Robert Treat Paine and John Adams: A Colonial Rivalry

    By Stephen T. Riley

    THE title of my paper may well be misleading. This is not an account of a great rivalry. It is rather the story of the natural competition of two ambitious young men whose paths intertwined for some twenty years in an important period in our history. Of somewhat different social backgrounds, they were alike in their education, their choice of profession, and their desire to get on in the world. Both were successful; one far more so than the other. Robert Treat Paine was to become an important legal figure in Massachusetts; John Adams was to attain the presidency of the United States. There is a slight possibility that if this rivalry had not existed, Adams might not have taken the path that led to that high office.

    When the Massachusetts delegates to the First Continental Congress set off for Philadelphia on 10 August 1774, their arrival was awaited in that city with some trepidation. They were said to have come seeking independence.1 In later years, John Adams was to state that the friends of government in Boston and in the Eastern States had represented them as four desperate adventurers: “‘Mr. Cushing was a harmless kind of man, but poor, and wholly dependent on his popularity for his subsistence. Mr. Samuel Adams was a very artful, designing man, but desperately poor, and wholly dependent on his popularity with the lowest vulgar for his living. John Adams and Mr. Paine were two young lawyers, of no great talents, reputation, or weight, who had no other means of raising themselves into consequence, than by courting popularity.’”2 This characterization must have come as something of a shock, particularly to John Adams and Paine who had reason to believe that their parts in the Boston Massacre trials had made their names known outside New England.

    Many years earlier, these two young men had met when they were considering the direction of their future careers. John Adams, just out of Harvard (Class of 1755), was then engaged in keeping a school in Worcester, Massachusetts, a profession that was fast losing its charms for him. As early as 2 September 1755, he had confided to his friend Richard Cranch: “I am certain that keeping this school any length of Time would make a base weed and ignoble shrub of me.”3 In the entry in his diary of 2 February 1756, he notes:

    Spent the Eve, sup’d and lodg’d at Major Chandler’s, with that universal Scholar, gay Companion, and accomplish’d Gentleman Mr. Robert Treat Pain.4

    After the dreary round of schoolteaching a visit with Paine must have been stimulating. Four years Adams’ senior, Paine had graduated from Harvard in the Class of 1749. When he had entered college in 1745 as the ranking scholar from Boston Latin School, he had every reason to look forward to fair prospects. He had social position, wealth, and almost every assurance that life would be easy for him. On his maternal side, he could boast—and did—of an ancestor, Robert Treat, who had been governor of Connecticut, and of a great-grandfather, Samuel Willard, who had been vice-president of Harvard. His father, Thomas Paine (Harvard Class of 1717), had spent some time in the ministry, serving at Weymouth, where he had been the predecessor of the Reverend William Smith, Adams’ future father-in-law. The life of a country clergyman did not suit Thomas Paine, however, and he resigned his post in 1734 to enter business. By 1745 he was a wealthy man, busily engaged in a profitable foreign trade, operating his own ships, and having valuable properties in various places in New England.

    Four years later, when young Paine was about to graduate from Harvard, the picture had changed. His father had suffered business reverses, several of his ships had been taken by French privateers, and his creditors had become so worried that they were about to attach his holdings. Paine’s prospects of a protected life vanished into thin air, for his father was never able to recoup his losses. He died in 1757.5

    Faced not only with the necessity of making his own way, but burdened with the partial support of an invalid sister, Paine was to engage in a variety of occupations in the next six years. His first venture was into schoolteaching. He kept the school at Lunenburg, Mass., for several months and then moved to the South Grammar School in Boston. His enthusiasm for this way of life lasted about as long as John Adams’. In 1751, he scolded a cousin for entering the profession: “can you bear to live from Year to Year and get nothing beforehand, or can you bear to be the Wash Pot or Rather the Dogg Whipper of Hallifax which Title your occupation deserves.”6

