Isaac Smith Jr. to John Adams
London, Feb. 21. 1771
I have very little of a political, or of any other kind of entertainment to give you. Yet I cannot omit a few lines, however small an expression they may be, sir, of my esteem and regard for you.
The apprehensions of a war, the delay of Commerce, the distress of individuals, and the liberal expences of public treasure have at length ended in this—after a negociation of four months—that the object in dispute, Port Egmont,1 shall be restored to the Crown; with this proviso, however, to remain a bone of contention for the future. The Parliament, (as was natural,) have given their sanction to the Convention. But it is not expected, that this measure will tend to prolong the public tranquillity for any considerable Space of time. Nothing, it is said, prevented the Spaniards from coming to an open rupture, but the great aversion of the french King to War. Indeed the present state of his kingdom gives him very good reason to be indisposed to foreign hostility. He has lately ventured on an exploit, that may probably involve him [in] a very considerable dilemma—the exile of his prime minister, and of the whole (or at least, of most of the members of the) parliament of Paris.—America is not to become an object of parliamentary attention during the present session. Both Houses are extremely cautious, with regard to making their debates public. I was introduced (with Mr. Palmer) to the Gallery of the house of Commons the last week, but was not allowed to remain there, after the Speaker assumed the Chair.2—I find, that the mercantile part of Boston have lost sight of principle, as well as of resolution. The large orders, which are sent here for Tea, perplex the mind of every friend to our interest or reputation, and give credit to the high reflections, which had before been made on our political falshood and hypocrisy.
Your letter, sir, I delivered to Mess. Dilly, who have both treated me with the greatest kindness and complaisance.3 I have had the pleasure of meeting with Mrs. McAulay, at their house; who enquired of me with regard to you, and informed me, sir, that she should write to you, as soon as she had published a fifth Vol. which she has now in her hands. She is not so much distinguished in company by the beauties of her person, as the accomplishments of her mind.4
In a box, directed to Mr. Josh. Quincy,5 I have had the pleasure of inclosing you a piece lately published here, called an historical essay on the English Constitution; not that I am acquainted with the value or importance of the work.6 You will also find in it one or two books, which I bo’t by desire of my Uncle Smith, to whom, as well as to Dr. Tufts, I wish my respect and regard.—You will please, sir, in the intervals of business to indulge me with your epistolary friendship. Every occurrence of Boston will be interesting to me in my absence.—I am, my dear sir, Yr. very hum: serv’t.,
I. Smith jr:
It is said that Capt. Preston will be reimbursed in the expences of his prosecution and meet with some further compensation for his confinement.7
RC (Adams Papers); at foot of text: “To John Adams Esq. Boston.”
1. In West Falkland Island in the South Atlantic, from which a Spanish expedition had recently expelled a small English garrison.
2. The Adamses’ friend Joseph Palmer was in England on a business mission. In the Adams Papers is a contemporary copy of a letter he wrote a Boston friend and business associate, Thomas Flucker, from Bristol, 30 July 1771, from which the following revealing passages are quoted:
“I have had considerable Opportunity of obtaining Truth and Certainty, respecting the Operation of the Non-importation agreement; and find that some Manufactory-Towns and Villages felt no ill effects from it; but others were almost ruin’d, and poor Laborers almost starved, and the poor Rates almost doubled. . Most of the Merchants that I convers’d with in London, and in other Parts, said, that they tho’t the Ministry must certainly have had the Tea Duty repeal’d, had the Non-importation continued only 3 Months longer. And several Gentlemen of the lower House, have to me, express’d their Uneasiness that there was not a total Repeal; and look upon the keeping up a Contention with the Colonies, as, in some future time, driving them into a kind of Necessity to manufacture for themselves, and finally throwing off all dependence upon G.B. ... I pretend not to be wholly free from Prejudice, and confess I think myself in more danger of going too far on the liberty side, than on the side of Prerogative; yet I will venture to say, that you may rely upon this Account of matters, to be strictly true; and I care not a farthing who is made acquainted with the Substance of it, knowing it is founded on the best evidence....
“I hope to go from hence in about a fortnight; having taken Passage in the Brig Sukey, Andrew Gardner, Master; and with me are three of my Couzins, who are Adventurers to N.E. If I had given all the Encouragements, that might justly have been given, I might have bro’t over great numbers; but that was not my Business;... and therefore I have not said all that I tho’t might justly be said in favor of Emigration from O.E. to N.E. However, I have ’special Reasons for thinking that there will be more Adventurers to N.A., in future, than for some Years last past: and am fully persuaded that great numbers wou’d soon remove, had they sufficient to pay their Passage; but they can’t bear the tho’t of being sold, tho’ for only a very short time, to pay their Passage. Thus they are scared at the Prospect of Bondage for a short time; not discerning the Slavery they are now in, and which is now increasing; and which will probably increase, ’till the Spirit of Despotism produces some violent Convulsions in the State, and the People resume their natural Power, and dictate, or ascertain with greater Precision, the Powers of both the Prince and the People. Such a Crisis has long been expected and dreaded, by the People in middling ranks of life; and they still expect it with some degree of terror. And as the natural right and liberties of men, are much more generally understood, than heretofore; and as by the Spirit that I have observ’d among these People, I can have no Apprehension of the establishment of Despotism; yet such a Crisis of public Affairs, must be dreaded by every friend to Peace and righteousness. The extraordinary Price of Provisions, of late Years, has enabled the Farmers to spend more time in reading and Conversation, than heretofore; and to give better Education to their Children. Thus Riches among the great, has produced Luxury, which leads to despotism for it’s Continuance; and Luxury has raised the Price of Provisions, and consequently enriched and enlightened the Farmers; whose newly-acquired Knowledge will naturally Operate to the enlargement of their Liberties, and Oppugnation to Despotism.”
3. Edward and Charles Dilly, booksellers in the Poultry, London. They were sympathetic with the American cause and published much concerning it, as well as books by American authors (including JA) before and after the Revolution; see L. H. Butterfield, “The American Interests of the Firm of E. and C. Dilly, with Their Letters to Benjamin Rush, 1770–1795,” Bibliog. Soc. Amer., Papers, 45 (1951): 283–332. No correspondence between JA and the Dillys earlier than 1774 survives in the Adams Papers, though probably JA began buying books from them at an earlier date; see his reply to the present letter, following.
4. Catharine (Sawbridge) Macaulay (1731–1791), radical whig pamphleteer and historian and a correspondent of JA. See his Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 1:360–361; 2:75–76.
5. Doubtless Josiah Quincy (1744–1775), “the Patriot.”
6. An anonymous work by Allan Ramsay, first published in 1765. No copy survives among JA’s books in the Boston Public Library, but see Sowerby, Catalogue of Jefferson’s Library description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, 1952–1959; 5 vols. description ends , 3:124, for the present edition, published by the Dillys in 1771.
7. “Captain Preston [Thomas Preston, the officer who commanded the troops involved in the incident known as the Boston Massacre] has had all his expences paid and a Pension of £200 a Year bestowed upon him” (Lord Barrington to Thomas Gage, London, 5 March 1771, quoted in Randolph G. Adams, “New Light on the Boston Massacre,” Amer. Antiq. Soc., Procs., 47 :354