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John Adams thought the day of celebration would be the Second Day of July, 1776 not the Fourth, but otherwise got it exactly right:
I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.
In looking for those lines, I got caught up in the John Adams papers. It’s just an astonishing thing to be able to peruse the entire Adams archives from my couch. For all that I grow increasingly sure that the Internet will be the undoing of the Republic, I’m thankful for the gift. Let me share, on Independence Day, some remarks from our Second President. In no special order and for no special reason but that they seemed like something to share.
Aug. 28, 1774, from John to Abigail: I am anxious for our perplexed, distressed Province-hope they will be directed into the right Path. Let me intreat you, my Dear, to make yourself as easy and quiet as possible. Resignation to the Will of Heaven is our only Resource in such dangerous Times. Prudence and Caution should be our Guides. I have the strongest Hopes, that We shall yet see a clearer Sky, and better Times. …
The Education of our Children is never out of my Mind. Train them to Virtue, habituate them to industry, activity, and Spirit. Make them consider every Vice, as shamefull and unmanly: fire them with Ambition to be usefull-make them disdain to be destitute of any usefull, or ornamental Knowledge or Accomplishment. Fix their Ambition upon great and solid Objects, and their Contempt upon little, frivolous, and useless ones. [It] is Time, my dear, for you to begin to teach them French. Every Decency, Grace, and Honesty should be inculcated upon them.
Oct. 9, 1774, from John to Abigail: This Afternoons Entertainment was to me, most awfull and affecting. The poor Wretches, fingering their Beads, chanting Latin, not a Word of which they understood, their Pater Nosters and Ave Maria’s. Their holy Water-their Crossing themselves perpetually-their Bowing to the Name of Jesus, their wherever they hear it-their Bowings, and Kneelings, and Genuflections before the Altar. The Dress of the Priest was rich with Lace-his Pulpit was Velvet and Gold. The Altar Piece was very rich-little Images and Crucifixes about-Wax Candles lighted up. But how shall I describe the Picture of our Saviour in a Frame of Marble over the Altar at full Length upon the Cross, in the Agonies, and the Blood dropping and streaming from his Wounds. The Musick consisting of an organ, and a Choir of singers, went all the Afternoon, excepting sermon Time, and the Assembly chanted-most sweetly and exquisitely. Here is every Thing which can lay hold of the Sight Eye, Ear, and Imagination. Every Thing which can charm and bewitch the simple and ignorant. I wonder how Luther ever broke the spell.
July 17, 1775, from John to Abigail: I never observe in the World, an Example, of any Person brought to Poverty from Affluence, from Health to Distemper, from Fame to Disgrace by the Vices and Follies of the age, but it throws me into a deep Rumination upon Education. My poor Children, I fear will loose some Advantages in Point of Education, from my continual Absence from them. Truth, Sobriety, Industry should be[perpetually] inculcated upon them. Pray my dear, let them be taught Geography and the Art of copying as well as drawing Plans of Cities, Provinces, Kingdoms, and Countries — especially of America. I have found great Inconvenience for Want of this Art, since I have had to contemplate America so much, and since I had to study the Processes and Operations of War. But their Honour, Truth, in one Word their Morals, are of most importance. I hope these will be kept pure.
October 29, 1775, from John to Abigail: Human nature with all its infirmities and depravation is still capable of great things. It is capable of attaining to degrees of wisdom and of goodness, which, we have reason to believe, appear respectable in the estimation of superior intelligences. Education makes a greater difference between man and man, than nature has made between man and brute. The virtues and powers to which men may be trained, by early education and constant discipline, are truly sublime and astonishing. Newton and Locke are examples of the deep sagacity which may be acquired by long habits of thinking and study. … It should be your care, therefore, and mine, to elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage; to accelerate and animate their industry and activity; to excite in them an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to a excel in [illegible] every capacity, faculty, and virtue. If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives.
July 3, 1776, from John to Abigail: Yesterday the greatest Question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater perhaps, never was or will be decided among Men. A Resolution was passed without one dissenting Colony “that these united Colonies, are, and of right ought to be free and independent States, and as such, they have, and of Right ought to have full Power to make War, conclude Peace, establish Commerce, and to do all the other Acts and Things, which other States may rightfully do.” You will see in a few days a Declaration setting forth the Causes, which have impell’d Us to this mighty Revolution, and the Reasons which will justify it, in the Sight of God and Man. A Plan of Confederation will be taken up in a few days.
