John Adams to Abigail Adams
Philadelphia Jany. 7. 1796
My Dearest Friend
Inclosed is another Production of Porcupine, whose quils will Stick.1
“And Midas now neglected Stands
With Asses ears and dirty hands.[”]2
The President appears great in Randolphs Vindication throughout excepting that he wavered about Signing the Treaty which he ought not to have done one moment. Happy is the Country to be rid of Randolph: but where shall be found good Men and true to fill the offices of Government. There seems to be a Necessity of distributing the offices about the States in Some Proportion to their Numbers: but in the Southern Part of the Union false Politicks have Struck their roots so deep that it is very difficult to find Gentlemen who are willing to accept of public Trusts and at the same time capable of discharging them. The President offered the office of State to Seven Gentlemen who declined: to Mr Patterson, Mr King, Mr Henry of Virginia, Mr Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of S. C. and three others whose names I dont recollect.3 He has not been able to find any one to accept the War Office.4 The Expences of living at the Seat of Government are so exorbitant, so far beyond all Proportion to the salaries and the Sure Reward of Integrity in the discharge of public functions is such obloquy Contempt and Insult, that no Man of any feeling is willing to renounce his home, forsake his Property & Profession for the sake of removing to Philadelphia where he is almost sure of disgrace & Ruin. Where these Things will end I know not. In perfect Secrecy between you & me, I must tell you that I now believe the P. will retire. The Consequence to me is very Serious and I am not able as yet to see what my Duty will demand of me. I Shall take my Resolutions with cool deliberation, I shall watch the Course of Events with more critical Attention than I have done for sometime, and what Providence shall point out to be my Duty I shall pursue with Patience, and Decision. It is no light thing to resolve upon Retirement. My Country has claims—my Children have claims and my own Character have claims upon me. But all These Claims forbid me to serve the Public in disgrace. Whatever any one may think I love my Country too well to shrink from Danger in her service provided I have a reasonable prospect of being able to serve her to her honour and Advantage. But if I have Reason to think that I have either a Want of Abilities or of public Confidence to such a degree as to be unable to support the Government in a higher Station, I ought to decline it— But in that Case, I ought not to serve in my present Place under another especially if that other should entertain sentiments so opposite to mine as to endanger the Peace of the Nation. It will be a dangerous Crisis in public affairs if the President and Vice President should be in opposite Boxes.
These Lumbrations must be confined to your own Bosom— But I think upon the whole the Probability is strong that I shall make a voluntary Retreat & spend the rest of my days in a very humble Style with you. of one Thing I am very sure— It would be to me the happiest Portion of my whole Life.
I am with unabatable Affection / Yours
RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mrs A”; endorsed: “Janry 7th / 1796.”
1. Peter Porcupine, A New-Year’s Gift to the Democrats; or, Observations on a Pamphlet, Entitled, “A Vindication of Mr. Randolph’s Resignation,” Phila., 1796, Evans, description begins Charles Evans and others, 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 No. 30215.
2. Jonathan Swift, “The Fable of Midas,” lines 81–82. These lines appeared as part of an epigraph on the title page of Peter Porcupine’s A New-Year’s Gift.
3. In a late October 1795 letter to Alexander Hamilton, George Washington largely reiterated JA’s comments here: Washington had offered the post of secretary of state to William Paterson of New Jersey, Thomas Johnson of Maryland, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina, and Patrick Henry of Virginia, in that order, all of whom had declined. Subsequent correspondence with Hamilton indicates that Rufus King of New York was also approached but likewise declined. Although Hamilton made other suggestions for possible candidates, on 9 Dec. Washington submitted Timothy Pickering’s name to Congress to make his position as acting secretary of state permanent. The Senate gave its advice and consent to the appointment the following day.
Paterson (1745–1806), Princeton 1763, was Irish-born but raised in New Jersey. A lawyer, he held various posts in New Jersey government and served as one of that state’s delegates to the federal Constitutional Convention in 1787. In 1793 he became an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Pinckney (1745–1825), of the prominent Pinckney family of South Carolina, was educated in England at Oxford and the Middle Temple. He rose to the rank of brigadier general during the Revolutionary War and later was named a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. He held no other federal positions, however, until named U.S. minister to France in 1796 (Hamilton, Papers, description begins The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett, Jacob E. Cooke, and others, New York, 1961–1987; 27 vols. description ends 19:356–357, 395–397; U.S. Senate, Exec. Jour., description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America, Washington, D.C., 1789– . description ends 4th Cong., 1st sess., p. 193; ANB description begins John A. Garraty, Mark C. Carnes, and Paul Betz, eds., American National Biography, New York, 1999–2002; 24 vols. plus supplement; rev. edn., www.anb.org. description ends ).
4. James McHenry, for whom see vol. 1:338, was named the new secretary of war in January after three others turned down the position; he took the oath of office in February (ANB description begins John A. Garraty, Mark C. Carnes, and Paul Betz, eds., American National Biography, New York, 1999–2002; 24 vols. plus supplement; rev. edn., www.anb.org. description ends ).