The Works of John Adams Vol. 1 - John Adams - ebook

The Works of John Adams Vol. 1 ebook

John Adams



John Adams was the second President of the United States, ruling the country from 1797 to 1801, and one of the Founding Fathers. He was also a major leader of American independence from Great Britain. This is volume one out of ten of his works, this book containing a detailed biography of this statesman written by his grandson Charles Francis Adams. The text is annotated with more than 250 endnotes.

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The Works of John Adams

Volume 1


The Works of John Adams Volume 1

Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck

86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9


ISBN: 9783849648176

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Editor's Note: The Page Referrals inside this book are part of the edition that was used to build this book. Due to layout changes and fonts used then and now these referrals might not be valid for this edition. We appreciate your understanding.



The Life Of John Adams.9

Preliminary. Respecting The Family Of Adams.9

Chapter I.14

Chapter Ii.32

Chapter Iii.57

Chapter Iv.85

Chapter V.139

Chapter Vi.162

Chapter Vii.206

Chapter Viii.231

Chapter Ix.253

Chapter X.: The Presidency.289

Chapter Xi.342




The preliminary genealogy, and the first two chapters of this volume, are taken from the fragment of a biography left by the late John Quincy Adams. That portion of it extending nearly to the end of the first chapter, appears to have been written by him during the summer of 1829, just after the close of his official term as President of the United States, and before he was recalled into public life. Of the remainder, which was added in brief snatches of leisure during the summer recesses of Congress, the greater part was composed in 1832; but the last pages bear the date of 1839, from which time the project seems to have been abandoned. No part of it was ever revised for publication. As a consequence some blanks were left in the manuscript, principally for dates or extracts from books and papers, which have been filled, and a few trivial errors occurred, which have been corrected by the Editor, for the most part without notice. The fragment, in all other respects adhering closely to the original copy, extends to page 89 of this volume. It furnishes a succinct account of the circumstances attending the youth and education of John Adams, and carries the narrative down to the time of the so-called Boston Massacre, in March, 1770, when he had reached his thirty-fifth year. In other words, it covers the period of his life as a private citizen, and stops exactly at the moment when the career which made him an object of public attention begins. This fact will readily suggest the reason why the work was terminated just at this point. It could not be further prosecuted without the application of a much greater share of time, and more extended investigations than the writer was in a condition to bestow, consistently with a faithful performance of the duties of a representative of Massachusetts in Congress, to which he had been summoned to devote his latest years. That most brilliant portion of his life it is impossible for any descendant of his to regret, even though it was pursued at the sacrifice of this noble undertaking, and the devolution of it to far less competent hands.

For in justice to the continuator it ought to be kept in mind, that even before this fragment was definitively laid aside, he had reason to know that he was looked to as the successor to the duty; and in that view, that all the manuscripts, books, and papers relating to it were to be committed to his care. From this it may be understood, that the enterprise was not altogether of his seeking. Whatever might have been his doubts of his own abilities to execute it, little room was left him to indulge them. Neither was it in his disposition to shrink from it, simply because of its difficulty. Of the peculiar obstacles in the way of a faithful and at the same time an acceptable performance of it, he was from the outset thoroughly sensible. Under other circumstances he might have regarded his attempting it as presumptuous. But in his case there was no alternative. To say that he has acquitted himself of his obligation to his own satisfaction is more than he can pretend. All that he will venture to claim for himself is an earnest desire to be right, and an endeavor by no trifling amount of industry to become so. That he may in many instances have fallen short of his aim will not surprise him. Infallibility in such a department of investigation is altogether out of the question. The writer has detected too many mistakes in his own work, and observed too many in the productions of others, to seek to cherish a spirit of dogmatism. Hence if it should turn out that he has fallen into any essential error, or been guilty of material injustice, he trusts that he may be acquitted of evil intention in the beginning, or inclination to persevere in it against evidence. Should any such be shown to him, he stands ready to acknowledge it with candor and to correct it with cheerfulness.

Much as the failure to complete the original narrative is to be regretted on other accounts, there is at least one particular in which the interposed delay has not been without a compensating advantage to the subject of this biography. During the interval that has elapsed, much new material has found its way to the light, and many old documents have been rendered accessible, which have greatly facilitated the elucidation of important facts in the narrative. The effect has been to rectify many impressions of the events of the last century and of their causes, which prevailed early and have been carefully handed down to us. This is particularly true in regard to the motives of action, which governed the policy of the great nations of Europe during the Revolution, as well as to those which controlled the course of Mr. Adams’s own administration afterwards. On these points, embracing as they do a great part of the disputed questions of his times, it is not to be presumed that all readers will at once concur in the views presented in this work, or be entirely satisfied with the judgments that are pronounced on some of the actors. It is enough to say in their behalf, that they have not been prepared without a careful examination of the evidence upon which they rest, an earnest desire to avoid every unnecessary word of offence, and a conviction of the necessity of submitting them, in justice to the individual whose history is given. Yet it is not to be doubted that much material yet remains undisclosed which will still further contribute to a correct understanding of the action of these times. If the production of it will in any way subserve the great end of establishing historical truth, it is to be hoped that no pains may be spared to bring it to the light of day.

So much has been said of late upon the duties of editors in publishing the papers committed to their care, that a few words may be necessary to explain the principles upon which this work has been conducted. In all cases the best copy obtainable has been closely adhered to, saving only the correction of obvious errors of haste, or inadvertence, or negligence. Yet as a considerable number of the letters have been taken, not from the originals, of which it is not known even that they are yet extant, but from the copy-book containing the rough drafts, it is by no means improbable that in case of a possibility of collation with the real letters, many discrepancies not to say interpolations and even erasures will be discovered. Should such instances be brought to light, it is proper that this explanation should stand on record, to guard against charges of alteration which already have been preferred against other editors, on grounds not altogether dissimilar. Against such variations it would have been impossible to provide without materially curtailing the valuable materials for the work. For all others, the Editor has acted on his own responsibility, and for reasons which appear to him satisfactory.

