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Prospect of a union. Eastern educational radio network presents prospect of a union a view of the American Revolutionary period in a series of readings from the letters of the second president of the United States John Adams and his wife Abigail. That was.
Partly love and a torrent for independence in the spring of 76. The letters of John Adams showed a new and increasing self-confidence and exuberance. One reason for the change was the evacuation of the British army from Boston. This was a relief for Adams personally as his wife and children living in Braintree could not be safe from seacoast raids. There was another reason for his improved spirits. The Continental Congress to which he was a delegate was unmistakably stepping crabwise toward a declaration of independence. It was not primarily the arguments of John Adams and other like minded radicals that had turned a sluggish current into a torrent for independence. The repeated pattern of yielding British responses had for a year since the battles of Lexington and Concord frustrated the hopes of the moderate party in Congress for reconciliation. And the latest piece in the pattern was the American
prohibitory Act which declared all American ships and goods subject to seizure and in effect outlawed the colonists. Later under the terms of this Act the holl brothers were appointed as peace commissioners. John Adams had no doubt that their terms would be unacceptable and indeed they were Americans were to lay down their arms and dissolve all illegally constituted governmental bodies and resubmit themselves to the proper authorities. All to be done before there would be any nonsense about hearing grievances despite reverses in the Canadian campaigns. Americans were not in a submissive mood and it would be the legally constituted governments that would soon dissolve themselves. What form the succeeding in independent government would take was the question that concerned and worried Adams. He discussed the subject in an essay. Thoughts on government written partially to disagree with Thomas Paine's Common
Sense. Adams ideal government was not in fact very different from the colonial government to New England. In a letter to General Gates he worried that the southern states would not accept such popular forms of government. 23 March 1776. I agree with you that in politics the middle way is not at all. If we finally fail in this great and glorious contest it will be but they will ring ourselves in groping after this middle way we have hitherto conducted. Has the law acted upon the line of defense etc etc.. But you will see by tomorrow's paper that for the future we are likely to wage three quarters of the continental ships of war and prevention of ships of war and letters of marque and privateers opera medal to cruise on British property wherever found on the ocean. This is not independence or you know nothing like it. If a post or two more should bring you unlimited latitude of trade to all nations and a polite invitation to all nations to trade with you.
Take care that you do not call it or think it independency no such matter independency is a hobgoblin of such frightful mean that it would throw a delicate person into fits. To look at in the face. I know not whether you have seen the act of parliament called the restraining act or piratical act or plundering act or act of independency for by all these titles it is call. I think the most APIs it is the act of independency for Kings Lords and Commons have united in sundering this country from that I think forever. It is a complete dismemberment of the British Empire. It throws 13 colonies out of the royal protection levels all distinctions and makes us independent in spite of our supplications and treaties. It may be fortunate that the act of independence e should come from the British parliament rather than the American Congress. But it is very odd that American should hesitate at accepting such a gift from them.
However my dear friend Gates all our misfortunes arise from a single source the reluctance of the southern colonies to republican government. The success of this war depends upon a skillful steerage of the political vessel. The difficulty lies in forming particular constitutions for particular colonies and a continental Constitution for the whole. Each colony should establish its own government and then a league should be formed between them all. This can be done only on popular principles and axioms which are so abhorrent to the inclinations of the barons of the South and the proprietary interests in the middle states as well as to that avarice of land which is made on this continent so many vulgarised to Mammon that I sometimes dread the consequences. However patience fortitude and perseverance with the help of time will get us over these obstructions. Braintree March 30 first 1776. I
wish she would ever write me a letter half as long as I write to you and tell me if you may where your feet are gone. What sort of defense Virginia can make against our common enemy whether it is so situated as to make an able defense ought not the gentry Lords and the common people vessels. Are they not like the uncivilized natives Britain represents us to be. I hope their rifleman who have shown themselves very savage and even blood thirsty are not a specimen of the generality of the people. I'm willing to allow the colony great merit for having produced a Washington but they've been shamefully Do you by a done more. I've sometimes been ready to think that the passion for liberty cannot be equally strong in the breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow creatures of theirs are this I'm certain that it is not founded upon that generous and Christian principle of doing to others as we would that others should do unto
