John Adams to Abigail Adams
[Philadelphia], 29 October, 17751
Human nature with all its infirmities and depravation is still capable of great things. It is capable of attaining to degrees of wisdom and of goodness, which, we have reason to believe, appear respectable in the estimation of superior intelligences. Education makes a greater difference between man and man, than nature has made between man and brute. The virtues and powers to which men may be trained, by early education and constant discipline, are truly sublime and astonishing. Newton and Locke are examples of the deep sagacity which may be acquired by long habits of thinking and study. Nay, your common mechanics and artisans are proofs of the wonderful dexterity acquired by use; a watchmaker, in finishing his wheels and springs, a pin or needlemaker, &c. I think there is a particular occupation in Europe, which is called a paper-stainer or linen-stainer. A man who has been long habituated to it, shall sit for a whole day, and draw upon paper fresh figures to be imprinted upon the papers for rooms, as fast as his eye can roll, and his fingers move, and no two of his draughts shall be alike. The Saracens, the Knights of Malta, the army and navy in the service of the English republic, among many others, are instances to show, to what an exalted height valor or bravery or courage may be raised, by artificial means.
It should be your care, therefore, and mine, to elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage; to accelerate and animate their industry and activity; to excite in them an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to excel in every capacity, faculty, and virtue. If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives.
But their bodies must be hardened, as well as their souls exalted. Without strength and activity and vigor of body, the brightest mental excellencies will be eclipsed and obscured.
MS not found. Printed from (Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife, ed. CFA, Boston, 1841, 1:72–73. See note 1.)
1. Place and date, including the brackets, are given here as found in CFA’s text. This is the first letter in the correspondence between JA and AA known to have been available to CFA but not now to be found as an original in the Adams Papers. In the volumes of “Family Correspondence” which CFA caused to be bound up, the present editors have found no indication of the removal of this letter, so that it was evidently taken out of the sequence early, perhaps in the 1830’s, and, after a transcript for publication was made, was perhaps given away to some applicant for a specimen of JA’s handwriting. (See Introduction to JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 1:xxxiv–xxxv.)
A close comparison of the texts of this letter as printed in 1841 and as reprinted in JA–AA, Familiar Letters description begins Familiar Letters of John Adams and His Wife Abigail Adams, during the Revolution. With a Memoir of Mrs. Adams, ed. Charles Francis Adams, New York, 1876. description ends , 1876 (p. 119), shows that CFA further corrected and “improved” his grandfather’s epistolary style when reprinting letters he had edited before.