Front Page Titles (by Subject) 4 Mar. 1789: ELBRIDGE GERRY TO JOHN ADAMS. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 8 (Letters and State Papers 1782-1799)
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4 Mar. 1789: ELBRIDGE GERRY TO JOHN ADAMS. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 8 (Letters and State Papers 1782-1799) 
The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 8.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
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ELBRIDGE GERRY TO JOHN ADAMS.
New York, 4 March, 1789.
My Dear Friend,—
I find, on inquiry, that you are elected Vice-President, having three or four times the number of votes of any other candidate. Maryland threw away their votes on Colonel Harrison, and South Carolina on Governor Rutledge, being, with some other States which were not unanimous for you, apprehensive that this was a necessary step to prevent your election to the chair. In this point they were mistaken, for the President, as I am informed from pretty good authority, has a unanimous vote.1 It is the universal wish of all that I have conferred with, and indeed their expectation, that both General Washington and yourself will accept; and should either refuse, it will have a very disagreeable effect. The members present met to-day in the City Hall; there being about eleven senators and thirteen representatives, and not constituting a quorum in either house, they adjourned till to-morrow.
Mrs. Gerry and the ladies join me in sincere regards to yourself, your lady, Colonel and Mrs. Smith; and be assured, I remain, &c.
THE VICE-PRESIDENT’S SPEECH.
Tuesday, April 21, 1789.
The senate assembled: present as yesterday.
The committee, appointed on the 20th instant, consisting of Mr. Strong and Mr. Izard, to conduct the Vice-President to the senate chamber, executed their commission; and Mr. Langdon, the president pro tempore, meeting the Vice-President upon the floor of the senate chamber, addressed him as follows:—
Sir,—I have it in charge from the senate to introduce you to the chair of this house, and also to congratulate you on your appointment to the office of Vice-President of the United States of America.
After which Mr. Langdon conducted the Vice-President to the chair, when the Vice-President addressed the senate as follows:—
Gentlemen of the Senate,—Invited to this respectable situation by the suffrages of our fellow citizens, according to the constitution, I have thought it my duty cheerfully and readily to accept it. Unaccustomed to refuse any public service, however dangerous to my reputation, or disproportioned to my talents, it would have been inconsistent to have adopted another maxim of conduct at this time, when the prosperity of the country and the liberties of the people require, perhaps, as much as ever, the attention of those who possess any share of the public confidence.
I should be destitute of sensibility, if, upon my arrival in this city, and presentation to this legislature, and especially to this senate, I could see, without emotion, so many of those characters, of whose virtuous exertions I have so often been a witness; from whose countenances and examples I have ever derived encouragement and animation; whose disinterested friendship has supported me, in many intricate conjunctures of public affairs, at home and abroad; those celebrated defenders of the liberties of this country, whom menaces could not intimidate, corruption seduce, nor flattery allure; those intrepid asserters of the rights of mankind, whose philosophy and policy have enlightened the world, in twenty years, more than it was ever before enlightened, in many centuries, by ancient schools or modern universities.
I must have been inattentive to the course of events, if I were either ignorant of the fame, or insensible to the merit, of those other characters in the senate, to whom it has been my misfortune to have been hitherto personally unknown.
It is with satisfaction that I congratulate the people of America on the formation of a national constitution, and the fair prospect of a consistent administration of a government of laws; on the acquisition of a house of representatives, chosen by themselves; of a senate, thus composed by their own State legislatures; and on the prospect of an executive authority, in the hands of one, whose portrait I shall not presume to draw. Were I blessed with powers to do justice to his character, it would be impossible to increase the confidence or affection of his country, or make the smallest addition to his glory. This can only be effected by a discharge of the present exalted trust, on the same principles, with the same abilities and virtues, which have uniformly appeared in all his former conduct, public or private. May I, nevertheless, be indulged to inquire, if we look over the catalogue of the first magistrates of nations, whether they have been denominated presidents or consuls, kings or princes, where shall we find one, whose commanding talents and virtues, whose overruling good fortune, have so completely united all hearts and voices in his favor, who enjoyed the esteem and admiration of foreign nations and fellow citizens with equal unanimity? Qualities, so uncommon, are no common blessings to the country that possesses them. By those great qualities, and their benign effects, has Providence marked out the head of this nation with a hand, so distinctly visible, as to have been seen by all men, and mistaken by none.
