John Adams to Abigail Adams
Philadelphia 14. August 1776
This is the Anniversary of a memorable day, in the History of America: a day when the Principle of American Resistance and Independence, was first asserted, and carried into Action.1 The Stamp Office fell before the rising Spirit of our Countrymen.—It is not impossible that the two gratefull Brothers may make their grand Attack this very day: if they should, it is possible it may be more glorious for this Country, than ever: it is certain it will become more memorable.
Your Favours of August 1. and 5. came by Yesterdays Post. I congratulate you all upon your agreable Prospects. Even my pathetic little Hero Charles, I hope will have the Distemper finely. It is very odd that the Dr. cant put Infection enough into his Veigns, nay it is unaccountable to me that he has not taken it, in the natural Way before now. I am under little Apprehension, prepared as he is, if he should. I am concerned about you, much more. So many Persons about you, sick. The Children troublesome—your Mind perplexed—yourself weak and relaxed. The Situation must be disagreable. The Country Air, and Exercise however, will refresh you.
I am put upon a Committee to prepare a Device for a Golden Medal to commemorate the Surrender of Boston to the American Arms, and upon another to prepare Devices for a Great Seal for the confederated States. There is a Gentleman here of French Extraction, whose Name is Du simitiere, a Painter by Profession whose Designs are very ingenious, and his Drawings well executed. He has been applied to for his Advice. I waited on him yesterday, and saw his Sketches. For the Medal he proposes Liberty with her Spear and Pileus, leaning on General Washington. The British Fleet in Boston Harbour, with all their Sterns towards the Town, the American Troops, marching in.2 For the Seal he proposes. The Arms of the several Nations from whence America has been peopled, as English, Scotch, Irish, Dutch, German &c. each in a Shield. On one side of them Liberty, with her Pileus, on the other a Rifler, in his Uniform, with his Rifled Gun in one Hand, and his Tomahauk, in the other. This Dress and these Troops with this Kind of Armour, being peculiar to America—unless the Dress was known to the Romans. Dr. F[ranklin] shewed me, yesterday, a Book, containing an Account of the Dresses of all the Roman Soldiers, one of which, appeared exactly like it.
This Mr. Du simitiere is a very curious Man. He has begun a Collection of Materials for an History of this Revolution. He begins with the first Advices of the Tea Ships. He cutts out of the Newspapers, every Scrap of Intelligence, and every Piece of Speculation, and pastes it upon clean Paper, arranging them under the Head of the State to which they belong and intends to bind them up in Volumes. He has a List of every Speculation and Pamphlet concerning Independence, and another of those concerning Forms of Government.3
Dr. F. proposes a Device for a Seal. Moses lifting up his Wand, and dividing the Red Sea, and Pharaoh, in his Chariot overwhelmed with the Waters.—This Motto. Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.
Mr. Jefferson proposed. The Children of Israel in the Wilderness, led by a Cloud by day, and a Pillar of Fire by night, and on the other Side Hengist and Horsa, the Saxon Chiefs, from whom We claim the Honour of being descended and whose Political Principles and Form of Government We have assumed.
I proposed the Choice of Hercules, as engraved by Gribeline in some Editions of Lord Shaftsburys Works. The Hero resting on his Clubb. Virtue pointing to her rugged Mountain, on one Hand, and perswading him to ascend. Sloth, glancing at her flowery Paths of Pleasure, wantonly reclining on the Ground, displaying the Charms both of her Eloquence and Person, to seduce him into Vice. But this is too complicated a Group for a Seal or Medal, and it is not original.4
I shall conclude by repeating my Request for Horses and a servant. Let the Horses be good ones. I cant ride a bad Horse, so many hundred Miles. If our Affairs had not been in so critical a state at N. York, I should have run away before now. But I am determined now to stay, untill some Gentleman is sent here in my Room, and untill my Horses come. But the Time will be very tedious.
The whole Force is arrived at Staten Island.
RC and LbC (Adams Papers).
1. For the events in Boston on 14 Aug. 1765, which put an end to any possibility of carrying out the Stamp Act in Massachusetts, see JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 1:259–261.
2. It was JA who, on 25 March, had proposed that a medal be presented to Washington for his victory at Boston (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 4:234). For Congress’ action, Du Simitière’s sketches, and the long-delayed result, see JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 3:xii, 375–376, and the illustrations facing p. 257; also Jefferson, Papers, ed. Boyd description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd and others, Princeton, 1950–. description ends , 16:xxxvi, 69–70, and No. I among the illustrations of medals following p. 52.
3. These materials gathered and compiled by the Swiss-born artist and antiquary Pierre Eugène Du Simitière survive at least in part among the portion of his papers now in the Library of Congress. Other papers and miscellanies of his are calendared in Historical Records Survey, Descriptive Catalogue of the Du Simitière Papers in the Library Company of Philadelphia, Phila., 1940. See also Hans Huth, “Pierre Eugène Du Simitière and the Beginnings of the American Historical Museum,” PMHB description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. description ends , 69:315–325 (Oct. 1945).
4. On 4 July Congress had voted that Franklin, JA, and Jefferson “be a committee, to bring in a device for a seal for the United States of America” (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 5:517–518). Somewhat variant versions of Franklin’s, Jefferson’s, and Du Simitière’s proposals, together with the committee’s report of 20 Aug., prepared by Jefferson, are printed in Jefferson, Papers, ed. Boyd description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd and others, Princeton, 1950–. description ends , 1:494–497. It is there pointed out that, the report being at once tabled, it was not revived until 1780, when another committee tried but failed to satisfy Congress, and that not until June 1782 was the Seal of the United States, essentially in the form we know it, adopted. Du Simitière’s pencil sketch for the obverse, with the motto E Pluribus Unum (which JA does not mention but which is almost all that survived in 1782 from the various proposals of 1776), is illustrated in same, facing p. 550. See also Gaillard Hunt, The History of the Seal of the United States, Washington, 1909.
JA’s proposal for the design of the seal, though it was put forward diffidently and came to nothing, was a revealing and interesting one. The Greek fable of the Choice (or Judgment) of Hercules between Virtue and Vice (or Pleasure) was a popular theme for painters in the 18th century, in part, certainly, because the Earl of Shaftes-bury had devoted to it a short but influential treatise on esthetics in the third volume of his Characteristicks as collected in 1714. Simon Gribelin’s engraving of the allegory is reproduced as an illustration in the present volume from the fifth edition of the Characteristicks, printed by Baskerville, Birmingham, 1773. JA’s own copy of this edition remains among his books in the Boston Public Library. See Descriptive List of Illustrations.