Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1817: TO WILLIAM TUDOR. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes)
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1817: TO WILLIAM TUDOR. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes) 
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. 10.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
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TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 24 January, 1817.
Bernard, Hutchinson, Oliver, the commissioners of the customs, and their satellites, had an espionage as inquisitive as zealous, and as faithful as that in France, before, during, or since the revolution, by which the Tories were better informed of the anecdote which I am about to relate to you, than the Whigs themselves were in general. That the Tory histories may not hereafter misrepresent it without detection, I will now state the facts in writing, that they may remain in your archives and mine, to be used as an antidote to the poison that may hereafter appear.1
The public had been long alarmed with rumors and predictions that the king, that is the ministry, would take into their own hands the payment of the salaries of the Judges of the Supreme Court. The people would not believe it; the most thinking men dreaded it. They said, “With an executive authority in a Governor possessed of an absolute negative on all the acts of the legislature, and with Judges dependent only on the Crown for salaries as well as their commissions, what protection have we? We may as well abolish all limitations, and resign our lives and liberties at once to the will of a prime minister at St. James’s.” You remember the controversy that General Brattle excited concerning the tenor of the Judges’ commissions, and the universal anxiety that then prevailed on this subject. The despatches at length arrived, and expectation was raised to its highest pitch of exultation and triumph on one side, and of grief, terror, degradation, and despondency on the other. The Legislature assembled, and the Governor communicated to the two houses his Majesty’s commands.
It happened that I was invited to dine that day with Samuel Winthrop, an excellent character, and a predecessor in the respectable office you now hold in the Supreme Court. Arrived at his house in New Boston, I found it full of counsellors and representatives and clergy. Such a group of melancholy countenances I had rarely, if ever, seen. No conversation, except some insipid observations on the weather, till the great topic of the day was introduced, and at the same time a summons to the feast. All harps upon the willow, we sat down to a triste dinner, which all the delicacies before us could not enliven. A few glasses of good wine, however, in time brought up some spirit, and the conversation assumed a little vigor, but it was the energy of grief, complaint, and despair. All expressed their detestation and horror of the insidious ministerial plot, but all agreed that it was irremediable. There was no means or mode of opposing or resisting it.
Indignation, and despair too, boiled in my breast as ardently as in any of them, though, as the company were so much superior to me in age and station, I had not said any thing; but Dr. Winthrop, the professor, then of the council, observing my silence, and perhaps my countenance, said, “Mr. Adams, what is your opinion? Can you think of any way of escaping this snare?” My answer was, “No, Sir; I am as much at a loss as any of the company. I agree with all the gentlemen, that petitions and remonstrances to king or parliament will be ineffectual. Nothing but force will succeed; but I would try one project before I had recourse to the last reason and fitness of things.” The company cried out, almost or quite together, “What project is that? What would you do?” A. “I would impeach the judges.” “Impeach the judges! How? Where? Who can impeach them?” A. “The House of Representatives.” “The House of Representatives! Before whom? Before the House of Lords in England?” A. “No, surely. You might as well impeach them before Lord North alone.” “Where, then?” A. “Before the Governor and Council.” “Is there any precedent for that?” A. “If there is not, it is now high time that a precedent should be set.” “The Governor and Council will not receive the impeachment.” A. “I know that very well, but the record of it will stand upon the journals, be published in pamphlets and newspapers, and perhaps make the judges repent of their salaries, and decline them; perhaps make it too troublesome to hold them.” “What right had we to impeach anybody?” A. “Our House of Representatives have the same right to impeach as the House of Commons has in England, and our Governor and Council have the same right and duty to receive and hear impeachments as the King and House of Lords have in Parliament. If the Governor and Council would not do their duty, that would not be the fault of the people; their representatives ought nevertheless to do theirs.” Some of the company said the idea was so new to them, that they wished I would show them some reasons for my opinion that we had the right. I repeated to them the clause of the charter, which I relied on, the constant practice in England, and the necessity of such a power and practice in every free government.
The company dispersed, and I went home. Dr. Cooper and others were excellent hands to spread a rumor, and before nine o’clock half the town and most of the members of the General Court had in their heads the idea of an impeachment. The next morning early, Major Hawley, of Northampton, came to my house under great concern, and said he heard that I had yesterday, in a public company, suggested a thought of impeaching the judges; that report had got about and had excited some uneasiness, and he desired to know my meaning. I invited him into my office, opened the charter, and requested him to read the paragraphs that I had marked. I then produced to him that volume of Selden’s works which contains his treatise on Judicature and Parliament; other authorities in law were produced to him, and the State Trials, and a profusion of impeachments with which that work abounds. Major Hawley, who was one of the best men in the province, and one of the ablest lawyers and best speakers in the legislature, was struck with surprise. He said, “I know not what to think. This is in a manner all new to me. I must think of it.” You, Mr. Tudor, will not wonder at Major Hawley’s embarrassment, if you recollect that my copy of Selden’s works, of the State Trials and the Statutes at Large, were the only ones in Boston at that time. I think, also, Mr. Tudor, that you must know that I imported from England Selden, State Trials, and Statutes at Large. Now, Sir, will the editor of the North American Review, will the Athenæum Shaw, will the Historical Society, will the Society of Antiquarians, please to investigate this important point? My opinion is that there was not another copy of either of those works in the United States. Let them convict me of error, if they can.
My strange brother, Robert Treat Paine, came to me with grief and terror in his face and manners. He said he had heard that I talked of an impeachment of the Judges; that it had excited a great deal of conversation, and that it seemed to prevail, and that, according to all appearances, it would be brought forward in the House; he was very uneasy about it, &c. I knew the man. Instead of entering into particular conversation with him, I took him into my office, and showed him all that I had before shown to Major Hawley. He had not patience to read much, and went away with the same anxious brow. This man had an upright heart, an abundance of wit, and upon the whole a deeper policy than I had. He soon found, however, that the impeachment was popular and would prevail, and prudently acquiesced. Major Hawley, always conscientious, always deliberate, always cautious, had not slept soundly. What were his dreams about impeachment, I know not. But this I know; he drove away to Cambridge to consult Judge Trowbridge, and appealed to his conscience. The charter was called for; Selden and the State Trials were quoted. Trowbridge said to him what I had said before, that “the power of impeachment was essential to a free government; that the charter had given it to our House of Representatives as clearly as the Constitution, in the common law or immemorial usage, had given it to the House of Commons in England.” This was all he could say, though he lamented the occasion of it.
Major Hawley returned full in the faith. An impeachment was voted, a committee appointed to prepare articles. But Major Hawley insisted upon it in private with the committee, that they should consult me, and take my advice upon every article before they reported it to the House. Such was the state of parties at that moment, that the patriots could carry nothing in the House without the support of Major Hawley. The committee very politely requested me to meet them. To avoid all questions about time and place, I invited them to my house in the evening. They came, and produced a draft of articles, which were examined, considered, and discussed, article by article and paragraph by paragraph. I objected to some, and proposed alterations in others; sometimes succeeded, and often failed. You know the majority decide upon such occasions. The result, upon the whole, was not satisfactory to me in all points, but I was not responsible.
Next day I met Ben Gridley, who accosted me in his pompous style, “Brother Adams, you keep late hours! Last night I saw a host of senators vomit forth from your door after mid-night.” Now, brother Tudor, judge you whether this whole transaction was not as well known at head-quarters, and better too, than in the House of Representatives. This confidence of Major Hawley in me became an object of jealousy to the patriots. Not only Mr. Paine, but Mr. Adams and Mr. Hancock could not refrain from expressing, at times, their feeling of it. But they could do nothing without Major Hawley. These little passions, of which even the Apostles could not wholly divest themselves, have in all ages been small causes of great events; too small, indeed, to be described by historians, or even known to them or suspected by them.
