John Adams to Abigail Adams
Philadelphia April 6. 1777
This Evening Major Ward deliverd me Yours of 23d. of March.—It is a great Pleasure to me to learn that your Flour has arrived. I begin to have some opinion of my good Fortune. If I could have been certain, of the Vessells escaping the many Snares in her Way, I would have sent a dozen Barrells.
The Act, my dear, that you were so fond of will do no good.1 Legislatures cannot effect Impossibilities. I detest all Embargoes, and all other Restraints upon Trade.2 Let it have its own Way, in such a Time as this and it will cure its own Diseases. The Paper emitted by the states jointly and separately is too much, it is more than enough to purchase every Commodity and every Species of Labour that is wanted, and this Excess of Quantity is the true Cause of the Artificial Scarcity of Things, but the Price of this will be in Proportion to the Demand, in spite of all Regulations.—To save my self the Trouble of thinking I will transcribe for your Amusement a few observations of Lord Kaims, on the subject of Money, Scarcity, Plenty, and Demand. Read them, compare them with the Increase of Money in America, the Decrease of Goods and Labour, and the Increase of Demand for both, and then judge whether the Regulations and Embargoes can do any good. . . .3
LbC (Adams Papers); note at the foot of the text reads: “Sent. most of it”; but no RC has been found.
2. In Dec. 1776 the General Court had laid an embargo on all private vessels, forbidding them to trade with any but American coastal ports and banning the export of a long list of foodstuffs and other goods from Massachusetts. Though modified in one way or another in the following months, the embargo carried very heavy penalties for violations, was extended in February to goods carried out of the state by land as well as water transport, and (as shown by frequent allusions in letters that follow) was much complained of. See the numerous resolves relating to the embargo, Dec. 1776 – May 1777, in Mass., Province Laws description begins The Acts and Resolves, Public and Private, of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, Boston, 1869–1922; 21 vols. description ends , 19:713–714, 721–722, 773–774. 808–810, 928.
3. The remainder of this very long letter, omitted here, is a transcript of very nearly the entire fourth section, entitled “The Origin and Progress of Commerce,” in Henry Home, Lord Kames’ Six Sketches on the History of Man, Phila., 1776 (Evans description begins Charles Evans and others, comps., American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of All Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America [1639–1800], Chicago and Worcester, 1903–1959; 14 vols. description ends 14801), the abridged first American edition of his Sketches of the History of Man, 2 vols., Edinburgh, 1774. The passage copied by JA runs to more than 4,000 words and is taken from Six Sketches, p. 78–96, with a few omissions and JA’s usual small copying errors. In it Kames explains wage and price fluctuation in terms of the classical law of supply and demand, drawing examples, as was his way, from all over the known world.