When I look back to the Year 1761, and recollect the Argument concerning Writs of Assistance, in the Superiour Court, which I have hitherto considered as the Commencement of the Controversy, between Great Britain and America, and run through the whole Period from that Time to this, and recollect the series of political Events, the Chain of Causes and Effects, I am surprized at the Suddenness, as well as Greatness of this Revolution. Britain has been fill’d with Folly, and America with Wisdom, at least this is my judgment. — Time must determine. It is the Will of Heaven, that the two Countries should be sundered forever. It may be the Will of Heaven that America shall suffer Calamities still more wasting and Distresses yet more dreadfull. If this is to be the Case, it will have this good Effect, at least: it will inspire Us with many Virtues, which We have not, and correct many Errors, Follies, and Vices, which threaten to disturb, dishonour, and destroy Us. — The Furnace of Affliction produces Refinement, in States as well as Individuals. And the new Governments we are assuming, in every Part, will require a Purification from our Vices, and an Augmentation of our Virtues or they will be no Blessings. The People will have unbounded Power. And the People are extreamly addicted to Corruption and Venality, as well as the Great. I am not without Apprehensions from this Quarter. But I must submit all my Hopes and Fears, to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable [ as] the Faith may be, I firmly believe.
July 21, 1776, from Abigail to John: Last Thursday after hearing a very Good Sermon I went with the Multitude into Kings Street to hear the proclamation for independance read and proclamed. Some Field peices with the Train were brought there, the troops appeard under Arms and all the inhabitants assembled there (the small pox prevented many thousand from the Country). When Col. Crafts read from the Belcona of the State House the Proclamation, great attention was given to every word. As soon as he ended, the cry from the Belcona, was God Save our American States and then 3 cheers which rended the air, the Bells rang, the privateers fired, the forts and Batteries, the cannon were discharged, the platoons followed and every face appeard joyfull.Mr. Bowdoin then gave a [illegible] Sentiment, Stability and perpetuity to American independance. After dinner the kings arms were taken down from the State House and every vestage of him from every place in which it appeard and burnt in King Street. Thus ends royall Authority in this State, and all the people shall say Amen.
May 18 1777, from Abigail to John: Infidelity has been a growing part of the British character for many years. It is not so much to be wonderd at that those who pay no regard to a Supreeme Being should throw of all regard to their fellow creatures and to those precepts and doctrines which require peace and good will to Men; and in a perticuliar manner distinguish the followers of him who hath said by this shall all Men know that ye are my deciples if ye have love one towards an other.
Let them reproach us ever so much for our kindness and tenderness to those who have fallen into our Hands, I hope it will never provoke us to retaliate their cruelties; let us put it as much as posible out of their power to injure us, but let us keep in mind the precepts of him who hath commanded us to Love our Enemies; and to excercise towards them acts of Humanity, Benevolence and Kindness, even when they despitefully use us.
And here suffer me to quote an Authority which you greatly Esteem, Dr. Tillotson. It is commonly said that revenge is sweet, but to a calm and considerate mind, patience and forgiveness are sweeter, and do afford a much more rational, and solid and durable pleasure than revenge. The monuments of our Mercy and goodness are a far more pleasing and delightfull Spectacle than of our rage and cruelty, and no sort of thought does usually haunt men with more Terror, than the reflexion upon what they have done in the way of Revenge.
If our cause is just, it will be best supported by justice and righteousness. Tho we have many other crimes to answer for, that of cruelty to our Enemies is not chargable upon Americans, and I hope never will be — if we have err’d it is upon the side of Mercy and have excercised so much lenity to our Enemies as to endanger our Friends — but their Malice and wicked designs against us, has and will oblige every State to proceed against them with more Rigor. Justice and self preservation are duties as much incumbant upon christians, as forgiveness and Love of Enemies.
May 22, 1777, from John to Abigail: I believe there is no one Principle, which predominates in human Nature so much in every stage of Life, from the Cradle to the Grave, in Males and females, old and young, black and white, rich and poor, high and low, as this Passion for Superiority …. Every human Being compares itself in its own Imagination, with every other round about it, and will find some Superiority over every other real or imaginary, or it will die of Grief and Vexation. I have seen it among Boys and Girls at school, among Lads at Colledge, among Practicers at the Bar, among the Clergy in their Associations, among Clubbs of Friends, among the People in Town Meetings, among the Members of an House of Reps. [Representatives], among the Grave Councillors, on the more solemn Bench of justice, and in that awfully August Body the Congress, and on many of its Committees — and among Ladies every Where — But I never saw it operate with such Keenness, Ferocity and Fury, as among military Officers. They will go terrible Lengths, in their Emulations, their Envy and Revenge, in Consequence of it.
