Adams Papers

Abigail Adams to John Adams, 20 June 1783

Abigail Adams to John Adams

Braintree June 20th 17831

My Dearest Friend

If I was certain I should welcome you to your native Land in the course of the summer, I should not regret Mr. Smiths going abroad without me. Should it be otherways, should you still be detained abroad—I must submit, satisfied that you judge best, and that you would not subject me to so heavy a dissapointment, or yourself to so severe a mortification as I flatter myself it would be, but for the general good: a European life would, you say, be the ruin of our Children. If so, I should be as loth as you, to hazard their embibeing sentiments and opinions which might make them unhappy in a sphere of Life which tis probable they must fill, not by indulging in luxuries for which tis more than possible they might contract a taste and inclination, but in studious and labourious persuits.

You have before this day, received the joint commission for forming a commercial treaty with Britain.2 I am at a loss to determine whether you will consider yourself so bound by it, as to tarry longer abroad. Perhaps there has been no juncture in the publick affairs of our country; not even in the hour, of our deepest distress, when able statesmen and wise Counsellors were more wanted than at the present day. Peace abroad leaves us at leisure to look into our own domestick affairs. Altho upon an Estimate of our National debt, it appears but as the Small Dust of the balance, when compared to the object we have obtained, and the benifits we have secured, yet the Restless spirit of man will not be restrained; and we have reason to fear that Domestick Jars and confusions, will take place, of foreign contentions and devastations. Congress have commuted with the Army by engageing to them 5 years pay, in lieu of half pay for Life. With Security for this they will disband contented. But our wise Legislators are about disputing the power of Congress to do either;3 without considering their hands in the mouth of the Lion, and if the just and necessary food is not supplied, the outragious animal may become so ferocious as to spread horrour, and devastation, or an other Theseus may arise who by his reputation, and exploits of valour, whose personal character and universal popularity, may distroy our Amphictinik system and subjugate our infant republicks to Monarchical domination.4

Our House of Representitives is this Year composed of more than a hundred New Members, some of whom no doubt are good Men. Near all the able and skillfull Members who composed the last House have lost their Seats, by voting for the return of Mr. Brattle; notwithstanding the strongest evidence in his favour, and the many proofs which were produced of his Friendly conduct towards America. For this crime, our worthy Friend Mr. Cranch was droped by this Town.5 The Senate is a loser this year by the resignation of some excellent Members.6 We have in this state an impost of 5 per cent, and an excise act,7 whilst the Neighbouring states have neither. Foreigners finding this the case, cary their Cargoes to other states. At this the Merchant grumbles, the Farmer groans with his taxes, and the Mechanick for want of employ. Heaven Avert that like the Greek Republicks we should by civil discension weaken our power, and crush our rising greatness; that the Blood of our citizens, should be shed in vain: and the labour, and toil, of our statesmen; be finally bafled; through niggardly parsimony; Lavish prodigality; or Ignorance of our real Interest. We want a Soloman in wisdom, to guide and conduct this great people: at this critical aere, when the counsels which are taken, and the measures which are persued; will mark our future Character either with honour, and Fame, or disgrace, and infamy; in adversity, we have conducted with prudence and magninimity. Heaven forbid, that we should grow giddy with prosperity, or the height to which we have soared, render a fall conspicuously fatal.

Thus far I had written when your welcome favour of March 28th reached me;8 I was not dissapointed in finding you uncertain with regard to the Time of your return; should the appointment which I fear; and you have hinted at; take place, it would indeed be a dull day to me. I have not a wish to join in a scene of Life so different from that in which I have been educated; and in which my early and I must suppose, happier days, have been Spent; curiosity satisfied and I should sigh for tranquil Scenes,

“And wish that Heaven had left me still

The whisp’ring Zephyr, and the purling rill?”

Well orderd home is my chief delight, and the affectionate domestick wife with the Relative duties which accompany that character my highest ambition. It was the disinterested wish of sacrificeing my personal feelings to the publick utility, which first led me to think of unprotectedly hazarding a voyage. I say unprotectedly for so I consider every lady who is not accompanied by her Husband. This objection could only be surmounted by the earnest wish I had to soften those toils which were not to be dispenced with, and if the publick welfare required your Labours and exertions abroad, I flatterd myself, that if I could be with you, it might be in my power to contribute to your happiness and pleasure, but the day is now arrived, when with honour and well earned Fame, you may return to your native land—when I cannot any longer consider it as my duty to submit to a further Seperation, and when it appears necessary that those abilities which have crownd you with Laurels abroad, should be exerted at home for the publick Safety.