The articles were reported to the House, discussed, accepted; the impeachment voted, and sent up in form to the Governor and Council; rejected, of course, as everybody knew beforehand that it would be; but it remained on the journals of the House, was printed in the newspapers, and went abroad into the world. And what were the consequences? Chief Justice Oliver and his Superior Court, your Supreme Judicial Court, commenced their regular circuit. The Chief Justice opened his court as usual. Grand Jurors and Petit Jurors refused to take their oaths. They never, as I believe, could prevail on one Juror to take the oath. I attended at the bar in two counties, and I heard Grand Jurors and Petit Jurors say to Chief Justice Oliver to his face, “The Chief Justice of this Court stands impeached, by the representatives of the people, of high crimes and misdemeanors, and of a conspiracy against the charter privileges of the people. I therefore cannot serve as a Juror, or take the oath.” The cool, calm, sedate intrepidity with which these honest freeholders went through this fiery trial, filled my eyes and my heart.
In one word, the royal government was from that moment laid prostrate in the dust, and has never since revived in substance, though a dark shadow of the hobgoblin haunts me at times to this day.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 4 February, 1817.
Your worthy son, William, in a kind letter of the 2d, has asked my opinion of “Pownall’s Administration of the Colonies, and of its author.” It is nearly forty years since I read the work, and I cannot read it again; but I would advise Mr. Tudor to read it, and his Memorial to the Sovereigns of Europe, and another to his own Sovereign, and a third to the Sovereigns of the United States of America, not forgetting a small tract concerning the Gulf Stream.
A reader who has patience to search for good sense, in an uncouth and disgusting style, will find in those writings proofs of a thinking mind, and more sagacity than in any thing that remains of his two more celebrated successors, Bernard or Hutchinson.
I am sorry that the name of Pownalborough has been changed to that of Dresden, that of a virtuous and sensible man to that of a scene of frivolity. Pownall was a Whig, a friend of liberty, a lover of his country, and he considered North America a part of his country as much as England, Scotland, or Ireland.
Your son has requested my “opinion of the man as well as of his administration.” What an explosion of reminiscences has this question excited in me! To answer this question, I must draw the character of Chief Justice Pratt, of Colonel and Judge John Tyng, of Hutchinsons and Olivers, as well as Samuel Waterhouse.
There is an overweening fondness for representing this country as a scene of liberty, equality, fraternity, union, harmony, and benevolence. But let not your sons or mine deceive themselves. This country, like all others, has been a theatre of parties and feuds for near two hundred years.
Look into all our memorials, histories they cannot be called, Winslow’s, Winthrop, Morton the first, Morton the second, Hubbard, Mather, Prince, and even Hutchinson himself, and then judge how sweetly harmonious our ancestors have been. There is one morsel which I beg leave to recommend to the deliberate perusal of your sons and mine. It is my friend Emerson’s “History of the First Church.” See there elements that have been fermenting, frothing, and foaming ever since.
There was always a court and country party in the province. The town of Boston had been, almost invariably, at the head of the opposition, that is, of the country party. If, at any time, it had coincided with a Governor, it had always been by a small majority against a numerous, powerful, and formidable minority in opposition.
Under Shirley’s administration, which had been supported by Hutchinson, Oliver, Otis, Trowbridge, Leonard, Chandler, Stoddard, Choate, &c., there had been a formidable opposition in Boston, that very much embarrassed the government. Pownall, when he came into administration, thought there ought to be a good understanding between the capital and country, and a harmony between both and the government. This conciliatory and comprehensive system was too refined and too sublime for human nature in this contentious, warring world. In pursuance of it, however, he sometimes consulted Pratt and Tyng; and their advice did not always coincide with that of Hutchinson and Oliver. These aspiring spirits, who had been the prime ministers and principal agents of Shirley, excepting a constant understanding of Church of England influence that would cost a volume to explain, could not bear the competition of Pratt and Tyng, much less to be overruled and supplanted by them.
Accordingly, they and their adherents blew them up, as many others, before and since, have been blown up, and many others supported, by profligate scribblers. Not a quaint expression in his speeches, writings, or conversations, escaped satire and ridicule. Every thing he said or did was perverted. When Whiggism, under Pitt, declined, and when Toryism, under Bute, revived, Pownall faded, and Bernard flourished.
If the plan of subjugating America did not originate in Shirley’s administration, it was meditated, and matured, and digested, and there Hutchinson learned it. Pownall did not favor it, and therefore displeased Hutchinson, and his friends in America, and his patrons in Scotland and England. Pownall was the most constitutional and national Governor, in my opinion, who ever represented the crown in this province. He engaged in no intrigues, he favored no conspiracies against the liberties of America. Hinc illæ lacrimæ.
I have been deeply afflicted with a mixture of pity, grief, and indignation, on reading in Dr. Eliot’s Biographical Dictionary the slurs on the character of Mr. Pratt. His malignity was hereditary. His father was Hutchinson’s parish priest, and his devoted idolater. Pratt was a man, in talents, learning, and integrity, too, far superior to Hutchinson and his priestly disciples.
The most magnanimous vote that ever was passed in North America, was that of a statue to Lord Howe. Pratt exerted all his eloquence, and I never heard eloquence more impressive, except from James Otis, Junior, in support of that vote. Hutchinson’s party put that statue in motion. It marched through the province, and knocked down all before it. Not only De Witt, of Marlborough, who had never before, for twenty years, voted for a grant of money, but Pratt and Tyng, in our noble town of Boston, fell a sacrifice, and with them Pownall’s administration. It was an affair of five hundred pounds. I have heard Brigadier Ruggles say, “that statue strided through the streets of Marlborough, and, roaring like a lion, shook down old De Witt.” Our nation have this year, according to Mr. Randolph, discarded “their watch-dogs” for a per diem.1
It must be acknowledged, that our good people are steady to one principle, when they think they understand it. They will contend for dollars, sometimes; but suffer themselves to be pillaged for ages by old tenor, continental currency, and banks as numerous as the stars, of millions of eagles. I saw Pownall in public as other people did, during his administration; but he never saw me, and, probably, never heard of me. I never met him, and was not even presented at a dinner that he gave to the bar. But in 1783 he made me repeated visits with his lady at Auteuil, near Paris, and dined with us more than once. Near the end of the same year, he visited me again at Stockdale’s in Piccadilly. In 1785, 1786, 1787, he visited me occasionally, and I returned his visits, and, at his invitation, went out and dined with him at his seat on Richmond Hill. He was very reserved on all the events of his administration, and on all the characters of his friends and enemies. Though manifestly a disappointed man, he was less dejected and less embittered than most men I have known in such circumstances. The loss of his wife affected him most. I heard him make a candid and conciliatory speech in the Royal Society, on a heated contest, when Horseley displayed a very different spirit. He voluntarily relinquished his seat in parliament, and appeared no more in public affairs.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 29 March, 1817.
Is your daughter, Mrs. Stuart, who I am credibly informed is one of the most accomplished of ladies, a painter? Are you acquainted with Miss Lydia Smith, who, I am also credibly informed, is one of the most accomplished ladies, and a painter? Do you know Mr. Sargent? Do you correspond with your old companion in arms, Colonel John Trumbull? Do you think Fisher will be an historical painter?
Whenever you shall find a painter, male or female, I pray you to suggest a scene and a subject for the pencil.
The scene is the Council Chamber in the old Town House in Boston. The date is in the month of February, 1761, nine years before you entered my office in Cole Lane. As this was five years before you entered college, you must have been in the second form of master Lovell’s school.
