John Adams to Abigail Adams
Philadelphia, July 3. 1776
Communication clearly took a long time — Abigail's letter took about two weeks to reach John. How might this make communication difficult? How might it have an impact on business or politics? On a married couple like the Adamses who were separated for long periods of time? Given that these people would never have had more instant communication like the telephone or email, do you think they would think about communication differently? Imagine that it would take two weeks for all of the communication that you now do by email, instant messenger, or phone to reach its destination. Imagine that the other person could not instantly respond, as they can in chats or on the phone, but rather would have to write you back and it would take another two weeks for their response to reach you. How might your letters be different than your current communication? What might you say to that person? How might the one-month delay for a full back-and-forth dialogue change your relationship?. 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, a day or two before the Receipt of your Letter, that you was gone to Plymouth, by Mrs. Polly Palmer, who was obliging enough in your Absence, to inform me, of the Particulars of the Expedition to the lower Harbour 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 Sea Engagements.
It sounds like hospitals are rather uncommon and inoculation against diseases is relatively new. What are the implications of those facts? What does the availability of vaccinations and hospital care mean in your life today?.
It sounds like Adams believes that some of his letters have failed to reach his wife. It isn't clear whether this is because he believes that they were intercepted or whether the mail service is simply unreliable. Do you have faith that your communications (letters, emails, phone calls, instant messages) will get to the intended recipient without being lost or intercepted? What would it mean in your life if you didn't think you could count on your messages getting through?.
The Information you give me of our Friends 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 my 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. Do we think of this distinction between the public life and the private life of politicians in the same way today that Adams did in 1776?.
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 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. How often do political figures today point to the will of God in explaining upheavals and major changes? Some do point to God's providence when talking about major events — can you find recent examples of this kind of explanation? On average, do you think people are more or less likely to attribute things that happen in their lives (or in the life of the nation) to the will of God today than they were in 1776? 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.
Philadelphia, July 3d. 1776
Had a Declaration of Independency been made seven Months ago, it would have been attended with many great and glorious Effects....We might before this Hour, have formed Alliances 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 effort 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 too much to hearken to those Terms of Reconciliation which they believed would be offered 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 these Causes however in Conjunction would not have disappointed Us, if it had not been for a Misfortune, which could not be foreseen, and perhaps could not have been prevented, I mean Interestingly, the idea of a disease epidemic among American troops making a decisive difference in battle is still with us today — only now military leaders are concerned about outbreaks brought on by chemical and biological warfare rather than natural outbreaks of a disease like smallpox..
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 and well meaning tho weak and mistaken People, have been gradually and at last totally extinguished. — Adams describes a world in which everyday citizens are debating and discussing political events in assemblies, conventions, committees, meetings, newspapers, pamphlets, and private conversations. We can't tell, just from this letter, how much of that kind of dialogue was actually going on in most communities, but he certainly seems to assume a lively political culture in which citizens took an active and serious interest in civic affairs and discussed important issues intensely and intellectually in both public and private arenas. Do you think today's voters are as interested, as knowledgeable, and as involved as Adams describes people in 1776 as being? Do you think people were only this interested in 1776 because the issues were so important (a revolution, after all!) or do you think that the culture overall was different in ways that encouraged that kind of serious political interest?. — 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 the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.
How close does Adams come to describing the way we celebrate American independence today?.
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.