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John Adams

York July 1st: 1774

I am so idle, that I have not an easy moment, without my pen in my hand. My time might have been improved to some purpose, in mowing grass, raking hay, or hoeing corn, weeding carrots, picking or shelling peas. Much better should I have been employed in schooling my children, in teaching them to write, cypher, Latin, French, English and Greek.

I sometimes think I must come to this — to be the foreman upon my own farm, and the school master to my own children. I confess myself to be full of fears that the ministry and their friends and instruments, will prevail, and crush the cause and friends of liberty…

I am determined to be cool, if I can; I have suffered such torments in my mind heretofore, as have almost overpowered my constitution, without any advantage: and now I will laugh and be easy if I can… whether I stand high or low in the estimation of the world, so long as I keep a conscience void of offence towards God and man. And thus I am determined by the will of God, to do, let what will become of me or mine, my country, or the world.

I shall arouse myself ere long I believe, and exert an industry, a frugality, a hard labour, that will serve my family, if I cant serve my country. I will not lie down and die in dispair. If I cannot serve my children by the law, I will serve them by agriculture, by trade, by some way, or other. I thank God I have a head, an heart and hands which if once fully exerted alltogether, will succeed in the world as well as those of the mean spirited, low minded, fawning obsequious scoundrells who have long hoped, that my integrity would be an obstacle in my way, and enable them to out strip me in the race.

But what I want in comparison of them, of villany and servility, I will make up in industry and capacity. If I dont they shall laugh and triumph.

I will not willingly see blockheads, whom I have a right to despise, elevated above me, and insolently triumphing over me. Nor shall knavery, through any negligence of mine, get the better of honesty, nor ignorance of knowledge, nor folly of wisdom, nor vice of virtue.

I must intreat you, my dear partner in all the joys and sorrows, prosperity and adversity of my life, to take a part with me in the struggle. I pray God for your health—intreat you to rouse your whole attention to the family, the stock, the farm, the dairy. Let every article of expence which can possibly be spared be retrench’d. Keep the hands attentive to their business, and let the most prudent measures of every kind be adopted and pursued with alacrity and spirit.

I am &c.,
John Adams


From a letter from John Adams to his wife on July 1st, 1774. A portion of this letter forms part of the closing narrations of the John Adams miniserieson HBO.

It’s impossible now to think of a form of communication which will survive so beautifully and immediate as letters like these; our emails will die (if not disappear) when we do. Eliot was more prescient than he could have known when he asked, “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

John Adams and Abigail integrate seamlessly the mundane concerns of everyday life with the elevated demands of an affection that lasted for over a half century.

I will post more of these letters in the coming weeks.

(By the way: does anyone know what “&c.” means at the end of this letter?)

Watch the imponderably affecting and tasteful closing shot of the John Adams series here: