Abigail Adams to Cotton Tufts
London october 10th 1786
Your Letters of july 6th and August 15th were duly received. The accounts containd in Yours of july 6th respecting publick affairs is not be sure so agreeable as the Lovers of peace and good order would wish. Our Countrymen have of late been so much accustomed to turbulent times, and stormy weather, that I cannot but hope that we have skillfull pilots enough to stear the Ship safe. Mutinous passengers will no doubt add to the Danger. More particularly so when encouraged and abetted by the crews of seditious and artfull Neighbours.
Your publick papers are full of Speculations, some of them be sure quite wild and ridiculous, others repleat with wisdom judgment and prudence. Such was the address to the General court, publishd in Adams & Nourses paper june 29th. which I conceive to be the production of mr Gerry,1 and as he has there pointed out those Virtues which are essential to the union and good Government of the State, by which it may render itself happy at home, and respected abroad. I will still hope that there is wisdom and integrity sufficient in the Mass of the people to bring them into practise. It is most earnestly to be wished, that the abilities of our literary Countrymen, would turn into some different channals from what seems lately to have occupied them and instead of abuseing and crying down one of the liberal professions, endeavour by decent measures to rectify the abuses which may have crept into it. It is not by enflaming the passion of Mankind that any benifit can result to a community at large. “The raging of the Sea, and the Madness of the people are put together in holy writ, and it is God alone who can say to either, hitherto shalt thou pass and no further, says a political writer.”2 The meetings of the people in different Towns of our state, can never terminate in any good, and every sensible Man will discourage them, and employ their pens in convincing their Citizens that, Whilst they have a free uncorrupted House of Assembly they cannot possibly be justified in the pursuit of Measures subversive of good order. Dean Swift observes that a usurping populace is always its own dupe, a mere under worker, and a purchaser in trust for some Single Tyrant whose state and power they advance to their own Ruin with as blind an instinct, as those worms who die with weaving Magnificent Habits for Beings of a Superiour Nature to their own.3
But when I consider what an influence the counsel of one wise Man possessd of integrity and publick spirit has had in all free countries over the passions of Men, I can never despair whilst I have reason to think, every little Town and Village possesses more than one; perhaps 5 of that description. Let not Him whom I address, and others like him, in whose Hands our publick affairs rest, be Disheartned or Dismayed, for publick virtue, sooner or later will meet with Glory and Success: the encouragement of Agriculture and manufactories will tend to lessen that rage for Luxery which has produced many of the evils under which our people are now groaning. Idleness is the parent of contention and disobedience.4 The industerous Hollander wears his Coat in the same fashion which it descended to him from his Ancestors, and possessing a capital which in a Country I could name, would rear a splendid building, spread a Sumptuous table and harness an elegant equipage, the Hollander neat in his Cloathing, decent in his House frugal at his table employs his capital in the advancement of commerce, in the acquirement of future credit, in the Regular discharge of his obligations, and in the support of the Government, tho at present disturbed by internal commotions, and the usurpations of the Statdholder. If the meddlesome Genius of Neighbouring Princes does not intefere, they will Recover their ancient privileges. This disposition seems to prevail as strongly there, as the determination to shake of Tyranny ever did in the united States, from whence they acknowledge to have caught their present Spirit.5
You have seen no doubt Lord Carmarthens answer to mr Adams’s Memorial. It was first communicated to the World in an American Paper Publishd at Baltimore. Upon its arrival here the Ministry publishd it from their own records, together with an extract from the Memorial; Can our Country expect any thing from this, untill the Treaty is complied with upon our part by the Removal of every legal impediment to the recovery of British Debts.6 If the decisions of an American jury should be against allowing interest during the War, they will determine it so, and the British creditor ought to Set down satisfied. It is the opinion of those whom I have heard converse upon the Subject, that there would be more lenity on the part of the Creditor and less distress attending the debtor, if the Laws were repealed and justice had its fair course.
