Adams Papers

Abigail Adams to Nathaniel Willis?, 4 January 1781

Abigail Adams to Nathaniel Willis?

[Braintree, ante 4 January 1781]

Dear Sir

Your favour of december 211 was deliverd me enclosing the extract relative to Mr. Hutchinson. As you were pleased to express an approbation of it, and to suggest a publication of it, I have returnd it, that you may make that use of it if you think proper.2 In a Letter from Mr. Adams dated the 25 of Sepbr. he writes me that the late orders he had received from Congress would oblige him to a continuance in Holland till countermanded. Britain thought not of peace. She forgot the State of Ireland, France, Spain, West Indies, N. America, the Armed Neutrality of the Maritime powers and their own distracted state in their joy for the News of Charlstown. That the Ways of Heaven were dark and intricate. It seems as if they were permitted to have Success enough to lead them on, untill they become the most striking Spectacle of Horrour that ever was seen. That they were revenging the loss of their power upon those who had uniformly endeavourd to save it. Burk, Kepple, Sawbridge, Hartly, all thrown out.

Ought not this to convince every American of the importance of Independance and the wretched State of Slavery and Subjugation they must submit to by a reunion with her.

I take this opportunity Sir to enclose to you a coppy of a Letter which I wish to see published. The writer is well known to you and the Letter stands not in need of any enconium of mine. I requested that it might be given to the publick, and obtaind permission.3 I thought it might serve in some measure as an Antidote to the poison so profusely administered by this celebrated Letter Writer. His Lordship has most certainly laid himself open to the utmost severity of Female pens—but you will find in this Letter Elegance of Stile, Solidity of Judgement, discernment and penetration which would do honour to either Sex but which peculiarly distinguish this Lady. You will be so good Sir as to introduce it in the publick paper secreting the Ladys name and place of abode.

I have the Honour to be with a respectfull esteem your Friend and Humble Servant,


Dft (Adams Papers); without date or indication of addressee (but see note 2 below); docketed by CFA: “1781.” Enclosures in (missing) RC are identified in notes 2 and 3 below. Text has been minimally repunctuated for clarity.

1Not found.

2The “extract relative to Mr. Hutchinson” was originally drawn from JA’s letter to President Huntington of Congress, 17 June 1780, commenting on Hutchinson’s death in London and his (as JA believed) malign role in the Revolutionary struggle (PCC, No. 84, II; 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 , 3:794–798). The text of these comments had been promised to AA by Lovell in his letter to her of 27 Nov. 1780 (q.v. above), and was forwarded to her a few days later via Rev. Samuel Cooper (Lovell to AA, 30 Nov. 1780, Adams Papers). Cooper may have first suggested that JA’s remarks be published in Boston; at any rate they were printed in Nathaniel Willis’ Independent Chronicle, 4 Jan. 1781, p. 3, col. 2. From these circumstances the editors deduce that the intended recipient of the letter here drafted was Willis and that the letter was written shortly before 4 Jan. 1781. Another possibility, quite as likely, is that this letter was sent to Samuel Cooper for him to forward the enclosed “extract” to Willis.

At about this time AA must have furnished another such communication to Willis and also to John Gill, publisher of the Boston Continental Journal. This was a longer passage, from JA’s letter to Huntington of 2 June 1780 (PCC, No. 84, II; printed in Wharton, 3:752–758), containing strictures on Lord George Germain’s speech of 5 May in Parliament. Both papers printed the passage in their issues of 11 Jan. 1781 (Independent Chronicle, p. 1–2; Continental Journal, p. 1, 4). AA had evidently received it as an enclosure in a letter from Lovell. It had already been printed in the Pennsylvania Packet, 19 Dec., and earlier in Europe from a text JA must have furnished directly or indirectly; see above, Lovell to AA, 19 Dec. 1780, and note 4 there; also a note by CFA in JA, 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 , 7:179. AA refers to its publication in Boston in her letter to Mrs. Warren, following, and again in a letter to JA, 15 Jan., below.

3AA was now submitting for publication a text of Mercy Warren’s letter to her son denouncing the immoral teachings of Lord Chesterfield’s letters to his natural son. A copy of this letter, dated 24 Dec. 1779, is in the Adams Papers and has been mentioned several times in this correspondence; see AA to Mrs. Warren, 28 Feb. and 1 Sept. 1780, in vol. 3; Mrs. Warren to AA, 21 Dec. 1780, above; AA to JA, 21 Jan. 1781, below. Willis printed it in his Independent Chronicle for 18 Jan. 1781, p. 2, col. 1–3, as “by a Lady, born and edu­cated in this State, whose friends have repeatedly ventured offending her delicacy by obliging the public with some of her ingenious and elegant productions.” The editorial introduction went on to quote most of the present paragraph from AA’s letter. Thus the members of the Adams-Warren circle continued their efforts to furnish antidotes to the “poison” of Chesterfield’s “libertine Morals and base Principles,” as JA had long since characterized them (1:376, above).

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