Front Page Titles (by Subject) JAY TO JOHN ADAMS. - The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, vol. 4 (1794-1826)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
JAY TO JOHN ADAMS. - John Jay, The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, vol. 4 (1794-1826) 
The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, ed. Henry P. Johnston, A.M. (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890-93). Vol. 4 (1794-1826).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
JAY TO JOHN ADAMS.
Bedford, 31st January, 1818.
I received your letter of the 9th by the mail which arrived here on the 24th inst.
I have not seen Mr. Wirt’s book, nor heard of the “passage” in it, of which your letter contains a copy. You think that passage, as you understand it, is not correct, and observe, that as I am the only man remaining alive who can perfectly correct it, in your opinion it is my “conscientious duty to do it.”
For your satisfaction, and pursuant to your opinion, I will proceed to give you a plain statement of facts. There are entries in the printed journals of Congress of 1774 which merit attention; and I think the extracts from that journal, which I shall introduce, afford inferences which militate against some of the incidents mentioned in the passage. That you may compare and examine both with the greater ease to yourself, I will first insert the passage, and then the extracts.
“A petition to the king, an address to the people of Great Britain, and a memorial to the people of British America, were agreed to be drawn. Mr. Lee, Mr. Henry, and others were appointed for the first; Mr. Lee, Mr. Livingston, and Mr. Jay for the two last. The splendour of their debut occasioned Mr. Henry to be designated by his committee to draw the petition to the king, with which they were charged, and Mr. Lee was charged with the address to the people of England. The last was first reported. On reading it, great disappointment was expressed on every countenance, and a dead silence ensued for some minutes. At length it was laid on the table for perusal and consideration till the next day; when first one member and then another arose, and paying some faint compliment to the composition, observed that there were still certain considerations not expressed which should properly find a place in it. The address was therefore committed for amendment; and one prepared by Mr. Jay, and offered by Governor Livingston, was reported and adopted with scarcely an alteration. These facts are stated by a gentleman, to whom they were communicated by Mr. Pendleton and Mr. Harrison of the Virginia delegation (except that Mr. Harrison erroneously ascribed the draught to Governor Livingston), and to whom they were afterward confirmed by Governor Livingston himself. Mr. Henry’s draft of a petition to the king was equally unsuccessful, and was recommitted for amendment. Mr. John Dickinson (the author of the Farmer’s Letters) was added to the committee, and a new draught prepared by him was adopted.”
“Tuesday, October 11th, 1774.—Resolved unanimously, That a memorial be prepared to the people of British America, stating to them the necessity of a firm, united, and invariable observation of the measures recommended by the Congress, as they tender the invaluable rights and liberties derived to them from the laws and constitution of their country.
“Also, that an address be prepared to the people of Great Britain.
“Ordered, That Mr. Lee, Mr. Livingston, and Mr. Jay be a committee to prepare a draught of the memorial and address.”
The committee assigned the memorial, which was first in order, and also deemed first in importance, to Mr. Lee. Mr. Livingston, who was my superior both in age and reputation, was desired to prepare the address. He declined it, and urged me to take it. I finally consented, and did write it.
“Tuesday, October 18th, 1774.—The committee appointed to prepare the address to the people of Great Britain brought in a draught, which was read and ordered to lie on the table for the perusal of the members, and to be taken into consideration to-morrow.
“Wednesday, October 19th, 1774.—The Congress resumed the consideration of the address to the people of Great Britain; and the same being debated by paragraphs, and sundry amendments made, the same was recommitted, in order that the amendments may be taken in.”
I was present in Congress, and attended to the proposed amendments. Mr. Lee (one of the committee) moved that the draught should be recommitted for the purpose mentioned in the journal; and for that purpose it was recommitted. The amendments were made the next day, and the draught was returned to Congress the ensuing morning.
“Friday, October 21st, 1774.—The address to the people of Great Britain being brought in, and the amendments directed being made, the same was approved, and is as follows.”
Is it probable that the committee found it necessary to assign both the memorial and the address to Mr. Lee, or that he would readily undertake that double task, or that, notwithstanding his other avocations in and out of Congress, he could finish them both between the 11th October, when they were ordered, and the 19th, when the draught of the memorial was reported?
According to the journal, the draught of the address was recommitted, expressly for the purpose and “in order that the amendments may be taken in.” Is it probable that the committee did, nevertheless, lay aside that draught and substitute a new one? How could they have rendered such a procedure reconcilable to the feelings of the writer of that draught, or compatible with their recent approbation of it, or consistent with the design and object of the recommitment? Could any of the members have been so negligent of delicacy and propriety, as to propose or concur in such a measure? Could the embarrassments and difficulties attending it have been surmounted between the Wednesday, when the address was recommitted, and the ensuing Friday, when (with the amendments taken in) it was read and approved?
The subsequent occurrences you mention have not escaped my recollection. I was informed, and I believe correctly, that one person in particular of those you specify, had endeavoured, by oblique intimations, to insinuate a suspicion that the address to the people of Great Britain was not written by me, but by Governor Livingston. That gentleman repelled the insinuation. He knew and felt what was due to truth, and explicitly declared it.
Those persons are dead and gone. Their design did not succeed, and I have no desire that the memory of it should survive them. As to the address or petition to the king—who wrote the draught that was reported and recommitted—how far it corresponded with the one that was adopted—whether Mr. Dickinson, after he was added to the committee, prepared an entirely new draught, or only co-operated in amending the one then before the committee—are questions which you only, who have survived all the other members of that committee, can answer with certainty.
Considering who were the members of that committee, viz., yourself, Mr. Lee, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Henry, and Mr. Rutledge, I think the idea of a new draught cannot be correct. That Mr. Dickinson did write the subsequent or second address or petition to the king, I have no reason to doubt.
To prepare an acceptable draught of the first petition, was no easy task. Instructions as to matters to be inserted in it were given to the committee; and some were proposed which occasioned much debate. You may remember that many of the members of that Congress were anxious that too much might not be done or said; and, on the other hand, that there were many members who were anxious that too little might not be done or said. Hence there arose and prevailed a more than ordinary degree of solicitude and watchfulness, both as to the purport of subject-matter, and to the force and latitude of expressions. And hence also it may have happened, that (except the draught of a letter to the agents in England) every report made to that Congress received amendments of one kind or other, before they approved and adopted it.
Be pleased to present my best respects to Mrs. Adams. It gives me pleasure to reflect, that your friendship for me has from of “old” continued steadfast, and that my estimation of it has constantly animated the attachment with which I have so long been, and am, dear sir,
Your affectionate friend,