No person will be apt to imagine that in an undertaking so extensive as this, it is possible for the closest observer to escape without making many mistakes. Some of these belong to the typographical department, and can be easily corrected. Others and more material ones to the editor or the author. A few have occurred by trusting to statements made at second hand. More by taking for granted what appeared on good authority to be facts. And still others by the extreme difficulty of getting at the exact truth, especially in minute matters. It has not been deemed necessary in all cases to give notice of the corrections. It is sufficient to say that whenever any discrepancy is to be observed between the impressions of the work, it may be inferred that those which have been the last printed contain the corrected reading.

In dismissing these volumes, it is no more than an act of justice in the writer to recognize the obligations he is under to individuals and associations, for the readiness shown to aid him in the prosecution of his investigations. In but a single instance that he can recollect, has an application been neglected, or received in any other than the most cordial manner; and in that he has no desire to impute an unfriendly intention. To specify the slighter services rendered in this vicinity and at a distance would be tedious. The writer will therefore confine himself to a notice of the kindness of the Hon. Edward Everett, when Secretary of State of the United States, in allowing him to examine and to verify copies of important papers in the archives of that department; of the liberal manner in which the Hon. Jared Sparks placed at his disposal a volume of copies of French despatches, procured by him at Paris under the sanction of that government, which proved of the first importance in treating one portion of the narrative; and lastly of the great assistance rendered to him by his most esteemed friend, Dr. J. G. Palfrey, who cheerfully consented to read the greater part of the work in the proof-sheets, and to favor him with such critical and other remarks as occurred to him in the process. To all persons acquainted with the scholarlike habits of mind and the refined taste of that gentleman, it is needless to add that these pages have greatly benefited by this treatment. Whatever suggestions fell from him were, with rare exceptions, implicitly adopted, and it is only a matter of regret for the sake of the work that they were not more numerous, and, especially in that portion peculiarly belonging to the writer, not prompted by a less partial judge.

It is proper to add in conclusion, that these volumes by no means exhaust the valuable materials in the possession of the Editor, for the illustration of the era of the Revolution. Neither do they in the least encroach upon the yet larger stores in reserve for the other work, intended for publication at a future period, and destined, in giving the life of John Quincy Adams, to elucidate the history of the generation immediately succeeding.


26 July, 1856



The first charter of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay was granted by Charles the First, and bears date the 4th of March, in the fourth year of his reign, 1629. It recites letters-patent of James the First, dated 3 November, in the eighteenth year of his reign, 1620, granting to the Council established at Plymouth, in the county of Devon, for the planting, ruling, ordering, and governing of New England, in America, all that part of America, from latitude 40° to 48°, and through the main lands from sea to sea. Then, that the Plymouth Council, by deed indented 19 March, 1628, conveyed to Sir Henry Rosewell, Sir John Young, knights, Thomas Southcott, John Humphrey, John Endicott, and Symon Whetcomb, their heirs and associates forever, all that part of New England, lying between three miles south of Charles, and three miles north of Merrimack rivers. Charles, therefore, at the petition of the grantees, and of others whom they had associated unto them, grants to them the same lands, and constitutes them a body corporate politique, in fact and name, by the name of the Governor and Companie of the Massachusetts Bay in New England.

Among the grantees of this charter is a person by the name of Thomas Adams.

Hutchinson says that the day for the annual election of officers, by charter, was the last Wednesday in Easter Term, and that on the 13th of May, 1628, Cradock was chosen governor, Goffe, deputy-governor, and eighteen assistants; of whom Thomas Adams was the twelfth. Endnote 002

That on the 20th of October, 1629, a new choice of officers was made, consisting of such persons as had been resolved on the 29th of August preceding. John Winthrop was elected governor, John Humphrey, deputy-governor, and eighteen assistants; of whom Thomas Adams was the last. Endnote 003

From this, it appears that Thomas Adams was one of those who had determined to come over with the charter. But nothing further has been found concerning him. Endnote 004

Hutchinson says that, in 1625, one Captain Wollaston, with about thirty persons, began a plantation near Weston’s, which had been abandoned; that no mention is made of a patent to Wollaston; that Morton changed the name of Mount Wollaston to Merry Mount; and that the people of Plymouth seized him, to send him to England.

Winthrop’s Journal, Endnote 005 under date of 20 September, 1630, says: “Thomas Morton was adjudged to be imprisoned till he were sent into England, and his house burnt down, for his many injuries offered to the Indians, and other misdemeanors.”

Winthrop’s Journal, 17 September, 1639 Endnote 006: “Mount Wollaston had been formerly laid to Boston; but many poor men having lots assigned them there, and not able to use those lands and dwell still in Boston, they petitioned the town, first, to have a minister there, and, after, to have leave to gather a church there, which the town, at length, upon some small composition, gave way unto. So this day they gathered a church after the usual manner, and chose one Mr. Tompson, a very gracious, sincere man, and Mr. Flint, a godly man also, their ministers.”

“There was a church gathered at the Mount, and Mr. Tompson, a very holy man, who had been an instrument of much good at Acamenticus, was ordained the pastor the 19th of the 9th month.” Endnote 007

It was in 1634 that Mount Wollaston had been laid to Boston, and Winthrop’s Journal Endnote 008 says that on the 11th of December, 1634, the inhabitants of Boston met after the lecture, and chose seven men who should divide the town lands among them.

At a general court held at Newton, 3 September, 1634, it is ordered that Boston shall have enlargement at Mount Wollaston and Rumney Marsh. The bounds were settled 13 April, 1636.

