Adams Papers

V. To the Abbé de Mably, 17 January 1783

V. To the Abbé de Mably

Paris. January 17th. 1783—


In the letter which I did myself the honor to write you, on the 15th. I did not think proper to mention myself, or any writings of mine, while I was enumerating those original Documents for history, which are already in print. But as I have been constantly an Actor, in the American Controversy & Revolution, in some Capacity or other, fm. the year 1761. and, altho’ constantly much oppressed with business, public or private, have frequently been obliged to write & publish sentiments upon public Affairs, generally, however, without my name, I think it now an honor to communicate to you, in Confidence, what I have written that has been published— I do this, with design, that, in case any Accident shd. happen to me,1 which from the present ill State of my health I have reason to apprehend there shd. be extant some authentic Account from my self of what I have written, that my memory may not be loaded by Posterity with a multitude of base writings, of which I am incapable, nor honor’d with the imputation of superior writings, beyond the reach of my Capacity— If life shd. be spared me, it is my intention to collect them all together, & print them, as they are numerous eno: to form several volumes. They are valuable only as rude Documents of history.

The first in order is in the year—

1761— A report of the argument of the Case of “Writs of Assistants,” before the superior Court at Boston. At this time I was young at the bar, and took some imperfect minutes of the arguments of Mr: Gridley, Mr: Otis, & Mr: Thatcher & of the Judges— This argument opened to view a system of facts & of Principles, wh: shewed that G:B: entertained Sentiments & Designs, concerning the Colonies, wh: every native, unbiassed American knew & felt that they never would finally submit to—2

1763. Three fugitive Peices in the Boston Gazette, subscribed U, in answr. to a Tory-Writer, who subscribed himself J—3

1765. An Essay on the Canon & feudal Law;4 the Instructions of the Town of Braintree to their Representative, respectg: the Stamp-Act,5 and 3 fugitive Peices under the title of Clarendon to Pym.—6

1766. Three fugitive Peices, under the Title of Governor Winthrop to Govr: Bradford—7

1768. The Instructions of the Town of Boston to their Representatives—8

1769. The Instructions of Do. ——— to Do. ———9

1770— The tryal of Capn: Preston & a Party of British Soldiers, for firing on a number of the Inhabitants of the Town of Boston, in Kings-Street, in the Evening of the 5th. March 1770— Give me leave to observe that this Event & this Tryal form an epocha in American history, & contributed more than any other event which ever happened to convince the People of America that they cod. ultimately have no dependence upon any resource for the defence of their Liberties, but upon an union of the Colonies, & a Continental Army—10

1772. or 3. Eight fugitive Peices, under the Title of Letters to Gen: Brattle on the Independency of the Judges, upon the occasion of G:B:’s taking the pay of the Judges into his own hands, out of those of the People’s Representatives—11

17724 & 35. Eight A series of12 fugitive peices, under the Signature of Novanglus, containg: an extensive view of the American Controversy, concerng: the Author: of Parliament, & a laborious Research into Precedents of Similar Cases—such as the Cases of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Chester, Durham, Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, & Man, Garscoigne, Guienne and Wight— An Extract from these writings was printed in London in 1775, or 6— in the Remembrancer, under the Title of an “history of the Rise & progress of the present disputes in America”—13

1776— Tho’ts on Government, in a letter fm. a Gent. to his friend. This pamphlet was written in the beginning of the year, 1776. when we first began in Congress to see & feel the necessity of instituting new Governments— It was the first pamphlet that was published on the occasion & was dispersed thro’ the several States, in order to put the People into a right Tract of thinking— It contained a sketch of that idea, which I was afterwards called, in the Convention of Massa. in 1779. to extend and improve, in the formation of the Constitution of that Commonwealth—14

These, with 2 or 3. fugitive peices written in the 1762. or 3. under the Signature of Humphrey Ploughjogger,15 not worth mentioning, are all that I recollect to have even written in America, excepting in a public Character, as a Member of the Legislature of Massachusetts or of Congress, which it is unnecessary to mention here—

These are mean Writings of a man, little versed in Letters, & constantly loaded with business—done in great haste—never corrected, & rendered interresting only by the times in which they were written, and the events to which they had relation— But, as they enter into the very essence of this Revolution fm. the very beginning of it, they will be, sooner or later, more or less, attended to—

I am with great esteem & Respect, Sir, / &c: &c.—

LbC in Charles Storer’s hand (Adams Papers); internal address: “Monsr: l’Abbè Mably—”; notation: “This Letter was never Sent, but the original was burned by me. It may remain here, without Imputation of Vanity.”; APM Reel 108.

1The following fourteen words are interlined in JA’s hand.

2The Writs of Assistance case was argued on 24 Feb. 1761. For JA’s notes on it and in particular the role played by James Otis, one of JA’s legal and political heroes, see JA, Legal Papers, 2:106–147.

3The four letters signed “U” appeared in the Boston Gazette on 18 July, 1 and 29 Aug., and 5 Sept. 1763, partly in response to Jonathan Sewall’s letters signed “J” in the Boston Evening Post. For the letters and an analysis of JA’s motives in writing them, see vol. 1:59, 61, 66–81, 84–90.

