to tobias lear
Jan. 2, 1800.
Your letter of the 15th of December last was delayed in getting to hand by the circumstance of its having gone to New York while I was at Philadelphia, and of its having arrived at Philadelphia after I had set out on my return to New York.
The very painful event which it announces had, previous to the receipt of it, filled my heart with bitterness. Perhaps no man in this community has equal cause with myself to deplore the loss. I have been much indebted to the kindness of the General, and he was an Ægis very essential to me. But regrets are unavailing. For great misfortunes it is the business of reason to seek consolation. The friends of General Washington have very noble ones. If virtue can secure happiness in another world, he is happy. In this the seal is now put upon his glory. It is no longer in jeopardy from the fickleness of fortune.
P. S.—In whose hands are his papers gone? Our very confidential situation will not permit this to be a point of indifference to me.
to rufus king
Jan. 5, 1800.
It is indeed a long time, my dear sir, since I have written to you, and I feel my obligation to you for the continuance of your correspondence, notwithstanding my delinquency.
Had it been true that I had left every thing else to follow the drum, my delinquency would not have been so great. But our military establishment offers too little inducement, and is too precarious to have permitted a total dereliction of professional pursuits. The double occupation occasioned by these added military duties, and the attention which circumstances call me to pay to collateral objects, engage my time more than ever, and leave me less leisure to communicate with distant friends.
If the projected cipher was established, I should now have very much to say to you. But for this the arrangement is not yet mature. Soon, however, I hope to make it so, by forwarding to you the counterpart, which is in preparation. I must, however, give you some sketch of our affairs.
At home every thing is in the main well; except as to the perverseness and capriciousness of one, and the spirit of faction of many.
Our measures from the first cause are too much the effect of momentary impulse. Vanity and jealousy exclude all counsel. Passion wrests the helm from reason.
The irreparable loss of an inestimable man removes a control which was felt, and was very salutary.
The leading friends of the government are in a sad dilemma. Shall they risk a serious schism by an attempt to change? Or shall they annihilate themselves and hazard their cause by continuing to uphold those who suspect or hate them, and who are likely to pursue a course for no better reason than because it is contrary to that which they approve?
The spirit of faction is abated nowhere. In Virginia it is more violent than ever. It seems demonstrated that the leaders there, who possess completely all the powers of the local government, are resolved to possess those of the national, by the most dangerous combinations; and, if they cannot effect this, to resort to the employment of physical force. The want of disposition in the people to second them will be the only preventive. It is believed that it will be an effectual one.
In the two houses of Congress we have a decided majority. But the dread of unpopularity is likely to paralyze it, and to prevent the erection of additional buttresses to the Constitution, a fabric which can hardly be stationary, and which will retrograde if it cannot be made to advance.
In the mass of the people the dispositions are not bad. An attachment to the system of peace continues. No project contrary to it could easily conciliate favor. Good-will towards the government, in my opinion, predominates; though a numerous party is still actuated by an opposite sentiment, and some vague discontents have a more diffused influence. Sympathy with the French Revolution acts in a much narrower circle than formerly, but the jealousy of monarchy, which is as actual as ever, still furnishes a handle by which the factions mislead well-meaning persons.
In our councils there is no fixed plan. Some are for preserving and invigorating the navy and destroying the army. Some among the friends of government for diminishing both on pecuniary considerations.
My plan is to complete the navy to the contemplated extent: say, six ships of the line, twelve frigates, and twenty-four sloops of war; to make no alteration for the present as to the military force; and, finally, to preserve the organs of the existing force, reducing the men to a very moderate number. For this plan there are various reasons that appear to me solid. I must doubt, however, that it will finally prevail.
The recent depredations of British cruisers, sanctioned in various instances by the courts, have rekindled in many hearts an animosity which was fast being extinguished. Such persons think they see in this circumstance a new proof that friendship towards this country on the part of Great Britain will always be measured by the scale of her success. A very perplexing conflict of sensations is the result of this impression.
I must hasten to a conclusion. It was unnecessary for me to have told you that for the loss of our illustrious friend every heart is in mourning. Adieu.
Who is to be Commander-in-Chief?
Not the next in command. The appointment will probably be deferred.
to mrs. martha washington
Jan. 12, 1800.
I did not think it proper, madam, to intrude amidst the first effusions of your grief; but I can no longer restrain my sensibility from conveying to you an imperfect expression of my affectionate sympathy in the sorrows you experience. No one better than myself knows the greatness of your loss, or how much your excellent heart is formed to feel it in all its extent. Satisfied that you cannot receive consolation, I will attempt to offer none. Resignation to the will of Heaven, which the practice of your life insures, can alone alleviate the sufferings of so heartrending an affliction.
There can be few who equally with me participate in the loss you deplore. In expressing this sentiment, I may, without impropriety, allude to the numerous and distinguished marks of confidence and friendship of which you have yourself been a witness, but I cannot say in how many ways the continuance of that confidence and friendship was necessary to me in future relations. Vain, however, are regrets. From a calamity which is common to a mourning nation, who can expect to be exempt? Perhaps it is even a privilege to have a claim to a larger portion of it than others.
I will only add, madam, that I shall esteem it a real and a great happiness if any future occurrence shall enable me to give you proof of that respectful and cordial attachment with which, etc.
to captain george izard
Feb. 27, 1800.
Your letter of the 25th instant was received yesterday. I should certainly regret any occurrence which might deprive me of your services, unless being one which was likely to redound to your own honor and advantage.
It is very certain that the military career in this country offers too few inducements, and it is equally certain that my present station in the army cannot very long continue under the plan which seems to govern. With these impressions it would consist with a candid and friendly part towards you to discourage your acceptance of the invitation you mention. You are doubtless aware of the uncertainties which rest on the diplomatic state also, and after balancing well you will make your election, perfectly assured of my cordial acquiescence in either event and of my constant wishes for your success.
Major Toussard has informed me of his progress in preparing the regulations. The necessity of your further attention to this object has ceased.
to theodore sedgwick
Feb. 27, 1800.
When will Congress probably adjourn? Will any thing be settled as to a certain election? Will my presence be requisite as to this or any other purpose, and when?
I observe more and more that by the jealousy and envy of some, the miserliness of others, and the concurring influence of all foreign powers, America, if she attains to greatness, must creep to it. Will it be so? Slow and sure is no bad maxim. Snails are a wise generation.