That council chamber was as respectable an apartment as the House of Commons or the House of Lords in Great Britain, in proportion, or that in the State House in Philadelphia, in which the declaration of independence was signed, in 1776. In this chamber, round a great fire, were seated five Judges, with Lieutenant-Governor Hutchinson at their head, as Chief Justice, all arrayed in their new, fresh, rich robes of scarlet English broadcloth; in their large cambric bands, and immense judicial wigs. In this chamber were seated at a long table all the barristers at law of Boston, and of the neighboring county of Middlesex, in gowns, bands, and tie wigs. They were not seated on ivory chairs, but their dress was more solemn and more pompous than that of the Roman Senate, when the Gauls broke in upon them.
In a corner of the room must be placed as a spectator and an auditor, wit, sense, imagination, genius, pathos, reason, prudence, eloquence, learning, and immense reading, hanging by the shoulders on two crutches, covered with a great cloth coat, in the person of Mr. Pratt, who had been solicited on both sides, but would engage on neither, being, as Chief Justice of New York, about to leave Boston forever. Two portraits, at more than full length, of King Charles the Second and of King James the Second, in splendid golden frames, were hung up on the most conspicuous sides of the apartment. If my young eyes or old memory have not deceived me, these were as fine pictures as I ever saw; the colors of the royal ermines and long flowing robes were the most glowing, the figures the most noble and graceful, the features the most distinct and characteristic, far superior to those of the King and Queen of France in the Senate chamber of Congress—these were worthy of the pencils of Rubens and Vandyke. There was no painter in England capable of them at that time. They had been sent over without frames in Governor Pownall’s time, but he was no admirer of Charles or James. The pictures were stowed away in a garret, among rubbish, till Governor Bernard came, who had them cleaned, superbly framed, and placed in council for the admiration and imitation of all men—no doubt with the advice and concurrence of Hutchinson and all his nebula of stars and satellites.
One circumstance more. Samuel Quincy and John Adams had been admitted barristers at that term. John was the youngest; he should be painted looking like a short thick archbishop of Canterbury, seated at the table with a pen in his hand, lost in admiration, now and then minuting those poor notes which your pupil, Judge Minot, has printed in his history,1 with some interpolations. I will copy them from the book, and then point out those interpolations.2
. . . . . . . . . . .
You have now the stage and the scenery; next follows a narration of the subject. I rather think that we lawyers ought to call it a brief of the cause.
When the British ministry received from General Amherst his despatches, announcing the conquest of Montreal, and the consequent annihilation of the French government in America, in 1759, they immediately conceived the design, and took the resolution, of conquering the English colonies, and subjecting them to the unlimited authority of Parliament. With this view and intention they sent orders and instructions to the collector of the customs in Boston, Mr. Charles Paxton, to apply to the civil authority for writs of assistance, to enable the custom-house officers, tidewaiters, landwaiters, and all, to command all sheriffs and constables, &c., to attend and aid them in breaking open houses, stores, shops, cellars, ships, bales, trunks, chests, casks, packages of all sorts, to search for goods, wares, and merchandises, which had been imported against the prohibitions or without paying the taxes imposed by certain acts of Parliament, called the acts of trade; that is, by certain parliamentary statutes, which had been procured to be passed from time to time for a century before, by a combination of selfish intrigues between West India planters and North American royal governors. These acts never had been executed as revenue laws, and there never had been a time, when they would have been or could have been obeyed as such.
Mr. Paxton, no doubt consulting with Governor Bernard, Lieutenant-Governor Hutchinson, and all the principal crown officers, thought it not prudent to commence his operations in Boston. For obvious reasons, he instructed his deputy collector in Salem, Mr. Cockle, to apply by petition to the Superior Court, in November, 1760, then sitting in that town, for writs of assistance. Stephen Sewall was then Chief Justice of that Court, an able man, an uncorrupted American, and a sincere friend of liberty, civil and religious. He expressed great doubts of the legality of such a writ, and of the authority of the Court to grant it. Not one of his brother judges uttered a word in favor of it; but as it was an application on the part of the crown, it must be heard and determined. After consultation, the Court ordered the question to be argued at the next February term in Boston, namely in 1761.
In the mean time Chief Justice Sewall died, and Lieutenant-Governor Hutchinson was appointed Chief Justice of that Court in his stead. Every observing and thinking man knew that this appointment was made for the direct purpose of deciding this question in favor of the crown, and all others in which it should be interested. An alarm was spread far and wide. Merchants of Salem and Boston applied to Mr. Pratt, who refused, and to Mr. Otis and Mr. Thacher, who accepted, to defend them against the terrible menacing monster, the writ of assistance. Great fees were offered, but Otis, and, I believe, Thacher, would accept of none. “In such a cause,” said Otis, “I despise all fees.”
I have given you a sketch of the stage, and the scenery, and the brief of the cause, or, if you like the phrase better, the tragedy, comedy, or farce.
Now for the actors and performers. Mr. Gridley argued with his characteristic learning, ingenuity, and dignity, and said every thing that could be said in favor of Cockle’s petition; all depending, however, on the “if the Parliament of Great Britain is the sovereign legislature of all the British empire.” Mr. Thacher followed him on the other side, and argued with the softness of manners, the ingenuity and cool reasoning, which were remarkable in his amiable character.
But Otis was a flame of fire!—with a promptitude of classical allusions, a depth of research, a rapid summary of historical events and dates, a profusion of legal authorities, a prophetic glance of his eye into futurity, and a torrent of impetuous eloquence, he hurried away every thing before him. American independence was then and there born; the seeds of patriots and heroes were then and there sown, to defend the vigorous youth, the non sine Diis animosus infans. Every man of a crowded audience appeared to me to go away, as I did, ready to take arms against writs of assistance. Then and there was the first scene of the first act of opposition to the arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then and there the child Independence was born. In fifteen years, namely in 1776, he grew up to manhood, and declared himself free.
The Court adjourned for consideration, and after some days, at the close of the term, Hutchinson, Chief Justice, arose and said, “The Court has considered the subject of writs of assistance, and can see no foundation for such a writ; but, as the practice in England is not known, it has been thought best to continue the question until next term, that in the mean time opportunity may be given to write to England for information concerning the subject.” In six months the next term arrived, but no judgment was pronounced, no letters from England were produced, and nothing more was ever said in Court concerning writs of assistance; but it was generally reported and understood that the Court clandestinely granted them, and the custom-house officers had them in their pockets, though I never knew that they dared to produce them or execute them in any one instance.
Mr. Otis’s popularity was without bounds. In May, 1761, he was elected into the House of Representatives by an almost unanimous vote. On the week of his election, I happened to be at Worcester, attending the Court of Common Pleas, of which Brigadier Ruggles was Chief Justice, when the news arrived from Boston of Mr. Otis’s election. You can have no idea of the consternation among the government people. Chief Justice Ruggles, at dinner at Colonel Chandler’s on that day, said, “Out of this election will arise a d—d faction, which will shake this province to its foundation.” Ruggles’s foresight reached not beyond his nose. That election has shaken two continents, and will shake all four. For ten years Mr. Otis, at the head of his country’s cause, conducted the town of Boston, and the people of the province, with a prudence and fortitude, at every sacrifice of personal interest, and amidst unceasing persecution, which would have done honor to the most virtuous patriot or martyr of antiquity.
The minutes of Mr. Otis’s argument are no better a representation of it than the gleam of a glow-worm to the meridian blaze of the sun. I fear I shall make you repent bringing out the old gentleman. Ridendo dicere verum quid vetat?
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 15 April, 1817.
