johnadams2

The Wisdom of Founder John Adams Part 1: Novanglus Papers

NOVANGLUS: OR, A HISTORY OF THE [BRITISH] DISPUTE WITH AMERICA, FROM ITS ORIGIN, IN 1754, TO THE PRESENT TIME; WRITTEN IN 1774, BY JOHN ADAMS.

See also:
The Wisdom of Founder John Adams Part 2: Novanglus Papers
The Wisdom of Founder John Adams Part 3: Novanglus Papers
The Wisdom of Founder John Adams Part 4: Novanglus Papers
The Wisdom of Founder John Adams Part 5: Novanglus Papers

johnadams1The occasion of the production of the series of papers signed Novanglus, in the Boston Gazette of 1774, is given in the Diary of the author. A writer for the government, under the signature of Massachusettensis, supposed by Mr. Adams to be Jonathan Sewall, but who is now understood to have been Daniel Leonard, had made some impression upon public opinion in Massachusetts. His articles, first printed in the Massachusetts Gazette and Post-Boy, immediately attracted much public attention, and called out many replies. They were forthwith collected and printed in a pamphlet form in Boston; republished by James Rivington, in New York, in the same year, under the title of “The Origin of the American Contest with Great Britain, or the present Political State of the Massachusetts Bay in general, and the town of Boston in particular; exhibiting the Rise and Progress of the disordered State of that Country, in a series of weekly Essays, published at Boston, under the signature of Massachusettensis, a Native of New England;” and still another edition was issued in Boston, by J. Mathews, probably during the siege of that place, in the next year, 1776.

The papers of Novanglus, in reply to Massachusettensis, were reprinted in Almon’s Remembrancer for 1775, in an abridged form, and bearing the following title: “History of the Dispute with America, from its Origin, in 1754, to the present Time.” This was reprinted in pamphlet form, in London, by John Stockdale, in 1784, with the name of the author. Previous to this time, a Dutch translation had been made in Holland, apparently for the purpose of extending information respecting the struggle, and inspiring confidence in the author, when he was soliciting an alliance for the United States with that country; and it was published at Amsterdam, by W. Holtrop, 1782, with a portrait. Last of all, the papers of Novanglus and Massachusettensis, in their original form, were collected in one volume, in 1819, and printed by Hews and Goss, in Boston, to which was prefixed the preface which immediately follows.

PREFACE: TO THE EDITION OF 1819.

Jonathan Sewall was descended from Mitchells and Hulls and Sewalls, and I believe Higginsons, that is, from several of the ancient and venerable of New England families. But, as I am no genealogist, I must refer to my aged classmate and highly-esteemed friend, Judge Sewall, of York, whose researches will one day explain the whole.

Mr. Sewall’s father was unfortunate; died young, leaving his son destitute; but as the child had discovered a pregnant genius, he was educated by the charitable contribution of his friends, of whom Dr. Samuel Cooper was one of the most active and successful, among his opulent parishioners. Mr. Sewall graduated at college in 1748; kept a Latin school in Salem till 1756, when Chambers Russell, of Lincoln, a judge of the supreme court and a judge of admiralty, from a principle of disinterested benevolence, received him into his family, instructed him in law, furnished him with books, and introduced him to the practice at the bar. In 1757 and 1758, he attended the supreme court in Worcester, and spent his evenings with me, in the office of Colonel James Putnam, a gentleman of great acuteness of mind, and very extensive and successful practice, and an able lawyer, in whose family I boarded, and under whose auspices I studied law. Here commenced between Mr. Sewall and me a personal friendship, which continued, with none but political interruptions, till his death. He commenced practice in Charlestown, in the county of Middlesex; I, in that parish of the ancient town of Braintree, now called Quincy, then in the county of Suffolk, now of Norfolk. We attended the courts in Boston, Cambridge, Charlestown, and Concord; lived together, frequently slept in the same chamber, and not seldom in the same bed. Mr. Sewall was then a patriot; his sentiments were purely American. To James Otis, who took a kind notice of us both, we constantly applied for advice in any difficulty; and he would attend to us, advise us, and look into books for us, and point out authorities to us, as kindly as if we had been his pupils or his sons.

After the surrender of Montreal, in 1759, rumors were everywhere spread, that the English would now new-model the Colonies, demolish the charters, and reduce all to royal governments. These rumors I had heard as often as he had. One morning I met him accidentally on the floor of the old town-house. “John,” said he, “I want to speak with you.” He always called me John, and I him Jonathan; and I often said to him, I wish my name were David. He took me to a window-seat and said, “These Englishmen are going to play the devil with us. They will overturn every thing. We must resist them, and that by force. I wish you would write in the newspapers, and urge a general attention to the militia, to their exercises and discipline, for we must resist in arms.” I answered, “All this, I fear, is true; but why do you not write yourself? You are older than I am, have more experience than I have, are more intimate with the grandees than I am, and you can write ten times better than I can.” There had been a correspondence between us, by which I knew his refined style, as well as he knew my coarse one. “Why,” said Mr. Sewall, “I would write, but Goffe will find me out, and I shall grieve his righteous soul, and you know what influence he has in Middlesex.” This Goffe had been attorney-general for twenty years, and commanded the practice in Middlesex and Worcester and several other counties. He had power to crush, by his frown or his nod, any young lawyer in his county. He was afterwards Judge Trowbridge, but at that time as ardent as any of Hutchinson’s disciples, though he afterwards became alienated from his pursuits and principles.

