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Source: “From John Adams to Mercy Otis Warren, 8 January 1776,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed April 11, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-03-02-0202; “To John Adams from Mercy Otis Warren, 10 March 1776,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed April 11, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-04-02-0019.
John Adams to Mercy Otis Warren, 8 January 1776
Your Friend insists upon my Writing to you, and altho I am conscious it is my Duty, being deeply in Debt for a number of very agreable Favours in the Epistolary Way, yet I doubt whether a sense of this Duty would have overcome, my Inclination to Indolence and Relaxation, with which my own Fire Side always inspires me, if it had not been Stimulated and quickened by her.
I was charmed with three Characters drawn by a most masterly Pen, which I received at the southward. Copeleys Pencil could not touched off, with more exquisite Finishings, the Faces of those Gentlemen. Whether I ever answered that Letter I know not. But I hope Posterity will see it, if they do I am sure they will admire it. I think I will make a Bargain with you, to draw the Character of every new Personage I have an opportunity of knowing, on Condition you will do the same. My View will be to learn the Art of penetrating into Mens Bosoms, and then the more difficult Art of painting what I shall see there. You Ladies are the most infallible judges of Characters, I think.
Pray Madam, are you for an American Monarchy or Republic? Monarchy is the genteelest and most fashionable Government, and I dont know why the Ladies ought not to consult Elegance and the Fashion as well in Government as Gowns, Bureaus or Chariots.
For my own Part, I am so tasteless as to prefer a Republic, if We must erect an independent Government in America, which you know is utterly against my Inclination. But a Republic, altho it will infallibly beggar me and my Children, will produce Strength, Hardiness Activity Courage Fortitude and Enterprice; the manly, noble and Sublime Qualities in human Nature, in Abundance.
A Monarchy would probably, somehow or other make me rich, but it would produce So much Taste and Politeness, So much Elegance in Dress, Furniture, Equipage, So much Music and Dancing, So much Fencing and Skating; So much Cards and Backgammon; so much Horse Racing and Cock fighting; so many Balls and Assemblies, so many Plays and Concerts that the very Imagination of them makes me feel vain, light, frivolous and insignificant.
It is the Form of Government, which gives the decisive Colour to the Manners of the People, more than any other Thing. Under a well regulated Commonwealth, the People must be wise virtuous and cannot be otherwise. Under a Monarchy they may be as vicious and foolish as they please, nay they cannot but be vicious and foolish. As Politicks therefore is the Science of human Happiness, and human Happiness is clearly best promoted by Virtue, what thorough Politician can hesitate, who has a new Government to build whether to prefer a Commonwealth or a Monarchy? But Madam there is one Difficulty, which I know not how to get over.
Virtue and Simplicity of Manners, are indispensably necessary in a Republic, among all orders and Degrees of Men. But there is So much Rascallity, so much Venality and Corruption, so much Avarice and Ambition, such a Rage for Profit and Commerce among all Ranks and Degrees of Men even in America, that I sometimes doubt whether there is public Virtue enough to support a Republic. There are two Vices most detestably predominant in every Part of America that I have yet seen, which are as incompatible with the Spirit of a Commonwealth as Light is with Darkness, I mean Servility and Flattery. A genuine Republican can no more fawn and cringe than he can domineer. Shew me the American who can not do all. I know two or Three I think, and very few more.
However, it is the Part of a great Politician to make the Character of his People; to extinguish among them, the Follies and Vices that he sees, and to create in them the Virtues and Abilities which he sees wanting. I wish I was sure that America has one such Politician, but I fear she has not.
[. . .] Letter begun in Gaiety, is likely to have [ . . . conc]lusion while I was writing the last Word [. . .] Paragraph; my Attention was called off [. . .] and most melodious sounds my Ears [ . . . Can]non Mortars and Musquettes.
A very hot Fire both of Artillery and small Arms has continued for half an Hour, and has been succeded by a luminous Phoenomenon, over Braintree North Common occasioned by Burning Buildings I suppose.3
Whether our People have attacked or defended, been victorious or vanquished, is to me totally uncertain. But in Either Case I rejoice, for a Defeat appears to me preferable to total Inaction.
May the Supreme Ruler of Events, overrule in our Favour! But if the Event of this Evening is unfortunated I think We ought at all Hazards, and at any Loss to retrieve it tomorrow. I hope the Militia will be ready and our Honour be retrieved by making Boston our own. I shall be in suspense this Night, but very willing to take my Place with my Neighbours tomorrow, and crush the Power of the Enemies or suffer under it.
