Abigail Adams to John Adams
Sunday. May 18 1777
I think myself very happy that not a week passes but what I receive a Letter or two, some times more from you; and tho they are longer in comeing than formerly oweing I suppose to the posts being obliged to travel farther round, yet I believe they all faithfully reach me, even the curious conversation between Mr. Burn and your Honour arrived safe and made me laugh very Heartily.
Your Last which I believe came by a private Hand and was dated the 30 of April came to hand in about 12 days which is sooner than any other has reachd me since you came to Philadelphia. Two others accompanied it one of April 26 and 27. In one of them you mention your having been unwell, I hope nothing more than a cold. I feel more anxious than ever for your Health, and must intreat of you if you find it fail in any great measure that you would return during the summer Months; should I hear you were sick the imposibility of my comeing to you would render me misirable indeed.
I think before this time Many of our Troops must have arrived at Head Quarters, for tho we have been dilatory in this and the Neighbouring Towns, others I hear have done their duty better. Not an Hour in the day but what we see soldiers marching. The sure way to prevent their distressing us Here would be to have a strong Army with the General. Their are a number not more than half I believe tho, of this Towns proportion inlisted. The rest were to be drawn at our May meeting, but nothing was done in that way, they concluded to try a little longer to inlist them.1 The Town send but one Rep. this year and that is Mr. N[ile]s of the middle parish. Give him His pipe and Let him laugh, He will not trouble any body.2 Philalutheris I suppose will be chosen into the Counsel since He finds that His plan for making them Lackies and Tools to the House was not so acceptable as he expected.3
“Then let me Have the Highest post,
Suppose it but an inch at most.”
I should feel more unhappy and anxious than ever if I realizd our being again invaded by the wickedest and cruelest of Enemies. I should not dare to tarry here in my present situation, nor yet know where to flee for safety; the recital of the inhumane and Brutal Treatment of those poor creatures who have fallen into their Hands, Freazes me with Horrour. My apprehensions are greatly increasd; should they come this way again I know [not]4 what course I should take.
Tis an observation of Bishop Butlers5 that they who have lost all tenderness and Fellow-feeling for others, have withall contracted a certain Callousness of Heart, which renders them insensible to all other satisfactions, but those of the grossest kind.
Our Enemies have proved the Truth of the observation in every instance of their conduct. Is it not astonishing what Men may at last bring themselves to, by suppressing passions and affections of the best kind, and suffering the worst to rule over them in their full strength.
Infidelity has been a growing part of the British character for many years. It is not so much to be wonderd at that those who pay no regard to a Supreeme Being should throw of all regard to their fellow creatures and to those precepts and doctrines which require peace and good will to Men; and in a perticuliar manner distinguish the followers of him who hath said by this shall all Men know that ye are my deciples if ye have love one towards an other.
Let them reproach us ever so much for our kindness and tenderness to those who have fallen into our Hands, I hope it will never provoke us to retaliate their cruelties; let us put it as much as posible out of their power to injure us, but let us keep in mind the precepts of him who hath commanded us to Love our Enemies; and to excercise towards them acts of Humanity, Benevolence and Kindness, even when they despitefully use us.
And here suffer me to quote an Authority which you greatly Esteem, Dr. Tillotson.6 It is commonly said that revenge is sweet, but to a calm and considerate mind, patience and forgiveness are sweeter, and do afford a much more rational, and solid and durable pleasure than revenge. The monuments of our Mercy and goodness are a far more pleasing and delightfull Spectacle than of our rage and cruelty, and no sort of thought does usually haunt men with more Terror, than the reflexion upon what they have done in the way of Revenge.
If our cause is just, it will be best supported by justice and righteousness. Tho we have many other crimes to answer for, that of cruelty to our Enemies is not chargable upon Americans, and I hope never will be—if we have err’d it is upon the side of Mercy and have excercised so much lenity to our Enemies as to endanger our Friends—but their Malice and wicked designs against us, has and will oblige every State to proceed against them with more Rigor. Justice and self preservation are duties as much incumbant upon christians, as forgiveness and Love of Enemies.
