April 22, 1776

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In Williamsburg, Virginia, General Charles Lee instructs regimental recruiting officers to enlist no natives of Great Britain or Ireland unless they have been longtime residents of America, have dependents in the colony, or can provide a strong recommendation.

John Adams on this day wrote a letter to his friend James Warren that seems to bear particular relevance to our current times.  He begins by pushing for a new and independent government –

“The Management of so complicated and mighty a Machine, as the United Colonies, requires the Meekness of Moses, the Patience of Job and the Wisdom of Solomon, added to the Valour of Daniel.

They are advancing by slow but sure steps, to that mighty Revolution, which You and I have expected for Some Time. Forced Attempts to accellerate their Motions, would have been attended with Discontent and perhaps Convulsions.

The News from South Carolina, has aroused and animated all the Continent. It has Spread a visible Joy, and if North Carolina and Virginia should follow the Example, it will Spread through all the rest of the Colonies like Electric Fire.

The Royal Proclamation, and the late Act of Parliament,1 have convinced the doubting and confirmed the timorous and wavering. The two Proprietary Colonies only, are still cool. But I hope a few Weeks will alter their Temper.

I think it is now the precise Point of Time for our Council and House of Representatives, either to proceed to make such Alterations in our Constitution as they may judge proper, or to Send a Petition to Philadelphia for the Consent of Congress to do it.2 It will be considered as fresh evidence of our Spirit and Vigour, and will give Life and Activity and Energy to all the other Colonies. Four Months ago, or indeed at any Time Since you assumed a Government, it might have been disagreable and perhaps dangerous. But it is quite otherwise now.

Another Thing, if you are so unanimous, in the Measure of Independency and wish for a Declaration of it, now is the proper Time for you to instruct your Delegates to that Effect. It would have been productive of Jealousies perhaps and Animosities, a few Months ago, but would have a contrary Tendency now. The Colonies are all at this Moment turning their Eyes, that Way. Vast Majorities in all the Colonies now see the Propriety and Necessity of taking the decisive Steps, and those who are averse to it are afraid to Say much against it. And therefore Such an Instruction at this Time would comfort and cheer the Spirits of your Friends, and would discourage and dishearten your Enemies.”

And yet, writes Adams, a new government, even one based on democratic values, will not ensure happiness:  “We may feel Sanguine Confidence of our Strength: yet in a few years it may be put to the Tryal.  We may please ourselves with the prospect of free and popular Governments. But there is great Danger, that those Governments will not make us happy. God grant they may. But I fear, that in every assembly, Members will obtain an Influence, by Noise not sense. By Meanness, not Greatness. By Ignorance not Learning. By contracted Hearts not large souls. I fear too, that it will be impossible to convince and perswade People to establish wise Regulations.

There is one Thing, my dear sir, that must be attempted and most Sacredly observed or We are all undone. There must be a Decency, and Respect, and Veneration introduced for Persons in Authority, of every Rank, or We are undone. In a popular Government, this is the only Way of Supporting order—and in our Circumstances, as our People have been so long without any Government att all, it is more necessary than, in any other. The United Provinces, were So sensible of this that they carried it to a burlesque Extream.”

While Adams philosophically considers the possible future challenges, George Washington is all to aware of the present ones, those being congresses inability to provide sufficient money and arms.  “I have repeatedly mention’d to the Honorable Congress the distressful situation we are in for want of Arms—With much pains and difficulty I got most of the Regiments from the Eastward tolerably well furnished, but find the York Regiments very badly provided. Colonel Ritzema’s has scarcely any, and yet these Men being inlisted during the War, and at five dollars  Month, ought not (in my judgment) to be discharged, as we find it almost as difficult to get Men as Arms. This is a matter of some importance which I should be glad to receive the particular opinion of Congress upon.  Mr Baldwin, is one of the Assistant Engineers ordered to Canada—He is indeed a very useful Man in his department, but declined the Service on Account of his pay, which he says is inadequate to his Support. In order to induce him to continue, I promised to represent his Case to Congress, and would recommend an increase of his pay, and that he should have the rank of Lieutinant Colonel, of which he is very deserving. I beg leave therefore to recommend him to the Congress, and that they would make provision for him accordingly.”

Hear the stories of these fascinating men at Bow Tie Tours, which provides Philadelphia’s Best Walking tours.  You may also want to participate in our vacation packages, in which we learn in-depth about George Washington and/or Thomas Jefferson.  There has never been a present time in which we have been more in need of learning about our past!

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