Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO WILLIAM WIRT. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes)
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TO WILLIAM WIRT. - 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 WIRT.
Quincy, 23 January, 1818.
I thank you for your kind letter of the 12th of this month. As I esteem the character of Mr. Henry an honor to our country, and your volume a masterly delineation of it, I gave orders to purchase it as soon as I heard of it, but was told it was not to be had in Boston. I have seen it only by great favor on a short loan. A copy from the author would be worth many by purchase. It may be sent to me by the mail.
From a personal acquaintance, perhaps I might say a friendship, with Mr. Henry of more than forty years, and from all that I have heard or read of him, I have always considered him as a gentleman of deep reflection, keen sagacity, clear foresight, daring enterprise, inflexible intrepidity, and untainted integrity; with an ardent zeal for the liberties, the honor, and felicity of his country, and his species. All this you justly, as I believe, represent him to have been. There are, however, remarks to be made upon your work, which, if I had the eyes and hands, I would, in the spirit of friendship, attempt. But my hands and eyes and life are but for a moment.
When Congress had finished their business, as they thought, in the autumn of 1774, I had, with Mr. Henry, before we took leave of each other, some familiar conversation, in which I expressed a full conviction, that our resolves, declarations of rights, enumeration of wrongs, petitions, remonstrances, and addresses, associations, and non-importation agreements, however they might be expected by the people in America, and however necessary to cement the union of the Colonies, would be but waste paper in England. Mr. Henry said, they might make some impression among the people of England, but agreed with me that they would be totally lost upon the government. I had but just received a short and hasty letter, written to me by Major Joseph Hawley, of Northampton, containing “a few broken hints,” as he called them, of what he thought was proper to be done, and concluding with these words, “after all, we must fight.”1 This letter I read to Mr. Henry, who listened with great attention; and as soon as I had pronounced the words, “after all, we must fight,” he raised his head, and with an energy and vehemence, that I can never forget, broke out with “By G—d, I am of that man’s mind.” I put the letter into his hand, and, when he had read it, he returned it to me with an equally solemn asseveration, that he agreed entirely in opinion with the writer. I considered this as a sacred oath, upon a very great occasion, and could have sworn it as religiously as he did, and by no means inconsistent with what you say, in some part of your book, that he never took the sacred name in vain.
As I knew the sentiments with which Mr. Henry left Congress, in the autumn of 1774, and knew the chapter and verse from which he had borrowed the sublime expression, “we must fight,” I was not at all surprised at your history, in the 122d page, in the note, and in some of the preceding and following pages. Mr. Henry only pursued, in March, 1775, the views and vows of November, 1774.
The other delegates from Virginia returned to their State, in full confidence that all our grievances would be redressed. The last words that Mr. Richard Henry Lee said to me, when we parted, were, “We shall infallibly carry all our points. You will be completely relieved; all the offensive acts will be repealed;the army and fleet will be recalled, and Britain will give up her foolish project.”
Washington only was in doubt. He never spoke in public. In private he joined with those who advocated a non-exportation, as well as a non-importation agreement. With both, he thought we should prevail; without either, he thought it doubtful. Henry was clear in one opinion, Richard Henry Lee in an opposite opinion, and Washington doubted between the two. Henry, however, appeared in the end to be exactly in the right.
Oratory, Mr. Wirt, as it consists in expressions of the countenance, graces of attitude and motion, and intonation of voice, although it is altogether superficial and ornamental, will always command admiration; yet it deserves little veneration. Flashes of wit, corruscations of imagination, and gay pictures, what are they? Strict truth, rapid reason, and pure integrity are the only essential ingredients in sound oratory. I flatter myself that Demosthenes, by his “action! action! action!” meant to express the same opinion. To speak of American oratory, ancient or modern, would lead me too far, and beyond my depth.
I must conclude with fresh assurances of the high esteem of your humble servant.
[1 ] This letter is printed in full in the Appendix to vol. ix. of this work.