John Adams to Abigail Adams
Ap. 27. 1777
Your Favours of Ap. 2 and Ap. 7. I have received.
The inclosed Evening Post, will give you, some Idea, of the Humanity of the present Race of Brittons.1—My Barber, whom I quote as often as ever I did any Authority, says “he has read Histories of Cruelty; and he has read Romances of Cruelty: But the Cruelty of the British exceeds all that he ever read.”
For my own Part, I think We cannot dwell too much, on this Part of their Character, and Conduct. It is full of important Lessons. If the Facts only were known, in the Utmost Simplicity of Narration, they would strike every pious, and humane Bosom, in Great Britain with Horror. . . .2 Every Conscience in that Country is not callous nor every Heart hardened.
The plainest Relation of Facts, would interest the Sympathy, and Compassion of all Europe in our Favour. And it would convince every American that a Nation, so great a Part of which is thus deeply depraved, can never be again trusted with Power over Us.
I think that not only History should perform her Office, but Painting, Sculpture, Statuary, <
Medalling?> and Poetry ought to assist in publishing to the World, and perpetuating to Posterity, the horrid deeds of our Enemies. It will shew the Persecution, We suffer, in defence of our Rights—it will shew the Fortitude, Patience, Perseverance and Magnanimity of Americans, in as strong a Light, as the Barbarity and Impiety of Britons, in this persecuting War. Surely, Impiety consists, in destroying with such hellish Barbarity, the rational Works of the Deity, as much as in blaspheming and defying his Majesty.
If there is a moral Law: if there is a divine Law—and that there is every intelligent Creature is conscious—to trample on these Laws, to hold them in Contempt and Defyance; is the highest Exertion of Wickedness, and Impiety, that Mortals can be guilty of. The Author of human Nature, who gave it its Rights, will not see it ruined, and suffer its destroyers to escape with Impunity. Divine Vengeance will sometime or other, overtake the Alberts, the Phillips, and Georges—the Alvas, the Grislers3 and Howes, and vindicate the Wrongs of oppressed human Nature.
I think that Medals in Gold, Silver and Copper ought to be struck in Commemoration of the shocking Cruelties, the brutal Barbarities and the diabolical Impieties of this War, and these should be contrasted with the Kindness, Tenderness, Humanity and Philanthropy, which have marked the Conduct of Americans towards their Prisoners.
It is remarkable, that the Officers and Soldiers of our Enemies, are so totally depraved, so compleatly destitute of the Sentiments of Philanthropy in their own Hearts, that they cannot believe that such delicate Feelings can exist in any other, and therefore have constantly ascribed that Milk and Honey with which We have treated them to Fear, Cowardice, and conscious Weakness.—But in this they are mistaken, and will discover their Mistake too late to answer any good Purpose for them.
RC (Adams Papers). Enclosure not found, but see note 1. An important but perhaps not completely accurate memorandum in JA’s letterbook (Lb/JA/3) states that on 27 April he “wrote ten Letters,” including “two to Portia. These will go by Captn. Thompson or by next Wednesdays Post.—They are as well worth copying as any others, but I am weary of the Employment.” Only four or five of the letters listed by recipients’ names in this memorandum are apparently present or recorded under this date in the Adams Papers Editorial Files, but others in the list may actually exist and be recorded under slightly later dates. There is, however, no indication that a second letter from JA dated 27 April was ever received by AA; see her acknowledgment of the present letter, 18 May, below.
1. On 16 Jan. Congress had appointed a committee of seven members, Samuel Chase chairman, “to enquire into the conduct of the British and Hessian generals and officers towards the officers, soldiers and mariners in the service of the United States, and any other persons, inhabitants of these States, in their possession, as prisoners of war, or otherwise, and also into the conduct of the said generals and officers, and the troops under their command, towards the subjects of these States and their property, more especially of the States of New York and New Jersey” (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 7:42–43). The committee acted energetically in collecting evidence and began its report, which was read in Congress on 18 April, as follows:
“That, in every place where the enemy has been, there are heavy complaints of oppression, injury, and insult, suffered by the inhabitants. . . . The committee found these complaints so greatly diversified, that, as it was impossible to enumerate them, so it appeared exceedingly difficult to give a distinct and comprehensive view of them, or such an account, as would not, if published, appear extremely defective, when read by the unhappy sufferers, or the country in general.
“In order, however, in some degree, to answer the design of their appointment, they determined to divide the object of their enquiry into four parts: First, The wanton and oppressive devastation of the country, and destruction of property: Second, the inhuman treatment of those who were so unhappy as to become prisoners: Third, The savage butchery of many who had submitted or were incapable of resistance: Fourth, The lust and brutality of the soldiers in abusing of women.
“They will, therefore, now briefly state, what they found to be the truth upon each of these heads separately, and subjoin to the whole, affidavits and other evidence to support their assertions” (same description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , p. 276–277).
Congress immediately accepted the report and ordered it published, “with the affidavits.” The Pennsylvania Evening Post of 24 April devoted its entire front page to the report and continued the supporting affidavits in its issues of 26 and 29 April and 3 May. JA probably sent AA a copy of the issue of 26 April with the present letter, and a copy of that of 3 May with his letter of 4 May, below. On the following 19 July Congress ordered the committee to publish the report and affidavits as a pamphlet, “and that 4,000 copies in English, and 2,000 in German, be struck off and distributed through the several States” (same description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 8:565). It is very doubtful if this was done since no copy of a pamphlet printing has been found.
2. Suspension points in MS.
3. Hermann Gessler, the more or less legendary persecutor of the Swiss patriot William Tell.