Adams Papers
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William Smith Shaw to Abigail Adams, 30 December 1798

William Smith Shaw to Abigail Adams

Philadelphia Dec 30th 1798 Sunday Evening

My dear Aunt.

’Though I have been writing a very long letter, to my wild, random, laughter loving Walter and have made it very late, still I want to thank my aunt for her letter of Dec 20th received yesterday morning, before I sleep.1

Logan is chosen Representative for this State by a very large majority. It so happened that the day, L took his seat, a new carpet was placed on the floor of the house. The Aurora, the morning after said that the Legislature of Pensylvania were so pleased with his late conduct and wishing to show him every possible attention and respect, ordered a new carpet to be placed on the floor.2 What will the directory say when they hear that L has returned and chosen Repe. of his state. Instead of being hung and quartered, as he ought to have been, he returns home and is honored with a seat in the Legislature of Pensylvania. L’s inteferance is not new Fox in 1791 or ’2 did the same. Charles Fox sent a Mr. Adair, as his representative and with his cypher, to St Petersburgh, there to frustrate the objects, for which the minister from the crown, was authorized to treat. He succceeded in his design and the rascal did actually frustrate the kings minister, in some of the objects of his negociation.3 But this mode of proceedinge will never do for this country. If we allow the principle, if cabinet factions abroad, are to be connected with popular factions here, I see nothing but the constitution and government, must fly to pieces, like a glass bottle.

The president has received a letter from Lyons son, begging that his father may be liberated, signed by upwards of two hundred men.4

The Aurora says, the president has appointed his one son, a foreign minister, another his Secretary and even his wifes nephew to be his own private Secretary!!!5

Good night / With affection I am your nephew

I have been writing so long that my fingers ache & my pens are very bad— I am almost sleep, as you will see by my letter.

I have not received a single letter from my mother as yet. I have written to her.

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “W s shaw 30 / 1798 / december.”

1Arthur Maynard Walter (1780–1807), Columbia A.M. 1799, was one of Shaw’s closest friends. They attended Harvard together, though Walter did not graduate because he refused to perform at commencement. In 1805 Shaw and Walter were among the founders of Boston’s Anthology Society, which was formally incorporated and renamed the Boston Athenæum in 1807 (Katherine Wolff, Culture Club: The Curious History of the Boston Athenaeum, Amherst, Mass., 2009, p. xvii; Josiah Quincy, The History of the Boston Athenæum, with Biographical Notes of Its Deceased Founders, Cambridge, 1851, p. 13–19; Officers and Graduates of Columbia University, Originally the College of the Province of New York Known as King’s College, General Catalogue, 1754–1900, N.Y., 1900, p. 107).

2Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 27 Dec. 1798.

3In mid-1791 during the Russo-Turkish War (1787–1792), British opposition leader Charles James Fox was suspected of dispatching Robert Adair to St. Petersburg in an attempt to foil the diplomatic objectives of William Pitt and his specially appointed envoy, William Fawkener (Jeremy Black, British Foreign Policy in an Age of Revolutions, 1783–1793, Cambridge, Eng 1994, p. 324–325; DNB description begins Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds., The Dictionary of National Biography, New York and London, 1885–1901; repr. Oxford, 1959–1960; 21 vols. plus supplements; rev. edn., description ends ).

4This letter from James Lyon (1776–1824) to JA has not been found. On 5 Oct. 1798 Matthew Lyon was the first person indicted under the Sedition Act. On 9 Oct. he was sentenced to four months in jail and fined $1,000 for criticizing JA’s presidency and publishing and promoting “scandalous and seditious writing, or libel,” including Joel Barlow’s 4 March letter to Abraham Baldwin. During the senior Lyon’s imprisonment, however, he published essays defending his political stance, and these garnered him widespread support among Democratic-Republicans as a symbol of political martyrdom. He was subsequently reelected to Congress in December and was released from prison on 9 Feb. 1799 (Jefferson, Papers description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, James P. McClure, and others, Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 32:261–262; Smith, Freedom’s Fetters description begins James Morton Smith, Freedom’s Fetters: The Alien and Sedition Laws and American Civil Liberties, Ithaca, N.Y., 1956. description ends , p. 221–246; Aleine Austin, Matthew Lyon: “New Man” of the Democratic Revolution, 1749–1822, University Park, Penn., 1981, p. 110; ANB description begins John A. Garraty, Mark C. Carnes, and Paul Betz, eds., American National Biography, New York, 1999–2002; 24 vols. plus supplement; rev. edn., description ends ).

5Shaw accurately quoted the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 27 Dec. 1798, which alleged that there was considerable nepotism within the U.S. government. The newspaper similarly criticized cabinet members James McHenry, Oliver Wolcott Jr., and Timothy Pickering.

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