Posted by: Democratic Thinker | March 31, 2010

Samuel Adams: On Education & Morals

American Correspondence

 
Samuel Adams, in a letter to James Warren on the eve of the Revolution, shares, among other things, his ideas on public education and on the morals needed for those who would be accepted into public service.
 

For no People will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can they easily be subdued, where Knowledge is diffusd and Virtue preservd. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant and debauched in their Manners, they will sink under their own Weight, without the Aid of foreign Invaders.

To James Warren.

PHILADA., NOVr 4th 1775.

MY DEAR SIR


Samuel Adams.

I THANK you heartily for your very acceptable Letter of the 23 of October by Fessenden. It is very afflicting to hear the universal Complaint of the Want of that most necessary Article, Gunpowder, and especially in the Camp before Boston. I hope however that this Want will soon be supplied, and God grant that a good Use may be made of it. The Congress yesterday was presented with the Colors of the seventh Regiment taken in Fort Chamblee, which is surrendered to Major Brown. The Acquisition of 124 Barrils of Powder gives a happy Turn to our Affairs in that Quarter the Success of which I almost began to despair of.

The Gentlemen who have lately returned from the Camp may, perhaps all of them entertain a favorable Opinion of our Colony—I may possibly be partial in saying, not more favorable than it deserves. Be that as it may, the Congress have judgd it necessary to continue the Establishment of the Men’s pay, and to enlarge that of the Captains and Lieutenants. In Addition to the Continental Army four new Batallions are to be raised, viz, three for the Defence of South Carolina and one for Georgia. These with 1000 Men before orderd for North Carolina, with the Assistance of provincial Forces, it is hoped will be sufficient to defend the three Southernmost Colonies.

It is recommended to N. Hampshire to form a Government to their own liking, during this Contest; and S. Carolina is allowd to do the same if they judge it necessary. I believe the Time is near when the most timid will see the absolute Necessity of every one of the Colonies setting up a Government within itself.

No Provisions or Produce is to be exported from any of the united Colonies to any part of the World till the first of March except for the Importation of the Unum Necessarium, and for Supplys from one Colony to another, under the Direction of Committees, and a further Exception of live Stock. Under the last Head, and Horses are allowd to be sent to the foreign West Indies. We shall by the Spring know the full Effect of our Non-exportation Agreement in the West Indies. Perhaps Alliances may then be formed with foreign Powers, and Trade opened to all the World Great Britain excepted.

You will possibly think I have set myself down to furnish a few Paragraphs for Edes and Gills paper, and what is more that I am betraying the Secrets of Congress. I confess I am giving my Friend as much Information as I dare, of things which are of such a Nature as that they cannot long be kept secret, and therefore I suppose it never was intended they should be. I mention them however in Confidence that you will not publish them. I wish I was at Liberty to tell you many of the Transactions of our body, but I am restraind by the Ties of Honor; and though it is painful to me, you know, to keep Secrets, I will not violate my Honor to relieve myself or gratify my Friend. [Nine lines are here erased, apparently after the receipt of the letter.] But why have I told you so trifling a Story, for which I cannot forgive my self till I have askd forgiveness of you. We live in a most important Age, which demands that every Moment should be improvd to some serious Purpose. It is the Age of George the Third; and to do Justice to our most gracious King, I will affirm it as my Opinion, that his Councils and Administration will necessarily produce the grandest Revolutions the World has ever yet seen. The Wheels of Providence seem to be in their swiftest Motion. Events succeed each other so rapidly that the most industrious and able Politicians can scarcely improve them to the full purposes for which they seem to be designd.

You must send your best Men here; therefore recall me from this Service. Men of moderate Abilities, especially when weakend by Age are not fit to be employed in founding Empires.

Let me talk with you a little about the Affairs of our own Colony. I persuade my self, my dear friend, that the greatest Care and Circumspection will be used to conduct its internal Police with Wisdom and Integrity. The Eyes of Mankind will be upon you, to see whether the Government, which is now more popular than it has been for many years past, will be productive of more Virtue moral and political. We may look up to Armies for our Defence, but Virtue is our best Security. It is not possible that any State should long continue free, where Virtue is not supremely honord. This is as seasonably as it is justly said by one of the most celebrated Writers of the present time. Perhaps the Form of Government now adopted may be permanent; Should it be only temporary, the golden Opportunity of recovering the Virtue and reforming the Manners of our Country should be industriously improvd.

