Charles Adams to John Adams
New York March 21. 1796
I am clearly of opinion with you that we stand in need of some magic equally powerful as the Lyre of Amphion to quell the rage of the political elements and yet I have my doubts whether the power of music or eloquence could instil sentiments of Justice or integrity into the minds of some of our Legislators. My dictionaire Historique tells me that Amphion was the son of Jupiter and Antiope that he played with such grace that the rocks followed him. that at the sound of his instrument the stones ranged themselves in perfect order and formed the walls of Thebes.1 Those who wish to give a reasonable interpretation to the absurdities of Paganism suppose he gained every heart by the power of his eloquence We have lately had occasion for this wonderful instrument to keep the people from revolting against themselves. We have seen a striking example of the rage to imitate Frenchmen We have been witnesses to an insult offered To our house of Assembly as gross as a Parisian mob could have given. I do not like these beginnings. It is true The Assembly acted with some spirit on the occasion but such examp[les] are too catching and I know of no puni[shment] too severe for such conduct towards a legislat[ive] assembly.2
Mrs Adams and myself are well We keep ourselves very much at home as prudent people in our circumstances ought to do She is a good prudent affectionate wife. Mrs Smith and her family have been very much distressed. Mr de St Hilaire has turned out to be as errant a Chevalier D’industrie as France ever produced and after swindling as many people as he possibly could and his greatest benefactor the most he attempted to run off but was taken by some of his Creditors at Poughkeepsie and confined in jail Amen. Such is the imprudence and folly of trusting and being the dupes to the acts and flattery of Strangers. I have known the vilain from the fourth day after his marriage but had I had the Lyre of Amphion I could not have persuaded that family that he was capable of a meaness.
with sincere affection I am y[our] / son
RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “The Vice President of The United States / Philadelphia”; endorsed: “C. A. March 21. / 1796.” Some loss of text where the seal was removed.
1. On 13 March JA had written to CA at length about JA’s need for the harp of Amphion, not only to build walls on his property but also to bring harmony to the contending European powers and to the factions within Congress. JA quoted from an alternate version of Alexander Pope’s “Ode on St. Cecilia’s Day”: “Amphion thus bade wild dissension cease, / And softened mortals learned the arts of peace. / Amphion taught contending kings / From varying discords to create, / The music of a well-tuned state.” He concluded the letter by asking CA to “write me your Discoveries about Amphion” (MHi:Seymour Coll.).
CA’s description of Amphion may have come from L. M. Chaudon, Nouveau dictionnaire historique, 4th edn., 6 vols., Paris, 1779, a copy of which is in JA’s library at MB.
2. In early Nov. 1795 two Irish immigrant ferrymen, Thomas Burk and Timothy Crady, insulted a Federalist alderman in New York City, for which they were put on trial, found guilty, and sentenced to two months in prison. William Keteltas, a journalist and Democratic-Republican lawyer, attended their trial, and when the two men escaped to Pennsylvania after one month of incarceration, Keteltas wrote an article on them for the New York Journal. He also petitioned the N.Y. assembly to impeach the magistrates who tried the case, and when his petition was dismissed he published a newspaper article attacking the assembly. The assembly responded with a resolution to censure Keteltas, who answered with another harassing article. At that point Keteltas was summoned before the assembly, and he appeared on 9 March 1796 accompanied by a crowd of almost 2,000 New Yorkers. When the assembly found him guilty of “contempt of the authority of this house,” he refused to ask for a pardon, and the crowd “gave three huzzas and made a great deal of clamor and noise, which for some time interrupted the business of the house.” Keteltas was ordered to jail, and while imprisoned he wrote five articles for the New York Journal defending his actions. When the assembly adjourned Keteltas’ friends obtained his release on a writ of habeas corpus. Three days later Democratic-Republican leaders nominated Keteltas for the N.Y. assembly, but he failed to win a seat (Young, Democratic Republicans, description begins Alfred F. Young, The Democratic Republicans of New York: The Origins, 1763–1797, Chapel Hill, N.C., 1967. description ends p. 476–477, 481–490; N.Y. Assembly, Jour., description begins Journal of the Assembly of the State of New-York, issued annually with varying imprints. description ends 19th sess., 1796, p. 123, 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. 47862).