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Letter to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776

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Morning

To Abigail:

Your favor of June 17, dated Plymouth, was handed me yesterday by the post. I was much pleased to find that you had taken a journey to Plymouth to see your friends, in the long absence of one whom you may wish to see. The excursion will be an amusement, and will serve your health. How happy would it have made me to have taken this journey with you!

I was informed, day or two before the receipt of your letter, that you were gone to Plymouth, by Miss P., who was obliging enough to inform me, in your absence, of the particulars of the expedition to the Lower Harbor, against the men of war. – Her narration is executed with a precision and perspicuity which would have become the pen of an accomplished historian.

I am very glad you had so good an opportunity of seeing one of our little American men of war. Many ideas, new to you, must have presented themselves in such a scene; and you will in future better understand the relations of a sea engagement.

I rejoice extremely in Dr. Bulfinch’s petition for leave to open an Hospital. But I hope the business will be done upon a larger scale. I hope that one Hospital will be licensed in every country, if not in every town. I am happy to find you resolved to be with the children in the first class. Mr. W. and Mrs. Q. are cleverly through inoculation in this city.

I have one favor to ask, and that is, that in your future letters you would acknowledge the receipt of all those you may receive from me, and mention their dates; by this means I shall know if any of mine miscarry.

The information you give me of our friend’s refusing his appointment, has given me much pain, grief, and anxiety, I believe I shall be obliged to follow his example. I have not fortune enough to support family, and, what is of more importance, to support the dignity of that exalted station. It is too high and lifted up for me, who delight in nothing so much as retreat, solitude, silence, and obscurity. In private life, no one has a right to censure me for following my own inclinations in retirement, in simplicity and frugality; but in public life every man has a right to remark as he pleases; at least he thinks so.

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 impelled 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 of 1761 and recollect the argument concerning writs of assistance in the superior 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 surprised 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 distressing yet more dreadful. If this is to be the case, it will have this good effect, at least: it will inspire us will many virtues, which we have not, and correct many errors, follies, and vices, which threaten to disturb, dishonor, 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 extremely 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.

John Adams

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Philadelphia

July 3, 1776

Evening

To Abigail:

Had a declaration of independence been made seven months ago, it would have been attended with many great and glorious effects. We might, before this hour, have formed alliance with foreign states. We should have mastered Quebec, and been in possession of Canada.

You will, perhaps, wonder how such a declaration would have influenced our affairs in Canada; but, if I could write with freedom, I could easily convince you that it would, and explain to you the manner how. Many gentlemen in high stations, and of great influence, have been duped, by the ministerial bubble of commissioners, to treat; and, in real, sincere expectation of this event, which they so fondly wished, they have been slow and languid in promoting measures for the reduction of that province. Others there are in the colonies, who really wished that our enterprise in Canada would be defeated; that the colonies might be brought into danger and distress between two fires, and be thus induced to submit. Others really wished to defeat the expedition to Canada, lest the conquest of it should elevate the minds of the people to much to hearken to those terms of reconciliation which they believed would be offered to us. These jarring views, wishes, and designs, occasioned an opposition to many salutary measures which were proposed for the support of that expedition, and caused obstructions embarrassments, and studied delays, which have finally lost us the province.

All causes, however, in conjunction, would not have disappointed us, if it had not been for a misfortune which could not have been foreseen, and perhaps could not have been prevented – I mean the prevalence of the smallpox among our troops. This fatal pestilence completed our destruction. It is a frown of Providence upon us, which we ought to lay to heart.

But, on the other hand, the delay of this declaration to this time has many great advantages attending it. The hopes of reconciliation which were fondly entertained by multitudes of honest an well meaning, though short-sighted and mistaken people, have been gradually, and at last totally, extinguished. Time has been given for the whole people maturely to consider the great question of independence, and to ripen their judgment, dissipate their fears, and allure their hopes, by discussing it in newspapers and pamphlets – by debating it in assemblies, conventions, committees of safety and inspection – in town and country meetings, as well as in private conversations; so that the whole people, in every colony, have now adopted it as their own act. This will cement the union, and avoid those heats, and perhaps convulsions, which might have been occasioned by such a declaration six months ago.

But the day is past. The second day of July, 1776, will be memorable epocha in the history of America. 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, shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forever.

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 light and glory; I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph, although you and I may rue, which I hope we shall not.

John Adams