Front Page Titles (by Subject) JAMES MADISON TO JOHN ADAMS. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes)
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JAMES MADISON TO JOHN ADAMS. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes) 
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. 10.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
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JAMES MADISON TO JOHN ADAMS.
Washington, 17 December, 1814.
Your favor of the 28th ultimo was duly received, though with more delay than usually attends the mail. I return the interesting letter from your son, with my thanks for the opportunity of perusing it.
I have caused the archives of the Department of State to be searched, with an eye to what passed during the negotiations for peace on the subject of the fisheries. The search has not furnished a precise answer to the inquiry of Mr. Adams. It appears from one of your letters, referring to the instructions accompanying the commission to make a treaty of commerce with Great Britain, that the original views of Congress did not carry their ultimatum beyond the common right to fish in waters distant three leagues from the British shores. The negotiations, therefore, and not the instructions, if no subsequent change of them took place, have the merit of the terms actually obtained. That other instructions, founded on the resolutions of Congress, issued at subsequent periods, cannot be doubted, though, as yet, they do not appear. But how far they distinguished between the common use of the sea, and the use, then common, also, of the shores, in carrying on the fisheries, I have no recollection.
The view of the discussions at Ghent presented by the private letters of all our ministers there, as well as by their official despatches, leaves no doubt of the policy of the British cabinet so forcibly illustrated by the letter of Mr. Adams to you. Our enemy, knowing that he has peace in his own hands, speculates on the fortune of events. Should these be unfavorable, he can at any moment, as he supposes, come to our terms. Should they correspond with his hopes, his demands may be insisted on, or even extended. The point to be decided by our ministers is, whether, during the uncertainty of events, a categorical alternative of immediate peace, or a rupture of the negotiation, would not be preferable to a longer acquiescence in the gambling procrastinations of the other party. It may be presumed that they will, before this, have pushed the negotiations to this point.
It is very agreeable to find that the superior ability, which distinguishes the notes of our envoys, extorts commendation from the most obdurate of their political enemies. And we have the further satisfaction to learn, that the cause they are pleading is beginning to overcome the prejudice, which misrepresentations had spread over the continent of Europe against it. The British government is neither inattentive to this approaching revolution in the public opinion there, nor blind to its tendency. If it does not find in it a motive to immediate peace, it will infer the necessity of shortening the war by bringing upon us, the ensuing campaign, what it will consider as a force not to be resisted by us.
It were to be wished that this consideration had more effect in quickening the preparatory measures of Congress. I am unwilling to say how much distress in every branch of our affairs is the fruit of their tardiness; nor would it be necessary to you, who will discern the extent of the evil in the symptoms from which it is to be inferred.
I pray you, Sir, to accept assurances, &c.
TO JAMES LLOYD.
Quincy, January, 1815.
Although I have no recollection that I ever met you more than once in society, and that, I presume, was the instance you have recorded, yet I feel as if I was intimately acquainted with you. The want of familiarity between us, I regret, not only because I have known, esteemed, and I may say, loved your family, from an early age, but, especially, because whatever I have heard or read of your character in life, has given me a respect for your talents and a high esteem for your character.
Having read Mr. Randolph’s letter to you, and your answer to him, I shall not question the propriety of your taking so much notice of him.1 It would give me pleasure to dilate on the various parts of your letter, and mark the many points in which I fully agree with you, as well as the few which are not so clear to me; but I shall confine myself at present to those things which personally relate to myself and my administration. You say, Sir, that “I built upon the sand.” And so, indeed, I did. I had no material for a foundation, but a rope of it. The union of the States was at that time nothing better. In this respect I was in a worse situation than Mr. Madison is at this hour.
You are pleased to say, Sir, that “upon the earlier part of my administration you could dilate con amore.” I believe you, Sir. The addresses, of which Mr. Randolph “defies you to think without a bitter smile,” will remain immortal monuments, in proof that one third at least of the people of the United States thought and felt as you did. But, Sir, did you then consider, or have you since considered, that this Mr. Randolph, with two thirds of the people of the United States, then “dilated on that earlier part of my administration,” con odio?
