Front Page Titles (by Subject) 3 Feb. 1797: ELBRIDGE GERRY TO JOHN ADAMS. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 8 (Letters and State Papers 1782-1799)
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3 Feb. 1797: 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.
Cambridge, 3 February, 1797.
My dear Sir,—
The newspaper which you did me the honor to inclose, containing Mr. Pickering’s letter to Mr. Pinkney, on the subject of Mr. Adet’s letter to the former, I have carefully perused; but a further examination of it, with the documents and Mr. Adet’s letter, is necessary to obtain a clear idea of the subject. That part of it which discusses the claim of gratitude made by France, I consider, in a certain degree, as expedient and dignified; but am apprehensive that she will view the discussion in its full extent, as having trespassed the line of defence, and as tending rather to crimination than accommodation.1 Should this unfortunately be the case, it will only serve to increase our difficulties. But what struck me with surprise, in this part of the performance, at least in what of it relates to the negotiation for peace, was a profound silence with respect to your conduct, after it was known in Europe, and acknowledged throughout the United States, to have been highly beneficial to your country, and honorable to yourself. This, I presume, must be considered by intelligent and candid men, as manifesting an intention to place you in the back ground, and to leave the public, whose confidence and esteem you possess, in an eminent degree, at a loss for the reason of such an extraordinary measure. Perhaps I am mistaken in this matter; but if not, permit me to inquire, retired as I am from the political world, who are the actors, and what is the object of this political drama? Soon after I began Mr. Pickering’s letter, I had doubts whether it was written by himself, it appearing to me, in point of style and system, dissimilar to his general performances. It then occurred to me, that one of the two quondam secretaries must have been the author. When I had perused it farther, and came to the part first alluded to, I conceived that the southern secretary would not have carried his strictures so far against the French; that the northern secretary, on this occasion, would have been less scrupulous, and that the circumstantial account, respecting Mr. Jay, must have been obtained of him, and published by a person in his entire confidence; neither of which circumstances will, probably, apply to the southern, whilst they both may to the northern secretary. My opinion was also strengthened by information respecting the letters of Phocion (for I have not seen them), that whilst the author endeavored to invalidate the pretensions of Mr. Jefferson, he made no advances to the support of yours, but meditated the plan to bring, by surprise, Mr. Pinckney into the chair.
It will be a great gratification to me to ascertain whether my information and conjectures in this instance are in any degree well founded. And, be this as it may, I must consider Mr. Jay as a person of too much honor to have given the information, in the letter, for so partial a purpose. This matter, as it relates to yourself, appears to me of a delicate nature. Some of your friends may conceive that, at present, silent contempt will be more dignified than any measure that can be adopted; whilst others may suppose that an advantage will be taken of silence, to establish in the public mind doubts of your eminent services in the negotiation referred to, and will propose a statement of facts, to accompany, in all the gazettes, the publication of Mr. Pickering’s letter. I confess, for my own part, I am not sufficiently instructed to form an opinion on the subject, but am, nevertheless, earnest in my wishes to see such intrigues frustrated, and the meritorious officers of the public triumphant over their ungenerous enemies. I remain, my dear Sir, with every sentiment of esteem and respect, &c.
TO ELBRIDGE GERRY.
Philadelphia, 13 February, 1797.
My dear Sir,—
I received by this day’s post your favor of the 3d, No. 2. I had before received No. 1. I shall confine myself in this to No. 2.
You are apprehensive “that France will view the discussion of gratitude in its full extent, as trespassing the line of defence.” But Adet had laid his demands of gratitude so high, and all his partisans were in the habit of deafening our people with such rude, extravagant, and arrogant pretensions to it, that it seems to have become necessary to be explicit upon the subject. I may say to a friend of your discretion, what I believe you will agree in, that there is quite as modest a demand of gratitude due from them to us, as from us to them. I think I can demonstrate that the French nation derived more advantage from the connection than we did—that she owes her independence as much to us as we do ours to her. Whether she has thrown away her advantages by her revolution or not, is for her to consider. We had nothing to do with that by treaty or in practice. We have imprudently gone too far in our approbation of it, and adopted, by sympathy, too much of her enthusiasm in it; for we were, and still are, incapable of judging whether it was wise or not, useful or not, destructive or not. Our treaty obliged us to no approbation of it, or concern in it, and our weak ideas and sensations of gratitude have led us into the fundamental error of taking too large a share of interest and sympathy in it.
The people of this country must not lose their conscious integrity, their sense of honor, nor their sentiment of their own power and force, so far as to be upbraided in the most opprobrious and contumelious language, and be wholly silent and passive under it, and that in the face of all mankind. The profound silence with respect to my conduct, which surprises you, was all right. It was good judgment and sound policy to leave me wholly out of the question, because the consequences of that letter of Mr. Pickering’s were to be expected altogether, good or bad, under my administration. As it is, no irritation against me can arise from this letter. Mr. Pickering took his document from records or files in his own office, the despatches of Mr. Jay; and he comes not down so late as my arrival in Paris. I was detained at the Hague by the negotiation of the treaty with Holland. It is true I had asserted all Mr. Jay’s principles two years before, in a correspondence with the Count de Vergennes upon the occasion of the interposition of the two imperial courts with an offer of mediation and proposal of a congress at Vienna. I had also written to Mr. Jay, in my private letters, declaring that I never would treat until a commission arrived in Paris expressly to treat with the ministers plenipotentiary of the United States of America, and urged, exhorted, and animated Mr. Jay to stand firm in the same resolution. Whether my letters to him first suggested to him this system, or whether his reasoning and mine concurred exactly in the same point, is immaterial to me. I believe it probable we thought alike. But the miserable gloriole of settling this point is no object with me, comparable to the importance of keeping me wholly out of sight in my present situation. This was not done without consulting me, nor without my advice. I hope the controversy will never be pushed so far as to necessitate the publication of my despatches upon that occasion. Pickering and all his colleagues are as much attached to me as I desire. I have no jealousies from that quarter.1
You are mistaken in your conjectures about a northern and southern ex-secretary. Neither had any thing to do in this business. Pickering himself was the engineer, and Wolcott, McHenry, and Lee, with Washington superintending all, corrected, softened, and amended. Indeed, any one that I have mentioned is equal to the task. Phocion, the ex-secretary, and their connections, did not, I believe, meditate, by surprise to bring in Pinckney. I believe they honestly meant to bring in me;1 but they were frightened into a belief that I should fail, and they, in their agony, thought it better to bring in Pinckney than Jefferson, and some, I believe, preferred bringing in Pinckney President rather than Jefferson should be Vice-President.
I believe there were no very dishonest intrigues in this business. The zeal of some was not very ardent for me, but I believe none opposed me. They found the people more attached to me than they were, or than they expected to find them. In Pennsylvania, partly folly and partly wickedness effected a purpose not conformable to the real wishes of the state, as I am assured, and, unless my self-love and vanity deceive me, have good reason to believe. I need not hint to you the necessity of keeping me out of sight.
Who is to be Governor? I should be at no loss, if I were at Quincy and could vote, but perhaps could do nothing. I love to see 1765 and 1775 men in honor. I regret infinitely that so many of them are fickle, variable, weak, if not too feebly principled.
With strong affection,
THE VICE-PRESIDENT’S SPEECH.
Wednesday, 15 February, 1797.
After the consideration of the Executive business, a motion was made that the Senate now adjourn; when the Vice-President addressed them as follows:
Gentlemen of the Senate,—If, in the general apprehension of an intention to retire in that most eminent citizen, to whom all eyes had been directed, and all hearts attracted, as the centre of our Union, for so long a period, the public opinion had exhibited any clear indication of another, in whom our fellow-citizens could have generally united, as soon as I read that excellent address, which announced the necessity of deliberation in the choice of a President, I should have imitated the example of a character with whom I have coöperated, though in less conspicuous and important stations, and maintained an uninterrupted friendship, for two and twenty years. But, as a number of characters appeared to stand, in the general estimation, so nearly on a level, as to render it difficult to conjecture on which the majority would fall, considering the relation in which I stood to the people of America, I thought it most respectful to them, and most conducive to the tranquillity of the public mind, to resign myself, with others, a silent spectator of the general deliberation, and a passive subject of public discussions.
