The Truth about McCullough’s John Adams

            When giving tours or giving speeches, I try hard not to come off as an insufferable crank (despite being one.)  This often requires a bit of dissemination on my part.  Such as when a woman tells me, her voice dripping with pride, that her husband is a great history scholar – he has read all of Bill O’Reilly’s books.  Given the world I live in, where both adults and children admit to me that they have no idea who wrote the Declaration of Independence, who we were fighting against in the Revolutionary War, and why did all of these battles take place on National Parks – I can only smile wanly and nod.  “Have you read them?” is the next, unavoidable question.  “Well, no, I spend more of my time reading history books by…you know, historians or writers.” 

            Given all of that, I can’t take umbrage when people tell me they love the David McCullough book, John Adams.  How could I?  It would be like complaining that you don’t regularly groom your animals in a slaughter house.  But let me let those of you who are reading my blog in on a little secret – I think John Adams is the most overrated history book I have ever read, and I think McCullough is a fraud.  (For those of you who reply, “I think he’s a great writer,” I can only offer the response that one can be both.)

            Before discussing this book, and the mini-series it spawned, let me note something about many, many well-respected authors and historians that I find amazing.  They act like children.  Too many historical writers feel the need to be totally on one side or the other in their character-driven narratives.  Thus, if they love Washington, they feel the need to hate Jefferson for his alleged apostasies against Washington.  Hamiltonians must hate Jeffersonians every bit as much as Jeffersonians hate Hamiltonians.  (Want to know something interesting?  “Hamiltonians” comes through fine on my computer, but “Jeffersonians” has that tell-tale red line under it, indicating a misspell.  When I check to see what might be more appropriate, it offers “Jeffersonian” without the s.  What, am I the only one left!)

            McCullough takes this tendency to extreme and ridiculous heights.  His book, which is a one-volume biography of Adams, spends more time kvetching about Jefferson than is necessary or appropriate.  Yes, I get it, I get it, he was mean to Adams, I know.

            I hear this all the time about Jefferson.  He was mean to Hamilton.  He was mean to Washington.  He was mean to Adams.  I respond, dispassionately – being a calm and impartial Historical Expeditionary – that he was on several occasions somewhat two-faced in his dealings with these guys.  This came from his twin tendencies – first, he did not like engaging in disagreeable personal invective but, second, he also did not want the country, this potential paradise on earth, to be turned into a pale imitation of England.  In other words, this wasn’t a fight over a girl in junior high school – it was about saving humanity.  It was about doing everything he could to save humanity by stopping the attempts of the Hamiltonians to to open the doors of the governing chambers to the speculators, and to bring about the festering, putrid land of corruption and moral decay that is the America of today. 

            Here, in a nutshell, is the biggest problem with the McCullough book.  He took a nice advance (his time must always be paid for) to write a book about Adams and Jefferson.  (Something that was just done by Gordon S. Wood.  Perhaps I’ll blog about it one day.)  But he didn’t like Jefferson.  Adams, on the other hand, made him feel all warm and squishy.  So, while most of the book is a long curricula-vitae on Adams’ accomplishments, another large portion is on how much Jefferson sucked.  He spent too much money.  He was a hypocrite.  Blah, blah, blah.  Meanwhile, Adams was a bastion of rationality and intellect.

            Now, let me make something clear here – I friggin’ love John Adams.  What historian – or, to be more accurate, Historical Expeditionary – wouldn’t?  I fell in love with history when my mother took me to the musical 1776, and I now revel in his journals and letters.  He is the one guy who really seems to let me know him through his written word, instead of letting me know the reputation he would like to leave behind.

            That being said, he is a larger than life, sometimes out of his mind, individual, like Churchill or Teddy Roosevelt, somebody who goes off the deep-end as often as he avoids doing so.  Benjamin Franklin’s oft-repeated quote could not be more accurate:  “Always an honest man, often a wise one, but sometimes, and in some things, absolutely out of his senses.”  Joseph Ellis, who was kind of a dick to me when I asked him to sign several of his books at a book signing, comes much closer to the essence of Adams in his wonderful book, Passionate Sage.