I have received your obliging favor of the 8th, but cannot consent to your resolution to ask no more questions. Your questions revive my sluggish memory. Since our national legislature have established a national painter,—a wise measure, for which I thank them,—my imagination runs upon the art, and has already painted, I know not how many, historical pictures. I have sent you one; give me leave to send another. The bloody rencounter between the citizens and the soldiers, on the 5th of March, 1770, produced a tremendous sensation throughout the town and country. The people assembled first at Faneuil Hall, and adjourned to the Old South Church, to the number, as was conjectured, of ten or twelve thousand men, among whom were the most virtuous, substantial, independent, disinterested, and intelligent citizens. They formed themselves into a regular deliberative body, chose their moderator and secretary, entered into discussions, deliberations, and debates, adopted resolutions, appointed committees. What has become of these records, Mr. Tudor? Where are they? Their resolutions in public were conformable to those of every man in private, who dared to express his thoughts or his feelings, “that the regular soldiers should be banished from the town at all hazards.” Jonathan Williams, a very pious, inoflensive, and conscientious gentleman, was their Moderator. A remonstrance to the Governor, or the Governor and Council, was ordained, and a demand that the regular troops should be removed from the town. A committee was appointed to present this remonstrance, of which Samuel Adams was the chairman.
Now for the picture. The theatre and the scenery are the same with those at the discussion of writs of assistance. The same glorious portraits of King Charles II. and King James II., to which might be added, and should be added, little miserable likenesses of Governor Winthrop, Governor Bradstreet, Governor Endicott, and Governor Belcher, hung up in obscure corners of the room. Lieutenant-Governor Hutchinson, commander-in-chief in the absence of the Governor, must be placed at the head of the council table. Lieutenant-Colonel Dalrymple, commander-in-chief of his Majesty’s military forces, taking rank of all his Majesty’s counsellors, must be seated by the side of the Lieutenant-Governor and commander-in-chief of the province. Eight-and-twenty counsellors must be painted, all seated at the council board. Let me see—what costume? What was the fashion of that day, in the month of March? Large white wigs, English scarlet cloth cloaks, some of them with gold-laced hats, not on their heads, indeed, in so august a presence, but on the table before them, or under the table beneath them. Before these illustrious personages appeared Samuel Adams, a member of the House of Representatives and their clerk, now at the head of the committee of the great assembly at the Old South Church. Thucydides, Livy, or Sallust would make a speech for him, or, perhaps, the Italian Botta, if he had known any thing of this transaction,—one of the most important of the revolution,—but I am wholly incapable of it; and, if I had vanity enough to think myself capable of it, should not dare to attempt it. He represented the state of the town and the country; the dangerous, ruinous, and fatal effects of standing armies in populous cities in time of peace, and the determined resolution of the public, that the regular troops, at all events should be removed from the town. Lieutenant-Governor Hutchinson, then commander-in-chief, at the head of a trembling council, said, “he had no authority over the king’s troops; that they had their separate commander and separate orders and instructions, and that he could not interfere with them.” Mr. Adams instantly appealed to the charter of the province, by which the Governor, and in his absence the Lieutenant-Governor, was constituted commander-in-chief of all the military and naval power within its jurisdiction. So obviously true and so irrefragable was the reply, that it is astonishing that Mr. Hutchinson should have so grossly betrayed the Constitution, and so atrociously have violated the duties of his office by asserting the contrary. But either the fears or the ambition of this gentleman, upon this and many other occasions, especially in his controversy with the two houses, three years afterwards, on the supremacy of Parliament, appear to have totally disarranged his understanding. He certainly asserted in public, in the most solemn manner, a multitude of the roundest falsehoods, which he must have known to be such, and which he must have known could be easily and would certainly be detected, if he had not wholly lost his memory, even of his own public writings. You, Mr. Tudor, knew Mr. Adams from your childhood to his death. In his common appearance he was a plain, simple, decent citizen, of middling stature, dress, and manners. He had an exquisite ear for music, and a charming voice, when he pleased to exert it. Yet his ordinary speeches in town meetings, in the House of Representatives, and in Congress exhibited nothing extraordinary; but, upon great occasions, when his deeper feelings were excited, he erected himself, or rather nature seemed to erect him, without the smallest symptom of affectation, into an upright dignity of figure and gesture, and gave a harmony to his voice which made a strong impression on spectators and auditors,—the more lasting for the purity, correctness, and nervous elegance of his style.
This was a delicate and a dangerous crisis. The question in the last resort was, whether the town of Boston should become a scene of carnage and desolation, or not? Humanity to the soldiers conspired with a regard for the safety of the town, in suggesting the wise measure of calling the town together to deliberate. For nothing short of the most solemn promises to the people that the soldiers should, at all hazards, be driven from the town, had preserved its peace. Not only the immense assemblies of the people from day to day, but military arrangements from night to night, were necessary to keep the people and the soldiers from getting together by the ears. The life of a red coat would not have been safe in any street or corner of the town. Nor would the lives of the inhabitants have been much more secure. The whole militia of the city was in requisition, and military watches and guards were everywhere placed. We were all upon a level; no man was exempted; our military officers were our only superiors. I had the honor to be summoned, in my turn, and attended at the State House with my musket and bayonet, my broadsword and cartridge-box, under the command of the famous Paddock. I know you will laugh at my military figure; but I believe there was not a more obedient soldier in the regiment, nor one more impartial between the people and the regulars. In this character I was upon duty all night in my turn. No man appeared more anxious or more deeply impressed with a sense of danger on all sides than our commander, Paddock. He called me, common soldier as I was, frequently to his councils. I had a great deal of conversation with him, and no man appeared more apprehensive of a fatal calamity to the town or more zealous by every prudent measure to prevent it.
Such was the situation of affairs, when Samuel Adams was reasoning with Lieutenant-Governor Hutchinson and Lieutenant-Colonel Dalrymple. He had fairly driven them from all their outworks, breastworks, and entrenchments, to their citadel. There they paused and considered and deliberated. The heads of Hutchinson and Dalrymple were laid together in whispers for a long time; when the whispering ceased, a long and solemn pause ensued, extremely painful to an impatient, expecting audience. Hutchinson, in time, broke silence; he had consulted with Colonel Dalrymple, and the Colonel had authorized him to say, that he might order one regiment down to the castle, if that would satisfy the people. With a self-recollection, a self-possession, a self-command, a presence of mind that was admired by every man present, Samuel Adams arose with an air of dignity and majesty, of which he was sometimes capable, stretched forth his arm, though even then quivering with palsy, and with an harmonious voice and decisive tone said, “If the Lieutenant-Governor or Colonel Dalrymple, or both together, have authority to remove one regiment, they have authority to remove two, and nothing short of the total evacuation of the town by all the regular troops, will satisfy the public mind or preserve the peace of the province.”
These few words thrilled through the veins of every man in the audience, and produced the great result. After a little awkward hesitation, it was agreed that the town should be evacuated, and both regiments sent to the castle.
After all this gravity, it is merry enough to relate that William Molineux was obliged to march side by side with the commander of some of these troops, to protect them from the indignation of the people, in their progress to the wharf of embarcation for the castle. Nor is it less amusing that Lord North, as I was repeatedly and credibly informed in England, with his characteristic mixture of good humor and sarcasm, ever after called these troops by the title of “Sam Adams’s two regiments.”
The painter should seize upon the critical moment, when Samuel Adams stretched out his arm, and made his last speech.
It will be as difficult to do justice as to paint an Apollo; and the transaction deserves to be painted as much as the surrender of Burgoyne. Whether any artist will ever attempt it, I know not.
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Quincy, 19 April, 1817.
My loving and beloved friend, Pickering, has been pleased to inform the world, that I have “few friends.” I wanted to whip the rogue, and I had it in my power, if it had been in my will to do it, till the blood came. But all my real friends, as I thought them, with Dexter and Gray at their head, insisted that I should not say a word: that “nothing that such a person could write, would do me the least injury;” that “it would betray the constitution and the government, if a President, out or in, should enter into a newspaper controversy with one of his ministers, whom he had removed from his office, in justification of himself for that removal or any thing else.” And they talked a great deal about “the dignity” of the office of President, which I do not find that any other persons, public or private, regard very much.