P. S.—Unless for indispensable reasons, I had rather not come.
to henry lee
March 7, 1800.
My Dear Sir:
The letters to which you allude in yours of the 5th instant have never been seen by me. The truth is, that I pay very little attention to such newspaper ebullitions, unless some friend points out a particular case which may demand attention.
But be assured once for all, that it is not easy for these miscreants to impair the confidence in and friendship for you, which are long habits of my mind; so that you may join me in looking with indifference upon their malicious efforts.
You have mistaken a little an observation in my last. Believe me, that I feel no despondency of any sort. As to the country, it is too young and vigorous to be quacked out of its political health; and as to myself, I feel that I stand on ground which, sooner or later, will insure me a triumph over all my enemies.
But in the meantime I am not wholly insensible of the injustice which I from time to time experience, and of which, in my opinion, I am at this moment the victim.
Perhaps my sensibility is the effect of an exaggerated estimate of my services to the United States; but on such a subject a man will judge for himself; and if he is misled by his vanity, he must be content with the mortifications to which it exposes him. In no event, however, will any displeasure I may feel be at war with the public interest. This in my eyes is sacred. Adieu.
to william smith
March 11, 1800.
You will probably have heard, before this reaches you, that I had appointed Captain Izard one of my aids. I part with him to you with all the reluctance that a strong impression of his merit can inspire. Yet I do not resist his going, because our military prospects in general, and mine in particular, are very uncertain.
Though we have had no communication since your departure, you may be assured that I have not ceased to interest myself in your welfare. If you go to Constantinople, I wish you good luck. It is, perhaps, past the time for you to play the false Ibrahim. You see I am in a humor to laugh. What can we do better in this best of all possible worlds? Should you even be shut up in the seven towers, or get the plague, if you are a true philosopher you will consider this only a laughing matter. Adieu.
to oliver wolcott
March 12, 1800.
I have written to you heretofore respecting Mr. Benjamin Wells, who acted as an excise officer in the western part of Pennsylvania at the time of the disturbances there. But this gentleman has just arrived here, and requests me to mention his case again to you. I comply with his request.
It appeared from what I saw and heard at the time, that Mr. Wells distinguished himself by persevering exertion to carry the laws into effect. He was, of course, marked out as an object of vengeance. The losses which he sustained were very considerable, and proceeded from the zeal he had displayed in support of the government. To repair his losses and reward his zeal, is therefore a duty imposed on the government by the principles both of justice and policy. It is imposed by justice—for the injuries were committed by persons in disguise, or under circumstances which render it impossible to discover the offenders. It is vain, therefore, to refer Mr. Wells to the individuals by whose acts he suffered. This is to tell him that his losses will never be repaired.
Policy speaks in this case the same language with justice. Mr. Wells suffered in consequence of his efforts to support the government, and of his attention to duty. Will the government then refuse to make him compensation? To do so, will be to violate the plainest maxims of policy, as it will effectually damp the zeal of public officers in every future case of difficulty. It is not to be expected that individuals will expose their persons to violence, and their property to destruction, in support of a government that has not generosity sufficient to reward those who suffer in its cause.
There appears to me to be no doubt of the meritorious exertions of Mr. Wells. Even if there were some doubt, yet the excellent effect which the measure is calculated to produce on public officers, will prove a full compensation for the money that may be advanced. I recollect to have mentioned to Mr. Wells, and other persons in the same capacity, that I considered the government as bound to indemnify them. So far, therefore, as my opinion could pledge the government, it was pledged. In giving this opinion I thought I was promoting the best interests of the nation, and it appears to me that the government will very widely mistake its policy in refusing to allow these men all reasonable claims.
to timothy pickering
The bearer of this, Mr. DuPont, formerly consul at Charleston, is personally known to you. He comes with the rest of his family to establish themselves in the United States. They are desirous of being favorably viewed by our government, and my intervention for this purpose has been requested.
Inclosed is a letter from General Pinckney, which speaks for itself. All that has come to my knowledge of this particular gentleman is recommendatory of him, as far as situation has permitted. I have always understood that his sentiments towards this country have been amicable, and that he has not been very deeply tinctured with the revolutionary spirit of his own, though circumstances have placed him in office under the new government. And I believe, if ever diseased, he is now perfectly cured. He is afraid that some expressions respecting the influence of the British Government in this country may have given an ill impression. He explains by saying, first, that they are qualified; second, that they were a necessary concession to the prejudices of the persons to whom his observations were addressed, calculated to procure attention to the conciliatory plan which he recommended, by screening him from the suspicion of being a corrupted partisan of this country. This solution seems to me an admissible one. In addressing enthusiasts, it is commonly requisite to adopt a little of their nonsense.
He has delivered me a paper which he sent to the Aurora to be published, but which he said was suppressed, and some thing of an insidious complexion substituted. He delivers the true communication, that it may be seen what he really did.
I am much mistaken if his father be not really a benevolent, well-disposed man. Indeed, the family generally impress us here agreeably, and we are inclined to augur well of them.
to oliver wolcott
April 7, 1800.
I thank you for the disposition shown to accommodate Mr. Robertson. When I saw him some days ago, he hoped that the matter would be placed upon the footing which was indicated.
I would readily comply with the wish of Mr. Evans, was I sure that it would not be a breach of propriety towards Mr. Madison. But if my memory does not deceive me, there was a sort of understanding between us that there should be no disclosure but by mutual consent. You will be sensible that I ought to be peculiarly circumspect with regard to this gentleman.
to general charles cotesworth pinckney
April 10, 1800.
I am perfectly content with the delay of communication to the Rev. Mr. Hill until the effect of your experiments with the Secretary of War shall be known.
I have heard nothing as to the impression made by our mission to France upon the combined powers, but I cannot doubt that it is a disagreeable one, and certainly the course of events lately has not said much for the good policy of the measure. This calculation of the President on a general peace as the main argument for what was done, proves at least to be as fallacious as I ventured to predict to him just after he had resolved to consummate the error. Captain Izard has accepted his appointment under Mr. Smith, and has sailed for Europe.
Mrs. H. and myself have learned with great pleasure the amendment of Mrs. P.’s health. Offer her and accept yourself our felicitations and best wishes.
to timothy pickering
april 25, 1800.