us. Do not you want to see Boston. I'm fearful of the small pox or I should have been in before this time. I got Mr. Crane to go to our house and see what state it was in. I find it has been occupied by one of the doctors of a regiment very dirty but no other damage has been done to it. I look upon it as a new acquisition of property a property which one month ago I did not value with a single shilling. And we could with pleasure have seen it in flames. The town in general is left in a better state than we expected more owing to a precipitate flight than any regard to the inhabitants though some individuals discovered a sense of honor and justice and have left the rent of the houses in which they were for the owners and the furniture unhurt or it damaged sufficient to make it good. Oh I feel very differently at the approach of spring to what I did a month ago. We knew not then whether we could plant or so with safety
whether when we had toiled we could reap the fruits of our own industry whether we could rest in our own cottages or whether we should not be driven from the sea coasts to seek shelter in the wilderness. But now we feel as if we might sit under our own vine and eat the good of the land. We feel a temporary peace and the poor fugitives are returning to their deserted habitations. Though we Felicity's ourselves we sympathize with those who are trembling. That's the lot of Boston should be there. They cannot be in similar circumstances unless pusillanimity and cowardice should take possession off them. They have time and warning given them to see the evil and shun it. I long to hear that you've declared an independency and by the way in the new code of laws which I suppose it would be necessary for you to make I desire you would remember the ladies and
be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such an unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Navys we are determined to foment a rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation. That your sex are naturally tyrannical is a truth so thoroughly established as to bit of no dispute. But such a view is wished to be happy willingly give up with a harsh title of master for the more tender and India thing one a friend. Why then not put it out of the power of the vicious and the lawless to use us with cruelty and and dignity with impunity. Men of sense in all ages abhorred those customs which treat us only as the vessels of your sex regard us then as beings placed by Providence under your protection
and an imitation of the Supreme Being. Make use of that power only for our happiness. April 14th 1776 you justly complain of my short letters. But the critical state of things and the multiplicity of avocations must plead my excuse. You ask where the fleet is. They enclosed papers will inform you. You ask what sort of defense Virginia can make. I believe they will make an able defense their militia and Minutemen have been some time employed in training themselves and they have nine battalions of regulars as they call them maintained among them under good officers at the Continental expense. They have set up a number of manufacturers of firearms which are busily employed. They are tolerably supplied with powder and are successful in deciduous in making saltpetre their neighboring sister or rather daughter colony of North Carolina which is a warlike colony and has several battalions at the Continental expense as well as a pretty good militia are ready to assist them and they are in very good spirits and seem
determined to make a brave resistance. The gentry are very rich and the common people are very poor. This inequality of property gives an aristocratic turn to all their proceedings and occasions a strong aversion in their patricians to common sense. But the spirit of these barons is coming down and it must submit. It is very true as you observe they have been duped by Dunmore But this is a common case. All the colonies are duped more or less at some time and another a more egregious bubble was never blown up. Then the story of commissioners coming to treat with a Congress that has gained credit like a charm not only with out but against the clearest evidence. I never shall forget the delusion which seized our best and most sagacious friends the dear inhabitants of Boston. The winter before last credibility and the want of foresight our imperfections in the human character that no politician can sufficiently guard against. You have given me some pleasure. By your account of a certain house in Queen Street I
had burned it a long ago in imagination. It rises now to my view like a phoenix. As to declarations of independency the patient read our privateering laws and our commercial law. What signifies a word as to your extraordinary code of laws. I cannot but laugh. We have been told that our struggle has loosened the bands of government every way that children and apprentices are disobedient that schools and colleges were grown turbulent that Indians slighted their guardians and negroes grew insolent to their masters. But your letter was the first intimation that another tribe the more numerous and powerful than all the rest were grown discontented. This is rather too cause a compliment. But you are so saucy I won't blot it out. Depend upon it we know better than to repeal our masculine systems although they are in full force you know they are little more than theory. We dare not exert our power and its full latitude. We are obliged to go Fair
and softly and in practice you know we are the subjects. We have only the name of masters and rather than give up this which should completely subject us to the despotism of the predicate. I hope General Washington and all our brave heroes would fight I am sure every good politician would plot as long as he would against despotism Empire monarchy aristocracy oligarchy or ochlocracy. A fine story indeed. I begin to think the ministry is as deep as they are wicked. After stirring up Tory land jobbers trimmers bigots Canadians Indians negroes Hanoverians Haitians Russians Irish Roman Catholics Scots running God knows. At last they have stimulated the to demand new privileges and threaten to rebel. April 15th 1776. I send you every newspaper that comes out and I send you now and then a few sheets of paper. But this article