4For “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law,” published in the Boston Gazette on 12 and 19 Aug., 30 Sept., and 21 Oct. 1765, together with JA’s notes and a draft, see vol. 1:103–128. The “Dissertation” was later published in the London Chronicle on 23 and 28 Nov., and 3 and 26 Dec. 1765; and by Thomas Hollis as part of a pamphlet entitled The True Sentiments of America, London, 1768. Moreover, in 1782 JA had published at London A Collection of State-Papers . . . to Which Is Prefixed the Political Character of John Adams, Ambassador . . . to . . . the Netherlands. By an American [Edmund Jenings]. Likewise an Essay on Canon and Feudal Law by J. Adams, Esq. (vol. 1:104–105). For additional information on the “Dissertation” and JA’s view of its importance, see vol. 9:192–193, 221–222; 11:485–490; 12:8.

5For the “Instructions to Braintree’s Representative concerning the Stamp Act” as drafted by JA, adopted by the town meeting on 24 Sept., and printed in the Massachusetts Gazette on 10 Oct. 1765, see vol. 1:129–144.

6The letters from “Clarendon to William Pym” appeared in the Boston Gazette on 13, 20, and 27 Jan. 1766 (vol. 1:155–170).

7The pieces entitled “Governor Winthrop to Governor Bradford” appeared in the Boston Gazette on 26 Jan. and 9 and 16 Feb. 1767, but an essay of the same title and fragments of another were unpublished. All were part of JA’s response to Jonathan Sewall, who wrote as Philanthrop in defense of Gov. Francis Bernard. JA’s response included one unsigned essay, three done as Humphrey Ploughjogger, and two as Misanthrop. Of those, only two of the Ploughjogger essays were published, appearing in the Boston Gazette on 5 and 19 Jan. 1767 (vol. 1:174–211).

8These are the instructions of 17 June 1768 protesting the seizure of John Hancock’s sloop Liberty by the customs commissioners. JA’s service on the committee to draft the instructions was his first participation in Boston town government since his move to Boston earlier in the year. JA served as Hancock’s attorney in the subsequent legal proceedings (vol. 1:216–221).

9Likely a reference, in particular, to the instructions of 8 May 1769 protesting the royal government’s efforts to quarter troops in Boston, raise revenue, and try Americans in vice-admiralty courts; and, in general, to all efforts to strengthen British administration of the colony (vol. 1:224–230).

10For the Boston Massacre trials, Rex v. Preston and Rex v. Wemms, and JA’s participation as defense counsel for the British soldiers, see JA, Legal Papers, vol. 3.

11This paragraph was written below the closing and marked for insertion at this point. The seven essays appeared in the Boston Gazette between 11 Jan. and 22 Feb. 1773. All were signed by JA and were intended to counter arguments, advanced most notably by William Brattle, advocating the payment of judicial salaries by the Crown rather than the province of Massachusetts (vol. 1:252–309).

12The canceled numbers and words and their replacements are in JA’s hand.

13The Novanglus essays were written in response to a series of pieces by Daniel Leonard, writing as Massachusettensis, although at the time JA thought his opponent was Jonathan Sewall. As Novanglus, JA argued that the American colonies were not part of the realm and thus not subject to the authority of Parliament. For the twelve essays that appeared in the Boston Gazette between 23 Jan. and 17 April 1775 and a thirteenth that was not published, as well as an analysis of the arguments posed by JA and Leonard, see vol. 2:216–387. Edited portions of essays 2–6 were published by John Almon under the title “History of the Dispute with America; from Its Origin in 1754” in his Remembrancer; or, Impartial Repository of Public Events, London, 1775, p. 24–32, 45–54. JA does not mention the 1782 publication of a Dutch translation of the text taken from Almon’s Remembrancer in which he likely played a role (vol. 13:458).

14For Thoughts on Government in its original form as March 1776 letters to North Carolina congressmen William Hooper and John Penn and as later published in Philadelphia and Boston, together with an analysis of its influence on early state constitutions, see vol. 4:65–93.

15Humphrey Ploughjogger was JA’s favorite literary pseudonym. In fact, it was the name that he used in the first newspaper contribution that can be verifiably identified as his own, an essay in the Boston Evening Post of 3 March 1763, which was followed by two others in the same paper on 20 June and 5 September. JA used the name again on 14 Oct. 1765 in a piece in the Boston Gazette that questioned Parliament’s right to tax the colonies (vol. 1:58–62, 63–66, 90–94, 146–148) and finally in 1767 during his exchange with Philanthrop, for which see note 7. In a letter of 3 April 1782 to Edmund Jenings, in which he commented on the impending Dutch recognition of the United States, JA wrote that “you know Some of the Ploughing and hoeing and harrowing, which has prepared the Ground you know Some of the seed that has been sown, and that it was Humphry Ploughjogger who sowed it. But the Crop has exceeded Humphrys most Sanguine Expectations” (vol. 12:382–383).

Index Entries