John Adams letter to Abigail Adams, 13 March 1796


Philadelphia, 13 March, 1796.


I COVET the harp of Amphion. What would I not give for the harp of Amphion ?

In my walks in the cedar grove, in rocky run, and on Penn's hill, I should play upon my lyre, and the merry rocks would dance after me and reel into walls. This would be to me a very pleasant and profitable private amusement. But there is another use I could make of my instrument in my public employment, more grateful to a benevolent heart because more useful to mankind. In no age of the world was it more wanted.

" Amphion thus bade wild dissension cease, And softened mortals learned the arts of peace. Amphion taught contending kings From various discords to create The music of a well tuned state ;

Nor slack nor strain the tender strings Those useful touches to impart That strike the subject's answering heart, And the soft, silent harmony that springs From sacred union and consent of things."

Alas ! I am not an Amphion. I have been thirty years singing and whistling among rny rocks, and not one would ever move without money. I have been twenty years saying if not singing, preaching if not playing

" From various discords to create The music of a well tuned state ; And the soft, silent harmony that springs From sacred union and consent of things,"

but an uncomplying world will not regard my uncouth discourses. I cannot sing nor play. If I had eloquence, or humor, or irony, or satire, or the harp or lyre of Amphion, how much good could I do to the world ! What a mortification to my vanity ! What a humiliation to my self-love !

The rocks in the House of Representatives will not dance to my lyre. They will not accord to a " well tuned state." They will not endure " the harmony that springs from sacred union and consent of things." They are for breaking all the instruments hut that of the thorough bass, and then blowing you deaf and dumb. There are bold and daring strides making to demolish the President, Senate, and all but the House, which, as it seems to me, must be the effect of the measures that many are urging. Be not alarmed, however, they will not carry their point. The treaty will be executed, and that by the consent of the House.

I am going to hear Dr. Priestley. His discourses are learned, ingenious, and useful. They will be printed, and, he says, dedicated to me. Don t tell this secret though, for no other being knows it. It will get me the character of a heretic, I fear. I presume, however, that dedicating a book to a man will not imply that he approves every thing in it.

The weather is so fine that I long to be upon my hills. Pray, since my harp cannot build walls, how do my friends go on who are obliged to employ their elbows in that laborious work ?

I sometimes think that if I were in the House of Representatives, and could make speeches there, I could throw some light upon these things. If Mr. Jefferson should be President, I believe I must put up as a candidate for the House. But this is my vanity. I feel sometimes as if I could speechify among them, but, alas, alas ! I am too old. It would soon destroy my health. I declare, however, if I were in that House, I would drive out of it some demons that haunt it. There are false doctrines and false jealousies predominant there at times that it would be easy to exorcise.

You see I mind no order in what I write to you. I know your criticism will not be cruel to

J. A.

John Adams

Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife. Edited by His Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, Volume II, 1841