I send you the paragraph of a newspaper just published. I hope it is an electioneering lie; but as it is likely to do mischief, I will thank you, by return of post, to inform me whether you have any thing to confirm or refute, and particularly whether you have heard of the list with which Commodore Truxtun’s name is connected.
(Copy of enclosed paragraph)
New Haven, April 15th.
Captain James Stewart, of Chatham, in the brig Sally, arrived at New London on the 4th instant, from Jamaica, brings the most unpleasant accounts from that quarter. He states that the British capture all American vessels that afford the slightest pretext for condemnation, and impress all their seamen without discrimination. Captain Stewart was taken by his majesty’s ship Acasto, of forty-four guns, the commander of which, Edward Fellows, came on board the Sally himself, ordered Captain Stewart’s chest open, and, with his own hands, took out 4250 dollars, besides plundering the captain of other articles.
On the arrival of the brig at Kingston, every man on board except the captain and boy, all natives of Connecticut, were impressed, and are left there. Captain Nathan Allyn, of Groton, had all his people impressed, with their protections in their hands. Captain Waterman, of New York, was treated in the same manner, with many others. And Mr. Savage, the American agent in Kingston, informed Captain Stewart that he had forwarded to the Secretary of State, by Commodore Truxtun, an attested list of the names of one thousand and one bona fide American seamen who have lately been impressed by the British in that single port. American vessels and cargoes were constantly condemned in that place, a full account of which must soon be made public. Several masters and supercargoes of condemned vessels came home with Captain Stewart, who, besides the general usage, was himself treated with personal incivilities and contempt.
to theodore sedgwick
May 4, 1800.
You have heard of the loss of our election in the city of New York. This renders it too probable that the electors of President for this State will be anti-federal. If so, the policy which I was desirous of pursuing at the last election is now recommended by motives of additional cogency.
To support Adams and Pinckney equally is the only thing that can possibly save us from the fangs of Jefferson.
It is, therefore, essential that the Federalists should not separate without coming to a distinct and solemn concert to pursue this course bona fide.
Pray attend to this, and let me speedily hear from you that it is done.
to john jay
May 7, 1800.
You have been informed of the loss of our election in this city. It is also known that we have been unfortunate throughout Long Island and in Westchester. According to the returns hitherto, it is too probable that we lose our senators for this district.
The moral certainty therefore is, that there will be an anti-federal majority in the ensuing Legislature; and the very high probability is that this will bring Jefferson into the chief magistracy, unless it be prevented by the measure which I shall now submit to your consideration, namely, the immediate calling together of the existing Legislature.
I am aware that there are weighty objections to the measure, but the reasons for it appear to me to outweigh the objections; and in times like these in which we live, it will not do to be over-scrupulous. It is easy to sacrifice the substantial interests of society by a strict adherence to ordinary rules.
In observing this, I shall not be supposed to mean that any thing ought to be done which integrity will forbid, but merely that the scruples of delicacy and propriety, as relative to a common course of things, ought to yield to the extraordinary nature of the crisis. They ought not to hinder the taking of a legal and constitutional step to prevent an atheist in religion, and a fanatic in politics, from getting possession of the helm of state.
You, sir, know in a great degree the anti-federal party; but I fear you do not know them as well as I do. It is a composition, indeed, of very incongruous materials; but all tending to mischief—some of them, to the OVERTHROW of the GOVERNMENT, by stripping it of its due energies; others of them, to a REVOLUTION, after the manner of BONAPARTE. I speak from indubitable facts, not from conjectures and inferences. In proportion as the true character of the party is understood, is the force of the considerations which urge to every effort to disappoint it; and it seems to me, that there is a very solemn obligation to employ the means in our power.
The calling of the Legislature will have for its object the choosing of electors by the people in districts; this (as Pennsylvania will do nothing) will insure a majority of votes in the United States for a federal candidate. The measure will not fail to be approved by all the federal party; while it will, no doubt, be condemned by the opposite. As to its intrinsic nature, it is justified by unequivocal reasons of PUBLIC SAFETY.
The reasonable part of the world will, I believe, approve it. They will see it as a proceeding out of the common course, but warranted by the particular nature of the crisis and the great cause of social order.
If done, the motive ought to be frankly avowed. In your communication to the Legislature they ought to be told that temporary circumstances had rendered it probable that, without their interposition, the executive authority of the general government would be transferred to hands hostile to the system heretofore pursued with so much success, and dangerous to the peace, happiness, and order of the country; that under this impression, from facts convincing to your own mind, you had thought it your duty to give the existing Legislature an opportunity for deliberating whether it would not be proper to interpose, and endeavor to prevent so great an evil by referring the choice of electors to the people distributed into districts.
In weighing this suggestion you will doubtless bear in mind that popular governments must certainly be overturned, and, while they endure, prove engines of mischief, if one party will call to its aid all the resources which vice can give, and if the other (however pressing the emergency) confines itself within all the ordinary forms of delicacy and decorum.
The Legislature can be brought together in three weeks, so that there will be full time for the object; but none ought to be lost.
Think well, my dear sir, of this proposition—appreciate the extreme danger of the crisis; and I am unusually mistaken in my view of the matter, if you do not see it right and expedient to adopt the measure.
to theodore sedgwick
May 8, 1800.
I thank you, my dear sir, for your letter of the 5th instant, which was received yesterday. The measure you mention has been attempted, but without much hope of success.
Yet our friends are to-day in good spirits. The accounts from the northward, apparently authentic, give us the strong hope of still having a majority in our Legislature. But, be this as it may, our welfare depends absolutely on a faithful adherence to the plan which has been adopted. New York, if federal, will not go for Mr. Adams unless there shall be as firm a pledge as the nature of the thing will admit, that Mr. Pinckney will be equally supported in the Northern States.
to theodore sedgwick
May 10, 1800.
I am very sorry for the information contained in your letter of the 7th. But I am not intimate enough with Dexter to put myself upon paper to him.
If on his return I can catch him at New York I shall have a particular conversation with him.
He is, I am persuaded, much mistaken as to the opinion entertained of Mr. Adams by the federal party. Were I to determine from my own observation, I should say most of the most influential men of that party consider him as a very unfit and incapable character.
For my individual part my mind is made up. I will never more be responsible for him by my direct support, even though the consequence should be the election of Jefferson.
