Letter from Elbridge Gerry to John Adams

Letter From Elbridge Gerry to John Adams

Date: November 23, 1783
In this letter, Elbridge Gerry - at the time a representative to the Confederation Congress - expresses his concerns about standing armies and the threat they pose to liberty and security. Both Gerry and John Adams, who was serving as the Ambassador to the Netherlands at the time, were from Massachusetts, and their fear of "peace establishments" was widely held among northern politicians. Far from the western frontier of the nation, where military garrisons and standing armies were often welcomed as a defense against hostile Native Americans, New England politicians like Gerry undoubtedly had the injustices suffered by Boston at the hands of the British military governor at the forefront of their minds when opposing the creation of a standing army.

Text [excerpted]:

[A] peace Establishment is proposed for garrisoning our western Frontiers & guarding the Magazines, but It is doubtful whether Congress will accept the proposition. should We have the Treasury under a Superintendent with power to appoint all the Officers thereof; should We consent to the Impost, which is viewed as an intricate System for raising Supplies, without the Check constitutionally vested in the Legislatures, or the possibility of detecting Frauds in the Collection or Expenditures of the public Monies; should We have one federal Town with Such Materials for an oligarchical Influence as have been mentioned; should We have a peace Establishment which by various pretenses may hereafter be increased to a dangerous standing Army, not under the Control of the respective States; should We consent to an order of CincinnatiThe Society of the Cincinnati The Society of the Cincinnati was a membership organization founded after the Revolution for those who served as officers in the Continental Army. The Society was often criticized by contemporaries as an attempt to create a new aristocracy. consisting of all the Officers of the Army & Citizens of Consequence in the united States; how easy the Transition from a Republican to any other Form of Government, however despotic! & how ridiculous to exchange a British Administration, for one that would be equally tyrannical, perhaps much more so? this project may answer the End of Courts that aim at making Us subservient to their political purposes, but can never be consistent with the Dignity or Happiness of the united States.—


“To John Adams from Elbridge Gerry, 23 November 1783,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-15-02-0185 [last update: 2014-09-30]). Source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 15, June 1783–January 1784, ed. Gregg L. Lint, C. James Taylor, Robert F. Karachuk, Hobson Woodward, Margaret A. Hogan, Sara B. Sikes, Mary T. Claffey, and Karen N. Barzilay. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010, pp. 369–376.

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