So much for Philosophy. — I hope my five or six Babes are all well. My Duty to my Mother and your Father and Love to sisters and Brothers, Aunts and Uncles.
Pray how does your Asparagus perform?
June 29, 1778, from John to Abigail: Tell Mr. John, that I am under no Apprehensions about his Proficiency in Learning. With his Capacity, and Opportunities, he can not fail to acquire Knowledge. But let him know, that the moral Sentiments of his Heart, are more important than the Furniture of his Head. Let him be sure that he possesses the great Virtues of Temperance, Justice, Magnanimity, Honour and Generosity, and with these added to his Parts he cannot fail to become a wise and great Man.
Does he read the Newspapers? The Events of this War, should not pass unobserved by him at his Years.
As he reads History you should ask him, what Events strike him most? What Characters he esteems and admires? which he hates and abhors? which he despises?
No doubt he makes some Observations, young as he is.
Treachery, Perfidy, Cruelty, Hypocrisy, Avarice, &c. &c. should be pointed out to him for his Contempt as well as Detestation.
My dear Daughters Education is near my Heart. She will suffer by this War as well as her Brothers. But she is a modest, and discreet Child. Has an excellent Disposition, as well as Understanding. Yet I wish it was in my Power, to give her the Advantages of several Accomplishments, which it is not.
August 20, 1777, from John to Abigail: I feel an Inclination sometimes, to write the History of the last Three Years, in Imitation of Thucidides. There is a striking Resemblance, in several Particulars, between the Peloponnesian and the American War. The real Motive to the former was a jealousy of the growing Power of Athens, by Sea and Land . . . . The genuine Motive to the latter, was a similar Jealousy of the growing Power of America. The true Causes which incite to War, are seldom professed, or Acknowledged.
December 15, 1777, John to Abigail: One Evening, as I satt in one Room, I overheard Company of the Common sort of People in another, conversing upon serious subjects. One of them, whom I afterwards found upon Enquiry to be a reputable, religious Man, was more eloquent than the rest-he was upon the Danger of despizing and neglecting serious Things. Said whatever Person or People made light of them would soon find themselves terribly mistaken. At length I heard these Words — “it appears to me the eternal son of God is opperating Powerfully against the British Nation for their treating lightly serious Things.”
June 3, 1778, from John to Abigail (from France): It would be endless to attempt a Description of this Country. It is one great Garden. Nature and Art have conspired to render every Thing here delightful. Religion and Government, you will say ought to be excepted. — With all my Heart. — But these are no Afflictions to me, because I have well fixed it in my Mind as a Principle, that every Nation has a Right to that Religion and Government, which it chooses, and as long as any People please themselves in these great Points, I am determined they shall not displease me.
There is so much danger that my Letter may fall into malicious Hands, that I should not choose to be too free in my Observations upon the Customs and Manners of this People. But thus much I may say with Truth and without offence, that there is no People in the World, who take so much Pains to please, nor any whose Endeavours in this Way, have more success. Their Arts, Manners, Taste and Language are more respected in Europe than those of any other Nation. Luxury, dissipation, and Effeminacy, are pretty nearly at the same degree of Excess here, and in every other Part of Europe. The great Cardinal Virtue of Temperance, however, I believe flourishes here more than in any other Part of Europe.My dear Country men! how shall I perswade you, to avoid the Plague of Europe? Luxury has as many and as bewitching Charms, on your Side of the Ocean as on this-and Luxury, wherever she goes, effaces from human Nature the Image of the Divinity. If I had Power I would forever banish and exclude from America, all Gold, silver, precious stones, Alabaster, Marble, Silk, Velvet and Lace.
Oh the Tyrant! the American Ladies would say! What! — Ay, my dear Girls, these Passions of yours, which are so easily allarmed, and others of my own sex which are exactly like them, have done and will do the Work of Tyrants in all Ages. Tyrants different from me, whose Power has banished, not Gold indeed, but other Things of greater Value, Wisdom, Virtue and Liberty.
