Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Humphrey Ploughjogger

I'm just starting First Family by Joseph Ellis, so expect some Adams related posts. FYI, I'm SO in love with how my ebook reader (I'm not putting which one here as I'm not trying to convince you buy anything, of course) does endnotes. I always hated endnotes because I actually read them and so they were cumbersome to turn to constantly (a second bookmark is my usual solution) and much preferred footnotes (which I still do), but the ebook reader links them and makes it so much more convenient. Footnotes still rule, but this is a good improvement! The John Tyler I started months ago got deserted again in favor of this one...I'm so fickle!

Anyway, where I am reading now, reminded me of John Adams' early letters in the newspaper as "Humphrey Ploughjogger," and I thought I'd share some.

First some background on the letters themselves:
In the winter of 1766–67, Jonathan Sewall, writing as Philanthrop, took it upon himself to defend Governor Francis Bernard against an unremitting series of attacks being made upon him in Boston newspapers, chiefly in the Gazette, by a number of pseudonymous writers. It is possible that Sewall wrote in hope of preferment, for soon after he had finished his series of letters, Governor Bernard offered him a newly created position, that of Special Attorney General. Yet there seems no reason to doubt the sincerity of Sewall's concern that attacks on the Governor would threaten the stability of the political state (Berkin, Jonathan Sewall, p. 43–44; Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates, 12:311).

Bernard had incurred the hatred of the whig faction for his official support of the Stamp Act, despite his private position, and, later, in May {p. 175} 1766, for his refusal to approve James Otis Jr. as the choice of the House of Representatives for speaker and his veto of six men, whig supporters all, chosen as councilors by the joint ballot of the House and outgoing Council (Berkin, Jonathan Sewall, p. 36–37). In retaliation, whig writers vilified the Governor in print. He was accused of customs racketeering, with some basis in fact, of greediness, of violation of the privileges of the House, and of undermining the colonists' rights as Englishmen.
Sewall began his defense with a long letter in the Boston Evening-Post for 1 December 1766. Almost every Monday thereafter until early February, Post readers were treated to a vigorous, sometimes slashing attack on Bernard's detractors and a careful presentation, too often written in a superior tone, concerning the Governor's conduct on particular occasions so far as it was known to the author. Sewall did not want for material. His entry into the field raised a regular hornet's nest of critics, signing themselves “A,” “AA,” “B,” “BB”; as Sewall put it, “almost the whole alphabet [was] conjured up.” And Sewall tried to answer them all. But by spring nearly everyone had said all there was to say. Philanthrop's letter of 9 February did not have a sequel until 2 March; and then there was silence. Joseph Hawley, defending the Lanesborough Stamp Act rioters, whose attorney he was, rekindled the fires in the summer of 1767, with Philanthrop answering him in three long letters (Boston Evening-Post, 6 and 13 July; 27 July; 3 and 10 Aug. 1767).

John Adams, of course, could not keep from replying to his old friend, just as he had answered him some three and one-half years before (3 March – 5 Sept. 1763, above). But Adams had trouble settling upon the literary style of his response. He began in straightforward fashion, addressing himself to “J Phylanthrop,” his addition of “J” suggesting the continuity he saw between Sewall's “J” letters of 1763 and those appearing over Sewall's new pseudonym (No. I, below). His first effort, unpublished and unsigned, was largely an attack on the character of Sewall, whom he called the “old Trumpeter” of “that restless grasping turbulent Crew of Villains” seeking the destruction of the people. Adams accused Philanthrop of ingratitude and of “venemos Bilingsgate.” It is almost as though Adams were working off steam, just as he did with the unfinished and unpublished letter to Sewall in 1763 (No. II, 3 March – 5 Sept. 1763, above). Next, in his diary, Adams wrote a thoughtful analysis of what should be understood by “the better Sort of People,” whom Sewall claimed as supporters of Bernard ( Diary and Autobiography, 1:326–329).
But when he appeared in print, Adams adopted once again the pseudonym he had used before in replying to Sewall, that of Humphrey Ploughjogger. Although he retained a kind of farmerish and common sense approach, most of the dialect and phonetic spelling was dropped. He had perhaps tired of these devices; the cause was too serious for playfulness. Attention was centered upon Philanthrop's contempt for the ordinary run of men and his fallacious belief that sharp criticism of high officials would undermine the due subordination of persons necessary for any kind of {p. 176} government. Adams wound up his series of three Ploughjogger letters, of which the first was unpublished, with a kind of rustic condescension toward the craziness of Philanthrop, who reminded Adams of his “little black Ram” (Nos. II–IV, below).

Further Sewall pieces that reproved his critics in what seemed a sweet reasonableness of tone that could be dangerously persuasive led Adams to lift out sentences and phrases from their context so that their sheer depth of spite stood revealed. If Sewall posed as a lover of men, then Adams had perforce to sign himself “Misanthrop.” The new pseudonym set Adams off on a long fantastical narrative in which he sought to expose Philanthrop as greedy for office but made craven by the gnawing of self-doubt. None of the “Misanthrop” performances saw print (Nos. VI and VII, below); they were probably intended for his own amusement.