    37. John Adams (1735–1826) by Benjamin Blyth, 1766.

    Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston

    From teaching Paine turned to trade and the sea. Perhaps this was inevitable for a young man of nineteen whose paternal American forebears had been Cape Codders. From 1751 to 1754, Paine went on three small trading voyages to North Carolina, serving as master on the first and third voyages. This last voyage was to take him to Fayal and Cadiz, where he had a very pleasant time. His return voyage was not so enjoyable, for he was “57 days at Sea and 30 of them on our Coast in the most Tatter’d Condition imaginable despairing of ever arriving to any port.”7 When accounts were cast up, Paine discovered that the voyages had not netted any great profit. His last fling at the sea was a whaling voyage to Greenland in 1754 in the sloop Seaflower, of which he was master. The hardships connected with this last venture cured Paine of any desire to pursue a maritime career. He now turned his attention to the law, which, with the exception of a few interludes, was to occupy him for the remainder of his public life.

    With this romantic background, it is easy to see why Bob Paine impressed John Adams in 1756. Up to this time Adams had not been much farther from home than Boston or Worcester. Paine had even taken time off from his legal studies to go on the Crown Point expedition as a chaplain. John Adams throughout his life yearned for a military career. He once became furiously angry with James Otis, Jr. when the latter said that Adams had the head for it but not the heart.8 In 1776, he confided to his wife: “I have felt such Passions all my Lifetime, particularly in the year 1757 when I longed more ardently to be a Soldier than I ever did to be a Lawyer.”9

    But lawyer he was to become, and by the summer of 1756, Adams had cast the die and had apprenticed himself to James Putnam in Worcester. For two years he studied under Putnam’s tutelage before returning to his home town of Braintree to open his office. On 6 November 1758, he was admitted to practice in Suffolk County. More than a year earlier, Paine had been admitted to the bar after having studied under Benjamin Prat, the noted Boston lawyer. Paine became a barrister in 1758; Adams followed in 1762. The precedence thus established was to loom large in Paine’s eyes, as we shall see later.

    Building up a practice was a slow process for both men. Paine as the administrator of his father’s estate was kept busy, but this did not put much money in his own pocket. Adams fretted and felt vexed at the absence of clients. When his first customer did come, he suffered the painful embarrassment of drawing up a defective writ for him. His diary records his deep humiliation and chagrin: “Let me see, if Bob P[aine] dont pick up this Story to laugh at.”1 Like any athlete contending for a prize, Adams was keenly aware of the competition he had to meet. The new crop of lawyers included not only Bob Paine but Peter Chardon, Samuel Quincy, Jonathan Sewall, and many others. Adams set down in his diary his evaluation of them, and many of his judgments proved to be remarkably accurate. Even his characterization of Paine, although written in a moment of pique, reveals a discerning eye:

    Bob Paine is Conceited and pretends to more Knowledge and Genius than he has. I have heard him say that he took more Pleasure in solving a Problem in Algebra than in a Frolick. He told me the other day, that he was as curious after a minute and particular Knowledge of Mathematics and Phylosophy, as I could be about the Laws of Antiquity. By his Boldness in Company, he makes himself a great many Enemies. His Aim in Company is to be admired, not to be beloved. He asked me what Dutch Commentator I meant? I said Vinnius.—Vinnius, says he, (with a flush of real Envy, but pretended Contempt,) you cant understand one Page of Vinnius.—He must know that human Nature is disgusted with such incomplaisant Behavior. Besides, he has no Right to say that I dont understand every word in Vinnius or even in [. . .] for he knows nothing of me. For in future let me act the Part of a critical spy upon him; not that of an open unsuspicious friend.—Last Superiour Court at Worcester he dined in Company with Mr. Gridly, Mr. Trowbridge, and several others, at Mr. Putnams, and altho a modest attentive Behaviour would have best become him in such a Company, yet he tried to ingross the whole Conversation to himself. He did the same, in the Evening, when all the Judges of the Superiour Court with Mr. Winthrop, Sewall, &c. were present, and he did the same last Thanksgiving day, at Colonel Quincies, when Mr. Wibird, Mr. Cranch, &c. were present. This Impudence may sett the Million a Gape at him but will make all Persons of Sense despize him, or hate him. That evening, at Put[nam]s, he called me, a Numbskull and a Blunder Buss before all the Superiour Judges. I was not present indeed, but such expressions were indecent and tended to give the Judges a low Opinion of me, as if I was despized by my Acquaintance. He is an impudent, ill-bred, conceited fellow. Yet he has witt, sense, and Learning, and a great deal of Humour, and has Virtue and Piety except his fretful, peevish, Childish Complaints against the Disposition of Things. This Character is drawn with Resentment of his ungenerous Treatment of me, and Allowances must therefore be made, but these are unexaggerated facts.2

