ADAMS, John. Autograph letter signed ("John Adams"), as former President, to William Tudor, Quincy, 8 June 1813. 5½ pages, 4to, center creases neatly mended, chip along right edge of second sheet repaired, catching parts of three words, WITH FREE FRANK SIGNED ("J. ADAMS").
WASHINGTON AND FRANKLIN "WERE OFTEN TERRIBLE EMBARRASSMENTS" WHILE THE "THREE MOST ESSENTIAL CHARACTERS" IN THE REVOLUTION WERE SAM ADAMS, OTIS AND HANCOCK
"AND GREAT BRITAIN KNEW IT; THOUGH AMERICA DOES NOT"
A long, spirited, and opinionated letter in which Adams pulls Washington and Franklin down from their pedestals and puts the Boston "triumvirate" of Sam. Adams, Otis and Hancock in their place. "I very well know that I shall expose myself to the scorn of Fools, the censure of many wise Men and the compassion of many others by what I am about to say," Adams tells Tudor. "It is the opinion of the World in the present century, was so in the last, and will probably be so of all future ages, that Franklin and Washington were the two great Agents of the American Revolution; the two Guardian Angels; the two benevolent Demons who presided over the Destinies of North America. This opinion, if I have any knowledge of anything, I know to be a delusion. The glory of these two luminaries was made to be dazzling; but their luster was reflected. They were moons illuminate by Suns concealed from the sight of Nations by interposing Clouds....They were often usefull Instruments in the hands of others; but to my certain knowledge they were as often terrible Embarrasments. They were both not only Superficial but ignorant. Franklin's practical cunning united with his theoretick ignorance render him one of the most curious Characters in History."
It was Otis, Samuel Adams, and Hancock "who were the three most essential characters; and Great Britain knew it; though America does not." These three men inspired others throughout the Colonies, but they "were the first Movers, the most constant Steady persevering Springs, Agents, and most disinterested Sufferers and firmest pillars of the whole Revolution....Mr. Adams was born and tempered a wedge of steel, to split the knot of Lignum Vitae which tied North America to Great Britain. Blunderheaded as were the British Ministry, they had Sagacity enough to discriminate from all others for inexorable vengeance, the two Men the most to be dreaded by them, Samuel Adams and John Hancock, and had not James Otis been then dead or worse than dead his name would have been the head of The Triumvirate."
The problem in trying to restore Sam Adams's place at the head of the Revolutionary story was the absence of documents. His cousin burned most of his papers, Adams explains. "I have seen him at Mrs. Yards in Philadelphia, when he was about to leave Congress, cut up with his scissors whole bundles of letters...and throw them out the window to be scattered by the winds." In winter he threw "whole handfuls into the fire." Adams kidded his cousin on "his anxious caution," but Samuel replied, "Whatever becomes of me, my Friends shall never suffer by my negligence." Likewise the papers of James Otis. Adams learned from Otis's daughter that her father, "committed them all to the flames" in a moment of despondency.
America may have slighted his cousin's role, but John Adams leaves an eloquent testimonial to Samuel Adams in this letter as he defends him against Tudor's criticisms: "You say [Sam Adams] had too much Sterness and pious bigotry. A man in his situation and Circumstances must possess a large fund of Sterness of stuff, or he will soon be annihilated. His piety ought not to be objected to him or any other Man. His bigotry, if he had any, was a fault: but he certainly had not more than Governor Hutchinson and Secretary Oliver, who I know from personal conversations, were as stanch Trinitarians and Calvinists as he was..." His cousin moved freely and easily among people of all sects and beliefs. "He never imposed his Creed on any one...Mr. Adams was an Original. Sui generis sui Juris."