29 July 2011

For Love and Country: John and Abigail Adams and the United States of America, part 4

1764 - 1774

“We live my dear Soul, in an Age or Tryal.  What will be the Consequence I know not.”

--John Adams to Abigail Adams, May 12, 1774 (Butterfield, I. 107)

            From the middle of the 1760s, John and Abigail, as well as many others in the American Colonies, grew conscious of the problems that might occur with the actions of Great Britain.  What the Adamses were not aware of was that the crisis would take John from his family and put his life at risk.

 The British passed the Stamp Act in 1765, creating a stir in the Colonies.  It was repealed only months after its passage.  In the interim, John was directly affected, as all of his law documents were subject to the tax.  Business in the courts slowed to a trickle.  John joined an organization at this time that would later call themselves the Sons of Liberty.  At meetings politics were discussed, and John would inform Abigail of the sentiments of the men in the meetings.  Both John and Abigail started to become aware that the Colonies and Britain were heading towards an impasse (Coit 3).  The following year, 1767, the Townshend Acts were passed in Britain.  The acts taxed items such as lead, paper, paint, glass, and tea, but unlike the Stamp Act, only imported items were taxed.  The Sons of Liberty, led by Samuel Adams, called for a boycott on these items from Britain.  The Townshend Acts were repealled in 1770, except for the tax on tea. 

Throughout this period, John Adams was involved with the Sons of Liberty and his opinions were shaped by those of the other members.  Abigail was influenced by John when he brought those opinions home.  In a letter written on December 5, 1773 to her good friend Mercy Otis Warren, Abigail clearly shows that, if not of her own mind and opinion, she was surely influenced in her opinion (as well as highly informed) of current events by her husband and their close friends.  She wrote,

The Tea that bainfull weed is arrived.  Great and I hope Effectual opposition has been made to the landing of it[. . . .]The flame is kindled and like Lightning it catches from Soul to Soul.  Great will be the devastation if not timely quenched or allayed by some more Lenient Measures.  Altho the mind is shocked at the Thought of sheding Humane Blood, more Especially the Blood of our Countrymen, and a civil War is of all Wars, the most dreadfull Such is the present Spirit that prevails, that if once they are made desperate Many, very Many of our Heroes will spend their lives in the cause, With the Speech of Cato in their Mouths, ‘What a pitty it is, that we can dye but once to save our Country.’ (Butterfield, I.  88)

The next day, angry residents of Boston, organized by Sam Adams and the Sons of Liberty, boarded the British tea ships that were in Boston Harbor and dumped the tea overboard.  John predicted the dire repercussions of the actions for the colonists shortly before the British acted.  “The Town of Boston, for ought I can see, must suffer Martyrdom: It must expire: And our principal Consolation is that it dies in a noble Cause,” John wrote just before some of the acts took effect.  He continued, “The Cause of Truth, of Virtue, of Liberty and of Humanity: and that it will probably have a glorious Reformation, to greater Wealth, Splendor and Power than ever” (Butterfield, I. 107).  In essence, John was writing that Boston would be the starting place of the war for independence. 

By the end of March, the British closed the Port of Boston until the damaged tea was paid in full.  The closing of the port was part of British acts which would be called the Intolerable Acts by the Colonies.  Elective government in the Colony was banned and any judge could decide to move a trial to Britain if he pleased.  The acts were aimed at Massachusetts, but were meant as a warning to the other Colonies as well.  

The first Continental Congress, which was to decide how the Colonies would proceed in their relations with their mother country, met in Philadelphia in September 1774.  For the first extended period of time John was away from Abigail. Abigail was aware of the role her husband would have to play.  “Your task is difficult and important,” she wrote days after he left her.  Abigail was already concerned about the worsening relations between Britain and the Colonies.  John’s safety was added to her worries about the family. “The great distance between us, makes the time appear very long to me,” she wrote to John less than a week later.  “It seems already a month since you left me.  The great anxiety I feel for my Country, for you and for our family renders the day tedious, and the night unpleasant” (Butterfield, I. 140, 142).  It was the first time in their marriage that John would be so far away from Abigail for such an extended period of time.

John, for his part, longed to be home, but he knew he would stay in Philadelphia as long as he needed to be there.  “Sitting down to write you, is a Scene almost too tender for my State of Nerves,” John wrote from “Phyladelphia” on September 29th, seven weeks after he left Braintree.  He continued,

It calls up to my View the anxious, distress’d State you must be in, amidst the Confusions and Dangers, which surround you.  I long to return, and administer all the Consolation in my Power, but when I shall have accomplished all the Business I have to do here, I know not, and if it should be necessary to stay here till Christmas, or longer, in order to effect our Purposes, I am determined patiently to wait. (Butterfield, I. 163)

John would return before Christmas that year, but he would be on his horse to Philadelphia again shortly, to attend the second Continental Congress, this time leaving Abigail behind at a time when the war came very close to home.

            As tensions increased, John continued to spend more time away from Abigail and his family in order to contribute to the revolutionary cause.  The 1760s and early 1770s were only a preview of the conflict that was coming.  After 1774, John would spend less time at home and more time in the service of his country.

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