November 12, 1778, from Abigail to John: I will not finish the sentance, my Heart denies the justice of the acqusation, nor does it believe your affection in the least diminished by distance or absence, but my Soul is wounded at a Seperationfrom you, and my fortitude all dissolved in frailty and weakness. When I cast my Eye thoughts across the Atlantick and view the distance, the dangers and Hazards which you have already passd through, and to which you must probably be again exposed, e’er we shall meet again, the Time of your absence unlimitted, all all conspire to cast a Gloom over my solitary hours, and bereave me of all domestick felicity. In vain do I strive to through of [throw off] in the company of my Friends some of the anxiety of my Heart, it increases in proportion to my endeavours to conceal it; the only alleiviation I know of would be a frequent intercourse by Letters unrestrained by the apprehension of their becomeing food for our Enemies. The affection I feel for my Friend is of the tenderest kind, matured by years, sanctified by choise and approved by Heaven. Angles can witness to its purity, what care I then for the Ridicule of Britains should this testimony of it fall into their Hands, nor can I endure that so much caution and circumspection on your part should deprive me of the only consolation consolor of your absence — a consolation that our Enemies enjoy in a much higher degree than I do.
December 2, 1778, from John to Abigail: Last Night a Friend from England brought me the Kings Speech. Their Delirium continues, and they go on with the War, but the, Speech betrays a manifest Expectation that Spain will join against them, and the Debates betray a dread of Holland. They have Reason, for both.
They have not, and cannot get an Ally. They cannot send any considerable Reinforcement to America.
Your Reflections upon the Rewards of the Virtuous Friends of the, public are very just. But if Virtue was to be rewarded with Wealth it would not be Virtue. If Virtue was to be rewarded with Fame, it would not be Virtue of the sublimest Kind. Who would not rather [illegible] be Fabricius than Caesar? Who would not rather be Aristides, than even [William] the 3d? Who? Nobody would be of this Mind but Aristides and Fabricius.
These Characters are very rare, but the more prescious. Nature has made more Insects than Birds, more Butterflys than Eagles, more Foxes than Lyons, more Pebbles than Diamonds. The most excellent of her Productions, both in the physical, intellectual and moral World, are the most rare. — I would not be a Butterfly because Children run after them, nor because the dull Phylosophers boast of them in their Cabinets.
Have you ever read J. J. Rousseau. If not, read him — your Cousin smith has him. What a Difference between him and Chesterfield, and even Voltaire? But he was too virtuous for the Age, and for Europe. I wish I could not say for another Country.
May 13: Some hints about Language, and glances about Women, produced this Observation, that there were two Ways of learning french commonly recommended — take a Mistress and go to the Commedie. Dr. Brookes in high good Humour Pray Sir, which in your Opinion is the best? Answer in as good Humour — Perhaps both would teach it soonest, to be sure sooner than either. But, continued I, assuming my Gravity, the Language is no where better spoken than at the Comedie. The Pulpit, the Bar, the Accademie of Sciences, and the faculty of Medicine, none of them speak so accurately as the french Comedie.
May 14: On Board all day, ill of a Cold. Many Gentlemen came on board to visit me. A Dr. Brooks, Surgeon to the Poor Richard, drank Tea with me. He seems to be well acquainted with Philosophical Experiments. I led him to talk upon this subject. He had much to say about Phlogiston, fixed Air, Gas &c. About absolute and sensible Heat, Experiments with the Thermometer, to shew the absolute and sensible Heat in Water, Air, Blood &c. Finding he had Ideas of these Things, I led him to talk of the Ascent of Vapours in the Atmosphere, and I found he had considered this subject.
May 16: My Son could not comprehend why they should be so fond of Iron. He was told that Iron made the principal Difference between savage and civilised Nations. That all Arts and Manufactures depended upon Iron &c.
June 12: Beggars, Servants, Garcons, Filles, Decroteurs, Blanchisseuses. Barges, Batteaux, Bargemen. Coffee houses, Taverns. Servants at the Gates of Woods and Walks. Fruit, Cakes. Ice Creams. Spectacles. Tailors for setting a Stitch in Cloaths. Waiters for running with Errands, Cards &c. Cabbin Boys. Coach Hire. Walking Canes. Pamphlets. Ordonances. Carts.
