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TO BENJAMIN RUSH. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 9 (Letters and State Papers 1799-1811) 
The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 9.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
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Of the President on some observations made to him by the Secretary of the Treasury upon the measures proper to be taken for obtaining an explanation of the 6th article of the treaty with Britain.1
The antipathy secretly entertained by Alexander Hamilton to John Adams, dating its origin so far back as the first years of the revolutionary war, intermitted but once, and ending in three successive attempts to undermine his position as a candidate for the chief official posts of the country, only the last of which proved effective, is now rendered apparent even by the incomplete publication that has been lately made of Hamilton’s papers. It was not, however, until the death of General Washington, that the avowed disinclination of Mr. Adams further to pursue the war policy with France, and to intrust to that gentleman the chief command of the army, led to an open declaration of enmity. The pamphlet then composed by him, entitled, “The public conduct and character of John Adams, Esquire, President of the United States,” was unquestionably intended to destroy Mr. Adams’s chance of reëlection, at all hazards, although it was found necessary to apologize for the act to the great body of the federal party, whom it was sure simultaneously to destroy, by giving it the shape of a secret effort to turn the scale in the House of Representatives in favor of Mr. C. C. Pinckney, likewise a federalist, over Mr. Adams, which two gentlemen were to be brought there upon an electoral majority exactly equal. Any other construction than this impeaches Mr. Hamilton’s political sagacity and foresight too much to be admissible. It is scarcely to be imagined that such a document, once put into a printer’s hands, could fail to escape the lynx eyes of the hostile politicians of New York, headed by a man so acute as Aaron Burr. In addition, it may be shown that Mr. Hamilton had taken the trouble personally to reconnoitre beforehand the ground in New England, whereby he became convinced that the scheme of an equal vote for Mr. Pinckney was not likely to succeed, and that immediately upon his return he avowed publication as a part of his design.1 That he did not persevere in this, was owing to the suggestions of his political friends rather than to his own inclination.
TO BENJAMIN RUSH.
Quincy, 28 August, 1811.
Your letter of the 20th, my dear friend, has filled my eyes with tears, and, indurated stoic as I am, my heart with sensations unutterable by my tongue or pen; not the feelings of vanity, but the overwhelming sense of my own unworthiness of such a panegyric from such a friend. Like Louis the sixteenth, I said to myself, “Qu’est ce que j’ai fait pour le mériter?
Have I not been employed in mischief all my days? Did not the American revolution produce the French revolution? And did not the French revolution produce all the calamities and desolations to the human race and the whole globe ever since? I meant well, however. My conscience was clear as a crystal glass, without a scruple or a doubt. I was borne along by an irresistible sense of duty. God prospered our labors; and, awful, dreadful, and deplorable as the consequences have been, I cannot but hope that the ultimate good of the world, of the human race, and of our beloved country, is intended and will be accomplished by it. While I was in this reverie, I handed your letter to my brother Cranch, the postmaster, of eighty-five years of age, an Israelite indeed, who read it with great attention, and at length started up and exclaimed, “I have known you sixty years, and I can bear testimony as a witness to every word your friend has said in this letter in your favor.” This completed my humiliation and confusion.
Your letter is the most serious and solemn one I ever received in my life. It has aroused and harrowed up my soul. I know not what to say in answer to it, or to do in consequence of it.
It is most certain that the end of my life cannot be remote. My eyes are constantly fixed upon it, according to the precept or advice of the ancient philosopher; and, if I am not in a total delusion, I daily behold and contemplate it without dismay.
If by dedicating all the rest of my days to the composition of such an address as you propose,1 I could have any rational assurance of doing any real good to my fellow-citizens of United America, I would cheerfully lay aside all other occupations and amusements, and devote myself to it. But there are difficulties and embarrassments in the way, which to me, at present, appear insuperable.
The “sensibility of the public mind,” which you anticipate at my decease, will not be so favorable to my memory as you seem to foresee. By the treatment I have received, and continue to receive, I should expect that a large majority of all parties would cordially rejoice to hear that my head was laid low.
I am surprised to read your opinion, that “my integrity has never been called in question, and that friends and enemies agree in believing me to be an honest man.”1 If I am to judge by the newspapers and pamphlets that have been printed in America for twenty years past, I should think that both parties believed me the meanest villain in the world.
If they should not suspect me of sinning in the grave, they will charge me with selfishness and hypocrisy before my death, in preparing an address to move the passions of the people, and excite them to promote my children, and perhaps to make my son a king. Washington and Franklin could never do any thing but what was imputed to pure, disinterested patriotism; I never could do any thing but what was ascribed to sinister motives.