In December, 1760, or January, 1761, Stephen Sewall, chief justice, died, deeply lamented, though insolvent. My friend Jonathan, his nephew, the son of his brother, who tenderly loved and deeply revered his uncle, could not bear the thought, that the memory of the chief justice should lie under the imputation of bankruptcy. At that time bankruptcy was infamous; now it is scarcely disgraceful. Jonathan undertook the administration of his uncle’s estate. Finding insolvency inevitable, he drew a petition to the General Court, to grant a sum of money sufficient to pay the chief justice’s debts. If my friend had known the character of his countrymen, or the nature of that assembly, he never would have conceived such a project; but he did conceive it, and applied to James Otis and his father, Colonel Otis, to patronize and support it. The Otises knew their countrymen better than he did. They received and presented the petition, but without much hope of success. The petition was rejected; and my friend Sewall conceived a suspicion that it was not promoted with so much zeal by the Otises, as he thought they might have exerted. He imputed the failure to their coldness, was much mortified, and conceived a violent resentment, which he expressed with too much freedom and feeling in all companies.

Goffe, Hutchinson, and all the courtiers soon heard of it, and instantly fastened their eyes upon Sewall, courted his society, sounded his fame, promoted his practice, and soon after made him solicitor-general, by creating a new office expressly for him. Mr. Sewall had a soft, smooth, insinuating eloquence, which, gliding imperceptibly into the minds of a jury, gave him as much power over that tribunal as any lawyer ought ever to possess. He was also capable of discussing before the court any intricate question of law, which gave him at least as much influence there as was consistent with an impartial administration of justice. He was a gentleman and a scholar, had a fund of wit, humor, and satire, which he used with great discretion at the bar, but poured out with unbounded profusion in the newspapers. Witness his voluminous productions in the newspapers, signed long J. and Philanthropos. These accomplishments richly qualified him to serve the purposes of the gentlemen who courted him into their service.

Mr. Sewall soon fell in love with Miss Esther Quincy, the fourth daughter of Edmund Quincy, an eminent merchant and magistrate, and a granddaughter of that Edmund Quincy, who was eighteen years a judge of the superior court, who died of the small-pox in the agency of the province, at the Court of St. James, and whose monument was erected, at the expense of the province, in Bun-hill-fields, London. This young lady, who was celebrated for her beauty, her vivacity, and spirit, lived with her father, in this parish, now called Quincy. Mr. Sewall’s courtship was extended for several years; and he came up very constantly on Saturdays, and remained here until Mondays; and I was sure to be invited to meet him on every Sunday evening. During all these years, there was a constant correspondence between us, and he concealed nothing from me, so that I knew him by his style whenever he appeared in print.

In 1766, he married the object of his affections, and an excellent wife he found her. He was soon appointed attorney-general. In 1768, he was employed by Governor Bernard to offer me the office of advocate-general in the court of admiralty, which I decidedly and peremptorily, though respectfully, refused.

We continued our friendship and confidential intercourse, though professedly in boxes of politics as opposite as east and west, until the year 1774, when we both attended the superior court in Falmouth, Casco Bay, now Portland. I had then been chosen a delegate to Congress. Mr. Sewall invited me to take a walk with him, very early in the morning, on the great hill. In the course of our rambles, he very soon began to remonstrate against my going to Congress. He said, that “Great Britain was determined on her system; her power was irresistible, and would certainly be destructive to me, and to all those who should persevere in opposition to her designs.” I answered, “that I knew Great Britain was determined on her system, and that very determination determined me on mine; that he knew I had been constant and uniform in opposition to all her measures; that the die was now cast; I had passed the Rubicon; swim or sink, live or die, survive or perish with my country, was my unalterable determination.” The conversation was protracted into length, but this was the substance of the whole. It terminated in my saying to him, “I see we must part, and with a bleeding heart I say, I fear forever; but you may depend upon it, this adieu is the sharpest thorn on which I ever set my foot.” I never conversed with him again till the year 1788. Mr. Sewall retired, in 1775, to England, where he remained, and resided in Bristol.

On my return from Congress, in the month of November, 1774, I found the Massachusetts Gazette teeming with political speculations, and Massachusettensis shining like the moon among the lesser stars. I instantly knew him to be my friend Sewall, and was told he excited great exultation among the tories and many gloomy apprehensions among the whigs. I instantly resolved to enter the lists with him, and this is the history of the following volume.

In 1788, Mr. Sewall came to London to embark for Halifax. I inquired for his lodgings, and instantly drove to them, laying aside all etiquette to make him a visit. I ordered my servant to announce John Adams, was instantly admitted, and both of us, forgetting that we had ever been enemies, embraced each other as cordially as ever. I had two hours conversation with him, in a most delightful freedom, upon a multitude of subjects. He told me he had lived for the sake of his two children; he had spared no pains nor expense in their education, and he was going to Halifax in hope of making some provision for them. They are now two of the most respectable gentlemen in Canada. One of them a chief justice, the other an attorney-general. Their father lived but a short time after his return to America; evidently broken down by his anxieties, and probably dying of a broken heart. He always lamented the conduct of Great Britain towards America. No man more constantly congratulated me, while we lived together in America, upon any news, true or false, favorable to a repeal of the obnoxious statutes and a redress of our grievances; but the society in which he lived had convinced him that all resistance was not only useless but ruinous.

More conscious than ever of the faults in the style and arrangement, if not in the matter, of my part of the following papers, I shall see them in print with more anxiety than when they were first published. The principles, however, are those on which I then conscientiously acted, and which I now most cordially approve.

To the candor of an indulgent nation, whom I congratulate on their present prosperity and pleasing prospects, and for whose happiness I shall offer up my dying supplications to Heaven, I commit the volume with all its imperfections.

John Adams. Quincy, Mass. January 1, 1819

2 thoughts on “The Wisdom of Founder John Adams Part 1: Novanglus Papers

  1. Pingback: The Consequence of Bad Legal Precedent in American Legislation | Captain James Davis

  2. Pingback: The Life of Founder John Adams | Captain James Davis

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