It is not for me to interrupt your deliberations by any general observations on the state of the nation, or by recommending or proposing any particular measures. It would be superflous, to gentlemen of your great experience, to urge the necessity of order. It is only necessary to make an apology for myself. Not wholly without experience in public assemblies, I have been more accustomed to take a share in their debates, than to preside in their deliberations. It shall be my constant endeavor to behave towards every member of this most honorable body with all that consideration, delicacy, and decorum, which becomes the dignity of his station and character. But if, from inexperience or inadvertency, any thing should ever escape me, inconsistent with propriety, I must entreat you, by imputing it to its true cause, and not to any want of respect, to pardon and excuse it.
A trust of the greatest magnitude is committed to this legislature, and the eyes of the world are upon you. Your country expects, from the results of your deliberations, in concurrence with the other branches of government, consideration abroad and contentment at home, prosperity, order, justice, peace, and liberty. And may God Almighty’s providence assist you to answer their just expectations.
THOMAS JEFFERSON TO JOHN ADAMS.
Paris, 10 May, 1789.
Since mine of January 14th, yours of January 2d and March 1st have been handed to me; the former by Mr. Jones, whom I am glad to know on your recommendation, and to make him the channel of evidencing to you how much I esteem whatever comes from you. The internal agitations of this country, and the inactivity to which England is reduced by the state of imbecility in which the madness of the King has terminated, will leave the southwestern parts of Europe in peace for the present year. Denmark will probably continue to furnish only its stipulated succors to Russia, without engaging in the war as a principal. Perhaps a pacification may be effected between Russia and Sweden, though at present there is little appearance of it; so that we may expect that the war will go on this year between the two empires, the Turks and Swedes, without extending any further. Even the death of the Emperor, should it take place, would hardly withdraw his dominions from the war this summer. The revolution in this country has gone on hitherto with a quietness, a steadiness, and a progress, unexampled; but there is danger of a balk now. The three orders, which compose the States General, seem likely to stumble at the threshold on the great preliminary question, how shall they vote, by orders or persons? If they get well over this question, there will be no difficulty afterwards, there is so general a concurrence in the great points of constitutional reformation. If they do not get over this question (and this seems possible), it cannot be foreseen what issue this matter will take. As yet, however, no business being begun, no votes taken, we cannot pronounce with certainty the exact state of parties. This is a summary view of European affairs.
Though I have not official information of your election to the presidency of the senate, yet I have such information as renders it certain. Accept, I pray you, my sincere congratulations; no man on earth pays more cordial homage to your worth, nor wishes more fervently your happiness. Though I detest the appearance even of flattery, I cannot always suppress the effusions of my heart. Present me affectionately to Mrs. Adams, Col. and Mrs. Smith. I hope to see you all this summer, and to return this fall to my prison; for all Europe would be a prison to me, were it ten times as big.
Adieu, my dear friend, &c.
PRESIDENT WASHINGTON TO JOHN ADAMS.
17 May, 1789.
The President of the United States wishes to avail himself of your sentiments on the following points.
1. Whether a line of conduct, equally distant from an association with all kinds of company on the one hand, and from a total seclusion from society on the other, ought to be adopted by him? And in that case, how is it to be done?
2. What will be the least exceptionable method of bringing any system, which may be adopted on this subject, before the public and into use?