is a scarce here as with you I would send a choir if I could get a conveyance right to now and then a line as often as I can. But I can tell you no news but what I send in the public papers. We are waiting it is said Commission as a messiah that will never come. This story of commissioners is as arrant an illusion as ever was hatched in the brain of an enthusiast a politician or a maniac. I have laughed at it scolded at it grieved at it and I don't know but I may in an unguarded moment have ripped at it. But it is vain to reason against such delusion. I was very sorry to see in a letter from the general that he had been bubbled with it and still more to see in a letter from my sagacious friend Warren at Plymouth that he was taken into. My opinion is that the commissioners and the commission have been here I mean in America these two months. The governors mandamus councillors collectors and controllers and commanders of the Army and Navy I conjecture compose the list
and their power is to receive submissions. But we are not in a very submissive mood. They will get no advantage of us. We shall go on to perfection I believe. I have been very busy for some time have written about ten sheets of paper with my own hand about some trifling affairs which I may mention some time or other not now say of accidents. What will become of this labor. Time will discover. I shall get nothing by it I believe because I never get anything by anything that I do. I'm sure the public our posterity ought to get something. I believe my children will think I might as well have thought and labored a little night and day for their benefit. But I will not bear the reproaches of my children. I will tell them that I studied and labored to procure a free constitution of government for them to solace themselves under. And if they do not prefer
this to ample fortune to ease and elegance and they are not my children and I care not what becomes of them. They shall live upon Sendai and wear mean clothes and work with cheerful hearts and free spirits. Or they may be the children of the earth. No one from me May 12th 1776. Yours of April 21st came to hand today. I send you regularly every newspaper and write as often as I can. But I feel more skittish about writing than I did because since the removal of headquarters to New York we have now expresses and very few individual travelers. And the post I am not quite confident in. However I shall write as I can. It gives me great pleasure to learn that our rulers are at last doing something towards the fortification of past him. But I am inexpressibly chagrined to find that the enemy is fortifying on Georges Island. I
shall never be easy until they are completely driven out of that harbor and effectually prevented from ever getting in again. As you are a politician and now elected into an important office that of judges of the Tory ladies which will give you naturally and influence with your sex I hope you will be instant in season and out of season and exhorting them to use their influence with the gentleman to fortify upon George's Island levels had it long or wherever else it is proper send down fire ships and rafts and burn to ashes those pirates. I am out of all patience with a languid left councils of the province at such a critical important moment puzzling their heads about two pennies fees and confession bills and whatnot on the harbor of Boston was just senseless. If I was there I should storm and thunder like there must unease or scold like that too strong. To ask Mr Wybert and Mr. Weld and Mr. Taft to preach about it. I am ashamed. Vexed angry to the last degree. Our people by their talk the
two that invited the enemy to come to Boston again and I fear they will have the civility and politeness to accept the invitation. If any one could be said to have stormed and thundered for independence it was John Adams at last on May 15th his efforts were rewarded. Mr. Duwayne of New York and Mr. Dickinson of Pennsylvania leading the moderate party had failed to defeat a resolve to recommend to the colonies that they establish governments. Adams said that if such a resolution had been passed twelve months ago as it ought to have been and it was not my fault that it was not. How different would have been our situation. The advantages of such a measure were pointed out very particularly 12 months ago. But then we must petition and negotiate and the people were not ripe. I believe they were as right then as they are now. There would have been advantages for the American cause if independence had been assumed earlier
it would have been easier to negotiate with foreign powers. The conduct of the war would have been more straightforward. For example the self-assertiveness of each detachment from the separate colonies in the unsuccessful Canadian campaign might have been avoided. But Adams was surely stretching the matter to see that the people were just as ripe in 75 as in 76. He does not do justice to the enormous influence of Tom Paine's Common Sense. Also even with the years experience of petitions rejected and hope spurned there was still a lively party against an immediate declaration of independence. In fact the radicals were concerned that the colonies would not at all establish independent governments. Following on the resolve of the 15th but the colonies exceeded the expectations of the Congress. Adams described to Abigail the popular reaction to the formation of a new government
in South Carolina. May 17 1776 when I consider the great events which are past and those greater which are rapidly advancing and that I may have been instrumental attaching some springs and turning some small wheels which has had and will have such effects. I feel an R upon my mind which is not easily described. Great Britain has at last driven America to the last step. A complete separation from her a total absolute independence not only of her parliament but of her crown for such is the amount of the result of the fifteenth Confederation among ourselves our alliances of foreign nations are not necessary to a perfect separation from Britain that is affected by extinguishing all authority under the crown. Parliament and nation. As the resolution for instituting governments has done to all intents and purposes Confederation will be necessary for our internal Concord and alliances may be so for external defense.
