John Adams to Abigail Adams
Philadelphia July 3. 1776
Your Favour of June 17. dated at Plymouth, was handed me, by Yesterdays Post. I was much pleased to find that you had taken a Journey to Plymouth, to see your Friends in the long Absence of one whom you may wish to see. The Excursion will be an Amusement, and will serve your Health. How happy would it have made me to have taken this Journey with you?
I was informed, a day or two before the Receipt of your Letter, that you was gone to Plymouth, by Mrs. Polly Palmer, who was obliging enough in your Absence, to inform me, of the Particulars of the Expedition to the lower Harbour against the Men of War. Her Narration is executed, with a Precision and Perspicuity, which would have become the Pen of an accomplished Historian.1
I am very glad you had so good an opportunity of seeing one of our little American Men of War. Many Ideas, new to you, must have presented themselves in such a Scene; and you will in future, better understand the Relations of Sea Engagements.
I rejoice extreamly at Dr. Bulfinches Petition to open an Hospital. But I hope, the Business will be done upon a larger Scale. I hope, that one Hospital will be licensed in every County, if not in every Town. I am happy to find you resolved, to be with the Children, in the first Class. Mr. Whitney and Mrs. Katy Quincy,2 are cleverly through Innoculation, in this City.
I have one favour to ask, and that is, that in your future Letters, you would acknowledge the Receipt of all those you may receive from me, and mention their Dates. By this Means I shall know if any of mine miscarry.
The Information you give me of our Friends refusing his Appointment, has given me much Pain, Grief and Anxiety. I believe I shall be obliged to follow his Example. I have not Fortune enough to support my Family, and what is of more Importance, to support the Dignity of that exalted Station. It is too high and lifted up, for me; who delight in nothing so much as Retreat, Solitude, Silence, and Obscurity. In private Life, no one has a Right to censure me for following my own Inclinations, in Retirement, Simplicity, and Frugality: in public Life, every Man has a Right to remark as he pleases, at least he thinks so.
Yesterday the greatest Question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater perhaps, never was or will be decided among Men. A Resolution was passed without one dissenting Colony “that these united Colonies, are, and of right ought to be free and independent States, and as such, they have, and of Right ought to have full Power to make War, conclude Peace, establish Commerce, and to do all the other Acts and Things, which other States may rightfully do.” You will see in a few days a Declaration setting forth the Causes, which have impell’d Us to this mighty Revolution, and the Reasons which will justify it, in the Sight of God and Man.3 A Plan of Confederation will be taken up in a few days.
When I look back to the Year 1761, and recollect the Argument concerning Writs of Assistance, in the Superiour Court, which I have hitherto considered as the Commencement of the Controversy, between Great Britain and America, and run through the whole Period from that Time to this, and recollect the series of political Events, the Chain of Causes and Effects, I am surprized at the Suddenness, as well as Greatness of this Revolution. Britain has been fill’d with Folly, and America with Wisdom, at least this is my Judgment.—Time must determine. It is the Will of Heaven, that the two Countries should be sundered forever. It may be the Will of Heaven that America shall suffer Calamities still more wasting and Distresses yet more dreadfull. If this is to be the Case, it will have this good Effect, at least: it will inspire Us with many Virtues, which We have not, and correct many Errors, Follies, and Vices, which threaten to disturb, dishonour, and destroy Us.—The Furnace of Affliction produces Refinement, in States as well as Individuals. And the new Governments we are assuming, in every Part, will require a Purification from our Vices, and an Augmentation of our Virtues or they will be no Blessings. The People will have unbounded Power. And the People are extreamly addicted to Corruption and Venality, as well as the Great.—I am not without Apprehensions from this Quarter.4 But I must submit all my Hopes and Fears, to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable as the Faith may be, I firmly believe.
RC and LbC (Adams Papers). For the complicated story of early printings of this letter, in conjunction with JA’s letter to AA written later on the same day, see note 9 on the letter that immediately follows.
2. Katharine Quincy (1733–1804), sister of Dorothy (Quincy) Hancock. See Adams Genealogy.
3. On 28 June “the committee appointed to prepare a declaration, &c. brought in a draught, which was read [and]Ordered, To lie on the table” until after the question of independence itself (the first of the Lee or Virginia resolutions of 7 June) was dealt with (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 5:491; see note 2 on JA’s letter to Cotton Tufts, 23 June, above). That momentous question came up, as had been agreed, on Monday, 1 July, and Congress in a committee of the whole debated it and reported favorably on it; but “at the request of a colony” (South Carolina), the final determination was postponed until the 2d, when the delegates of twelve Colonies (those of New York, being bound by old instructions, abstaining) “Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and, of right, ought to be, Free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown, and that all political connexion between them, and the state of Great Britain, is, and ought to be, totally dissolved”—the precise wording of the first of the Lee resolutions of 7 June (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 5:504, 505, 506–507; Jefferson’s Notes of Proceedings, in his Papers, ed. Boyd description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd and others, Princeton, 1950–. description ends , 1:313–314; letters of JA and others, 1 and 2 July, in Burnett, ed., Letters of Members description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress, Washington, 1921–1936; 8 vols. description ends , 1:519–526; also printed in Papers of John Adams).
It will be noted that JA’s present version of the resolution of independence varies markedly from that in the Journal, but he was writing without a text to copy from. For his part in the debates of 1–2 July as he remembered them, 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 , 3:396–397, and references there. On 1 July the text of the Declaration as reported by the committee on 28 June was referred to a committee of the whole house, and debate on it in committee of the whole began on the 2d, as soon as the vote of independence passed. This debate continued during the day on which the present letter was written and was resumed on the 4th, until the committee of the whole and the Congress were satisfied with the text to be given to the world, whereupon the text as revised and adopted was ordered “authenticated and printed” and distributed to the new states and the army (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 5:504, 505–507, 509, 510–516; Jefferson’s Notes of Proceedings, in his Papers, ed. Boyd. description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd and others, Princeton, 1950–. description ends , 1:314–319; various letters of 4 July in Burnett, ed., Letters of Members description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress, Washington, 1921–1936; 8 vols. description ends , 1:527–528). Thus, as scarcely needs to be pointed out any longer, though it once did, the present letter and the next one of the same date were written between the act of independence itself and the adoption of the statement designed to “justify it, in the Sight of God and Man.”
4. The foregoing sentence is not in RC and has been supplied from LbC. Its omission from RC was unquestionably inadvertent, a result of mere haste in copying, because it is an essential and revealing element in the flow of JA’s thought at this point. CFA printed this letter (or the critical portion of it) at least five times between 1841 and 1876, but since he used the RC exclusively and did not compare it with the text of the LbC, this sentence has been omitted in all subsequent printings and quotations of this famous letter.