John Adams to John Quincy Adams
Philadelphia May 2. 1794
I have recd your favour of April 22 and am pleased with your Observations on the Doctrine of Reprisals on Choses in Action.1 As it is a Subject, which is likely to be discussed among Mankind for many Years to come, England France and Spain having lately attempted something of the kind, every Book which can throw any Light on it, ought to be looked up. Spain is Said to have confiscated or Sequestered French Shares in the Bank of st. Charles. The National Convention of France has lately attempted to compel Creditors of British Subjects if not of the British Nation to draw for their dues and Mr Pitt is employed in Parliament in making Retaliation. These Authentic Acts should all be collected and collated in order to see the Principles and form a system.— If the whole is not to be considered as Anarchic and Revolutionary. If it is We must have a little Revolutionary Retribution or Retaliation I suspect, before all is over, if Mr Jay cannot obtain Satisfaction in a more honourable Way. The Southern Debtors dont Seem to pant after Sequestration nor Confiscation, for this destroys not the Obligation of payment, so much as after War, which would suspend Payment at least. But with constant Declarations in Public for Peace, they frequently suffer to escape them in private Ardent Wishes for War and never fail to vote for every Measure that can provoke it.
The Executive and the Senate have preserved Us from War hitherto in opposition to the Ardour of the Majority of the H. of. R.
Whether Jay will make the Figure of Rabbi Monis’s Man in Heaven, who understood no Hebrew, stand behind the Door with his Finger in his Mouth I know not.—2 But one thing I know John Bull had better be very civil to him. John has many Ennemies, and no Friends but Such as his Guineas purchase for him in Europe and his Purse will be exhausted in a Year or two. Thomas is gone the Circuit of Chester Lancaster York Carlisle &c
RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “J. Q. A.” Tr (Adams Papers).
1. JQA’s letter to JA of 22 April (Adams Papers) replied to JA’s of 5 April, above, and JA’s discussion of the sequestration of debts. JA’s interest in the subject was no doubt prompted by congressional debate over it, for which see JA to AA, 31 March, and note 1, above. JQA agreed with JA that any sequestration of British debts by the United States would be seen as an act of hostility but also argued that “the depredations committed upon our commerce, by their privateers and West India judges” were equally a form of hostility. Nonetheless, JQA deplored the congressional response, claiming, “It is a dishonourable resentment, which would afford a gratification to our enemies, because it would make us accessary to our own infamy, the instruments of our own shame. It is a rod which can only tickle our adversaries, but which may be turned into a deadly scourge upon ourselves. It is an expedient suggested by our Passion to our Weakness, and which nothing but our real Impotence can in any degree extenuate. Yet what else can we do? If they will assail us as highway robbers, we must pilfer from them as pickpockets. We cannot fight, and therefore we must cheat them. This appears to me, to be the real state of the argument, and all that can be said in favour of the sequestration.”
2. Probably a reference to “Rabbi” Judah Monis (1683–1764), an Italian-educated Jew who settled in Boston around 1720. That same year he became the first Jewish person to receive a degree from Harvard College, and in 1722 he was made Harvard’s first instructor in Hebrew, a position he held until 1760. Around the time of his appointment at Harvard, Monis converted to Christianity and became a member of the First Church of Cambridge (Lee M. Friedman, “Judah Monis, First Instructor in Hebrew at Harvard University,” Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, 22:2–3, 19, 20 ).