Deeply penetrated with gratitude to my countrymen in general, for their long continued kindness to me, and for that steady and affecting confidence with which those who have most intimately known me, from early life, have, on so many great occasions, intrusted to me the care of their dearest interests, since a majority of their electors, though a very small one, have declared in my favor, and since, in a republican government, the majority, though ever so small, must of necessity decide, I have determined, at every hazard of a high but just responsibility, though with much anxiety and diffidence, once more to engage in their service. Their confidence, which has been the chief consolation of my life, is too precious and sacred a deposit ever to be considered lightly; as it has been founded only on the qualities of the heart, it never has been, it never can be, deceived, betrayed, or forfeited by me.
It is with reluctance, and with all those emotions of gratitude and affection which a long experience of your goodness ought to inspire, that I now retire from my seat in this house, and take my leave of the members of the Senate.
I ought not to declare, for the last time, your adjournment, before I have presented to every senator present, and to every citizen who has ever been a senator of the United States, my thanks for the candor and favor invariably received from them all. It is a recollection of which nothing can ever deprive me, and it will be a source of comfort to me through the remainder of my life, that as, on the one hand, in a government constituted like ours, I have for eight years held the second situation under the Constitution of the United States, in perfect and uninterrupted harmony with the first, without envy in one, or jealousy in the other, so, on the other hand, I have never had the smallest misunderstanding with any member of the Senate. In all the abstruse questions, difficult conjunctures, dangerous emergencies, and animated debates, upon the great interests of our country, which have so often and so deeply impressed all our minds, and interested the strongest feelings of the heart, I have experienced a uniform politeness and respect from every quarter of the House. When questions of no less importance than difficulty have produced a difference of sentiment, and difference of opinion will always be found in free assemblies of men, and probably the greatest diversities upon the greatest questions, when the senators have been equally divided, and my opinion has been demanded according to the Constitution, I have constantly found, in that moiety of the senators from whose judgment I have been obliged to dissent, a disposition to allow me the same freedom of deliberation, and independence of judgment which they asserted for themselves.
Within these walls, for a course of years, I have been an admiring witness of a succession of information, eloquence, patriotism, and independence, which, as they would have done honor to any Senate in any age, afford a consolatory hope (if the legislatures of the States are equally careful in their future selections, which there is no reason to distrust), that no council more permanent than this, as a branch of the legislature, will be necessary to defend the rights, liberties, and properties of the people, and to protect the Constitution of the United States, as well as the constitutions and rights of the individual States, against errors of judgment, irregularities of the passions, or other encroachments of human infirmity, or more reprehensible enterprise, in the Executive on one hand, or the more immediate representatives of the people on the other.
These considerations will all conspire to animate me, in my future course, with a confident reliance that, as far as my conduct shall be uniformly measured by the Constitution of the United States, and faithfully directed to the public good, I shall be supported by the Senate, as well as by the House of Representatives and the people at large; and on no other conditions ought any support at all to be expected or desired.
With cordial wishes for your honor, health, and happiness, and fervent prayers for a continuation of the virtues, liberties, prosperity, and peace, of our beloved country, I avail myself of your leave of absence for the remainder of the session.
THE SENATE’S ANSWER.
Wednesday, 22 February, 1797.
The Senate of the United States would be unjust to their own feelings, and deficient in the performance of a duty their relation to the government of their country imposes, should they fail to express their regard for your person, and their respect for your character, in answer to the address you presented to them, on your leaving a station which you have so long and so honorably filled as their President.
The motives you have been pleased to disclose, which induced you not to withdraw from the public service, at a time when your experience, talents, and virtues, were peculiarly desirable, are as honorable to yourself, as, from our confidence in you, Sir, we trust the result will be beneficial to our beloved country.
When you retired from your dignified seat in this house, and took your leave of the members of the Senate, we felt all those emotions of gratitude and affection, which our knowledge and experience of your abilities and undeviating impartiality ought to inspire; and we should, with painful reluctance, endure the separation, but for the consoling reflection, that the same qualities which have rendered you useful as the President of this branch of the legislature, will enable you to be still more so, in the exalted station to which you have been called.
From you, Sir, in whom your countrymen have for a long period placed a steady confidence, which has never been betrayed or forfeited, and to whom they have on so many occasions intrusted the care of their dearest interests, which has never been abused; from you, who, holding the second situation under the Constitution of the United States, have lived in uninterrupted harmony with him who has held the first; from you we receive with much satisfaction the declaration which you are pleased to make of the opinion you entertain of the character of the present senators, and of that of those citizens who have been heretofore senators. This declaration, were other motives wanting, would afford them an incentive to a virtuous perseverance in that line of conduct which has been honored with your approbation.
In your future course, we entertain no doubt that your official conduct will be measured by the Constitution, and directed to the public good; you have, therefore, a right to entertain a confident reliance that you will be supported, as well by the people at large, as by their constituted authorities.
We cordially reciprocate the wishes which you express for our honor, health, and happiness; we join with yours our fervent prayers for the continuation of the virtues and liberties of our fellow-citizens, for the public prosperity and peace; and for you we implore the best reward of virtuous deeds—the grateful approbation of your constituents, and the smiles of Heaven.
THE VICE-PRESIDENT’S REPLY.
Thursday, 23 February, 1797.
Mr. Sedgwick reported, from the committee, that, agreeably to order, they had waited on the Vice-President of the United States, with the answer to his address on retiring from the Senate.
To which the Vice-President was pleased to make the following reply:
An address so respectful and affectionate as this, from gentlemen of such experience and established character in public affairs, high stations in the government of their country, and great consideration in their several States, as senators of the United States, will do me great honor, and afford me a firm support, wherever it shall be known, both at home and abroad. Their generous approbation of my conduct, in general, and liberal testimony to the undeviating impartiality of it, in my peculiar relation to their body, a character which, in every scene and employment of life, I should wish, above all others, to cultivate and merit, have a tendency to soften asperities, and conciliate animosities, wherever such may unhappily exist; an effect at all times to be desired, and, in the present situation of our country, ardently to be promoted by all good citizens.
I pray the Senate to accept of my sincere thanks.
PRESIDENT WASHINGTON TO JOHN ADAMS.
Monday, 20 February, 1797.
I thank you for giving me the perusal of the inclosed.1 The sentiments do honor to the head and heart of the writer; and if my wishes would be of any avail, they should go to you in a strong hope, that you will not withhold merited promotion from Mr. John Adams because he is your son. For without intending to compliment the father or the mother, or to censure any others, I give it as my decided opinion that Mr. Adams is the most valuable public character we have abroad, and that there remains no doubt in my mind that he will prove himself to be the ablest of all our diplomatic corps.
If he was now to be brought into that line, or into any other public walk, I could not, upon the principle which has regulated my own conduct, disapprove of the caution which is hinted at in the letter. But he is already entered; the public more and more, as he is known, are appreciating his talents and worth; and his country would sustain a loss, if these were to be checked by over delicacy on your part.
With sincere esteem and affectionate regard, I am, ever yours,
THOMAS MIFFLIN TO JOHN ADAMS.
Philadelphia, 3 March, 1797.
In the year 1791, the legislature of Pennsylvania directed a house to be built for the accommodation of the President of the United States, and empowered the governor to lease the premises. As the building will be completed in the course of a few weeks, permit me to tender it for your accommodation; and to inform you that, although I regret the necessity of making any stipulation on the subject, I shall consider the rent for which you might obtain any other suitable house in Philadelphia (and which you will be pleased to mention), as a sufficient compensation for the use of the one now offered.
I take this opportunity, Sir, to present my congratulations upon your election to the office of chief magistrate of the United States; and to assure you that, as far as my constitutional powers and duties extend, you may rely upon a zealous and faithful coöperation, to advance the honor, and to insure the success of your administration.
I am, Sir, with perfect respect and esteem, &c.,
TO THOMAS MIFFLIN.
Philadelphia, 3 March, 1797.
Having been out this forenoon on public business, it was not until my return, after 3 o’clock, that I received the letter you did me the honor to write me on this day.