            I love Adams.  But that doesn’t mean I want you to skip a thorough discussion of one of the great blights of his career, the enactment of the Alien and Sedition Act, which basically made it illegal to criticize the dude in print.  After grudgingly admitting that, yes, Adams did sign the Act (and blaming Abigail for telling him to do so), he is quick to tell us that it “must be seen in the context of the time, and the context was tumult and fear.”  Ok.  All the more reason not to engage in it, one might say.

            What bugs me the most about the book is its universal acclaim and its totally preposterous Pulitzer Prize.  Now that does bother me, because I am thinking of all the younger and hungrier writers who do not demand to be paid for each second of their time but who are killing themselves trying to write books that might further historical discourse and knowledge.  I don’t mind when well-known authors win the award if they deserve it – Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lincoln classic, Team of Rivals, comes immediately to mind – but am disgusted and dispirited when one wins it who does not. 

            Why do I call McCullough a fraud?  First of all, he starts the book with the seemingly obligatory orgasmic celebration of a “new” collection of journals and letters, in this case the Adams Papers.  All of which would be fine if he actually read them, but I don’t believe he did.  I found just about every quote to be familiar, most of them pulled, no doubt from the excellent two-volume study on Adams written by Page Smith in 1962. I’ve always hoped that some graduate student would take down every quote in the McCullough book, and then match them up with the Page Smith book. I’d be surprised if there were ten quotes in McCullough’s that were not already quoted in Smith’s.

            Then there is a talk I saw him do when he was telling the group how he had no idea what he would write about after Adam’s retirement.  Did anything happen?  Then, to his amazement, he “came across” a vast amount of fascinating material in the letters between Adams and his old friend Jefferson.  Ok, here’s the thing.  Everybody knows about that.  Are we to believe he was the one person with any historical background in America that had not heard about the famous Adams-Jefferson letters during their final years?  A fraud.

            What about the HBO Series, you ask?  For the most part I like it, and wish they would follow up with one on Washington or Jefferson or Franklin or Hamilton or somebody. I’m not crazy about Paul Giamatti’s performance. Why is he always screaming at his kids? But, the main problem, is I could never convince myself that he was John Adams and kept seeing him as Paul Giamatti. Personally, I would go for the 70s series The Adams Chronicles, which I thought was pretty wonderful at the time, and still do.

            So you have the book and were planning to read it.  Should you burn it?  Throw it out?  Put it in one of those weird little library boxes that are found on street corners throughout the country?  Well, here’s the thing.  I’m not telling you it’s a terrible book, only that it has defects and it annoys me.  McCullough is indeed a wonderful writer, and the world is a better one for this book having been written, since it brought John Adams into the light for many people who otherwise would never have thought about him one way or the other.  So it won’t kill you to read it.  You’ll learn stuff.  You’ll enjoy yourself.  You’ll be better off for having read it.

            But if you want to read the best biography on Adams, check out Page Smith’s two volume set that I already mentioned.  This is one of the greatest historical works I have ever read.  The guy deserved a Pulitzer!  He really did!

Sexual Harassment Allegations Come to Light!


Betsy Walker has come forth with allegations that Thomas Jefferson, after assuring her husband that he would look in on her while he was away conducting a treaty with a nearby Indian tribe, did sexually harass and attempt to seduce her.  After slipping her an ode to the efficacy of free love, Jefferson was relentless in his attempts.  On one occasion, Jefferson had come to her house to play cards.  After she went to bed he “pretended to be sick, complained of a headache & left the gentlemen…Instead of going to bed….he stole into my room….”  Jefferson was “repulsed with indignation & menaces of alarm and ran off.”

Thomas Jefferson has admitted to the charges Betsy Walker has made, and apologizes for any pain he may have caused.  “I plead guilty…that when young and single I offered love to a handsome lady.  I acknowledge its incorrectness .”   We are still attempting to discover whether or not this was a singular and unique event, although several women (including Sally Hemings, Maria Cosway, Angelica Schuyler, and others) have indicated that this may be a pattern with Mr. Jefferson.

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October 12, 1776


In Virginia, Thomas Jefferson obtained leave to bring in a bill declaring tenants entail to hold their lands in fee simple.  The laws of entail allow transfer of land to an heir of body, not wives or adopted child and led to large holding interests.

