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To John Adams from William Gordon, 28 June–2 July 1783

From William Gordon

Jamaica Plain June 28. 1783

My dear Sir

Should you find in this ms a deal of the caput mortuum1 don’t wonder, for the weather is & has been very hot for several days. The last wednesday the house opposite to the old brick2 was so violently hot, that in their zeal against the absentees they broke the good frame of government you had a hand in erecting. The brains were for providing that persons taken up as such, should have a trial by jury to determine whether they came under the description in the act of 1778; the tongues determined that the matter should be left to the determination of two justices, & in case these judged them guilty, the Governor was to transport them. The voters were a hundred one way, & thirty the other. The latter are likely to publish a spirited sensible protest, if they prosecute what was proposed the last thursday.3 Mr Sullivan who enjoys his seat unconstitutionally is the dux gregis:4 & I shall not be surprised, after what I have heard, should he manage the ignoramuss, of whom there is not a precious few, & lead them into a violation of the articles of peace, by pleading that no more confiscations means not that no more property shall be confiscated upon the acts already made; but that no more confiscating-acts shall be made. How will these matters read in the European papers after all we have talked, published & fought on the side of Liberty! Mr Sullivan’s family lived at Menotomy5 a great part of 1782— He had an office at the same time in State Street, where he used to do business; on the friday or saturday he repaired to his family & continued with them till monday, & did not bring his family to dwell in town till October. Boston however chose him, & the house by a very small majority upon the case when before them determined in his favor: Upon which a piece was published signed Selden; but I have not yet done with him.6 Could you have thought, that the definition given by the convention of an inhabitant was not sufficiently clear, when it saith, where he dwelleth, or hath his home? We make such wild steerage, that I am ready to say to You again & again, Come over & help us. I cannot tell whether the superior bench is yet filled up; if not, the prevailing politicians may keep a place open & upon your arrival pretend to honor you by offering the same, meaning to fix you on the bench, lest you get into the chair. This being to go by a trusty hand, & there being no doubt of its safe delivery, shall be more open & communicative than otherwise: but trust to your prudence not to let any one see the contents who may remit or bring them back.

We have not yet brought the Harvard College treasurer chosen in 1773 to settle his accounts. He is now hard pressed, but some think he will still contrive to postpone the business. On May the 6th when we had our semi-annual meeting, it was “voted unanimously that upon the day to which this meeting shall be adjourned this board will come to a final resolution respecting the measures necessary to effect a settlement of the late treasurers accounts in case they shall not be then settled, & that the secretary be & is hereby directed to furnish him with a copy of this vote.” The conversation that passed explaind the meaning of final resolution viz advising the corporation to sue.7 Some said, that I had fairly taken in ——— the French Dr, who was present.8 We adjourned for five weeks, the first three of which the party was well & could have attended the business, the other two he was or would be ill. He met us at the adjournment, pleaded his having been ill & gave us more promises, that he hoped to be well enough, in seven or eight days to finish it, & if so should certainly do it. I considered his presence as designed to prevent freedom of speech; was jealous before I went that he would manoeuvre in that way; & was resolved to speak, told him how long we had been trifled with, that he had been giving us nothing but promises &c &c, & then declared I should make a motion whether seconded or not, & accordingly moved that the Corporation should be advised to sue him—no second— After that made another motion—no second. (The corporation thought I had given him such a lecture, ie one & another of them, that if he would not settle after that they should despair). At length we adjourned for a fortnight. The fortnight was out last tuesday: he had been ill, & we adjourned for another fortnight. I gave hints about publishing the whole history of the affair if it was needful: this may possibly make him afraid of delaying much longer, lest a publication should discover him to the world. He will have Sullivan’s support as being of his party— Genl Danelson,9 Judge Cushing & his Honor are in the number of his courtiers. Come over & keep the Yankees from ruining their own reputation, by a repetition of elections, that are not thought scandalous by people at large only because they are not known; but, which if they proceed on from year to year, will at length be known; for there is no hiding always the ointment of the right-hand which betrayeth itself.10

The Roxbury Instructions were chiefly manufactured by Selden— the introduction, the last period of the paragraph about refugees, & the closing paragraph by others. After much debate I lowered the tone designed to have been used, by the violent men, about the refugees, to its present form. Wish other towns had testified their gratitude to our negotiators.11

We begin to feel the scarcity of money. Having no exports, & buying goods drains off our cash. Many adventurers will be greatly disappointed in their hopes of gain. Vessels from Sweden Denmark &c will not carry away good reports when they return. We have not sufficient materials wherewith to freight them. It will take time to procure the same.

