Philadelphia April 27th. 1777 Sunday1
I think it is Montesqueiu, who, Somewhere observes, that the English of Charles’s days were perpetually bewildered in their Pursuit of a Republic, for being themselves extreamly corrupt, they Sought, in vain for that pure and disinterested Principle upon which, alone, a Commonwealth can Stand.
The Principle of Republican Government, is as little understood in America, as its Spirit is felt. Ambition in a Republic, is a great Virtue, for it is nothing more than a Desire, to Serve the Public, to promote the Happiness of the People, to increase the Wealth, the Grandeur, and Prosperity of the Community. This, Ambition is but another Name for public Virtue, and public Spirit. But the Ambition which has Power for its object, which desires to increase the Wealth, the Grandeur, and the Glory of an Individual, at the Expence of the Community, is a very heinous Vice.
What Shall We Say of Oliver Cromwell? What Shall We Say of others, his Coadjutors? Can We Say, that they were actuated by a Love of the Public? Were they not governed by Selfish Motives? I make no Scruple to confess that I think Oliver, totally destitute of the Republican Principle of public Virtue. He thought himself honest, and Sincere. So did Balaam, when he asked Leave to curse Israel. There never was a greater self deceiver than Oliver Cromwell. The Man after Gods own Heart, to whom Nathan Said Thou art the Man, deceived himself, in the Same manner.2 How sincere was he, when he felt such honest Indignation against the Man, who had taken his poor Neighbours Lambs.
We, in America, are So contaminated, with the Selfish Principles of Monarchy, and with that bastard, corrupted Honour, that Monarchy inspires, that We have no Idea, no Conception, no Imagination, no Dream, of the Passions and Principles, which Support Republics. What will become of Us? God knows.
The Commissary General,3 this Evening related me an Anecdote, which gave me great Spirits as it seemed an Evidence that Integrity was not lost out of the World.
He Said that in comparing his Accounts he missed Seventy Pounds, and puzzled himself a long Time, to no Purpose to discover, where it could be gone. For several Months he had given it up, as lost and unaccountable. At last Coll Cary4 of Bridgwater, <
of whose military Abilities, I have no Opinion,> came to him and told him, that after he went home from Cambridge where he had commanded a Regiment of Militia, he paid off, every Bill, and had Seventy Pounds left. He recollected that he had received no Money but from the Commissary General, and therefore that he must have received too much. This accounted for the Commissarys Loss. Here was Integrity. If all Americans, were Carys, We should be fit for a Republic. But, how many Carys have We? I am afraid to Say how few I think We have.
LbC (Adams Papers). Since this letter lacks the usual notation “Sent,” as well as a salutation and the name of the recipient, it may not have gone out.
1. Preceding this letter in the Letter-book are two entries. One, dated 16 April, begins an answer to a letter dated on the 5th. Its first sentence is left incomplete. Very likely it was intended for Nathanael Greene, since it ends with “I yesterday obtained the approbation of C[ongress]” (see Nathanael Greene to JA, 5 April, note 1, above). Next there follows this notation: “April 27. wrote ten Letters. G. Greene. G. Knox. S. Freeman Esq. Dr. Cooper. J. Hastings. Dr. Foster, Mr. Tudor. G. Warren and two to Portia. These will go by Capt. Thompson or by next Wednesdays Post. They are as well worth copying as any others, but I am weary of the Employment.” The date given was the day on which JA recorded this information; the ten letters were actually written over a period of several days. Thus, letters were written to AA on 26 and 27 April (Adams Family Correspondence description begins Adams Family Correspondence, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1963-. description ends , 2:223–226). Greene mentions receiving a letter dated the 27th, but Knox and Hastings acknowledged receipt of letters dated the 25th, the latter mentioning “Your Favor per Capt. Thompson of April 25” (all below). We have located letters to Tudor and Freeman dated the 27th (both above), but letters of this period to Greene, Knox, Cooper, Hastings, Warren, and Foster have not been found. The letter to Warren dated 27 April (JA, Works description begins The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Boston, 1850–1856; 10 vols. description ends , 9:462–463) should be dated 3 April [?] 1777 (see below).
JA wrote to more than one correspondent about his fears for the survival of republican government in America, most recently to William Gordon (8 April, above), but for whom the present letter was intended remains undetermined. That JA began it without a salutation suggests it was intended for someone well known, for only occasionally to close friends did he omit a salutation in this period. None of these had recently raised the problem of republicanism.
2. 2 Samuel, 12:7.
3. Joseph Trumbull.