I agree with you in sentiment, that religion and virtue are the only foundations, not only of republicanism and of all free government, but of social felicity under all governments and in all the combinations of human society. But if I should inculcate this doctrine in my will, I should be charged with hypocrisy and a desire to conciliate the good will of the clergy towards my family, as I was charged by Dr. Priestley and his friend Cooper, and by Quakers, Baptists, and I know not how many other sects, for instituting a national fast, for even common civility to the clergy, and for being a church-going animal.
If I should inculcate those “national, social, domestic, and religious virtues” you recommend, I should be suspected and charged with an hypocritical, machiavelian, jesuitical, pharisaical attempt to promote a national establishment of Presbyterianism in America; whereas I would as soon establish the Episcopal Church, and almost as soon the Catholic Church.
If I should inculcate “fidelity to the marriage bed,” it would be said that it proceeded from resentment to General Hamilton, and a malicious desire to hold up to posterity his libertinism. Others would say that it is only a vainglorious ostentation of my own continence. For among all the errors, follies, failings, vices, and crimes, which have been so plentifully imputed to me, I cannot recollect a single insinuation against me of any amorous intrigue, or irregular or immoral connection with woman, single or married, myself a bachelor or a married man.*
If I should recommend the sanctification of the sabbath, like a divine, or even only a regular attendance on public worship, as a means of moral instruction and social improvement, like a philosopher or statesman, I should be charged with vain ostentation again, and a selfish desire to revive the remembrance of my own punctuality in this respect; for it is notorious enough that I have been a church-going animal1 for seventy-six years, from the cradle. And this has been alleged as one proof of my hypocrisy.
Fifty-three years ago I was fired with a zeal, amounting to enthusiasm, against ardent spirits,2 the multiplication of taverns, retailers, and dram-shops, and tippling houses. Grieved to the heart to see the number of idlers, thieves, sots, and consumptive patients made for the physicians, in those infamous seminaries, I applied to the Court of Sessions, procured a committee of inspection and inquiry, reduced the number of licensed houses, &c. But I only acquired the reputation of a hypocrite and an ambitious demagogue by it. The number of licensed houses was soon reinstated; drams, grog, and sotting were not diminished, and remain to this day as deplorable as ever. You may as well preach to the Indians against rum as to our people. Little Turtle petitioned me to prohibit rum to be sold to his nation, for a very good reason; because he said I had lost three thousand of my Indian children in his nation in one year by it. Sermons, moral discourses, philosophical dissertations, medical advice, are all lost upon this subject. Nothing but making the commodity scarce and dear will have any effect; and your republican friend, and, I had almost said, mine, Jefferson, would not permit rum or whiskey to be taxed.
If I should then in my will, my dying legacy, my posthumous exhortation, call it what you will, recommend heavy, prohibitory taxes upon spirituous liquors, which I believe to be the only remedy against their deleterious qualities in society, every one of your brother republicans and nine tenths of the federalists would say that I was a canting Puritan, a profound hypocrite, setting up standards of morality, frugality, economy, temperance, simplicity, and sobriety, that I knew the age was incapable of.
Funds and banks1 I never approved, or was satisfied with our funding system; it was founded in no consistent principle; it was contrived to enrich particular individuals at the public expense. Our whole banking system I ever abhorred, I continue to abhor, and shall die abhorring.
But I am not an enemy to funding systems. They are absolutely and indispensably necessary in the present state of the world. An attempt to annihilate or prevent them would be as romantic an adventure as any in Don Quixote or in Oberon. A national bank of deposit I believe to be wise, just, prudent, economical, and necessary. But every bank of discount, every bank by which interest is to be paid or profit of any kind made by the deponent, is downright corruption. It is taxing the public for the benefit and profit of individuals; it is worse than old tenor, continental currency, or any other paper money.
Now, Sir, if I should talk in this strain, after I am dead, you know the people of America would pronounce that I had died mad.
My opinion is, that a circulating medium of gold and silver only ought to be introduced and established; that a national bank of deposit only, with a branch in each State, should be allowed; that every bank in the Union ought to be annihilated, and every bank of discount prohibited to all eternity. Not one farthing of profit should ever be allowed on any money deposited in the bank. Now, my friend, if, in my posthumous sermon, exhortation, advice, address, or whatever you may call it, I should gravely deliver such a doctrine, nine tenths of republicans as well as federalists will think that I ought to have been consigned to your tranquillizing chair rather than permitted to write such extravagances. Franklin, Washington, Hamilton, and all our disinterested patriots and heroes, it will be said, have sanctioned paper money and banks, and who is this pedant and bigot of a John Adams, who, from the ground, sounds the tocsin against all our best men, when every body knows he never had any thing in view but his private interest from his birth to his death?
