Adams Papers

Samuel Adams to John Adams, 16 April 1784

From Samuel Adams

Boston April 16 17841

My dear Sir

I have not receivd a Letter from you of a later Date than the 10th of Septr. last. Extracts of yours to D G of the same Date have been handed about, with a View, as I conceivd, of giving the Sanction of your opinion to that of others respecting the Tories. It is often inconvenient, perhaps unsafe, to trust ones Confidential Letters to indiscrete, however honest, Friends. Detachd Parts of them being given out, they may be made to bear a different Construction from what was intended, and answer the Purpose of interrested & designing Men.2 When the Recommendations of Congress in Pursuance of the 5th Article of the Treaty were receivd here, they were treated with great Decency & very seriously considerd. They were construed differently by Men of Sense, who were above the Influence of old Prejudices or of Party or Family Connections. This Difference, I supposed, was owing to certain Ambiguities in the Treaty, which I afterwards found had been acknowledgd in a joynt Letter to Congress of the 18th July, in which it appeard that our Negociators had studiously avoided any Expression in the Articles of the Treaty which shd amount to absolute Stipulations in Favor of the Tories.3 From the first Sight I had of the Articles, I have been of opinion that no such Construction could fairly be put upon them, but that it would finally lie with the several Legislatures of the States, how far it would be proper to show Lenity to them, and I was happy in being confirmd in this opinion by an Expression in your joynt Letter to Congress Septr 10th.—“it is much to be wished that the Legislators may not involve all the Tories in Banishment and Ruin, but that such Discrimination may be made as to intitle the Decisions to the Approbation of disinterested Men and dispassionate Posterity.”4 In this View I early inculcated Moderation and Liberality towards them, as far as could be consistent with that leading Principle of Nature which ought to govern Nations as it does Individuals, Self Preservation. I cannot think thatt all can be admitted consistently with the Safety of the Common wealth. I gave you my Reasons in my Letter of Nov. 4th.5 Nor can I beleive you intended to be understood universally in your private Letter above referrd to. Some of them would be useful & good Citizens; others, I beleive highly dangerous Our Act passed in the late Session of the General Court declares them all Aliens, and excludes those of them who in a former Act were called Conspirators from residing among us. It restores the Estates of others which have not been confiscated and refers their coming to reside within the Common wealth in the first Instance to the Governor with Advice of Council. The Licenses he may give are to be valid if approvd of by the General Court at the Session next after such Licence shall be given.6 It is thought that this will be a difficult Task for the Governor & Council, but a constant Attention to the publick Safety without Respect to Persons will prevent Difficulties. “Much, says your joynt Letter, will depend upon our Negociations with England” The sooner a Commercial Treaty is settled with that Nation the better, as it appears to me. Our General Court, in the late Session, thought of making Retaliation on England for her prohibiting Importations from America into her West India Islands but in British Bottoms. They were sensible of the Difficulty in the Way of the United States coming into general Regulations of this Kind, & have written to their Delegates on the Subject. Should the States agree to give Congress a more extensive Power, it may yet be a great while before it is compleated; and Britain in the mean time seeing our Trade daily reverting to its old Channel, may think it needless and impolitick to enter into express Stipulations in favor of any Part of it while she promises herself the whole without them.

I am fully in the Sentiment expressd in your joynt Letter Sept 10th, that now we have regular & constitutional Governments, popular Committees and County Conventions are not only useless but dangerous. They served an excellent Purpose & were highly necessary when they were set up. I shall not repent the small Share I then took in them. But what think you of the District & State Conventions of the Cincinnati, & of the Cincinnati in Congress assembled? Do not these Assemblies convene expressly to deliberate & adopt Measures on great and National Concerns proper only for the Cognizance of the United States in Congress assembled, and the different Legislators & officers of Government? And will they not, being an Order of Military Men, too soon proceed to enforce their Resolutions, not only to the lessening the Dignity of the States in the Eye of Europe, but the putting an End to their free Existence! The order is very unpopular here. By the inclosd you will see the Sentiments of our Genl Court.7 The Governor of So Carolina in a late Speech to his Assembly inveighs against them with the Vehemence of Luther.—8 Adieu


RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Honble J Adams”; endorsed: “Sam Adams / 16. April 1784.”

1Samuel Adams also wrote to JA on 17 April concerning the plight of Dr. Nathaniel Noyes and Capt. Samuel Dashwood of Boston (Adams Papers). Property belonging to both men had been seized during the British occupation of Boston, and JA’s assistance was sought in obtaining compensation for their losses, particularly since their British creditors were pressing them to pay for the lost property. For JA’s response, see his 25 June reply to Samuel Adams; for Dashwood’s decision to go to England to settle the matter, see Samuel Adams’ letter of 2 Dec., both below.

2For JA’s 10 Sept. 1783 letters to Samuel Adams and William Gordon, see vol. 15:271–272, 277–279. Gordon copied his letter and sent it to Elbridge Gerry (the source of the printed letter) and also circulated the RC (now lost) among various people in Massachusetts. The hostility in Massachusetts toward the proscribed loyalists made Samuel Adams wary of the construction that might be put on JA’s comments on implementing the articles concerning the loyalists in the Anglo-American peace treaty. His concern probably stemmed from JA’s statement to Gordon that “I hope that private honesty will not be violated in any debt, & that as much moderation may be shewn towards the Tories as possible. The Stipulations should be sacred, & the Recommendations at least treated with decency & seriously considered. I cannot help saying I wish they could be complied with.—” AA also expressed her opinion, writing to JA on 15 March 1784 that she was not anxious about Gordon’s circulation of the letter “since I think I know your prudence so well, that you would not communicate, to that Gentleman; any private sentiments, which you would be loth should be made publick” (AFC, description begins Adams Family Correspondence, ed. L. H. Butterfield, Marc Friedlaender, Richard Alan Ryerson, Margaret A. Hogan, and others, Cambridge, 1963–. description ends , 5:307).

3Here Samuel Adams gives the sense of three paragraphs in the commissioners’ 18 July 1783 letter to Robert R. Livingston, in which they noted the ambiguities present in Arts. 5 and 6 of the 30 Nov. 1782 Anglo-American preliminary peace treaty (vol. 14:106–107; 15:146).

4For the commissioners’ 10 Sept. 1783 letter to the president of Congress, from which Samuel Adams quotes accurately here and below, see vol. 15:282–288. Compare Samuel Adams’ views on the loyalists with those of Tristram Dalton, who also quoted the passage referring to “dispassionate Posterity” in his letter of 6 April 1784, above.

5Vol. 15:341–344.

6For this act of 24 March, see Dalton’s 6 April letter, and note 6, above.

7The enclosure has not been found, but it was the 23 March report of a joint committee of the Mass. General Court, for which see Dalton’s 6 April letter, and note 12, above.

8The speech by Benjamin Guerard, governor of South Carolina, appeared in the Boston Independent Chronicle, 8 April.

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