In the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party in 1773, Parliament had passed the Coercive Acts or, as they were referred to by Americans, the Intolerable Acts, by which the British closed the port of Boston, dissolved the provincial assembly, and sent additional troops to occupy the city and quell unrest. The British forays into Lexington and Concord in April to seize stores of ammunition and their confrontation with local militias resulted in a widespread call to arms. Converging on Boston, militiamen began digging trenches and redoubts virtually surrounding Boston. Although the British won the day at the battle of Bunker Hill in June, their losses were so great they could not afford another such “victory.” From that time, the British army was in effect besieged in Boston.
In November 1775, members of the Second Continental Congress, John Adams among them, were meeting in Philadelphia. After having named George Washington to raise a Continental Army for the defense of the American cause and proceed to the Boston area, they were considering what should be done in light of what were viewed as unconstitutional acts on the part of the British Parliament and the rejection of conciliatory petitions from the colonists. Should the colonies separate from Britain or not? And what ought to be the form of government should that separation take place? Abigail Adams poses the latter question to her husband in a letter she wrote on November 27, 1775.
Tis a fortnight to Night since I wrote you a line during which, I have been confined with the Jaundice, Rhumatism and a most voilent cold; I yesterday took a puke which has releived me and I feel much better to day. . . .
I was pleasing myself with the thoughts that you would soon be upon your return. Tis in vain to repine. I hope the publick will reap what I sacrifice.
I wish I knew what mighty things were fabricating. If a form of Goverment is to be Established here what one will be assumed? Will it be left to our assemblies to chuse one? and will not many men have many minds? and shall we not run into Dissentions among ourselves?
I am more & more convinced that Man is a dangerous creature, & that power whether vested in many or a few is ever grasping, & like the grave cries give, give. The great fish swallow up the small, and he who is most strenuous for the Rights of the people, when vested with power, is as eager after the perogatives of Goverment. You tell me of degrees of perfection to which Humane Nature is capable of arriving, & I believe it, but at the same time lament that our admiration should arise from the scarcity of the instances.
The Building up a Great Empire, which was only hinted at by my correspondent may now I suppose be realized even by the unbelievers. Yet will not ten thousand Difficulties arise in the formation of it? The Reigns of Goverment have been so long slakned, that I fear the people will not quietly submit to those restraints which are necessary for the peace, & security, of the community; if we seperate from Brittain, what Code of Laws will be established. How shall we be governd so as to retain our Liberties? Can any government be free which is not adminstred by general stated Laws? Who shall frame these Laws? Who will give them force & energy? Tis true your Resolutions as a Body have heithertoo had the force of Laws. But will they continue to have?
When I consider these things and the prejudices of people in favour of Ancient customs & Regulations, I feel anxious for the fate of our Monarchy or Democracy or what ever is to take place. I soon get lost in a Labyrinth of perplexities, but whatever occurs, may justice & righteousness be the Stability of our times, and order arise out of confusion. Great difficulties may be surmounted by patience & perseverance.
I believe I have tired you with politicks. . . . All Letters I believe have come safe to hand. I have Sixteen from you, & wish I had as many more.
There will be no post on November 27, Thanksgiving. Enjoy the holiday and consider what Abigail pondered on the same date in 1775. Posts will resume on December 1.