If we must have an enemy at the head of the government, let it be one whom we can oppose, and for whom we are not responsible, who will not involve our party in the disgrace of his foolish and bad measures. Under Adams, as under Jefferson, the government will sink. The party in the hands of whose chief it shall sink will sink with it, and the advantage will all be on the side of his adversaries.
’T is a notable expedient for keeping the federal party together, to have at the head of it a man who hates and is despised by those men of it who, in time past, have been its most efficient supporters. If the cause is to be sacrificed to a weak and perverse man, I withdraw from the party and act upon my own ground—never certainly against my principles, but in pursuance of them in my own way. I am mistaken if others do not do the same.
The only way to prevent a fatal schism in the federal party is to support General Pinckney in good earnest.
If I can be perfectly satisfied that Adams and Pinckney will be upheld in the East with entire good faith, on the ground of conformity, I will, wherever my influence may extend, pursue the same plan.
If not, I will pursue Mr. Pinckney as my single object. Adieu.
to timothy pickering
May 14, 1800.
I perceive that you as well as McHenry are quitting the administration. I am not informed how all this has been, though I conjecture. Allow me to suggest that you ought to take with you copies and extracts of all such documents as will enable you to explain both Jefferson and Adams. You are aware of a very curious journal of the latter when he was in Europe—a tissue of weakness and vanity.
The time is coming when men of real integrity and energy must write against all empirics.
to oliver wolcott
I send you the enclosed; if any good use can be made of it, you will do it. I have been in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. There is little doubt of federal electors in all, but there is considerable doubt of a perfect union in favor of Pinckney.
The leaders of the first class are generally right, but those of the second class are too much disposed to be wrong. It is essential to inform the most discreet of this description of the facts which denote unfitness in Mr. Adams. I have promised confidential friends a correct statement. To be able to give it, I must derive aid from you, and any thing you may write shall, if you please, be returned to you. But you must be exact, and much in detail. The history of the mission to France, from the first steps connected with the declarations in the speech to Congress down to the last proceeding, is very important.
I have serious thoughts of writing to the President, to tell him that I have heard of his having repeatedly mentioned the existence of a British faction in this country, and alluded to me as one of that faction, requesting that he will inform me of the truth of this information, and, if true, what have been the grounds of the suggestion. His friends are industrious in propagating the idea, to defeat the efforts to unite for Pinckney. The inquiry I propose may furnish an antidote and vindicate character. What think you of this idea? For my part, I can set malice at defiance.
to charles carroll
July 1, 1800.
I yesterday returned from an excursion through three of the four Eastern States, and found your letter of the 18th of April. It is very necessary that the true and independent friends of the government should communicate and understand each other at the present very embarrassed and dangerous crisis of public affairs. I am glad, therefore, of the opportunity which your letter affords me of giving you some explanations which may be useful. They are given without reserve, because the times forbid temporizing, and I hold no opinions which I have any motives to dissemble. As to the situation of this State with regard to the election of President, it is perfectly ascertained that, on a joint ballot of the two houses of our Legislature, the opposers of the government will have a majority of more than twenty, a majority which can by no means be overcome. Consequently all our electors will vote for Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Burr. I think there is little cause to doubt that the electors in the four Eastern States will all be federal.
The only question seems to be as to Rhode Island, where there is some division, and a state of things rather loose. Governor Fenner, as far as he may dare, will promote the interest of Jefferson.
A considerable diversion in favor of the opposition has lately been made in New Jersey, but the best and best-informed men there entertain no doubt that all her electors will still be federal, and I believe this opinion may be relied upon.
I go no further south, as I take it for granted your means of calculation with regard to that quarter are at least equal to mine.
The result of a comprehensive view of the subject seems to me to be that the event is uncertain, but that the probability is that a universal adherence of the Federalists to Pinckney will exclude Jefferson.
On this point there is some danger, though the greatest number of strong-minded men in New England are not only satisfied of the expediency of supporting Pinckney as giving the best chance against Jefferson, but even prefer him to Adams; yet, in the body of that people there is a strong personal attachment of this gentleman, and most of the leaders of the second class are so anxious for his re-election that it will be difficult to convince them that there is as much danger of its failure as there unquestionably is, or to induce them faithfully to co-operate in Mr. Pinckney, notwithstanding their common and strong dread of Jefferson.
It may become advisable, in order to oppose their fears to their prejudices, for the middle States to declare that Mr. Adams will not be supported at all, when, seeing his success desperate, they would be driven to adhere to Pinckney. In this plan New Jersey, and even Connecticut, may be brought to concur. For both these States have generally lost confidence in Mr. Adams.
But this will be best decided by future events and elucidations. In the meantime, it is not advisable that Maryland should be too deeply pledged to the support of Mr. Adams.
That this gentleman ought not to be the object of the federal wish is, with me, reduced to demonstration. His administration has already very materially disgraced and sunk the government. There are defects in his character which must inevitably continue to do this more and more. And if he is supported by the federal party, his party must, in the issue, fall with him. Every other calculation will, in my judgment, prove illusory.
Doctor Franklin, a sagacious observer of human nature, drew this portrait of Mr. Adams: “He is always honest, sometimes great, but often mad.“ I subscribe to the justness of this picture, adding, as to the first trait of it, this qualification: “as far as a man excessively vain and jealous and ignobly attached to place can be.”
to samuel dexter
July 9, 1800.
From a letter (not, however, couched in very explicit terms) which I have received from Mr. Bureaux de Pusy, I am induced to think that this gentleman would be willing to accept an appointment in the service of the United States.
He was, under the royal government, an engineer of distinction in the service of France. You are, I dare say, informed of his political history. He was a member and once president of the constituent assembly. Attached warmly to Lafayette and involved in his fortunes, he withdrew with him and was his fellow prisoner with the Russians and Austrians. Tired of the tempest of Europe himself, with his father-in-law DuPont de Nemours, and the whole connection have removed to this country and made a little establishment in Bergen County, New Jersey.
His professional pretensions admit of no dispute. His private character is amiable; his intelligence and information are highly respectable.
After mature reflection I am well satisfied that it is advisable for the United States to engage him if they can. He may be one of the two engineers whom the President is empowered to employ with the grade of colonel and such emoluments as he may think proper to agree for.
As the grade is rather below the pretensions of Mr. de Pusy, he may expect an increase of emoluments, which indeed is agreeable to the spirit of the provision made for this object.
There is a little probability of finding a person better qualified than in all probability is this gentleman.
