Adams Papers

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 4 October 1776

John Adams to Abigail Adams

Philadelphia Octr: 4th: 1776

I am seated, in a large Library Room, with Eight Gentlemen round about me, all engaged in Conversation. Amidst these Interruptions, how shall I make it out to write a Letter?

The first day of October, the day appointed by the Charter of Pensilvania for the annual Election of Representatives, has passed away, and two Counties only have chosen Members, Bucks and Chester.

The Assembly is therefore dead, and the Convention is dissolved. A new Convention is to be chosen, the Beginning of November.

The Proceedings of the late Convention are not well liked, by the best of the Whiggs.—Their Constitution is reprobated and the Oath with which they have endeavoured to prop it, by obliging every Man to swear that he will not add to, or diminish from or any Way alter that Constitution, before he can vote, is execrated.

We live in the Age of political Experiments. Among many that will fail some, I hope will succeed.—But Pensilvania will be divided and weakend, and rendered much less vigorous in the Cause, by the wretched Ideas of Government, which prevail, in the Minds of many People in it.1

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “Mrs. Adams Braintree Massachusetts Bay”; franked: “free John Adams”; postmarked: “PHILA. OCT. 4.”

1This proved a true prophecy. The Pennsylvania constitution of 1776, the work of a convention dominated by political radicals, was adopted on 28 Sept. after only a token submission of its articles to the citizens and with a substantial minority of “moderates” in the convention opposed to it. Worse, the Convention adopted a provision for an oath exacting from every elector a promise that he would, in effect, neither oppose nor criticize anything whatever in the form of government now established. One result was that it took six months to organize a new government in Pennsylvania, and another was that for fourteen years, until a new constitution was adopted in 1790, the state was torn and distracted by political factionalism probably bitterer than that in any other state. See J. Paul Selsam, The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, Phila., 1936, chs. 4–6; Robert L. Brunhouse, The Counter-Revolution in Pennsylvania, 1776–1790, Harrisburg, 1942, passim.

Among the most vocal critics of the constitution of 1776, both at home and abroad, in public and in private, for many years, was JA, who considered it an epitome of all that was bad in constitution-making and an unadulterated specimen of democratic tyranny. It is not too much to say that his close observation of what happened in Pennsylvania politics in 1776–1777 was one of the principal influences on his mature political thought.

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