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Abigail Adams to William Smith Shaw, 23 December 1798

Abigail Adams to William Smith Shaw

Quincy December 23d 1798

dear William

I was much obliged to you for sending me the answer to Barlows Letter. our Printers in Boston are very inattentive to many publications which would be usefull whilst they print very purile peices— Barlows Letter made its first appearence the last week in the Centinal. I design it shall be succeeded by the replie, tho I think it a very partial one and that it treats Barlow with much more respect than the infamous Letter merrits—1 I say of America, as Gibbons did of England in the Year 92, “that if America with the experience of her own happiness, and the knowledge of French perfidy and French calamities should be seduced to Eat the apple of Security, she would indeed deserve to be driven from the Paradice which she enjoys.” [“]every dog has his day: and these Gallic dogs have had their day of most insolent prosperity”2 had Gibbon lived to this day, what would have been his reflections upon the fate of Buonaparte?

you sent me two Auroras one of which containd a most insolent comment upon the Presidents speech. a Friend also sent me the Chronical. it certainly had not taken its Lesson, for in that I read in a publication full of invective against Great Britain—& apprehension of war with France, “the writer says at this Eventfull period, when nothing but darkness is visible on our political horizon: the speech of the President has appeard like a star Emerging from the storm-threatening clouds, and the patriotic fears of true Americans have subsided. we shall preserve our dignity without craving the assistance of the potentates of the old world” “The situation of Europe is incalculable” we think as the first Majestrate wonderfully gracious and condescending!3 the answer of the House of Rep’s will have a happy effect upon the union and politicks of the states. it looks as if French influence was sunk very low it will also have an influence in Europe. I most sincerely wish that all party bickerings & personal resentments would yeald, to the Great and momenteous National interests, that they would conduct, so as to command respect;

Mr Harper is a good many years younger than Nestor—yet aims to be the Chief leader—

“Then Nestor spoke, for wisdom long approvd

And slowly rising, thus the council mov’d

Age bids me speak, nor shall the advice I bring

distaste the people, or offend the King”4

a young man should be modest and diffident, but praise and adulation are great corrupters of the Heart, and a Man, is never, in so much danger from his Enemies, as from his flatterers—

William, I write to you with a freedom which you must make, only a prudent use of and as women are not Masons, or bound to keep secrets, they are entitled to a greater latitude of speech than Men— I think mr Harper a Man of tallents, and a usefull Member he might be still more so, if he husbanded his tallants with prudence and discretion— there are Gentlemen in that House whose opinions are more respected, and who have more influence than mr Harper;

I have written you a long Letter—rather censorious, I believe, but as I have not any body to talk politicks to this Evening, I have amused myself by writing them

Continue to send me the papers which contain any thing interesting, and believe me / your affectionate

Aunt A Adams

RC (DLC:Shaw Family Papers); addressed by Louisa Catharine Smith: “Mr William S Shaw / Philadelphia”; endorsed: “Aunt Adams / rec 1 Jan. / ansd. 2 Jan”; docketed: “1798 / Decr 23.”

1In a letter to AA of 14 Dec., Shaw enclosed the Newburyport Herald, 4 Dec., in which he highlighted a response to Joel Bar low’s 4 March letter to Abraham Baldwin. The response criticized Barlow as a fanatic who was “fundamentally wrong, in all the principles which regard the French revolution, and the connection of the United States with France” and also took exception to the “contemptuous manner” Barlow used in speaking of JA and the Senate. While the Boston Columbian Centinel does not appear to have reprinted this reply, it published Barlow’s letter on 22 Dec., prefaced by an apology for printing the letter long after its initial appearance and accompanied by critical comment: “It is an useful Document; and will serve as an Appendix to the volume of the Dispatches from our Envoys. It incontestably proves, what the Jacobins have often denied, a fixed determination, in the French Directory, to dictate measures and men in the United States.” The newspaper also speculated that Barlow’s letter was written in “Talleyrand’s bureau” and alleged that Barlow was “as great an advocate for ’passive obedience, and servile dependence as Thomas Hutchinson.”

2AA paraphrased Edward Gibbon’s 10 Nov. 1792 letter to John Baker Holroyd, Lord Sheffield, included in Gibbon’s Miscellaneous Works, 3 vols., Dublin, 1796, 1:257, a copy of which is in JA’s library at MB (Catalogue of JAs Library).

3For the article in the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, see Shaw to AA, 12 Dec. 1798, and note 3, above. The Boston Independent Chronicle, 17–20 Dec., published an article by Democritus that suggested Federalists wanted war with France, noting, “The idea of renewing a friendly intercourse with our first ally, was rejected as a kind of blasphemous conception.” AA accurately quoted the writer’s remarks about JA’s 8 Dec. message to Congress.

4A conflation of Homer, The Iliad, Book IX, lines 85–86, 125–126.

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