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 George Churchman and Jacob Lindley

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 #: GLC00921 Author/Creator: Adams, John (1735-1826) Place Written: Washington, D.C. Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 24 January 1801 Pagination: 2 p. : docket ; 25.2 x 20.4 cm.

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

Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC00921 Author/Creator: Adams, John (1735-1826) Place Written: Washington, D.C. Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 24 January 1801 Pagination: 2 p. : docket ; 25.2 x 20.4 cm.

Summary of Content: Written by Adams in the last months of his presidency to the Quaker abolitionists Churchman and Lindley. Adams wrote in response to a letter and pamphlet that the two abolitionists had sent him. The pamphlet was by Quaker abolitionist Warner Mifflin (1745-1798). Expresses his views on slavery. Says "Although I have never sought by any animated speeches or inflammatory publications against the Slavery of the Blacks, my Opinion against it has always been known and my practice has been So conformable to my Sentiment that I have always employed freemen both as Domisticks and Labourers, and never in my Life did I own a Slave. The Abolition of Slavery must be gradual and accomplished with much caution and Circumspection. Violent means and measures would produce greater violations of Justice and Humanity, than the continuance of the practice." Goes on to erroneously state that slavery is diminishing and that a lack of fidelity to the truth and other philosophical principles are more serious problems. Says that he has been informed that the conditions of poor whites in Virginia is worse than that of "the Negroes."

Background Information: In response to two abolitionists, who had sent him an antislavery pamphlet by a Quaker reformer, Warner Mifflin (1745-1798), President Adams expresses his views on slavery, the dangers posed by ...abolitionists (who at the time were mostly Quakers and unpopular religious radicals), and emancipation. This letter is particularly revealing in what it discloses about Adams's sense of priorities.
In his letter, Adams mistakenly concludes that slavery was an institution in decline. The 1790 census counted almost 700,000 slaves. According to the census of 1800, the year before Adams wrote this letter, that number had grown to almost 900,000.
See More

Full Transcript: Washington January 24, 1801
Friends
I have received your Letter of the 17 of the 1. Mo. and thank you for communicating the Letter to me, of our friend Warner Mifflin. I have read ...both with pleasure, because I believe they proceeded from a Sense of Duty and a principle of Benevolence.
Although I have never Sought popularity by any animated Speeches or inflammatory publications against the Slavery of the Blacks, my opinion against it has always been known and my practice has been so conformable to my sentiment that I have always employed freemen both as Domisticks and Labourers, and never in my Life did I own a Slave. The Abolition of Slavery must be gradual and accomplished with much caution and Circumspection. Violent means and measures would produce greater violations of Justice and Humanity, than the continuance of the practice. Neither Mr. Mifflin nor yourselves, I presume would be willing to venture on Exertions which would probably excite Insurrections among the Blacks to rise against their Masters and imbrue their hands in innocent blood.
There are many other Evils in our Country which are growing, (whereas the practice of slavery is fast diminishing,) and threaten to bring Punishment on our Land, more immediately than the oppression of the blacks. That Sacred regard to Truth in which you and I were educated, and which is certainly taught and enjoined from on high, Seems to be vanishing from among Us. A general Relaxation of Education and Government. A general Debauchery as well as dissipation, produced by pestilential philosophical Principles of Epicurus infinitely more than by Shews and theatrical Entertainment. These are in my opinion more serious and threatening Evils, than even the slavery of the Blacks, hateful as that is.
[2] I might even add that I have been informed, that the condition, of the common Sort of White People in some of the Southern states particularly Virginia, is more oppressed, degraded and miserable than that of the Negroes.
These Vices and these Miseries deserve the serious and compassionate Consideration of Friends as well as the Slave Trade and the degraded State of the blacks.
I wish you Success in your benevolent Endeavors to relieve the distresses of our fellow Creatures, and shall always be ready to cooperate with you, as far as my means and Opportunities can reasonably be expected to extend.
I am with respect and
Esteem your Friend
John Adams
George Churchman of Cecil County Maryland
and
Jacob Lindley of Chester County Pennsylvania
Recived by G. C. the 1st. of 2nd. mo. 8 days after Date.
[docket]
Date 1st. Mo. Jan. 1801
Letter from Jn°. Adams
President of the United States
To G.C. & Jac. Lindly
A copy of that wrote to him enclosed.
[W. Mifflin] letter enclosed also
See More

People: Lindley, Jacob
Mifflin, Warner, 1745-1798
Adams, John, 1735-1826
Churchman, George, 1730-1814

Historical Era: The New Nation, 1783-1815

Subjects: PresidentAfrican American HistorySlaveryReligionQuakersAbolitionSlaveryReform MovementRebellionFreemenMorality and EthicsVice President

Sub Era: The Age of Jefferson & Madison

Order a Copy Citation Guidelines for Online Resources