Free schools, and all schools, colleges, academies and seminaries of learning,1 I can recommend from my heart; but I dare not say that a suffrage should never be permitted to a man who cannot read and write. What would become of the republic of France, if the lives, fortunes, character, of twenty-four millions and a half of men who can neither read nor write, should be at the absolute disposal of five hundred thousand who can read?
I am not qualified to write such an address. The style should be pure, elegant, eloquent, and pathetic in the highest degree. It should be revised, corrected, obliterated, interpolated, amended, transcribed twenty times, polished, refined, varnished, burnished. To all these employments and exercises I am a total stranger. To my sorrow, I have never copied, nor corrected, nor embellished. I understand it not. I never could write declamations, orations, or popular addresses.
If I could persuade my friend Rush, or my friend Jay, my friend Trumbull, or my friend Humphreys, or perhaps my friend Jefferson, to write such a thing for me, I know not why I might not transcribe it, as Washington did so often. Borrowed eloquence, if it contains as good stuff, is as good as own eloquence.
The example you recollect of Cæsar’s will, is an awful warning. Posthumous addresses may be left by Cæsar as well as Cato, Brutus, or Cicero, and will oftener, perhaps, be applauded, and make deeper impressions; establish empires easier than restore republics; promote tyranny sooner than liberty.
Your advice, my friend, flows from the piety, benevolence, and patriotism of your heart. I know of no man better qualified to write such an address than yourself. If you will try your hand at it and send me the result, I will consider it maturely. I will not promise to adopt it as my own, but I may make a better use of it than of any thing I could write.
My brother Cranch thinks you one of the best and one of the profoundest Christians. He prays me to present you his best compliments, and although he has not the honor nor the pleasure of a personal acquaintance, has the highest esteem for your character. He prays me to inclose a sermon, not for its own sake as much as for the appendix, which he asks you to read and give him your opinion of it. Will you show it to our friend Wharton, and get his opinion of it?
The paper by Joseph Hawley, drawn up in accordance with the intention expressed in the text, was first printed in Niles’s Principles and Acts of the Revolution, with the following brief explanation from Mr. Adams:—
“This is the original paper that I read to Patrick Henry in the fall of the year 1774, which produced his rapturous burst of approbation, and solemn asseveration, ‘I am of that man’s mind.’ ”
We must fight, if we cannot otherwise rid ourselves of British taxation, all revenues, and the constitution or form of government enacted for us by the British parliament. It is evil against right—utterly intolerable to every man who has any idea or feeling of right or liberty.
It is easy to demonstrate, that the regulation act will soon annihilate every thing of value in the charter, introduce perfect despotism, and render the House of Representatives a mere form and ministerial engine.
It is now or never, that we must assert our liberty. Twenty years will make the number of tories on this continent equal to the number of whigs. They who shall be born will not have any idea of a free government.
It will necessarily be a question, whether the new government of this province shall be suffered to take place at all, or whether it shall be immediately withstood and resisted.
A most important question this—I humbly conceive it not best, forcibly or wholly to resist it immediately.
There is not heat enough yet for battle. Constant, and a sort of negative resistance of government, will increase the heat and blow the fire. There is not military skill enough. That is improving, and must be encouraged and improved, but will daily increase.
Fight we must finally, unless Britain retreats.
But it is of infinite consequence that victory be the end and issue of hostilities. If we get to fighting before necessary dispositions are made for it, we shall be conquered, and all will be lost forever.
A certain clear plan, for a constant, adequate, and lasting supply of arms and military stores, must be devised and fully contemplated. This is the main thing. This, I think, ought to be a capital branch of the business of Congress—to wit; to devise and settle such a plan; at least, clearly to investigate how such supplies can be extensively had in case of need. While this is effecting—to wit; while the continent is providing themselves with arms and military stores, and establishing a method for a sure and unfailing and constant supply, I conceive we had best to negotiate with Britain. If she will cede our rights and restore our liberties, all is well—every good man will rejoice; if she will not agree to relinquish and abolish all American revenues, under every pretence and name, and all pretensions to order and regulate our internal policy and constitution—then, if we have got any constant and sufficient supply of military stores, it will be time to take to arms. I cannot quit this head. It ought to be immediately and most seriously attended to. It cannot be any other than madness to commence hostilities before we have established resources on a sure plan for certain and effectual military supplies. Men, in that case, will not be wanting.
But what considerate man will ever consent to take arms and go to war, where he has no reasonable assurance but that all must be given over, and he fall a prey to the enemy, for want of military stores and ammunition, in a few weeks?