    In fairness to Paine, it must be said that he was not unaware of his personality defects, for he once sadly admitted that “if I could talk soft things without meaning or design I should be much better liked.”3 It is only fair to say that John Adams had his full share of human failings.

    It is quite evident that neither Adams nor Paine wished to concede to the other the special talent which each undoubtedly had. That Paine was seriously interested in mathematics is amply shown in his papers in the Massachusetts Historical Society. Adams at the end of the colonial period was probably more widely read in the classics of the law and political science than any other lawyer in New England. Certainly he had the best law library in Massachusetts.

    This youthful difference was soon glossed over, for before long they were exchanging letters on legal problems, attending the same parties, and visiting one another in Braintree or Boston. Robert Treat Paine kept a diary for most of his life, but unfortunately it is of the line-a-day variety. We must depend on John Adams’ diary for most of our information on their early relationship. At social gatherings, Paine continued to play a leading role, and Adams has chronicled many of his doings, whether it was telling stories or sporting with the girls. As may well be imagined, Adams was not always the gentle critic. He once remarked rather acidly: “He thinks himself in high favour with the Ladies, but he little thinks how he is blasted sometimes.”4

    It must not be assumed that John Adams was a prude. He enjoyed a good story and often recorded the better ones in his diary. We should be grateful to him for preserving the matrimonial story told at Richard Cranch’s wedding by Dr. Tufts about B. Bicknall’s wife:

    She said, when she was married she was very anxious, she feared, she trembled, she could not go to Bed. But she recollected she had put her Hand to the Plow and could not look back, so she mustered up her Spirits, committed her soul to G[od] and her Body to B. Bicknal and into Bed she leaped—and in the Morning she was amazed, she could not think for her Life what it was that had scared her so.5

    In 1761 Paine moved to Taunton, where he opened his law office. Adams continued to reside in Braintree. For the next nine years they worked industriously at their profession, building up reputations as solid, competent lawyers. Paine was less active than Adams in political matters and did not begin to play an important part in Taunton affairs until 1766. In that year, he was chosen moderator of the town and again in 1768. He was also sent as a representative of the town to the convention which assembled in Boston as a result of the British Circular Letter. Adams, meanwhile, had been establishing a reputation on a wider base through his opposition to the Stamp Act. The resolutions of protest which he drew up for Braintree were soon widely known. As a result, he was appointed on the committee of the town of Boston to present a memorial to the governor praying that the courts be opened. In 1768, he moved to Boston and was soon engaged in such important causes as the defense of John Hancock, who had been charged with smuggling. By 1770 his position was established as one of the leading figures of the province.

    During these years, Paine and Adams were not completely out of touch with one another. Their paths often crossed as they followed the courts about the circuit. In 1765, they joined forces to persuade the bar at Plymouth to apply to the inferior court to proceed without stamps, and they succeeded. That same year, they journeyed together to Martha’s Vineyard to take part in a cause before referees, between Jerusha Mayhew and her relatives. The cause had provoked a quarrel among the several branches of the Mayhew family and had divided the island into factions. The bitterness of the dispute amazed John Adams, and he said that “Never in my Life was I so grieved and disgusted with my Species.”6 Paine and Adams argued the cause on opposite sides as best they could, but it was impossible to discover where justice lay. “We were pretty free with our Vituperations on both Sides, and the Inhabitants appeared to feel the Justice of them. I think the Cause was compromised.”7