The respect to the United States intended by the legislature of Pennsylvania in building a house for the President, will no doubt be acknowledged by the Union as it ought to be.
For your kind offer of it to me, in consequence of their authority, I pray you to accept of my respectful thanks and to present them to the legislature.
But, as I entertain great doubts whether, by a candid construction of the Constitution of the United States, I am at liberty to accept it without the intervention and authority of Congress, and as there is not time for any application to them, I must pray you to apologize for me to the legislature for declining the offer.
For your obliging congratulations on my election to the office of President of the United States, and for your kind assurances of coöperation, as far as your constitutional powers and duties extend, to advance the honor and insure the success of my administration, I pray you to accept of my best thanks and fullest assurances of a reciprocal disposition on my part towards the Governor and State of Pennsylvania.
With great respect, &c.,
P. A. ADET TO JOHN ADAMS.
Philadelphie, le 23 Ventose,
Monsieur le Président,—
J’ aurois désiré pouvoir vous présenter mes hommages comme ministre de la république française. J’ose espérer que vous me permettrez de vous les offrir comme particulier. J’aurois déjà sollicité cette faveur si ma santé ne m’en eut empêché. Je ne puis plus différer de vous la demander, quoique je sois loin de me bien porter. J’ai des choses extrêmement importantes à vous communiquer. Je vous prie en conséquence de vouloir bien m’accorder un moment d’entretien. A l’heure que vous aurez la bonté de m’indiquer, je m’empresserai de me rendre auprès de vous, pour vous assurer de vive voix des sentimens de respect et de vénération que vous m’avez inspirés, et dont je vous prie d’agréer l’expression.1
P. A. Adet.
HENRY KNOX TO JOHN ADAMS.
Boston, 19 March, 1797.
My dear Sir,—
I experience a reluctance in addressing you, lest I should absorb a certain portion of your time which ought to be used for more important purposes.
I doubt whether I ought to congratulate you on being elevated to the chief magistracy of the United States; for it is questionable, very questionable, whether there are not more thorns than roses in the situation. But I religiously felicitate my country on having you at the helm of government. And in doing this, I feel the operation of a certain selfishness that our Maker interwove in our construction. I feel a confidence in the safety of our political bark. The elevation was justly your due; and had any other person been chosen, the majority of the electors, in my poor opinion, would either have been ignorant of your character, or unworthy of the trust reposed in them.
Your speech on the day of your inauguration appears to have given general satisfaction.1 The part relative to France is peculiarly pleasing, as thereon hopes are entertained that you may devise some decisive and prompt expedient to prevent that rash people from pushing us to extremities. A little further, and every principle of attachment in this country will be uprooted forever, and the public mind prepared to embrace the first opportunity of being avenged for the unprovoked outrages we are suffering.
Whether this crisis can be avoided, is, with the little information I possess, entirely uncertain. But it appears highly proper that every experiment which would afford the least hope, should be tried. If, after every effort, nothing should be found to be effective, the American people would meet with fortitude an event which could not, by their chief magistrate, be averted or controlled.
Among the expedients which have presented themselves to my mind, the one I am about to mention only seems to promise much, and I confess I should entertain considerable hopes from it. I submit it with respectful diffidence, as a suggestion which may not before perhaps have been entertained by you. Let Mr. Jefferson be sent to France as soon as possible, as envoy extraordinary, to make those explanations of our situation and disposition towards France, and of their mistakes and errors towards us, which can be done with perfect truth, and which, being told in the language of friendship by him, would most probably be acceptable. Their pride would be gratified by the mission of the Vice-President of the United States. This circumstance of rank, and the high estimation he is held in as the friend of the French revolution, would effect all the reconciliation that could possibly be effected by any measure whatever. If the mission should be unsuccessful, his report, upon his return, would unite and brace the public mind to those exertions the case might require. In either event, the glory and wisdom of the measure would redound to the President of the United States, who would be considered as having done all that was possible to serve the interests of his country.
The measure would be highly acceptable to the great majority of the federalists, who wish peace with all the world. The party in this country, whose zeal for France has been greater than their love for the United States, would be delighted with the event. For, excepting some renegado foreigners, it cannot be supposed that many native Americans would wish to plunge their country in a war.
It may be suggested that General Pinckney’s pride would be hurt by this step. I should believe the contrary. On so momentous a crisis in the affairs of his country, it would be natural for him to be pleased with the countenance of so dignified a person as the Vice-President, and one so much known and respected in France.
It may, perhaps, be further suggested that the dignity of the United States would be wounded by sending so important a character in the government on such a mission. But this objection could not be a sound one, when the magnitude of the measure should be considered, and that the chief justice was employed in a similar case. But the dignity of character is an important requisite in the mission. I entertain so good an opinion of Mr. Jefferson’s patriotism, as to believe he would not hesitate, and much less refuse the offer.
The motive which has induced this suggestion is as pure as it is respectful to you. I know not the reasons which might be urged against its adoption. But there may exist just and insuperable objections, with which I am unacquainted. Every political measure is susceptible of various views, and it is the duty of good citizens to repose themselves with confidence under the protection of their government. No person possesses this confidence in a greater degree than I do in the present instance, and there is no one who wishes more sincerely that your administration may be prosperous to your country and glorious to yourself.
I am, Sir, with perfect respect, &c.
TO HENRY KNOX.
Philadelphia, 30 March, 1797.
I received with much pleasure your favor of the 19th. If I should meet with any roses in my path, I shall thank you for your congratulations, and when I set my foot on thorns, as I certainly shall, I shall thank you equally for your condolence; but when you assure me that you feel a confidence in the safety of our political bark, you give me much comfort, and I pray you may not be disappointed.
It is a delicate thing for me to speak of the late election. To myself, personally, “my election” might be a matter of indifference or rather of aversion. Had Mr. Jay, or some others, been in question, it might have less mortified my vanity, and infinitely less alarmed my apprehensions for the public. But to see such a character as Jefferson, and much more such an unknown being as Pinckney, brought over my head, and trampling on the bellies of hundreds of other men infinitely his superiors in talents, services, and reputation, filled me with apprehensions for the safety of us all. It demonstrated to me that, if the project succeeded, our Constitution could not have lasted four years. We should have been set afloat, and landed, the Lord knows where.1 That must be a sordid people, indeed—a people destitute of a sense of honor, equity, and character, that could submit to be governed, and see hundreds of its most meritorious public men governed, by a Pinckney, under an elective government. Hereditary government, when it imposes young, new, inexperienced men upon the public, has its compensations and equivalent, but elective government has none. I mean by this no disrespect to Mr. Pinckney. I believe him to be a worthy man. I speak only by comparison with others.
I have it much at heart to settle all disputes with France, and nothing shall be wanting on my part to accomplish it, excepting a violation of our faith and a sacrifice of our honor. But old as I am, war is, even to me, less dreadful than iniquity or deserved disgrace. Nothing can be done of much moment, in the way even of negotiation, without the Senate, and nothing else without Congress.
Your project has been long ago considered and determined on. Mr. Jefferson would not go. His reasons are obvious; he has a station assigned him by the nation, which he has no right to quit, nor have I any right, perhaps, to call him from it. I may hereafter communicate to you, what I have never communicated to any other, what has passed upon the subject. The circumstance of rank is too much. We shall never be respected in Europe while we confound ranks in this manner. In their eyes, the chief justice was too much to send to England. I have plans in contemplation that I dare say will satisfy you when they come to be developed. I regret the time that must be lost before the senate and representatives can assemble.
If we wish not to be degraded in the eyes of foreigners, we must not degrade ourselves. What would have been thought in Europe, if the King of France had sent Monsieur, his eldest brother, as an envoy? What of the King of England, if he had sent the Prince of Wales? Mr. Jefferson is, in essence, in the same situation. He is the first prince of the country, and the heir apparent to the sovereign authority, quoad hoc. His consideration in France is nothing. They consider nobody but themselves. Their apparent respect and real contempt for all men and all nations but Frenchmen, are proverbial among themselves. They think it is in their power to give characters and destroy characters as they please, and they have no other rule but to give reputation to their tools, and to destroy the reputation of all who will not be their tools. Their efforts to “populariser” Jefferson, and to “dépopulariser” Washington, are all upon this principle. To a Frenchman the most important man in the world is himself, and the most important nation is France. He thinks that France ought to govern all nations, and that he ought to govern France. Every man and nation that agrees to this, he is willing to “populariser”; every man or nation that disputes or doubts it, he will “dépopulariser,” if he can.