We have fine prospects, hay excepted which is like to fall very short. The Indian Corn & English grain look well— The former exceeding dear, eight shillings lawful the bushel.

The remainder devoted to more important matters.

The French, from what I learn, mean to have parties. My intelligence comes I apprehend from the Spanish negotiator,12 or what you please to call him, at Philadelphia & his party; which is excessively mad with the French, upon finding that they were not sincere, & wisht them not to gain either Gibraltar or Jamaica. Tis said, that they have had ever since 1762 to the number of 535 emissaries in different parts of the Continent, who are in their pay; & that they have been increased— that silver tongue became acquainted with a French Irishman who lived obscurely in 1774 & entered upon good pay Jany 177513 —that the French on the western side of the Mississippi are to be secured to the French interest, that so they may be used when they may be wanted—that the French attempted to get the Priests of Canada into their pay but could not succeed—that divisions are to be promoted between the South & North, that there may be an opening for France to get by it—that every Col in the continental army may have, if he pleases, upon credit to the amount of a thousand pounds sterling in goods which the merchants are to supply, but the court are to be at the risk of answering for them— that Col Ogden of the Jersey line is gone already upon that business to France14 —that the Marquis is to come & reside in the country to support & increase the French interest. I am jealous that the policy of the French court is no ways favorable to the interests of America, & that could they effect it, they would make us wholly dependent upon themselves. Should they mean ill, they will most probably labour, that Congress may at length possess imperial power, that so they may have to purchase them at an easier price than a strong party in every state, a la mode de Sweden, which they possess, now the king has been made arbitrary, at a less cost than before.15

The Southern gentry are going back to their aristocratic or monarchical principles. They never were genuine sons of Liberty, they were sons only occasionally & by accident. It will require much wisdom to keep the States united. The South is foolishly jealous of the North. There are in several respects no very agreeable prospects; but de republica non est desperandum.16 We have seen the clouds blow over repeatedly, when there was the fear of a most dreadful approaching storm. One great evil among us is, that persons will not unite their endeavours to serve the public cause. Each is busy in attending to his own adventure, not considering that if the ship is lost they must all suffer. May not American liberty be like Jonah’s gourd which came up in a night & perished in a night!17

July 2.

Was in town yesterday. The delegates chosen to go to Congress are Messrs Gerry, Partridge, Sullivan, Dalton & Danielson. Mr Dalton I am told declines going. Have no great opinion of Sullivan & Danielson.18 Young Dawes the lawyer two days ago secured Danielson by a single writ for a debt due to Mrs Leverett of twenty seven hundred pounds interest included, the original was contracted about ten years before the war. Danielson presented a petition to the General Court praying that he might be discharged from the writ, pleading that he had been long & was still in the public employ; that he offered to pay the debt with paper money when current, & that Mrs Leverett refused taking it; & that he apprehended the money was due at London & would go there. The house instead of rejecting the petition at once with disdain appointed a committee to consider it. Yesterday Dawes presented a counter-petition or remonstrance. The matter was not settled when I left town about five.19 Can scarce think that Danielson will carry his point. Should he, it must alarm all kind of creditors, & lead them to fear that sooner or later, there may be a general court, that will venture to spunge our all debts.

Bad unprincipled men with craft & abilities, unless there are capable men of approved characters & in the esteem of the country to counteract them, will soon run us upon rocks & quicksands.

You have much upon your hands to excuse you from writing lengthy epistles, but hope you will let me in for as good a composition as the rest of your correspondents receive; which will much oblige Your sincere friend & very humble servant

William Gordon

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “His Excellency John Adams Esqr.”; endorsed: “Dr Gordon June 28 / ansd. Sept. 10. 1783.”

1Dead head.

2That is, the Old State House, which was opposite to the “Old Brick,” or First Church.

