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Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch, 1 February 1798

Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch

Philadelphia [1] Febry 17981

my dear sister

your kind Letter of Jan’ry 14th I received last week.2 I Shall not be dissatisfied with mr Whitney if the people are disposed to give him a call, but far otherways, I shall rejoice in the prospect of having so Virtuous and sensible a Gentleman Setled with us, to whom I doubt not, years will teach more knowledge of the world

I can understand you well tho you do not speak plain. I know you think that there may be allowd a greater latitude of thought and action at the Bar than in the pulpit. I allow it, and yet each Character be perfectly honourable & virtuous.—

You ask me, what has Cox done that he is dismist. I answer a Man of his Character ought not to have been employd where he was. at the Time the British were in possesion this State, mr Cox then a Young Man, went from this city and joind them, and as a Guide led them into this city with a chaplet of ever Greens round his Head; when this Government was about to be establisht, he turnd about, and possessing some talants became a warm advocate for the Federal Government. he possess specious talants. he got col Hamilton to appoint him first Clerk in His office whilst he was secretary of the treasury. in this office he continued till it is said Hamilton found him very troublesome to him, and not wanting to have him an Enemy, he contrived to get the office of commissoner of the Revenue created, and Cox appointed to it. when Hamilton resignd, Cox expected to be appointed in his Room but finding mr Wolcot prefered befor him, he was much mortified, and at the late Election for President, he became a Writer in the papers and in Pamphlets against the administration of washington and a Partizen for Jefferson, but no sooner was the Election determined, than Sycophant like he was worshiping the rising sun outwardly whilst secretly he was opposing and thwarting every measure recommended by the President for the defence of the Government Country. but this was not all, he was constantly opposing and obstructing the secretary of the Treasury in his department, a Man of no sincerity of views or conduct, a Changling as the Wind blow’d a Jacobin in Heart.3 You will see by the papers I send you the Debate continued by Congress for 15 days and yet undetermined, upon the foreign intercourse Bill. those debates will be a clue to unfold to you the full system of the Minority, which is to usurp the Executive Authority into their own Hands.4 You will see much Said about the Patronage of the President and his determination to appoint none to office as they say, who do not think exactly with him. this is not true in its full extent. Lamb the collector was not dismist from office, for his Jacobin sentiments, but for his Peculation. Jarvis for Peculation.5 Cox for opposing the Government in its opperations. the P—— has said and he still says, he will appoint to office merrit Virtue & Talents, and when Jacobins possess these, they will stand a chance, but it will ever be an additional recommendation that they are Friends to order and Government. President Washington had reason to Rue the Day that he departed from this Rule, but at the commencement of the Government, when parties were not so high, and the Country not in Danger from foreign factions; it was thought it would tend to cement the government, but the Ethiopen could not Change his skin, and the spots of the Leopard have been constantly visible, tho sometimes shaded. I cannot think Virgina declamation will make many converts for how stupid would that man be thought in private Life who should put the care and oversight of his affairs into the Hands of such persons as he knew would counteract all his instruction and destroy all his property?

Vague and contradictory accounts are in circulation respecting our Envoys. one thing is certain no official communication has been received from them, from whence I judge they do not think it safe to make any. Bache is in tribulation. he publishd last saturday an attack upon the secretary of State for receiving as he said 5 dollors for a pasport which should have been deliverd Gratis. one dr Reynolds appears to have been at the bottom of the buisness. an Irish scape Gallous who fled here from the justice of his country charged as he was with treason against it, and a reward of a hundred Guineys was offerd for him by the British Government. a person wholy unknown to the secretary but one of Baches slanderers and employd by him as it is said to write libels— I hope the Rascals will be persued, to the extent of the Law—6

It is time to leave politicks for my paper is already full

We had a very heavy storm last week and it looks more like winter now than since I have been here

Mr Greenleaf has been sick, but I believe he is quite recoverd. I hear of him frequently and I am told that no comfort or convenience is wanting but that of Liberty, that unfortunately there is but too much company, for I have been Credibly informd that as many as two Hundred Heads of Families and persons formerly in good circumstances are now in confinement. mr Greenleaf expects soon to be liberated by a Law of this state which is now before the Legislature7

I had Letters from mrs smith last week.8 the col was not returnd, nor do I much believe that he will. I believe I mentiond to you to get sister smith to knit me some stockings, but I wholy forget whether I sent any money either to buy cotton or pay her.