3. Whether, after a little time, one day in every week will not be sufficient for receiving visits of compliment?
4. Whether it would tend to prompt impertinent applications, and involve disagreeable consequences, to have it known that the President will, every morning at eight o’clock, be at leisure to give audience to persons who may have business with him?
5. Whether, when it shall have been understood that the President is not to give general entertainments in the manner the presidents of congress have formerly done, it will be practicable to draw such a line of discrimination, in regard to persons, as that six, eight, or ten official characters, including in rotation the members of both houses of congress, may be invited, personally or otherwise, to dine with him on the days fixed for receiving company, without exciting clamors in the rest of the community?
6. Whether it would be satisfactory to the public for the President to make about four great entertainments in a year, on such great occasions as the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the alliance with France, the peace with Great Britain, the organization of the general government; and whether arrangements of these two last kinds could be in danger of diverting too much of the President’s time from business, or of producing the evils which it was intended to avoid by his living more recluse than the presidents of congress have hitherto lived?
7. Whether there would be any impropriety in the President’s making informal visits; that is to say, in his calling upon his acquaintances or public characters, for the purpose of sociability or civility? And what, as to the form of doing it, might evince these visits to have been made in his private character, so as that they may not be construed into visits from the President of the United States? And in what light would his visits rarely at tea-parties be considered?
8. Whether, during the recess of congress, it would not be advantageous to the interests of the union for the President to make the tour of the United States, in order to become better acquainted with their principal characters and internal circumstances, as well as to be more accessible to numbers of well-informed persons, who might give him useful information and advice on political subjects?
9. If there is a probability that either of the arrangements may take place, which will eventually cause additional expenses, whether it would not be proper that these ideas should come into contemplation at the time when congress shall make a permanent provision for the support of the executive?
On the one side, no augmentation can be effected in the pecuniary establishment, which shall be made in the first instance for the support of the executive. On the other, all moneys destined to that purpose, beyond the actual expenditure, will be left in the treasury of the United States, or sacredly applied to the promotion of some national objects.
Many things, which appear of little importance in themselves and at the beginning, may have great and durable consequences from their having been established at the commencement of a new general government. It will be much easier to commence the administration upon a well-adjusted system, built on tenable grounds, than to correct errors, or alter inconveniences, after they shall have been confirmed by habit. The President, in all matters of business and etiquette, can have no object but to demean himself in his public character in such a manner as to maintain the dignity of his office, without subjecting himself to the imputation of superciliousness or unnecessary reserve. Under these impressions, he asks for your candid and undisguised opinion.
THE VICE-PRESIDENT’S ANSWER.
New York, 17 May, 1789.
The Vice-President has the honor to present his humble opinion on the points proposed for his consideration.
1. That an association with all kinds of company, and a total seclusion from society, are extremes, which, in the actual circumstances of this country, and under our form of government, may be properly avoided.
2. The system of the President will gradually develop itself in practice, without any formal communication to the legislature, or publication from the press. Paragraphs in the public prints may, however, appear, from time to time, without any formal authority, that may lead and reconcile the public mind.
3. Considering the number of strangers from many countries, and of citizens from various States, who will resort to the seat of government, it is doubted whether two days in a week will not be indispensable for visits of compliment. A little experience, however, will elucidate this point.
4. Under the fourth head, it is submitted to consideration, whether all personal applications ought not to be made, in the first instance, to a minister of state. Yet an appeal should be open, by petition, to the President, who, if he judges the subject worthy of it, may admit the party to a personal interview. Access to the supreme magistrate ought not to be rigorously denied in any case that is worthy of his consideration. Nevertheless, in every case, the name, quality, and, when these are not sufficient to raise a presumption in their favor, their business, ought to be communicated to a chamberlain, or gentleman in waiting, who should judge whom to admit and whom to exclude. Some limitation of time may be necessary, too, as, for example, from eight to nine or ten; for, without it, the whole forenoon, or the whole day, may be taken up.