“At a general court of elections, held at Boston, 13 May, 1640. The petition of the inhabitants of Mount Wollaston was voted, and granted them to be a town, according to the agreement with Boston, and the town is to be called Braintree.” Endnote 009

Thus it appears that Morton’s settlement at Mount Wollaston was broken up and his house was burnt in 1630, the year in which Winthrop and his colony arrived; that in 1634 the General Court at Newton granted enlargement to the town of Boston at Mount Wollaston; that in 1636 grants of land were made by the inhabitants of Boston to individuals to make settlements there without removing from Boston; that many of the poor men who had lots assigned them, could not use them, and continue to reside in Boston; that they therefore petitioned Boston, first, to have a minister, and, afterwards, to gather a church, which leave was accordingly granted. They chose Mr. Tompson and Mr. Flint their ministers. Mr. Tompson was ordained the 19th of November, 1639; and on the 13th of May, 1640, they were by the court of elections made a town, by the name of Braintree.

Among the grantees of these lands was Henry Adams, Endnote 010 probably a brother of Thomas Adams, Endnote 011 one of the grantees of the charter, and one of the Assistants chosen at the time of its transfer to this country.

By the records of the town of Braintree, it appears that this Henry Adams was buried on the 8th of October, 1646. From his will, it appears that he left a widow, five sons, named Peter, John, Joseph, Edward, and Samuel, and a daughter Ursula. He had three other sons, not mentioned in the will, whose names were Henry, Thomas, and Jonathan. Endnote 012

Henry was the eldest son, and was the first town-clerk of Braintree. The records of births, marriages, and deaths, in the first book of Braintree town records, are in his handwriting; and the first marriage recorded is his own with Elizabeth Payne, 17 October, 1643.

The second is that of Joseph Adams and Abigail Baxter, married the 26th of November, 1650. The gravestones of this Joseph Adams and of his wife are yet extant in the burial-ground of the Congregational Church at Quincy, and the inscriptions on them show that he died on the 6th of December, 1694, in the 68th year of his age. He was, therefore, born in the year 1626, in England, four years before the emigration of the Winthrop colony; and there is reason to believe that he was the youngest, and that Henry was the eldest of the sons of the first Henry, who came with him from England.

On the same book of records are entered the births of three children of Henry and Elizabeth Adams.

Eleazar, born 5 August, 1644. Jasper, born 23 June, 1647. And Elizabeth, born 11 November, 1649.

About that time, this Henry Adams removed to Medfield, of which he was also the first town-clerk, and where numerous descendants of his name are yet remaining. Among them is the distinguished female historian, Hannah Adams. He died on the 21st February, 1675, at the age of 71. He was, therefore, born in the year 1604, was 26 years of age at the time of the emigration, 36 when Braintree was made a town, and 39 when married to Elizabeth Payne.

Of the sons of the first Henry Adams, Peter and Joseph only remained settled for life at Braintree. Joseph and his wife lived together forty-two years; as the inscription on her gravestone shows that she died on the 27th of August, 1692, only two years before her husband.

Their children, as recorded upon the town book, were:—

Hannah, born 13 November, 1652. Joseph, born 24 December, 1654. John, born 15 February, 1656. Abigail, born 27 February, 1658. John and Bethiah, born 20 December, 1660. Mary, born 8 September, 1663. Samuel, born 3 September, 1665. Another Mary, born 25 February, 1667. Peter, born 7 February, 1669. Jonathan, born 31 January, 1671. Mehitable, born in 1673.

Of the original military establishment at Braintree, it appears, from a minute on the record book, apparently made by John Mills, when he was the town-clerk, for it is professedly made from the memory of the writer—that Henry, Thomas, and Peter Adams were sergeants of companies, and John and Joseph Adams, drummers.

The inventory of the goods movable and immovable of the first Henry Adams presents a property, the sum total of which is seventy-five pounds thirteen shillings—the real and personal estate being nearly of equal value. It includes a house, barn, and ground around them. Three beds and their bedding, one of which was in the parlor, and two in the chamber. A variety of farming utensils and kitchen furniture; some store of corn, hay, and hops; one cow and a heifer, swine, and one silver spoon, and some old books. There was land which he held upon lease or temporary grant from the town; and he bequeathes the remainder of his term to his sons, Peter and John, and his daughter Ursula. He orders his books to be divided among all his children. The house and lands belonging to himself he leaves to his wife during her life or widowhood, and afterwards to his sons, Joseph and Edward, and his daughter, Ursula, charged with a payment to his son, Samuel, for land purchased of him, to be paid for in convenient time. There was a discretionary power to the wife to make use, by way of sale, of part of the land, in case of urgent need.

There is no notice in the will of the sons Henry, Thomas, or Jonathan, although they still resided at Braintree. They were, doubtless, otherwise well provided for. The will discovers a spirit of justice in the distribution, and of parental and conjugal affection. The land purchased of Samuel to be paid for in convenient time; the charge upon the children, to whom the reversion of the land is given, to pay for it; and, above all, the discretionary and contingent power to the wife to sell, are incidents truly affecting.

At the decease of this first Henry, his son, Joseph, was but twenty years of age. He lived nearly half a century after—reared, as we have seen, a numerous family of sons and daughters, and at his decease left his estate to his sons, Joseph, John, Endnote 013 and Peter, and to his daughters, Hannah Savil, Abigail Bass, Bethiah Webb, Mary Bass, and Mehitable Adams. Four of the daughters were married before the testator’s death; Mehitable shortly afterwards, 21 July, 1697, married Thomas White.

The bulk of the estate, consisting of a malt-house and brewery with lands, malting tools and vessels, was given to Peter, the youngest son, who was also made sole executor of the will.

Joseph Adams, senior, was, on the 10th of April, 1673, chosen a selectman of the town of Braintree, together with Edmund Quincy; and, in 1692-93, the same Joseph Adams was chosen surveyor of highways.

