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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 4

Docno: ADMS-06-04-02-0170

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Mason, Jonathan Jr.
Date: 1776-07-18

To Jonathan Mason Jr.

[salute] My dear Sir

Your agreable Letter from Boston the 9th. July, was handed me, on Tuesday last by the Post.
The Confusions in America, inseparable from So great a Revolution in affairs, are Sufficient to excite Anxieties in the Minds of young Gentlemen just stepping into Life. Your Concern for the Event of those Commotions, is not to your dishonour. But let it not affect your Mind too much. These Clouds will be disperssed, and the Sky will become more Serene.
I cannot advise you, to quit the retired scene, of which you have hitherto appeared to be so fond, and engage in the noisy Business of War. I doubt not you have Honour and Spirit, and Abilities sufficient, to make a Figure in the Field: and if the future Circumstances of your Country should make it necessary, I hope you would not hesitate to buckle on your Armour. But at present I See no Necessity for it. Accomplishments of the civil and political Kind are no less necessary, for the Happiness of Mankind than martial ones. We cannot be all Soldiers, and there will probably be in a very few Years a greater Scarcity of Lawyers, and Statesmen than of Warriours.
The Circumstances of this Country, from the Years 1755 to 1758, during which Period I was a student in Mr. Putnams Office, were almost as confused as they are now. And the Prospect before me, my young Friend was much more gloomy than yours. I felt an Inclination, exactly Similar to yours, for engaging in active martial Life, but I was advised, and upon a Consideration of all Circumstances concluded, to mind my Books. Whether my determination was prudent or not, it is not possible to say, but I never repented it. To attain { 392 } the real Knowledge, which is necessary for a Lawyer, requires the whole Time and Thoughts of a Man in his youth, and it will do him no good to dissipate his Mind among the confused objects of a Camp. Nocturnâ versate manu, versate diurnâ1—must be your Motto.
I wish you had told me, particularly, what Lawyers have opened Offices in Boston, and what Progress is made in the Practice, and in the Courts of Justice. I cannot undertake to Advise you, whether you had better go into an office in Boston or not. I rather think that the Practice at present is too inconsiderable to be of much service to you. You will be likely to be obliged to waste much of your Time in running of Errands, and doing trifling drudgery without learning much.—Depend upon it, it is of more Importance that you read much, than that you draw many Writts. The common Writts upon Notes, Bonds and Accounts, are mastered in half an Hour. Common Declarations for Rent, and Ejectment and Trespass, both of Assault and Battery and Quare Clausum fregit,2 are learn'd in very near as short a Time. The more difficult Special Declarations, and especially the Refinements of Special Pleadings are never learnd in an office. They are the Result of Experience, and long Habits of Thinking.
If you read Ploudens Commentaries,3 you will see the Nature of Special Pleadings. In Addition to these read Instructor Clericalis, Mallory, Lilly, and look into Rastall and Cooke.4 Your Time will be better Spent upon these Authors, than in dancing Attendance upon a Lawyers Office and his Clients. Many of our most respectable Lawyers never did this att all. Gridly, Pratt, Thatcher, Sewall, Paine.5 Never served regularly in any office.
Upon the whole, my young Friend, I wish that the State of public Affairs, would have admitted of my Spending more Time with you. I had no greater Pleasure in this Life, than in assisting young Minds possessed of ambition to excell, which I very well know to be your Case. Let me intreat you not to be too anxious about Futurity. Mind your Books. Set down patiently to Ploudens Commentaries, read them through coolly, deliberately, and Attentively. Read them in Course. Endeavour, to make yourself Master of the Point on which the Case turns. Remark the Reasoning, and the Decision. And tell me a year hence, whether your Time has not been more agreably, and profitably Spent than in drawing Writs and running of Errands. I hope to see you eer long. I am obliged to you for this Letter, and wish a Continuance of your Correspondence. I am anxious, very anxious, for my dear Mrs. Adams, and my Babes. God preserve them. I can do them no kind office, whatever.
{ 393 }
LbC (Adams Papers); notation: “Sent.”
1. Give your days and nights to the study of these authors.
2. Trespass because he has broken the close.
3. The Commentaries or Reports of Edmund Plowden . . . , London, 1761, which is listed in the Catalogue of JA's Library.
4. Robert Gardiner, Instructor Clericalis or Precedents in the Court of King's Bench and Common Pleas, for Young Clerks, appeared in six parts over a period of years and in various editions. The Catalogue of JA's Library shows he owned Parts 1 and 3–5 [London,] 1713–1727. John Mallory, Modern Entries in English, Being a Select Collection of Pleadings . . . , 2 vols. [London,] 1734–1735, is not in the Catalogue. John Lilly, Modern Entries, Being a Collection of Select Pleadings . . . , transl. [London,] 1741, is found in the Catalogue only in the Latin edition of 1723. William Rastell, Collection of Entrees, of Declarations, . . . , and Divers Other Matters [London,] 1596, is in the Catalogue. The latest edition was 1670. Sir Edward Coke, A Book of Entries, London, 1671, is also in the Catalogue.
5. The legal careers of Jeremiah Gridley, Benjamin Prat, Oxenbridge Thacher, Jonathan Sewall, and Robert Treat Paine are briefly sketched in JA, Legal Papers, 1:ci, cvi, cix–cxi, cv–cvi.