British General Henry Clinton lead a force of 4,000 men up the East River at Throg’s Neck.  General Washington sends a force, not to oppose, but to remove the bridge that connected the neck with the mainland.  The British eventually took it after a few days.

After Benedict Arnold’s escape at Split Rock, New York, General Guy Carleton hastened after them and caught up to them, but Arnold’s USS Congress sailed on to Crown Point.

Join us at Bow Tie Tours for Philadelphia’s Best Historical Walking Tours.  Our “Independence Tour Extraordinaire” includes tickets to Independence Hall, as well as numerous other sites, such as 2nd National Bank, Graff House, Carpenter Hall, and Christ Church.  If you are interested in learning about George Washington, join us for our Valley Forge Tour.  For those interested in the Civil War, come see our Gettysburg Tour.  Or, for the true history buffs, contact us about taking part in our American History Vacation Packages.

Thoughts on the Declaration of Independence


On Veteran’s Day, my mom’s parents used to drag her from cemetery to cemetery to introduce her to long-gone relatives who had died in the service of the country.  She hated it.  Hated it so much, in fact, that it was one of the reasons she gave for not wanting to be buried.  Be kind to people when they are alive, was her point of view – once they are dead, they will not hear you.

She seemed to have missed the point.  Of course the dead could not hear her.  But it was not for the dead that the trips were being made, but for the living; for her.  When we remember those who died and sacrificed to create and defend out country, we gain a necessary sense of appreciation for what we have here.

Many millennials were shocked about the recent presidential election, because they had come to believe that their view of social progress was natural and inevitable, not something that people had died for.

Independence Day is my favorite holiday because it has great meaning historically and also psychologically and personally.  This is what I mean:  We all know that “The Founders” came to Philadelphia in 1774 to discuss England’s recent actions against Massachusetts, as resulting from the Boston Tea Party.  There are a couple of things to remember.  First of all, these men were no more born as “Founders” than their slaves who were cruelly removed from Africa were born “slaves.”  For the most part these men had grown up affectionately subservient to Great Britain.  Benjamin Franklin was living in London because he believed it to be the epicenter of human activity.  And he was not adorned by any coonskin cap back then, but printed himself with a proper British powdered wig.

Young George Washington had dreamed of attending college in England and, like his brother Laurence, achieving distinction by fighting on behalf of the British Crown.  His estate at Mount Vernon was named after a British Admiral.  John Adams and his wife Abigail wrote letters to each other sprinkled with allusions to Shakespeare.  When he attended college he was accorded a number which reflected the rank and the social importance of his family.  The greatest and most scintillating evenings of young Thomas Jefferson’s life were the evenings he spent with the Royal Governor in Virginia’s Governor’s Palace.

What happened?  How could a generation born into a loving and respectful relationship with its mother country turn so suddenly and violently revolutionary?

One of the reasons I love Independence Day is that nothing of particular importance happened on July 4th.  No blood was spilt, no victories gained.  Nothing but a change of minds.  We became independent that day, because we decided we were independent.  That’s all.

But in that there is much.  The power behind a decision, made with resolve is the most powerful force in the world.  All things are created twice, wrote Steven Covey, first in somebody mind and then in their acts.  So too was it with independence.  So too was it with the creation of a country based on the ideals of the enlightenment.  This isn’t to say that the decision is the easy part – no, that would be the eight years of war that followed the decision.  The decision, however, is the critical part.

We became independent when we decided we were independent.  Think about that.

And thank John Adams for asking the young and relatively unknown Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, to write this document.  Why Jefferson?  Well, if you have Michael Jordan on your team, do you pass to Anthony Carter?  Thomas Jefferson was a man who Adams claimed never to have heard string three sentences together in the congress.  No mind, he knew he could write those sentences well enough.  He had read “A Summary View of the Rights of British America,” in which Jefferson argued that although Virginia was tied to the King of England – out of choice, he wanted to know, not law – she was in no way tied to the Parliament.  Jefferson sought to “remind” King George that America’s ancestors had come to their country in the same way the British ones had arrived in England, and that Americans were no more bound to the rulers of their previous residence than were the British.