This is all in confidence from, Sir, your most humble servant,
TO J. Q. ADAMS.
Philadelphia, 31 March, 1797.
My dear Son,—
Mr. Murray, of Maryland, your old friend, with whom you formed your first acquaintance at the Hague, is to succeed you.1 That gentleman has been so long a member of Congress, and has given such proofs of talents, amiable dispositions, and patriotic sentiments, as qualify him to do honor to the mission, as well as to his predecessor. It would have been enough to have said that he is well chosen to fill the place; for I have the best authority, besides my private opinion, to say, that no place has been better filled than that at the Hague, since your appointment to that mission.
You sometimes hint an inclination to return to America, and nothing would give me greater pleasure, on certain suppositions; but, my son, independence is essential to self-esteem as well as to command the esteem of others, and where is your independence? If you would return to the bar, you might be independent, I grant, but I would not advise you to return to America yet; go to Lisbon,2 and send me as good intelligence from all parts of Europe as you have done.
My entrance into office is marked by a misunderstanding with France, which I shall endeavor to reconcile, provided that no violation of faith, no stain upon honor, is exacted. But if infidelity, dishonor, or too much humiliation is demanded, France shall do as she pleases, and take her own course. America is not scared.
The multiplicity of business in which I am involved is no otherwise irksome to me than as it may endanger my health; but I have great confidence in my saddle.
I pray you to write me as often as you can.
I am your affectionate father,
TO ELBRIDGE GERRY.
Philadelphia, 6 April, 1797.
Your favor of the 27th ultimo gave me great pleasure. The proposal of appointing the Vice-President to go as envoy extraordinary to Paris, has arrived from so many quarters, that I presume the thought is a natural one. I will tell you a secret, but I wish you to keep it a secret in your own breast. I was so impressed with the idea myself, that on the 3d of March I had a conversation with Mr. Jefferson, in which I proposed it to him, and frankly declared to him, that if he would accept it, I would nominate him the next day, as soon as I should be qualified to do it. He as frankly refused, as I expected he would.1 Indeed, I made a great stretch in proposing it, to accommodate to the feelings, views, and prejudices of a party. I would not do it again, because, upon more mature reflection, I am decidedly convinced of the impropriety of it. The reasons you give are unanswerable, but there are others. It would be a degradation of our government in the eyes of our own people, as well as of all Europe. The Vice-President, in our Constitution, is too high a personage to be sent on diplomatic errands, even in the character of an ambassador. We cannot work miracles. We cannot make nations respect our nation, or its government, if we place before their eyes the persons answering to the first princes of the government, in the low and subordinate character of a foreign minister. It must be a pitiful country indeed, in which the second man in the nation will accept of a place upon a footing with the corps diplomatique, especially envoy such a one, ambassador such a one, or plenipotentiary such a one. The nation must hold itself very cheap, that can choose a man one day to hold its second office, and the next send him to Europe, to dance attendance at levees and drawing rooms, among the common major-generals, simple bishops, earls, and barons, but especially among the common trash of ambassadors, envoys, and ministers plenipotentiary.
The nation has chosen Jefferson, and commanded him to a certain station. The President, therefore, has no right to command him to another, or to take him off from that. A nation, to be consistent, must highly resent it. It appeared to me in this light, when the mission to England was talked of; two or three persons proposed to me to go, but I positively refused to have any thing said about it, and gave the reasons above, among many others.1 Indeed, I thought it wrong to send the chief justice; he was too high to go, even as an ambassador; but to send him as envoy, was unpardonable; it must mark us with contempt in all Europe. But we studiously degrade our government, by every ingenious invention, and then wonder that our nation and government are despised.
The satisfaction you express with my little harangue, before taking the oath, gives me great pleasure. I had been so abused, belied, and misrepresented, for seven years together, without uttering one syllable in my own vindication, and almost without one word in my favor from anybody else, that I was determined to give the lie direct to whole volumes at once, be the consequence what it would.
I am, my dear Sir, with great respect,
TO THE HEADS OF DEPARTMENT.
Philadelphia, 14 April, 1797.
1. Whether the refusal to receive Mr. Pinckney, and the rude orders to quit Paris and the territory of the republic, with such circumstances of indignity, insult, and hostility, as we have been informed of, are bars to all further measures of negotiation. Or, in other words, will a fresh mission to Paris be too great a humiliation of the American people in their own sense and that of the world?
2. If another mission be admissible, can any part, and what parts, or articles, of the treaty of amity and commerce with Great Britain be offered to France, or ultimately conceded to that power in case of necessity, if demanded by her?
3. What articles of the treaty of alliance, and of the treaty of commerce, with France, should be proposed to be abolished?
4. Whether it will be prudent to say anything concerning the consular convention with that power, and, if it will, what alterations in it should be proposed?
5. Whether any new articles, such as are not contained in either of our treaties with France or England, shall be proposed, or can be agreed to, if proposed by the French government?
6. What documents shall be prepared to send to France, as evidence of insult and injuries committed against the commerce of the United States by French ships of war or privateers, or by French commissioners, agents, officers, or citizens?
7. In what terms shall remonstrances against spoliations of property, capture of vessels, imprisonment of masters and mariners, cruelties, insults, and abuses of every kind to our citizens, be made?
8. In what terms shall restitution, reparation, compensation, and satisfaction, be demanded for such insults and injuries?
9. Shall demand be made of payment to our citizens for property purchased by the French government in Europe, or in the East and West Indies?
10. Shall demand be made of the French government of payment for vessels and cargoes captured and seized, whether by ships of war or private ships?
11. Shall any commission of inquiry and examination, like that with England, be agreed to?
12. What articles in the British treaty can be offered to France without compensation, and what with compensation, and what compensation shall be demanded?
13. Shall a project of a new treaty, abolishing the old treaties and consular convention, be proposed to France?
14. Shall such a project, with a project of instructions to the minister, be proposed and laid before the Senate for their advice and consent before they be sent to Europe?1
THOMAS MIFFLIN TO JOHN ADAMS.
Philadelphia, 12 May, 1797.
By an act of the general assembly of this State, it has become my duty to purchase and import ten thousand stand of arms, for the use of the militia; but I find that it will be impracticable, at present, to form an advantageous contract, unless I can promise the interference of the American ministers in Europe, to obtain permission from the respective governments for exporting the arms either from Great Britain, Holland, or Hamburg; and unless I can obtain from the United States a remission of the duties on importation. As the object is of national importance and utility, I take the liberty of requesting that you will favor me with your sanction upon the first point, and that you will be pleased to submit the second point to the consideration of Congress.
I have the honor to be, with great respect, &c.,
TO THOMAS MIFFLIN.
Philadelphia, 22 May, 1797.
I have received the letter you did me the honor to write me, on the 12th of this month, and have maturely considered the subject of it.
The substance of your Excellency’s first request is, that I would instruct the American ministers in Europe to use their influence to obtain permission from the respective governments for exporting from Great Britain, Holland, or Hamburg, ten thousand stands of arms, for the use of the militia of Pennsylvania. As this request appears to me to be reasonable and proper, I shall readily and cheerfully comply with it, whenever your Excellency shall be pleased to indicate to me, or to the Secretary of State, the names of the agents proposed to be employed.
Your Excellency’s second request is, that, as the proposed importation is an object of national utility, I would submit to the consideration of Congress the expediency of a remission of the duties payable on such importation.
On this point, permit me respectfully to observe, that the recommendations of the President to Congress have commonly related to measures of general policy, and a deviation from this rule may be attended with inconvenience; that an exemption on arms imported for a particular State would operate as a grant to that State, and ought, of course, to be provided for by a special law.
Of the policy of recommending a general repeal of the duties on arms imported into the United States, doubts are entertained, as a manufacture would thereby be discouraged, which it is the public interest to support and encourage.1
I have the honor to be, &c.,
TO J. Q. ADAMS.
