Adams Papers

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 12 December 1796

John Adams to Abigail Adams

Philadelphia Decr. 12. 1796

My Dearest Friend

I have just recd your favr. of the 4th. I wrote you from stratford New York and from Philadelphia.

Adets Note has had some Effect Pensilvania and prov’d a Terror to some Quakers and that is all the ill Effect it has had. Even the southern States appear to resent it.

If Col Hamiltons personal Dislike of Jefferson does not obtain too much Influence with Massachusetts Electors, neither Jefferson will be President nor Pinckney V. P. of U.S.—

I am not enough of an Englishman nor little enough of a French Man for some People. These would be very willing that Pinckney should come in, Chief. But they will be disappointed.

The Letter you Sent me has been read by many and is admired by all. it is impossible it should be otherwise. Hichbourn held the Same Language here.1

I find nobody here intimidated. Those who wish to Say they are dare not. There is a grand Spirit in the Senate.

Giles Says “the Point is settled.— The V. P. will be President. He is undoubtedly chosen. The old Man will make a good President too. (theres for you). But We shall have to check him a little now and then. that will be all.”

Thus Mr Giles.

I am just now come from pronouncing a most affectionate Address of the senate to the President in Answer to his Speech. I felt so much that I was afraid I should cry betray a Weakness. but I did not. I thought I was very firm & cool— But the senators say that I pronounced it in so affecting a manner that I made them cry.— The Tears did certainly trickle. The President himself was affected more tenderly than ever I saw him in my Life in pronouncing his Reply.2

The southern Gentlemen with whom I have conversed, have expressed more Affection for me than they ever did before since 1774. They certainly wish Adams elected rather than Pinckney. perhaps it is because Hamilton and Jay are said to be for Pinckney.

I had rather hazard my little Venture in the ship to the Pilotage of Jefferson, than that of Pinckney, or Burr.

My old Friend Mc.Kean, had so often expressed his Friendship and Confidence in me, that his Conduct is much censured and ridiculed.

Nothing affects me so much as to see McKean, Whitehill, Osgood and even Sam Adams and such Men sett up in opposition to me. It gives such a Specimen of Party Spirit as is very disgusting, very shocking.3

I am most tenderly yours

J. A

I remember the time, however, when the Friendship of Sam. Quincy, Jona. sewall Daniel Leonard, Col Brattle & Treasurer Gray and twenty others went away from me in Consequence of political systems & Party Spirit.

I remember too an hundred other Instances during the Revolution and Since of declared Friendships giving Way before Jealousy, Envy and Competition or Rather Rivalry that these Things do not shock me as they would have done when I had less Experience.

The Inveteracy of Party Spirit is however indeed alarming at present.

There have been Manœuvres and Combinations in this Election that would Surprize you. I may one day or other develope them to you.

There is an active Spirit, in the Union, who will fill it with his Politicks wherever he is. He must be attended to and not Suffered to do too much.

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mrs A”; endorsed: “December 12 1796.”

1In JQA’s letter to JA of 13 Aug., which AA had forwarded to JA on 27 Nov., JQA commented particularly on the attacks on George Washington by the French government as an attempt to undermine the whole U.S. government. JQA reported, “The object will remain … to force us out of our neutrality; to deprive us at least of all connection with Britain, and to alter our Constitution to such a form, as shall give them a more certain and effectual influence over our national Executive.” JQA also noted that these same sentiments were being repeated by Americans in Paris, including Benjamin Hichborn, “whose conversation was of exactly the same complection more than a twelve-month ago.” Hichborn had returned to the United States earlier in 1796 after spending several years in Europe (Adams Papers; Sibley’s Harvard Graduates, description begins John Langdon Sibley, Clifford K. Shipton, Conrad Edick Wright, Edward W. Hanson, and others, Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Cambridge and Boston, 1873– . description ends 17:42).

2On 7 Dec. Washington addressed the new session of Congress, reviewing diplomatic progress made with Native Americans, Britain, Spain, and Algiers and noting improved protection of U.S. seamen. He encouraged further consideration of the creation of a navy and argued for better promotion of manufacturing. He also reiterated his desire for the creation of a national university and a military academy. Finally, he noted, “with much pain, and deep regret,” recent attacks on U.S. shipping in the West Indies by the French Navy and expressed his strong hope that “a spirit of justice, candor, and friendship” would allow the United States to resolve its growing tensions with France.

Five days later the Senate presented its response, which in large measure concurred with Washington’s agenda and congratulated Washington on his administration’s political and diplomatic success. The Senate concluded its remarks with a tribute to the president, acknowledging that the prosperity of the nation must in part be attributed “to the virtue, firmness, and talents, of your administration—which have been conspicuously displayed in the most trying times, and on the most critical occasions. … When we review the various scenes of your public life, so long and so successfully devoted to the most arduous services, civil and military; … we cannot look forward to your retirement without our warmest affections and most anxious regards accompanying you. … The most effectual consolation that can offer for the loss we are about to sustain, arises from the animating reflection that the influence of your example will extend to your successors, and the United States thus continue to enjoy an able, upright, and energetic administration.”

Washington thanked the Senate in his reply, adding, “When contemplating the period of my retirement, I saw virtuous and enlightened men, among whom I relied on the discernment and patriotism of my fellow-citizens to make the proper choice of a successor; men who would require no influential example to ensure to the United States ‘an able, upright, and energetic administration.’ To such men I shall cheerfully yield the palm of genius and talents to serve our common country; but, at the same time, I hope I may be indulged in expressing the consoling reflection, (which consciousness suggests,) and to bear it with me to my grave, that none can serve it with purer intentions than I have done, or with a more disinterested zeal” (U.S. Senate, Jour., description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, Washington, D.C., 1789– . description ends 4th Cong., 2d sess., p. 296–299, 300–303).

3Possibly John Whitehill (1729–1815), a judge in Lancaster County, Penn., who had recently been chosen as a Democratic-Republican elector (Biog. Dir. Cong. description begins Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–1989, Washington, D.C., 1989; rev. edn., description ends ; Kurtz, Presidency of JA, description begins Stephen G. Kurtz, The Presidency of John Adams: The Collapse of Federalism 1795–1800, Philadelphia, 1957. description ends p. 411).

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