His son, Joseph Adams, junior, was born, as we have seen, 24 December, 1654. He died 12 February, 1737, at the age of 82. He had three wives.

First, Mary Chapin, 1682, by whom he had

Mary, born 6 February, 1683, married Ephraim Jones.

Abigail, born 17 February, 1684, married Seth Chapin.

She died 14 June, 1687.

His second wife was Hannah Bass, daughter of John and Ruth Bass, a daughter of John Alden.

The issue of this marriage were

Joseph, born 4 January, 1689, who was minister at Newington, New Hampshire. John, born 28 January, 1691, died 25 May, 1761. Samuel, born 28 January, 1693. Josiah, born 18 February, 1696, died 20 January, 1722. Hannah, born 23 February, 1698, married Benjamin Owen, 4 February, 1725. Ruth, born 21 March, 1700, married Nathan Webb, 23 November, 1731. Bethiah, born 13 June, 1702, married Ebenezer Hunt, 28 April, 1737. Ebenezer, born 30 December, 1704.

Hannah (Bass) Adams, died 24 October, 1705.

The third wife of Joseph Adams, junior, was Elizabeth Endnote 014

They had one son, Caleb, born 26 May, 1710, who died the 4th of June following.

Elizabeth survived her husband, and died February, 1739.

Joseph Adams, junior, or the second, made his will on the 23d of July, 1731. Endnote 015

He had given his eldest son, Joseph, the third of the name, a liberal education, that is to say, at Harvard College, where he was graduated in 1710; and considering that as equivalent to his portion of the paternal estate, he gave him, by will, only five pounds to be paid in money by his executors within one year after his decease. He distributed his estate between his sons, John, Samuel, Josiah, and Ebenezer, leaving legacies to his daughters.

Mary Jones, fifteen pounds. The three children of Abigail Chapin, of Mendon, six pounds. Hannah Owen, fifteen pounds. Ruth Adams, eighty pounds. Bethiah Adams, eighty pounds.

On the 7th of March, 1699, this Joseph Adams was chosen a selectman of Braintree, and on the 4th of March, 1700, a constable. His eldest son, Joseph Adams, on the same year that he was graduated, 1710, was chosen the schoolmaster.

The lives of the first and second Joseph Adams comprise a period of one hundred and ten years, in which are included the whole of the first century of the Massachusetts Colony, and seven years of the second. The father and son had each twelve children, of whom, besides those that died in infancy or unmarried, the elder left three sons and five daughters living at his decease; and the younger, five sons and four daughters, besides three grandchildren, offspring of a daughter who died before him. The daughters of the father and son were all reputably married, and their descendants, by the names of Savil, Bass, Webb, White, Chapin, Jones, Owen, Hunt, and numberless others, are scattered throughout every part of New England.

The inventory of the first Henry Adams displays no superfluity of wealth. He had, indeed, a house and land to bequeathe, but the house consisted of a kitchen, a parlor, and one chamber. Dr. Franklin has recorded, in the narrative of his life, the period of his prosperity, when his wife decided that it was time for him to indulge himself at his breakfast with a silver spoon; and this is the identical and only article of luxury found in the inventory of the first Henry Adams.

But he had raised a family of children, and had bred them to useful vocations and to habits of industry and frugality. His eldest son, Henry, was the first town-clerk, first of Braintree, and then of Medfield. His sons, Thomas and Samuel, were among the first settlers of Chelmsford, and Endnote 016 of Mendon.

The brewery was probably commenced by the first Henry. It was continued by his son, Joseph, and formed the business of his life. At the age of twenty-four he married a wife of sixteen, and at his decease, after a lapse of more than forty years, left the malting establishment to his youngest son. His other children, with the exception of his youngest daughter, being all comfortably settled.

This daughter (Mehitable) was only twenty-one years of age at the time of her father’s death, and by his will he provided that she should, while she remained unmarried, live in the house which he bequeathed to his son, Peter. About three years after her father’s death, she married Thomas White.

The estate left by the first Joseph Adams was much more considerable than that which had been left by his father; but was still very small. Endnote 017 To his eldest son, Joseph, he bequeathed only one acre of salt meadow. Joseph had already been many years settled; had been twice married, and was father of four children at the time of his father’s decease. In a country rate, made by the selectmen of the town of Braintree, on the 12th of May, 1690, Joseph Adams, senior, was assessed £1. 19. 6, and Joseph Adams, junior, £1. 4. The prosperity of the family was still increasing. And it still continued, so that this second Joseph was enabled to defray the expense of educating his eldest son, of the same name, at college. The effect of this college education, however, was to withdraw the third Joseph from the town. He became a preacher of the gospel, and was settled at Newington, in New Hampshire, for sixty-eight years, and there died in the year 1783, at ninety-three years of age.

John Adams was the second son of the second Joseph. He was born the 28th of January, 1691; so shortly before the death of his grandfather, the first Joseph, that although he had, doubtless, in childhood seen him, he could certainly have retained no remembrance of him. The lives of this John Adams and of his son, who bore his name, comprise a period of no less than one hundred and thirty-six years, from 1691 to 1826, including forty years of the first and within four years of the whole of the second century of the Massachusetts colony. The two Josephs, father and son, may thus be considered as representing the first century of the Massachusetts Colony, and the two Johns, father and son, of the second.

On the 31st of October, 1734, the first John Adams was married to Susanna Boylston, daughter of Peter Boylston, of Brookline. The issue of this marriage were

John Adams, born 19 October, 1735. Peter Boylston, born 16 October, 1738. Elihu, born 29 May, 1741.