Adieu. I have devoted an Hour this Day to you. I dare say you are not in debt.
Ever remember with the tenderest affection one whose greatest felicity consists in the firm belief of an unabated Love either by years or absence.
RC (Adams Papers); addressed in John Thaxter’s hand: “To The Honble: John Adams Esqr. at Philadelphia To be left at the Post Office”; endorsed: “Portia ans. 2. June”; docketed in CFA’s hand.
1. From the late fall of 1776 through the following winter and spring, the town had met frequently “To consider and do what the Town may think proper for the Encouragement of Inlisting men for the Continental Army now Required.” Committees were appointed to hire recruits, and various other measures were taken. On 15 May, “There being a prospect of a number of men being hired by the said Committee the Town thought proper not to make any Draft, notwithstanding the orders of the [General] Court.” But at two special meetings in June the committee reported to the town that only ten men had been hired in a month, and further meetings were held in the following months in an effort to fill up the town’s quota without resorting to a draft. (Braintree Town Records description begins Samuel A. Bates, ed., Records of the Town of Braintree, 1640 to 1793, Randolph, Mass., 1886. description ends , p. 473–484.)
2. Samuel Niles (1711–1804), Harvard 1731, deacon, justice and later chief justice of the Suffolk Inferior Court of Common Pleas, moderator of Braintree town meeting, and from time to time representative in the General Court and member of the Council, had occasionally collaborated with JA at the beginning of the latter’s career in politics (Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates description begins John Langdon Sibley and Clifford K. Shipton, Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Cambridge and Boston, 1873–. description ends , 9:71–74; JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 1:118, 130, 160, 216–217; 3:280, 282).
3. AA is alluding to a five-column communication signed “Phileleutherus” (i.e. a lover of freedom) in the Boston Independent Chronicle for 7 March 1777, which embodied a draft constitution for Massachusetts, a subject which was in the forefront of legislative deliberation and popular discussion at this time. Phileleutherus’ draft contained a number of features ultimately incorporated in the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, but it was chiefly remarkable for proposing wholly to subordinate the executive to the legislative branch of government. The “General Assembly” was to elect a “Council of Safety” from its own membership; this council was to serve as a plural executive after the pattern of the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776. All legislation was to “originate, and be compleated by” the unicameral assembly, the council acting therein only in an advisory capacity. In three signed letters in later issues of the Chronicle (20, 27 March, 3 April), Rev. William Gordon severely criticized Phileleutherus’ plan; in the second of these he quoted (without naming) JA on the dangers of unicameralism as set forth in Thoughts on Government. Gordon tantalizingly says that he knows who Phileleutherus is but will protect his anonymity. AA speaks as if perhaps she also knew, but unfortunately the present editors do not. (The most detailed account available, though hardly a satisfactory one, of the efforts and maneuvers from Sept. 1776 through May 1777 relating to a new constitution is in Harry A. Cushing, History of the Transition from Provincial to Commonwealth Government in Massachusetts, N.Y. 1896, p. 199–207.)
4. This word editorially supplied.
5. Joseph Butler (1692–1752), Bishop of Durham, author of The Analogy of Religion. . . (DNB description begins Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds., The Dictionary of National Biography, New York and London, 1885–1900; 63 vols. plus supplements. description ends ). For works by Butler owned by JA, see Catalogue of JA’s Library description begins Catalogue of the John Adams Library in the Public Library of the City of Boston, Boston, 1917. description ends .
6. John Tillotson (1630–1694), sometime Archbishop of Canterbury, whose Works (10 vols., Edinburgh, 1759–1760) JA owned and had laboriously studied as a young schoolmaster in Worcester (DNB description begins Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds., The Dictionary of National Biography, New York and London, 1885–1900; 63 vols. plus supplements. description ends ; JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 1:9–10; Catalogue of JA’s Library description begins Catalogue of the John Adams Library in the Public Library of the City of Boston, Boston, 1917. description ends ).