Nevertheless, I fear that Mr. Pickering’s information is too true. It is impossible that any man should run such a gauntlet as I have been driven through, and have many friends at last. This “all who know me, know,” though I cannot say “who love me, tell.” I have, however, either friends, who wish to amuse and solace my old age, or enemies, who mean to heap coals of fire on my head, and kill me with kindness, for they overwhelm me with books from all quarters, enough to obfuscate all eyes, and smother and stifle all human understanding—Chateaubriand, Grimm, Tucker, Dupuis, La Harpe, Sismondi, Eustace, a new translation of Herodotus, by Beloe, with more notes than text. What shall I do with all this lumber? I make my “woman-kind,” as the Antiquary expresses it, read to me all the English; but, as they will not read the French, I am obliged to excruciate my eyes to read it myself. And all to what purpose? I verily believe I was as wise and good seventy years ago, as I am now. At that period Lemuel Bryant was my parish priest, and Joseph Cleverly my Latin schoolmaster. Lemuel was a jocular and liberal scholar and divine, Joseph a scholar and a gentleman, but a bigoted Episcopalian of the school of Bishop Saunders and Dr. Hicks; a downright, conscientious, passive obedience man in church and state. The parson and the pedagogue lived much together, but were eternally disputing about government and religion. One day, when the schoolmaster had been more than commonly fanatical, and declared, “if he were a monarch, he would have but one religion in his dominions,” the parson coolly replied, “Cleverly! you would be the best man in the world, if you had no religion.” Twenty times, in the course of my late reading, have I been on the point of breaking out, “this would be the best of all possible worlds, if there was no religion in it!!!” But in this exclamation, I should have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company—I mean hell. So far from believing in the total and universal depravity of human nature, I believe there is no individual totally depraved. The most abandoned scoundrel that ever existed, never yet wholly extinguished his conscience, and, while conscience remains, there is some religion. Popes, Jesuists, and Sorbonnists, and Inquisitors, have some conscience and some religion. So had Marius and Sylla. Cæsar, Catiline, and Antony, and Augustus, had not much more, let Virgil and Horace say what they will. What shall we think of Virgil and Horace, Sallust, Quintilian, Pliny, and even Tacitus? And even Cicero, Brutus, and Seneca? Pompey I leave out of the question, as a mere politician and a soldier. Every one of these great creatures has left indelible marks of conscience, and, consequently, of religion, though every one of them has left abundant proofs of profligate violations of their conscience, by their little and great passions and paltry interests.
The vast prospect of mankind, which these books have passed in review before me, from the most ancient records, histories, traditions, and fables that remain to us, to the present day, has sickened my very soul, and almost reconciled me to Swift’s travels among the Yahoos. Yet I never can be a misanthrope. Homo sum. I must hate myself before I can hate my fellowmen, and that I cannot and will not do. No, I will not hate any of them, base, brutal, and devilish as some of them have been to me. From the bottom of my soul I pity my fellowmen. Fears and terrors appear to have produced a universal credulity. Fears of calamities in life, and punishments after death, seem to have possessed the souls of all men. But fears of pain and death here do not seem to have been so unconquerable as fears of what is to come hereafter. Priests, hierophants, popes, despots, emperors, kings, princes, nobles, have been as credulous as shoe-blacks, boots, and kitchen-scullions. The former seem to have believed in their divine rights as sincerely as the latter. Auto-da-fés in Spain and Portugal, have been celebrated with as good faith as excommunications have been refused1 in Philadelphia. How it is possible that mankind should submit to be governed as they have been, is to me an inscrutable mystery. How they could bear to be taxed to build the temple of Diana at Ephesus, the pyramids of Egypt, Saint Peter’s at Rome, Notre Dame at Paris, St. Paul’s in London, with a million et ceteras, when my navy yards and my quasi army made such a popular clamor, I know not. Yet my peccadilloes never excited such a rage as the late compensation law!!!
I congratulate you on the late election in Connecticut. It is a kind of epocha. Several causes have conspired; one, which you would not suspect. Some one, no doubt instigated by the devil, has taken it into his head to print a new edition of the “Independent Whig,” even in Connecticut, and has scattered the volumes through the State. These volumes, it is said, have produced a burst of indignation against priestcraft, bigotry, and intolerance, and, in conjunction with other causes, have produced the late election. When writing to you, I never know when to subscribe
TO JAMES MADISON.
Quincy, 22 April, 1817.
As I can make no apology for so long forgetting to return the volumes inclosed, I must, without qualification, beg your pardon. This work, though it bears the name of Condorcet alone, was understood to be written in concert between him and his great patron, the Duke de la Rochefoucauld, as well as the “New Haven,” and several other publications in favor of a government in one centre,—genuine disciples of M. Turgot. I was personally treated with great kindness by these three great and good men. But I lamented and deplored, notwithstanding their profound science and learning, what appeared to me their blind infatuation to a chimera. I shuddered at the prospect of what appeared to me inevitable consequences of their theory, of which they made no secret. I wondered the more at this, because the Abbé de Mably was their intimate friend, their social and convivial companion, whose writings were familiar to them.
The truth is, that none of these gentlemen had ever had any experience of a free government. It is equally true, that they had never deliberately thought, or freely spoken, or closely reasoned upon government, as it appears in history, as it is founded in nature, or as it has been represented by philosophers, priests, and politicians, who have written upon the subject. They have picked up scraps, but digested nothing. Condorcet’s Observations on the twenty-ninth book of the Spirit of Laws; Helvetius, too, in his Letters to Montesquieu, printed in Mr. Jefferson’s translation of Tracy; Condorcet’s Life of Turgot; his Progress of the Human Mind, and even Necker’s Executive Power, appear to me the most pedantical writings that ages have produced. Every one of these writers must be an original genius. He must discover something that no man had ever conceived before him. Genius with them is a more privileged order than ever existed among men.
Is not despotism the simplest of all imaginable governments? Is not oligarchy the next, aristocracy the third, and a simple democracy of twenty-five millions of men the fourth? All these are simple governments, with a vengeance. Erect a house of a cubic form, one hundred feet square at the base, without any division within into chambers, parlors, cellars, or garrets; would not this be the simplest house that ever was built? But would it be a commodious habitation for a family? It would accommodate nothing but a kennel of hunter’s hounds. These gentlemen all affect to be great admirers of nature. But where in nature do they find the models of their adored simplicity? Is it in the Mynheer Lyonnet dissections and microscopic observations on the willow caterpillar, in which he has found more veins and muscles and fibres than in the human body? No. The real wisdom, the genuine taste, the correct judgment consists in adapting necessary means to necessary ends. Here too much simplicity cannot be applied. I am not an implicit believer in the inspiration or infallibility of Montesquieu. On the contrary, it must be acknowledged, that some of these philosophers have detected many errors in his writings. But all their heads consolidated into one mighty head, would not equal the depth of his genius, or the extent of his views. Voltaire, alone, excels or equals him. When a writer on government despises, sneers, or argues against mixed governments, or a balance in government, he instantly proves himself an ideologian. To reason against a balance, because a perfect one cannot be composed or eternally preserved, is just as good sense as to reason against all morality, because no man has been perfectly virtuous. Not only Montesquieu, but the Abbé de Mably, who, some of them said, never wrote any thing but “choses communes en style commun,” might have taught them more sense, though he, too, indeed, was not always steady nor correct in his opinions. Scattered here and there, in his writings, are correct sentiments. Accidentally his Phocion is on my table. In the second conversation, pages 45 and 46, he says, “Plato censured monarchy, pure aristocracy, and popular government. The laws are not safe under these administrations, which leave too free a career to the passions. He dreaded the power of a prince, sole legislator, sole judge of justice and law. He was terrified, in aristocracy, with the pride and avarice of the grandees, who, believing that every thing is theirs, will sacrifice, without scruple, the interests of society to their private advantages. He shuddered, in democracy, at the caprices of a multitude, always blind, always extreme in their desires, and who will condemn to-morrow with fury that which they approve to-day with enthusiasm.” What is the security against these dangers? According to Plato, Phocion, and De Mably, “an able mixture of all these governments; the public power should be divided into different parts, capable of overawing, of balancing, and of reciprocally moderating each other.” In the Abbé’s own remarks upon this second conversation, page 204, he says, “all the ancient philosophers thought like Plato, and the most celebrated statesmen have always wished to establish in their cities a mixed policy, which, by confirming the empire of the laws over the magistrates, and the empire of magistrates over the citizens, should unite the advantages of the three ordinary governments, and have none of their vices,” &c. “To ask which is the best government, monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy, is to ask what greater or lesser evils can be produced, by the passions of a prince, of a senate, or of a multitude. To ask whether a mixed government is better than any other, is to ask whether the passions are as wise, as just, and as moderate as the laws.”