The papers received lately from Governour Bowdoin, respecting the encroachments made at Passamaquode have been laid before Lord Carmarthan on a private capacity. As mr Adams has not yet received them offically from congress, he could not deliver them in his publick Character. His Lordship said he was sorry to see disputes of that kind arising, but he hoped that Lord Dorchester, (Sir Guy Carlton) would Settle them all as he had Authority to do.7
Mr Barclay has made a Treaty with the Emperor of Moroco, but as it has not yet come to Hand can say nothing respecting it.8 You will see by the papers how elated this people appear at their Treaty with France, which some persons say however will only end, in accelerating a War between the Nations. But War I imagine is far from the wish of the present Ministry even with America, tho they may press her as far as she will bear without turning, depending upon her inability. It is the opinion of some persons that France has deeper views in this late Maneuvre than at present appear to the world. Our own Country would do well to imitate the watchfull Argus instead of the Sleeping dragon, least the Gardens of Hesperides be rob’d of all their Golden Apples. Neither Country wishes our growth or prosperity. No dependance is to be placed upon them. Our Navy they fear the Growth of, and every measure will be concerted to keep it under.9
I Sent you sir by one of the last vessels the papers respecting the ridiculous publications of Lord George Gordon, with mr Tufts lame replies. Tho the Character of Lord Gorge Gordon is at present well known here, it is not so in America; where only these publications can do mischief, and as the Letters have only been partially publishd in America, I am well satisfied that they will infuse into the minds of the people there, that mr Adams is a pensioner of France, tho Lord Gorges assertion was that he received his Sallery from thence.10 I am the more convinced of the injury this may do, by an extract of a Letter which I have cut from Your centinal and inclose to you.11 Some such circumstances as these and with as little coulour of Truth, frequently descend to posterity, are related in history for facts and fix a lasting Stigma upon innocent Characters. Algernon Sydney and Lord Russel in Dalrimple papers are publishd to the World as receiving Bribes from France. Men who I dare say would have spurnd the Idea.12 Mr Tufts I believe was ungaurdedly taken in, by a Man who would stick at no measures to do mischief, and whose medlesome disposition leads him to torment in some way or other every foreign Minister here. What I have to request of you Sir, is that the Letters may all be publishd together in one paper, and the denial of the assertion as you find it in the Daily, or Publick Advertizer I forget which, with a request to the printers who have made partial publication, to print the whole. If some little Stricture was added, that as no person every appeard; tho thus publickly challengd to produce any evidence upon the Subject, the whole ought to be considerd as the vagary of a distracted Brain, like Margrate Nicolsons attack upon the Life of the King.
I was much pleasd with my late visit to Holland, where we received every politeness and attention from the people which I could wish. I believe I have sufferd in my Health in concequence of the Climate, but Still I do not regret having once Seen a Country every way singular. I was witness too, to a Grand scene, the Triumph of Liberty, which having deposed a Number of their old Majestrates Elected 15 New ones, and in the most Solemn Manner in a large Square upon an elevated platform, amidst a Multitude of ten thousand persons assembled on the occasion, the chief Seecratary Administerd the oaths to them and all the people said Amen! in other words gave three huzzas. The free Choirs as they are calld or rather Militia; to the amount of 3 thousand were all under arms during the ceremony. The Magistrates were then conducted two and two to their Carriages, and the troops together with the Multitude retired in perfect good order. We were at the Window of a House in a room provided for us, from whence we had a perfect view of the ceremony. And in the Evening the Secretary who administerd the oath, came in the Name of the Citizens to make their compliments to mr Adams with their thanks for the honour he had done them, and wishes for the prosperity of himself family and Country.13
Thus sir I have given you a detail upon several subjects, which I should have omitted if I could have drawn mr A. from his present subject to Letter writing. But between ourselves, he is as much engaged upon the Subject of Government as Plato was when he wrote his Laws and Republick.14
From Congress no official Dispatches have arrived for three Months.15 We hope they are deliberating to some purpose.
As to Domestick affairs you will draw for what you find necessary for the support of the Children and your Bills will be immediatly honourd. We feel Sir under obligations to you for your kind care and attention to all our domestick affairs. Mr Adams desires me to tell you that he would buy the two peices of Land, Belchers and verchilds, tho he thinks them of no great value. I am glad you are not like to have any further trouble with mr T. The least said upon a former subject the best. Wound not the Striken dear.
Both mr Adams and I request that mr Cranch should be paid the Board of our children during the vacancies and that mrs Cranch should charge washing mending &c. We cannot consent that our Children should be burdensome to our Friends. It is unreasonable.
I inclose the account of the Books purchased for .16 The Bill of the papers procured here by mr Cushings request was inclosed to mr King with the papers and amounted to 15 pounds Sterling which mr Adams desired mr Cushing to pay to you. If it is not done, we will get a New Bill made out and Signd by the Gentleman and will inclose it to you.