I have reason to believe that no colony which shall assume a government under the people will give it up. There is something very unnatural and odious and a government one thousand leagues off and a whole government of our own choice managed by persons whom we love revere and can confide in has charms in it for which men will fight. Two young gentleman from South Carolina now in this city who are in Charlestown when their new constitution was promulgated and when their new Governor and Council and assembly walked out in procession attended by the guards company of cadets Light Horse etc.. Told me that they were being held by the people with transports and tears of joy. The people gazed at them with a kind of rapture. They both told me that the reflection that these were gentleman whom they are loved esteemed and revered gentlemen of their own choice whom they could trust and whom they could displace if any of them should behave amiss
affected them so that they could not help crying. They say their people will never give up this government. May 20th 1776 my dear sir. Every post and every day rolls in upon us independence like a tyrant. The delegates from Georgia made their appearance this day in Congress with unlimited powers. And these gentlemen themselves are very strong. South Carolina has erected her government and given her delegates ample powers and they are firm enough. North Carolina has given their first powers after repealing an instruction given last August against Confederation and independence. This day's post has brought a multitude of letters from Virginia all of which breathe the same spirit. They agree they shall institute a government. All are agreed in this they say. Here are four colonies to the southward who are perfectly agreed now with the thought of the North would live in the middle are not yet quite so ripe but they are very near it. I expect that New York will come to a
fresh election of delegates in the course of this week. Give them full powers and determine to institute a government. The convention of New Jersey is about meeting and will assume our government. Pennsylvania Assembly meets this day and it is said will repeal their instructions to their delegates which has made them so exceedingly obnoxious to America in general and to their own constituents in particular. We have had an entertaining maneuver this morning in the state house yard. The Committee of the city summoned a meeting at 9 o'clock in the state house yard to consider the resolve of Congress of the 15th instant. The weather was very rainy and the meeting was in the open air like the Committee of the Romans. The stage was erected extemporary for the moderator and the few orators to ascend can or rather there was a moderator going on McCain cannot Cadwalader and cannot Matlack the principal orators. It was the very first town meeting I ever saw in Philadelphia and it was conducted with great order decency and propriety. The first step taken was this. The moderator produced the result of the
Congress of the 15th inst and read it with a loud stentorian voice that might be heard a quarter of a mile whereas His Britannic Majesty etc. as soon as this was read the multitude several thousand Some say they also wept rendered the welkin with three cheers heads flying as usual etc.. Then a number of ready resolutions were produced and moved and determined with great unanimity. These resolutions I will send you a soon as published the draft of the whole was that the assembly was not about a properly constituted authorized and qualified to carry the resolve for instituting a new government into execution and therefore that a convention should be called and at last they voted to support and defend the measure of a convention at the utmost hazard and at all events etc.. The Delaware government generally is of the same opinion with the best Americans. Very orthodox in their faith and very exemplary in their practice.
Maryland remains to be mentioned. That is so eccentric a colony sometimes so hot sometimes so cold now so high then so low that I know not what to say about it or to expect from it. I have often wished it could exchange places with Halifax when they get a going and I expect some wild extravagant flight or other from it. To be sure they must go beyond everybody else when they begin to go. Does I have rambled through the continent and you will perceive by this state of it that we can't be very remote from the most decisive measures and the most critical events. What do you think must be my sensations when I see the Congress now daily passing resolutions which I most earnestly pressed for against wind and tide 12 months ago and which I have not omitted to labor for a month together from that time to this. What do you think must be my reflections when I see the farmer Dickinson himself now confessing the falsehood of all his prophecies
and the truth of mine and confessing himself now for instituting governments forming a continental constitution making alliances with foreigners opening ports and all that and confessing that the defense of the colonies and preparations for defense have been neglected in consequence of fond delusive hopes and deceitful expectations. I assure you this is no gratification of my vanity. A gloomy prospect of con edge and devastation that now presents itself in every part of the continent and which has been the most expressive and decisive in a dogmatical terms foretold by me a thousand times is to affecting to give me pleasure. It moves my keenest indignation. Yet I dare not hint at these things for I hate to give pain to a gentleman whom I believe sufficiently punished by their own reflections.
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Prospect of a union
A torrent for independence
Producing Organization
WFCR (Radio station : Amherst, Mass.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program presents dramatic readings from the correspondence between John and Abigail Adams.
Series Description
A first-hand account of the founding of the United States, described through the correspondence of John and Abigail Adams.
Media type
Narrator: Kaufman, Marjorie
Producing Organization: WFCR (Radio station : Amherst, Mass.)
Writer: Spiro, Elizabeth
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-6-11 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:34
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Chicago: “Prospect of a union; A torrent for independence,” 1968-02-12, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed October 5, 2022,
MLA: “Prospect of a union; A torrent for independence.” 1968-02-12. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 5, 2022. <>.
APA: Prospect of a union; A torrent for independence. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from