"EVERY THING WILL BE PULLED DOWN? BUT WHAT WILL BE BUILT UP?": VERY SCARCE FIRST EDITION OF FOUR LETTERS, 1802, A CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN JOHN ADAMS AND SAMUEL ADAMS
ADAMS, John and ADAMS, Samuel. Four Letters: Being an Interesting Correspondence between those Eminently Distinguished Characters, John Adams, Late President of the United States; and Samuel Adams, Late Governor of Massachusetts, on the Important Subject of Government. Boston: Adams & Rhoades, 1802. Slim octavo, contemporary blue-gray wrappers, stab-stitched, uncut; pp.32. $4500.
First edition of four letters written between September 12 and November 20, 1790 on the subject of liberty and the future of the republic. Featuring two letters from John Adams, then Vice-President, to Samuel Adams, and two from Samuel Adams, then Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, to John Adams, extremely scarce entirely uncut and in contemporary wrappers.
To a young John Adams in 1765, his cousin Samuel was the "purest of patriots" and a key influence on Adams' political career (Smith I: 84). While the two corresponded regularly throughout their lives, this scarce first edition of Four Letters is unique in its timely debate about liberty and its governance. John Adams engages his fellow Founding Father in what was, for the pragmatic Vice-President, a continuing questioning of how to construct a workable government and how to best put into practice the lofty Enlightenment ideals that propelled the American and French Revolutions. He writes: "What, my old Friend, is this world about to become?? Every thing will be pulled down. So much seems certain. But what will be built up?" In Samuel Adams' response, that the world is one of "hay, wood and stubble," we see the far different temperaments of each man and their sense of a larger, very public audience.
In another of Samuel Adams' letters, he observes that the "love of liberty is interwoven in the soul of man." In a manner typifying their careful dissection of each other's points, John Adams replies with an allusion to La Fontaine, arguing that liberty is also "in that of a wolf; and I doubt whether it be much more rational, generous or social, in one than in the other? The numbers of men, in all ages, have preferred ease, slumber and good cheer to liberty, when they have been in competition. We must not then depend alone upon the lover of liberty in the soul of man, for its preservation." Samuel Adams disputes his cousin's use of the La Fontaine reference, arguing that, unlike mankind's, the "nature of the wolf is, and ever will be, confined to running in the forest to satisfy his hunger." Four Letters offers a remarkable display of two men testing their reason, method and fundamental beliefs. For Samuel Adams was of "that strange and dangerous type, a lover of humanity" and John Adams, though equally passionate, was less persuaded of humankind's essential virtue (Smith I:84). After 1789, "more clearly than any, John Adams foresaw the French Revolution leading to chaos, horror and ultimate tyranny" and he was often impatient with men like Thomas Paine who, he said, had "a better hand at pulling down than building" (McCullough, 418, 97). When these letters were written, in 1790, Samuel Adams was suffering from persistent tremors and his letters were dictated to a mutual friend. Not wishing to further "trespass on the benevolence of our confidential friend," he had to bring the two-month exchange of ideas to an end. First edition, first printing. Howes A61. Sabin 242. Shaw & Shoemaker 1713.
Text very fresh and clear, trace of edge-wear with faintest soiling to fragile wrappers. A handsome near-fine copy.