Our Collection

At the Institute’s core is the Gilder Lehrman Collection, one of the great archives in American history. More than 70,000 items cover five hundred years of American history, from Columbus’s 1493 letter describing the New World to soldiers’ letters from World War II and Vietnam. Explore primary sources, visit exhibitions in person or online, or bring your class on a field trip.

Adams, John (1735-1826) to Dr. Benjamin Rush re: dream of American glory, early history

High-resolution images are available to schools and libraries via subscription to American History, 1493-1943. Check to see if your school or library already has a subscription. Or click here for more information. You may also order a pdf of the image from us here.

Log in
to see this thumbnail image

Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC00599 Author/Creator: Adams, John (1735-1826) Place Written: Quincy Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 08 December 1812 Pagination: 3 p. + FF 25 x 20 cm

A high-resolution version of this object is available for registered users. LOG IN

Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC00599 Author/Creator: Adams, John (1735-1826) Place Written: Quincy Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 08 December 1812 Pagination: 3 p. + FF 25 x 20 cm

Summary of Content: "The history of the hobby horse" -p.4 (Adams's humorous name for the story he tells in this letter.) Free frank on p.4

Background Information: Notes: Historical figures mentioned:
§ Joel Barlow (1754-1812). Published epic poem, The Columbiad, in 1807.
§ Commodore Isaac Chauncey (1772-1840). Commander of U.S. naval forces on Lakes Erie and Ontario, 1812-15.
§ Langdon ...Cheves (1776-1857). Democratic-Republican Congressman from South Carolina, War Hawk.
§ Henry Clay (1777-1852). Senator from Kentucky, War Hawk during War of 1812.
§ DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828). New York Senator and Governor. At one point he was considered for the Federalist presidential candidacy.
§ George Clymer (1739-1839). Signer of the Declaration of Independence, Jeffersonian Representative from Pennsylvania. Opposed the War of 1812.
§ Captain Stephen Decatur (1779-1820). Commanded U.S.S. United States in victory over H.M.S. Macedonian 25 October 1812.
§ Timothy Dwight (1752-1817). Prominent Congregation clergyman, President of Yale College 1795-1817).
§ William Branch Giles (1762-1830). Democratic Senator from Virginia. War Hawk.
§ Captain Isaac Hull (1773-1843). Commanded U.S.S. Constitution 1810-12, defeated H.M.S. Guerriere 19 August 1812.
§ Captain Jacob Jones (1768-1850). Commanded U.S.S. Wasp in victory over H.M.S. Frolic 18 October 1812.
§ William Lowndes (1782-1822). Democratic-Republican Congressman from South Carolina, War Hawk.
§ Thomas McKean (1734-1817). Signer of the Declaration from Pennsylvania. Federalist Governor of PA 1799-1808.
§ Lewis Richard Morris (1760-1825). Federalist legislator from Vermont. His abstention from voting allowed Thomas Jefferson to be elected by the House of Representatives in 1801.
§ David Osgood (1747-1822). Prominent Congregational clergyman and outspoken critic of the War of 1812.
§ John Pope (1770-1845). Senator from Kentucky, political opponent of Henry Clay.
§ Captain David Porter (1780-1843). Commanded U.S.S. Essex in victory over H.M.S. Alert on 13 August 1812.
§ John Randolph (1773-1833). Jeffersonian Republican legislator, opposed to the War of 1812.
§ Sarah Siddons (1755-1831). Renowned English tragic actress.
See More