I wish you would mention to mrs Black to make a cap for the Baby and inclose it to me. it will have a good Effect I know in fixing in the mind of the Nurse a Certainty that it has Relations who attend to it. I inquired of the Nurse, if it was well provided fir she said it had sufficient for the present, and she always brings it clean and well enough drest—

I know it will give you pleasure to learn that mr & Mrs Adams had arrived safe at Hamburgh in october & left it for Berlin on the 2d of Nov’br we learn this from mr Murry by a Letter of Novbr 7th—9 We have not received any letters of a later date than sep’br—10 we are all at present in the enjoyment of Health. Mrs Cushing came in last Evening in the sisterly manner & past the Evening with me. with mrs otis and her I could fancy myself at Quincy

I bear my Drawing Rooms, Sometimes crowded, better than I expected, tho I always feel the Effects of the lights the next day—11

My affectionate Regards to all Friends young or old from your / sister

A Adams

P s pray let me hear from Polly. I am very uneasy about her

Just as I had written the last sentance yours of 20th was brought, me. alass poor Polly my Heart acks for her. I shall dread to hear again. if she wants Wine pray send from my cellar as much as she may have need of. they cannot buy such. if she lives do get see her again I wish I could do her any good. I really Lovd her— the post will be gone. Yours


RC (MWA:Abigail Adams Letters).

1The dating of this letter is based on Cranch’s reply of 18 Feb., below.

2See Cranch to AA, 20 Jan., note 2, above.

3Tench Coxe served as assistant secretary of the treasury from Sept. 1789 to May 1792 and as commissioner of the revenue from June 1792 until Dec. 1797. Initially a loyalist during the Revolution, he switched allegiance after being arrested and paroled. During the Washington administration, he penned four articles as “Juriscola” protesting the Jay Treaty, and during the 1796 presidential election he wrote ten articles under the pseudonym “A Federalist” in support of Thomas Jefferson. On 2 Dec. 1797 Coxe wrote to JA (Adams Papers) regarding a series of letters from Oliver Wolcott Jr. alleging Coxe’s “deliberate misconduct in office.” JA presented the matter to Timothy Pickering, James McHenry, and Charles Lee, who responded on 18 Dec. (Adams Papers): “We are of opinion that there is sufficient reason for Mr. Coxe’s dismission from office; and we think the public good requires it” (vol. 9:296; Biog. Dir. Cong. description begins Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–2005, Washington, D.C., 2005; rev. edn., description ends ; Jacob E. Cooke, Tench Coxe and the Early Republic, Chapel Hill, N.C., 1978, p. 276–277, 286, 303; Philadelphia Gazette, 31 July, 4, 8, 12 Aug. 1795; Philadelphia Gazette of the United States, 9, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 21, 24, 25, 29, 30 Nov. 1796).

4On 18 Jan. 1798 Robert Goodloe Harper presented a “bill providing the means of intercourse between the United States and foreign nations,” which sought to repeal previous foreign intercourse acts and provide appropriations for the U.S. diplomatic and consular service. That same day John Nicholas of Virginia introduced an amendment to limit the salaries of ministers plenipotentiary to London, Paris, and Madrid to $9,000, and to reduce all other foreign diplomats to ministers resident at the salary of $4,500. Nicholas questioned the necessity of American diplomats in general and particularly challenged the need for one at Berlin, with which the United States “had little or no commercial intercourse.” He also challenged executive authority by suggesting that JA’s power to bestow diplomatic appointments could sway citizens “to sacrifice all independent political opinions and bend at the shrine of Executive wisdom” in order to obtain positions. Debate continued intermittently until 5 March, when the Nicholas amendment was defeated by a vote of 52 to 48. The foreign intercourse bill was passed by the House the following day and by the Senate on 13 March (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 , 5th Cong., 2d sess., p. 521, 848–852, 856, 866–867, 920–930, 1234).