Philadelphia, 2 June, 1797.
My dear Son,—
I know not whether I may not have incommoded you, and disappointed your plans, by the alteration I have made in your destination. The mission to Portugal appeared to me to be less important to the United States than a mission to Prussia. The north of Europe, at present, is more interesting to us than the south; the neutral powers of Denmark, Sweden, and Prussia, seem to be naturally more allied, by sympathy, at least, with us neutrals than others, and I thought your talents, sagacity, and industry might be more profitably exerted in collecting and transmitting intelligence of the views and designs of those courts and nations, than they could be in Lisbon, where there will be little to do, that I can foresee, besides sleeping siestas. The treaty with Prussia is to be renewed, and after you shall have completed that, you will inform me whether you choose to remain at Berlin, or go to Sweden or Denmark. I would not advise you to make any permanent establishment at Berlin, but keep yourself in a posture to remove to some other court, when you shall have renewed the treaty.
I hope your new commission will reach you before you leave Holland or England; but if, unfortunately, you shall be at Lisbon, there is no remedy, and you must submit to the trouble of removing again to Prussia.
The part which the King of Prussia means to take, either during the war, or at and after the peace, and what his relations are to be in future towards France and England, will be important for us to know. The Emperor of all the Russias, too, and the Emperor of Germany, are important luminaries for the political telescope to observe. In short, what is to be the future system of Europe, and how we best can preserve friendship with them all, and be most useful to them all, are speculations and inquiries worthy of your head and heart. You have wisely taken all Europe for your theatre, and I hope will continue to do as you have done. Send us all the information you can collect. I wish you to continue your practice of writing freely to me, and cautiously to the office of State. My love to your brother.
Your affectionate father,
TO ELBRIDGE GERRY.
Philadelphia, 20 June, 1797.
My dear Friend,—
I have this moment written a message to the Senate, nominating you to be an envoy extraordinary to the French republic. Knowing, as I did, Mr. Dana’s aversion to the sea, and his continual dread of his mother’s fate, I was always apprehensive he would decline, and should have nominated you at first, if I had not been overruled by the opinions of many gentlemen, that Mr. Dana’s experience in this line, and especially his title of chief justice, would be great advantages in France, as well as among our people in America.1 I know you must make a sacrifice, but I sincerely hope you will not disappoint me. I should be very happy to see you here, before you embark. Mr. Marshall accepts, and will be here in a week from this day.
The voyage, I am confident, will be for your health. My compliments to Mrs. Gerry. Tell her she must not object. If she cannot accompany you, she must sacrifice a little, as Mrs. Adams did before for six years. I pray you to let me hear from you as soon and as often as possible.
I am your sincere friend,
TO URIAH FORREST.
Philadelphia, 20 June, 1797.
I received yesterday your favor of the 23rd, and am very much obliged to you for it. The paper inclosed in it is a serious thing. It will be a motive, in addition to many others, for me to be upon my guard. It is evidence of a mind, soured, yet seeking for popularity, and eaten to a honeycomb with ambition, yet weak, confused, uninformed, and ignorant. I have been long convinced that this ambition is so inconsiderate as to be capable of going great lengths. I shall carefully keep the secret, as far as it may compromise characters and names.1
It would afford me great pleasure to make a visit to the city of Washington, Mount Vernon, Georgetown, &c.; but the summer will be a busy one, and my own health, as well as that of your friend Mrs. Adams, will oblige us to go northward, if we stir from Pennsylvania this year.
I receive very kindly your offer to communicate information to me from time to time. I shall stand in need of it from all quarters, and shall receive it from none with more pleasure.
I am, Sir, with great esteem, &c.
TO ELBRIDGE GERRY.
Philadelphia, 8 July, 1797.
I wrote you a line, yesterday, but was so busy I could not enlarge. The Secretary of State will send you your instructions, and as ample a collection of documents as we can prepare. Mr. Marshall will sail next week; but you may reach Amsterdam from Boston as early as he will, though you cannot sail so soon. There is the utmost necessity of harmony, complaisance, and condescension among the three envoys, and unanimity is of great importance. In such a negotiation the attention should be to the great objects, and smaller matters must sometimes be yielded or neglected.
It is my sincere desire that an accommodation may take place; but our national faith, and the honor of our government, cannot be sacrificed. You have known enough of the unpleasant effects of disunion among ministers to convince you of the necessity of avoiding it, like a rock or quicksand.
There have been many instances of three ambassadors at a time. The Dutch at Munster had eight. In modern times they have not been common, and in this case, it ought to be considered by the French, as it will be considered by the world, as a great compliment and a signal mark of respect.
I wish you to get acquainted at Amsterdam with our bankers there, Messrs. Willink and Van Staphorst, and in France, if you are received there, to inquire into the conduct and character of our late and present consuls, and their inferior agents, and to find out what kind of speculations have been carried on there. You will see that Mr. Blount, the senator, has been speculating with the English, but some suspect this to be only a feint, and that the real design was upon France or Spain, or both. Swan, Hichborne, Edwards, &c., in connection with others in this country, have been speculating, and I fear these speculators have done this country no good.
As to our being a divided people, all nations are divided. France is divided; so are Holland, England, Italy, and Germany. There will ever be parties and divisions in all nations; but our people will support their government, and so will the French theirs. Not to expect divisions in a free country, would be an absurdity.
It is probable there will be manœuvres practised to excite jealousies among you, both by Americans, English, Dutch, and French; this should not produce too much irritation, but should press you closer together. You will hear a great deal of affected contempt, as well as a great deal of affected esteem and admiration of America. Neither should affect you much. But I cannot enlarge. I wish Mrs. Gerry health and comfort, and that you may acquire glory enough to compensate for all your cares.
N. B. I must give you a hint about economy. I would be as plain and cheap as possible in dress, equipage, lodgings, livery, and every thing. I would not give many feasts to Americans. Decorum must be observed. You will be surrounded with projectors and swindlers. You will not be deceived by them.
I am, &c.
TO ELBRIDGE GERRY.
Philadelphia, 17 July, 1797.
I have this moment received your letter of the 10th. That man must have more skill in intrigue than any that I have been acquainted with, who can sap the foundation of the confidence I have in Mr. Gerry.1 No such attempt has been made; all have confessed to me your honor and integrity. Some have expressed doubts of your orthodoxy in the science of government; others have expressed fears of an unaccommodating disposition, and others of an obstinacy that will risk great things to secure small ones. Some have observed that there is, at present, a happy and perfect harmony among all our ministers abroad, and have expressed apprehensions that your appointment might occasion an interruption of it. But all those intimations made no impression upon me. Since your appointment all have acquiesced, and there has never been a word lisped in conversation or in writing against it. Not one appointment I have yet made has given better satisfaction. It is of great importance that harmony should be preserved among all our ministers abroad, and I am determined that no Randolph appointments shall be made by me. I sincerely wish peace and friendship with the French; but, while they countenance none but enemies of our Constitution and administration, and vilify every friend of either, self-defence, as well as fidelity to the public, will compel me to have a care what appointments I make.
General Marshall took leave of me last night, and sails to-day in the Grace, Captain Willis, for Amsterdam. He is a plain man, very sensible, cautious, guarded, and learned in the law of nations. I think you will be pleased with him. You will arrive in Amsterdam as soon, or sooner than he will. The Secretary of State will send you all the documents you may want.
I am, dear Sir, with best wishes for your pleasant voyage, successful negotiation, and glorious return, your friend,
TO T. PICKERING, SECRETARY OF STATE.
Quincy, 25 August, 1797.
I have received, in course, your favors of July 28th, August 1st, 3d, and 17th. That of July 28th only inclosed a letter from Mr. Gerry.
The Mediterranean passports, mentioned in your letter of August 1st, I signed, as soon as possible, and returned them to you in three packets by the post.
I saw Mr. Howell at Boston, Providence, and Quincy; but as he said nothing to me on the subject of his salary, I thought it unnecessary for me to mention it to him. The commissioners have now adjourned for another year.