Full Transcript: Quincy Decr. 8. 1812
Dear Sir
On horseback, on my Way to Weymouth on a visit to my Friend Dr. Tufts I met a Man leading a Horse, who asked if I ...wanted to buy a Horse. Examin[inserted: in]g the Animal in his Eyes Ears, head Neck Shoulders Legs Feet and Tail, and enquiring of his Master his Age, history Temper habits &c I found he was [inserted: a] colt of three years old that month of November, his Sucking Teeth were not Shed, he was Seventeen or Eighteen hands high, bones like massy timbers, ribbed quite to his Hipps, every Way broad Strong and well filled in Proportion; as tame, gentle, good natured and good humoured as a Cosset Lamb. Thinks I to myself, This noble Creature is the exact Emblem of my dear Country. I will have him and call him my hobby. He may carry me, five and twenty or thirty years if I Should live. I ride him every day when the Weather Suits; but I Should Shudder, if he Should ever discover or feel his own Power. By one vigorous Exertion of his Strength, he might Shake me to the ground, on the right hand or the left, pitch me over his head, or throw me back over his rump. In either case, I might get Scratches or Bruises which you know are not easily healed at my age.
One day after a long ride upon Hobby I came home, well exercised, in good health, and gay Spirits, went to bed fell asleep, and dreamed.
An open Theatre was erected in the Centre of a vast plain in Virginia, where were assembled all the Inhabitants of [the] U.S. Eight millions of People, to see a new Play, advertised as the most extraordinary that ever was represented on Any Stage, excelling Menander Terrence, Shakespeare Corneille and Molliere. I Shall not give you the Dramatis Persons at length: but Garrick, Mrs. Siddons and Cook were conspicuous among a Company proportionally excellent. I Shall not give you the play, because I Should have to compose One: and you must be Sensible, that I have [2] Small pretensions to the Genius of Euripides and Racine. I shall only give you a hint of a part of One Scene.
A distant View of the Ocean was presented with Hull and his Constitution blazing away his horrizontal Volcano of a broadside at the Guerriere, which is Soon Seen to explode; after the Explosion, the Constitution Sails majestically but Slowly along the whole length of the [inserted above: Theatre] and comes to anchor, in full Sight of the Audience; then Jones with his Frolick Suceeded and anchored near the Constitution and it was remarkable that the audience applaud[inserted: ed] him with as much Enthusiasm as Hull; . . . [ellipsis in original] Next came Decatur in The United States followed by The Macedonian, and anchored in their order, in fair Sight of the whole Nation. After a pauze for the Spectators to gaze and admire; Mrs Siddons was Selected to address the Audience. Slowly and gracefully Swimming over the Stage She approached near enough to be heared by all, with all the Advantages of her Face Figure, Gestures and intonations, pointing with her hand to he glorious Spectacle of the Navy, in the words of Adam to Eve when She first Saw her face in the clear Stream, She only Said
"America"! This, fair creature, is thyse[inserted: l]f"!
"Sampson"! There, is thy Lock of divine Power"!
"Hercules! Behold the Emblem of thy Strength; which is to Subdue
"Monsters and conquer oppressors."
"David! Lo thy Sling, which is [inserted: to] bring Golia[t]h to Reason!"
Observing that this overgrown Colt of a Nation had, after all this, no feeling of its Strength nor any sense of its Glory, any more than my Hobby, I obtained [inserted: a] Speaking Trumpet, and made a Motion, which was carried that the Play Should be dismissed and The Nation resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House on the State of the Nation, Dr Rush in the Chair. It was my Intention, to record the Phizzes of the Tories, about one third; the Speeches of the deep Democrats, about another Third who abused me So much a dozen or fourteen years ago on account of my Navy which is now Saving them from destruction; [3] The Exultations of the remaining third, who had been always friendly to naval defence; which indeed after all, amounted to little more than "Did we not always tell you So"?
The Sensations and Reflections of Jefferson, Madison, Giles &c as well as their Orations you may imagine. Jay King Morris and DeWitt Spoke at length. McKean Clymer &c Spoke from Pensilvania. Cheves and Lounds from S.C. Pope and Clay from Kentucky.
I Shall give a Sketch only of the Speech of John Randolph, and that only on a Separate Piece of Paper which I conjure you by our Friendship to burn, the moment you have read it, for it is fit only to be Seen by your Eye. Nimrod Hughs and Christopher Macpherson Spoke next after John Randolph. The Vote was called and a Small Majority, heavily and languidly appeared for a few 74s and twenty Frigates.
Oh! The Wisdom! The Foresight and the Hindsight, the rightsight and the Leftsight: The Northsight and the Southsight, the Eastsight and the Westsight, that appeared in that august Assembly! Many Quaker women, Dr Dwight and Dr Osgood Spoke, and had Joel been there, no doubt he would have delivered an Epic Poem.
So much Business could not be done in a Short time. The Sun now blazed through the Wi[n]dows upon my Eyes and awoke me.
Vive la Bagatelle. - Dulce est desipere.
In my dream Porter and his cohort, Chauncey and his Flotilla on [the] Lake were not forgotten, they were all at Anchor with the Frigates: but in reducing the Thing to writing in the morning, in haste I inadvertently omitted them. The History of the Hobby Horse is litteral Truth,
John Adams
Dr. Rush.
[address:]
Free
Dr Benjamin Rush
J. Adams
Philadelphia
[docket:]
Quincy Ms.
Decr. 14:

See More

People: Rush, Benjamin
Adams, John, 1735-1826

Historical Era: The New Nation, 1783-1815

Subjects: PresidentWomen's HistoryArt, Music, Theater, and FilmPoetryPoliticsNavyWar of 1812Global History and US Foreign PolicyGlobal History and US Foreign PolicyRevolutionary WarCongressUSS Constitution (Old Ironsides)Military HistoryLiterature and Language ArtsClassical World and Ancient CivilizationBattleQuakers

Sub Era: The Age of Jefferson & Madison

Order a Copy Citation Guidelines for Online Resources