Thomas Jefferson Papers
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John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 11 June 1813

From John Adams

Quincy June 11. 1813

Dear Sir

I recd yesterday your favour of may 27th. I lament with you the loss of Rush. I know of no Character living or dead, who has done more real good in America. Robert Treat Paine Still lives, at 83 or 84, alert drol and witty though deaf.1 Floyd I believe, yet remains, Paine must be very great; Philosopher and Christian; to live under the Afflictions of his Family. Sons and Daughters with Genius and qualities and Connections and prospects the most pleasing, have been Signally unfortunate. A Son, whose name was altered, from Thomas to Robert Treat has left a Volume of Prose and Verse, which will attract the attention of Posterity to his Father, more than his Signature of Independence. It is the History of a Poet, in Genius Eccentricity, Irregularity Misfortune and Misery, equal to most in Johnsons Lives.

To your ignoro, I add non curo. I Should as soon Suppose that the Prodigal Son, in a frolic with one of his Girls made a trip to America in one of Mother Careys Eggshels, and left the fruits of their Amours here: as believe any of the grave hypotheses, and Solemn reasonings of Philosophers or Divines upon the Subject of the peopling of America. If my Faith in Moses or Noah depended on any of these Speculations, I would2 give it up,

I Sincerely thank you for your congratulations on the Successes of our Navy. I wish to write you more, than my paralyttic Fingers will justify or tollerate upon3 this Subject. I believe, but am not certain, that you was present in Congress, on the 5th of October 1775, when it appears by the Journal, the first foundation of an American Navy was laid. I wish to know, whether you recollect the opposition that was made to the appointment of that Committee, to their report, and to the Adoption [of]4 the Resolution. Do you retain any recollection of the Speeches of Edward Rutledge Robert Treat Paine, or any other Member, on that occasion? It is, to be Sure a question of idle curiosity, but the curiosity is very Strong.

I have another Curiosity, more ardent Still. I have ever believed that you were the Author of the Essay towards a Navy when you was Secretary of State. I have reason to suspect that Hamilton was averse to that Measure. That you were always for a Navy to compell the Barbary Powers to peace, I distinctly remember in many of our personal Conversations in Europe: and I have carefully preserved very Strong Letters from you full of arguments for Such a Navy. If I am mistaken in ascribing to you the measures taken in Washingtons Administration, looking towards a Navy, I wish you to correct my Error. Till that is done I Shall Sincerely believe myself orthodox. The Mail approaches, and I must cease

with Assurances of respect and Esteem

John Adams

P.S. We must have a Navy now to command The Lakes, if it costs Us 100 Ships of the Line; whatever becomes of the Ocean

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “President Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 23 June 1813 and so recorded in SJL. FC (Lb in MHi: Adams Papers).

The eldest son and namesake of robert treat paine died in 1798. Three years later a Massachusetts statute altered the name of the dead man’s brother from Thomas to Robert Treat Paine (Sarah Cushing Paine, comp., and Charles Henry Pope, ed., Paine Ancestry: The Family of Robert Treat Paine, Signer of the Declaration of Independence, Including Maternal Lines [1912], 41, 51). The Works, in Verse and Prose, of the Late Robert Treat Paine, Jun., Esq. With Notes. to which are prefixed, Sketches of his Life, Character and Writings was published in Boston in 1812. ignoro: “I do not know.” non curo: “I do not care.” The parable of the prodigal son is in the New Testament book of Luke, chapter 15. mother careys chicken is another name for the storm petrel, a seabird associated in nautical lore with a sea-spirit named for the Virgin Mary (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ). TJ returned to Philadelphia on 30 Sept. 1775 after a visit to Monticello. He was thus very likely in attendance in the Continental congress, on the 5th of october 1775, when its journal recorded the appointment of a “Committee of three” to “prepare a plan for intercepting two vessels, which are on their way to Canada, loaded with arms and powder” (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 34 vols. description ends , 1:247n; MB description begins James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 1:406; Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 [1904–37], 3:277). Early in 1813 Adams recalled that the committee had consisted of himself, Silas Deane, and John Langdon (Adams to Langdon, 24 Jan. 1813 [Lb in MHi: Adams Papers]). Adams’s notes on further debates regarding naval preparations held on 7 Oct. 1775 indicate that during the contentious discussion, a group of delegates including Paine and John Rutledge were “lightly skirmishing” (Paul H. Smith and others, eds., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789 [1976–2000], 2:131). As secretary of state, TJ privately supported the use of naval power to protect American shipping interests from the Barbary pirates, having already expressed similar ideas to Adams on 11 July 1786 (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 34 vols. description ends , 10:123–5).

1Preceding two words interlined.

2Manuscript: “woul.” FC: “should.”

3Manuscript: “up.” FC: “upon.”

4Omitted word supplied from FC.

Index Entries

  • Adams, John; and B. Rush search
  • Adams, John; and surviving signers of Declaration of Independence search
  • Adams, John; and U.S. Navy search
  • Adams, John; health of search
  • Adams, John; letters from search
  • Adams, John; on Indians search
  • American Revolution; and U.S. Navy search
  • Bible; Luke referenced search
  • Continental Congress, U.S.; and U.S. Navy search
  • Continental Congress, U.S.; journal of search
  • Deane, Silas; as member of Continental Congress search
  • Declaration of Independence; signers of search
  • Floyd, William; signer of Declaration of Independence search
  • Hamilton, Alexander (1757–1804); and naval expansion search
  • health; paralysis search
  • Indians; J. Adams on search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Barbary pirates search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; expansion of U.S. Navy search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Public Service; as secretary of state search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Public Service; in Continental Congress search
  • Johnson, Samuel; The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets search
  • Langdon, John; as member of Continental Congress search
  • Moses (Hebrew prophet) search
  • Noah (Old Testament patriarch) search
  • Paine, Robert Treat (1731–1814); as member of Continental Congress search
  • Paine, Robert Treat (1731–1814); family of search
  • Paine, Robert Treat (1731–1814); J. Adams on search
  • Paine, Robert Treat (1731–1814); signer of Declaration of Independence search
  • Paine, Robert Treat (1770–98) search
  • Paine, Robert Treat (1773–1811); The Works, in Verse and Prose, of the Late Robert Treat Paine, Jun. search
  • Rush, Benjamin; and J. Adams search
  • Rush, Benjamin; death of search
  • Rutledge, Edward; as member of Continental Congress search
  • Rutledge, John; as member of Continental Congress search
  • The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets (S. Johnson) search
  • The Works, in Verse and Prose, of the Late Robert Treat Paine, Jun. (Paine) search
  • Washington, George; as president search