Elbridge Gerry to Abigail Adams
Philadelphia 17th April 1780
My dear Madam
By the last Post I was honored with your Letter of the 13th March, communicating in Confidence your Sentiments on a certain publication in the Philadelphia Paper, which had been too striking to escape the Notice of Mr. A[dams]’s Friends in this Quarter.1
It is not easy to ascertain the Intentions, of the philosophical Society in their Election of Mr. A . . . . s, or how far they were concerned in making such an invidious Distinction, but it is highly probable that the List was sent to the press by some of their Members, and certain it is, they might have corrected the Measure, had they disapproved thereof. Nevertheless Madam, to pursue these Enquiries, I presume, will be no Ways pleasing to You, if “the Honor and Character” of our Friend can be guarded by any Mode that is more agreable, and at the same Time that promises as happy an Effect.
Previous to the Audience of Mr. Gerard, who was the first foreign Minister received by Congress, it was determined, that all Ministers plenipotentiary, whether sent to or from Congress, should have the Title of “honorable”; and altho this appeared to many Members unequal to the Dignity of the Office, yet, in all the publick proceedings of Congress, the Rule has been invariably observed to the present Time. Doctor F[rankli]n, Mr. A——s, and Mr. J[a]y, are by their respective Appointments Ministers plenipotentiary, and no one who has seen their Instructions can suppose, that the Powers of Mr. A——s are less, or indeed that they are not more important than what are given to either of the other Gentlemen. Dr. F——n’s Commission not being renewed represents him to have been “Deputy from the State of Pennsylvania to the General Congress and president to the Convention of the said State.” Mr. A——’s “late Commissioner of the united States of America at the Court of Versailes, late Delegate in Congress from the State of Massachusetts Bay and chief Justice of the said State” and Mr. J—y’s “late president of Congress, and chief Justice of the State of New York,”2 from all which I think it evident, that whether We refer to the Commissions, Instructions, or Appointments of the Gentlemen mentioned, Mr. A——’s Rank is at least equal to either of the others, and by the Resolutions of Congress, he has the same Title.
But the Subject, as You justly consider it Madam, is delecate in it’s Nature, and requires Measures that point not directly at the Object. I am therefore of Opinion, that it will be well, for the Information of the Friends and Correspondents of our Ministers plenipotentiary and the Secretaries of the Embassies, to publish such Circumstances as have been mentioned relative to their respective Commissions and Titles, in the same Paper in which the List of the Society was published. It may also be proper to have Mr. A——s appointed a Member of the “American Academy of Arts and Sciences,” for the Institution whereof I have been lately informed a Bill is depending in the Legislature of the State of Massachusetts;3 and should You think it expedient to consult our Friend General Warren on the Occasion, he will undoubtedly promote the Appointment, and see that it is properly communicated to the publick. A third Mode will be attempted, but I am doubtful whether it will succeed, which is to move Congress to grant a more dignified Title than “honorable” to all Ministers plenipotentiary, whether sent to or from Congress; for indeed they will always have it de Facto if not de Jure.
The Attempts mentioned in your Letter to traduce Mr. A——s in France, are convincing Proofs of the Necessity of opposing every Measure of this Kind, however trifling it may at first appear; and I assure You Madam that on every Occasion I shall with the greatest pleasure endeavour to support him as a particular Friend, as well as a valuable Statesman.
At Mr. A——s Request in Novr. last I transmitted You the Rate of Exchange of Specie, which is now sold in this City from 60 to 62£ for 1,4 and remain with every Sentiment of Respect your sincere Friend & most hume. Sert.,
RC (Adams Papers); at foot of text: “Portia.” Dft (PPAmP); docketed in margin: “Copy of a Letter to Mrs. Adams 17th. Apr. 1780.” Dft is heavily revised throughout and varies at a number of points from RC; one major variation is recorded in note 2 below.
2. From here to the end of this paragraph Gerry first wrote and then crossed out in Dft the following: “and with some Difficulty carried this point, in order to guard them and especially the former , against the Attacks of disappointed Ambition and Envy, to which notwithstanding his conspicuous Merit, I was apprehensive he would be liable in his elevated Station. I mention this likewise Madam to shew, that not even the [president?] of Congress, the Minister of France, Doctor Franklin, or Mr. Jay have by the Resolution of Congress a higher Title than Mr. Adams, whose Commission is by far the most important.”
3. An Act to establish a Society for the Cultivation and Promotion of Arts and Sciences was passed by the General Court on 4 May and was printed as a broadside (Ford, Mass. Broadsides description begins Worthington C. Ford, comp., Broadsides, Ballads &c. Printed in Massachusetts, 1639–1800 (Massachusetts Historical Society, Collections, vol. 75), Boston, 1922. description ends , No. 2237; Evans description begins Charles Evans and others, comps., American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of All Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America 1639–1800, Chicago and Worcester, 1903–1959; 14 vols. description ends 16841; example in Adams Papers). “Hon. John Adams, Esq.” was named therein as one of the sixty-two incorporators of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, but of course without mention of the offices he held.
4. Gerry had sent this information in a letter to AA of 24 Nov. 1779, which is known to the editors only in a printed summary of Gerry’s draft, listed for sale by Walter R. Benjamin, Autographs, New York City, The Collector, 70:60 (May–June 1957).