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John Adams to Charles Adams, 31 December 1795

John Adams to Charles Adams

Philadelphia Decr 31. 1795

Dear Son

Yesterday I received your kind and pleasing Letter of the 26, and am happy to hear of your and your Ladies health. I dont approve of your calling her Sally unless to herself in a Family Way. To other People especially in Writing you must call her Mrs Adams. Your Nephews and Neice I hope will have the Meazles favourably. it is a good age and a good Season: so that I think the family may be congratulated on the Event.

Alass poor Randolph! But what are We to think of the Symptoms of a Corruption which appear in various shapes in this infant Country? I hope it will not appear that any Member of either house listened to the vile proposals of the two Wretches from Detroit.1 But the Attempt itself is disgraceful to our Country.

Your quotation from shakespear is well applied and is most admirable. There is another Passage which I wish you would look for and write me in what Play it is. to this Effect

He who lives on Popularity

is like a drunken Sailor on a Topmast

at every Nod, liable to plunge into the briny deep.2

The People, are as I believe always grateful, when they are not deceived. But they are ignorant and credulous & easily imposed on. in times of Wealth and Prosperity they are easily altered and corrupted. Juvenal in his tenth Satyr ver. 78 describes the Roman People, who in the days of the Republic granted the Consulships, & the Command of Armies, as reduced to such Indolence Effemincy and folly as to think only of Bread and the Games of the Circus.

Nam qui dabat olim

Imperium, Fasces, Legiones, omnia, nunc Se Continet, et duas tantum res anxius optat,

Panem et Circenses.

Juv. 10. 78.3

Cakes and Sports, to a People humiliated in their own Esteem, by Corruption, are, as to Children, all they Wish and all they want.

Mr Josiah Quincy brought me your Letter and was much pleased with your situation and Civilities to him. This young Man is eloquent—his Father was eloquent: his Grand father was eloquent and his Great Grand father was eloquent. Here is eloquence in 4 successive Generations. Who can Say that Eloquence does not descend in Families.4

Write me as often as possible. I am your / Father

John Adams5

RC (MHi:Seymour Coll.); internal address: “Charles Adams Esqr.”

1Two land speculators, Robert Randall of Philadelphia and Charles Whitney of Vermont, had developed a scheme to purchase land in the Northwest Territory amounting to what is now the lower peninsula of Michigan. To smooth the way for congressional acceptance of the purchase, Randall and Whitney attempted to bribe several members of Congress with promises of shares in the land-holding company which could be redeemed for either land or money. The congressmen refused to go along with the scheme, and beginning on 28 Dec., Congress took up debate on the matter. On 4 Jan. 1796 the two men were formally arraigned by the House of Representatives; Randall was found guilty and fined, but Whitney was acquitted based on the fact that the person he attempted to bribe, Daniel Buck of Vermont, was not yet a congressman at the time of the offense (Charles Moore, History of Michigan, 4 vols., Chicago, 1915, 1:262–263; Proceedings of the House of Representatives of the United States, in the Case of Robert Randall and Charles Whitney, Phila., 1796, Evans, description begins Charles Evans and others, American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of All Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America [1639–1800], Chicago and Worcester, 1903–1959; 14 vols. description ends No. 31364).

2“O momentary grace of mortal men, / Which we more hunt for than the grace of God! / Who builds his hope in air of your good looks / Lives like a drunken sailor on a mast, / Ready with every nod to tumble down / Into the fatal bowels of the deep” (Shakespeare, King Richard III, Act III, scene iv, lines 95–100).

3“For that sovereign people that once gave away military command, consulships, legions, and every thing, now bridles its desires, and limits its anxious longings to two things only,—bread, and the games of the circus!” (Juvenal, Satires, Satire X, lines 78–81).

4That is, Josiah Quincy III (1772–1864, “the President”), son of Josiah Quincy II (1744–1775, “the Patriot”), grandson of Josiah Quincy I (1710–1784, “the Colonel”), and great grandson of Edmund Quincy (1681–1738, “the Judge”).

5On 14 Jan. CA replied to this letter with a short note commenting on the changing politics in New York State and indicating that he had recently received letters from JQA and TBA. CA also supplied the remainder of the Shakespeare quotation about which JA had inquired, for which see note 2, above (Adams Papers).

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