I hope Coll. Warren sleeps at Cushings this night and that I shall see him in the Morning. Mean Time I think I shall sleep as soundly as ever. I am, Madam, your most humble servant, and sincere Friend,
Mercy Otis Warren to John Adams, 10 March 1776
As your time is so Much Devoted to the Service of the public that you have Little Leisure for Letters of friendship or Amusement And Conscious of Incapacity to write anything that would be of the smallest utility to the Common Weal, I have been for sometime Balancing in my Mind Whether I should again Interrupt your Important Moments, but on re-perusing yours of January 8th I find a query unanswered. And though the asking my opinion in So Momentous a question as the Form of Government to be preferred by a people who have an opportunity to shake off the fetters both of Monarchie and Aristocratic Tyranny, Might be Designed to Ridicule the sex for paying any Attention to political Matters, yet I shall Venture to Give you a serious Reply.
And Notwithstanding the Love of Dress, Dancing, Equipage, Finery and Folly, Notwithstanding the Fondness for Fashion, predominates So strongly in the Female Mind, I hope Never to see an American Monarchy, However Fashionable in Europe, or However it Might Coincide with the taste for Elegance And pleasure in the one sex, or Cooperate with the Interest, or passions of the Other.
I have Long been an Admirer of A Republican form of Government, And was Convinced Even before I saw the Advantages Delineated in so Clear and Concise A Manner by your Masterly pen, that if Established upon the Genuine principles of Equal Liberty, it was A Form productive of Many Excellent qualities, and Heroic Virtues in Human Nature, which often Lie Dormant for want of opportunity for Exertions, And the Heavenly Spark is smothered in the Corruption of Courts, or its Lustre obscurr’d in the Pompous Glare of Regal pageantry. It is an Observation of the Celebrated Bourge, “that Almost all political Establishments are the Creatures of Chance Rather than of Wisdom, and that There are few Instances of A people Forming for themselves a Constitution from the Foundation, that the Common Course has been to Blend with the New system of politics the Errors and Deficiencies that had Cript into the old.” Therefore there is Scarcely any Example of Such a phenomenon as a perfect Common Wealth. But we will hope the present period will Leave one to posterity, and that the American Republic will Come as Near the standard of perfection as the state of Humanity will Admit, and that Listning to the Dictates of Common sense the Amphyctionic Body will not be Obliged to yeald to the Violence of party or to the Blindness of private, or provincial prejudices, and Leave the Work half Finished. Shall the Fabrick which they now have the power of Compleating with a Facility which may never again take place be Left tottering under Its own Weight, to be showered up and Cemented with the Blood of Succeding Generations.
But However we may Indulge the pleasing Reverie And Look Forward with Delight, on the well Compacted Government, and Happy Establishment of the Civil police of the unite’d Colonies, yet with you sir I have my fears, that American Virtue has not yet Reach’d that sublime pitch which is Necessary to Baffle the arts of the Designing, and to Counteract the Weakness of the timid, as well as to Resist the pecuniary temptations And Ambitious Wishes which will arise in the Breasts of More Noble minded and Exalted Individuals, if not Carefully Guarded.
But we shall soon have A test. And iff the union of the Colonies, and A Steady Opposition to the Disgraceful Idea of Foreign shackles still subsists, after Negotiating with Men picked for the purpose of Flattering, Terrifying and Cajoling the Colonists into Compliances which Their principles, Their Interest Their Honor, and Even Their strength forbids, I shall have hopes that America has more than one politician who has Abilities to Make the Characters of His people, to Extinguish the Vices and Follies He finds, and to Create the Virtues He sees wanting.
Many among us are Ready to Flatter themselves that an Accommodation with Britain is Easy and that we shall soon see the Return of Halcyon Days.
But I believe sir, you have Little Expectation that, the Commissioners from A Haughty, Venal and Luxurious Court Acting in the Name of A Despotic prince will submit to such Humiliating Terms as the safety, the Happiness, and the justice of America Demands.
I Agree to the Bargain you propose and I think sir you Cannot Retract, when A Lady has accepted your Conditions.
But I Must Ingeniously tell you, the pleasure you may Expect to Reap, will be very Inadequate, to the Advantage I promise myself by the Compliance.
I Expect to be made Acquainted with the Genius, the taste, and Manners, not only of the Most Distinguished Characters in America, but of the Nobility of Britain. And perhaps before the Conflict is Ended, with some of those Dignified personages who have held the Regalia of Crowns And Scepters, and in the zenith of power are the Dancing puppets of other European Courts.4 While the sphere of Female Life is too Narrow to afford any Entertainment to the Wise and Learned, who are Called to Exhibit some of the most Capital scenes in the Drama. And who dare to tread the Theatre, when not only A World! are the Spectators, but the Stage so Conspicuous and the part so Interesting that all posterity will scrutinize their steps, and Future ages Censure or Applaud according to the Imbecility, the Vigor, or Magnanimity that Marks the Conduct of the phi[ladelphi]an actors.
The subject I have touched is so Diffusive that I have been imperceptibly Lead to Detain you Longer than I designed, and after uttering Every wish for the Happiness of you and yours, that Friendship Can dictate, I will only add I should be Gratified with a Line if it was only an assurance of pardon for the Freedom and Length of this from