Adams Papers

From John Adams to Jonathan Jackson, 2 October 1780

To Jonathan Jackson

Amsterdam October 2 1780


I have long had it in contemplation to pay my Respects to you, but a wandering Life and various avocations have hitherto prevented.

I am very happy to find that our Labours in Convention, were not in vain.1 The Constitution as finished by the Convention and accepted by the People, is publishing in all the publick Papers of Europe, the Report of the Committee having been published before. Both have been treated with much respect both in Europe and in the other States of America. The noble Simplicity of your Address to the People is much admired.2 The substitute for the Governors Negative is generally thought an Amelioration: and I must confess it is So wisely guarded, that it has quite reconciled me.3

I want to hear of the Elections. If these are made with as much Gravity, Sobriety, Wisdom and Integrity, as were discovered in the Convention and among the People, in the whole Course of this great Work, Posterity will be happy, and prosperous. The first Citizen will be, one of two, whom We know.4 Whichever it may be, I wish him Support and success. It is no light Trust.

However ambitious any may be of it, whoever obtains this Distinction, if he does his Duty will find it an heavy Burthen. There are however other great Trusts. The Governors office will be rendered more or less usefull, according to the Characters that compose the senate and the Council.

If the People are as prudent in the Choice of these, as they were in the Choice of the Convention, let the Governor be almost what he will, he will not be able to do much harm, he will be necessitated to do right.

There is nothing I dread So much, as a Division of the Republick into two great Parties, each arranged under its Leader, and concerting Measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble Apprehension is to be dreaded as the greatest political Evil, under our Constitution.

We cannot have a bad Governor at present.5 We may not possibly have the best that might be found. But We shall have a good one. One who means to do no Evil to his Country, but as much good as he can.

The Convention, I shall ever recollect with Veneration. Among other Things for bringing me, acquainted with Several Characters, that I knew little of before, of which Number Mr. Jackson is one. I shall be much honoured, sir, if you, would be so good as to write me the state of Things. There are more opportunities from your Port to Spain and Holland, I think than from any other. I have the Honour to be, with great Esteem and Respect, Sir your most obt sert.

LbC (Adams Papers).

1This letter may be a reply to one by Jonathan Jackson, not found, containing an “enumeration of Amendments” by the drafting committee, of which Jackson was a member, and the convention itself (to William Gordon, 26 May, and note 2, above). Jackson was the brother-in-law and sometime business partner of Nathaniel Tracy, to whom JA also wrote on 2 Oct. (below; Sibley’s 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 , 15:56–67).

2This was the address, signed by James Bowdoin as president of the Constitutional Convention, which introduced the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 as submitted to the people. It explained the work of the convention and the delegates’ reasoning in approving the constitution in the form it was offered for ratification (Journal of the Convention description begins Journal of the Convention for Framing a Constitution of Government for the State of Massachusetts Bay from . . . September 1, 1779 to . . . June 16, 1780, Boston, 1832. description ends , p. 216–221). For Jean Luzac’s September publication of the address in the Gazette de Leyde, see his letter of 14 Sept., and note 3 (above).

3JA is referring to Chap. II, Sect. I, Art. I, of his draft of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, which gave the governor an absolute veto. The convention replaced it with a provision permitting a two thirds vote of the House and Senate to override the veto (vol. 8:242, 265). JA here seems to approve the convention’s action, but in letters of 4 Nov. 1779 to Elbridge Gerry and Benjamin Rush, he had expressed serious reservations about the change because he believed that it undermined the three branches of government as he had envisioned them (same, p. 276–277, 279–281).

4John Hancock and James Bowdoin.

5The previous two words were interlined.

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