit Faith in the wisdom of Congress, that I could not doubt but they had sufficient reasons for their conduct. I now perceive you were in these sentiments long ago. But they are very opposite to the inveterate prejudices and long established systems of many others. It must be a work of time to eradicate these prejudices. And perhaps it may be best to accomplish this great affair by slow and almost imperceptible steps, and not per saltum,2 by one violent exertion. The late Resolve of May 15. comes very near it.
For what relates to sulphur &c. I have nothing to add to what I wrote in my last—only that saltpetre has been made here in very large quantities. Yesterday, being the last day in which the bounty of 7/ per lb. was allowed, I was surprised to see what a number of horses, loaded with that precious commodity, was crouding round the Commissary's Store in Watertown; and on the road from Watertown to Concord, I met a great many others, and one or two waggons. The whole quantity I have not yet learned. The bounty is now reduced to 5/, till the 1st of October.
I wonder you have not heard more about our Courts of Justice. I have purposely omitted many things in my Letters, from a persuasion that you had full information of them, either from private Letters, or the public News papers which I suppose you constantly receive. There have been no Courts held in Hampshire or Berkshire—no Justices of the pleas yet appointed for Hampshire. In Taunton, the Justices were opposed by force, and hindered from going into the Court house, by 30 or 40 men with large sticks in their hands, and some blows were given. The Justices then assembled in the tavern. Three or four of the Ringleaders, it is said, were soon after elected by the people as military officers (one of the blessed fruits of our new militia { 223 } { 224 } system).3 The principal grounds of complaint, so far as I can learn, are these. 1. That the fees and Court charges are extravagantly high. 2. That the Commissions run in the name of the K. 3. That some persons have been put in Commission who are obnoxious to the people. To remove the 1st complaint, a new Fee-bill has past, which has reduced most fees considerably.4 What is called a confession bill has also past, similar to the Connecticut practice.5 For the 2d, the Style of Commissions, Law-processes &c. is altered by an Act, and instead of G.III. it is to be, The Government and people of the Massachusetts Bay.6 A like Act has passed in Rhode Island. As to the 3d, no officers have as yet been displaced—so, that grievance remains. Whether the alterations made will allay these heats, time must discover. Some suspect, these are only ostensible reasons, and that the true ground of the opposition, at least with many, is an unwillingness to submit to law, and pay their debts.7 But such has been the spirit raised among the people; that it was tho't advisable to adjourn, by Resolves, the Courts in most of the Counties. The Courts of Sessions have sat in Essex and Middlesex, but in no other County that I know of. I suppose they will set in Suffolk next Term. The Superior Court will meet, for the first time, at Ipswich on the 3d Tuesday of June, and so procede on the eastern circuit. I should hope, their presence in the several Counties, especially if the weight and influence of the Chief Justice could be added, would have a very happy effect. But important as his presence here would be, it is of so much greater importance at Philadelphia, that it ought not to be wished for at this time.
When these commotions will subside, it is impossible to say. There is such a spirit of inno[va]tion gone forth, as I am afraid will throw us into confusion. It seems as if every thing was to be altered. Scarce a News paper but teems with new projects. This week produced three. 1. for County Assemblies. 2. For a Registry of Deeds in each town. 3. For the Probate of Wills &c. to be made in each town by a Committee to be annually chosen for that purpose at the March meetings. The Representative of one Town in Suffolk (I do not know which) has received instructions to this purpose. I humbly conceive, this is not a proper time to make so many alterations, when our All is at Stake. Tis like repairing a house that is on fire. First put out the fire, and then repair the house. Tis likely, however, these points will be agitated, and perhaps carried this Session.
The Election was held at Watertown. A list of the new Council is inclosed.8 With great esteem and respect I am &c.
{ 225 }
RC (Adams Papers); docketed: “Dr. Winthrop. June 1. 1776 ansd. June 23d.”
1. 23 May, Adams Papers, not printed.
2. By a leap.
3. Under the charter the royal governor appointed militia officers, but the new militia law called for officers at the company level to be elected by the troops (Mass., Province Laws, 5:447).
4. See James Warren to JA, 30 March, note 10 (above).
5. See James Warren to JA, 30 April, note 2 (above).
6. See JA to William Tudor, 12 April, note 4 (above).
7. Winthrop overlooked the complaint of the Berkshire Constitutionalists, who were supported for a time by people in Hampshire co., that the state lacked a proper constitution.
8. Not found. The results of the election were printed in the Boston Gazette, 3 June.

