Novanglus Essays


Learn More About John Adams' Novanglus Essays on Dr. Susan Rempel's

Written by John Adams (1775), and addressed to the people living in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Novanglus Essays are also known as “A History Of The Dispute With America From Its Origin, In 1754, To The Present Time.” The series of published letters were Adams’ response to the Massachusettensis essays which Adams originally believed to be written his long time friend  Jonathan Sewall. However, in a letter written to Judge Abraham Holmes on October 14, 1821, Adams stated, ” I had however great reason to suspect that I was mistaken in imputing Massachusettensis to Mr. Sewall. The testimony of Judge Chipman, of St John’s, New Brunswick, and of Judge Leonard, of London, both of them authorities too respectable to be contradicted, ascribes these papers to Mr. Daniel Leonard. This makes no alteration in the argument, but the jus suum cuique is of eternal obligation. I have had in the early part of my life, nearly equal esteem for both of these characters, and am willing that justice should be done between them.”

In the Novanglus Essays, Adams addressed the natural rights held by each individuals living in America, as well as the rights that each colonial government was granted under British Law. Follow the links below to read each of the Novanglus Essays.  Scroll down to read the preface for the 1819 text in which Adams discusses his friendship with Jonathan Sewall, as well as his belief that Sewall is actually Massachusettensis. In a second departure from present day  thought that Adams and Sewall never resolved their differences, Adams states that he and Sewall had a face-to-face reunion in 1788 during which they forgot “we had ever been enemies, embraced each other as cordially as ever. I had two hours conversation with him in a most delightful freedom upon a multitude of subjects.” Adams ended the Preface he had written for the 1819 publication of the letters written by Novanglus and Massachusettensis by stating: “He [Sewall] always lamented the conduct of Great Britain towards America. No man more constantly congratulated me, while we lived together in America, upon any news, true or false, favorable to a repeal of the obnoxious Statutes and a redress of our grievances; but the society in which he lived had convinced him that all resistance was not only useless but ruinous.”

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 From: Novnnglus and Massachusettensis; or Political Essays, published in the years 1774 and 1775, on the principal points of controversy, between Great Britain and her colonies. The former by John Adams, late President of the United States ; the latter by Jonathan Sewall, then King’s Attorney General of the Province of Massachusetts Bay. to which are added a number of letters, lately written by president Adams, to the Hon. William Tudor; some of which were never before published (1819) Hews and Goss Publishers:

Preface (written by John Adams)

“JONATHAN SEWALL was descended from Mitchills and and Hulls and Sewalls, and I believe Higginsons, i.e. from several of the ancient and venerable of New England families. But, as I am no genealogist, 1 must refer to my aged classmate and highly esteemed friend Judge Sewall of York, whose researches will, one day, explain the whole.

 Mr. SEWALL’S father was unfortunate; died young, leaving his son destitute; but as the child had discovered a pregnant genius, he was educated by the charitable contribution of his friends, of whom Dr. Samuel Cooper was one of the most active and successful, among his opulent parishoners. Mr. SEWALL graduated at college in 1748; kept a Latin school in Salem, till 1756, when

Chambers Russell, of Lincoln, a Judge of the Supreme Court and a Judge of Admiralty, from a principle of disinterested benevolence, received him into his family; instructed him in law; furnished him with books and introduced him to the practise at the bar. In 1757 and 1758, he attended the Supreme Court in Worcester, and spent his evenings with me in the office of Colonel

James Putnam, a gentleman of great acuteness of mind, and very extensive and successful in practise, and an able lawyer; in whose family I boarded and under whose auspices I studied law. Here commenced between Mr. SEWALL and me, a personal friendship, which continued, with none but political interruptions, till his death. He commenced practice in Charlestown, in the County of Middlesex, I, in that parish of the ancient town of Braintree, now called Quincy, then in the County of Suffolk, now of Norfolk. We attended the Courts in Boston, Cambridge, Charlestown, and Concord; lived together, frequently slept in the same chamber, and not seldom, in the same bed. Mr. SEWALL was then a patriot; his sentiments were purely American. To James Otis, w took a kind notice of us both, we constantly applied for advice in any difficulty, and he would attend to us, advise us, and look into books for us, and point out authorities to us, as kindly as if we had been his pupils or his sons.

 After the surrender of Montreal in 1759, rumours were every where spread that the English would now new model the Colonies, demolish the charters and reduce all to royal governments. These rumours I had heard as often as he had. One morning I met him, accidentally, on the floor of the old Town House. “John” said he, “I want to speak with you;” he always called me John, and I him Jonathan, and often said to him, I wish my name were David. He took me to a window seat and said; “these Englishmen are going to play the devil with us. They will overturn every thing. We must resist them and that by force. 1 wish you would write in the Newspapers, and urge a general attention to the Militia, to their exercises and discipline, for we must resist in arms.” I answered, “All this I fear is true; hut why do you not write yourself? You are older than I am; have more experience than I have, are more intimate with the grandees than I am, and you can write ten times better than I can.”

There had been a correspondence between us, by which I knew his refined style as well as he knew my coarse one. “Why,” said Mr. SEWALL, “I would write, but Goffe will find me out and I shall grieve his righteous soul, and you know what influence he has in Middlesex.” This Goffe had been Attorney General for twenty years, and commanded the practise in Middlesex and Worcester and several other Counties. He had power to crush, by his frown or his nod any young Lawyer in his County. He was afterwards Judge Trowbridge, but at that time as ardent as any of Hutchinson’s disciples, though he afterwards became alienated from his pursuits and principles.