Either an effectual non-consumption agreement or resistance of the new government will bring on hostilities very soon.
1. As to a non-consumption agreement, it appears to me that it ought to be taken for certain truth, that no plan of importation or consumption of tea, British goods in general, or enumerated articles, which is to rest and depend on the virtue of all the individuals, will succeed; but must certainly prove abortive.
The ministry may justly call such a plan futile; futile it will turn out. A plan of that sort may safely rest and be founded on the virtue of the majority; but then the majority, by the plan, must be directed to control the minority, which implies force. The plan, therefore, must direct and prescribe how that force shall be exercised.
Those, again, who exercise that force, under the direction and by order of the majority, must by that majority be defended and indemnified.
Dispositions must therefore necessarily be made to resist or overcome that force which will be brought against you, which will directly produce war and bloodshed.
From thence it follows, that any other non-consumption or non-importation plan, which is not perfectly futile and ridiculous, implies hostilities and war.
2. As to the resistance of the new government, that also implies war; for, in order to resist and prevent the effect of the new government, it is indispensably necessary that the charter government, or some other, must be maintained, constitutionally exercised and supported.
The people will have some government or other; they will be drawn in by a seeming mild and just administration, which will last awhile. Legislation and executive justice must go on in some form or other, and we may depend on it they will; therefore the new government will take effect until the old is restored.
The old cannot be restored until the council take on them the administration, call assemblies, constitute courts, make sheriffs, &c. The council will not attempt this without good assurance of protection. This protection cannot be given without hostilities.
Our salvation depends upon an established persevering union of the colonies.
The tools of administration are using every device and effort to destroy that union, and they will certainly continue so to do.
Thereupon all possible devices and endeavors must be used to establish, improve, brighten, and maintain such union.
Every grievance of any one colony must be held and considered by the whole as a grievance to the whole, and must operate on the whole as a grievance to the whole. This will be a difficult matter to effect, but it must be done.
Quære, therefore, whether it is not absolutely necessary that some plan be settled for a continuation of congresses? But here we must be aware that congresses will soon be declared and enacted by parliament to be high treason.
Is the India company to be compensated or not?
If to be compensated, each colony to pay the particular damage she has done, or is an average to be made on the continent?
The destruction of the tea was not unjust; therefore to what good purpose is the tea to be paid for, unless we are assured that, by so doing, our rights will be restored and peace obtained?
What future measures is the continent to preserve with regard to imported dutied tea, whether it comes as East India property or otherwise, under the pretence and lie that the tea is imported from Holland, and the goods imported before a certain given day? Dutied tea will be imported and consumed, goods continue to be imported, your non-importation agreement eluded, rendered contemptible and ridiculous, unless all teas used, and all goods, are taken into some public custody which will be inviolably faithful.”
end of volume ix.
[1 ]In Mr. Wolcott’s memorandum, referred to in the last note, it is stated that a report on the subject of the suspension of the boards of commissioners under the British treaty, was made to the President, December 11th, 1799. This report is not found among Mr. Adams’s papers; and it is not printed in Mr. Gibbs’s work, because “possessed of no present interest.” These notes upon that report are without date, but they were probably drawn up on the 12th.
[1 ]Hamilton to Wolcott. 3d August. Works, vol. vi. p. 450. The same to Bayard, p. 452.
[1 ]“Suppose you avail yourself, while in health, of the sensibility which awaits the public mind to your character soon after your death, by leaving behind you a posthumous address to the citizens of the United States, in which shall be inculcated all those great national, social, domestic, and religious virtues, which alone can make a people free, great, and happy.” B. Rush to J. A.
[1 ]“You stand nearly alone in the history of our public men, in never having had your integrity called in question, or even suspected. Friends and enemies agree in believing you to be an honest man.” B. Rush to J. A.
[* ]Note. August 31, 1811. I had forgot the story of the four English girls whom General Pinckney was employed to hire in England, two for me and two for himself. J. A.
[1 ]“Recollect here your definition of a New England man, given to one of your friends in Amsterdam. It was, ‘He is a meeting-going animal.’ ” B. Rush to J. A.
[2 ]“Much may be said to discourage the use of ardent spirits, and to lessen the number of taverns and grocery stores, both of which are sapping the virtue of our country.” B. Rush to J. A.
[1 ]“In exposing the evils of funding systems and banks, summon all the fire of your genius, as it blazed forth on the 2d of July in the year 1776 upon the floor of Congress.” B. Rush to J. A.
[1 ]“The benefits of free schools should not be overlooked. Indeed, suffrage, in my opinion, should never be permitted to a man that could not write or read.” B. R. to J. A.