I have read the deposition of James Wallis, and the letter of Judge Sitgreaves,1 inclosed in yours of August 3d. The measures you have taken, are the most prudent that could have been taken, I believe; and no proclamation appears to be necessary for the present. A proclamation would excite and spread alarms, and make more of the thing than there appears to be in it. It is very strange that the officers of justice cannot make discoveries and obtain evidence, if there are facts. When witnesses talk about agitations and prevailing reports, it may be ground for inquiry to an attorney-general. But, certainly, armies cannot be levied without witnesses; and witnesses may prove crimes; and crimes may be punished, unless our country is abandoned of God.
With great regard, &c.
P. S. I thank you for sending the brigantine Sophia to the relief of our suffering seamen.2
TO T. PICKERING, SECRETARY OF STATE.
Quincy, 26 August, 1797.
I have received your letter of August 21st, and the packet from Colonel Moultrie, of South Carolina. The subject is so voluminous that I have not yet had time to read all the pamphlets. The letter I have read.1 I must refer him to you and the attorney-general, to consider whether my first opinion is right or not, which is, that application must be made to the legislature, and that the executive power is not, by the Constitution or any act of Congress, adequate to the business.
I ought, indeed, first to have acknowledged the receipt of your favor of the 19th. I had considered, as maturely as I could, the characters and pretensions of all the candidates, and had informed the attorney-general of the result, and had requested him, in case Mr. Hall should decline, to consider John Read as appointed, and employ him immediately. I now request you to make out and present him his commission.2 Mr. Hopkinson never applied, to my knowledge, till after Mr. Hall’s refusal. Though he is personally unknown to me, I have formed a good opinion of his talents, disposition, and principles, and might have hesitated longer, if his application had been in season. But, from your representation, as well as other considerations, I see no reason to alter my determination, communicated to Mr. Lee with his approbation. Mr. Read, I think, ought to be appointed.
TO T. PICKERING, SECRETARY OF STATE.
East Chester, 12 October, 1797.
I arrived here, at Colonel Smith’s, last night with my family, and I shall make this house my home till we can go to Philadelphia with safety. Even if we should be obliged to convene Congress at any other place than Philadelphia, it will be better for Mrs. Adams to remain here with her daughter than to go with me into lodgings.
I pray you to give me your opinion whether it will be expedient to convene Congress at any other place than the usual one, and if it is, whether New York is not the only convenient place. I have assisted in Congress at Trenton, Lancaster, Yorktown, and Baltimore, and know by experience that even tolerable accommodations are scarcely to be obtained at the three first, and the last is as much infected at present as Philadelphia. A proclamation, too, must be thought on and prepared. If you address your letters to me at East Chester, and recommend them to the care of Charles Adams, Esq., at New York, I shall get them without much loss of time; but if a mail could be made up for East Chester, they might come sooner. I know not whether this can be done without appointing a postmaster at this place, and I know of no one to recommend.
In a former letter I requested you to commit to paper, minutes, as usual, of matters to be communicated and recommended to Congress at the opening of the session, and I now repeat the request. I rejoice that I am now within a hundred miles of you, that the communications between us may be more frequent, and that, in case of urgency, we may soon meet here or at Trenton, or at some intermediate place.
There is a law or resolve, requesting the President to write to the governors of the States, for information whether they have adopted the amendment of the Constitution relative to the suability of States. I know not but you may have executed this resolution; if not, I beg you would write without loss of time, lest a noise should be made at the opening of the next session, and we should be charged with neglect of duty.
TO T. PICKERING, SECRETARY OF STATE.
East Chester, 14 October, 1797.
Your favor of the 7th, and the duplicate of it, and that of the 9th, with their inclosures, I received last night.
Dr. Rush has so many motives to wish that Congress may assemble in Philadelphia, that his testimony must be weighed with certain grains of allowance. It is but a small consolation to the senators and representatives of the United States, to say that the malignant contagion is but little spread in the city, and is chiefly confined to Southwark, since the inhabitants of Southwark, as well as Philadelphia, will have power to fill the galleries of both Houses, and bring their infection with them. Such is the aversion of the eastern members to the idea of going to Philadelphia on the second Monday in November, that I am confident there will not be a quorum of either House for many weeks after it. The members will be scattered, some at home, and some at taverns on the road, and some in Philadelphia, all in a very disagreeable, awkward, and uncertain situation. Will it not be better, then, by convening Congress at New York, to give them an opportunity of judging for themselves of the proper time, and making the adjournment to Philadelphia their own act?
The letter from Mr. William Turnbull, of Carlisle, soliciting the treasury of the mint, and Mr. Bassett’s letter recommending Dr. James Sykes to the same office, I return to you, that you may file together all the applications and recommendations for that appointment, and deliver them to me when we meet to determine the question.
I thank you for writing to Mr. Hodgdon1 on the necessity of additional night watches. I am afraid my house will stand a worse chance of escaping the speculations of the villains than any others; but I know not what can be done to secure it, more than has been done. A sentinel at the door, if such a watch could be hired, would frighten the people of Philadelphia more than the plague.
Santhonax’s departure for France will be no relief to our commerce, nor will any negotiations going on, or treaties we can make, until our vessels arm in their own defence. This is my opinion. I wish I may be deceived; but I believe all Frenchmen are of opinion with my old friend, the Abbé de Mably, who once said to me: “Il n’y a point de morale pour un homme qui meurt de faim.” They will all, I believe, agree in this, though you and I shall not, and add, at least in practice, “Il n’y a point de traité pour une nation qui meurt de faim.” I am afraid they will cure our people of their too fond attachments, if they have any, by very harsh remedies.
I shall divide my time between New York and East Chester till the meeting of Congress. Your letters, to the care of my son, will soon reach me, and the more there are of them the better.
With great regard, &c.
TO O. WOLCOTT, JR., SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY.
East Chester, 20 October, 1797.
I have received your favor of the 16th.1 Thank you for your care in writing to Mr. Sands, who has furnished me with two thousand dollars, for which I gave him duplicate receipts, to serve for one, according to your desire. Though I rejoice to learn from your letter that the sickness in the city is diminishing, I cannot admit your walk through the principal streets of it to be full proof, because it is generally agreed that the principal streets are deserted by the inhabitants.
You remember the anxieties and alarms among the members of Congress in 1793, their continual regret that no power had existed to convene them elsewhere, and their solicitude to pass an act to provide an authority in future. There will be so much uneasiness among them, if that authority is not exerted, that there will probably be no Congress formed before Christmas, and a few who will venture into the city will be there in idleness and out of their element.
I thank you for the sentiments you have expressed relative to the system to be pursued. Can you send me a copy of the speech at the commencement of last session? I have no copy of it here, and perhaps shall find it difficult to procure one. I should be glad, however, to know your opinion, whether our envoys will be received or not, whether they will succeed or not; with hints at your reasons, if any intelligence has furnished any.
The organization of the stamp tax suggests a vexation to me. The bill was worth money, and money was so much wanted for the public service, that I would not put it at risk; otherwise I would have negatived that bill; not from personal feelings, for I care not a farthing for all the personal power in the world. But the office of the secretary of the treasury is, in that bill, premeditatedly set up as a rival to that of the President;1 and that policy will be pursued, if we are not on our guard, till we have a quintuple or a centuple executive directory, with all the Babylonish dialect which modern pedants most affect.
I pray you to continue to write me as often as possible.2
With high esteem, &c.
TO OLIVER WOLCOTT, JR., SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY.
East Chester, 26 October, 1797.
I have received your favor of the 20th, and thank you for your vigilant attention to the progress, or rather to the decline, of the fever in Philadelphia.
I request your explicit opinion, and pray you, if you can, to obtain those of Mr. McHenry and Mr. Lee, whether, from the prevalence of contagious sickness in Philadelphia, or the existence of any other circumstances, it would be hazardous to the lives or health of the members of Congress to meet in that city on the second Monday in November. If you cannot, with very clear consciences, answer in the negative, I shall issue a proclamation convening Congress at New York. For myself, I have no apprehension of danger; but the members of Congress will be more exposed than I shall be, and I hold myself intrusted with the care of their health, a precious deposit, which I will preserve according to the best of my judgment, with perfect integrity, and with more caution than I would my own.