The institution of a military academy being an object of primary importance, will, I doubt not, be zealously pursued. Whenever it shall take place, Mr. de Pusy will be a most desirable character to be at the head of it.
to john adams
It has been repeatedly mentioned to me that you have on different occasions asserted the existence of a British faction in this country, embracing a number of leading or influential characters of the federal party, as usually denominated; and that you have sometimes named me, at others plainly alluded to me, as one of this description of person. And I have likewise been assured that of late some of your warm adherents, for electioneering purposes, have employed a corresponding language. I must, sir, take it for granted that you cannot have made such assertions or insinuations without being willing to avow them, and to assign the reasons to a party who may conceive himself injured by them. I therefore trust that you will not deem it improper, that I apply directly to yourself, to ascertain from you, in reference to your own declarations, whether the information. I have received is correct or not, and if correct, what are the grounds upon which you have founded the suggestion.
to oliver wolcott
Aug. 3, 1800.
I have, two days since, written to Mr. Adams a respectful letter on the subject I heretofore mentioned to you. Occupation at court prevented its being done sooner.
But I wait with impatience for the statement of facts which you promised me. It is plain that, unless we give our reasons in some form or other, Mr. Adams’ personal friends, seconded by the Jacobins, will completely run us down in the public opinion. Your name, in company with mine, that of T. Pickering etc., is in full circulation, as one of the British faction of which Mr. Adams has talked so much.
I have serious thoughts of giving to the public my opinion respecting Mr. Adams, with my reasons, in a letter to a friend, with my signature. This seems to me the most authentic way of conveying the information, and best suited to the plain dealing of my character. There are, however, reasons against it; and a very strong one is, that some of the principal causes of my disapprobation proceed from yourself, and other members of the administration, who would be understood to be the sources of my information, whatever cover I might give the thing.
What say you to this measure? I could predicate it on the fact that I am abused by the friends of Mr. Adams, who ascribe my opposition to pique and disappointment; and could give it the shape of a defence of myself.
You have doubtless seen the Aurora publication of treasury documents, and the manner in which my name is connected with it. These publications do harm with the ignorant, who are the greatest number. I have thoughts of insinuating an action of slander, to be tried by a struck jury, against the editor. If I do it, I should claim you and the supervisors, collectors, and loan officers of all the States, from Maryland to New York, inclusively, as witnesses, to demonstrate completely the malice and falsity of the accusation. What think you of this? You see I am in a very belligerent humor.
But I remember that, at the outset, before the sums payable for interest, pensions, etc., were ascertained, I placed the money in the hands of the paying officers, upon estimate, and that, to avoid disappointment, I made the estimates large. Pray look into this, and see how far it may give any color to the calumny.
Let me hear from you soon.
to james ashton bayard
Aug. 6, 1800.
The president of Columbia College, in this city, has resigned, and we are looking out for a successor. Dr. Wharton has occurred to me as a character worthy of inquiry; and the great confidence I feel in your judgment and candor, induces me to have recourse to you.
We are extremely anxious to have a well-qualified man, as this is the only thing wanted to render our institution very flourishing. We have two very good professors—one of the languages, the other of the mathematics and natural philosophy; and we have a professor of chemistry—this branch having been lately made a part of the academic course,—together with better funds, as I believe, than any similar institution in the United States. I mention these particulars to impress you with the importance of our college to the cause of literature, and with the duty which thence results of peculiar circumspection and care in the choice of a president. It is essential that he be a gentleman in his manners, as well as a sound and polite scholar; that his moral character be irreproachable; that he possess energy of body and mind, and be of a disposition to maintain discipline without undue austerity; and, in the last place, that his politics be of the right sort. I beg you to inform me particularly how far Dr. Wharton meets this description, in what, if any thing, he fails. You will, of course, see the propriety of mentioning nothing about this inquiry.
In the present eventful crisis of our affairs, a mutual communication of informations and opinions among influential men of the federal party, may be attended with some advantage to their cause. Under this impression I shall give you a summary of the state of things north of the Delaware; south of it, your information is likely to be as good as mine; and, accordingly, I shall request your view of what is to be expected from that quarter. In New Hampshire there is no doubt of federal electors; but there is a decided partiality for Mr. Adams. I took pains to possess Governor Gilman, whose influence is very preponderating, of the errors and defects of Mr. Adams, and of the danger that no candidate can prevail, by mere federal strength; consequently of the expediency and necessity of unanimously voting for General Pinckney (who, in the South, may get some anti-federal votes) as the best chance of excluding Mr. Jefferson. The Governor appeared convinced of the soundness of these views, and cautiously gave me to expect his co-operation. Yet I do not count upon New Hampshire for more than two things: one, a unanimous vote for Mr. Adams; the other, no vote for any Anti-federalist. In Massachusetts, almost all the leaders of the first class are dissatisfied with Mr. Adams; and enter heartily into the policy of supporting General Pinckney. But most of the leaders of the second class are attached to Mr. Adams, and fearful of jeopardizing his election by promoting that of General Pinckney; and the mass of the people are well affected to him and to his administration. Yet I have strong hopes that, by the exertions of the principal Federalists, Massachusetts will unanimously vote for Adams and Pinckney. Rhode Island is in a state somewhat uncertain. Schisms have grown up from personal rivalships, which have been improved by the Anti-federalists, to strengthen their interests. Governor Fenner expresses a hope that there will be two anti-federal electors; but our friends reject this idea as wholly improbable. But I am not quite convinced that they know the ground. In every event, however, I expect that Mr. Adams will have there an unanimous vote.
I think nothing can be relied upon as to General Pinckney. Connecticut will, I doubt not, unanimously vote for General Pinckney, but, being very much displeased with Mr. Adams, it will require the explicit advice of certain gentlemen to induce them to vote for him. No Anti-federalist has any chance there. About Vermont I am not as yet accurately informed, but I believe Adams and Pinckney will both have all the votes. In New York, all the votes will certainly be for Jefferson and Burr. New Jersey does not stand as well as she used to do. The Antis hope for the votes of this State, but I think they will be disappointed. If the electors are federal, Pinckney will certainly be voted for, and Adams will be, or not, as leading friends shall advise. Adding to this view of the Northern what I have understood of the Southern quarter, our prospects are not brilliant. There seems to be too much probability that Jefferson or Burr will be President. The latter is intriguing with all his might in New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont, and there is a possibility of some success in his intrigues. He counts positively on the universal support of the Anti-federalists, and that, by some adventitious aid from other quarters, he will overstop his friend Jefferson. Admitting the first point, the conclusion may be realized; and if it is so, Burr will certainly attempt to reform the government à la Bonaparte. He is as unprincipled and dangerous a man as any country can boast—as true a Catiline as ever met in midnight conclave.
to james mchenry
Aug. 27, 1800.