    For both Adams and Paine 1770 was a momentous year, as it brought them into collision in a trial that was to fasten the attention of all the colonies on Boston. The main facts of the so-called Boston Massacre are well known, and pertinent documents in the Adams and Paine Papers relating to this episode have recently been published.8 The Paine Papers contain William Molineux’s letter to Paine, on behalf of the Boston selectmen, asking him to undertake the prosecution of Captain Thomas Preston and the British soldiers. It shows clearly how deeply involved the town was in the affair:

    By a Vote of the Town you’l Observe they are to pay the Expense of Prosecution, of Consequence You will be by them Amply Satisfyed—It is the Opinion of the Select Men, and also those that are Suppos’d to be better Acquainted in Law Matters, that it will not be in Character for the Town to Appear against the Criminals, but the Relatives of the Deceased, by whome and in whose Name You are the Gentleman pitched Upon in their behalf, and against the said Richardson and the Captain and Soldiers.9

    Ebenezer Richardson, a customs informer, had been attacked on 22 February and driven into his house by a mob of young men. From a window he had fired into the crowd, killing a boy, Christopher Seider.

    In order to prepare Paine for the trials, Molineux enclosed a printed narrative of the Massacre which had been rushed into print by the Boston selectmen. It contained some ninety-six depositions designed to prove that the soldiers had been at fault. Efforts to control the circulation of this pamphlet are evident from Molineux’s statement that “none are allow’d to be given out but under Peculiar Circumstances.”1

    The trial of Richardson took place in April, Paine acting as prosecutor for the crown. He managed to obtain a verdict of guilty. The trials of Capt. Thomas Preston and the British soldiers were wisely postponed until the fall, and tempers which had been at the boiling point were thus allowed to cool off. In October, the trial of Captain Preston was held, with Robert Auchmuty, Josiah Quincy, and John Adams acting for the defense, and Samuel Quincy and Paine for the prosecution. Since the prosecution was unable to prove that Preston had given orders to the guard to fire, Preston was acquitted. The trial of the British soldiers that followed in November also resulted in the acquittal of all but two, who were convicted of manslaughter. Until recently, John Adams and Josiah Quincy have been given the lion’s share of the credit for their defense of Preston. An investigator has revealed that Preston thought his most effective defender was Robert Auchmuty.2

    Several of Paine’s friends complimented him upon his conduct of the trials, but he made no comment on the findings other than a brief factual note in his diary. John Adams in his Autobiography said: “Although the Clamour was very loud, among some Sorts of people, it has been a great Consolation to me, throug Life, that I acted in this Business with steady impartiality, and conducted it to so happy an Issue”3 For a long time he smarted under the charges that he had undertaken the causes for huge fees. In all he received 19 guineas. Robert Treat Paine’s cashbook for January 1772 has the following entry: “To Bus. Rec Acct in full of Town of Boston 60—.”4

    In the quiet period that followed the trials, John Adams retired from public office to recover his health and devote his time to his neglected business. Paine, elected to the General Court by Taunton in 1773, continued to play an active part in the political maneuverings that were gradually leading the colonies into a separation from England. Although nominally on the sidelines, Adams did assist the radical party with advice whenever called upon. He suggested impeaching Chief Justice Peter Oliver for accepting part of his salary from the crown; Paine helped put the impeachment proceedings in motion. Adams later recorded, however, that Paine had misgivings about the scheme and had only gone along with it when he found it was popular.5

    When the General Court, meeting at Salem on 17 June 1774, appointed the delegates to the First Continental Congress, neither Adams nor Paine was present. On that day John Adams was presiding over a Boston town meeting, and Paine was in Taunton with his fellow townsman, Daniel Leonard. Paine’s absence was carefully designed. When the General Court met at Salem on 7 June, the first business was the election of a Committee on the State of the Province. Much to the embarrassment of the radical group, Daniel Leonard, a known Loyalist sympathizer, was nominated and elected. His presence on the committee made it impossible for the other members to discuss measures in opposition to the Boston Port Bill, for Leonard would be certain to inform Governor Gage of them. Instead, another committee was appointed secretly to meet for the discussion of such measures. Paine has left us an account of the stratagem used to hoodwink Leonard:

    The Committee of nine talk’d very favourably of paying for the Tea, as a thing not to be compar’d with the sufferings from the Port Bill: it would be hard to describe the smooth and placid Observations made by Mr. S. Adams. Saying that it was an irritating affair, and must be handled cautiously; that the people must have time to think and form their minds, and that hurrying the matter would certainly create such an opposition as would defeat the matter; and many Observations of this kind, all tending to induce Mr. Leonard the oblique member of that Committee to think that matters would terminate in obedience to the Port Bill were made by several other members of the Committee, and then it was observ’d that it was very hot, and that they had been engag’d in Court all day, and that it was unprofitable to sit any longer at that time for the people must have time to bring their minds to a Compromise; Proceedings of this kind took place on the PM and Evning of three days; as soon as the Committee on the State of the Province was adjourned, all the members except Mr. Leonard immediately repaird to a retired room where the self created Committee before mentiond mett, and being compos’d of such members only as had signaliz’d themselves in their Opposition to the British Aggressions of Tyrannick Government, they shut their Doors and entered freely and fully on all the Subjects of Grievances; this was continued severall Evnings during which it was fully debated Considered and determin’d to appoint a General Congress of all the Colonies to meet on the subject of their Grievances, a Set of Resolves were formed for that purpose and five members were chosen vizt. James Bowdoin, S. Adams, T. Cushing, J. Adams and R T Paine.6

    Since these resolves had to be reported by the Committee on the State of the Province, it was necessary to get Leonard out of the way. Paine solved this dilemma by persuading Leonard, also a lawyer, to return to Taunton with him for a meeting of the Court of Common Pleas. In their absence the General Court adopted the measures on 17 June, while the secretary of the province, sent by Gage to dissolve the Assembly, was kept waiting outside the locked doors.7

    When the Massachusetts delegates left for Philadelphia on 10 August 1774, they appeared to be in perfect harmony. Whatever uneasiness they might have had about their own abilities for the service was partially removed by Maj. Joseph Hawley, who wrote: “My opinion is that our Committee taken together is the best we could have taken in the province.”8 Forewarned that certain Bostonians had the reputation of being dictatorial and hot for independence, they conducted themselves with circumspection. John Adams, whose thoughts were moving steadily towards complete independence, was somewhat disappointed in the results of the First Congress.

    When the Second Congress assembled in May 1775, the Massachusetts delegation arrived greatly strengthened by instructions from the Assembly to concert measures for establishing American liberty on a permanent basis. Despite the war talk, the temper of the Congress was still conservative. There now began to appear signs of differences in the Massachusetts delegation. John Adams and Samuel Adams were convinced of the futility of trying to arrange an accommodation with Great Britain. By July, John Adams’ policy had been formed: “We ought immediately to dissolve all Ministerial Tyrannies, and Custom houses, set up Governments of our own, like that of Connecticutt in all the colonies, confederate together like an indissoluble Band, for mutual defence, and open our Ports to all Nations immediately.”9 Cushing and Paine were not ready to move so rapidly. Much to Adams’ disgust, they favored John Dickinson’s plan of a second petition to the king. In the months that followed, there are occasional hints that the delegation was divided. Writing to his influential friend, James Warren, speaker of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, John Adams said on 18 October 1775: “There is a fatality attends our Province. It Seems destined to fall into Contempt. It was destined that We should make Mistakes I think, in our Appointment of General Delegates.”1 Samuel Adams, writing to John Adams on 22 December 1775, when John was at home on leave, said: “Since you left us, our Colony has sometimes been divided, on Questions that appeared to me to be important.2 At times, the delegates wrote home about their desire to be replaced, perhaps sincerely. Samuel Adams said: “You must send your best Men here; therefore recall me from this Service. Men of moderate Abilities, especially when weakened by Age are not fit to be employed in founding Empires.”3