John Adams, following the example of his father, gave his eldest son the benefit of an education at Harvard College; for which he was prepared, under the instruction, successively, of Mr. Joseph Marsh, the minister of the first Congregational parish of Braintree, and of Joseph Cleverly, who was some time reader of the Episcopal Church at the same place.

The elder John Adams was many years Deacon of the first church in Braintree, and several years a selectman of the town. Endnote 018


Education of Mr. Adams—School at Worcester—Choice of a Profession.

In tracing the short and simple annals of the paternal ancestors of John Adams, from their establishment here with the first settlers of the country, we have found them all in that humble, but respectable condition of life, which is favorable to the exercise of virtue, but in which they could attract little of the attention of their contemporaries, and could leave no memorial of their existence to posterity. Three long successive generations and more than a century of time passed away, during which Gray’s Elegy in the country churchyard relates the whole substance of their history. They led laborious, useful, and honest lives; never elevated above the necessity of supporting themselves by the sweat of their brow, never depressed to a state of dependence or want. To that condition, John Adams himself was born; and when the first of British lyric poets wrote,—

“Some village-Hampden, that, with dauntless breast,

The little tyrant of his fields withstood;

Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,

Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood,”

he little imagined that there was then living, in a remote and obscure appendage of the British dominions, a boy, at the threshold of Harvard College, whose life was destined to prove the prophetic inspiration of his verse.

It is in the order of the dispensations of Providence to adapt the characters of men to the times in which they live. The grandfather of John Adams had given to the eldest of his twelve children a college education for his only inheritance. And a precious inheritance it was; it made him for nearly seventy years an instructor of religion and virtue. And such was the anticipation and the design of the father of John Adams, who, not without some urgent advice and even solicitation, prevailed upon his son to prepare himself for college. He was there distinguished as a scholar, in a class which, in proportion to its numbers, contained as many men afterwards eminent in the civil and ecclesiastical departments, as any class that ever was graduated at that institution. Among them were William Browne, subsequently Governor of the Island of Bermuda; John Wentworth, Governor of New Hampshire, before the Revolution, and afterwards Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia; David Sewall, long known as Judge of the District Court of the United States in Maine; Tristram Dalton, one of the first Senators of the United States from Massachusetts; Samuel Locke, some time President of the College; and Moses Hemmenway, who attained distinction as a divine. Adams, Hemmenway, and Locke had, even while undergraduates, the reputation of being the first scholars in the class.

In the ordinary intercourse of society, as it existed at that time in New England, the effect of a college education was to introduce a youth of the condition of John Adams into a different class of familiar acquaintance from that of his fathers. The distinction of ranks was observed with such punctilious nicety, that, in the arrangement of the members of every class, precedence was assigned to every individual according to the dignity of his birth, or to the rank of his parents. John Adams was thus placed the fourteenth in a class of twenty-four, a station for which he was probably indebted rather to the standing of his maternal family than to that of his father. This custom continued until the class which entered in 1769, and was graduated in 1773; and the substitution of the alphabetical order, in the names and places of the members of each class, may be considered as a pregnant indication of the republican principles, which were rising to an ascendency over those which had prevailed during the colonial state of the country.

“Orders and degrees

Jar not with liberty, but well consist.”

So said the stern republican, John Milton, who, in all his works, displays a profound and anxious sense of the importance of just subordination.

Another effect of a college education was to disqualify the receiver of it for those occupations and habits of life from which his fathers had derived their support. The tillage of the ground, and the labor of the hands in a mechanical trade, are not only unsuited to the mind of a youth whose pubescent years have been devoted to study, but the body becomes incapacitated for the toil appropriate to them. The plough, the spade, and the scythe are instruments too unwieldy for the management of men whose days have been absorbed in the study of languages, of metaphysics, and of rhetoric. The exercises of the mind and memory take place of those of the hand, and the young man issued from the college to the world, as a master of arts, finds himself destitute of all those which are accomplished by the labor of the hands. His only resources are the liberal professions—law, physic, or divinity, or that of becoming himself an instructor of youth. But the professions cannot be assumed immediately upon issuing from college. They require years of further preparatory study, for qualification to enter upon the discharge of their duties. The only employment, then, which furnishes the immediate means of subsistence for a graduate of Harvard College, is that of keeping a school.

There is nothing which so clearly marks the distinguishing character of the Puritan founders of New England as their institutions for the education of youth. It was in universities that the Reformation took its rise. Wickliffe, John Huss, Jerome of Prague, and Luther, all promulgated their doctrines first from the bosom of universities. The question between the Church of Rome and all the reformers, was essentially a question between liberty and power; between submission to the dictates of other men and the free exercise of individual faculties. Universities were institutions of Christianity, the original idea of which may, perhaps, have been adopted from the schools of the Grecian sophists and philosophers, but which were essential improvements upon them. The authority of the Church of Rome is founded upon the abstract principle of power. The Reformation, in all its modifications, was founded upon the principle of liberty. Yet the Church of Rome, claiming for her children the implicit submission of faith to the decrees of her councils, and sometimes to the Bishop of Rome, as the successor of Saint Peter, is yet compelled to rest upon human reason for the foundation of faith itself. And the Protestant churches, while vindicating the freedom of the human mind, and acknowledging the Scriptures alone as the rule of faith, still universally recur to human authority for prescribing bounds to that freedom. It was in universities only that this contentious question between liberty and power could be debated and scrutinized in all its bearings upon human agency. It enters into the profoundest recesses of metaphysical science; it mingles itself with the most important principles of morals. Now the morals and the metaphysics of the universities were formed from the school of Aristotle, the citizen of a Grecian republic, and, perhaps, the acutest intellect that ever appeared in the form of man. In that school, it was not difficult to find a syllogism competent to demolish all human authority, usurping the power to prescribe articles of religious faith, but not to erect a substitute for human authority in the mind of every individual. The principal achievement of the reformers, therefore, was to substitute one form of human authority for another; and the followers of Luther, of Calvin, of John Knox, and of Cranmer, while renouncing and denouncing the supremacy of the Romish Church and the Pope, terminated their labors in the establishment of other supremacies in its stead.