Thomas Jefferson’s mind and pen were steeped in enlightenment ideals, steeped in the idea that we should follow our intellects and out good sense when it comes to matters of faith, government, and science.  That we do not believe that we are in the center of the universe simply because we would like to think so.

By choosing Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence, Adams and his cohorts were making a daring but quite possibly a costly choice.  After all, there were many that believed, as Alexander Hamilton would put it, that England’s government was the most perfect attainable by man.  The argument for independence could be made without arguing also for the natural right of all mankind.  Already the Americans were counting on help from the French.  Why then choose Jefferson, a man with such blatant hostility against monarchy?  Because, Adams told him, (1) he was a Virginian “and a Virginian should be at the head of this matter;” (2) Adams was considered obnoxious by many in congress and Jefferson was very much otherwise; and (3) Jefferson could write ten times better than Adams.

Why Jefferson?  Well, if you want somebody to write your self-defining document, you choose the best writer.  Only Lincoln, among our great statesmen and women, can be compared to Jefferson.

Jefferson was a produce of the Enlightenment.  Growing up in the rarified air of the intellectual elites of Virginia, Jefferson was not averse to spending fifteen hours a day reading his heroes, such as Locke.  He would have said, as did Marley’s Ghost, that mankind was his business.  Jefferson wanted to secure independence not just for Americans, but, ultimately, for mankind.  He sought to free mankind from the choke of monarchical oppression.

But not for his slaves, or for American slaves.  He did not try to end slavery, as some have said, on the document, although he did blame King George for the slave trade and did try to end that.   Of course, by ending the slave trade, he made his own slaves and those of his neighbors in Virginia that much more valuable, as he was choking off all competition.  (Virginia had the most slaves.)

Jefferson and slavery.  His failure to adequately oppose it in either his public or his personal life will always rear its head when discussing the man, and rightfully so.  He failed the country and he failed himself by so willingly (and conveniently) giving in to the politically realities of his time.  Biographers such as Jon Meacham argue that he was simply a pragmatist.  And yet, when it came to the rest of his life, he was anything but.  He was a man who chose to build a mansion on top of a mountain when everybody told him how completely unreasonable the idea was.  His imagination soared far above and beyond those of the great majority of his compatriots, but when it came to the evils of slavery, he became the most conventional of any of them.

So why do we celebrate the man and the document he wrote?

Perhaps the greatest student of the Declaration of Independence was Abraham Lincoln.  And we have all heard the words that begin his most famous address, The Gettysburg Address, about a battle that occurred around July 4th as well:  “Four Score and Seven Years ago, our forefathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”  Strange, isn’t it, since those fore score and seven years bring us back to the Declaration of Independence, which certainly did not create a new nation.  Anything but.  It was quite specific in not doing that, in setting up a system in which each of the thirteen colonies, now states, had their own sovereignty.  And so we are left with the conclusion that either Abraham Lincoln had gone a bit batty, or that he was arguing the position that the Declaration was far more than simply a statement of separation, but that it was the opening salvo of our Constitution and the first explanation and description of our county.

Lincoln makes some interesting comments about the Declaration.  Soon after his first election he had this to say:  “It was not mere matter of separation of the colonies from the motherland, but [of] that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence, which gave liberty not alone to the people of the country, but hope to all the world, for all future time.  It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights would be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance.  This is the sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence.”  So here Lincoln makes an important point, that there is much in this Declaration that is not directly on point as to the issue of independence from England; much that goes farther and deeper than that.

We could have ended up looking back on a Declaration as a document for a specific purpose, as we see the Declaration of Causes for Taking Up Arms.  We could see it as a legal argument, as we see The Federalist Papers.  Certainly, we could have seen it as a document overtaken and subsumed by the later Constitution.  But we don’t.  We see it as Lincoln saw it, as the very first articulation of the American experiment, before we had even agreed to become one country.  And yet, continuing to follow the idea that we are one people, and that we can be described with a shared body of values.  Think about it – we might well have said, in some of our colonies, all men are created while in some of our colonies, we have slaves.  The document could have described an errant group of different colonies with individualistic characteristics who came together to fight this just war, much as the Allies would have described themselves during World War II.