The accidental discovery of your books in my library, and the name of Condorcet, have drawn my thoughts to a subject, which I had long since endeavored to forget, as wholly desperate. I fear, Sir, you will wish that I had feloniously appropriated your books to my own use, rather than have returned them with so impertinent a letter. I return them with thanks for the loan of them, and with thanks for your long, laborious, able, and successful services to your country.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 1 June, 1817.
That Mr. Hutchinson repented as sincerely as Mr. Hamilton did, I doubt not. I hope the repentance of both has been accepted, and their faults pardoned. And I hope I have repented, do repent, and shall ever repent of mine, and meet them both in another world, where there will need no repentance. Such vicissitudes of fortune command compassion; I pity even Napoleon.
You “never profoundly admired Mr. Hancock. He had vanity and caprice.” I can say, with truth, that I profoundly admired him, and more profoundly loved him. If he had vanity and caprice, so had I. And if his vanity and caprice made me sometimes sputter, as you know they often did, mine, I well know, had often a similar effect upon him. But these little flickerings of little passions determine nothing concerning essential characters. I knew Mr. Hancock from his cradle to his grave. He was radically generous and benevolent. He was born in this town, half way between this house and our congregational temple, son of a clergyman of this parish, and grandson of a clergyman of Lexington, both of excellent characters. We were at the same school together, as soon as we were out of petticoats. His father died when he was very young. His uncle, the most opulent merchant in Boston, who had no children, adopted him, placed him in Mr. Lovell’s school, educated him at Harvard college, and then took him into his store. And what a school was this! Four large ships constantly plying between Boston and London, and other business in proportion. This was in 1755. He became an example to all the young men of the town. Wholly devoted to business, he was as regular and punctual at his store as the sun in his course. His uncle sent him to London, from whence, after a residence of about a year, he returned to his store, with the same habits of business, unaltered in manners or deportment, and pursued his employments with the same punctuality and assiduity, till the death of his uncle, who left him his business, his credit, his capital, and his fortune; who did more—he left him the protector of his widow. This lady, though her husband left her a handsome independence, would have sunk into oblivion, like so many other most excellent widows, had not the public attention been fastened upon her by the fame of her nephew. Never was a nephew to an aunt more affectionate, dutiful, or respectful. No alteration appeared in Mr. Hancock, either from his travels in England, or from his accession to the fortune of his uncle. The same steady, regular, punctual, industrious, indefatigable man of business; and, to complete his character with the ladies, always genteelly dressed, according to the fashions of those days.
What shall I say of his fortune, his ships? His commerce was a great one. Your honored father told me, at that time, that not less than a thousand families were, every day in the year, dependent on Mr. Hancock for their daily bread. Consider his real estate in Boston, in the country, in Connecticut, and the rest of New England. Had Mr. Hancock fallen asleep to this day, he would now awake one of the richest men. Had he persevered in business as a private merchant, he might have erected a house of Medicis. Providence, however, did not intend or permit, in this instance, such a calamity to mankind. Mr. Hancock was the delight of the eyes of the whole town. There can be no doubt that he might have had his choice, and he had his choice of a companion; and that choice was very natural, a granddaughter of the great patron and most revered friend of his father. Beauty, politeness, and every domestic virtue justified his predilection.
At the time of this prosperity, I was one day walking in the mall, and, accidentally, met Samuel Adams. In taking a few turns together, we came in full view of Mr. Hancock’s house. Mr. Adams, pointing to the stone building, said, “This town has done a wise thing to-day.” “What?” “They have made that young man’s fortune their own.” His prophecy was literally fulfilled; for no man’s property was ever more entirely devoted to the public. The town had, that day, chosen Mr. Hancock into the legislature of the province. The quivering anxiety of the public, under the fearful looking for of the vengeance of king, ministry, and parliament, compelled him to a constant attendance in the House; his mind was soon engrossed by public cares, alarms, and terrors; his business was left to subalterns; his private affairs neglected, and continued to be so to the end of his life. If his fortune had not been very large, he must have died as poor as Mr. S. Adams or Mr. Gerry.
I am not writing the life of Mr. Hancock; his biography would fill as many volumes as Marshall’s Washington, and be quite as instructive and entertaining. Though I never injured or justly offended him, and though I spent much of my time, and suffered unknown anxiety, in defending his property, reputation, and liberty from persecution, I cannot but reflect upon myself for not paying him more respect than I did in his lifetime. His life will, however, not ever be written. But if statues, obelisks, pyramids, or divine honors were ever merited by men, of cities or nations, James Otis, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock, deserved these from the town of Boston and the United States. Such adulations, however, are monopolized by profligate libellers, by cringing flatterers, by unprincipled ambition, by sordid avarice, by griping usurers, by scheming speculators, by plundering bankers, by blind enthusiasts, by superstitious bigots, by puppies and butterflies, and by every thing but honor and virtue. Hence the universal slavery of the human species. Hence a commentary on the well known and most expressive figure of rhetoric, “It grieved the Almighty, at his heart, that he had made man.” Nevertheless, this is a good world, and I thank the Almighty that he has made man.
Mr. Hancock had a delicate constitution. He was very infirm; a great part of his life was passed in acute pain. He inherited from his father, though one of the most amiable and beloved of men, a certain sensibility, a keenness of feeling, or, in more familiar language, a peevishness of temper, that sometimes disgusted and afflicted his friends. Yet it was astonishing with what patience, perseverance, and punctuality he attended to business to the last. Nor were his talents or attainments inconsiderable. They were far superior to many who have been much more celebrated. He had a great deal of political sagacity and penetration into men. He was by no means a contemptible scholar or orator. Compared with Washington, Lincoln, or Knox, he was learned. So much, for the present, of Mr. Hancock.
When, in the beginning of this letter, I agreed with you in your opinion of Mr. Hutchinson’s repentance, I should have added, he had great reason for repentance. Fled, in his old age, from the detestation of a country, where he had been beloved, esteemed, and admired, and applauded with exaggeration—in short, where he had been every thing, from his infancy—to a country where he was nothing; pinched by a pension, which, though ample in Boston, would barely keep a house in London; throwing round his baleful eyes on the exiled companions of his folly; hearing daily of the slaughter of his countrymen and conflagration of their cities; abhorred by the greatest men, and soundest part of the nation, and neglected, if not despised, by the rest, hardened as had been my heart against him, I assure you I was melted at the accounts I heard of his condition. Lord Townsend told me that he put an end to his own life. Though I did not believe this, I know he was ridiculed by the courtiers. They laughed at his manners at the levee, at his perpetual quotation of his brother Foster, searching his pockets for letters to read to the king, and the king turning away from him with his head up, &c.
A few words concerning S. Adams in my next.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 5 June, 1817.
You “never profoundly admired Mr. Hancock.” I have suggested some hints in his favor. You “never profoundly admired Mr. Samuel Adams.” I have promised you an apology for him. You may think it a weak one, for I have no talent at panegyric or apology. “There are all sorts of men in the world.” This observation, you may say, is self-evident and futile; yet Mr. Locke thought it not unworthy of him to make it, and, if we reflect upon it, there is more meaning in it than meets the eye at the first blush.