Of all the Protestant reformers, the Church of England was that which departed the least from the principles, and retained the most of the practices, of the Church of Rome. The government of the State constantly usurped to itself all the powers which it could wrest from the successor of St. Peter. The King was substituted for the Pope as head of the church, and the Parliament undertook to perform the office of the ecclesiastical councils, in regulating the faith of the people. Even to this day the British Parliament pretend to the right, and exercise the power, of prescribing to British subjects their religion; and, however unreasonable it may be, it is impossible to discard all human authority in the formation of religious belief. Faith itself, as defined by St. Paul, is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” But without an express revelation from Heaven, the formation of this hope, and the belief in the existence of this evidence, come not from the internal operations of the mind, but by tradition from others, by the authority of instruction. To deny, therefore, all human authority, in matters of religion, is to assert an abstract principle to which human practice cannot conform. Equally impracticable is it to control, by authority, the exercise of the faculties of the mind; and it is in universities, at the fountains of human knowledge, that the freedom of the mind has the most extensive range for operation. In England, the progress of the Reformation was continually entangled, not only with the affairs of the state, but with the passions and the caprices of the sovereign. When Luther first planted the standard of reformation at the University of Wittenberg, Henry the Eighth, uniting in himself the character of a dogmatist and a tyrant, published a book against him and his doctrines, from which he and all his successors have derived, from the pious gratitude of Leo the Tenth, the title of Defenders of the Faith; but when, losing his affection for his wife, he became enamoured with one of her maids of honor, he quickly learned from his angelic doctor, Thomas Aquinas, that the infallibility of the Pope could not legitimate his marriage with his brother’s widow. The plunder of the monasteries furnished him with reasons equally conclusive for turning heresy into law, and an obsequious Parliament and Convocation were always at hand to give the sanction of the law to the ever versatile tenets of the king. Sensuality and rapacity were, therefore, the most effective reformers of the errors of the Church of Rome in England. After his death, and that of his short-lived son, Mary, the daughter of Catherine of Arragon, restored the papal authority in all its despotism and all its cruelty; and Elizabeth, the daughter of Anne Boleyn, restored again the Protestant supremacy upon the ruin of the triple tiara. The history of the Reformation in England is, therefore, the history of the lascivious and brutal passions of Henry the Eighth; of the cruel and unmerited sufferings of his wives, and of the conflicting interests, bitter prejudices, and violent tempers of his two daughters. The principles of Elizabeth were not less arbitrary than those of her father; and her successors of the house of Stuart, James, and Charles the First, continued to countenance the Reformation just so far as its establishment contributed to the support and extension of their own temporal power; and to resist, with the most inveterate and bigoted spirit of persecution, every step of further advancement to restore to its pristine purity and simplicity the religion of the meek and lowly Jesus.

But even this half-way reformation, adulterated as it was by its connection with the government of the state, and with the passions of individuals, still leaned for its support from human reason upon the learning and intellect of the schools. When Henry the Eighth had exhausted all the resources of his temporal power, and of his personal influence, in the vain attempt to prevail upon the Pope to dissolve his marriage with Catherine, his last resort for authority to dissolve it was to the opinions of the universities.

The universities, in so far as their decisions were invited, were but too well versed in the ways of the world. To the eye of reason, of justice, and of humanity, nothing could be more unjustifiable than the dissolution of the marriage of Henry the Eighth and of Catherine of Arragon. There was no consanguinity between them. They were, indeed, within the Levitical degrees of prohibition; but this was a mere positive ordinance, to which, in that same law, the case of Henry and of Catherine formed an exception, under which their marriage was not only not forbidden, but commanded. They had been married twenty years; had several children, of whom Mary was living; and, base and brutal as the conduct of Henry was, he bore ample testimony, until and after her death, to the purity and tenderness and conjugal fidelity of Catherine. They had been married by a dispensation from the Pope, who often did, and has continued until this day to grant, without question from Roman Catholics, similar dispensations for marriages, even of persons in the blood relation of uncle and niece. The dissolution of such a marriage is, therefore, revolting to every honest and every generous sentiment; yet almost all the universities decided that the marriage was unlawful, and that the offspring of it was of spurious birth. Impartial readers of history will look back to this panderism of learning to the profligacy of Henry the Eighth, when they pass judgment upon the Catholic bigotry of Mary, and upon her bloody persecution of the Protestants when she came to the throne. But the universities are not to be estimated altogether by their decisions. These are warped by temporal interests and sordid passions; but it is the studies to which they afford access that constitute their glory. The authorities of the university might be exercised and abused by the expulsion of Locke or by the application of the scourge to the person of Milton, yet there it was that Milton and Locke drew the nutriment which made them the pride and glory of their country.

The English universities were the cradles of the New England colonies; and the Reformation was their nursing-mother. For although the successive kings and queens of England, with their sycophant Parliaments and Synods, could shape and mould the reformation of the law, according to the standard of their politics and their vices, they could not so control the march of mind in the universities. From the moment when the spell of human authority was broken, the right of private judgment resumed its functions; and when the student had been told that the only standard of faith was in the Scriptures, to prescribe creeds upon him under pains and penalties, however reasonable it might appear at White Hall, in St. Stephen’s Chapel, or in Leadenhall Street, was but inconsistency, absurdity, and tyranny at Cambridge and even at Oxford.

The unavoidable consequence of the exercise of private judgment is the diversity of faith. Human nature is so constituted, that in every thing relating to religion, different minds reasoning upon the same facts come to different conclusions. This diversity furnishes to the Church of Rome one of her most powerful arguments for the necessity of a common standard, to which all Christians may resort for the regulation of their faith; and the variations of the Protestant churches were the theme upon which the eloquent Bishop of Meaux expatiated with the greatest effect in his controversial writings for the conversion of heretics.

