As the American colonies grew more restive, and a break with the mother country ceased to be unthinkable, John Adams was forced to spend less and less time with his beloved family. Although burdened by ever-expanding responsibilities in the Second Continental Congress, he found time for an amazing amount of correspondence. The majority of his letters were written to secure the facts that would enable this duty-ridden man to decide and act effectively on the issues being debated. Military affairs, a source of never-ending concern, provide some of the most fascinating subjects, including several accounts of the Battle of Bunker Hill, assessments of various high-ranking officers, and complaints about the behavior of the riflemen sent from three states southward to aid the Massachusetts troops.
The heated question of pay for soldiers and officers strained relations between New England and southern colonies early. By refusing to confront the issue of slavery when it was raised by several correspondents, Adams sought to avoid exacerbating regional sensitivities further. When the question of independent governments for former colonies arose, at the request of several colleagues Adams sketched a model, Thoughts on Government, three versions of which are included here.
His optimistic republicanism, however, was balanced by fear that a “Spirit of Commerce” would undermine the virtue requisite for republican institutions. Adams’ important committee work included his draft in 1775 of rules for regulation of the Continental Navy, which have remained the basis for the governance of the United States Navy down into our own time, and his plan of treaties, which would guide American diplomats up to World War II. Both were derivative, but he skillfully adapted his materials to American needs and circumstances. These volumes reflect the spirit of those tumultuous years when the leaders emerging in America confronted each other, and exciting new ideas, as they tried to resolve the issues of a revolutionary period.