Adams Papers

From John Adams to David Ramsay, 9 February 1786

To David Ramsay

Grosvenor square Feby. 9. 1786—


I have received the Letter you did me, the honor to write me, on the 23d. of Decr. and am much obliged to you, for the present of the history of the late revolution in south, Carolina,1 I have not yet received it: calling on Mr. Dilly, on the receipt of your Letter I was informed that the Books consigned to him were still on board the ship, and would not be landed under 10 or 12 day’s— I wish, sir, that your Example may be followed by some Gentlemen of suitable talents & the necessary leisure, in each of the States.

There have been in fact 13. Revolutions, for that Number of established Governments were over thrown and as many new ones erected— for this Reason I think that a compleat history of the American Revolution can never be written untill, the history of the Change in each state is known, nor can any man be competent to the general Undertaking who is not master of the particulars.

There are already half a dozen histories written in Europe, and there is an hundred other writers who wish to engage in it. Those already published are worse than nothing, and such as are intended will be no better. My constant answer to all who propose writing is, that there is no Man now living qualified for the Work, nor would it be possible even for those who have been most active and the best informed, to collect the indispensable materials even if the most secrect Papers could be laid open to him, in a short time.

Let me request your acceptance of a Pamphlet, “An address to the landed, trading and funded Interests of England, on the present state of public affairs”—2 This is the first publication which in any sense may be called judicious— it is well worth the attention of our Citizens—

No writings however will be sufficient to produce a change in the sentiments of this Nation—without an Union in America in measures to vindicate their own Navigation, and even that would opperate but slowly.

You will oblige me much Sir, by continuing this Correspondence, and Communicating to me your advice upon all things which relate to the public affairs committed to my care—

With great respect I have the honor to be

J. A—

LbC in WSS’s hand (Adams Papers description begins Manuscripts and other materials, 1639–1889, in the Adams Manuscript Trust collection given to the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1956 and enlarged by a few additions of family papers since then. Citations in the present edition are simply by date of the original document if the original is in the main chronological series of the Papers and therefore readily found in the microfilm edition of the Adams Papers (APM). description ends ); internal address: “The Honble. David / Ramsay Esqr. member of / Congress from South Carolina”; APM Reel 113.

1With his 23 Dec. 1785 letter to JA (MHi:Adams-Hull Coll.), David Ramsay (1749–1815), Princeton 1765, sent a copy of The History of the Revolution of South-Carolina, from a British Province to an Independent State, 2 vols., Trenton, N.J., 1785. Though previously unknown to JA, Ramsay, then acting president of Congress in John Hancock’s absence, wrote that the gift served “as a testimony of my great veneration of your public character & as a mark of my gratitude for the services you have renderd & are now rendering to our common country” (ANB description begins John A. Garraty, Mark C. Carnes, and Paul Betz, eds., American National Biography, New York, 1999–2002; 24 vols. plus supplement; rev. edn., description ends ). A copy of the 1785 edition with JQA’s bookplate is at MQA (Catalog of the Stone Library).

Ramsay also sent 1,600 copies to the London bookseller Charles Dilly, who recommended revising portions of the book that were critical of British colonial policy. JA intervened in the dispute, visiting Dilly on 19 April 1786 to press successfully for liberal publication of American writers like Ramsay, Timothy Dwight, and Joel Barlow. Ramsay’s work, which AA thought was “written in a cool dispassionate Stile and is chiefly a detail of facts,” was quietly published in London the following year. A Paris edition, with revisions by Ramsay and François de Barbé-Marbois, French chargé d’affaires to the United States, was simultaneously shepherded to publication by Thomas Jefferson. As JA predicted of the foreign reception to American literary efforts, Ramsay’s history brought dismal sales and mixed reviews (JA, D&A description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 3:189; AFC description begins Adams Family Correspondence, ed. L. H. Butterfield, Marc Friedlaender, Richard Alan Ryerson, Margaret A. Hogan, and others, Cambridge, 1963– . description ends , 7:208, 285, 378, 379; Arthur H. Shaffer, To Be an American: David Ramsay and the Making of the American Consciousness, Columbia, S.C., 1991, p. 98–103).

2This pamphlet, which JA also enclosed with his 11 March 1786 letter to Cotton Tufts (AFC description begins Adams Family Correspondence, ed. L. H. Butterfield, Marc Friedlaender, Richard Alan Ryerson, Margaret A. Hogan, and others, Cambridge, 1963– . description ends , 7:87–88), was Matthew Robinson-Morris’ An Address to the Landed, Trading and Funded Interests of England on the Present State of Public Affairs, London, 1786. In the second edition, also published in 1786, “The Dangerous Situation of England, or” preceded the original title. For JA’s additional comments on the pamphlet, see his letter to Tufts, and his letters to Robinson-Morris of 21 Feb. and 2, 4, and 23 March, all below. For more on Robinson-Morris, see Descriptive List of Illustrations, No. 1, above.

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