June 23: Is there not one Catholic, said M.M.? Not a German Church said I. There is a Roman catholic Church in Philadelphia, a very decent Building, frequented by a respectable Congregation, consisting partly of Germans, partly of French and partly of Irish. — All Religions are tolerated in America, said M.M., and the Ambassadors have in all Courts a Right to a Chappell in their own Way. But Mr. Franklin never had any. — No said I, laughing, because Mr. F. had no — I was going to say, what I did not say, and will not say here. I stopped short and laughed. — No, said Mr. M., Mr. F. adores only great Nature, which has interested a great many People of both Sexes in his favour. — Yes, said I, laughing, all the Atheists, Deists and Libertines, as well as the Philosophers and Ladies are in his Train — another Voltaire and Hume. — Yes said Mr. M., he is celebrated as the great Philosopher and the great Legislator of America. — He is said I a great Philosopher, but as a Legislator of America he has done very little. It is universally believed in France, England and all Europe, that his Electric Wand has accomplished all this Revolution but nothing is more groundless. He has [done] very little. It is believed that he made all the American Constitutions, and their Confederation. But he made neither …
Monday July 1. 1776. I am not able to recollect, whether it was on this day, or some preceeding day, that the greatest and most solemn debate was had on the question of Independence. The Subject had been in Contemplation for more than a Year and frequent discussions had been had concerning it. At one time and another, all the Arguments for it and against it had been exhausted and were become familiar. I expected no more would be said in public but that the question would be put and decided. Mr. Dickinson however was determined to bear his Testimony against it with more formality. He had prepared himself apparently with great Labourand ardent Zeal, and in a Speech of great Length, and all his Eloquence, he combined together all that had before been written in Pamphlets and News papers and all that had from time to time been said in Congress by himself and others. He conducted the debate, not only with great Ingenuity and Eloquence, but with equal Politeness and Candour: and was answered in the same Spirit.
No Member rose to answer him: and after waiting some time, in hopes that some one less obnoxious than myself, who was still had been all along for a Year before, and still was represented and believed to be the Author of all the Mischief, I determined to speak.
It has been said by some of our Historians, that I began by an Invocation to the God of Eloquence. This is a Misrepresentation. Nothing so puerile as this fell from me. I began by saying that this was the first time of my Life that I had ever wished for the Talents and Eloquence of the ancient Orators of Greece and Rome, for I was very sure that none of them ever had before him a question of more Importance to his Country and to the World. They would probably upon less Occasions than this have begun by solemn Invocations to their Divinities for Assistance but the Question before me appeared so simple, that I had confidence enough in the plain Understanding and common Sense that had been given me, to believe that I could answer to the Satisfaction of the House all the Arguments which had been produced, notwithstanding the Abilities which had been displayed and the Eloquence with which they had been enforced. Mr. Dickinson, some years afterwards published his Speech. I had made no Preparation beforehand and never committed any minutes of mine to writing. But if I had a Copy of Mr. Dickinsons before me I would now after Eight and Nine and twenty Years have elapsed, endeavour to recollect mine. …
January 3, 1797, From John to Abigail (as President): I had a Visit Yesterday from Mr. De L’Etombe which I consider as an intended beginning of Intercourse. He disclaimed all authority. It was a Visit of a Man, a Philosopher and an Acquaintance of Eighteen Years. It was to assure and convince me that the Directory never had a thought of interfering in our Election, not a Wish to oppose me or impose any other &c. A long Conversation ensued too long to state now at length. I told him in Brief that I must Support the Courts taken of the United States, and the system of impartial Neutrality but, if belligerent Powers, untill it should be other wise ordained by Congress — consistent with that Duties I should be allways friendly to the French. He went away professing to be well satisfied. …
Editor’s note: I had a lot I meant to get done today, including sending thank-you notes to many of you. And chores that have been piling up for the past month. But I seem to have lost the entire Fourth of July to the Adams archive.
Ah, well. There are worse ways to spend the Fourth of July.
Please enjoy the Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations. I’ll just stay right here with John, having a good long chat with him about the delights of Paris and the highly overrated Benjamin Franklin.
(Further note: Abigail repeatedly implores John to burn her letters. She meant it, I think. I feel badly about this, as if I’m invading her privacy over the centuries.)
(Further further note: What’s up with John and Benjamin? Why was he so jealous? Does anyone know?)