To Lincoln, the Civil War was required by the Declaration of Independence.  It created a conflict, from day one, a conflict between what it stated and how we lived, and it was a conflict, Lincoln seemed to believe, that the Founders, including Jefferson, knew that a future generation would have to resolve.  Writing to Joshua Speed, Lincoln said, “As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

Today we continue to celebrate that work-in-progress that is the Declaration of Independence.  It set the tone and it led the way, and it gave us words that were far more empty of real meaning when he wrote them then they are today.  I tell people that I am a Jeffersonian, which is a very different thing from being a Jefferson-advocate.  The words of the Declaration of Independence, at least many of them, reign supreme, and the tragedy is not that they were written in a way that did not always accord with our actions, but that we did not more quickly alter our actions to be in accord with this document.  Gore Vidal may have put it best:  “He said the right words at the right time, and they were never forgotten.”

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Enjoy your Independence Day!
































July 2, 1776


Congress formally adopts Richard Henry Lee’s resolution, asserting that the “United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is and ought to be totally dissolved.”  The vote would be unanimous, except that New York abstained.

General John Sullivan, from Crown Point, New York, writes to John Hancock about his experience in Canada “to give you a particular account of the miserable state of our troops there, and the numbers of which daily kept dropping in their beds and graves would rather seem like the effect of imagination than a history of facts.”

After landing at New York, British Captain Archibald Robertson reports on “The Rebels” he encountered and notes how they “fired musketry at the nearest ships without effect.  Lucky for us the rebels had no cannon here or we would have suffered a great deal.”

Thomas Jefferson, being a forerunner of the term-limit movement, drafts a proposal to encourage the colonies to return different people to congress, rather than just the same ones.  “To prevent every danger which might arise to American freedom by continuing too long in office the members of the Continental Congress, to preserve to that body the confidence of their friends, and to disarm the malignant imputations of their enemies It is earnestly recommended to the several Provincial Assemblies or Conventions of the United colonies that in their future elections of delegates to the Continental Congress one half at least of the persons chosen be such as were not of the delegation next preceeding, and the residue be of such as shall not have served in that office longer than two years. And that their deputies be chosen for one year, with powers to adjourn themselves from time to time and from place to place as occasions may require, and also to fix the time and place at which their Successors shall meet.”

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June 26, 1776


Virginia Governor Dunmore reports to Lord Germain in England that the Gwynn’s Island is his new base, and that if the fever had not killed most of the slaves that flocked to his banner, he would have stayed on the mainland.

In Seneca, South Carolina, Patriot Captain James McCall and a thirty man detachment of South Carolina rangers were snet on a peace mission to the Cherokee Nation.  They were ambushed by the Indians.

In New Jersey, General Sir William Howe and the British fleet arrive off Sandy Hook.

John Adams writes to his wife, attributing the defeat in Canada to smallpox.  “Our Misfortunes in Canada, are enough to melt an Heart of Stone. The Small Pox is ten times more terrible than Britons, Canadians and Indians together. This was the Cause of our precipitate Retreat from Quebec, this the Cause of our Disgraces at the Cedars.—I dont mean that this was all. There has been Want, approaching to Famine, as well as Pestilence. And these Discouragements seem to have so disheartened our Officers, that none of them seem to Act with Prudence and Firmness.  But these Reverses of Fortune dont discourage me. It was natural to expect them, and We ought to be prepared in our Minds for greater Changes, and more melancholly Scenes still. It is an animating Cause, and brave Spirits are not subdued with Difficulties.”

Adams continues to write of his multiplying duties:  “The Congress have been pleased to give me more Business than I am qualified for, and more than I fear, I can go through, with safety to my Health. They have established a Board of War and Ordinance and made me President of it, an Honour to which I never aspired, a Trust to which I feel my self vastly unequal. But I am determined to do as well as I can and make Industry supply, in some degree the Place of Abilities and Experience. The Board sits, every Morning and every Evening.1 This, with Constant Attendance in Congress, will so entirely engross my Time, that I fear, I shall not be able to write you, so often as I have. But I will steal Time to write to you.”