Indeed, my dear Mac., I have not enough the gift of second sight to foresee what New England will do.
The mass of the people there are attached to Adams and the leaders of the second class pretty generally. The leaders of the first class pretty generally promote the joint support of Adams and Pinckney, either because they dislike Adams, or hate or fear Jefferson.
Upon the whole, I believe, though not with perfect assurance, that Pinckney will have almost all the votes of New England. Adams will have all.
The State of New Jersey is more uncertain than I could wish. Parties will be too nicely balanced there. But our friends continue confident of a favorable result. If the electors in this State are federal, they will certainly vote for Pinckney, and I rather think will do, with respect to Mr. Adams, what may be thought right.
In New York, there is no chance for any federal candidate.
I think, at all events, Maryland had better choose by the Legislature. If we have a majority of federal votes throughout, we can certainly exclude Jefferson, and, if we please, bring the question between Adams and Pinckney to the House of Representatives.
We fight Adams on very unequal grounds, because we do not declare the motives of our dislike. The exposition of these is very important—but how? I would make it and put my name to it, but I cannot do it without its being conclusively inferred that as to very material facts I must have derived my information from members of the administration. Yet, without this, we have the air of mere caballers, and shall be completely run down in the public opinion.
I have written a letter, of which I shall send a copy to you, another to Wolcott. If I am not forbidden, Colonel Ogden, to whom it will be addressed, will commit it to the newspapers.
P. S.—I have concluded to send the enclosed to you instead of Major Jackson.
to oliver wolcott
Sept. 26, 1800.
As I hinted to you some time since, I have drafted a letter which it is my wish to send to influential individuals in the New England States. I hope from it two advantages—the promoting of Mr. Pinckney’s election and the vindication of ourselves.
You may depend upon it, a very serious impression has been made on the public mind, by the partisans of Mr. Adams, to our disadvantage; that the facts hitherto known have very partially impaired the confidence of the body of the Federalists in Mr. Adams, who, for want of information, are disposed to regard his opponents as factious men. If this cannot be counteracted, our characters are the sacrifice. To do it, facts must be stated with some authentic stamp. Decorum may not permit going into the newspapers, but the letter may be addressed to so many respectable men of influence as may give its contents general circulation.
What say you to the measure? Anonymous publications can now effect nothing.
Some of the most delicate of the facts stated I hold from the three ministers, yourself particularly, and I do not think myself at liberty to take the step without your consent. I never mean to bring proof, but to stand upon the credit of my own veracity.
Say quickly what is to be done, for there is no time to spare. Give me your opinion not only of the measure, but of the fashion and spirit of the letter in regard to utility and propriety. If there are exceptionable ideas or phrases, note them.
As it is a first draught, there is much I should myself mend. But I have not now leisure for it previous to your inspection.
to john adams
Oct. 1, 1800.
The time which has elapsed since my letter of the 1st Aug. was delivered to you precludes the further expectation of an answer.
From this silence I will draw no inference, nor will I presume to judge of the fitness of silence on such an occasion on the part of the chief magistrate of a republic towards a citizen who, without a stain, has discharged so many important public trusts.
But this much I will affirm, that by whomsoever a charge of the kind mentioned in my former letter may at any time have been made or insinuated against me, it is a base, wicked, and cruel calumny, destitute even of a plausible pretext to excuse the folly or the depravity which must have dictated it.
to timothy pickering
Nov. 13, 1800.
You no doubt have seen my pamphlet respecting the conduct and character of President Adams. The press teems with replies, and I may finally think it expedient to publish a second time. In this case I shall reinforce my charges by new anecdotes. My friends will, no doubt, be disposed to aid me. You probably possess some which are unknown to me. Pray let me have them without delay.
You will observe that a prejudice is attempted to be excited against you as wishing to bring about an alliance with Great Britain. Explain to me fully this affair. I remember that you once consulted me about the expediency of the measure, and that I in reply gave you my opinion. I think it was that the thing was in any event problematical—that it was not advisable to go into at the time—that the most prudent course would be for Great Britain to have a power competent to the purpose vested in her Minister in this country, and to take the matter ad referendum to be governed by future circumstances.
I have not a copy of my letter. You will oblige me by letting me have it.
to oliver wolcott
Dec. 16, 1800.
It is now, my dear sir, ascertained that Jefferson or Burr will be President, and it seems probable that they will come with equal votes to the House of Representatives. It is also circulated here that, in this event, the Federalists in Congress, or some of them, talk of preferring Burr. I trust New England, at least, will not so far lose its head as to fall into this snare. There is no doubt but that, upon every virtuous and prudent calculation, Jefferson is to be preferred. He is by far not so dangerous a man; and he has pretensions to character.
As to Burr, there is nothing in his favor. His private character is not defended by his most partial friends. He is bankrupt beyond redemption, except by the plunder of his country. His public principles have no other spring or aim than his own aggrandizement, per fas et nefas. If he can, he will certainly disturb our institutions, to secure to himself permanent power, and with it wealth. He is truly the Catiline of America; and, if I may credit Major Wilcocks, he has held very vindictive language respecting his opponents.
But early measures must be taken to fix on this point the opinions of the Federalists. Among them, from different motives, Burr will find partisans. If the thing be neglected, he may possibly go far.
Yet it may be well enough to throw out a lure for him, in order to tempt him to start for the plate, and then lay the foundation of dissension between the two chiefs.
You may communicate this letter to Marshall and Sedgwick. Let me hear speedily from you in reply.
to oliver wolcott
December 17, 1800.
Your last letter, my dear sir, has given me great pain, not only because it informed me that the opinion in favor of Mr. Burr was increasing among the Federalists, but because it also told me that Mr. Sedgwick was one of its partisans. I have a letter from this gentlemen, in which he expresses decidedly his preference of Mr. Jefferson. I hope you have been mistaken, and that it is not possible for him to have been guilty of so great duplicity.
