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Letter from John Adams to General Gates



Philadelphia, March 23,1776.

SIR: I had the pleasure, a few days ago, of your favour of the 8th instant, for which I esteem myself under great obligations to you. We rejoice here at the prospect there is of your driving the enemy from Boston. If you should succeed in this, I hope effectual measures will be taken to fortify the harbour, that the Navy may never enter it again. I think the Narrows may be so obstructed that large ships may not be able to pass; and the channel between Long-Island and the Main may be commanded, by batteries on each of those Islands, in such a manner that Boston may he safe from men-of-war. I hope my countrymen will hesitate at no expense to attain this end, if, in order to accomplish it, they should be obliged to remove the rocky mountains of my town of Braintree into the harbour.

But I cannot yet clearly satisfy myself that they will leave Boston. It will be a greater disgrace to the British arms than to be taken prisoners in the town in a body. If they should abandon the persons and property of their dear friends, the Tories, in Boston, will any other Tories, in any other part of the Continent, ever trust to their protection? It will be considered as such impotence or such infidelity, that I am inclined to think few professors of Toryism would ever afterwards be found anywhere.

I agree with you that in politicks the middle way is none at all. If we finally fail in this great and glorious contest, it will be by bewildering ourselves by groping after this middle way. We have hitherto conducted half a war; acted upon the line of defence, &c˙, &c˙ But you will see by tomorrow' s paper that, for the future, we are likely to wage three-quarters of a war. The Continental ships-of-war, and Provincial ships-of-war, and letters of marque and privateers, are permitted to cruise on British property, wherever found on the ocean. This is not Independency, 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 mien that it would throw a delicate person into fits to look it in the face.

I know not whether you have seen the act of Parliament called the Restraining Act; or Prohibitory Act, or Piratical Act; or Plundering Act, or Act of Independency — for by all these titles is it called. I think the most apposite is the Act of Independency; for King, 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 thirteen Colonies out of the Royal protection, levels all distinctions, and makes us independent in spite of our supplications and entreaties.

It may be fortunate that the Act of Independency should come from the British Parliament rather than the American Congress; but it is very odd that Americans 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 on a skilful 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 fanned 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 Southland the


Proprietary interests in the Middle States, as well as that avarice of land which has made upon this Continent so many votaries to mammon, that I sometimes dread the consequences. However, patience, fortitude, and perseverance, with the help of time, will get us over these obstructions.

Thirteen Colonies, under such a form of Government as Connecticut, or one not quite so popular, leagued together in a faithful confederacy, might bid defiance against all the Potentates of Europe, if united against them.

Pray continue to make happy with your favours. Accept of my most cordial wishes for your safety, happiness, and honour. Make my most respectful compliments to the General and the ladies, and the whole family; and believe me to be, with much respect, your most affectionate friend and servant,


To General Gates.