You say, Mr. S. Adams “had too much sternness and pious bigotry.” A man in his situation and circumstances must possess a large fund of sternness of stuff, or he will soon be annihilated. His piety ought not to be objected to him, or any other man. His bigotry, if he had any, was a fault; but he certainly had not more than Governor Hutchinson and Secretary Oliver, who, I know from personal conversation, were as stanch Trinitarians and Calvinists as he was, and treated all Arians and Arminians with more contempt and scorn than he ever did. Mr. Adams lived and conversed freely with all sectarians, in philosophy and divinity. He never imposed his creed on any one, or endeavored to make proselytes to his religious opinions. He was as far from sentencing any man to perdition, who differed from him, as Mr. Holley, Dr. Kirkland, or Dr. Freeman. If he was a Calvinist, a Calvinist he had been educated, and so had been all his ancestors for two hundred years. He had been, from his childhood, too much devoted to politics to be a profound student in metaphysics and theology, or to make extensive researches or deep investigations into such subjects. Nor had any other man attempted it, in this nation, in that age, if any one has attempted it since. Mr. Adams was an original—sui generis, sui juris. The variety of human characters is infinite. Nature seems to delight in showing the inexhaustibility of her resources. There never were two men alike, from the first man to the last, any more than two pebbles or two peas.
Mr. Adams was born and tempered a wedge of steel to split the knot of lignum vitæ, which tied North America to Great Britain. Blunderheaded as were the British ministry, they had sagacity enough to discriminate from all others, for inexorable vengeance, the two men most to be dreaded by them, Samuel Adams and John Hancock; and had not James Otis been then dead, or worse than dead, his name would have been at the head of the triumvirate.
. . . . . . . . . . .
James Otis, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock were the three most essential characters; and Great Britain knew it, though America does not. Great and important and excellent characters, aroused and excited by these, arose in Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, South Carolina, and in all the other States; but these three were the first movers, the most constant, steady, persevering springs, agents, and most disinterested sufferers and firmest pillars of the whole Revolution. I shall not attempt even to draw the outlines of the biography of Mr. Samuel Adams. Who can attempt it?
“Quæ ante conditam condendamve urbem, poëticis magis decora fabulis, quam incorruptis rerum gestarum monumentis traduntur, ea”1nec possum refellere. Quia non tempus, nec oculos, nec manus habeo. But, if I had time, eyes, and fingers at my command, where should I find documents and memorials? Without the character of Samuel Adams, the true history of the American Revolution can never be written. For fifty years, his pen, his tongue, his activity, were constantly exerted for his country without fee or reward. During that time, he was an almost incessant writer. But where are his writings? Who can collect them? And, if collected, who will ever read them? The letters he wrote and received, where are they? I have seen him, at Mrs. Yard’s in Philadelphia, when he was about to leave Congress, cut up with his scissors whole bundles of letters into atoms that could never be reunited, and throw them out of the window, to be scattered by the winds. This was in summer, when he had no fire; in winter he threw whole handfuls into the fire. As we were on terms of perfect intimacy, I have joked him, perhaps rudely, upon his anxious caution. His answer was, “Whatever becomes of me, my friends shall never suffer by my negligence.” This may be thought a less significant anecdote than another. Mr. Adams left the letters he had received and preserved in possession of his widow. This lady, as was natural, lent them to a confidential friend of her husband, Mr. Avery, who then was, and had been secretary of the commonwealth under the administration of Mr. Adams and Mr. Hancock. Mr. Avery informed me, that he “had them, and that they were a complete history of the Revolution.” I will not say into whose hands they fell, after Mr. Avery’s death, and I cannot say where they are now; but I have heard that a gentleman in Charlestown, Mr. Austin, undertook to write the life of Mr. Adams; but, finding his papers had been so garbled that the truth could not be discovered, he abandoned his design. Never will those letters, which Secretary Avery possessed, be brought together again; nor will they ever be found. So much for Mr. Adams, at present. Now for Mr. Otis.
I write no biographies or biographical sketches; I give only hints. James Otis was descended from our most ancient families. His education was the best his country afforded. He was bred to the bar under Mr. Gridley, the greatest lawyer and the greatest classic scholar I ever knew at any bar. His application was incessant and indefatigable. Justice Richard Dana has often told me, that the apartment in which Otis studied, when a pupil and a clerk of Mr. Gridley, was near his house; that he had watched him from day to day, and that he had never known a student in law so punctual, so steady, so constant and persevering. Accordingly, as soon as he was admitted to the bar, he became a conspicuous figure. And among whom? Gridley, Pratt, Trowbridge; and he was much admired, and as much celebrated as any of them. His generous, manly, noble character, as a private gentleman, his uncommon attainments in literature, especially in the law, and his nervous, commanding eloquence at the bar, were everywhere spoken of. The government soon discerned his superiority, and commissioned him Advocate-General. He married a lady, who, in that day, was esteemed a fortune. From 1755 to 1758, I heard my master, Colonel James Putnam, of Worcester, who was a critical judge, and Mr. Trowbridge, the then Attorney-General, and his lady, constantly speaking of Otis as the greatest, the most learned, the most manly, and most honest young man of his age. All this was before I had ever seen Mr. Otis. I never saw him till late in the autumn of 1758, nor Mr. Samuel Adams till after that year.
To sum up in a few words, the two young men, whom I have known to enter the stage of life with the most luminous, unclouded prospects, and the best founded hopes, were James Otis and John Hancock. They were both essential to the Revolution, and both fell sacrifices to it. Mr. Otis, from 1760 to 1770, had correspondences in this province, in New England, in the middle and southern colonies, in England, and in Scotland. What has become of these letters and answers?
Mr. Otis, soon after my earliest acquaintance with him, lent me a summary of Greek Prosody of his own collection and composition, a work of profound learning and great labor. I had it six months in my possession, before I returned it. Since my return from Europe, I asked his daughter whether she had found that work among her father’s manuscripts. She answered me with a countenance of woe that you may more easily imagine than I can describe, that she “had not a line from her father’s pen; that he had spent much time, and taken great pains, to collect together all his letters and other papers, and, in one of his unhappy moments, committed them all to the flames.” I have used her own expressions.
Such has been the fate of the memorials of Mr. James Otis and Mr. Samuel Adams. It was not without reason, then, that I wrote to Mr. Niles, of Baltimore, that the true history of the American Revolution is lost forever. I could write volumes of other proofs of the same truth, before, during, and since the Revolution. But cui bono? They would be read by very few, and by very few of those few would be credited, and, by this minimum of a few, would be imputed to the vanity, egotism, ill humor, envy, jealousy, and disappointed ambition of your sincere friend, John Adams; for the character of this nation is strangely altered.
TO HENRY COLMAN.
Quincy, 13 June, 1817.
When I have heard you say, and you have repeatedly said it to me, that you were determined to read “The Origin of all Worships,” I certainly sympathized with you; but whether that sympathy had in it more of congratulation or of compassion, I cannot say.
When you have once read Dupuis, you will find yourself irresistibly impelled to read Court de Gebelin’s Primitive World, and then Bryant’s Analysis of Ancient Mythology, and then Sir William Jones’s works, and then Herodotus, and all the Greek historians, and then over again your Eustace, and Simond, and last, not least, Hugh Farmer’s four volumes, containing all his works, namely, his Temptation and his Worship of Human Spirits, his Miracles, and his Demons. To these you will wish to add Sir John Malcolm’s recent History of Persia, and the millions of authorities quoted by all these writers.
And, when you shall have done all this, you will find yourself precisely where you are now, an adorer of the Christian religion in its purity, mourning over the knavery and folly of your species, and, above all, deploring the corruptions and heathenish superstitions and idolatries introduced into the religion of Jesus by his professed disciples and “most holy priests.”