The investigating mind, however, cannot be arrested in its career. Henry the Eighth, Edward the Sixth, Mary, Elizabeth, and James could successively issue their edicts, commanding their subjects alternately to believe or disbelieve this or that tenet of the Romish Church, to invest the Pope with infallibility, or to strip him of that attribute, and they could apply the secular arm with equal efficacy to sustain truth or error. The right of private judgment for the regulation of faith was still the cornerstone of the Reformation, and however it might be suppressed in the corrupted currents of the world, it was enjoyed and had its full operation in the universities. Among the students, who resorted to them in search of education and science, there were numbers who gave the range of free inquiry to their minds, and who spurned the shackles of power. In the struggle between the government to arrest the progress of the Reformation, and individuals whose spirit could not be subdued, the fury of religious persecution could be satiated with nothing less than death as the punishment of non-conformity. Banishment, in other ages and for other crimes, considered as one of the severest of penalties, was an indulgence denied to the Puritans, and the first of the New England colonies was settled by fugitives from their country, who, at the peril of their lives, had escaped from the unrelenting tyranny of their native land.

The seminal principle of the New England colonies, therefore, was religious controversy; and, from this element of their constitution, different from the principle of all preceding colonies, ancient or modern, consequences followed such as the world had never before witnessed.

One of these consequences was that the founders of these colonies were men of finished education and profound learning. It was at the universities, and in the pursuit of learning, that they had imbibed the principles which they believed, by which they acted, and for which they suffered. Another consequence was, that the same founders of those colonies were men at once deeply conscientious and inflexibly firm. It was impossible that they should have adopted their principles without previous investigation, anxious and profound. The conclusions to which they came were sincere, and they believed them important beyond any thing that this world could give or take away. Every motive that could operate upon selfish passions or worldly interests pointed them to the opposite doctrines. The spirit of martyrdom alone dictated to them those which they espoused. The name of Puritans, given them by their oppressors in derision, was characteristic of their purposes and of their conduct. It was the object of their labors and of their aspirations to restore to its simplicity and purity the religion of Jesus; and they alone, of all the sectarian reformers, adapted their system of discipline and of church government to their professions. They were even in that age, and before their emigration, denominated Independents. Their form of church government was democratical. Any number of individuals residing in a neighborhood of each other, competent to meet together in social worship under the same roof, associated themselves by a mutual covenant, and formed a church. They elected, by a majority of votes, their pastors, teachers, ruling elders, and deacons. Each church was independent of all others; and they ordained their ministers by imposition of hands of the brethren themselves. They abolished all superstitious observances, all unscriptural fasts and festivals, all symbolical idolatries; but, with a solemn and rigorous devotion of the first day of the week to the worship of God, they appropriated a small part of one weekly day to a lecture preparatory for the Sabbath, one annual day, at the approach of spring, to humiliation before their Maker, and to prayer for his blessing upon the labors of the husbandman; and one day, towards the close of the year, in grateful thanksgiving to Heaven for the blessing of the harvest and the abundance of the fields.

Among the first fruits of this love and veneration for learning was the institution of Harvard College, within the first ten years after the arrival of Governor Winthrop. And with this was soon afterwards connected another institution, not less remarkable nor less operative upon the subsequent history and character of New England. In the year 1647, an ordinance of the General Court provided as follows: “To the end that learning may not be buried in the graves of our forefathers, in church and commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavors: It is therefore ordered by this court, and authority thereof, that every township within this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to the number of fifty householders, shall then forthwith appoint one within their towns to teach all such children as shall resort to him, to write and read, whose wages shall be paid, either by the parents or masters of such children or by the inhabitants in general, by way of supply, as the major part of those that order the prudentials of the town shall appoint; provided that those who send their children be not oppressed by paying much more than they can have them taught for in other towns.”

“And it is further ordered that where any town shall increase to the number of one hundred families or householders, they shall set up a grammar-school, the master thereof being able to instruct youth so far as they may be fitted for the university; and if any town neglect the performance hereof above one year, then every such town shall pay five pounds per annum to the next such school till they shall perform this order.”

This institution, requiring every town consisting of one hundred families or more, to maintain a grammar-school at which youths might be fitted for the university, was not only a direct provision for the instruction, but indirectly furnished a fund for the support of young men in penurious circumstances, immediately after having completed their collegiate career, and who became the teachers of these schools.

And thus it was that John Adams, shortly after receiving his degree of Bachelor of Arts at Harvard College, in the summer of 1755, became the teacher of the grammar-school in the town of Worcester.

He had not then completed the twentieth year of his age. Until then his paternal mansion, the house of a laboring farmer in a village of New England, and the walls of Harvard College, had formed the boundaries of his intercourse with the world. He was now introduced upon a more extensive, though still a very contracted theatre. A school of children is an epitome of the affairs and of many of the passions which agitate the bosoms of men. His situation brought him acquainted with the principal inhabitants of the place, nor could the peculiar qualities of his mind remain long altogether unnoticed among the individuals and families with whom he associated.

His condition, as the teacher of a school, was not and could not be a permanent establishment. Its emoluments gave but a bare and scanty subsistence. The engagement was but for a year. The compensation little above that of a common day-laborer. It was an expedient adopted merely to furnish a temporary supply to the most urgent wants of nature, to be purchased by the devotion of time, which would have otherwise been occupied in becoming qualified for the exercise of an active profession. To his active, vigorous, and inquisitive mind this situation was extremely irksome. But instead of suppressing, it did but stimulate its native energies. It is no slight indication of the extraordinary powers of his mind, that several original letters, written at that period of his life to his youthful acquaintance and friends, and of which he retained no copies, were preserved by the persons to whom they were written, transmitted as literary curiosities to their posterity, and, after the lapse of more than half a century, were restored to him, or appeared to his surprise in the public journals.

