Adams Papers

John Adams to Charles Adams, 13 February 1792

John Adams to Charles Adams

Philadelphia Feb. 13 1792

Dear Charles

Your Letter of the 9th, gave me great Pleasure as it discovers a curiosity that is laudable and contains a very handsome Relation of political Events and Movements in New York of great Importance to that State and very interesting to the United States.1

The Writings which have excited your inquisitive disposition, were of Some importance in their day as they had Some Influence on the public Opinion; but are now forgotten and will probably never be again recollected except by you and your Brothers & sister. It is a great Consolation to me that no Party Virulence or personal Reflections ever escaped me, in all the sharp Contests in which I have been engaged.

My first Appearance as a Writer was in the Boston Gazette in 1763 or 1764 under the signature of U in opposition to a Writer in Fleets Paper whose Signature was, J.2 My next Essays were the Essay on the Cannon and Feudal Law in 1765—3 in the Same Year I wrote a few Pieces called Letters from the Earl of Clarendon to William Pym other Letters from Governor Winthrop to Governor Bradford.4 in 1772 I wrote eight Letters to General Brattle on the subject of the Independence of the Judges. This is a Work of some Importance and deserves your Reading.5 in 1774 and 1775 I wrote a long Series of Papers under the Signature of Novanglus, an extract of which was reprinted in England under the Title of History of the Rise and progress of the Dispute with the Colonies.6 in 1776 I wrote at Philadelphia Thoughts on Government in a Letter from a Gentleman to his Friend.7 in Holland in 1780 I wrote the Letters to Calkoen.8 in England in 1777 I wrote the Defence of the Constitutions.9 I had forgot, in Paris in 1780 I wrote a series of Letters which were printed in 1782 in England under the follish absurd Title given it by the Printer of Letters from a distinguished American.10 in Holland in 1782 I wrote a Memorial to the Sovereigns of Europe on the Topick of American Independence11 in 1790 & 1791 I wrote Discourses on Davila.12 in Boston I always wrote in the Boston Gazette. that my Confession may be compleat I must tell you that I wrote a very foolish unmeaning thing in fleets Paper in 1762 or 1763 under the signature of Humphrey Ploughjogger. in this there was neither good nor Evil, yet it excited more merriment than all my other Writings together.13

Thus my son I have told you the whole Secret. You will find no offence against Religion Morals Decency or Delicacy and if your affection for your Father should ever induce you to look them up you will find in the most of them something to gratify your Curiosity tho there are not many of them of very great Importance. The Family are tolerably well. continue to write me the “Clashings of your Grandees.”14 I am with / much affection your Father

John Adams

RC (MHi:Seymour Coll.); internal address: “Mr Charles Adams.”

1On 9 Feb., CA wrote to JA requesting “a list of the various publications of which you have been the author during your political life, The years in which they appeared, and the papers in which they were printed. Such a present could you find leisure to make it would be greatly pleasing to me.” The rest of the letter outlined some of the rivalries and in-fighting among New York State politicians (Adams Papers).

2JA’s letters signed “U” were printed in the Boston Gazette on 18 July, 1, 29 Aug., and 5 Sept. 1763, in part as a response to Jonathan Sewall’s letters signed “J” in the Boston Evening Post. For the text of the letters and analysis of JA’s reasons for writing them, see JA, Papers description begins Papers of John Adams, ed. Robert J. Taylor, Gregg L. Lint, and others, Cambridge, 1977–. description ends , 1:59, 61, 66–81, 84–90.

3For JA’s “Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law,” first published in the Boston Gazette on 12, 19 Aug., 30 Sept., and 21 Oct. 1765, see same, 1:103–128.

4The “Earl of Clarendon to William Pym” letters appeared on 13, 20, and 27 Jan. 1766 in the Boston Gazette; see same, 1:155–170. JA’s “Governor Winthrop to Governor Bradford” pieces were printed in the Boston Gazette on 26 Jan. and 9, 16 Feb. 1767. For the purpose and history of the pieces—intended as a response to Jonathan Sewall’s defense of Gov. Francis Bernard—as well as two unpublished works of the same title, see same, 1:174–176, 191–211.

5In Jan. and Feb. 1773, JA published under his own name seven letters to the Boston Gazette opposing the payment of judicial salaries by the Crown rather than the Mass. provincial government. He was countering the arguments of Maj. Gen. William Brattle, who, as moderator of the Cambridge town meeting, had opposed debating judicial salaries on both technical and theoretical grounds. For a thorough discussion of the controversy and the text of JA’s essays as well as Brattle’s response, see same, 1:252–309.

6For JA’s Novanglus essays, which argued that the American colonies were not subject to parliamentary authority and appeared in the Boston Gazette between Jan. and April 1775, see same, 2:216–387. Portions of these essays were also published in England under the title “History of the Dispute with America; from Its Origins in 1754, to the Present Time” in John Almon’s Remembrancer, or Impartial Repository of Public Events, 2d edn., London, 1775, p. 24–32, 45–54.