In December 1760, or January 1761, Stephen Sewall, Chief Justice died, deeply lamented, though insolvent. My friend JONATHAN, his nephew, the son of his brother, who tenderly loved and deeply revered his uncle, could not bear the thought, that the memory of the Chief Justice should lie under the imputation of bankruptcy. At that time bankruptcy was infamous; now it is scarcely disgraceful. JONATHAN undertook the administration of his uncle’s estate. Finding insolvency inevitable, he drew a petition to the General Court to grant a sum of money, sufficient, to pay the Chief Justice’s debts. If my friend had known the character of his countrymen, or the nature of that Assembly, he never would have conceived such a project; but he did conceive it and applied to James Otis, and his father. Colonel Otis, to patronize and support it. The Otis’s knew their countrymen better than he did. They received and presented the petition, but without much hope of success. The petition was rejected, and my friend SEWALL conceived a suspicion, that it was not promoted with so much zeal, by the Otis’s, as he thought they might have exerted. He imputed the failure to their coldness; was much mortified and conceived a violent resentment, which he expressed with too much freedom and feeling in all companies.

 Goffe, Hutchinson and all the courtiers soon heard of it and instantly fastened their eyes upon SEWALL; courted his society; sounded his fame; promoted his practise, and soon after made him Solicitor General by creating a new office, expressly for him. Mr. SEWALL, had a soft, smooth, insinuating eloquence, which gliding imperceptibly into the minds of a Jury, gave him as much power over that tribunal as any lawyer ought ever to possess. He was also capable of discussing before the court, any intricate question of law, which gave him, at least, as much influence there as was consistent with an impartial administration of justice. He was a gentleman and a scholar; had a fund of wit, humour and satire, which he used with great discretion at the bar, but poured out with unbounded profusion in the newspapers. Witness his voluminous productions in the newspapars, signed long J. and Philanthropes. These accomplishments richly qualified him to serve the purposes of the gentlemen, who courted him into their service.

Mr. SEWALL soon fell in love with Miss Esther Quincy, the fourth daughter of Edmund Quincy, Esq. an eminent merchant and magistrate, and a grand daughter of that Edmund Quincy, who was eighteen years a Judge of the Superior Court, who died of the small pox in the agency of the province at the Court of St. James’s, and whose monument was erected, at the expense of the Province, in Bun-hill-fields, London. This young lady, who was celebrated for her beauty, her vivacity and spirit, lived with her father in this parish, now called Quincy. Mr. SEWALL’S courtship was extended for several years, and he came up very constantly on Saturdays and remained here until Mondays; and I was sure to be invited to meet him on every Sunday evening, During all these years, there was a constant correspondence between us, and he concealed nothing from me, so that I knew him by his style whenever he appeared in print.

In 1766, he married the object of his affections, and an excellent wife he found her. He was soon appointed Attorney General. In 1768, he was employed by Governor Barnard to offer me the office of Advocate General, in the Court of Admiralty, which I decidedly and peremptorily though respectfully refused.

We continued our friendship and confidential intercourse, though professedly in boxes of politics, as opposite as East and West, until the year 1774, when we both attended the Superior Court in Falmouth, Casco-bay, now Portland. I had then been chosen a delegate to Congress, Mr. SEWALL invited me to take a walk with him, very early in the morning, on the great hill. In the course of our rambles he very soon begun to remonstrate against my going to Congress. He said “that Great Britain was determined on her system; her power was irresistible and would certainly be destructive to me, and to all those who should persevere in opposition to her designs.” I answered, “that I knew Great Britain was determined on her system, and that very determination, determined me on mine; that he knew I had been constant and uniform in opposition to all her measures; that the die was now cast; 1 had passed the Rubicon; swim or sink, live or die, survive or perish with my country, was my unalterable determination. The conversation was protracted into length, but this was the substance of the whole. It terminated in my saying to him, “I see we must part, and with a bleeding heart I say, I fear forever; but you may depend upon it, this adieu is the sharpest thorn on which I ever sat my foot.” I never conversed with him again ’till the year 1788. Mr. SEWALL retired in 1775 to England, where he remained and resided in Bristol.

On nay return from Congress in the month of November 1774,I found the Massachusetts Gazette teeming with political speculations, and Massachusettensis shining like the moon among the lesser stars. I instantly knew him to be my friend SEWALL, and was told he excited great exultation among the tories and many gloomy apprehensions among the whigs. I instantly resolved to enter the lists with him, and this is the history of the following In 1788, Mr. SEWALL came to London to embark for Halifax. I enquired for his lodgings and instantly drove to them, laying aside all etiquette, to make him a visit. I ordered my servant to announce John Adams, was instantly admitted, and both of us forgetting that we had ever been enemies, embraced each other as cordially ns ever. I had two hours conversation with him in a most delightful freedom upon a multitude of subjects. He told me he had lived for the sake of his two children; he had spared no pains nor expense in their education, and he was going- to Halifax in hope of making some provision for them. They are now two of the most respectable gentlemen in Canada. One of them a Chief Justice; the other an Attorney General. Their father lived but a short time after his return to America; evidently broken down by his anxieties and probably dying of a broken heart. He always lamented the conduct of Great Britain towards America. No man more constantly congratulated me, while we lived together in America, upon any news, true or false, favorable to a repeal of the obnoxious Statutes and a redress of our grievances; but the society in which he lived had convinced him that all resistance was not only useless but ruinous.

More conscious than ever of the faults in the style and arrangement, if not in the matter of my part of the following papers, I shall see them in print with more anxiety than when they were first published. The principles however are those on which 1 then conscientiously acted, and which I now most cordially approve.

To the candour of an indulgent nation, whom I congratulate on their present prosperity and pleasing prospects, and for whose happiness I shall offer up my dying supplications to Heaven, I commit the volume with all its imperfections.


January 1, 1819”