3In 1778 the General Court adopted “An act to prevent the return to this state, of certain persons therein named, and others, who have left this state, or either of the United States, and joined the enemies thereof” (Mass., Province Laws description begins The Acts and Resolves, Public and Private, of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, Boston, 1869–1922; 21 vols. description ends , 5:912–918). It provided that if people proscribed in the act returned to Massachusetts they were to be apprehended by local authorities—selectmen, committees of correspondence, etc.; taken before a justice of the peace, who would order them jailed; and then transported from the state by the provincial Board of War. But in 1783 the Board of War did not exist, and thus there was no entity empowered to transport a proscribed returnee. This led the Mass. house of representatives, on 25 June, to adopt a revised law to remedy the situation. The new act provided “that in case any person now stands committed by any Magistrate, or hereafter shall be committed to any goal in this Commonwealth, by two Justices of the Peace, in pursuance of the act aforesaid, such Magistrate or Justices shall immediately certify the same commitment to the Governor of the Commonwealth, who shall immediately, or as soon as may be, at the expence of the Commonwealth, cause such person so committed, to be transported to some part or place within the dominions of the King of Great Britain.” Gordon’s objection, as well as that of the 25 members of the house of representatives who entered their dissent, centered on the fact that under the original law and its revision the proscribed person was to be imprisoned and transported without any right to a jury trial (Mass., Acts and Laws description begins Acts and Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts [1780–1805], Boston, 1890–1898; 13 vols. description ends , 1782–1783, p. 499–500; Mass. House, Journals, Records of the States, Microfilm, Mass., A.1b, Reel 11, Unit 1, p. 112–118). While that might have been appropriate in 1778, the commonwealth in 1783 was subject to the Constitution of 1780, wherein Art. 12 of the Declaration of Rights provided that “no subject shall be arrested, imprisoned, despoiled, or deprived of his property, immunities, or privileges, put out of the protection of the law, exiled, or deprived of his life, liberty, or estate, but by the judgment of his peers, or the law of the land. And the legislature shall not make any law, that shall subject any person to a capital or infamous punishment, excepting for the government of the army and navy, without trial by jury.”

4Leader of the flock or herd.

5An area in West Cambridge, now Arlington, Mass.

6The article signed Selden in the Boston Independent Chronicle of 26 June 1783 was a reply to one from Grotius that had appeared in the Boston Gazette of 3 February. Gordon’s reference to the article here and his later mention of the role of Selden in the Roxbury instructions (see note 11) makes it likely that Gordon was the author. The Grotius article, possibly by James Sullivan, opposed the impost requested by Congress because the right to levy it had not been specifically granted to Congress under the Articles of Confederation, and Art. IV of the Declaration of Rights in the Mass. Constitution of 1780 specifically stated that “The people of this commonwealth have the sole and exclusive right of governing themselves, as a free, sovereign, and independent state; and do, and forever hereafter shall, exercise and enjoy every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not, or may not hereafter, be by them expressly delegated to the United States of America in Congress assembled.” Selden called upon Grotius, if he held the Mass. constitution in such reverence, “to do honour to your integrity by applying these maxims to the case of James Sullivan, Esq.,” and he quoted the relevant passage of the constitution regarding residency requirements. A second article signed Selden, also addressed to Grotius, appeared in the Independent Chronicle of 21 Aug. and again took Grotius to task over his devotion to the Mass. constitution.

7Almost from the moment of his appointment as Harvard’s treasurer, John Hancock was at odds with the Board of Overseers over the performance of his duties and custody of the college’s financial records. Gordon’s proposal in 1783 that the overseers sue the treasurer was not adopted, but it prompted Hancock to remove from Harvard two students whose educations he was financing and send them to Yale. The records were still being sought at Hancock’s death in 1793, and Harvard did not regain custody of the final volume until 1936 (Sibley’s Harvard Graduates description begins John Langdon Sibley, Clifford K. Shipton, Conrad Edick Wright, Edward W. Hanson, and others, Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Cambridge and Boston, 1873–. description ends , 13:429, 437–439, 445).

8Samuel Cooper. He and Gordon were overseers by virtue of Ch. V, Sect. I, Art. III of the Mass. Constitution of 1780, which named as overseers the ministers of the congregational churches in the towns of Cambridge, Watertown, Charlestown, Boston, Roxbury, and Dorchester.

9Timothy Danielson (1733–1791) of Brimfield, Mass., Yale 1756, was a former general in the Mass. militia. He had served many years in the legislature and since 1778 he had been a member of the Governor’s Council. In 1780 and 1783 he was chosen as a Massachusetts delegate to the Continental Congress but never served (Dexter, Yale Graduates description begins Franklin Bowditch Dexter, Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College with Annals of the College History, New York and New Haven, 1885–1912; 6 vols. description ends , 2:410–411; Burnett, Letters of Members description begins Letters of Members of the Continental Congress, ed. Edmund C. Burnett, Washington, 1921–1936; 8 vols. description ends , 5:lvii, 7:lxviii).