Learn more about the events of 1776 by joining Bow Tie Tours for one of our award winning historical walking tours.  Join us for our July 4th Celebration, a 7-Hour Extravaganza that takes you into the rooms where Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, and where Congress signed it.  See the chair Washington sat in during the Constitutional Convention, and the dais from which performed the first peaceful transfer of power from one president to another.  See where Benjamin Franklin flew his kite, where Alexander Hamilton first met Mariah Reynolds.  The bank that was the result of a titanic struggle between competing ideological forces that brought about our two party system.  The tent where George Washington slept.  This will be a July 4th you will never forget, and you will be joined by Dr. Benjamin Rush, a Signer of the Declaration of Independence who can tell you these things from personal experience.  Tickets are limited, so contact us now for this rare opportunity.

April 26, 1776


Cotton Tufts writes to John Adams about matters in Boston, and informs him of how the British attempted to ensnare General Washington but failed:  “The General’s Sagacity and Prudence was shewn in a very striking Light, in one Affair; which was reported here from good Authority and which I suppose to be true. For some Days before Bunker Hill was deserted, scarce any Soldiers were seen in the Fort. No Smokes from their Barracks and only here and there a Centinel. This led our Soldiers to imagine the Enemy had deserted it. Applications were dayly made and Petitions presented to the General that a Party might go and take Possession of it. To these He would by no Means consent. On the Day and Day before they left Boston 900 Men were seen to march out of it. This Fort is an almost impregnable one—a Security against 10,000 Veterans.”

Thomas Jefferson’s boyhood friend, John Page, writes to him of events in Virginia.  “I have snatched a few Moments to scribble you a few loose Thoughts on our present critical Situation. I think our Countrymen have exhibited an uncommon Degree of Virtue, not only in submiting to all the hard Restrictions and exposing themselves to all the Dangers which are the Consequence of the Disputes they are involved in with Great Britain, but in behaving so peaceably and honestly as they have when they were free from the Restraint of Laws. But how long this may be the Case who can tell? When to their Want of Salt there shall be added a Want of Clothes and Blankets and when to this there may be added the Terrors of a desolating War raging unchecked for Want of Arms and Ammunition, who can say what the People might not do in such a Situation, and tempted with the Prospect of Peace Security and a Trade equal to their wishes? Might they not be induced to give up the Authors of their Misfortunes, their Leaders, who had lead them into such a Scrape, and be willing to sacrifice them to a Reconciliation? I think therefore it behoves the Congress and Conventions to prevent this as much as possible. Every Method that can be devised for the manufacturing of Salt, Salt-petre, Sulphur, Gun-powder, Arms Wollens and Linens should be immediately adopted; and because these Articles can not in several Colonies be made quick enough for their demand, some sure Means of importing them should be instantly fallen upon, and as no Means can be so certain and can so fully answer our Purpose, as forming a commercial Alliance with France, no Time should be lost in doing so. And to prevent Disorders in each Colony a Constitution should be formed as nearly resembling the old one as Circumstances, and the Merit of that Constitution will admit of. And it is undoubtedly high Time that a Plan of a Confederation should be drawn and indeed compleatly executed. These Things should be done without loseing a Moment.  Would you believe it, that we have not yet erected one Powder Mill at the public Expence, and that the only one which has received any Encouragement from the Public has made but about 700 ℔ and that I have not been able to procure the least Assistance from the Committee for Bucktrout’s hand-Mill, except their selling him about 400 ℔ of Salt-petre of the Shops half dirt and common Salt for which they demand 3/ per ℔, although his Mill is an elegant Machine and 2 Men can work it with ease, beating with 6 Pestles weighing 60 ℔s. each in Mortars containing 20 ℔s. of Paste, and he has actually beat 120 ℔. of Powder in them and grained 40 ℔. which has been used in proving Cannon &c. and which was found to be strong and good under every disadvantage of want of Sieves and being made with bad Sulphur and Nitre.”