I do not wish you to accept an Embassy to England, should you be appointed. This little Cottage has more Heart felt Satisfaction for you than the most Brilliant Court can afford,9 the pure and undiminished tenderness of weded Love, the filial affection of a daughter who will never act contrary to the advise of a Father, or give pain to the Maternal Heart. Be assured that she will never make a choice without your approbation which I know she considers as Essential to her happiness. That she has a partiality I know, and believe, but that she has submitted her opinion to the advise of her Friends, and relinquished the Idea of a connection upon principals of prudence and duty, I can with equal truth assure you. Yet nothing unbecomeing the Character which I first entertaind has ever appeard in this young Gentleman since his residence in this Town, and he now visits in this family with the freedom of an acquaintance, tho not with the intimacy of a nearer connection. It was the request of Emelia who has conducted with the greatest prudence, that she might be permitted to see and treat this Gentleman as an acquaintance whom she valued. “Why said she should I treat a Gentleman who has done nothing to forfeit my Esteem, with neglect or contempt, merely because the world have said, that he entertained a preferable regard for me? If his foibles are to be treated with more severity than the vices of others, and I submit my judgment and opinion to the disapprobation of others in a point which so nearly concerns me, I wish to be left at liberty to act in other respects with becomeing decency.” And she does and has conducted so as to meet with the approbation of all her Friends. She has conquerd herself. An extract from a little poetick peice which Some months ago fell into my Hands10 may give you some Idea of the Situation of this Matter. You will tell me you do not want a poet,11 but if there is a mind otherways well furnished, you would have no objection to its being a mere amusement. You ask me if this Gentleman is a speaker at the Bar. He attends Plimouth Court and has spoke there. He is not yet sworn in to the Superiour Court, but is proposed to be sworn in the Next court, with his cotemporaries. I cannot say what he will make, but those who most intimately know him, say he has talants to make what he pleases, and fluency to become a good Speaker. His buisness encreases here, and I know nothing but what he is well esteemed. His temper and disposition appear to be good. The family in which he boards12 find no fault with his conduct. He is Regular in his liveing, keeps no company with Gay companions, seeks no amusement but in the society of two or 3 families in Town, never goes to Boston but when Buisness calls him there. If he has been the Gay thoughtless young fellow which he is said to have been and which I believe he was, he has at least practised one year of reformation. Many more will be necessary to Establish him in the world, whether he will make the man of worth and steadiness time must determine.

Our two sons are placed under the care, and in the family of Mr. Shaw. They have been near 3 months absent from me. This week with my daughter and Mr. Smith to accompany us I go to see them. My dear John, where is he?13 I long to see him. I have been very anxious about him. Such a winter journey. I hope he is with you. I want to receive a Letter from him. If you should continue abroad untill fall I should be glad you would make me a small remittance, goods will not answer. We are glutted with them. I do not wish for any thing more, than I want for my family use. In this way a few peices of Irish linnen and a peice of Russia sheeting together with 2 green silk umbrellas I should be glad of as soon as convenient. If you should have an opportunity from France to send me 3 Marsels cotton and silk quilts I should be very glad; they are like the Jacket patterns you sent me by Charles. I want a white, a Blew and a pink. Mr. Dana sent 3 to Mrs. Dana; I think she said Mr. Bonfeild procured them. I mentiond in a former Letter a few other articles.14 I am going to marry one of my family to a young fellow whom you liberated from jail, a son of Capt. Newcombs, to the Jane Glover who has lived 7 years with me and as she never would receive any wages from me I think myself obligated to find her necessaries for house keeping.15 I have been buying land, and my last adventure came to so poor a market, that I am quite broke. My letter is an unreasonable long one, yet I may take an other sheet of paper—not to night however. I will bid you good <night> by.16 I seal this least Mr. Smith should sail before I return. Mean to write more. Have a Letter for Mr. T[haxter].

RC (Adams Papers).

1This letter was probably begun before 14 June, and substantially finished before 20 June; see note 8.

2AA’s information was incorrect. On 1 May a congressional committee had reported on a letter from JA to the secretary for foreign affairs, R. R. Livingston, dated 5 Feb. in which he strongly recommended that steps be taken to negotiate a treaty of commerce with Great Britain. Struggling to control his distress at Congress’ earlier decision (July 1781) to revoke his 1779 commission to negotiate a commercial treaty with Britain, but nonetheless taking the opportunity to wonder about the reason for that loss, JA discussed extensively how such a treaty might be initiated, who might undertake the task, and what the advantages of a treaty would be (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 6:242–247). The committee responded by recommending that JA, Franklin, and Jay be authorized to enter into a commercial treaty (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 24:320–321, 405, note 1), and JA received a copy of the committee’s resolution from Franklin on 7 Sept., which he recorded verbatim in his Diary, and in two different Letterbooks. But Congress never implemented this resolution, and in the fall of 1783 they initiated new measures to settle their diplomatic establishment, which they did not complete until May 1784. 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 , 3:141–142, and note 2.