    The dissension that had been brewing broke out into the open in January 1776. Since the previous summer, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress had been engaged in the task of setting up a superior court. Various candidates had been considered for the bench, John Adams and Robert Treat Paine among them. On 20 October 1775, James Warren wrote John Adams that he had been appointed to the court along with three others. “Some of Paine’s friends,” he added, “had it in contemplation to have him nominated, but gave it up after you was appointed, very naturally supposing he could not be ranked before you, and he having previously declared to them that he would not serve in an inferiour station, As every body must know he was your superiour.”4

    In November 1775, Paine was named one of the committee of three appointed to go to Ticonderoga to consult with Philip Schuyler on the Canadian expedition. When he returned to Philadelphia on 28 December, he received news that angered him almost beyond endurance. James Warren had written a letter to John Adams on 3 December, complimenting the Adamses and disparaging Cushing and Paine. John Adams received the letter en route home and, after reading it, sent it on to Philadelphia to Sam Adams. Through some mischance, it fell into the hands of another member of the delegation and was brought to Paine’s attention. Of Paine, Warren had written:

    Paine, I hear, is gone to gratify his curiosity in Canada. A good journey to him. He may possibly do as much good there as at Philadelphia, tho’ I find some people here would not have pitched on him for the business we suppose he is gone on, and perhaps there are some who would not have done it for any.5

    As though this were not a sufficiently bitter pill to swallow, there also came the news that Massachusetts had appointed a Supreme Court of Judicature and that John Adams had been named chief justice and Paine a judge under him.

    Deeply upset, Paine wrote a bitter denunciatory letter to James Warren accusing him of treachery and ill will.6 On the same day, 1 January 1776, he wrote long letters to Joseph Hawley and Joseph Palmer, influential men in the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, complaining of Warren’s attitude and bespeaking their aid. To Hawley, Paine hinted that John Adams had gone home in order to influence the election of the new delegates:

    I suppose a new sett in part at least will be chosen, to this I should acquiesce if conducted on a generous political plan, but to be undermined discarded and displaced by the Secret Machinations, Slanders and Tyranny of a Faction and represented as unfit for or unfaithful in the Service, must give Vexation its keenest Edge; it is exceeding melancholly that in a Scituation like that of ours who have put our selves in the fore front of the Battle, one should have Occasion, or what is worse, be necessarily driven to observations like this, but so it is, in addition to the cold haughty disrespectful behaviour of the two Adams toward me and their other Brethren for a long time past, since my return I have come on the sight of an Extract of a Letter wrote by James Warren to the honble J A. in which I am treated in such a manner as I flatter my self I deserve from nobody I am sure I dont from him, this added to the Information I had of his Conduct respecting me at the election of Councellors, satisfys me, that there are a set of men among us who set up their own opinion as the standard of Political Rectitude and who will stick at no measure, to break every thing that will not bend to their despotic determination.7

    The letter to Palmer is in much the same vein. In it Paine declared he had refused the post of judge on the new court, assigning a reason which he thought sufficient. The real reason—his unwillingness to serve under John Adams—comes out in the letter:

    when we consider that the proposed C. J. Ranks the last but one in age and as a Lawyer at the Barr, it looks to me as if some imperceptible Influence had regulated the Appointment of a C. J. upon Political or other principles than what are usual in such Cases.8

    Hawley and Palmer refused to take sides and did their best to heal the breach. In fact, Hawley was displeased that Paine had refused a place on the superior court and wrote curtly: “It appears to me not to be a season to stand upon punctilios.”9

    When the election of delegates took place, Paine was reelected, but Thomas Cushing was replaced by Elbridge Gerry. With Cushing back in Massachusetts, Paine now had another powerful friend at court who relayed to him information about the local political scene. Concerning the election, Cushing wrote:

    I am sinsible attempts were made to dismiss you as a Delegate. I could never learn the particular objections that were urged against you, the osstensible reason was that it was best to make some alteration annually at least of two of the members; with respect to me, they urged, I should be wanted in the County of Suffolk and that my presence there could not be dispensed with; with respect to you It was said you was appointed a judge of the Superior Court and it was necessary you should be in the province; however with respect to both of us there were, as I am Informed, some low dirty arts made use of privately with some of the new Members insinuating that we were timid cautious irresolute and so not fit to answer their purpose in the present day.1

    The opposition to Paine apparently spent itself, for he was reelected to the Continental Congress in 1777 and 1778 but never went there to take his seat.

    James Warren was quick to send a copy of Paine’s letter of 1 January 1776 to John Adams. What Adams’ immediate reactions were are not known. Not so with those of Abigail, his wife. In a letter to her husband on 21 February 1776, she said:

    I have been uneasy upon your account. I know your delicacy must be wounded by the unjust and malicious censures of an unworthy associate, whose self conceit and vanity really makes him an object of contempt (, too dirty to soil my fingers) and commisiration. He has not only treated your character in a very abusive and ungentlemanlike manner, but descended to low vulgar attacks and Language upon our Worthy Friend.

    I think from the temper in which he writes you cannot avoid altercation with him, but I hope you will be guarded. Envy and vanity will do his work very effectually.2

    The bitterness engendered by this quarrel passed away slowly. Perhaps it was easier for John Adams to contain his feelings, for he had come out top man. Abigail owned later that she was not of “so forgiveing a disposition as to wish to see him holding a place which he refused merely from a spirit of envy.”3 And perhaps, too, John Adams came to see that those who had favored the moderate approach were not altogether wrong. In his famous letter to Abigail of 3 July 1776 announcing adoption of the Declaration of Independence, he mentioned the advantages of delay in adoption: “the whole People in every Colony of the 13, have now adopted it, as their own Act.—This will cement the Union, and avoid those Heats and perhaps Convulsions which might have been occasioned, by Such a Declaration Six Months ago.”4

    John Adams accepted the office of chief justice but after Paine’s outburst had some misgivings about keeping it. Throughout the year, he corresponded with his wife and others about the post and mentioned various reasons why he should give it up. The decisive reason was revealed in a letter to Abigail of 18 August 1776:

    Nothing has ever given me, more Mortification, than a suspicion, that has been propagated of me, that I was actuated by private Views, and have been aiming at high Places. The Office of C[hief] J[ustice] has occasioned this Jealousy, and it never will be allayed, untill I resign it.5

    On 10 February 1777, Adams submitted his resignation to the Massachusetts Council.

    By the summer of 1776, John Adams was very eager to go home. He felt that he had made his contribution to the cause and that it was now time for the businessmen and the military experts to take over. “I wish to be released from Philadelphia forever,” he wrote James Warren.6 It is interesting to speculate about what might have happened to him had he retained the post of chief justice. It is possible he might have been content to remain in Massachusetts pursuing a legal career.

    Paine left Philadelphia for Taunton on 12 December 1776, after having served in the Congress for sixteen months without a break. He was never to return. There are grounds for believing he and Adams had reached a modus vivendi before they parted. In a letter to a young law student, Adams even referred to Paine as one of the most respectable lawyers of Massachusetts.7 From then on, their paths seldom crossed. Adams was to devote himself to national affairs, Paine to state affairs as attorney general and later as judge of the superior court. After his retirement, Paine wrote to a friend: “I have served Massachusetts; no one can say that I have eaten the government bread in idleness.”8 When they were old men and their rivalry almost forgotten, they would occasionally meet at the funeral of a contemporary or, together with Elbridge Gerry, be guests of honor at a Fourth of July celebration. Paine died on 11 May 1814. After paying his respects, John Adams went home to write the following valedictory to a friend: “Alass! the Massachusetts triumvirate is broken! Judge Paine is no more!”9