Meanwhile George Washington writes to Jonathan Trumball, telling him that, by sending troops to Canada, he has put his army in a vulnerable position.  “When you did me the honor of a visit at Norwich in my way to this place, I communicated to you the recommendation I had received from Congress for sending four Battalions from hence to reinforce our Troops in Canada. I now beg leave to inform you that, in compliance therewith, on Saturday and Sunday last, I detached four Regiments thence under the command of Brigadier General Thompson, and by an Express received last night am ordered by Congress, in addition to those already gone, to send immediately six more—Our Regiments being incomplete and much wanting in numbers, I need not add, that the Army here felt a sensible diminution from this first detachment, and when the second is gone will be weak indeed, considering the importance of this place and the many extensive Posts which must be guarded for its defence, add to this almost the whole of our valuable Ordnance, Stores and Magazines will be deposited here. For these reasons it appears expedient that some mode should be adopted without loss of time, by this your and the Jersey Governments for throwing in immediate succours upon the appearance of the Enemy or any case of emergency. I have wrote to the Congress of New Jersey upon the Subject, praying that such regulations should be formed respecting their Militia (as they are the only resource we have) that assistance may be had on the earliest notice of an approach by the Enemy, for preventing those fatal and alarming consequences which might result from the common and slow method generally used for obtaining their aid; and would take the liberty of mentioning, that, if something of this sort should be done by you and your Honorable Council respecting your Militia or such part of them as are most contiguous to this place, the most salutary ends might be derived therefrom—The benefits flowing from a timely succour being too obvious for repetition, I shall propose, with all possible deference, for your consideration, whether it will not be advisable to have some select Corps of Men appointed under proper Officers in the Western parts of your Government to repair hither, on notice from the General here, of the appearance of an Enemy— If it should be thought necessary upon an emergency, in the first instance to resort to you before any succour could be ordered in, it is to be feared that the relief would be too late to answer any good purposes.”

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Happy Birthday Thomas Jefferson


Americans go back and forth in their feelings about Thomas Jefferson.  When Franklin Roosevelt spoke at the opening of the Jefferson Memorial, he spoke of the architect of our country and designer of her freedoms.  Jefferson, Garry Wills tells us in his wonderful book, “Inventing America:  Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence“, that he explained what it meant to be an American before we were even a country.    Others find him to be the ultimate hypocrite and spendthrift.

When it was discovered that Jefferson almost certainly fathered children with his slave, Sally Hemings, it caused many to reconsider the man.  Was he worth emulating and celebrating?  Or was he the most base of hypocrites, a rapist who wrote beautiful thoughts while living a villainous life.

And then there is the issue of money.  David McCullough spends many of his pages on his book about Adams describing Jefferson’s spending habits that not only put him into virtual bankruptcy, but would be disastrous to those he left behind.

When thinking about Jefferson we often think about Lincoln as well.  Because it was Lincoln who told us that Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence required our Civil War, as it demanded the end of slavery.

Jefferson wrote out a set of principals that told us what it meant to be an American. For better or worse, he still does.

Call us if you would like to take part in the Bow Tie Tours Thomas Jefferson Tour this summer, in which we follow Jefferson to several of the most important places of his life, from Philadelphia to Williamsburg to Natural Bridge to Charlottesville.  Whether you love or hate him, it is important that you know him.


Thomas Jefferson and Adnileb


Thomas Jefferson had dressed up his arguments in order to make success a certainty!  As a college student at William and Mary, Jefferson spent almost as much time thinking about the women of his acquaintance as he spent on Locke.  In one specific case, he probably spent more time on the woman, and that was with Rebecca Burwell, who he alternatively called in letters or in his journal, either Belinda, or Adnileb.  (Belinda backwards, get it?)

Thomas Jefferson was in  love – at least he thought he was.  One problem – Rebecca hardly knew he was alive.

Rebecca – writes Jefferson biographer Dumas Malone – was “an orphan with the best of connections.”  Her father had been a member of the Council and  her uncle, who took charge of her after her parent’s death, was William Nelson of York, also a Councilor and later acting governor.    Malone writes that she was beautiful and good, but she was not particularly nice, at least to Jefferson, who she regarded as a somewhat comical, scarecrow-looking boy.