5For John Lamb, see JA to CA, 13 April 1797, and note 1; for Leonard Jarvis, see Charles Storer to AA, 15 July, and note 1, both above.

6The Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 24 Jan. 1798, reported that on 12 Nov. 1796 Thomas Wotherspoon, a Philadelphia merchant and native of Scotland, had obtained a passport “signed with the hand writing of Timothy Pickering.” When Wotherspoon had asked about the fee, he was told, “there is no particular sum charged, it is left to people’s own generosity,” to which he “laid down five dollars (in silver).” The article commented that the “transaction seems such a shameful breach of the laws which declare that passports … should be given gratis that it would be injustice to the public to conceal it.” The Aurora, 26 Jan. 1798, then published a letter from Pickering, along with an affidavit from Wotherspoon, which “proves that as it respects” the secretary of state “the charge is utterly false, and as malicious as it is false.” Wotherspoon’s affidavit clarified that it was Jacob Blackwell, a clerk in the secretary of state’s office, who had supplied his passport and accepted his money, not Pickering. The source of the story in the Aurora was Dr. James Reynolds, who lodged at the same boardinghouse as Wotherspoon and had asked him about the passport. Reynolds (d. 1808) was an Irish physician who immigrated to Philadelphia in 1794 and became a prominent Democratic-Republican (Maldwyn A. Jones, “Ulster Immigration, 1783–1815,” in E. R. R. Green, ed., Essays in Scotch-Irish History, Belfast, 1992, p. 64–65).

7On 4 April 1798 the Pennsylvania legislature passed an act declaring that a debtor who turned over “his estate for the benefit of his creditors” would not be subject to imprisonment “unless he hath been guilty of fraud or embezzlement.” An imprisoned debtor would be released upon exhibiting “a just and true account of his debts” and after executing a deed “for all his property, debts, rights and claims” to be administered by court-appointed trustees. James Greenleaf was discharged from the Prune Street prison on 30 Aug. (Acts of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Passed at a Session, Which Was Begun … the Fifth Day of December, in the Year One Thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety-Seven, Phila., 1798, p. 269–276, Evans, description begins Charles Evans and others, American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of All Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America [1639–1800], Chicago and Worcester, Mass., 1903–1959; 14 vols. description ends No. 34323; Clark, Greenleaf and Law description begins Allen C. Clark, Greenleaf and Law in the Federal City, Washington, D.C., 1901. description ends , p. 171).

8Not found.

9It was William Vans Murray’s 14 Nov. 1797 letter to JA that reported, “Mr. Adams left Hamburgh, for Berlin, on the 31. Octr., & is I hope safely arrived there— I have not heard from him since the 26th Octr., when he had just landed at Hamburgh” (Adams Papers).

10TBA’s letter to AA of 10 Sept. is above. JQA wrote JA three letters in September, one dated the 11th, for which see AA to William Cranch, 15 Nov., note 2, above; one dated the 21st, for which see AA to Mary Smith Cranch, 6 Feb. 1798, note 5, below; and a letter dated 19 Sept. 1797, summarizing Edmund Burke’s Three Memorials on French Affairs, which had been published posthumously (Adams Papers).

11AA’s drawing room may have been lit by Argand lamps, which were relatively economical to operate and consumed their own smoke. The drawback, however, was that the lamps were too bright, often bothering the eyes of those accustomed to the dim light of candles (Marshall B. Davidson, “Early American Lighting,” Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 3:37 [Summer 1944]).

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