10Proverbs, 27:16.

11The Roxbury instructions, intended to guide its representative at the next session of the General Court to begin in June, were adopted on 19 May and addressed to Thomas Clarke (Boston Independent Chronicle, 29 May). Like the Selden articles (see note 6), the instructions emphasized the need to observe the provisions of the Mass. constitution, and, in particular, Clarke was to “guard against the least breach of it in the House of Assembly by the introduct[ion o]r continuance of all unqualified [represe]ntatives.” This is significant because it was Clarke who moved to consider James Sullivan’s qualifications as Boston’s representative (from James Warren, 24 June, note 5, above). The paragraph on refugees ended by instructing Clarke “to use your influence, that the absentees do not return,” and the final paragraph concerned the militia. The instructions also declared that “we heartily bless God, that the war has terminated so honorably and advantageously; and take this opportunity of certifying our gratitude to our American Negociators.”

12Presumably Francisco Rendón, secretary to the original Spanish observer in America, Juan de Miralles, and his successor upon Miralles’ death in April 1780 (Bemis, Diplomacy of the Amer. Revolution description begins Samuel Flagg Bemis, The Diplomacy of the American Revolution: The Foundations of American Diplomacy, 1775–1823, New York and London, 1935. description ends , p. 88–89).

13Samuel Cooper, described by Gordon in essentially the same terms in a letter to JA of 7 Sept. 1782, had been receiving a French subsidy since 1779 (vol. 13:451, 13:453). Cooper’s alleged acquaintance, the “French Irishman,” has not been identified.

14Col. Matthias Ogden of the 1st New Jersey Regiment had received leave to go to Europe and reached Paris on 12 July 1783 (Heitman, Register Continental Army description begins Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution, rev. edn., Washington, 1914. description ends , p. 418; to Livingston, 13 July, below). Ogden had served under the Marquis de Lafayette, who procured an invitation for Ogden to attend a reception for Louis XVI after his arrival in France, but there is no indication that he had any other purpose in going to France than to promote Franco-American trade (Lafayette, Papers description begins Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776–1790, ed. Stanley J. Idzerda and others, Ithaca, N.Y., 1977–1983; 5 vols. description ends , 5:140). By November he was back in America, bringing with him the first report of the 3 Sept. signing of the definitive treaty and a letter for AA (from the president of Congress, 1 Nov., below; AFC description begins Adams Family Correspondence, ed. L. H. Butterfield, Marc Friedlaender, Richard Alan Ryerson, Margaret A. Hogan, and others, Cambridge, 1963–. description ends , 5:270).

15Gordon is apparently referring to the French involvement in Gustavus III’s 1772 coup d’état against the Swedish Diet. For an earlier reference to it and to the Comte de Vergennes’ role as French ambassador to Sweden, see vol. 14:372.

16Despair not for the republic.

17Jonah, 4:6–10.

18The previous delegation had consisted of Elbridge Gerry, Nathaniel Gorham, Samuel Osgood, Stephen Higginson, and Samuel Holten. Gerry was retained because he was not present and thus did not vote in favor of commutation as did his colleagues (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Worthington Chauncey Ford, Gaillard Hunt, John C. Fitzpatrick, Roscoe R. Hill, and others, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 24:210). Of the new members chosen, only George Partridge attended. Tristram Dalton and James Sullivan were replaced by Samuel Osgood and Francis Dana, respectively, but no replacement was apparently chosen for Timothy Danielson (Burnett, Letters of Members description begins Letters of Members of the Continental Congress, ed. Edmund C. Burnett, Washington, 1921–1936; 8 vols. description ends , 7:lxvii–lxix). See also AA’s comments on the selection of delegates in her letter of 30 June, AFC description begins Adams Family Correspondence, ed. L. H. Butterfield, Marc Friedlaender, Richard Alan Ryerson, Margaret A. Hogan, and others, Cambridge, 1963–. description ends , 5:189–190, 191.

19The petition by Timothy Danielson and counterpetition by Thomas Dawes were both presented on 1 July and referred to committee (Mass. House, Journals, Records of the States, Microfilm, Mass., A.1b, Reel 11, Unit 1, p. 137–138).

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