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Charles Adams to John Quincy Adams, 8 June 1797

Charles Adams to John Quincy Adams

New York June 8th 1797.

My dear Brother

The present period is more interesting to this Country than any since the adoption of The Federal Constitution The House of Representatives after a three weeks debate on their answer to The Speech of The President have at length entered on Serious business. The fortifying our Ports and harbours. Finishing and equipping our Frigates Purchasing some large Merchantmen to be converted into Sloops of War, raising additional troops, and permitting our Merchants to arm their Ships are among the objects which will occupy their attention.1 Upon these questions from what I learn there will be a majority of about sixteen in favor of most or all of them. That the sentiments of people in general are very much altered you may well suppose but yet there are some few who justify The French in every act however atrocious. Your friend Ben Bache abuses you at a great rate in his paper You have it seems told some disagreable facts respecting our allies which do not suit his pallet.2 Mr Edward Livingston too the worthy representative from this City in one of his three hour speeches says your communications are about on a par with the speech of Barras to Monroe.3

Your appointment To Berlin was carried in Senate 17 to 12 The cause of opposition I imagine was an objection to renew our Treaty with Prussia. but of this I am not certain.4

The distresses of our Merchants through the plunder of the French are truly alarming; Their groans and curses are echoed from Georgia to New Hampshire.

You will before this reaches you have heard of the deaths of our aged Grandmother, and our Cousin Mary Smith. The rest of our family are well.

As I know not where to direct to you I shall cover this to Mr Johnson at London.

Your affectionate brother

Charles Adams.

RC (Adams Papers).

1On 5 June William Loughton Smith presented ten resolutions to the House regarding defensive measures. In addition to those mentioned by CA, the resolutions included empowering the president to employ U.S. naval forces as convoys to protect trade; authorizing the president to borrow money to defray expenses arising from national defense and security; providing the means to raise a revenue adequate to reimburse the borrowed funds; and prohibiting the exportation of arms, ammunition, and naval stores. Congress eventually passed several bills on these measures, including preventing the export of arms and ammunition and prohibiting Americans from privateering against nations at peace with the United States (14 June); fortifying American ports and harbors (23 June); equipping a militia of 80,000 men (24 June); and authorizing the arming of the three frigates and providing further naval armament (1 July). Congress also passed on 6 July a stamp tax to take effect in December, for which see AA to William Smith, 28 Feb. 1798, and note 2, below. On 8 July 1797 it allowed for a salt tax and authorized the government to borrow $800,000 (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., 1st sess., p. 239; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, 1789–, Boston and Washington, D.C., 1845–. description ends , 1:520–522, 523–525, 527–532, 533–534).

2An article in the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 6 June, argued that JA, in his 16 May speech to both houses of Congress, used “whole volumes” of correspondence from JQA in order to “work up their resentments to the highest tone.” For JQA’s earlier friendship with Benjamin Bache, see vol. 3:15.

3Excerpts of two letters JQA wrote to Timothy Pickering, dated 4 Nov. 1796 and 17 Feb. 1797, were published in Documents Referred to in the President’s Speech to Both Houses of Congress, on the Sixteenth May, 1797, Phila., 1797, 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. 32966. JQA noted in the 4 Nov. 1796 letter that he had received “an intimation” that “the French Government had determined to defeat if possible” the Jay Treaty “and had signified to the Committee of Foreign affairs” in the Batavian Republic “their expectation, that they would concur with all their influence towards the same object.” In his 17 Feb. 1797 letter JQA stated: “The neutrality of every other Nation is as little respected by the french Government, as that of the United States. They have recently proposed to Denmark to shut up the mouth of the Elbe against all British vessels” (LbC’s, APM Reel 129).

On 24 May Edward Livingston spoke on the House reply to JA’s speech. He enumerated several French complaints against the United States in order to “determine whether they are all so frivolous as to excite irritation at the mere mention of them” and then defended recent French conduct, including the dismissal of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and the spoliations against American ships. Livingston hoped with his comments to avoid “a war of the most ruinous nature, whose consequences were so various as to be incalculable.” In his remarks, Livingston compared Paul Barras’ speech to James Monroe with the 4 Nov. 1796 letter from JQA to Pickering. Livingston agreed that Barras’ speech was “insulting” but questioned if the speech was “a just ground of war.” Livingston argued that the Batavian Republic could, on similar grounds, “declare war against us for the aspersions cast upon it” by JQA’s letter, which described the subordination of the Dutch Patriot Party to France. Livingston asked, “Can we wonder when our Minister speaks thus contemptuously of a nation, that others should make use of a similar freedom with us?” (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., 1st sess., p. 115–135).

4On 31 May 1797 the Senate resumed debate on JQA’s nomination to Prussia. A motion to postpone consideration of the nomination failed 17 to 12; a subsequent resolution declaring there was no need for a minister to Prussia also failed by a vote of 18 to 11, after which the Senate consented to JQA’s appointment (U.S. Senate, Exec. Jour. description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America, Washington, D.C., 1789–. description ends , 5th Cong., 1st sess., p. 242).

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