It is scarcely worth a question, whether they shall be convened at Trenton, Lancaster, or any other place. I know, from painful experience, they cannot be accommodated at any of those places. The place must be Philadelphia or New York.
Si quid novisti rectius, imperti.
I am, dear Sir, as ever, with great regard,
TO T. PICKERING, SECRETARY OF STATE.
East Chester, 26 October, 1797.
I have to thank you for your summary, in your letter of the 23d, of the despatches from Mr. Pinckney, Mr. Murray, Mr. Bulkely, &c.
Mr. Murray arrived in season to renew his old friendship with his predecessor. They had spent some weeks together at the Hague, more than a dozen years ago. Mr. Adams had an opportunity to introduce Mr. Murray to his friends, and to communicate to him the train of affairs; an advantage which Mr. Murray earnestly wished before he sailed from Philadelphia.
Mr. Pinckney has been well acquainted with Mr. Gerry. They have always been upon terms of friendship, and I doubt not he will be as well pleased as if Mr. Dana had accepted.
Poor Portugal has been intimidated into concessions, as humiliating to herself as pernicious to the world. I am not surprised that M. Marbois should wish that Colonel Pickering had not pushed the point of gratitude so far.1 He may well be surprised, and ought to be grateful that his own letter to Vergennes was not quoted at full length. Nothing could have better illustrated the question of gratitude.
My youngest son, Thomas Boylston Adams, has been in Paris, and instead of being ordered out of France, as our Jacobinic papers boasted, he accepted, the day before he returned, a polite invitation to dine with one of the Directors, Citizen Carnot, by whom he was civilly treated, and urged to endeavor to reconcile the two countries. He was admitted, and had a convenient seat assigned him, at the ceremony of drawing the lot, for the director who was to rote out. In short, he was treated with great distinction. I am disappointed in my hopes of seeing him this season. His brother, who is a little disconcerted at his removal to Berlin (which he says is in the heart of Germany, where he shall not see an American in a year), has taken advantage of it to insist upon his company so earnestly, that I think he will prevail, and I must remain, another year at least, forlorn.
We must prepare as exact a statement as our intelligence will justify, of the position of our agents, civil and military, on the Mississippi, and of the disposition of the Spaniards and inhabitants towards them, to be inserted in the speech.
And pray, give me your opinion, explicitly, whether, from the prevalence of contagious sickness in Philadelphia, or the existence of any other circumstances, it would be hazardous to the lives or health of the members of Congress, to meet in that city on the second Monday in November.
If I should not issue a proclamation convening Congress at New York, I shall take you by the hand in Trenton, the first week in November, in my way to Philadelphia.
I am, dear Sir, with great regard, yours,
P. S. I return you guardian Noel’s speech to his helpless ward.1
TO O. WOLCOTT, JR., SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY.
East Chester, 27 October, 1797.
I have received your favor of the 24th,1 and thank you for your careful attention to the distemper in Philadelphia. Representations similar to yours are sent me from various quarters. That there would be considerable public inconvenience in a convention of Congress at any place out of Philadelphia, is certain, and this consideration has great weight. That there would be much popular clamor, at least much low snarling, among the inhabitants of the foul dens in Philadelphia, is very probable. This, however, would have little weight with me, against a measure of general necessity or expediency. Mr. McHenry and Mr. Pickering are of your opinion; and this union will have more weight than all the brawlers of Philadelphia, even though they should be countenanced by the prudent citizens.
Your conjectures concerning the success of our envoys to France appear to me very probable; yet I cannot apprehend so much from the personal feelings of Talleyrand. He received a great deal of cordial hospitality in this country, and had not the smallest reason to complain, that ever came to my knowledge, in any place. As a reasonable man, he could not but approve of the President’s caution, knowing himself to be upon the list of emigrants, and knowing the clamor which would be raised by the French minister at the presentation of an illustrious Frenchman by any other than himself. It is a part of the duty of an ambassador, to judge of the persons among his countrymen whom it would be proper to present to government. It would have been a slight, at least, to the French minister, to have received a man he had refused to present. It would have been offensive to the government of France, to have received a man proscribed by their laws. There is, however, little immediate advantage to be expected from this embassy, I fear. It will be spun out into an immeasurable length, unless quickened by an embargo. We must unshackle our merchant ships. If Congress will not do it, I shall have scruples about continuing the restriction upon the collectors.
What the session of Congress will produce, I know not; but a torpor, a despondency, has seized all men in America as well as Europe. The system of terror, according to an Indian expression, has “put petticoats on them.” The treachery of the common people against their own countries, the transports with which they seize the opportunity of indulging their envy and gratifying their revenge against all whom they have been in the habit of looking up to, at every hazard to their countries, and, in the end, at every expense of misery to themselves, has given a paralytic stroke to the wisdom and courage of nations.
If peace is refused to England, they will leap the gulf. Their stocks are not much higher than those of the French. The latter, I see in some speech in the Council of Five Hundred, have been at forty. Can these be the general mass of the French national debt, old as well as new?
The French directory, I take it for granted, must have war. War, open or understood, is their eternal doom.
I am, dear Sir, with unalterable esteem,
TO T. PICKERING, SECRETARY OF STATE.
East Chester, 31 October, 1797.
I received your favor of the 28th. Inclosed are some papers I received from the city of Washington. They are duplicates of such as I received several weeks ago. I have delayed an answer, because I was not satisfied, and wished to take advice. After you have examined them, I wish for your opinion, first, whether I ought to sign the warrant of attorney without limitation of time; second, whether the power ought not to be to Scott, Thornton, and White, and their successors in the office of commissioners. The papers you will please to return to me with your advice.
I thank you for another abridgment of the public despatches. Are you not misinformed concerning La Forest? I have understood that he is in Philadelphia, and that he arrived there this last summer in the questionable shape of an unaccredited chargé des affaires.
Talleyrand, I should suppose, could not be for war with this country; nor can I apprehend that even the Triumvirate, as they begin to be called in France, will be for a measure so decided. A continued appearance of umbrage, and continued depredations on a weak, defenceless commerce, will be much more convenient for their views. By all the public papers I receive from abroad, it appears that the state of things at present in France is exactly as I have many times written to particular friends in Europe. The executive directory is divided into a party of three, and a party of two. The two are the most popular, coincide best with the public opinion, and agree with a majority in both houses of the legislature. This drives the three to the necessity of courting the army and the populace. And the question between the three and the two can be decided only by a civil war. The worst evil that can happen in any government is a divided executive; and, as a plural executive must, from the nature of men, be forever divided, this is a demonstration that a plural executive is a great evil, and incompatible with liberty. That emulation in the human heart, which produces rivalries of men, cities, and nations, which produces almost all the good in human life, produces, also, almost all the evil. This is my philosophy of government. The great art lies in managing this emulation. It is the only defence against its own excesses. The emulation of the legislative and executive powers should be made to control each other. The emulation between the rich and the poor among the people, should be made to check itself by balancing the two houses in the legislature, which represent these two classes of society, so invidious at all times against each other.
But, instead of three lines, which I intended to write to you, I have slided into a pedantical lecture upon government, for which I beg your pardon.
With great esteem and regard, yours, &c.
[1 ]Mr. Hamilton appears to have entertained a similar opinion, though expressed in more guarded terms. See his letter to President Washington, in the late edition of his works, vol. vi. p. 194.
[1 ]Mr. Adams has been described, by the persons here referred to, as extremely jealous and suspicious. His real error was too implicit a trust in their good faith. Even at this early moment the secretaries, who held over, were relied upon to control him. Gibbs’s Memoirs of the Federal Administrations, vol. i. pp. 476, 477, 499; vol. ii. pp. 368, 400. Hamilton’s Works, vol. vi. p. 251.
