Adams Papers

[Marginalia in Winthrop’s Lecture on Earthquakes, December 1758?]

[Marginalia in Winthrop’s Lecture on Earthquakes, December 1758?]1

“O! there is no getting out of the mighty hand of GOD!”2

This Exclamation was very popular, for the Audience in general like the rest of the Province, consider Thunder, and Lightning as well as Earthquakes, only as Judgments, Punishments, Warnings &c. and have no Conception of any Uses they can serve in Nature. I have heard some Persons of the highest Rank among us, say, that they really thought the Erection of Iron Points, was an impious attempt to robb the almighty of his Thunder, to wrest the Bolt of Vengeance out of his Hand. And others, that Thunder was designed, as an Execution upon Criminals, that no Mortal can stay. That the attempt was foolish as well as impious. And no Instances, even those of Steeples struck, where Iron Bars have by Accident conveyed the Electricity as far as they reached without damage, which one would think would force Conviction, have no weight at all.3

This Invention of Iron Points, to prevent the Danger of Thunder, has met with all that opposition from the superstition, affectation of Piety, and Jealousy of new Inventions, that Inoculation to prevent the Danger of the Small Pox, and all other usefull Discoveries, have met with in all ages of the World.

I am not able to satisfy myself, whether the very general if not universal apprehension that Thunder, Earthquakes, Pestilence, Famine &c. are designed merely as Punishments of sins and Warnings to forsake, is natural to Mankind, or whether it was artfully propagated, or whether it was derived from Revelation.

An Imagination that those Things are of no Use in Nature but to punish and alarm and arouse sinners, could not be derived from real Revelation, because it is far from being true, tho few Persons can be persuaded to think so.

1The two following paragraphs were written, without indication of date, in JA’s copy of John Winthrop, A Lecture on Earthquakes; Read in the Chapel of Harvard-College in Cambridge, N.E. November 26th 1755, Boston, 1755, the first at p. 37 and the second on a blank final leaf. This copy is in the Boston Public Library, and Mr. Zoltán Haraszti has published the marginalia, with a helpful commentary, in “Young John Adams on Franklin’s Iron Points,” Isis, 41:11–14 (March 1950). See also entries of 18 Nov. 1755, above, and 12 March 1761, below.

2This sentence is quoted in Winthrop’s text from Rev. Thomas Prince’s Earthquakes the Works of God, Boston, 1755, a sermon first published in 1727 and reissued with a new appendix after the earthquake of 18 Nov. 1755. In the appendix Prince took a very dim view of the recent invention by “the sagacious Mr. Franklin.” “The more Points of Iron are erected round the Earth to draw the Electrical Substance out of the Air; the more the Earth must needs be charged with it,” and consequently the more earthquakes. “In Boston are more erected than any where else in New England; and Boston seems to be more dreadfully shaken. Oh! there is no getting out of the mighty Hand of God! If we think to avoid it in the Air, we cannot in the Earth: Yea it may grow more fatal.” To this Winthrop replied in an appendix of his own: “I should think, though with the utmost deference to superior judgements, that the pathetic exclamation, which comes next, might well enough have been spared. ’O! there is no getting out of the mighty hand of GOD!’ For I cannot believe, that in the whole town of Boston, where so many iron points are erected, there is so much as one person, who is so weak, so ignorant, so foolish, or, to say all in one word, so atheistical, as ever to have entertained a single thought, that it is possible, by the help of a few yards of wire, to ’get out of the mighty hand of GOD.’” JA’s comments are attached to this paragraph of Winthrop’s.

3JA’s faulty grammar is retained as in MS.

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