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Lot 3: Adams, John. Important autograph letter signed ("John Adams"), 1 page (9 ¾ x 8 in.; 248 x 203 mm.)
December 18, 2012
Calabasas Hills, CA, USALive Auction
3. Adams, John. Important autograph letter signed (“John Adams”), 1 page (9 ¾ x 8 in.; 248 x 203 mm.), Quincy, 26 January 1814, to Richard Rush, the son of signer Benjamin Rush regarding his position to a successful conclusion to the War of 1812; light browning, mounting remnants on verso.
To push the War with Vigour, till We have a Peace, neither disgraceful to the Nation or the Government is the Sincere hope and ardent Wish of my heart . . .
Like his father, Richard Rush was born to serve his country. He served as comptroller of the U.S. Treasury (1811), Attorney General (1814-17), Secretary of State (1817), and Minister to Great Britain (1817-25). Later he served as Secretary of the Treasury (1825-28) and Minister to France (1847-49). Adams first comments on a legal treatise written by George Hay (1765-1830), American jurist, who is best remembered as U.S. Attorney for the District of Virginia, in which capacity he conducted the prosecution of Aaron Burr for treason; then, in the second paragraph, Adams, discussing “universal law”, refers to Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780), British jurist, whose history of the doctrines of English law were very influential on jurisprudence in the United States.
Adams writes in full: Dear Sir If I may judge of others by myself, Mr. [George] Hay had no cause of apprehension that he should be tedious: for when I had read the first page I could not lay aside the book till I had read the last. I know not when I have seen a discussion of any legal or political question pursued with so dispassionate a temper; or written with more perspicuity, accuracy or luminous arrangement. The author is Master of his Subject and all the Learning necessary to support is Position.
What can [Sir William] Blac[k]stone mean by universal Law? Are the cannon Law and the feudal Law, universal Laws? Are the Pope or his eldest Son the Emperor universal Legislators? Is any Law universal, but the law of our natures, written on our hearts, and obligatory on all Men from their beginning and through all their dispersions? The Doctrine of Universal and perpetual, inherent and inalienable Allegiance has no other foundation, than in a degrading Superst[it]ion and an unrelenting Despotism.
To push the War with Vigour, till We have a Peace, neither disgraceful to the Nation or the Government is the Sincere hope and ardent Wish of my heart: Your assurance therefore of a determined Spirit in all Branches of the Government, is delightful to me.
Our northern gentry are foaming to stop the wheels: but all will end in securing their state elections. I am &c John Adams
Former President John Adams states his position with regard to a successful conclusion to the War of 1812 with the words that the United States must “...push the War with Vigour”. At the time of this letter, the United States was still at war with Britain, motivated by Britain’s unyielding position on neutral shipping - specifically, the impressment of seamen, interference with trade and the blockade of American ports, as well as by the British encouragement of Indian hostilities.
It was not until late 1814, after two years of war, that Britain was willing to engage in peace talks. Though the Treaty of Ghent (December 24, 1814) restored the peace between Great Britain and the United States, many of the leading demands of the U.S. were not met - including satisfaction on impressment, blockades, and other maritime grievances. In fact, the treaty was silent on the very issues over which Great Britain and the U.S. had initially clashed, and gave to neither party what it originally proposed. News of the signing of the treaty reached New York on February 11, 1815. It was unanimously ratified by the Senate on February 15, 1815, and proclaimed by President James Madison on February 17, 1815.