[1 ]Not many days after the confident expression of this opinion, Mr. Adams received from an old friend in Albany unequivocal evidence of the secret hostility of Mr. Hamilton and his immediate friends. He had already heard of, but had not seen, the letter to Mr. Higginson. Mr. Jefferson, far more keen-sighted in stratagem, had hit the truth two months earlier. Since the publication of Mr. Hamilton’s works, not a doubt can remain that he did, in secret, endeavor to take advantage of the mode of voting indiscriminately for President and Vice-President, in order to bring in Mr. Pinckney, the candidate designed for the Vice-Presidency, by surprise, over the head of Mr. Adams, whom the great body of the party unquestionably intended to make President. The immediate consequence of this attempt was to spread distrust in the ranks of the federal party, and to insure the scattering of so many votes that Mr. Pinckney was defeated, even for the Vice-Presidency, he falling behind Mr. Jefferson, the candidate of the opposite party for President. But for Mr. Hamilton’s efforts this misfortune to the party would not, probably, have happened. Mr. Hamilton’s own opinion of the propriety of using the old clause of the Constitution to such ends, became afterwards clear enough, when he applied it to the case of Aaron Burr. Even then, however, he rested his objections quite as much upon expediency as upon the far more serious moral obstacles. See Hamilton’s Works, vol. vi. pp. 186, 188, 191, 531, 537. Gibbs’s Federal Administrations, vol. i. p. 408-412. Randolph’s Jefferson, vol. iii. p. 339.
[1 ]This was a letter of John Quincy Adams to his mother, containing the following passage, relating to the new appointment he had received from General Washington: “The appointment to the mission to Portugal I find, from your letter, was, as I had before concluded, unknown to my father. I have already written you upon the subject, and I hope, my ever dear and honored mother, that you are fully convinced from my letters, which you have before this received, that upon the contingency of my father’s being placed in the first magistracy, I shall never give him any trouble by solicitation for office of any kind. Your late letters have repeated so many times that I shall in that case have nothing to expect, that I am afraid you have imagined it possible that I might form expectations from such an event. I had hoped that my mother knew me better; that she did me the justice to believe, that I have not been so totally regardless or forgetful of the principles which my education had instilled, nor so totally destitute of a personal sense of delicacy, as to be susceptible of a wish tending in that direction. I have, indeed, long known that my father is far more ambitious of my advancement, far more solicitous for the extension of my fame, than I ever have been, or ever shall be myself; but I have hitherto had the satisfaction to observe that the notice with which my country and the government have honored me, and the confidence which they have been pleased repeatedly to repose in me, have been without the smallest agency of my father, other than the recommendation which his services carried with them.”
[1 ]Adet’s visit was not in a public capacity. He solicited a private interview, and I consented. The purport was to clear up his character. But it was of no consequence. I shall not write about it. He is now soliciting permission to call on me to take leave before his departure. It is hardly consistent to grant it. But I won’t make difficulties, and give them handles about such trifles. J. A. to his wife, 7 April.
[1 ]With the exception of the extreme federalists, who, as Mr. Hamilton says, “lamented it as temporizing.” See an indication of their feeling in General Schuyler’s letter to Mr. Hamilton. Hamilton’s Works, vol. vi. p. 213. Gibbs’s Federal Administrations, vol. i. p. 476, 478.
[1 ]This experiment has not been found dangerous in the later history of the country. It bids fair to become the rule and not the exception.
[1 ]In Holland.
[2 ]Mr. J. Q. Adams had been appointed by President Washington to go as minister to Portugal.
[1 ]Mr. Jefferson has given his account of this conference in his Ana. It seems to have been drawn up in 1818, from recollections associated with a memorandum made at the time. But no means are furnished by which to distinguish the original from the additions. He mentions Madison, Gerry, and Pinckney, as the three persons named for the mission.
[1 ]The date of this letter relieves the statement here made from all suspicion of especial motive. It thus forms a complete answer to a charge made three years later by Mr. Hamilton in his well known attack upon Mr. Adams. In that pamphlet is an attempt to connect with a private letter, made public by a violation of confidence on the part of Tench Coxe, an imputation of unworthy motives in writing it, which is the only circumstance that gives the affair any importance. It now clearly appears that Mr. Hamilton was mistaken. Yet, inasmuch as an impression seems to have prevailed elsewhere than with Mr. Hamilton, that Mr. Adams, against the uniform tenor of his preceding life, and contrary to all probabilities, had solicited the mission to England at the time here spoken of, it will not be out of place to add to this letter to Mr. Gerry, bearing date three years before the charge was thought of, an extract from a fragment written in 1801, originally intended as an answer to Mr. Hamilton, touching the same point.
[1 ]The same form addressed to the Secretaries of the Treasury and of War, and the Attorney-General.
[2 ]It has been affirmed that Mr. Adams decided all questions with little regard to his cabinet. The sequel will show that although he settled principles for himself, he was elaborate in the submission of all the details to their consideration, and ready to follow their advice so long as his confidence in them lasted.
[1 ]It is to be regretted that the limits of this work will not permit of the insertion of the opinions of the cabinet officers, often quite long, upon the various topics on which they were consulted by Mr. Adams. In the present instance, in particular, though the first to develop the difference of policy between the President and the two principal ministers, which afterwards caused the disruption of the cabinet, it is only possible to give a meagre abstract of their views. It should be borne in mind, that they had been at first decidedly opposed to any further measures of a conciliatory character towards France, that in this they had been overruled by the President, and that they had found no support for their opinion in the quarter to which they habitually looked for direction—Mr. Hamilton. But for this accidental coincidence in the views of the President and Mr. Hamilton, it is not unlikely that the breach would have commenced at this moment, so little did the ministers feel under any obligations to sympathise with the responsible head of the administration.
[1 ]This letter to Governor Mifflin had been submitted to the Secretary of the Treasury, and his report, dated on the 19th of May, concurred in by the Secretary of State, is incorporated almost entire in this reply.
[1 ]Mr. Adams delicately avoids to state the main reason, which was the resistance of his cabinet officers to the nomination. Which of these parties,—Mr. Gerry, or the reluctant officers,—proved, by their conduct, the most to have deserved his confidence, is for posterity to judge, from the evidence presented to it, without partiality or prejudice.
[1 ]General Forrest had communicated to Mr. Adams, from memory, having heard it read, the substance of one of the many letters circulated at this time by Mr. Jefferson, under the strongest injunctions that no copy should be allowed to be taken. It is worth while to contrast the opinion here expressed of Mr. J. with the uneasiness felt by Mr. Hamilton and his friends lest Mr. Adams should be led by that gentleman. Fortunate would it have been for all the parties, if the idea of leading Mr. Adams had not been always uppermost in their minds! Hamilton’s Works, vol. vi. pp. 192, 206.
[1 ]“I shall rely on your candor and goodness, for a fair opportunity of removing every impression, which in this age of intrigue and illiberality might be attempted, to sap the foundation of your confidence in me. I do not know that the attempt will be made, but must expect my share of political persecution.” Extract. E. Gerry to John Adams, 10 July.
[1 ]The letter and deposition gave notice to the government of enlistments making in North Carolina for some secret purpose. Mr. Pickering, in his letter, says:
[2 ]This is in answer to Mr. Pickering’s letter of the 17th, in which he says:
[1 ]It contained an offer to convey to the United States the title to a large tract of land in Georgia.
[2 ]As agent of the United States, before the Board of Commissioners upon British debts.
[1 ]President of the city council of Philadelphia. An attempt had been made to break open the house.
[1 ]This letter is printed in Gibbs’s Federal Administrations, vol. i. p. 568.
[1 ]In the original organization of the departments, a remarkable variation from the general system of accountability to the President had been made in the case of the secretary of the treasury, who has ever since made his reports directly to the legislature, and not under the supervision of the President. Mr. Adams appears to have considered this measure as another step in the same direction.
[2 ]Mr. Wolcott’s reply is to be found in Mr. Gibbs’s work, vol. i. p. 571. He promised an argument on the last topic, but he never sent it. There is an opinion given upon it by the attorney-general, in which he quotes five precedents, without perceiving that these might be used as confirming the President’s view.
[1 ]This alludes to a passage in Mr. Pickering’s letter touching the translation and publication of his despatch to General Pinckney of the 16th of January preceding. He says:
[1 ]This was an address from Noel, the minister of the French Directory, in Holland, to the Batavian Convention, designed to influence the adoption of the Constitution by the people.
[1 ]Printed in Mr. Gibbs’s work, vol. i. 571.