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 Samuel Holden Parsons

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 #: GLC04424 Author/Creator: Adams, John (1735-1826) Place Written: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 19 August 1776 Pagination: 3 p. : docket ; 20.5 x 15.9 cm.

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

Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC04424 Author/Creator: Adams, John (1735-1826) Place Written: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 19 August 1776 Pagination: 3 p. : docket ; 20.5 x 15.9 cm.

Summary of Content: Written by Adams as a delegate to Continental Congress from Massachusetts to Parsons, who became a Brigadier General on 9 August 1776 and was to take part in the fighting at the Battle of Long Island on 27 August 1776. References Parsons's letters of 13 and 15 August 1776 and says his recommendations for appointments in the army will be considered by the Board of War, which Adams sat on. Also references Parsons observations of officers Patterson, Shepherd, and Brooks, but says he is unfamiliar with all of them. Says the issues of promotion make him "so vexed sometimes as almost to resolve to make Interest to be a Col[one]l myself." Goes on to say he has vanity enough to think he could be part of that group, but knows his constitution is too weak to take it seriously. Says if his health was better he would try to imitate Oliver Cromwell, who took up the military life after the age of 40, despite his misgivings on Cromwell's character. Wishes there were better leaders to choose from. Says he agrees with Parsons that bounties of land should be given to promote enlistments, but says the majority of Congress does not agree. Despite potential problems with militia, he does not support a standing army. Wishes all men on the continent were soldiers. Says "Flight was unknown to the Romans. - I wish it was to Americans. There was a Flight from Quebec, and worse than a flight at the Cedars. - if we don't attone for these disgraces, We are undone." Says Americans need a greater love of country and more enthusiasm for military glory or the war will be lost. Postscript says since he wrote the letter Congress acted on the promotions of Dyer and Chapman as Majors. Says he had a big part in Dyer's promotion.

Full Transcript:
Philadelphia August 19, 1776
Dear Sir
Your Favours of the 13 and 15th are before me. The Gentlemen you recommended for Majors, Chapman and Dier will be recommended by the Board of War, ...and I hope agreed to in Congress.
I thank you for your observations upon certain Field Officers. Patterson, Shepherd and Brooks, make the best figure, I think upon Paper. It is my Misfortune that I have not the least acquaintance with any of these Gentlemen, having never Seen any one of them, or heard his Name till lately. This is a little remarkable. few Persons in the Province, ever travelled over it the whole of it, more than I have, or had better opportunities to know every conspicuous Character. But I dont so much as know, from what Parts of the Province Shepherd and Brooks come of what families they are, their Educations, or Employments. Should be very glad to be informed.
Lt Coll Henshaw has been recommended to me by Coll Reed for Promotion, as a usefull Officer. But upon the whole, I think the list you have given me, don't shine. I am very much ashamed of it. I am so vexed sometimes as almost to resolve to make Interest to be a Coll myself. I have almost Vanity enough to think, that I could make a Figure in Such a Group. But a treacherous, shattered Constitutions is an eternal Objection against my aspiring at military Command. [2] if it were not for this insuperable Difficulty, I should certainly imitate Old Nal. Cromwell, in one particular, that is in launching into military Life, after forty, as much as I dislike his Character and Example in others.
I wish I could find materials, any where in Sufficient Quantities, to make good officers. a brave and able Man, wherever he is, shall never want my Vote, for his advancement; nor shall an ignorant awkward Dastard, ever want it, for his Dismission. Congress must assume an higher Tone of Discipline, over officers, as well as these over their Men.
With Regard to Encouragements in Money and in Land, for Soldiers to in list during the War, I have ever been in Favour of it, as the best Economy and the best policy. And I have no doubt, that Rewards in Land, will be given after the War is over. But the Majority are not of my Mind, for promising of it now. I am the less anxious about it, however, for a Reason, which does not seem to have much Weight, with the Majority. Although, it may cost us more, and We may put now and then a Battle to a Hazard, by the Method we in. Yet we shall be less in danger, of Corruption and Violence from a Standing Army and our Militia will acquire Courage, Experience, Discipline and Hardiness in actual Service.
I wish every Man upon the Continent was a Soldier and obliged upon occasion, to fight and determined to conquer or die. [3] Flight was unknown to the Romans. I wish it was to Americans. There was a Flight from Quebec, and worse than a Flight at the Cedars. if We dont attone for these Disgraces, we are undone.
A more exalted Love of their Country, a more enthusiastic Ardor, for military Glory, and a deeper, Detestation, Disdain and Horror of martial Disgrace, must be excited among our People, or we shall perish in Infamy. I will certainly give my voice, for devoting to the infernal Gods, every Man, high or low, who Shall be convicted of Bashfullness in the Day of Battle.
I am affectionately yours
John Adams
General Parsons.
P. S. Since the above was written, Congress has accepted the Report of the Board of War, and appointed Dyer and Chapman Majors. I had much Pleasure in promoting Dyer, not only from his own excellent Character, but from Respect to my good Friend his Father

[docket:]
Augt 19th
Jon. Adams
See More

People: Adams, John, 1735-1826
Parsons, Samuel Holden, b. 1835

Historical Era: American Revolution, 1763-1783

Subjects: PresidentContinental CongressCongressGovernment and CivicsMilitary HistoryRevolutionary WarLetter of Introduction or RecommendationHealth and MedicalGlobal History and CivicsRevolutionary War GeneralLand TransactionSoldier's PayMilitiaRecruitmentStanding ArmyCanadaBattleBraveryClassical World and Ancient CivilizationForeign AffairsPatriotismVice President

Sub Era: The War for Independence

Order a Copy Citation Guidelines for Online Resources