John Adams to Abigail Adams
Philadelphia January 18. 1797
My Dearest Friend
I recd, Yesterday by the Post, the inclosed Letter, which excites a hope of more by the Same Ship.1
There is a curious Mass of matter in fermentation at this Time. The French and Spaniards are as injurious as ever the English have been. Washington retires and his Sucessor will have but a majority of three Votes at most. and as if, it were to irritate every feeling nerve a Land Tax must be discussed, at this moment and the Debtor States must be called on for their ballances.2 The People of America, must awake out of their golden dreams, consider where they are, and what they are about. The foolish Idolatry of France and Paine which Russells Paper, has encouraged as much as any other, has brought Us into Snares and dangers which We might have avoided. We must assume more Decorum than to run after foreign Ministers as if We were their Slaves or Subjects. The Ignorance in which our People will keep themselves of the true Character of the french Nation in general and of their present Government as well as all their former Governments Since the Revolution, is astonishing.
I must wade through all these Difficulties or be overpowered by them. And if the Case should happen that I should get Safely or even tryumphantly through, it will be forgotten in one month that I had any hand in it—judging of the future by the past.—
Oh no! it will not be forgotten. My Friends will remember it— Ay and my Ennemies too. They remember too well, for their comfort tho they deny.
Mr Jay, if I mistake not, will be a glorious Being in this Country before very long.
Mr Volney talks a bolder and freer Language about French affairs than I Should expect. He Says the Directory will be changed for one Director and be chosen for ten Years, which he considers, as for perpetuity. He Says all the Members of the Constituant Assembly in 1789 will be elected into the Legislature at the next Election. &c &c—3 This I have from Mr Burr, who wonders at it. What would I give to Spend / the Evening at your fireside
RC and enclosure (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mrs A.”; endorsed: “Janry 18 1797.” For the enclosure, see note 4, below.
2. On 5 Dec. 1793 the Commissioners of Accounts issued a report to Congress declaring that six states—New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina—owed a combined total of $3,517,584 to the federal government. Three years later, on 20 Dec. 1796, Joshua Coit, a representative from Connecticut, presented a resolution to the House of Representatives directing the Committee of Ways and Means to investigate the debts. On 26 Dec. William Smith presented to the House the report of the committee showing that the total due to the U.S. government from the six debtor states (including interest) on 1 Jan. 1797 would amount to $4,502,507.52. Smith also submitted two resolutions: one requesting the president to inform the debtor states of the amounts they currently owed, and the second asking the president to accept payments from the states in the same form as the creditor states had been previously paid. On 5 Jan. the House agreed to the resolutions; however, Congress was unwilling to pressure the debtor states to pay, and only New York, which had the largest debt, paid off a small amount of the money it owed, via the construction of state fortifications (Amer. State Papers, Miscellaneous, 1:69; Annals of Congress, description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States [1789–1824], Washington, D.C., 1834–1856; 42 vols. description ends 4th Cong., 2d sess. p. 1691, 1805–1806, 1810; Amer. State Papers, Finance, 1:479; Richard Hildreth, The History of the United States of America: From the Adoption of the Federal Constitution to the End of the Sixteenth Congress, 1788–1821, rev. edn., vol. 1, Administration of Washington, 1789–1797, N.Y., 1871, p. 494). For the land tax, see AA to JA, 6 Feb., and note 2, below.
3. Constantin François Volney’s predictions were not accurate. In the spring 1797 elections for the French legislature only 11 of the approximately 200 former members up for reelection were chosen, and 228 of the new members had no previous political experience. The policy of having five directors remained in place until Napoleon’s Nov. 1799 coup (Cambridge Modern Hist., description begins The Cambridge Modern History, Cambridge, Eng., 1902–1911; repr. New York, 1969; 13 vols. description ends 8:506, 678, 679; William Doyle, The Oxford History of the French Revolution, Oxford, 1989, p. 329).
4. JA enclosed an article from the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 21 Dec. 1796, which stated that George Washington had resigned because he knew he would not be reelected and that he feared the Democratic-Republicans would vote for JA as president and make Washington assume the lowly position of vice president. JA wrote horizontally along the left side of the article: “of all the Devilism in Bache’s Paper this is the most diabolical.” The following day JA again wrote to AA, enclosing Ruth Hooper Dalton’s 14 Jan. 1797 letter to her, above, and noting he had received a letter from Col. Samuel Griffin congratulating JA on his election and seeking a place for a relative as JA’s private secretary. JA also commented on French affairs, the consequences of which he believed “will come up after the 4 of March, and stare at me” (Adams Papers).