DescriptionJohn Adams Superb Autograph Letter Signed: The 81-year-old former President reflects upon his old literary acquaintances in London who "have departed to a World where I hope there are neither Politicks or Wars," yearns to visit London but realizes he "must soon commence an Eternity in other Worlds as I hope and believe," and speculates that Americans "have been very clever young Fellows to preserve a Peace of thirty Years when all your Europe was in flames."
Signed: "John Adams," one page, 7.75" x 9.75". Quincy, April 27, 1817. To Richard Sharp Esq, M.P. In full: "Dear Sir, Mr. Theodore Lyman, junr, a Gentleman of a studious, inquisitive and irreproachable Character, is ardently desirous of Seeing Gentle men of Letters in England. The few, that I had the pleasure to know, excepting one or two, have departed to a World where I hope there are neither Politicks or Wars. By the information I have received from my Son and grandson of your remembrance of me, I am encouraged to give Mr. Lyman this Simple introduction to you. His Father and other Connections are wealthy and very respectable, Quite friendly enough to Great Britain. What would I give? What would I not give? to spend a month in London. But I must soon commence an Eternity, in other Worlds as I hope and believe. Our Vanity has been tolerably well gratified by the last War. We are now in profound tranquility, More United and unanimous than ever. How long this calm will last; how soon the Winds may rise, I know not. I think, however, upon the whole We have been very clever young Fellows to preserve a Peace of thirty Years, when all your Europe was in flames, and all of you constantly Studying to Spread your fires into our very combustible Wilderness. I am, Sir, with very pleasing Recollections, your Friend." The integral leaf is addressed, not by Adams, to "Richard Sharp Esq./London." With two photographs of engraved portraits of Theodore Lyman, Jr.
John Adams was a Member of the Continental Congress (1774-1777), signed the Declaration of Independence, and proposed George Washington to be General of the American Army. In 1785, he was appointed the first U.S. Minister to Great Britain. Adams sailed for London, presented his credentials to King George III on June 1, 1785, and served until February 20, 1788. On February 4, 1789, George Washington was elected first President of the United States and John Adams was elected the first Vice President. They were reelected in 1792. In 1796, Washington declined a third term. John Adams was elected second President and served from 1797-1801. When his term ended, he retired to his home in Quincy, Massachusetts. Adams was 81 when he wrote this letter. Life expectancy at the time was well under 40 years so it is understandable that Adams would be thinking of his own mortality as he wrote this letter. Adams lived another nine years, dying at 90 on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after the Declaration of Independence.
Richard Sharp (1759-1835) was one of the great talkers of British society and was commonly known as "Conversation" Sharp. He was very friendly with most of the poets of his day including William Wordsworth (1770-1850), Lord Byron (1788-1824), and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834). Sharp was a Whig Member of Parliament from 1806-1812 and 1816-1819, and an original member of the Literary Society founded in 1806. At one time he contemplated writing a history of the establishment of American independence, an undertaking encouraged by his close friend, John Adams.
John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), the son Adams mentions in this letter, had been serving as U.S. Minister to Great Britain since 1815. After James Monroe was inaugurated President on March 4, 1817, eight weeks before this letter was written, John Quincy Adams was named as Secretary of State. Attorney General Richard Rush acted as Secretary of State until September when Adams returned from London, and then Rush sailed for England to succeed Adams as U.S. Minister. That is why John Adams sent this letter of introduction to Sharp and not to his son, the U.S. Minister to England.
John Adams Smith (1788-1854) is the grandson Adams refers to in this letter. The son of John Adams' eldest child, Abigail Adams Smith, John was in London from 1815-1817 as secretary to his mother's brother, his uncle, U.S. Minister John Quincy Adams.
Theodore Lyman, Jr. (1792-1849) was the son of Theodore Lyman, Sr., who, in 1788, moved from Kennebunk, Maine, where he was a shipbuilder, to Boston. Becoming a merchant, he made a fortune in West Indies trade. He was among the first to send ships to the Pacific coast for furs. Lyman, Jr., had visited Europe (1812-1814) after his 1810 Harvard graduation and was returning there with future American statesman Edward Everett, a classmate at Harvard. Returning to the United States in 1819, Lyman served as aide-de-camp to Governor John Brooks of Massachusetts from 1819-1822. In the presidential elections of 1824 and 1828, he opposed John Quincy Adams. A leader of the Federalist wing of the Jacksonian party, and, by then, one of Boston's wealthiest men, Lyman served as Mayor of Boston from 1833-1835. He devoted the rest of his life to philanthropy.
The phrase "Era of Good Feeling" was first used in the Boston newspaper, Columbian Centinel, on July 12, 1817, following a visit to Boston by President Monroe, to describe the mood of the American people, now free from the influence of European political and military events. In this letter, penned three months earlier, John Adams calls the mood "profound tranquility." The War of 1812 ("the last War") ended in 1815, ushering in the "Era of Good Feeling" which lasted until the end of Monroe's presidency in 1825. Adams, referring to the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, must have been smiling when he concluded this letter to a member of the British Parliament, opining that "upon the whole We have been very clever young Fellows to preserve a Peace of thirty Years, when all your Europe was in flames...."
This outstanding letter, in extra fine condition, provides an insight into the philosophic mind of the fiercely independent, opinionated American revolutionary and orator, whose life spanned nine decades of American history. Age did not dim his astuteness. From the Gary Grossman Collection.
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