Of these letters, one of the earliest in date was addressed to his friend and kinsman, Nathan Webb, written on the 12th of October, 1755, while he was yet under twenty. Fifty-two years afterwards it was returned to him by the son of Mr. Webb, long after the decease of his father, and was then first published in the Boston Monthly Anthology. The following is an exact copy of the original letter yet extant.

John Adams

12 October, 1755


Nathan Webb

Worcester, 12 October, 1755

All that part of creation which lies within our observation, is liable to change. Even mighty states and kingdoms are not exempted.

If we look into history, we shall find some nations rising from contemptible beginnings, and spreading their influence till the whole globe is subjected to their sway. When they have reached the summit of grandeur, some minute and unsuspected cause commonly effects their ruin, and the empire of the world is transferred to some other place. Immortal Rome was at first but an insignificant village, inhabited only by a few abandoned ruffians; but by degrees it rose to a stupendous height, and excelled, in arts and arms, all the nations that preceded it. But the demolition of Carthage, (what one should think would have established it in supreme dominion,) by removing all danger, suffered it to sink into a debauchery, and made it at length an easy prey to barbarians.

England, immediately upon this, began to increase (the particular and minute causes of which I am not historian enough to trace) in power and magnificence, and is now the greatest nation upon the globe. Soon after the Reformation, a few people came over into this new world for conscience sake. Perhaps this apparently trivial incident may transfer the great seat of empire into America. It looks likely to me: for if we can remove the turbulent Gallicks, our people, according to the exactest computations, will in another century become more numerous than England itself. Should this be the case, since we have, I may say, all the naval stores of the nation in our hands, it will be easy to obtain the mastery of the seas; and then the united force of all Europe will not be able to subdue us. The only way to keep us from setting up for ourselves is to disunite us. Divide et impera. Keep us in distinct colonies, and then, some great men in each colony desiring the monarchy of the whole, they will destroy each others’ influence and keep the country in equilibrio.

Be not surprised that I am turned politician. This whole town is immersed in politics. The interests of nations, and all the dira of war, make the subject of every conversation. I sit and hear, and after having been led through a maze of sage observations, I sometimes retire, and by laying things together, form some reflections pleasing to myself. The produce of one of these reveries you have read above. Different employments and different objects may have drawn your thoughts other ways. I shall think myself happy, if in your turn you communicate your lucubrations to me.

I wrote you sometime since, and have waited with impatience for an answer, but have been disappointed.

I hope that the lady at Barnstable has not made you forget your friend. Friendship, I take it, is one of the distinguishing glories of man; and the creature that is insensible of its charms, though he may wear the shape of man, is unworthy of the character. In this, perhaps, we bear a nearer resemblance to unembodied intelligences than in any thing else. From this I expect to receive the chief happiness of my future life; and am sorry that fortune has thrown me at such a distance from those of my friends who have the highest place in my affections. But thus it is, and I must submit. But I hope ere long to return, and live in that familiarity that has from earliest infancy subsisted between yourself and affectionate friend,

John Adams.

It is not surprising that this letter should have been preserved. Perhaps there never was written a letter more characteristic of the head and heart of its writer. Had the political part of it been written by the minister of state of a European monarchy, at the close of a long life spent in the government of nations, it would have been pronounced worthy of the united penetration and experience of a Burleigh, a Sully, or an Oxenstiern. Had the ministers who guided the destinies of Great Britain, had Chatham himself, been gifted with the intuitive foresight of distant futurity, which marks the composition of this letter, Chatham would have foreseen that his conquest of Canada in the fields of Germany was, after all, but a shallow policy, and that divided colonies and the turbulent Gallicks were the only effectual guardians of the British empire in America.

It was the letter of an original meditative mind; a mind as yet aided only by the acquisitions then attainable at Harvard College, but formed, by nature, for statesmanship of the highest order. And the letter describes, with the utmost simplicity, the process of operation in the mind which had thus turned politician. The whole town was immersed in politics. It was in October of the year 1755, that year “never to be forgotten in America,” Endnote 019 the year memorable by the cruel expulsion of the neutral French from Nova Scotia, by Braddock’s defeat, and by the abortive expedition under Sir William Johnson against Crown Point. For the prosecution of the war, then just commenced between France and Britain, and of which the dominion of the North American continent was to be the prize, the General Court of Massachusetts Bay, but a short month before this letter was written, had held an unprecedented extraordinary session, convened by the lieutenant-governor of the province; and, sitting every day, including the Sabbath, from the 5th to the 9th of September, had made provision for raising within the province an additional force of two thousand men. Such was the zeal of the inhabitants for the annihilation of the French power in America! The interests of nations and the dira of war made the subject of every conversation. The ken of the stripling schoolmaster reached far beyond the visible horizon of that day. He listened in silence to the sage observations through which he was led by the common talk of the day, and then, in his solitary reflections, looked for the revelation of the future to the history of the past; and in one bold outline exhibited by anticipation a long succession of prophetic history, the fulfilment of which is barely yet in progress, responding exactly hitherto to his foresight, but the full accomplishment of which is reserved for the development of after ages. The extinction of the power of France in America, the union of the British North American colonies, the achievement of their independence, and the establishment of their ascendency in the community of civilized nations by the means of their naval power, are all foreshadowed in this letter, with a clearness of perception, and a distinctness of delineation, which time has hitherto done little more than to convert into historical fact; and the American patriot can scarcely implore from the bounty of providence for his country a brighter destiny than a realization of the remainder of this prediction, as exact as that upon which time has already set his seal.