Jefferson, who was twenty, could hardly keep his mind off of the sixteen year old girl, whose vision constantly interrupted his attempts to understand Coke’s primer of the law.  Writing to his friend John Page, he said, “Well, Page, I do wish the Devil had old Coke, for I am sure I never was so tired of an old dull scoundrel in my life.”

Writing circumspectly, he asked, “Write me very circumstantially everything which happened at the wedding. Was She there? Because if she was I ought to have been at the devil for not being there too.”  However, he then proceeded to demonstrate that Rebecca – or Adnileb – was not the only girl on his mind.  “Remember me affectionately to all the young ladies of my acquaintance, particularly the Miss Burwells and Miss Potters, and tell them that though that heavy earthly part of me, my body, be absent, the better half of me, my soul, is ever with them, and that my best wishes shall ever attend them. Tell Miss Alice Corbin that I verily believe the rats knew I was to win a pair of garters from her, or they never would have been so cruel as to carry mine away. This very consideration makes me so sure of the bet that I shall ask every body I see from that part of the world what pretty gentleman is making his addresses to her. I would fain ask the favor of Miss Becca Burwell to give me another watch paper, of her own cutting which I should esteem much more though it were a plain round one, than the nicest in the world cut by other hands: however I am afraid she would think this presumption after my suffering the other to get spoiled. If you think you can excuse me to her for this I should be glad if you would ask her. Tell Miss Suckey Potter that I heard just before I came out of town that she was offended with me about something: what it is I know not: but this I know, that I never was guilty of the least disrespect to her in my life either in word or deed: as far from it as it has been possible for me to be: I suppose when we meet next she will be endeavoring to repay an imaginary affront with a real one: but she may save herself the trouble, for nothing that she can say or do to me shall ever lessen her in my esteem. And I am determined allways to look upon her as the same honest-hearted good-humored agreeable lady I ever did. Tell—tell—In short tell them all ten thousand things more than either you or I can now or ever shall think of as long as we live.”

Jefferson could not quite decide between two contending wishes – to travel the world with his friend Page, or to marry the woman of his dreams.  He decided to make his move at the Raleigh Tavern.  He prepared diligently for his approach to her, as he told Page.  “In the most melancholy fit that ever any poor soul was, I sit down to write to you. Last night, as merry as agreeable company and dancing with Belinda in the Apollo could make me, I never could have thought the succeeding sun would have seen me so wretched as I now am! I was prepared to say a great deal: I had dressed up in my own mind, such thoughts as occurred to me, in as moving language as I knew how, and expected to have performed in a tolerably creditable manner. But, good God! When I had an opportunity of venting them, a few broken sentences, uttered in great disorder, and interrupted with pauses of uncommon length, were the too visible marks of my strange confusion!”

Whatever he had said to her, it is said that she made much fun of it to her friends.  At any event, the night marked the end of his first great romantic passion.  She would go on to marry Jacquelin Ambler, a man somewhat older than Jefferson, and Jefferson would return to his studies with a vengeance.  “Wed her?” he asked.  “No. Were she all desire could with, as fair/As would the vainest of her sex be thought/With wealth beyond what woman’s pride could waste/She could not cheat me of my freedom.”

You can hear more stories about the Founders and their romantic lives on the Bow Tie Tours nighttime event, Sex and the First City.  If you are interested in Thomas Jefferson, join us for our vacation package about the man who did so much to define the United States.

April 6, 1776


In Philadelphia, the Congress resolves to allow exports from the colonies to any part of the world not under British rule.  It declared all ports open to all countries except Great Britain.  It also voted to allow the importation of any goods except those grown, produced, or shipped from any country under the King’s rule.

Off Block Island, Captain Esek Hopkins of the USS Alfred met the HMS Glasgow.  The Americans had 24 killed in action while the British lost only 4.

Meanwhile John Page, Thomas Jefferson’s long-time friend, writes his a short letter with a specific request:  “For God’s sake declare the Colonies independant at once, and save us from ruin. Adieu…”

Join us for Philadelphia’s best walking tours at Bow Tie Tours.  If you have a particular interest in Thomas Jefferson, join us in our Chasing History Thomas Jefferson tour, which will take us to key spots of Philadelphia, Monticello, and Williamsburg, Virginia.