Finally, and more seriously, Adams assumed the role most natural to him, that of historian. Writing as a figure of history called to life, and thus able to comment with unique perspective on significant developments since his own day, Adams demonstrated the continuity of love of freedom from the time of Governor Winthrop to his own. A common thread in the series of letters from Governor Winthrop to Governor Bradford is the elemental soundness of the people despite the insidious efforts of Philanthrop to lead them astray by appealing to the weaknesses of human nature. The Winthrop letters discern parallels between the tyrannical precepts of the first two Stuarts and those of Philanthrop and warn Bostonians that liberty “has always been surrounded with dangers.” Only men who remain on guard remain free. In the end Adams analyzes at great length the role of Governor Bernard in refusing to administer the oath to two men elected to the House from Newbury and sees a most serious breach of the privileges of that body (Nos. VII–XI, below).

With the exception of his discussion of Bernard's interference in the affairs of the House, Adams confined himself to attacking the more theoretical of Philanthrop's arguments, leaving to others, as he said, the critique of the Governor's conduct. And even here, it was the principle at stake that caught Adams' attention. Philanthrop's defense of Bernard was based upon a concept of government that Adams saw as wholly wrongheaded and subversive of liberty.

Now one of the letters:
[Monday, January 19, 1767]


I Did flatter myself, as I had got so much Credit by my Writings upon Hemp, and Stamp-Act, &c. &c. that the learned Phylanthrop would just have taken some small Notice of me. * I have enquired about the Reason why he did not. Some tell me, the poor Man's Council is always despised by the great and larned. Some say that it would be below the Dignity of Government, to take Notice of such a Man as I am—and others say that my Arguments were so strong that there was no answering of them. Now for my Part I am inclined to this last way of Thinking, and so I shant advance any new Rashosinations till the old ones, are defuted—and in Truth I feel concerned for poor Phylanthrop—tho' he is very learned, yet 20 or 30 learned Men to one makes a dreadfull great odds —and it seems to have made the poor Man a most crazey. I pitty Crazyness from the bottom of my Heart—but it makes this Man behave so odd that I can't help laughing.

p. 182}
I've got about 3 score Sheep at Home, that I take great Pleasure in feeding with Corn. I take a Cobb every Morning, and a Basket full of Ears, and go out and shell 'em to the Sheep—amongst the rest there is one little black Ram, a Year old, that gives me a good deal of Diversion. He is a spiteful little Thing—and he rushes in among the stately Weathers to get the Kernals of Corn, in the most fierce Manner imaginable—and will sometimes come behind a fine great Weather, or upon the side of him, and give him a paultry Bunt at unawares, and before the Weather can turn about to kill him, he will skulk and run away. But all the Sheep of the Flock hate him, and at Times bunt him and bang him, and bruise him most unmercifully, till the poor Beast's Flesh is almost worn off of his Bones. Now thinks I, this is certainly the learned Phylanthrop among my Sheep. His Nose, like Phylanthrop's is not clean, their Spite is alike, and their Slyness is alike, and in many other Respects they are alike. But I really think my little Ram looks cowed and sorry oftentimes that he ever picked a Quarrell with the whole Flock, and now sees that it will not do, and wishes himself out of the Scrape—which puts me in Mind of a comical Thing that happened tother Day in our Town. My Neighbour Worldly had a Yoke of Oxen, that he was going to sell to a Stranger, for a fine Yoke of working Cattle, but seven Years old, but the Stranger happen'd to go one side a little, and sees my Neighbour Worldley's Negro Man Toney, and asks him about them Oxen. Oh says Tony, they are as nice a Yoke of Oxen to work as ever stood under a Yoke, I have drove 'em myself this 12 Years, and never drove so good a Yoke as they are. Upon this the Stranger comes back to my Neighbour, told him what Tony had said, and would not have the Cattle. My Neighbour was very wroth, and after he got Home, he scolds at Tony very sadly. You told the Man that you had driven the Oxen 12 Years, and I told him they were but 7 Year old you Blockhead says my Neighbour.” Oh Master says Tony, I'm very sorry, I see now where I mist it. Just so I really believe Phylanthrop now sees where he mist it, and is very sorry—

I remain your's to sarve,

h. ploughjogger

* I do think he might just have mention'd me, and quoted some lines at me, or something—for instance he might have said,

Joggs slowly on, unknowing what he sought,

And whistled as he went for want of thought.

The Massachusetts Historical Society has most of these digitized if you follow the link and you can enjoy as many as you want.

1 comment:

RoboCop48 said...

But the colonists were treated in return not as subjects but “subjects of subjects”; as a “republican race, mixed rabble of Scotch, Irish and foreign vagabonds, descendants of convicts ungrateful rebels etc. ” as if they were “unworthy the name Englishmen, and fit only to be snubb’d, curb’d, shackled and plundered.” John Adams expressed the feeling of inferiority more strongly. “We won’t be their Negroes”, he snarled, writing in as ‘Humphry Ploughjogger’ in the Boston Gazette. “I say we are as handsome as any old English folks, and so should be free”.

from “Empire: the rise and demise of the British world order and the lessons for …” ~~~ By Niall Ferguson