Thomas Jefferson Papers
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John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 30 July 1815

From John Adams

Quincy July 30th 1815

Dear Sir

Who shall write the history of the American revolution? Who can write it? Who will ever be able to write it?

The most essential documents, the debates & deliberations in Congress from 1774 to 1783 were all in secret, and are now lost forever. Mr Dickinson printed a speech, which he said he made in Congress against the Declaration of Independence; but it appeared to me very different from that, which you, and I heard. Dr Witherspoon has published speeches which he wrote beforehand, and delivered Memoriter, as he did his Sermons. But these I believe, are the only speeches ever committed to writing. The Orators, while I was in Congress from 1774 to 1778 appeared to me very universally extemporaneous, & I have never heard of any committed to writing before or after delivery.

These questions have been suggested to me, by a Review, in the Analectic Magazine for May 1815, published in Philadelphia, page 385 of the Chevalier Botta’s “Storia della Guerra Americana.” The Reviewers inform us, that it is the best history of the revolution that ever has been written. This Italian Classick has followed the example, of the Greek and Roman Historians, by composing speeches, for his Generals and Orators. The Reviewers have translated, one of Mr R H Lee, in favour of the declaration of Independence. A splendid morcell of oratory it is; how faithful, you can judge.

I wish to know your sentiments, and opinions of this publication.1 Some future Miss Porter, may hereafter, make as shining a romance, of what passed in Congress, while in Conclave, as her Scottish Chiefs.

Your friend durante Vita2

John Adams

Tr (1957 typescript taken from unlocated RC, Adams Papers Editorial Files, MHi); adjacent to signature: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson”; with editorial note at foot of text: “Signed in JA’s hand; text of letter in hand of unidentified amenuensis”; with editorial note that TJ endorsed it as received 9 Aug. 1815. RC (DLC); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to John Graham, 17 Aug. 1815, on verso; addressed in an unidentified hand: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson Esqre Monticello. Virginia”; franked by Adams; postmarked Quincy, 31 July. FC (Lb in MHi: Adams Papers); at foot of text: “His Excellency Govr McKean”; adjacent to signature, in Adams’s hand: “N.B. The same to Jefferson.” Recorded in SJL as received 9 Aug. 1815.

John dickinson presented his reasons for opposing independence in 1776 in a vindication that appeared in the Philadelphia Freeman’s Journal: or, the North-American Intelligencer, 1 Jan. 1783. For TJ’s contemporaneous summary of the arguments given against independence by Dickinson and others on 8 June 1776, see PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 37 vols. description ends , 1:309–11. Congressional speeches by John witherspoon were published in John Rodgers, ed., The Works of the Rev. John Witherspoon, 2d ed. (Philadelphia, 1802; for 1st ed. see Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 1558), 4:317–57. The translated speech of Richard Henry Lee appears in the Analectic Magazine 5 (1815): 388–93. Jane porter wrote The Scottish Chiefs, A Romance, 5 vols. (London, 1810, and other eds.). durante vita: “during life.”

On this date Adams wrote Thomas McKean a letter that varied from the one to TJ only in spelling, punctuation, and capitalization (RC in PHi: McKean Papers; addressed in an unidentified hand: “His Excellency Thomas McKean Philadelphia”; franked; postmarked Quincy, 31 July; endorsed by McKean).

1Tr: “publications.” FC: “publication.”

2FC: “vitæ.”

Index Entries

  • Adams, John; and addresses of Continental Congress search
  • Adams, John; letter from to T. McKean search
  • Adams, John; letters from search
  • Adams, John; on historians of the American Revolution search
  • American Revolution; materials for study of search
  • Botta, Carlo Giuseppe Guglielmo; Storia della Guerra dell’ Independenza degli Stati Uniti d’America search
  • Continental Congress, U.S.; speeches given in search
  • Declaration of Independence; debate on search
  • Dickinson, John; and Continental Congress search
  • Dickinson, John; opposes Declaration of Independence search
  • Lee, Richard Henry; as member of Continental Congress search
  • Lee, Richard Henry; reputed speech of search
  • McKean, Thomas; letter to from J. Adams search
  • Porter, Jane; The Scottish Chiefs search
  • Rodgers, John, Rev.; edits The Works of the Rev. John Witherspoon (J. Witherspoon) search
  • Storia della Guerra dell’ Independenza degli Stati Uniti d’America (C. G. G. Botta) search
  • The Analectic Magazine search
  • The Scottish Chiefs (J. Porter) search
  • The Works of the Rev. John Witherspoon (J. Witherspoon; ed. J. Rodgers) search
  • Witherspoon, John; as member of Continental Congress search
  • Witherspoon, John; The Works of the Rev. John Witherspoon (ed. J. Rodgers) search