There is not, Sir, in your masterly letter a more correct or important observation than that of “the unhappy ignorance which exists among the members of this great family, but resident in different sections of it, with regard to the objects and qualities of each other. This ignorance, the offspring of narrow prejudice and illiberality, is now presenting brimful the chalice of envy and hatred, where it should offer nothing but the cup of conciliation and confidence. It sprang from the little intercourse and less knowledge which the people of the then British Provinces possessed of each other antecedently to the American revolution, and instead of being dissipated by an event so honorable to them all, has been cherished and perpetuated for political party purposes, and for the promotion of the sinister views and ambitious projects of a few restless and unprincipled individuals, until the present period.”
Of this ignorance, when I went to Congress in 1774, I can assure you, Sir, I had a most painful consciousness in my own bosom. There I had the disappointment to find, that almost every gentleman in that assembly was, in this kind of information, nearly as ignorant as myself; and what was a more cruel mortification than all the rest, the greatest part even of the most intelligent, full of prejudices and jealousies, which I had never before even suspected. Between 1774 and 1797, an interval of twenty-three years, this ignorance was in some measure removed from some minds. But some had retired in disgust, some had gone into the army, some had been turned out for timidity, some had deserted to the enemy, and all the old, steadfast patriots, weary of the service, always irksome in Congress, had retired to their families and States, to be made governors, judges, marshals, collectors, &c., &c. So that in 1797, there was not an individual in the House of Representatives, in the Senate, or in either of the executive departments of government, who had been in the national controversy from the beginning. Mr. Jefferson himself, the Vice-President, the oldest in service of them all, was but a young and a new man in comparison with the earliest conductors of the cause of the country, the real founders and legitimate fathers of the American republic. The most of them had been but a very few years in public business, and a large proportion of these were of a party which had been opposed to the revolution, at least in the beginning of it. If I were called to calculate the divisions among the people of America, as Mr. Burke did those of the people of England, I should say that full one third were averse to the revolution. These, retaining that overweening fondness, in which they had been educated, for the English, could not cordially like the French; indeed, they most heartily detested them. An opposite third conceived a hatred of the English, and gave themselves up to an enthusiastic gratitude to France. The middle third, composed principally of the yeomanry, the soundest part of the nation, and always averse to war, were rather lukewarm both to England and France; and sometimes stragglers from them, and sometimes the whole body, united with the first or the last third, according to circumstances.
The depredations of France upon our commerce, and her insolence to our ambassadors, and even to the government, united, though for a short time, with infinite reluctance, the second third with the first, and produced that burst of applause to the administration, in which you concurred, though it gave much offence to Mr. Randolph. Nor to him alone, I assure you. It appeared to me then, and has appeared ever since, that a great majority of the people of the United States, and even in New England, in their hearts disapproved of those addresses as much as they did of those pompous escorts, public dinners, and childish festivals, which tormented me much more than they did them. They thought, that such things led to monarchy and aristocracy as well as to a long and interminable war, a war with France, our sister republic; and a war with any body, must bring expenses and taxes. Those hosannas, moreover, excited envy and bitter jealousy in many breasts in the first class, whose names I will not mention at present.
National defence is one of the cardinal duties of a statesman. On this head I recollect nothing with which to reproach myself. The subject has always been near my heart. The delightful imaginations of universal and perpetual peace have often amused, but have never been credited by me. From the year 1755 to this day, almost three score years, I have thought a naval force the most natural, safe, efficacious, and economical bulwark for this country. In 1775, I labored day and night to lay the foundation of a navy, and in the four last years of the last century I hesitated at no expense to purchase navy yards, to collect timber to build ships, and spared no pains to select officers. And what was the effect? No part of my administration was so unpopular, not only in the western, the southern, and middle States, but in all New England, and, strange to tell, even in Marblehead, Salem, Newburyport, and Boston. The little army, the fortifications, the manufactures of arms and ammunition, were all unpopular. They were the reign of terror. They were to introduce monarchy and aristocracy. John Adams and John Jay were sold to Great Britain.