5. There is no doubt that the President may invite what official characters, members of congress, strangers, or citizens of distinction he pleases, in small parties, without exciting clamors; but this should always be done without formality.
6. The entertainments mentioned in this article would much more properly be made by a minister of state for foreign or domestic affairs, or some other minister of state, or the Vice-President, whom, upon such occasions, the President, in his private character, might honor with his presence. But in no case whatever can I conceive it proper for the President to make any formal public entertainment.
7. There can be no impropriety in the President’s making or receiving informal visits among his friends or acquaintances, at his pleasure. Undress, and few attendants, will sufficiently show that such visits are made as a man, a citizen, a friend, or acquaintance. But in no case whatever should a visit be made or returned in form by the President; at least, unless an emperor of Germany, or some other sovereign, should travel to this country. The President’s pleasure should absolutely decide concerning his attendance at tea-parties in a private character; and no gentleman or lady ought ever to complain, if he never, or rarely attends. The President’s private life should be at his own discretion, and the world should respectfully acquiesce. As President, he should have no intercourse with society, but upon public business, or at his levees. This distinction, it is, with submission, apprehended, ought to govern the whole conduct.
8. A tour might, no doubt, be made, with great advantage to the public, if the time can be spared; but it will naturally be considered, as foreign affairs arrive every day, and the business of the executive and judicial departments will require constant attention, whether the President’s residence will not necessarily be confined to one place.
The civil list ought to provide for the President’s household. What number of chamberlains, aides-de-camp, secretaries, masters of ceremonies, &c. will become necessary, it is difficult to foresee. But should not all such establishments be distinct from the allowance to the President for his services, which is mentioned in the constitution? In all events, the provision for the President and his household ought to be large and ample. The office, by its legal authority, defined in the constitution, has no equal in the world, excepting those only which are held by crowned heads; nor is the royal authority in all cases to be compared to it. The royal office in Poland is a mere shadow in comparison with it. The Dogeship in Venice, and the Stadtholdership in Holland, are not so much. Neither dignity nor authority can be supported in human minds, collected into nations or any great numbers, without a splendor and majesty in some degree proportioned to them. The sending and receiving ambassadors, is one of the most splendid and important prerogatives of sovereigns, absolute or limited; and this, in our constitution, is wholly in the President. If the state and pomp essential to this great department are not, in a good degree, preserved, it will be in vain for America to hope for consideration with foreign powers.
These observations are submitted, after all, with diffidence, conscious that my long residence abroad may have impressed me with views of things incompatible with the present temper and feelings of our fellow-citizens; and with a perfect disposition to acquiesce in whatever may be the result of the superior wisdom of the President.1
TO JAMES LOVELL.
New York, 1 September, 1789.
I have not yet answered your letter of the 26th of July. You guess well; I find that I shall have all the unpopular questions to determine, and shall soon be pronounced hostis republicani generis. What they will do with me, I know not, but must trust to Providence. You insinuate that I am accused “of deciding in favor of the power of the prime, because I look up to that goal.”1 That I look up to that goal sometimes, is very probable, because it is not far above me, only one step, and it is directly before my eyes, so that I must be blind not to see it. I am forced to look up to it, and bound by duty to do so, because there is only the breath of one mortal between me and it. There was lately cause enough to look up to it, as I did with horror, when that breath was in some danger of expiring. But deciding for the supreme was not certainly the way to render that goal more desirable or less terrible, nor was it the way to obtain votes for continuing in it, or an advancement to it. The way to have insured votes would have been to have given up that power. There is not, however, to be serious, the smallest prospect that I shall ever reach that goal. Our beloved chief is very little older than his second, has recovered his health, and is a much stronger man than I am. A new Vice-President must be chosen before a new President. This reflection gives me no pain, but, on the contrary, great pleasure; for I know very well that I am not possessed of the confidence and affection of my fellow-citizens to the degree that he is. I am not of Cæsar’s mind. The second place in Rome is high enough for me, although I have a spirit that will not give up its right or relinquish its place. Whatever the world, or even my friends, or even you, who know me so well, may think of me, I am not an ambitious man. Submission to insult and disgrace is one thing, but aspiring to higher situations is another. I am quite contented in my present condition, and should not be discontented to leave it.
