President John Adams's passionate pro-US Constitution letter leads at Heritage


John Adams was of the convivial sort. He enjoyed a mug of hard cider every morning and good food with good friends in the evening.

He relished the days spent with his family, reading books and working together on their farm. Long walks, horseback rides, and leisurely puffs on his pipe during lengthy conversations — all of these things made the man from Braintree, Massachusetts, happy.

But Adams was also of the passionate sort, especially toward his country. "I have a zeal at my heart for my country and her friends which I cannot smother or conceal," he once confessed to Abigail. David McCullough wrote in his biography on Adams that "Patriotism burned in him like a blue flame."

In 1776, his patriotism was obvious to the other delegates at the Continental Congress, among whom Adams ascended as an early and influential leader. That "blue flame" of patriotism continued to burn during the Revolutionary War when Congress sent Adams twice to Europe to represent the American union of colonies.

John Adams Constitution Jay letter signed
John Adams's letter to Jay supporting the Constitution

It was in the fall of 1787 while still an ambassador in Europe that Adams first received word that the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia had drafted a new document.

Adams had felt for a long time that America needed something to bind its distinct and divergent parts together, and this new Constitution, he thought, would do that.

As it was being sent to each of the thirteen states for ratification, Adams wrote another patriot, John Jay, in December 1787, stating that the "public mind cannot be occupied about a nobler object than the proposed plan of government.

It appears to be admirably calculated to cement all America in affection and interest, as one great nation."

In the spring of 1788, as the states argued over ratification in their various conventions, Adams returned from Europe to his home in Braintree, more passionate than ever about the proposed Constitution.

On July 4, 1788, Jay, a co-author of the Federalist Papers and a delegate at the New York Constitutional Ratification Convention held in Poughkeepsie, wrote to Adams confessing worries about New York's ratification of the Constitution.

So, Adams responded to Jay in a letter dated July 18, 1788, with a passionate plea that Jay and the whole delegation press forward and ratify the Constitution.

"The decision . . . is of very great Importance to this Nation." With his patriotic blue flame burning hot, Adams continued, "I am extremely anxious, that, as the new Constitution has already proceeded to [sic] far, it be adopted."

John Adams' letter to John Jay is an important historical manuscript written during a time of uncertainty about the future of the U.S. Constitution.

Collectors will no doubt remember that in 2009 Christie's sold a letter from George Washington to his nephew Bushrod expressing his enthusiasm for a constitution. That letter fetched a world record breaking $3.2m.

George Washington Bushrod Constitution
Washington's letter to his nephew about the Constitution
(Click to enlarge)

This letter, which exemplifies the passion Adams had for his country, will be offered during Heritage's upcoming September Beverly Hills Signature Historical Manuscripts Auction to be held on September 12-14.

It will be auctioned during Session 1 on September 13. Bidding opens approximately August 24, 2011. Passion is contagious, so perhaps Adams' patriotic blue flame gave Jay the needed stimulus to push harder for ratification.

Numerous variables were certainly responsible for the outcome, which came on July 26, 1788, when New York became the eleventh state to ratify the U.S. Constitution.

Adams letters are always important when they appear at auction whether from his time as second President or not. In early 2010, Spink Shreves sold a fascinating letter for $160,000 (from the Floyd E Risvold collection) giving Adams's thoughts on various issues of the day.

Watch this space for more news on Heritage's exciting auction.


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