Will you be so good sir as to accept a trifle, a new kind of Manufactory for Summer wear, which is used here for waist coats and Breeches. It is in a small trunk with some things I have sent to my children and the bundle addrest to you. My paper curtails me to two17
RC (NNMus: J. Clarence Davies Collection, 34.100.596); endorsed: “Mrs. Ab Adams. octob. 10. 1786.” Dft (Adams Papers), filmed at , Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 369.
1. AA refers to a speech delivered in the Massachusetts House during debate over whether state loan certificates should be called in at their current (depreciated) value. Elbridge Gerry represented Marblehead (Boston Independent Chronicle, 29 June).
2. Jonathan Swift, A Discourse of the Contests and Dissensions between the Nobles and the Commons in Athens and Rome, London, 1701, p. 52–53.
3. Same, p. 47. JA included this passage in his Defence of the Const. description begins John Adams, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, London, 1787–1788; 3 vols. description ends , 1:104.
4. The first two paragraphs of the Dft correspond to the RC up to this point but vary so considerably that the editors print them here in their entirety:
“Your Letters of july 6th and August 15 were duly received. The accounts containd in yours of july 6 as well as those to mr Adams of our publick affairs is not be sure so agreeable as the Lovers of peace and good order would wish, but we have been so used to turbelant times and stormy weather that I cannot but hope we have skillfull poilots enough to Stear the Ship Safe. Mutinous <
hands> passengers will no doubt add to the danger, more particularly so when they are encouraged and abetted by the crews of Dangerous and powerfull Neighbours. There is a constant succession of Prosperity and adversity in all Humane affairs. Man is a wrestless Being and must be employd < either> for the benifit < or mischief> of his fellow creatures or he will sink into Idleness which produces contention disobedience to the Laws Ruin and confusion, and from this Source I imagine great part of the evils under which our Country is now groaning will be found to proceed. During the war money tho of small value was easily procured and the small estimation in which it was held, introduced Luxery and extravagance of every Specie. The lower cass of people who can least bear wealth grew indolent and overbearing. They could live easier upon less labour and in reality they felt little of the publick burden. Now they are obliged to labour more Gain less and pay more. They are exclaming on all hands and foolishly think that the fault lies with their rulers. But a Still greater evil results from the distress into which the mercantile part of the States have brought themselves by the Debts contracted to this Country. The difficulty of remittances and the calls of their Iritated creditors obliges them to shut their Doors and exposes them to the sudden attacks of all their credittors at once. British factors will swarm amongst us and pick up our remaining pence. The Guineys are already I presume nearly exported. But after some time these evils will be remided. We Shall emerge from our present State of depression made wiser by experience, and the little jealousys which Subsist between different States will be swallowd up in the one Idea of uniting for common Defence. Perhaps you will Say the remedy is worse than the disease. What ever it may be, a little time will oblige us to the experiment I fear.
“When I consider what an influence the counsels of one wise man possest of integrity and publick Spirit, has upon the mass of the people, I can never despair whilst I have reason to think <
some> every little Town and village possesses more than one or even 5 of that description. Let not those in whose hands our publick affairs rest be disheartned or dismayed for publick virtue is always attended with Glory and Success. Your publick papers are full of Speculations, some of them be sure quite wild and riduculous others repleat with wisdom judgment and prudence. Such was the address to the General Court publishd in Adams & Nourse paper june 29th which I conceive to be the production of mr Gerry, as he has there pointed out those virtues which are essential to the union and good government of the State, by which it may render itself happy at home and esteemed abroad. I will still hope that there is wisdom and integrity Sufficient in the Mass of the people to bring them into practise. These meetings of the people in the different Towns of the State ought to be Discouraged and Discountananced by informing them that there can be no possible occasion for such measures whilst they have a free uncorrupted representation in the General assembly. The Craft of < some> a desiging knave is Sufficient only for a time to Dupe the Multitude. I have always observed in my countrymen a disposition to hear truth, as soon as their passions have subsided. Swift observes in some of his political observations that a usurping populace is its own Dupe, a mere underworker and a purchaser in trust for some Single tyrant, whose State and power they advance to their own ruin with as blind an instinct as those worms that die with weaving magnificent Habits for beings of a superiour Nature to their own.”
