Adams Papers

From John Adams to Boston Patriot, 5 June 1809

Quincy, June 5, 1809.


IN page 25, is a strain of flimsy rant, as silly as it is indecent. “The supplement to the declaration was a blameable excess.” It waved the point of honor, which after two rejections of our ministers, required that the next mission, should proceed from France.

Where did he find this point of honor? If any such point had existed, it had its full force against the second mission: and its principal force consisted in the formal declaration of the directory, that it “never would receive another minister plenipotentiary without apologies for the president’s speeches, and answers to addresses.” If we had a right to wave this point of honor in one instance, we had in tw,: especially as one member of the second mission, was the same man who had been rejected in the first. But after the explicit retraction of the declaration, that they would not receive a minister without apologies, the point of honor was completely done away. To give them an opportunity of retracting that declaration, I declared in my message to Congress, that I would not send another minister to France, till this declaration was retracted by assurances that he should be received in character. They embraced the opportunity cordially when they might have avoided the humiliation by sending a minister here. And whatever Hamilton’s opinion might be, I knew that they might have negotiated more to their advantage here than at Paris. Hamilton’s fingers had not the tact, or tactility, if you like the word better, of the public pulse.

In page 27, he argues the probability that France would have sent a minister here from the fact that she did afterwards “stifle her resentments, and invite the renewal of negotiation.” I know not whether this is an example of Mr. Hamilton’s “Analysis of Investigation” or not. It is an argument a Posteriori. It is reasoning upward or backward.

These invitations were not known, nor made, when I pledged myself, by implication at least, to send a minister, when such invitations should be made. When they were made I considered my own honor and the honor of the government committed. And I have not a doubt that Hamilton thought so too: and that one of his principal vexations was that neither himself nor his privy counsellors could have influence enough with me to persuade or intimidate me to disgrace myself in the eyes of the people of America and the world, by violating my parole.

This he might think would assist him in his caucuses at New York and Philadelphia, where the honor, not only of every member, but of every State and every elector was to be pledged, to give an equal vote for Pinckney and Adams, that the choice of President should be left to the House of Representatives, whose members on the day of election, or the day before, were to be furnished with this pamphlet, spick and spun, to make sure of the sacrifice of Adams. But more of this hereafter.

In the mean time what reasons had we to expect that the French government would send a minister here? Such an idea had been whispered in private conversation perhaps, by Dr. Logan and some others; but we had not a color of official information to that effect, that I remember. What motives had the French to send a minister? They had committed depredations upon our commerce to the amount, it has been said, of twenty millions of dollars. Would the Directory have been animated with any great zeal to send an ambassador to offer us compensation for these spoliations at a time when they were driven to their wit’s ends to find revenues and resources to carry on the war in Europe, and break the confederations against them.

We had declared the treaty of alliance and all treaties between France and the United States, null and void. Do we suppose the French government would have been in haste to send an ambassador to offer us a solemn revocation, by treaty, of all former treaties? What urgent motive could the French have to be in haste to send a minister? They could not be apprehensive that we should send an army to Europe to conquer France, or assist her enemies. We had no naval power sufficient to combat their navy in Europe, which was then far from being reduced as it has been since. They had no commerce or mercantile navigation, upon which our little navy or privateers could have made reprisals.

There is but one motive that I can imagine should have stimulated them very much & that is, the apprehension that we might enter into an alliance offensive and defensive with Great Britain. This they might have considered as a serious affair to them in a course of time, though they might not fear any very immediate harm from it. But I doubt not the French had information from a thousand emissaries, and Talleyrand knew from personal observation in various parts of America, and Hamilton must have known, if he had any feeling of the popular pulse, that a vast majority of the people of America dreaded an alliance with Great Britain more than they did a war with France. It would have taken a long time, it would have required a long and bloody war with France, and a violent exasperation of the public mind to have reconciled the people to any such measure. No, Hamilton and his associates could not have seriously believed that the French would soon send a minister here. If they had not, or if they had delayed it, Hamilton would have continued at the head of his army—continual provocations and irritations would have taken place between the two nations, till one or the other would have declared war. In the mean time it was my opinion then, and has been ever since, that the two parties in the United States would have broken out into a civil war; a majority of all the States to the southward of Hudson river, united with nearly half New England, would have raised an army under Aaron Burr; a majority of New England might have raised another under Hamilton—Burr would have beat Hamilton to pieces, and what would have followed next, let the prophets foretell. But such would have been the result of Hamilton’s "enterprizes of great pith and moment." I say this would probably have been the course and result of things, had a majority of New-England continued to be attached to Hamilton, his men, and measures. But I am far from believing this. On the contrary, had not our envoys proceeded, had not the people expected a peace with France from that negociation, New England herself, at the elections of 1800, would have turned out Hamilton’s whole party, and united with the southern and middle States in bringing in men who might have made peace on much less advantageous terms.

And now let the world judge who “consulted much”—who “pondered much"—who “resolved slowly”—and who “resolved surely.”

John Adams.

Printed Source--Boston Patriot.

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