ADAMS, JOHN. 1735-1826.
Autograph Letter Signed ("John Adams"), 3 pp, 4to, Quincy MA, January 29, 1813, to Benjamin Rush, discussing U.S. naval history, politics, and philosophy, very mild toning and creasing, small loss at lower right corners and at seal; with integral autograph address leaf franked by Adams.
THE "FATHER OF THE NAVY" ON THE ORIGINS OF U.S. NAVAL FORCES. Adams and Dr. Benjamin Rush [1746-1813] enjoyed a long friendship, dating from the early years of the revolution until Rush's death. Their correspondence from this period (including this letter) has been published, and is an important primary source for historians interested in the intellectual history of the period.
In this letter, which is at times angry, resigned, philosophical, and silly, Adams opens with a reference to the election of his son-in-law, William S. Smith, to Congress: "... he will either correct the Policy and War of the Administration, in some degree, or he will ruin it, and himself with it, most probably." Adams moves on (continuing an earlier conversation) to argue for the date of the founding of the U.S. Navy during the Revolutionary War, referencing two important early Naval captains, John Manley [1733-1793] and Silas Talbot [1751-1813]: "Manleys Ship was not a 'private Ship of War.' It was a Public National Ship, under a national Flagg, Under the Authority and in Obedience to the Command of Congress; then the Sovereign of the Nation. She was fitted out by General Washington, at the public expence by order of the Assembly in which was vested and concentrated the Supreme Sovereign and absolute Authority and Power of the Nation ... The next year, 1776, Captain Talbot was fitted out, in other Ships from New York by General Washington at the public expence by Virtue of the Same Powers, and in Obedience to the Same Orders of Congress; and took more Ships, made more Prisoners, and captured more property, than Jones and Barry both ever did in their lives."
After this short history lesson, Adams turns to a (comedic) consideration of perpetual motion: "As to perpetual motion, I will give you my opinion. When it shall repent the Almighty, and it shall grieve him to the heart that he has made the material, intellectual and social universe: determine to return to his eternal solitude: annihilate the whole Creation except one 24 Pounder well loaded, one Man to fire it and air enough to discharge it: and when that one Man shall discharge his 24 Pound Ball that Ball will move to all eternity in a right Line: unless the Man, Gun and Ball should be annihilated too. Then and not till then will perpetual Motion of Matter stirred by matter by discovered. / Having prognosticated the time and manner of the Invention and discovery of perpetual Motion, I will now give you the Pedigree of Redheffer. He is descended from the White Bull into which Nebuchadnezzar was metamorphosed. That was a beautiful Bull. All the Heiffers black, blue, white, brown, brindled and red loved him. The Philadelphia Inventor of perpetual motion is descended from the RED. / A Pin, or a Pun is honour enough for the Invention and the Inventor."
Returning to a serious subject, Adams praises William Jones, the new Secretary of the Navy, and closes with a somber reflection on the present state of the U.S. Navy after the budget-slashings of the Jefferson and Madison administrations: "Our Seamen continue to act like themselves: but I can never cease to lament the twelve years neglect of them."