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Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch, 20 March 1798

Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch

March 20th 1798

my dear sister

I write you a few Lines this mor’g just to inclose to you the News paper of yesterday which contains an important Message from the President;1 it is a very painfull thing to him that he cannot communicate to the publick dispatches in which they are so much interested, but we have not any assurance that the Envoys have left Paris and who can say that in this critical state of things their dispatches ought to be publick? our foreign ministers can never be safe, or they will cease to be useful to us abroad, if their communications are all to be communicated. this was not the case during our revolution. under the old Congress, dispatches were never made publick. I expect the President will be represented as declaring War, by taking off the restriction which prevented Merchantment from Arming. it was always doubtfull in his mind, whether he had a Right to prevent them, but the former President had issued such a prohibition, and he thought it best at that time to continue it. you see by the papers that Bache has begun his old bilingsgate again, because mr J Q Adams is directed to renew the treaty with sweeden which is now just expiring, and for which not a single sixpence will be allowd him as the King of sweeden will empower his Minister at Berlin to renew it there.2 Dr Franklin made the treaty in Paris with the sweedish minister, and the President made the Treaty with Prussia in Holland.3 yet this lying wretch of Baches asserts that no treaties were ever made without going to the courts to negotiate them, unless the power where they were made, were concernd in them, and says it is all a job in order to give mr Adams a new outfit & additional sallery at every Court. but there is no end to their audaciousness, and you will see that French emissaries are in every corner of the union sowing and spreading their Sedition. we have renewed information that their system is, to calumniate the President, his family his administration untill they oblige him to resign, and then they will Reign triumphant, headed by the Man of the People.4 it behoves every Pen and press to counteract them, but our Countrymen in general are not awake to their danger— we are come now to a crissis too important to be languid, too Dangerous to slumber— unless we are determind to submit to the fraternal embrace, which is sure and certain destruction as the Poisoned shirt of Danarius—5 adieu my dear sister. I intended only a line but I have run to a great length. we have had snow and rain for three days. what has been your Weather?

Love and a kind remembrance to all Friends / from your ever affectionate / Sister

Abigail Adams

RC (MWA:Abigail Adams Letters); addressed: “Mrs Mary Cranch / Quincy.”

1The enclosure has not been found but was likely the Philadelphia Gazette of the United States, 19 March, which printed that day’s message from JA to Congress, in which JA explained that after examining the dispatches from the commissioners to France he saw “no ground of expectation, that the objects of their mission, can be accomplished, on terms compatible, with the safety, honor, or the essential interests of the nation.” He urged Congress to provide for the nation’s defense by replenishing arsenals and establishing foundries, and he informed them that he was removing the restriction on merchant vessels’ arming themselves before sailing.

2Baron Carl Gustav Shultz von Ascheraden served as the Swedish minister to Prusia until his death on 22 March; he was succeeded by Baron Lars von Engeström, whom JQA described as being pro-French and unlikely to negotiate. It was not until 1816 that a new Swedish-American treaty was signed (LCA, D&A description begins Diary and Autobiographical Writings of Louisa Catherine Adams, ed. Judith S. Graham and others, Cambridge, 2013; 2 vols. description ends , 1:73, 91; TBA, Journal, 1798 description begins Berlin and the Prussian Court in 1798: Journal of Thomas Boylston Adams, Secretary to the United States Legation at Berlin, ed. Victor Hugo Paltsits, New York, 1916. description ends , p. 13; D/JQA/24, 3 May 1798, APM Reel 27; Miller, Treaties description begins Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America, ed. Hunter Miller, Washington, D.C., 1931–1948; 8 vols. description ends , 2:601–616).

3The Swedish-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce was signed by Benjamin Franklin and Count Gustav Philip Creutz at Paris on 3 April 1783. The Prussian-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce was negotiated between 10 Nov. 1784 and 14 March 1785 by Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Thulemeier, based at The Hague, and the American commissioners—Benjamin Franklin, JA, and Thomas Jefferson—based in Paris (JA, Papers description begins Papers of John Adams, ed. Robert J. Taylor, Gregg L. Lint, and others, Cambridge, 1977–. description ends , 14:12, 16:373–420).

4The Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 20 March 1798, attacked JA’s 19 March message to Congress as making war even though the legislature had not declared war on France. One article called on “the PEOPLE to step forward and by an expression of their sentiments secure the preponderance of those counsels on which the Peace, Union, and Prosperity of this country depend.” On 21 March the Aurora further called on JA “to do a most acceptable service to his country, by retiring from the cares of public life, and giving up the helm … to a more fortunate pilot.”

AA might also have been quietly alluding to information gleaned from the recently deciphered dispatches, in which the commissioners reported a threat made by one French agent: “You ought to know that the diplomatic skill of France, and the means she possesses in your country, are sufficient to enable her, with the French party in America, to throw the blame which will attend the rupture of the negotiations on the federalists, as you term yourselves, but on the British party, as France terms you; and you may assure yourselves this will be done” (Amer. State Papers, Foreign Relations description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–1861; 38 vols. description ends , 2:164).

5Written above this word, in Richard Cranch’s hand, is “Deianira.” For the Greek myth of Deianira and Hercules, see Mary Smith Cranch to AA, 1 April, and note 1, below.

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