Our Ancestors laid an excellent Foundation for the Security of Liberty, by setting up in a few years after their Arrival, a publick Seminary of Learning; and by their Laws, they obligd every Town consisting of a certain Number of Families to keep and maintain a Grammar School. I should be much grievd if it should be true as I am informd, that some of our Towns have dismissd their School masters, alledging that the extraordinary Expence of defending the Country renders them unable to support them. I hope this Inattention to the Principles of our wise forefathers does not prevail. If there should be any Danger of it, would not the leading Gentlemen do eminent Service to the Publick, by impressing upon the Minds of the People, the Necessity and Importance of encouraging that System of Education, which in my opinion, is so well calculated to diffuse among the Individuals of the Community, the Principles of Morality, so essentially necessary for the Preservation of publick Liberty. There are Virtues and Vices which are properly called political. “Corruption, Dishonesty to one’s Country, Luxury and Extravagance tend to the Ruin of States.” The opposite Virtues tend to their Establishment. But “there is a Connection between Vices as well as Virtues, and one opens the Door for the Entrance of another.” Therefore “Every able Politician will guard against other Vices” and be attentive to promote every Virtue. He who is void of Virtuous Attachment in private Life, is, or very soon will be void of all Regard to his Country. There is seldom an Instance of a Man guilty of betraying his Country, who had not before lost the feeling of moral Obligation in his private Connections. Before C[hurc]h was detected of holding a criminal Correspondence with the Enemies of his Country, his Infidelity to his Wife had been notorious. Since private and publick Vices, though not always apparently, are in Reality so nearly connected, of how much Importance, how necessary is it, that the utmost pains be taken by the Publick, to have the Principles of Virtue early inculcated on the Minds even of Children, and the moral Sense universally kept alive, and that the wise Institutions of our Ancestors for those great Purposes be encouragd by the Government. For no People will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can they easily be subdued, where Knowledge is diffusd and Virtue preservd. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant and debauched in their Manners, they will sink under their own Weight, without the Aid of foreign Invaders.

There are other things which, I humbly conceive, require the most serious Consideration of the Legislative. We have heretofore complaind, and I think justly, that bad Men have too often found their Way into places of publick Trust. “Nothing is more essential to the Establishment of Manners in a State, than that all Persons employd in Places of Power and Trust be Men of exemplary Characters. The Publick cannot be too curious concerning the Characters of Publick Men.” We have also complaind, that a Plurality of Places incompatible with each other have sometimes been vested in one Person. If under the former Administration there was no Danger to be apprehended from vesting the different Powers of Government in the same Persons, why did the Patriots so loudly protest against it? If Danger is always to be apprehended from it, should we not by continuing the Practice, too much imitate the degenerate Romans, who upon the Fall of Julius set up Augustus? They changd indeed their Masters, and when they had destroyd the Tyrant sufferd the Tyranny to continue. Tell me how a Judge of Probate can consistently sit at the Council Board and joyn in a Decision there upon an appeal from his own Judgment? Perhaps, being personally interested in another Appointment, I may view it with a partial Eye. But you may well remember that the Secretary of the Colony declind taking a Seat at the Council Board, to which he had been elected prior to his Appointment, until, in the House of Representatives he had publickly requested their opinion of the Propriety of it, and there heard it explicitly declared by an eminent and truly patriotick Member as his Opinion, that as the Place was not then as it formerly had been, the Gift of the Crown but of the People, there was no Impropriety in his holding it. The rest of the Members were silent. Major H[awle]y has as much of the stern Virtue and Spirit of a Roman Censor as any Gentleman I ever conversd with. The Appointment of the Secretary and his Election to a Seat at the Board were both made in the Time of his Absence from the Colony and without the Solicitation of any of his Friends that he knew of—most assuredly without his own. As he is resolvd never wittingly to disgrace himself or his Country, he still employs his Mind on the Subject, and wishes for your candid and impartial Sentiments.

I fear I have trespassd on your Leisure, and conclude, with assuring you that I am with sincere Regards to Mrs. Warren,
your very affectionate Friend

SAMUEL ADAMS.


 

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