There is no circumstance which has occurred in the course of our political affairs that has given me so much pain as the idea that Mr. Burr might be elevated to the Presidency by the means of the Federalists. I am of opinion that this party has hitherto solid claims of merit with the public, and so long as it does nothing to forfeit its title to confidence, I shall continue to hope that our misfortunes are temporary, and that the party will erelong emerge from its depression. But if it shall act a foolish or unworthy part in any capital instance, I shall then despair.
Such, without doubt, will be the part it will act, if it shall seriously attempt to support Mr. Burr, in opposition to Mr. Jefferson. If it fails, as, after all, is not improbable, it will have riveted the animosity of that person; will have destroyed or weakened the motives to moderation which he must at present feel, and it will expose them to the disgrace of a defeat, in an attempt to elevate to the first place of the government one of the worst men in the community.
If it succeeds, it will have done nothing more nor less than place in that station a man who will possess the boldness and daring necessary to give success to the Jacobin system, instead of one who, for want of that quality, will be less fitted to promote it.
Let it not be imagined that Mr. Burr can be won to the federal views. It is a vain hope. Stronger ties and stronger inducements than they can offer will impel him in a different direction. His ambition will not be content with those objects which virtuous men of either party will allot to it, and his situation and his habits will oblige him to have recourse to corrupt expedients, from which he will be restrained by no moral scruple. To accomplish his ends, he must lean upon unprincipled men, and will continue to adhere to the myrmidons who have hitherto seconded him. To these he will, no doubt, add able rogues of the federal party, but he will employ the rogues of all parties to overrule the good men of all parties, and to prosecute projects which wise men of every description will disapprove.
These things are to be inferred, with moral certainty, from the character of the man. Every step in his career proves that he has formed himself upon the model of Catiline, and he is too cold-blooded and too determined a conspirator ever to change his plan.
What would you think of these toasts and this conversation at his table within the last three or four weeks?
1st. The French republic.
2d. The commissioners on both sides who negotiated the convention.
What would you think of his having seconded the positions, that it was the interest of this country to allow the belligerent powers to bring in and sell their prizes, and build and equip ships in our ports? Do you not see in this the scheme of war with Great Britain, as the instrument of power and wealth? Can it be doubted that a man who has all his life speculated upon the popular prejudices, will consult them in the object of a war when he thinks it is expedient to make one? Can a man who, despising democracy, has chimed in with all its absurdities, be diverted from the plan of ambition which must have directed his course? They who suppose it must understand little of human nature.
If Jefferson is President, the whole responsibility of bad measures will rest with the Anti-federalists. If Burr is made so by the Federalists, the whole responsibility will rest with them. The other party will say to the people: We intended him only for Vice-President; here he might have done very well, or been at least harmless. But the Federalists, to disappoint us, and a majority of you, took advantage of a momentary superiority to put him in the first place. He is therefore their President, and they must answer for all the evils of his bad conduct. And the people will believe them.
Will any reasonable calculation on the part of the Federalists uphold the policy of assuming so great a responsibility in the support of so unpromising a character? The negative is so manifest that, had I not been assured of the contrary, I should have thought it impossible that assent to it would have been attended with a moment’s hesitation.
Alas! when will men consult their reason rather than their passions? Whatever they may imagine, the desire of mortifying the adverse party must be the chief spring of the disposition to prefer Mr. Burr. This disposition reminds me of the conduct of the Dutch moneyed men, who, from their hatred of the old aristocracy, favored the admission of the French into Holland, to overturn every thing.
Adieu to the Federal Troy, if they once introduce this Grecian horse into their citadel.
Trust me, my dear friend, you cannot render a greater service to your country than to resist this project. Far better will it be to endeavor to obtain from Jefferson assurances on some cardinal points:
1st. The preservation of the actual fiscal system.
2d. Adherence to the neutral plan.
3d. The preservation and gradual increase of the navy.
4th. The continuance of our friends in the offices they fill, except in the great departments, in which he ought to be left free.
to theodore sedgwick
Dec. 22, 1800.
I entirely agree with you, my dear sir, that, in the event of Jefferson and Burr coming to the House of Representatives, the former is to be preferred. The appointment of Burr as President would disgrace our country abroad. No agreement with him could be relied upon. His private circumstances render disorder a necessary resource. His public principles offer no obstacle. His ambition aims at nothing short of permanent power and wealth in his own person. For heaven’s sake, let not the federal party be responsible for the elevation of this man!
The convention with France is just such an issue as was to have been expected. It plays into the hands of France, by the precedent of those principles of navigation which she is at this moment desirous of making the basis of a league of the northern powers against England. This feature will be peculiarly disagreeable to the latter, and, as it relates to the general politics of the world, is a make-weight in the wrong scale.
The stipulation about privateers and prizes is of questionable propriety. If third powers are entitled to the benefit of annulling our treaties with France, it is a plain violation of our compact with Great Britain.
But I rather think it the better opinion that, pending the differences which produced that measure, it is a matter purely between France and ourselves, by which no third power has a right to profit, and that even the status quo would not have been a violation of our engagements with Great Britain.
Thus situated, I am of opinion the treaty must be ratified. The contrary condition would, I think, utterly ruin the federal party and endanger our internal tranquillity. Moreover, it is better to close the thing where it is, than to leave it to a Jacobin to do much worse.
This is a deliberately formed sentiment, and I hope will accord with the conclusions of our friends. At the same time, I wish it to be declared by our friends in the Senate, that they think the treaty liable to strong objections and pregnant with dangers to the interests of this country, but having been negotiated, they will not withhold their assent.
Reasons should be given.
to gouverneur morris
Dec. 24, 1800.
I will run the risk with you of giving countenance to a charge lately brought against me, though it has certainly had a very false direction. I mean that of being fond of giving advice.
Several friends at Washington inform me that there is likely to be much hesitation in the Senate about ratifying the convention with France. I do not wonder at it, and yet I should be sorry that it should mature itself into a disagreement to the instrument. Having received its present form, I think it should be ratified.
In my opinion, there is nothing in it contrary to our treaty with Great Britain. The annulling of our former treaties with France was an act of reprisal in consequence of hostile differences, of which no other power had a right to benefit, and which, upon an accommodation, might have been rescinded, even to the restoration of the status quo. Great Britain is now, in this respect, in a better situation than she was when she made the treaty. She has, so far, no good cause to complain.