In this critical state of things, when Virginia and Kentucky, too nearly in unison with the other southern and western States, were menacing a separation; when insurrection was flaming in Pennsylvania; when Baltimore, at the head of one half of Maryland, was glowing with opposition; when the two great interests in New York, headed by the Clintons and Livingstons, were united with Colonel Burr, General Gates, and their little band, in open opposition to the administration and the contest with France; when the administration was threatened, even in the town of Boston, I will not say at present by whom, nor with what; there was not one man in either house of Congress of the then majority, nor in any executive department of government, who was not chargeable with the grossest ignorance of the nation, which you impute to the north and south before and since the revolution, nor one who had any experience of foreign affairs. Never was any majority more grossly deeeived in their opinion of their own importance and influence. No! not Napoleon, when he undertook the conquest of Russia. Had the administration persevered in the war against France, it would have been turned out at the election of 1800 by two votes to one. Had Washington himself, with his transcendent popularity and all the fascination of his name, been a candidate, he would have undergone the same fate.
The democratic societies, affiliated without number and concatenated to an unknown extent, had long been laying their trains to explode Washington, to sacrifice Adams, and bring in Jefferson. The population in the southern and western States had increased, and their votes with it to an astonishing degree. Yet, all these things were unknown to the ruling majority; or, if partially known, they were not sufficiently considered. Their self-love deluded them to believe what they wished to be true. Washington was aware of this, and prudently retreated. But what had he done before he left the chair? Ellsworth, the firmest pillar of his whole administration in the Senate, he had promoted to the high office of Chief Justice of the United States; King, he had sent ambassador to London; Strong was pleased to resign, as well as Cabot; Hamilton had fled from his unpopularity to the bar in New York; Ames, to that in Boston; and Murray was ordered by Washington to Holland. The utmost efforts of Ellsworth, King, and Strong in the Senate had scarcely been sufficient to hold the head of Washington’s administration above water, during the whole of his eight years.
And how was I elected? By a majority of one, or at most two votes. And was this a majority strong enough to support a war, especially against France? Mr. Madison can now scarcely support a war against England, a much more atrocious offender, elected as he was, and supported as he is, by two thirds of the votes. And what was my support in the Senate? Mr. Goodhue, from Massachusetts. Of this man I will say nothing; let the world speak. Mr. Sedgwick, without dignity, never able to win the complacency, or command the attention of his hearers in either house, but ever ready to meet in private caucuses and secret intrigues to oppose me. Mr. Langdon, of New Hampshire, was constant in opposition, as was one from Rhode Island. Had Ellsworth, Strong, and King been there, the world would never have heard of the disgraceful cabals and unconstitutional proceedings of that body.
You say, Sir, that my missions to France, “the great shade in my Presidential escutcheon, paralyzed the public feeling and weakened the foundations of the goodly edifice.” I agree, Sir, that they did with that third part of the people, who had been averse to the revolution, and who were then, and always, before and since, governed by English prejudices; and who then, and always, before and since, constantly sighed for a war with France and an alliance with Great Britain; but with none others. The house would have fallen with a much more violent explosion, if those missions to France had not been instituted.
I wish not to fatigue you with too long a letter at once; but, Sir, I will defend my missions to France, as long as I have an eye to direct my hand, or a finger to hold my pen. They were the most disinterested and meritorious actions of my life. I reflect upon them with so much satisfaction, that I desire no other inscription over my gravestone than: “Here lies John Adams, who took upon himself the responsibility of the peace with France in the year 1800.”
In the mean time, I recommend to you, Sir, to inquire into the state of the nation at that time, and into the state of Europe, especially France and Great Britain, and the state of our relations with both, and to consider, at the same time, the important question, whether it is our interest to enlist under the banners of either against the other, or to support at all hazards, and at every sacrifice, our independence of all. I am, Sir, with great esteem and sincere affection, your friend.
[1 ] Mr. John Randolph had addressed a letter, dated Philadelphia, 15th December, 1814, through the newspapers, to Mr. James Lloyd of Massachusetts, deprecating a resort to extreme measures by the federalists of New England. He was answered by Mr. Lloyd in a letter published in the Boston Daily Advertiser, of January 1815. In both letters there were allusions to Mr. Adams, that called forth the series of letters which now follow each other very closely in this volume.