Were your life as useless as mine, which, I am confident, it never can be, you might waste your time, as I have done agreeably enough, in these enigmatical amusements. It is curions that Gebelin, Bryant, Jones, and Dupuis, and Farmer should have composed their systems without any knowledge of each other. Had they been united in a council, they might have been agreed; for, it seems to me, that a consistent plan might be extracted from them all, compared together.
That you may be long continued in your benevolent studies and labors, is the prayer of your friend.
TO JAMES MADISON.
Quincy, 17 June, 1817.
Accept my thanks for your favor of last month. The safe arrival of your books has quieted my conscience.
There is nothing within the narrow compass of human knowledge more interesting than the subject of your letter. If the idea of a government in one centre seems to be everywhere “exploded,” perhaps something remains undefined, as dangerous, as plausible, and pernicious as that idea. Half a million of people in England have petitioned Parliament for annual parliaments and universal suffrage. Parliament is unanimous against them. What is this state of things short of a declaration of war between the government and people? And is not this the picture of all Europe? Sovereigns, who modestly call themselves legitimate, are conspiring, in holy and unhallowed leagues, against the progress of human knowledge and human liberty.
War seems on the point of breaking out between government and people. Were the latter united, the question would be soon decided; but they are everywhere divided into innumerable sects, whereas the former are united, and have all the artillery and bayonets in their hands; and what is most melancholy of all, an appeal to arms almost always results in an exchange of one military tyranny for another.
The questions concerning universal suffrage, and those coucerning the necessary limitations of the power of suffrage, are among the most difficult. It is hard to say that every man has not an equal right; but, admit this equal right and equal power, and an immediate revolution would ensue. In all the nations of Europe, the number of persons, who have not a penny, is double those who have a groat; admit all these to an equality of power, and you would soon see how the groats would be divided. Yet, in a few days, the party of the pennies and the party of the groats would be found to exist again, and a new revolution and a new division must ensue.
If there is anywhere an exception from this reasoning, it is in America; nevertheless, there is in these United States a majority of persons, who have no property, over those who have any. I know of nothing more desirable in society than the abolition of all hereditary distinctions. But is not distinction among voters as arbitrary and aristocratical as hereditary distinctions? You will remember that, between thirty and forty years ago, the Irish patriots asked advice of the Duke of Richmond, Dr. Price, Dr. Jebb, &c. These three great statesmen, divines, and philosophers, solemnly advised a universal suffrage. Tracy, in his review of Montesquieu, adopts this principle in its largest extent. A party among mankind, countenanced, at this day, by such numbers and such names, is not to be despised, neglected, nor easily overborne.
There is nothing more irrational, absurd, or ridiculous in the sight of philosophy than the idea of hereditary kings and nobles; yet all the nations of the earth, civilized, savage, and brutal, have adopted them. Whence this universal and irresistible propensity? How shall it be controlled, restrained, corrected, modified, or managed? A government, a mixed government, may be so organized, I hope, as to preserve the liberty, equality, and fraternity of the people without any hereditary ingredient in its composition. Our nation has attempted it, and, if any people can accomplish it, it must be this; and may God Almighty prosper and bless them!
I have seen the efforts of the people in France, Holland, and England. You have read them in all Europe. We both know the result. What is to come, we know not.
My personal interest in such disquisitions can last but a few hours; but, still, homo sum, and homo I shall be.
May you live to a greater age than mine, and be able to die with brighter prospects for your species than can fall to the lot of your friend.
TO JOHN M. JACKSON.
Quincy, 30 December, 1817.
In 1774, I became acquainted with McKean, Rodney, and Henry. Those three appeared to me to see more clearly to the end of the business than any others of the whole body. At least, they were more candid and explicit with me than any others. Mr. Henry was in Congress only in 1774, and a small part of 1775. He was called home by his State to take a military command. McKean and Rodney continued members, and. I believe, I never voted in opposition to them in any one instance. When, as it happened, I was appointed to draw the plan of a treaty to be carried to France by Dr. Franklin, and proposed by him, Mr. Deane, and Mr. Lee, to the French court, I carefully avoided every thing that could involve us in any alliance more than a commercial friendship. When this plan was reported to Congress, my own most intimate friends. Samuel Adams and Richard Henry Lee, differed from me in opinion. They thought there was not sufficient temptation to France to join us. They moved for cessions and concessions, which implied warranties and political alliance that I had studiously avoided. My principle was perpetual peace, after that war should be concluded, with all powers of Europe, and perfect neutrality in all their future wars. This principle I was obliged to support against long arguments and able disputants, and, fortunately, carried every point: and, in every point, McKean and Rodney adhered to me, and supported me with inflexible perseverance. And, for four years, I know not that Mr. McKean ever differed from me in a vote. Mr. McKean, however, was not constantly in Congress. He was soon appointed Attorney-General of Pennsylvania. and, afterwards, Chief Justice; and the duties of those offices, though he was always a member of Congress, often necessarily prevented his attendance in the House. While I was in Europe, nothing passed between Mr. McKean and me, except, now and then, a few lines of introduction for a travelling friend about to cross the Atlantic; and except that my bookseller, by my advice, sent a quantity of those dull volumes, called “A Defence,” to Mr. McKean, who committed them to Mr. Dobson for sale. Mr. McKean often expressed to me his entire approbation of the system, and concurrence in all the sentiments in that work.
When I met Mr. McKean again in person at Philadelphia, which was in 1790, after a separation of eleven years and more, I found him, as well as President Washington and all his family, and all his ministers, both Houses of Congress, the city of Philadelphia, and all mankind, for I know not one exception, glowing with sanguine hopes and confident expectation of a revolution in France that should produce a free, democratical republic, as sister to ours, in the first nation in Europe. I stood alone, would agree with nobody in opinion upon that subject. I could foresee nothing but calamities to France and to the world, and the French constitution of 1789 confirmed all my fears. I saw a disposition everywhere to enter into closer connections with our sister republic, and unite with her in a war against all her enemies. Mr. McKean was arranged with Mr. Mifflin, Mr. Sergeant, Dr. Hutchinson, Mr. Rittenhouse, Mr. Gallatin, Mr. Findlay, Mr. Swanwick, and even my bosom friend, Dr. Rush, in this enthusiasm for the French Revolution, and a closer connection, and an alliance, offensive and defensive, with our young sister democratical republic at the head of all Europe.
This appeared to me not only a total departure from our old system, “Friendship with all nations, but entangling alliances with one,” as fully understood and determined by Congress; but a policy which must be ruinous and destructive to our country. From this source arose, I will not say a separation or an alienation between Mr. McKean and me, for we still continued on terms of mutual civility; but a cessation of that intimacy which had formerly subsisted between us. But it was impossible that either of us should ever forget the other.
I wish I could extend this letter; but it is impossible. If I regret the infirmities of age, it is not because they announce the rapid approach of the end of my life, but because they disable me to associate and correspond with my friends according to their wishes and my own. And this must be my apology for the shortness of this letter.
[1 ] The substance of this letter appears in another form in this work, but as there is an interval of fifteen years in the date of the two compositions, it may be interesting to the curious to compare them. See vol. ii. pp. 328-332.
[1 ] This alludes to an act of Congress, passed at this period, changing the compensation of the members from the old mode of payment, according to the days of service, to a fixed annual sum. Almost all those who voted for it lost their seats, and the law was repealed.
[1 ] Vol. ii. pp. 89-99.
[2 ] The extract is omitted, as the same speech is printed, with the omission of the interpolations, in vol. ii. of this work, Appendix, p. 523. It was not in the letter as first published.
[1 ] So in the copy, but evidently an error.
[1 ] Livy finishes the sentence thus, nec affirmare nec refellere, in animo est. The addition in the text is by the writer.