7JA wrote the pamphlet Thoughts on Government, Applicable to the Present State of the American Colonies. In a Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend, Philadelphia, 1776, Evans, description begins Charles Evans and others, American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of All Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America [1639–1800], Chicago and Worcester, 1903–1959; 14 vols. description ends No. 14639, while in Philadelphia attending the Continental Congress. For the text of this work, including its earlier incarnation as private letters, and analysis of its influence on American political institutions, see JA, Papers description begins Papers of John Adams, ed. Robert J. Taylor, Gregg L. Lint, and others, Cambridge, 1977–. description ends , 4:65–93.

8For JA’s 26 letters to the Dutch lawyer Hendrik Calkoen, written in Amsterdam in Oct. 1780 in response to a series of questions from Calkoen, see same, 10:196–252.

9An inadvertence on JA’s part. He published his Defence of the Const. description begins John Adams, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, London, 1787–1788; repr. New York, 1971; 3 vols. description ends in London in 1787 and 1788; see vol. 7:365–366, note 14.

10Responding to Joseph Galloway’s Cool Thoughts, JA drafted his “Letters from a Distinguished American” in July 1780. JA sent them to his friend Edmund Jenings for publication, but Jenings failed to have them printed until the fall of 1782 when they appeared in the London Parker’s General Advertiser and Morning Intelligencer. For a full discussion of the significance of the letters and for their texts in both draft and printed form, see JA, Papers description begins Papers of John Adams, ed. Robert J. Taylor, Gregg L. Lint, and others, Cambridge, 1977–. description ends , 9:531–588.

11JA’s “Memorial to the Sovereigns of Europe,” originally drafted in letter format but then converted to an essay for publication on the subject of a general peace for Europe and the United States, appeared in a variety of European newspapers in Aug. 1782 as well as in the Boston Evening Post in November; see same, 13:160–164.

12This is the first direct reference in the family correspondence to JA’s Discourses on Davila: A Series of Papers on Political History. Beginning in fall 1789, JA began to study Enrico Caterino Davila’s Historia delle guerre civili di Francia, Venice, 1630, using a French translation, Histoire des guerres civiles de France, Amsterdam [Paris], 1757. Davila (1576–1631), an Italian historian, spent over thirty years preparing the Historia, an account of the French civil war from 1560 to 1598. JA hoped that a close review of the earlier revolutions in France would shed light on the current one. His research once again affirmed for him—as had his previous studies of the Italian republics for the Defence of the Const. description begins John Adams, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, London, 1787–1788; repr. New York, 1971; 3 vols. description ends —the dangers of unicameral governments, especially as embodied in the French National Assembly. He was also offended by the French proposal to abolish all forms of rank and nobility, an attempt at leveling he found absurd. Typical for JA, the Discourses were a compilation of direct translations from the French of Davila’s own work and summaries of the same intermixed with JA’s commentary. JA likewise borrowed heavily from the ideas of Adam Smith in Theory of Moral Sentiments, especially Smith’s thoughts on distinction and rank.

Although published anonymously, JA was widely known as the author. These essays did little to ease growing tensions between Federalists and Republicans—who saw them as a defense of hereditary monarchy and in opposition to the popular French Revolution—or to improve JA’s reputation outside of Federalist New England. Most notably, Thomas Jefferson took offense, indirectly attacking JA’s “political heresies” in a letter of support contained in an American edition of Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man. JA later claimed that he cut off the series abruptly because “the rage and fury of the Jacobinical journals . . . intimidated the printer, John Fenno, and convinced me that to proceed would do more hurt than good.”

The Discourses were published as a series of unsigned essays in 32 numbers of the New York (later Philadelphia) Gazette of the United States between 28 April 1790 and 27 April 1791. All but the final number were subsequently reprinted, again anonymously, in a single volume in 1805 by Russell and Cutler of Boston. The 32d essay was not reprinted again until the twentieth century, when it appeared as an appendix in Alfred Iacuzzi, John Adams: Scholar, N.Y., 1952, p. 266–267. JA himself used the 1805 edition to revisit his work in 1813–1814, producing extensive marginalia in the copy in his library at MB. CFA reproduced some of that marginalia in his reprinting of the Discourses in Works, 6:221–403; even more extensive excerpts were published by Zoltán Haraszti in John Adams & The Prophets of Progress, Cambridge, 1952, p. 165–179. Finally, a manuscript draft of 17 of the numbers, as well as an unpublished 33d essay, exist in the Adams Papers, dated and filmed at [April 1790] (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 ; Haraszti, Prophets description begins Zoltán Haraszti, John Adams and the Prophets of Progress, Cambridge, 1952. description ends , p. 38–39, 165–179; Iacuzzi, John Adams: Scholar, p. 135–156).

13JA first published as Humphrey Ploughjogger—his favorite pseudonym—in Thomas and John Fleet’s Boston Evening Post, 3 March 1763. Subsequent pieces appeared on 20 June and 5 Sept., as well as in the Boston Gazette in 1765 and 1767. For all of these items, see JA, Papers description begins Papers of John Adams, ed. Robert J. Taylor, Gregg L. Lint, and others, Cambridge, 1977–. description ends , 1:58–62, 63–66, 90–94, 146–148, 178–182.

For an earlier summary and evaluation by JA of his own writings in which he gives somewhat more detail, see JA to the Abbé de Mably, 17 Jan. 1783, same, 14:181–184.

14CA concluded his 9 Feb. 1792 letter to JA by noting that New York “has as many clashing Grandees as Florence or any of the Republics whose histories you have sketched” (Adams Papers).

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