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Abigail Adams to Abigail Adams Smith, 8 January 1791

Abigail Adams to Abigail Adams Smith

Philadelphia, 8 January, 1791.

My Dear Mrs. Smith,

I received, by Mr. King, your letter of December 30th. I am uneasy if I do not hear from you once a week, though you have not any thing more to tell me than that you and your little ones are well. I think you do perfectly right in refusing to go into public during the absence of Colonel Smith. The society of a few friends is that from which most pleasure and satisfaction are to be derived. Under the wing of parents, no notice would be taken of your going into public, or mixing in any amusement; but the eyes of the world are always placed upon those whose situation may possibly subject them to censure, and even the friendly attentions of one’s acquaintance are liable to be misconstrued, so that a lady cannot possibly be too circumspect. I do not mention this to you through apprehension of your erring, but only as approving your determination.

I should spend a very dissipated winter, if I were to accept of one half the invitations I receive, particularly to the routes, or tea and cards. Even Saturday evening is not excepted, and I refused an invitation of that kind for this evening. I have been to one assembly. The dancing was very good; the company of the best kind. The President and Madam, the Vice-President and Madam, Ministers of State, and their Madams, &c.; but the room despicable; the etiquette,—it was difficult to say where it was to be found. Indeed, it was not New York;1 but you must not report this from me. The managers have been very polite to me and my family. I have been to one play, and here again we have been treated with much politeness. The actors came and informed us that a box was prepared for us. The Vice-President thanked them for their civility, and told them that he would attend whenever the President did. And last Wednesday we were all there. The house is equal to most of the theatres we meet with out of France. It is very neat, and prettily fitted up; the actors did their best; “The School for Scandal” was the play. I missed the divine Farren; but upon the whole it was very well performed.2 On Tuesday next I go to a dance at Mr. Chew’s, and on Friday sup at Mr. Clymer’s; so you see I am likely to be amused.3

We have had very severe weather for several weeks; I think the coldest I have known since my return from abroad. The climate of Old England for me; people do not grow old half so fast there; two-thirds of the year here, we must freeze or melt. Public affairs go on so smoothly here, that we scarcely know that Congress are sitting; North Carolina a little delirious, and Virginia trying to give law.4 They make some subject for conversation; but, after all, the bluster will scarcely produce a mouse.

Present me kindly to your mamma and sisters. How I long to send for you all, as in days past; my dear little boys, too. As to John, we grow every day fonder of him. He has spent an hour this afternoon in driving his grandpapa round the room with a willow stick. I hope to see you in April. Congress will adjourn in March, and it is thought will not meet again till December.5

Good night, my dear. Heaven’s blessings alight on you and yours,

A. Adams.

MS not found. Printed from AA, Letters, ed. CFA, 1848 description begins Letters of Mrs. Adams, the Wife of John Adams. With an Introductory Memoir by Her Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, 4th edn., rev. and enl., Boston, 1848. description ends , p. 352–353.

1The relative merits of the cultures of New York and Philadelphia had been a subject of public debate since the Residence Act was signed by George Washington on 16 July 1790. Discussion generally focused on New York as a more sophisticated city but also one subject to European influence (Margaret M. O’Dwyer, “A French Diplomat’s View of Congress, 1790,” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly. description ends , 3d ser., 21:441 [July 1964]; Rush, Letters description begins Letters of Benjamin Rush, ed. L. H. Butterfield, Princeton, 1951; 2 vols. description ends , 1:568; New York Weekly Museum, 30 Oct. 1790).

2AA and AA2 had both likely seen Elizabeth Farren when she appeared as Lady Teazle in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The School for Scandal at Drury Lane in London in 1785 and 1786 (London Daily Universal Register, 14 Feb. 1785, 4 May 1786; vol. 6:185; 7:145).

3Philadelphia merchant George Clymer (1739–1813) had served with JA in the Continental Congress (JA, D&A description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 2:149; JA, Papers description begins Papers of John Adams, ed. Robert J. Taylor, Gregg L. Lint, and others, Cambridge, 1977–. description ends , 4:398; DAB description begins Allen Johnson, Dumas Malone, and others, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–1936; repr. New York, 1955–1980; 10 vols. plus index and supplements. description ends ).

4On 6 Jan. 1791 Congressman John Steele of North Carolina threatened secession if the proposed Duty on Distilled Spirits Act was passed, stating that because more spirits were consumed in the South, the bill would place an undue burden on his constituents. AA’s comment on Virginia likely refers to the passage of a bill in the Virginia legislature approving the separation of the District of Kentucky previous to the debate of a bill in Congress on statehood. Both federal bills became law, on 3 March and 4 Feb., respectively (First Fed. Cong. description begins Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789 – March 3, 1791, ed. Linda Grant De Pauw, Charlene Bangs Bickford, Helen E. Veit, William C. diGiacomantonio, and Kenneth R. Bowling, Baltimore, 1972–. description ends , 1:522; 3:827, 835; 14:243–246). See also TBA to JA, 30 Oct. 1792, and note 4, below.

5Congress adjourned on 3 March 1791 and reconvened on 24 Oct. (Biog. Dir. Cong. description begins Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–1989, Washington, 1989. description ends ).

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