5. This very month JA published a series of letters he wrote to Hendrik Calkoen, an Amsterdam lawyer, in Oct. 1780 analyzing Dutch and American society and comparing the Low Countries’ revolt against Spain to the American Revolution. For JA’s Twenty-six Letters, upon Interesting Subjects, Respecting the Revolution of America and the circumstances leading to their composition, see Papers description begins Papers of John Adams, ed. Robert J. Taylor, Gregg L. Lint, and others, Cambridge, 1977– . description ends , 10:196–252.
6. For JA’s memorial of 30 Nov. 1785, see AA to Cotton Tufts, 21 Feb., note 3, above. Carmarthen replied on 28 Feb., citing obstacles in violation of Art. 4 of the peace treaty that British creditors had encountered attempting to collect American debts; he concluded by stating that Britain would fulfill every article of the treaty when the United States had demonstrated its readiness to do the same. JA sent the response to John Jay on 4 March and it was presented to Congress in early May (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Worthington C. Ford and others, Washington, D.C., 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 31:781–797; Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Paul H. Smith and others, Washington, D.C., 1976–2000; 26 vols. description ends , 23:287).
The Baltimore Maryland Journal published Carmarthen’s response on 4 July. AA probably saw the piece reprinted under that dateline in the London Daily Universal Register, 5 September.
7. James Bowdoin’s letter of 11 July (PRO: F.O. 4, vol. 4, f. 487–489) concerned a boundary dispute between Massachusetts and New Brunswick. On 26 June, New Brunswick officials seized two Massachusetts vessels anchored on the western side of Passamaquoddy Bay, claiming that their jurisdiction extended to its western shore. If true, New Brunswick could prohibit U.S. navigation into the bay, making several Massachusetts townships virtually inaccessible. Also at stake was the status of several islands in the bay (Mass., Acts and Laws description begins Acts and Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts [1780–1805], Boston, 1890–1898; 13 vols. description ends , Resolves of 1786, May sess., ch. 92; Charles Storer to JA, 21 July, Adams Papers).
Included among the eight enclosures Bowdoin sent JA (not found) were Bowdoin’s message to the General Court notifying them of the seizure, 7 July; the Court’s resolve concerning the matter, 8 July (Mass., Acts and Laws description begins Acts and Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts [1780–1805], Boston, 1890–1898; 13 vols. description ends , Resolves of 1786, May sess., ch. 92 and 127); the Council’s advice; and various letters and depositions from residents at Passamaquoddy, including Massachusetts excise officers James Avery and Samuel Tuttle.
Guy Carleton, 1st Lord Dorchester, was reappointed governor of Canada in April and arrived in Quebec in Oct. (DNB description begins Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds., The Dictionary of National Biography, repr. ed., London, 1959–1960; 22 vols. plus supplements. description ends ).
8. Thomas Barclay concluded negotiations with Morocco for a Treaty of Peace and Friendship and an additional article on 28 June and 15 July. Col. David Franks carried the treaty from Cadiz to Paris, where it was signed by Jefferson on 1 Jan. 1787, and then to London, where JA added his signature on 25 Jan. (Miller, Treaties description begins Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America, ed. Hunter Miller, Washington, D.C., 1931–1948; 8 vols. description ends , 2:185; Jefferson, Papers description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, Princeton, N.J., 1950– . description ends , 10:418, 618).
9. In her Dft, AA does not mention Barclay and the Moroccan treaty but adds the following paragraph concerning the Anglo-French commercial treaty negotiated by William Eden and Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours in September: “Treatys of commerce you will See by the publick Papers are comeing so much into vogue that a very extrodanary one has lately been Signd by the Count de Vergenes and mr Eden. The papers are by degrees feeling the pulse of the Nation and giving out the articles by peace meal. The papers begin already to clamour and by the time Parliament meets <
I> it is imagined there will be a warm contest. It is thought France has deeper views in it than is at present discoverd. < It is an event which> Our Country are interested in watching and attending to this Manuver with Argus Eyes.”
10. This controversy regarding JA’s salary, for which see AA to Tufts, 22 July, above, was first reported in the Boston Independent Chronicle, 6 July. JA’s rebuttal, originally published anonymously in the London Public Advertiser, 9 May, was summarized in the Boston Gazette, 17 July, and reprinted in full in the Boston American Herald, 4 September.