There are, indeed, features which will not be pleasant to the British cabinet, particularly the principle that free ships shall make free goods, and that the flag of ships-of-war shall protect. As these are points upon which France was endeavoring to form hostile combinations against Great Britain, the giving place to them in the convention will have an unfriendly countenance towards her and us, and is to be regretted in the present moment. Yet we had a right to make these stipulations, and as they may be fairly supposed to be advantageous to us, they are not in fact indications of enmity. They give no real cause of umbrage, and, considering the general interests of Great Britain and her particular situation, it does not seem probable that they will produce on her part a hostile conduct.
As to the indemnification for spoliations, that was rather to be wished than expected, while France is laying the world under contribution. The people of this country will not endure that a definitive rupture with France shall be hazarded on this ground.
If this convention is not closed, the leaving of the whole subject open will render it easier for the Jacobin administration to make a worse thing.
On the whole, the least evil is to ratify. The contrary would finish the ruin of the federal party, and endanger our internal tranquillity. It is better to risk the dangers on the other hand, than on this side.
Another subject. Jefferson or Burr? the former without all doubt. The latter, in my judgment, has no principle, public or private; could be bound by no agreement; will listen to no monitor but his ambition, and for this purpose will use the worst part of the community as a ladder to climb to permanent power, and an instrument to crush the better part. He is bankrupt beyond redemption, except by the resources that grow out of war and disorder, or by a sale to a foreign power, or by great peculation. War with great Britain would be the immediate instrument. He is sanguine enough to hope every thing, daring enough to attempt every thing, wicked enough to scruple nothing. From the elevation of such a man may heaven preserve the country!
Let our situation be improved to obtain from Jefferson assurances on certain points: the maintenance of the present system, especially on the cardinal articles of public credit—a navy, neutrality. Make any discreet use you may think fit of this letter.
to gouverneur morris
Dec. 26, 1800.
The post of yesterday gave me the pleasure of a letter from you. I thank you for the communication. I trust that a letter which I wrote you the day before the receipt of yours will have duly reached you, as it contains some very free and confidential observations ending in two results.
1st. That the convention with France ought to be ratified as the least of two evils.
2d. That on the same ground Jefferson ought to be preferred to Burr.
I trust the Federalists will not finally be so mad as to vote for the latter. I speak with an intimate and accurate knowledge of character. His elevation can only promote the purposes of the desperate and profligate.
If there be a man in the world I ought to hate, it is Jefferson. With Burr I have always been personally well. But the public good must be paramount to every private consideration.
My opinion may be freely used with such reserves as you shall think discreet.
to james a. bayard
Dec. 27, 1800.
Several letters to myself and others from the city of Washington, excite in my mind extreme alarm on the subject of the future President. It seems nearly ascertained that Jefferson and Burr will come into the House of Representatives with equal votes, and those letters express the probability that the federal party may prefer the latter. In my opinion, a circumstance more ruinous to them, or more disastrous to the country, could not happen.
This opinion is dictated by a long and close attention to the character of B., with the best opportunities of knowing it—an advantage of judging which, few of our friends possess, and which ought to give some weight to my opinion.
Be assured, my dear sir, that this man has no principle, public nor private. As a politician, his sole spring of action is an inordinate ambition; as an individual, he is believed by friends as well as foes to be without probity; and a voluptuary by system—with habits of expense that can be satisfied by no fair expedients. As to his talents, great management and cunning are the predominant features; he is yet to give proofs of those solid abilities which characterize the statesman. Daring and energy must be allowed him; but these qualities, under the direction of the worst passions, are certainly strong objections, not recommendations. He is of a temper to undertake the most hazardous enterprises, because he is sanguine enough to think nothing impracticable; and of an ambition that will be content with nothing less than permanent power in his own hands. The maintenance of the existing institutions will not suit him; because under them his power will be too narrow and too precarious. Yet the innovations he may attempt will not offer the substitute of a system durable and safe, calculated to give lasting prosperity, and to unite liberty with strength. It will be the system of the day, sufficient to serve his own turn, and not looking beyond himself. To execute this plan, as the good men of the country cannot be relied upon, the worst will be used. Let it not be imagined that the difficulties of execution will deter, or a calculation of interest restrain. The truth is, that under forms of government like ours, too much is practicable to men who will, without scruple, avail themselves of the bad passions of human nature. To a man of this description, possessing the requisite talents, the acquisition of permanent power is not a chimera. I know that Mr. Burr does not view it as such, and I am sure there are no means too atrocious to be employed by him. In debt, vastly beyond his means of payment, with all the habits of excessive expense, he cannot be satisfied with the regular emoluments of any office of our government. Corrupt expedients will be to him a necessary resource. Will any prudent man offer such a President to the temptations of foreign gold? No engagement that can be made with him can be depended upon; while making it, he will laugh in his sleeve at the credulity of those with whom he makes it;—and the first moment it suits his views to break it, he will do so. Let me add, that I could scarcely name a discreet man of either party in our State, who does not think Mr. Burr the most unfit man in the United States for the office of President. Disgrace abroad, ruin at home, are the probable fruits of his elevation. To contribute to the disappointment and mortification of Mr. J., would be, on my part, only to retaliate for unequivocal proofs of enmity; but in a case like this, it would be base to listen to personal considerations. In alluding to the situation, I mean only to illustrate how strong must be the motives which induced me to promote his elevation in exclusion of another.
For heaven’s sake, my dear sir, exert yourself to the utmost to save our country from so great a calamity. Let us not be responsible for the evils, which in all probability will follow the preference. All calculations that may lead to it must prove fallacious.
to john rutledge
As long as the federal party pursue their high ground of integrity and principle, I shall not despair of the public weal; but if they quit it and descend to be willing instruments of the elevation of the most unfit and most dangerous man of the community to the highest station in the government, I shall no longer see any anchor for the hopes of good men. I shall at once anticipate all the evils that a daring and unprincipled ambition, wielding the lever of Jacobinism, can bring upon an infatuated country. ’T is not to the chapter of accidents that we ought to trust the government, peace, and happiness of our country. ’T is enough for us to know that Mr. Burr is one of the most unprincipled men in the United States, to determine us to decline being responsible for the precarious issues of his calculations of interest. You cannot, in my opinion, render a greater service to your country than by exerting your influence to counteract the impolitic and impure idea of raising Mr. Burr to the chief magistracy.