John Adams to Abigail Adams
Portsmouth Decr. 15. 1777
I arrived here, last Evening, in good Health. This Morning, General Whipple made me a Visit, at the Tavern, Tiltons, and insists upon my taking a Bed at his House, in so very affectionate, and urgent a Manner, that I believe I shall go to his House.1
The Cause comes on Tomorrow, before my old Friend Dr. Joshua Brackett, as Judge of Admiralty. How it will go I know not. The Captors are a numerous Company, and are said to be very tenacious, and have many Connections; so that We have Prejudice, and Influence to fear: Justice, Policy and Law, are, I am very sure, on our Side.
I have had many Opportunities, in the Course of this Journey, to observe, how deeply rooted, our righteous Cause is in the Minds of the People—and could write you many Anecdotes in Proof of it. But I will reserve them for private Conversation. But on 2d Thoughts why should I?
One Evening, as I satt in one Room, I overheard Company of the Common sort of People in another, conversing upon serious subjects. One of them, whom I afterwards found upon Enquiry to be a reputable, religious Man, was more eloquent than the rest—he was2 upon the Danger of despizing and neglecting serious Things. Said whatever Person or People made light of them would soon find themselves terribly mistaken. At length I heard these Words–“it appears to me the eternal son of God is opperating Powerfully against the British Nation for their treating lightly serious Things.”
One Morning, I asked my Landlady what I had to pay? Nothing she said–“I was welcome, and she hoped I would always make her House my Home, and she should be happy to entertain all those Gentlemen who had been raised up by Providence to be the Saviours of their Country.” This was flattering enough to my vain Heart. But it made a greater Impression on me, as a Proof, how deeply this Cause had sunk into the Minds and Hearts of the People.—In short every Thing I see and hear, indicates the same Thing.3
RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “Mrs. Adams Braintree To be left at Mr. Isaac Smiths Queen Street Boston.”
1. William Whipple (1730–1785), formerly a New Hampshire delegate to the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, had left Congress in June of this year to command state troops in the campaign against Burgoyne (Biog. Dir. Cong. description begins Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1774–1949, Washington, 1950. description ends ). Ezra Stiles was in Portsmouth at this time and recorded conversations with JA at Whipple’s (and elsewhere), in which JA spoke very freely of persons and measures; see Stiles’ Literary Diary description begins The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles, D.D., LL.D., President of Yale College, ed. Franklin Bowditch Dexter, New York, 1901; 3 vols. description ends , 2:236–238.
2. A word may be missing here, perhaps “discoursing” or “speaking.”
3. As JA recalled in 1806, it was “while I was speaking” in the Lusanna trial at Portsmouth that “Mr. [John?] Langdon came in from Phyladelphia and leaning over the Bar whispered to me, that Mr. Deane was recalled, and I was appointed to go to France. As I could scarcely believe the News to be true, and suspected Langdon [to] be sporting with me, it did not disconcert me. As I had never solicited such an Appointment, nor intimated to any one, the smallest inclination for it, the News was altogether unexpected.” To be sure, Gerry had mentioned this possibility just as JA was mounting his horse to leave York for home, but “I entreated him that neither [he] nor any one else would think of me” as Deane’s successor, “for I was altogether unqualified” for that post, and thereafter, JA added, he quite dismissed the whole matter from his mind. (JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 4:2–3.) Stiles in his Literary Diary description begins The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles, D.D., LL.D., President of Yale College, ed. Franklin Bowditch Dexter, New York, 1901; 3 vols. description ends (2:239) records the news of JA’s appointment on 20 December. JA must have left Portsmouth that day or the day before, because he arrived in Boston on the 22d and received “Large Packetts from Congress” which AA had sent from Braintree in order for them to reach JA at the earliest possible moment. Getting home later the same day, JA made his decision at once and during the following two days answered—feelingly but affirmatively—all the official notifications and personal pleas he had received from York. See his letters of 23 Dec. to Henry Laurens, PCC, No. 84, I, printed in Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 2:458 (LbC, Adams Papers, printed in JA’s Works description begins The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Boston, 1850–1856; 10 vols. description ends , 7:7–8), and to Elbridge Gerry, LbC, Adams Papers. Also his letters of 24 Dec. to R. H. Lee and James Lovell jointly as members of the Committee for Foreign Affairs (who had sent him his commission in a letter of 3 Dec., Adams Papers), PCC, No. 84, I, printed in Wharton description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 2:459–460 (LbC, Adams Papers, printed in Works description begins The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Boston, 1850–1856; 10 vols. description ends , 7:8); to Lovell personally, LbC, Adams Papers, printed in Works description begins The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Boston, 1850–1856; 10 vols. description ends , 9:471; and to Daniel Roberdeau, LbC, Adams Papers. The letter to Laurens and the letter to Lee and Lovell jointly are formal acceptances. To Gerry, JA said: “You wish for the Concurrence of a certain Lady, in a certain Appointment.—This Concurrence may be had upon one Condition, which is that her Ladyship become a Party in the Voyage, to which she has a great Inclination. She would run the Risque of the Seas and of Enemies, for the Sake of accompanying her humble servant.–But I believe it will not be expedient.” To Lovell JA ruefully observed: “I should have wanted no Motives nor Arguments to induce me to accept of this momentous Trust, if I could be sure that the Public would be benefited by it.—But when I see my Brothers at the Bar, here, so easily making Fortunes for themselves and their Families, and when I recollect that for four Years I have abandoned myself and mine, and when I see my own Children growing up, in something very like real Want, because I have taken no Care of them, it requires as much Philosophy as I am Master of, to determine to persevere in public Life, and engage in a new Scaene, for which I fear I am very ill qualified. [¶] However, by the Innuendoes in your Letter, if I cannot do much good in this new Department, I may possibly do less Harm, than some others.” And to Roberdeau he communicated his doubts about his acquiring a speaking knowledge of French at so late an age: “I shall try the Experiment, however, and if I find any great Inconvenience by which the Public may be likely to suffer I shall ask Leave to return. [¶] I shall devote my Time henceforward, to the Acquisition of a Language, to which I am not a total Stranger, having had some Knowledge of the Grammer and Construction of it, early in Life, and having practised Reading something in [it] all along, but which however, I never before aimed at learning to speak.”
JA’s decision to accept his appointment, though difficult, was speedy; indeed there seems never to have been any real question in either his or AA’s mind about what that decision would be. Much more difficult to answer were the closely related questions whether AA would accompany him and which, if any, of the children would accompany him or them. When John Thaxter left for York, Penna., two or three days after JA had returned from Portsmouth, he had the impression that JA would take not only AA but the two oldest children, AA2 and JQA, as well (Thaxter to AA, “York Town,” 20 Jan. 1778, below). But the very serious possibility of capture by the enemy at sea changed the Adamses’ first tentative decision; and in the end only JQA, on his own plea, was permitted to sail with his father. See AA’s letters printed under the present date, above, and others to family and friends in Feb.–March 1778, below; also, JA’s Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 4:4-5, 15–16; and his conversations in old age recorded by Harriet Welsh: “I never would have gone any where without my Wife. Nothing but the deadly fear that I might be in the tower and she not permitted to be there with me prevented my taking her” (transcript in CFA’s hand, Adams Papers, M/CFA/31, Microfilms, Reel No. 327).