Adams Papers

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 March 1796

John Adams to Abigail Adams

Phila. March 3. 1796

My Dearest Friend

I recd this morning your favour of Feb. 22.—the more agreable as it was not very confidently expected. I should be glad to see Mr Copley.

Charles brought the Treaty from Col. John Smith who brought it from Lisbon. I hope you will have Letters by the Vessell you mention from Rotterdam.

The Treaties with Spain & Algiers have been unanimously Sanctioned by senate and that with Britain is proclaimed. The House will try to make a little Noise.1

Elsworth was this day nominated Chief Justice—2I see that at Boston & Cambridge &c the Birth Day was celebrated with great Splendor as it was here—3 The old song is verified as I always said it would be “The more he is envied the higher he’l rise.”4 Increase of abuse will produce an increase of Adulation.

What gave great Villiers to th’ Assassins Knife

And fix’d disease on Harleys closing Life?

What murder’s Wentworth and what exil’d Hyde

By Kings protected and to Kings ally’d?

What but their Wish indulged in Courts to shine

And Power too great to keep or to resign? 5

The Power of the P. may be too great to keep or to resign. If it is, he may meet with the Fate of Harley.6

It is, Somehow, Strangely, the Opinion of many and among those are some of his best Friends that he ought to retire. No one, that I have heard, has presum’d to say he would not if he were in the P.s case.—

He has now settled all Disputes with foreign Nations and may retire with undiminish’d Glory.

I find the V. P. toasted at most of the Feasts and even Brown has announced Mr Adams’s appearance at the Theatre with Pleasure.7 All this is as I, conjecture Electioneering. The other side will probably begin soon. And I shall regard it all with as much Apathy, as is in my nature.—I feel collected and unmoved. The Principle of the Conclave goes a great Way in many Elections. All Parties will frequently concurr in the Choice of the oldest Cardinal, because he cannot hold the Papal Chair long.—I am so old that they all know they can make me miserable enough to be glad to get out of it as soon as Washington if not in half the time.

June is the earliest Month that gives a hope to release me. I Suppose you must buy hay—You have not told me whether I am to expect a Colt. Am glad our Men are frugal of their English Hay.

I am most affectionately and / ardently, notwithstanding I have been / so so long your

J. A

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “March 3. 1796.”

1Democratic-Republicans, having failed to block the Jay Treaty in the Senate the previous June, now hoped to prevent its implementation in the House of Representatives. House Republicans pursued two strategies. For the first, a demand that George Washington turn over papers outlining the treaty’s negotiations for review by the House, see JA to AA, 19 March, and note 1, below. The second involved attempting to defeat the resolution for the treaty’s appropriations. This effort generated considerable debate but failed narrowly when the House approved the implementation of the treaty by a vote of 51 to 48 on 30 April (Combs, Jay Treaty, description begins Jerald A. Combs, The Jay Treaty: Political Battleground of the Founding Fathers, Berkeley, Calif., 1970. description ends p. 171, 175–176, 186–187).

2After William Cushing declined to accept the appointment as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Washington nominated Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut on 3 March. The next day the Senate approved his nomination by a vote of 21 to 1. Ellsworth resigned as U.S. senator to accept the new post (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. 203–204; DAB description begins Allen Johnson, Dumas Malone, and others, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–1936; repr. New York, 1955–1980; 10 vols. plus index and supplements. description ends ).

3JA likely heard about the Boston and Cambridge birthday events from an early copy of the Philadelphia Gazette of the United States, 4 March, which reported on both. At Cambridge, Harvard students illuminated the college in Washington’s honor, then retired early, “saying to each other it would be disgraceful to pretend to honor WASHINGTON with riot and disorder.” In Philadelphia, the occasion was marked by the ringing of bells and firing of cannon. A “splendid ball and supper” took place in the evening, where toasts were given to Washington himself, “United America,” and “the constituted Authorities of our Country” (Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 23 Feb.; Philadelphia Gazette, 25 Feb.).

4“Then dare to be generous, dauntless, and gay; / Let’s merrily pass life’s remainder away: / Upheld by our friends, we our foes may despise; / For the more we are envied the higher we rise” (“With an Honest Old Friend,” lines 9–12, Calliope; or, The Musical Miscellany, London, 1788, p. 275–276).

5Samuel Johnson, “The Vanity of Human Wishes,” lines 129–134.

6Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford (1661–1724), had served as Speaker of the Commons and chancellor of the exchequer when he became lord treasurer in 1711; at the time he was the most powerful member of Parliament. Oxford was dismissed on 27 July 1714 by Queen Anne over a political dispute, and in 1715 he was committed to the Tower of London and faced impeachment charges for his role in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht (DNB description begins Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds., The Dictionary of National Biography, New York and London, 1885–1901; repr. Oxford, 1959–1960; 21 vols. plus supplements; rev. edn., description ends ).

7Andrew Brown’s Philadelphia Gazette, 1 March 1796, noted in an article on the Philadelphia theater that “The pleasures of the entertainment were heightened by the presence of the beloved WASHINGTON, his Lady, and Mr. Adams, the Vice-President.”

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