Having said too much of myself, let me say something of you. The place of collector would undoubtedly have been yours, if the President could have found any other situation for your friend Lincoln. It was from no lukewarmness to you, I am certain; but the public cause demanded that Lincoln should be supported, and this could not be done any other way. If, after some time, any other permanent place should be found for him, you, I presume, will come in collector. He1 sailed yesterday, in good health, for Georgia; and may heaven prosper him with all happiness, honor, and success! It is a very honorable embassy, and will produce great and happy effects to these States.
I am, &c.
TO GEORGE WALTON.
New York, 25 September, 1789.
The duplicate, via Charleston, of your letter of the thirtieth of August, never reached my hand till a day or two before the nomination took place to the office of judge of the district of Georgia. As I had the pleasure and advantage of a particular acquaintance with yourself, and the misfortune to know nothing at all, but by a very distant and general reputation, of the gentleman nominated, I should have been ill qualified to make an impartial decision between the candidates. I feel upon all occasions, I own, a particular pleasure in the appointment to office of gentlemen who are now well affected to the national constitution, who had some experience in life before the revolution, and took an active part in the course and conduct of it.
Union, peace, and liberty to North America, are the objects to which I have devoted my life, and I believe them to be as dear to you as to me. I reckon among my friends all who are in the communion of such sentiments, though they may differ in their opinion of the means of obtaining those ends. I will not say that an energetic government is the only means; but I will hazard an opinion, that a well-ordered, a well-balanced, a judiciously-limited government, is indispensably necessary to the preservation of all or either of those blessings. If the poor are to domineer over the rich, or the rich over the poor, we shall never enjoy the happiness of good government; and without an intermediate power, sufficiently elevated and independent to control each of the contending parties in its excesses, one or the other will forever tyrannize. Gentlemen who had some experience before the revolution, and recollect the general fabric of the government under which they were born and educated, and who are not too much carried away by temporary popular politics, are generally of this opinion. But whether prejudice will not prevail over reason, passion over judgment, and declamation over sober inquiry, is yet to be determined.
I am, &c.
[1 ]There was certainly a wide difference between receiving sixty-nine votes, the whole number, and only thirty-four, less than half. Mr. Hamilton has made it a matter of reproach to Mr. Adams that “he complained of unfair treatment, in not having an equal chance of the electoral vote, by leaving the votes to an uninfluenced current.” What he did complain of, and very reasonably too, was, the secret effort made to reduce the votes for him everywhere, to such a degree as to leave him the representative of a minority. That this was assiduously done by Mr. Hamilton himself, is clear from his own letters now published. But Mr. Adams had different evidence in his hands at the time. From Hartford, John Trumbull, an impartial witness, gave him his idea of the action had in Connecticut, in the following terms:—
[1 ]It is a singular fact, that this should be the only answer to the President’s queries on this delicate subject which has been found among Washington’s papers. It is certain that he submitted them to Mr. Madison and Mr. Jay, and, it is likely, to several other persons, in whose judgment he trusted. Mr. Hamilton’s answer, which is informal, has been published, for the first time, in the late collection made of his works. Vol. iv. p. 1.
[1 ]This is Mr. Lovell’s language in reference to the casting vote given by Mr. Adams in favor of the President’s power of removal. He goes on to say, “If I did not know you well, I should not write this to you. A weak man only would be discouraged by such suggestions of the base. All whom you esteem here are pleased with your vote. But, better than that, I know you have your own approbation upon your own principles, which lead regularly to impavidum ferient ruinæ.”
[1 ]Benjamin Lincoln had been appointed one of three commissioners to negotiate a treaty with the Southern Indians.