ADAMS, John. Autograph letter signed ("John Adams") as Vice President, to Charles Storer, Philadelphia, 16 March 1791. [With:] Autograph free frank ("Free John Adams") on address panel (faded).
2 full pages, 4to (10 1/16 x 7 13/16 in.), integral address leaf with panel in Adams's hand, several words on page two pale from old waterstain, repair at central fold obscuring a few letters, red wax seal, neatly silked.
THE BURDEN OF A REVOLUTIONARY: ADAMS RECALLS THE "MAD MIDNIGHT ENTERPRISE" OF THE BOSTON MASSACRE, AND COMMENTS ON HIS DEFENSE OF THE CONSTITUTION: "EQUAL LAWS CANNOT BE PRESERVED WITHOUT THREE INDEPENDENT ORDERS FORMING A MUTUAL BALANCE..."
Adams informs Storer that he has forwarded his letter to the "Council at Boston," and reflects on Storer's recollection that the date was the anniversary of the Boston Massacre, 5 March 1770. Following that celebrated incident, in which a small group of British troops, hemmed in and threatened by a violent Boston mob, fired on the crowd, killing five civilians, the young Adams had served as defense counsel to the British officer and soldiers (the commander and six others were acquitted, two were convicted of manslaughter). The incident was widely exploited by American radicals for anti-British propaganda. The event, he writes, "is a day that I myself have more reason to remember than any one of my Life. It is a date that occasioned me more obloquy and slander than any other or all the other days I have beheld. It is a Day which brought me into the most critical Circumstances in which I ever stood, and in which, (I will rejoice and glory in it to all Eternity) I did my Best, with the most unequivocal and unshaken Intrepidity."
He goes on to detail what he perceives as the long-lasting effects of the Boston Massacre: "The Action of that night and the Tryals that were [occa]sioned by it, opened the Eyes of the common People. It brought [t]hem acquainted with the Laws relative to Mobs, Riots and Seditions, of which they were before very ignorant. It convinced them that they only exposed their Lives to destruction by such irregular and ungenerous Attacks upon the Soldiers: that they only endangered the Union of the Province and the Colonies, by venturing on such mad midnight Enterprises: and that their only ultimate Resource must be in a formal and regular Resistance by Arms. Accordingly from that time, You saw them meeting not only in Boston but in all the neighbouring Towns and exercising themselves in Arms." (On Adams's role in this incident, see D. McCullough, John Adams, pp.65-68).
He then considers his own very extensive treatise on the American plan of government, entitled A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (1787-1788), which argued the necessity of a balance of power between the executive and legislative branches and the importance of a bicameral legislature: "A Lawyer who is my Friend, has put a Plea in Abatement against The Defense of the American Constitution. He Says the Title is a Misnomer...if the Title is understood to mean a Defense of the whole and all the Parts of those Constitutions I should agree with him. But it is only a Defense of them against one assailant Mr. Turgot [1727-1781], and on one Point of the Equilibrium of orders. The whole of the three Volumes is calculated to show that equal laws cannot be preserved without three independent orders forming a mutual Ball[ance] in the Legislature and between the Legislative and Executive Power. I know of no Book in any Language in which some Information is to be found upon the Subject. The English have made but dull work of describing and defending their own Constitutions. If I am not most miserably deceived by my own [Van]ity, there are more arguments in those volumes in favor of their Constitution, then their whole Language embraced before..." He professes that he is not surprised by the criticism the book had attracted: "You talk to me of 'Gratitude to him who has taught them this important secret.' Gratitude is Delicacy too exquisite for me to ever receive or hope for. Ins[tead] of Gratitude I have received nothing but Abuse and Insolence for this work, from the ignorant and the Profligate, and the wise and virtuous look on and are Silent at least if they do not Smile and applaud."
He concludes, with a rather cynical reflection on his experience with revolutions: "In Short my Dear Sir a Man who is concerned [in] a Revolution is greatly to be pitied. He must Surrender his Judgement and his Integrity into the hands of the Mob, or he must run the gauntlet. So says the Experience of your Friend...."
Provenance: Anonymous owner (sale, Hamilton Galleries, 29 October 1981, lot 16).