Docno: ADMS-06-04-02-0171

Author: Sergeant, Jonathan Dickinson
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1776-07-19

From Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant

[salute] Dear Sir

I am told You are alarmed at Philadelphia with the last clause in our charter.1 That and another respecting Judges2 was hard fought; especially that of Reconciliation, upon a Motion to defer printing the Copy 'till it could be reconsidered.
However we have formally ratified Independency and assumed the Stile of the Convention of the State of New Jersey.3 This very unanimously, and the Votes go down by this Express to the printer.
We are mending very fast here. East Jersey were always firm; West Jersey will now move with Vigour. The Tories in some parts disturbed us; but they have hurt us more by impeding the Business of the Convention and harassing with an Infinity of Hearings. But for this we have provided a Remedy by an Ordinance for trying Treasons Seditions and Counterfeitings.4 And now we shall apply our chief Attention to Military Matters, for which End we remove to Brunswick on Monday, after delaying it too long. In haste, Sir, Yours
[signed] Jona D Sergeant
P.S. Since writing the above, I find Time to add. May I beg the Favour of a Line from You once in a while. We want Wisdom here. Raw, young and unexperienced as your humble Servant is, I am really forced to bear a principal part. Would to Heaven that I could look round here, as when with You, and see a Number in whose Understanding I could confide. But we have a miserable prejudice against Men of Education in this State. Plain Men are generally { 394 } returned, of sufficient Honesty and Spirit, but most of them hardly competent to the penning of a common Vote.
I wrote to You from Bristol more than a Month ago; but received no Answer. Did You receive it? Our new Delegates You find sound and hearty.
You will pardon the Freedom I have repeatedly taken, and favour me with a Line in Answer. Your most obedt.
[signed] J. D S.
Upon Recollection it was Mr. S. Adams, I wrote to from Bristol. Will You ask him if he received it?
1. The last clause of New Jersey's charter read: “Provided always, and it is the true intent and meaning of this Congress, that if a reconciliation between Great-Britain and these Colonies should take place, and the latter be taken again under the protection and government of the crown of Britain, this Charter shall be null and void—otherwise to remain firm and inviolable.” This charter was passed 2 July (Thorpe, Federal and State Constitutions, 5:2598).
2. Art. XII set terms for Supreme Court judges at seven years and those for inferior judges at five, with reappointment possible for both. Art. XX denied a seat in the assembly to all judges and others who held places of profit in the government, with the exception of justices of the peace (same, p. 2596, 2598). JA, of course, believed in judicial tenure during good behavior, but he would have approved the intent of Art. XX.
3. The charter referred throughout to the Colony of New Jersey. The avoidance of the term “constitution” was itself significant. The designation “State of New Jersey” was enacted on 18 July (Minutes of the Provincial Congress and the Council of Safety . . . , Trenton, 1879, p. 511).
4. The ordinance, passed 18 July, provided the death penalty for those levying war against the state, giving aid or comfort to the King of Great Britain or his associates, and counterfeiting the paper currency of any of the states or the congress (Force, Archives, 5th ser., 1:412–413).
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.