Docno: ADMS-06-04-02-0099

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Knox, Henry
Date: 1776-06-02

To Henry Knox

[salute] Dear sir

Your esteemed Favour of the 16 of May, came to my Hand a few Days ago.
You have laid me under obligations, by your ingenious Observations upon those Books, upon military Science, which are necessary, to be procured, in the present Circumstances of this Country. I have been a long Time convinced of the Utility of publishing american Editions of those Writers, and that it is an object of sufficient Importance, to induce the public to be at the Expence of it. But greater objects press in such Numbers, upon those who think for the public, as Lord Drummond1 expressed it that this has been hitherto neglected. I could wish that the Public would be at the Expence not only of new Editions of these Authors, but of establishing Academies, for the Education of young Gentlemen in every Branch of the military Art: because I am fully of your sentiment, that We ought to lay Foundations, and begin Institutions, in the present Circumstances of this Country, for promoting every Art, Manufacture and Science which is necessary for the Support of an independent State. We must for the future Stand upon our own Leggs or fall. The Alienation of Affection, between the two Countries, is at length, so great, that if the Morals of the British Nation and their political Principles were made purer than they are, it would be scarcely possible to accomplish a cordial ReUnion with them.
The Votes of the Congress and the Proceedings of the Colonies seperately must before this Time have convinced you, that this is the sense of America, with infinitely greater Unanimity, than could have been credited by many People a few Months ago. Those few Persons { 226 } indeed, who have attended closely to the Proceedings of the several Colonies, for a Number of Years past, and reflected deeply upon the Causes of this mighty Contest, have foreseen, that Such an Unanimity would take Place, as soon as a Seperation should become necessary. These are not at all surprised while many others really are and some affect to be astonished at the Phenominon.
The Policy of Rome, in carrying their Arms to Carthage, while Hannibal was at the Gates of their Capital, was wise and justified by the Event, and would deserve Imitation if We could march into the Country of our Enemies. But possessed as they are of the Dominion of the Sea, it is not easy for Us to reach them. Yet it is possible that a bold attempt might succeed. But We have not yet sufficient Confidence in our own Power or skill, to encourage Enterprizes of the daring, hardy Kind. Such often prosper and are always glorious. But shall I give offence if I Say, that our Arms, have kept an even Pace with our Councils? that both have been rather slow and irresolute? Have either our officers or Men, by sea or Land, as yet discovered that exalted Courage, and mature Judgment, both of which are necessary for great and Splendid Actions? Our Forces have done very well, considering their poor Appointments and our Infancy. But I may Say to you that I wish I could see less Attention to Trifles, and more to the great Essentials of the service, both in the civil and military Departments.
I am no Prophet, if We are not compelled by Necessity, before the War is over, to become more Men of Business and less Men of Pleasure. I have formed great Expectations from a Number of Gentlemen of Genius, Sentiment, and Education, of the younger sort, whom I know to be in the Army, and wish that Additions might be made to the Number. We have had Some Examples of Magnanimity and Bravery, it is true, which would have done Honour to any Age or Country. But those have been accompanied with a Want of Skill and Experience, which intitles the Hero to Compassion, at the Same Time that he has our Admiration. For my own Part I never think of Warren or Montgomery, without lamenting at the same Time that I admire, lamenting that Inexperience to which, perhaps they both owed their Glory.
LbC (Adams Papers); notation: “sent.”
1. James “Lord” Drummond had sought to bring about reconciliation between Great Britain and the colonies, but it was not clear, nor is it now, to what extent he had official backing in Britain. He became well known first for his letter of 5 Feb. 1776 to the British general James Robertson, in which occurs { 227 } the phrase “those gentlemen whose province it now is to think for the publick.” A good summary of Drummond's activities is in William B. Willcox, Portrait of a General, N.Y., 1964, p. 71–76. Drummond's letter is in Force, Archives, 4th ser., 4:943–944.
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2016.
http://www.masshist.org/apde2/