Adams Papers
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John Adams to Charles Adams, 2 January 1795

John Adams to Charles Adams

Philadelphia January 2. 1794 [1795]

Dear Sir

I have received your Letter of December 30th.— I approve of your caution and applaud your discretion. You ought nevertheless to reconoitre the Country round about you, like a good officer. Between you and me, I believe you to be Surrounded by a gang of sharpers, and I wish you to keep a good look Out, preserve your own honour; keep a clear Conscience and clean hands: but examine every Man and every Thing. You will Soon be respected in this Course, even if you stand alone. Is there any Land Office? Where is it kept? in what House? or other Building? Who are the Land Officers? Who is the Man or who are the Men, who have by Law Authority to sell Lands? What is that Law & when was it made by which those Persons are impowered to sell? Is there any Land Book? that is to say any Volume or Volumes of Records in which grants, Deeds or Conveyances of Land are registered? Is this Office, and are those Books publick? has every Citizen a right to examine those Records? to take Copies, paying for them &c.? There are honest Men about you, no doubt.1

It would be worth your while, to make an Inventory of Clintons Lands. Enquire in what Part of the State he has Lands? When he purchased them? How much he gave for them? of whom he bought them? What Quantity of Acres in a Parcel? improve cultivated or wild?— Information of every kind should be sought with Ardour by a Young Man.2

You need not recurr to the Supposition of foreign Gold to account for the other Mans Wealth. if I am rightly informed, he made an hundred Thousand Pounds, by a purchase and a Sale of Lands. I know not the Mystery.

If Professions of Simplicity & Republicanism and Democracy & sanscullotism & Jacobinism &c are a sure Way of making Plumbs Per soltum, We shall have Professors enough. Look about you charles and be neither sharp nor Dupe

J. A.

RC (MHi:Seymour Coll.).

1The New York Land Office Commission was established in 1784 to dispose of bounty lands to Revolutionary War veterans. The commission, which met in New York City, was composed of the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the assembly, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer, and auditor, and with the exclusion of the governor, three commissioners were required to execute a land grant. In March 1791, after a near halt in land sales, the state legislature expanded the discretionary powers of the commission, which subsequently approved 35 grants, totaling 5.5 million acres and generating just over one million dollars in revenue, all in the span of five months.

This flurry of activity drew the attention of George Clinton’s Federalist opponents, who levied allegations of misconduct and misappropriation toward the governor during the 1792 election. Clinton won reelection and subsequently solicited and published affidavits from several of the grantees, denying his participation or financial benefit. In Nov. 1793, a jury further exonerated Clinton in a libel suit he brought against William Cooper, one of his more vocal detractors. The stigma of misconduct, however, persisted in Federalist circles (John P. Kaminski, George Clinton: Yeoman Politician of the New Republic, Madison, Wis., 1993, p. 195–197; Young, Democratic Republicans, description begins Alfred F. Young, The Democratic Republicans of New York: The Origins, 1763–1797, Chapel Hill, N.C., 1967. description ends p. 233–234, 237–239).

2Clinton was a savvy land speculator who chose productive farm lands or small parcels in locations primed for development. Many of his investments were made in partnership and were managed in such a way that initial outlays were recouped within a few years, while the balances were held as investments. During and after the Revolutionary War Clinton substantially increased his land holdings through speculative purchases of undeveloped land along the frontier. The largest was a multi-partner investment in a 40,000-acre tract in Oneida County; another included a 6,000-acre parcel in the Mohawk River Valley near Utica, for which Clinton partnered with George Washington in 1783. Clinton, largely as a result of his success as a land speculator, left an estate valued at $250,000 (Kaminski, George Clinton, p. 14, 51–52, 249–250; Alan Taylor, William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic, N.Y., 1995, p. 156–157; Young, Democratic Republicans, description begins Alfred F. Young, The Democratic Republicans of New York: The Origins, 1763–1797, Chapel Hill, N.C., 1967. description ends p. 35–36).

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