J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tell Us How You Really Feel, Mr. Adams

In his manuscript autobiography, John Adams looked back on his Continental Congress colleague Benjamin Harrison:
Although Harrison was another Sir John Falstaff, excepting in his Larcenies and Robberies, his Conversation disgusting to every Man of Delicacy or decorum, Obscæne, profane, impious, perpetually ridiculing the Bible, calling it the Worst Book in the World, yet as I saw he was to be often nominated with Us in Business, I took no notice of his Vices or Follies, but treated him…with uniform Politeness.
Adams’s grandson edited that passage down when he published the autobiography in the mid-1800s, removing the phrases that touched on Harrison’s religious remarks.

Interestingly, in the Congress and in early state politics Harrison was a conservative, whatever his conversation, habits, or thinking.

TOMORROW: Adams has more to say about Harrison.


G. Lovely said...

Adams' comments only make one wish we would find the original of Harrison's 1775 letter to Washington. In light of his description it seems more than plausible the purported 'doctoring' by loyalists may have, in fact, been just an accurate transcription.

J. L. Bell said...

I believe that the army sent a copy of Harrison’s letter without the lines about the maid to London. (The navy sent a copy with the published text, suggesting that the army wasn’t sharing its secrets with them.) So it looks like those lines really weren't in the original.

On the other hand, they do seem plausible for Harrison. I've read a suggestion that a Virginian in Boston, perhaps Edmund Randolph's father John, came up with those lines based on his knowledge of the man.