"We have sacrificed our Lives our Families our Popularity, our Reputations our Pleasures our Comforts to the Publick"John Adams Autograph Letter Signed "John Adams" to Vice President Elbridge Gerry. Two pages (one sheet), 8" x 10", Quincy [Massachusetts], April 26, 1813. In this remarkably intimate and honest letter to his close friend of many decades, Founding Father John Adams touches upon important historical events that had shaped the course of American history during the previous forty years -- the Revolution, the sacrifice and fate of the Signers (and the sadness at their passing), the U.S. Constitution, the XYZ Affair and more - while lamenting the end of a historically significant era. The letter exhibits very smooth folds and is moderately age-toned. Pin holes exist along the far left margin, and the tip of the lower right corner is missing. Two minor discolorations exist on the reverse, one likely due to the original wax seal. Adams wrote with dark ink (only nominal bleedthrough is apparent) with only a minor smudge affecting the "h" in the signature. In spite of those very minor details, this letter remains in remarkable condition.
After he was defeated in the presidential election of 1800 by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams (1735-1826) retired to private life in Massachusetts as a gentleman farmer. (His retirement, which lasted twenty-five years, is the longest retirement of any president besides Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter, and Gerald Ford.) During this time, he corresponded with many of his old friends, including Gerry, a former congressman from Massachusetts and the current vice president under President James Madison. The two had been friends for decades - both were from Massachusetts and had graduated Harvard. Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814), like Adams, served in the Continental Congress and was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. While president, Adams had sent Gerry, along with John Marshall and Charles Pinckney, to represent American interests in France. While the three were in France, the dramatic XYZ Affair erupted after Minister Tallyrand demanded a bribe, which the Americans refused to pay. The two nations then entered a quasi-war. President Adams, knowing a war with France could not be won, diplomatically avoided conflict but hurt his chances of reelection.
In this eloquent letter written twelve years after his presidency and thirteen years before his death, Adams touches on many historically significant topics: he laments that a monument to the American Revolution has not been raised; he asks for a lost pamphlet regarding Gerry's controversy with Massachusetts' colonial governor Thomas Hutchinson; he refuses Gerry's insistence that he consider writing "an History of the Revolution"; and he grieves the recent death, just seven days earlier, of Benjamin Rush ("Rush has not left his equal in America") and other signers of the Declaration ("How few remain. Three in Massachusetts I believe are a Majority of the Surviving Signers of a Declaration which has had too much Credit in the World, and the Expence of the most of its Signers"). (When Adams wrote this letter, only six signers lived, including himself, Gerry, and Thomas Jefferson). Adams also brings up the XYZ Affair.
Further, Adams distanced the Founding Fathers from what he called in this letter "the Politicians," those who were interested only in financial gain. Adams tells Gerry that he, just like himself, had been "hurt by your country. . . . We have sacrificed our Lives our Families our Popularity, our Reputations our Pleasures our Comforts to the Publick; while the Politicians have accumulated Fortunes, Palaces in the City and Pillars in the Country." Unlike those "politicians," Adams emphasizes that he had braved "the Imputation of Vanity and Egotism by recording Facts that no other human Beings know," something that would benefit the United States "sometime or other."
The letter reads in part: "Although Governor [Thomas] Gage's Prediction to General Jo. Warren has not yet been fully accomplished in this country, yet as his observation was suggested by History, it will be found too just, some time or other. Selfishness has disappointed the Hopes of Patriotism and Philanthropy in all ages, not only in England at the Period of her Commonwealth. . . .
Had your Motion in Congress been adopted, and a Man of Sense and Letters appointed in each State to collect Memorials of the Rise Progress and Termination of the Revolution: we should now possess a monument of more inestimable value than all the Histories and Orations that have been written. The Few, if they are not more selfish than the Many, are more cunning; and all the Ages of the World, have not produced such glaring proofs of it, as the History of this Country for the last thirty years. I look back with astonishment at the Height and Depth, the Length and Breadth of this Stupendous Fabrick of Artifice. If I had suspicions of the Depravity of our Politicians, I had no Idea of their Genius. That Mr. Jay the President of Congress when your motion was made, admired it is no surprise to me. His head could conceive and his heart feel the importance of it.
Your allusion to the controversy with Governor Hutchinson has touch'd me to the quick. I want the Journal of the General Court, which contains his Speeches and the answers his Replications and your Rejoinders. These were printed all together in a Pamphlet. But I cannot find that Pamphlet nor hear of it. Governor Adams once shewed it to me, and Judge Paine mentioned it to me, a year or two ago: but I dared not say a word to him about it, much less to ask the Loan of it.
You, my Friend, have been hurt, by your Country: So have I. We have sacrificed our Lives our Families our Popularity, our Reputations our Pleasures our Comforts to the Publick; while the Politicians have accumulated Fortunes, Palaces in the City and Pillars in the Country. It is in my opinion our duty to brave the Imputation of Vanity and Egotism by recording Facts that no other human Beings know. Our Country will be benefited by it, sometime or other. There are a few Anecdotes which I wish to reduce to writing, particularly the Impeachment of the Judges and the Controversy with General Brattle.
You talk to me at 77 years of age of writing History. If I was only thirty, I would not undertake an History of the Revolution in less than twenty years. A few Facts I wish to put upon Paper: and an awful Warning to do it soon has been given me by the Sudden Death of our Friend [Benjamin] Rush. Livingstone and Clymer had preceeded him in the same year; the same Spring. How few remain. Three in Massachusetts I believe are a Majority of the Surviving Signers of a Declaration which has had too much Credit in the World, and the Expence of the most of its Signers.
As a Man of Science, Letters, Taste, Sense, Phylosophy, Patriotism, Religion, Morality, Merit, Usefulness, taken all together Rush has not left his equal in America, nor that I know in the World. In him is taken away, and in a manner most sudden and totally unexpected a main Prop of my Life. 'Why should l grieve when grieving l must bear.'
I can conceive no reason why Governor Plumer may not be furnished with every Scratch of a Pen relative to the X Y & Z Embassy. I know not where to look for any one Paper relative to it.
It would give me great Pleasure to see Commodore Williams. His List of Prizes would be very acceptable. I wish he would write his own Life. With high Esteem and Strong Affection [Signed] John Adams." From the Collection of a Minnesota Gentleman.
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