3For a thorough discussion of the effect upon Massachusetts factions of Congress’ commutation of officers’ pay, see Van Beck Hall, Politics without Parties: Massachusetts, 1780–1791, Pittsburgh, 1972, p. 152–158.

4The Amphictionic League of city-states in central Greece existed throughout the classical period and centered on the temple of Apollo at Delphi. At first primarily religious in nature, the League occasionally exercised real political power. As a confederation of representatives from several sovereign states, however, the League was never able to sustain its unity or power over long periods. Theseus, from a much earlier period of Greek history, was the presumably mythical hero who united the several communities of Attica into the powerful city-state of Athens. Oxford Classical Dictionary description begins The Oxford Classical Dictionary, ed. N. G. L. Hammond and H. H. Scullard, 2d edn., Oxford, 1970. description ends .

This passage is the first extant expression of AA’s concern that if the states did not support Congress’ settlement with the recently disbanded Continental Army (“the Lion”), a “Theseus” (George Washington or another military leader) might lead the discontented forces to destroy the American confederation of free sovereign states. Other expressions of fear and distrust of the Army, and particularly of its officers, appear in letters by AA and JA beginning in 1784, below. In those letters the immediate object of the Adams’ criticisms was the newly formed Society of the Cincinnati.

5In 1779 Thomas Brattle, who had left Massachusetts in 1775, returned from Europe to New York and then to Rhode Island, but was denied permission to return to his home in Massachusetts on the grounds that he was a loyalist refugee, even though JA had written a letter on his behalf (to Oliver Wendell, 14 Nov. 1779, JA, Papers description begins Papers of John Adams, ed. Robert J. Taylor, Gregg L. Lint (from vol. 6), and others, Cambridge, 1977-. description ends , 8:289). Staying in Rhode Island, he gave evidence of his patriotism by serving on the staff of Gen. James M. Varnum and by performing services for the French forces. In the spring of 1783 Brattle once more sought permission to return to his home state, but Massachusetts’ House of Representatives rejected his petition by a vote of 52 to 51 (see John Thaxter to JA, 12 Aug., Adams Papers). Brattle finally won back his citizenship and property through court action.

The new House of Representatives that assembled at the end of May 1783, considerably larger than its predecessor, had 135 new faces. Of the 51 representatives that had voted for Brattle, 28 were replaced or resigned, while 37 of the 52 who voted against Brattle returned to office. While AA exaggerates the connection between the vote on Brattle and the membership of the new House, she may have thought that several of the 28 who voted for Brattle and were replaced were particularly “able and skillful Members” of the legislature. Independent Chronicle, 6 March 1783; Sibley’s Harvard Graduates description begins John Langdon Sibley and Clifford K. Shipton, Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Cambridge and Boston, 1873–. description ends , 14:568–572; membership lists for 1782–1783 and 1783–1784, Records of the States, Microfilm, Mass. A.1b, Reel No. 10, Unit 3, p. 1–9; Reel No. 11, Unit 1, p. 1–9).

6Eight of the thirty nine senators elected in 1782 were not listed in the records of the 1783 election. One other senator, Caleb Strong of Northampton, declined to serve after being elected (Records of the States, A.1a, Reel 16, Unit 1, p. 4–11; Unit 2, p. 5–9, 20).

7On Massachusetts’ impost and excise taxes, see Hall, Politics without Parties, p. 111–112 and references there.

8This sentence indicates that the foregoing paragraphs were written before 14 June, when AA wrote to Royall Tyler, above, and quoted JA’s letter of 28 March, also above.

9In all of his editions of AA’s Letters (1840, 1841, 1848), CFA omitted virtually the entire text after this point, up to the close: “I will bid you good night.” The only material that he included, in any editions, is marked at note 13.

10See AA to JA, 30 Dec. 1782, above.

11See JA to AA, 22 Jan., above.

12Royall Tyler boarded with Richard and Mary Cranch, AA’s brother-in-law and sister.

13In his 1841 and 1848 editions of AA’s Letters, CFA included the passage from “My dear John” to “I want to receive a Letter from him.” He omitted this passage from AA, Letters, 1840 description begins Letters of Mrs. Adams, the Wife of John Adams. With an Introductory Memoir by Her Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, Boston, 1840. description ends .

14Probably that of 7 May, above, at note 5.

15Bryant Newcomb and Jane Glover formally announced their intention to marry on 2 Aug. (Braintree Town Records description begins Samuel A. Bates, ed., Records of the Town of Braintree, 1640 to 1793, Randolph, Mass., 1886. description ends , p. 885). On JA’s role in freeing Bryant Newcomb from Mill Prison in Plymouth, England, where he and other Braintree residents were being held as prisoners of war, see vol. 4:257, 259–261, note 3.

16The remainder of the text was written in the margin.

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