11. Not found.
12. Sir John Dalrymple (1726–1810) made the allegations against Algernon Sidney and Lord William Russell in his Memoirs of Great Britain and Ireland. From the Dissolution of the Last Parliament of Charles II, until the Sea-Battle off La Hogue, 1771, Part 1, book 1 (DNB description begins Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds., The Dictionary of National Biography, repr. ed., London, 1959–1960; 22 vols. plus supplements. description ends ).
13. AA and JA attended the swearing-in ceremony for several Patriot magistrates who had been elected at Utrecht in early August. This event represented the triumph of the Patriot Party in its attempt to introduce at least limited democracy into the Council of Utrecht (JA to Thomas Jefferson, 11 Sept. 1786, Jefferson, Papers description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, Princeton, N.J., 1950– . description ends , 10:348–349; Simon Schama, Patriots and Liberators: Revolution in the Netherlands 1780–1813, N.Y., 1977, p. 88–91, 97–100).
14. This is the first reference to the beginning of JA’s work on what would become his three-volume A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America. JA began writing what was ostensibly a series of letters to his son-in-law WSS in Sept. 1786 and would conclude the first book by the end of the year. It was published in Jan. 1787 in London. Subsequent volumes appeared in London in Aug. 1787 and Jan. 1788, respectively. During that time, JA’s other letter writing—especially personal letters—was substantially reduced and only picked up again in late December when the bulk of the first volume had been completed.
JA began the Defence as a response to a letter written by Baron Anne-Robert Turgot in 1778 and published by Richard Price in 1784, which attacked American state constitutions for their bicameralism. JA feared that too many Americans had come to agree with Turgot and sought to refute his ideas, arguing for the importance of a balanced government and separation of powers among the democratic, aristocratic, and monarchic elements of the state. Using material from a wide array of sources including historians, philosophers, and political theorists (some attributed, some silently quoted), JA examined various earlier republics and attempted to demonstrate that lack of balance in government led to civil war. The reports of growing unrest in Massachusetts, culminating in Shays’ Rebellion, reinforced JA’s concerns and provided a backdrop to the work.
The Defence received widespread distribution throughout the United States. The books first reached Boston in mid-April 1787, and Cotton Tufts arranged for their dissemination to various individuals as well as a Boston bookseller. By the summer, American editions of the first volume had been printed in New York and Philadelphia, and portions had been reprinted in various newspapers throughout the states. Despite this, it is not clear that the Defence had any significant influence on the Constitutional Convention then meeting in Philadelphia. While some praised the work for its commitment to a balanced government, others expressed concern about JA’s admiration of the British constitution and feared that he was advocating a return to a monarchy.
For more extensive discussions of the work’s ideas and influence on American political thought, see C. Bradley Thompson, “John Adams and the Science of Politics,” John Adams and the Founding of the Republic, ed. Richard Alan Ryerson, Boston, 2001, p. 237–265; and “John Adams: A Defence of the Constitutions,” Doc. Hist. Ratif. Const. description begins The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, ed. Merrill Jensen, John P. Kaminski, Gaspare J. Saladino, and others, Madison, Wis., 1976– . description ends , 13:81–90.
JA’s literary notes for the volume, which include copies of lengthy excerpts from various sources quoted in the books and drafts of the preface and some letters, are filmed at M/JA/9, Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 188. The volumes themselves were reprinted by Da Capo Press in 1971.
15. In the Dft this sentence concludes: “the Treaty with Prussia excepted which he hastned and exchanged a few Days before the Death of the King.” The final paragraph in the Dft begins: “As we cannot know the determinations of Congress I cannot state what they may determine to do with their Minister here.” The remainder of the paragraph thanks Tufts for his care of the Adams boys and directs him to pay the Cranches for boarding them during college vacations. The other topics appearing at the end of the RC are not in the Dft.
16. Blank in MS; probably Rev. Manasseh Cutler (1742–1823), Yale 1765, an Ipswich, Mass., minister and later a director of the Ohio Company (Cotton Tufts to AA, 2 Jan. 1787, below; Sibley’s Harvard Graduates description begins John Langdon Sibley, Clifford K. Shipton, Conrad Edick Wright, Edward W. Hanson, and others, Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts [title varies], Cambridge and Boston, 1873– . description ends , 16:138–154).
17. AA probably refers to the fact that she only has space to sign her initials.