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William Smith Shaw to Abigail Adams, 20 December 1798

William Smith Shaw to Abigail Adams

Philadelphia December 20th Thursday Evening

My dear Aunt.

Notwithstanding my arms are so stiff, that I can scarcely move them, occasioned by cutting venson for twenty eight very hungry men, yet I must write a few lines to my aunt, before I sleep.

We were made very happy this morning by the receipt of your letter of the tenth of Dec to the president. You do not say a single word, whether you have receiveed the newspapers, which I have sent you regularly, every day, since I arrived in the city.

Yesterday we had some indians to visit the president—five large, tall & as well built men as I ever saw.1 I do not know, what Buffon and the Abbey Raynal would have said, had they have been present, to their foolish and absurd hypothesis “that man was belittled in America.[”]2 Their speech was lengthy and full of repetitions. But there were a few sentences which for their simplicity and sentiment struck me very forcibly— they were these. “Brother, Although we are in your house, and sheltered from the cold winds, still we are in the presence of God—from his view we cannot hide ourselves, nor can we deceive him. Every deception will fly directly to his eye.” I have given you the words as well as I can recollect, but not exactly—they were much more beautiful. After presenting to the president great quantities of wampum & the calumet of peace, out of which we all smoaked, and drinking a glass of wine they marched off appearing to be well pleased.

Bache’s paper is carried on with more virulence than ever if it is possible.— they do assert the most abominable and hellish lies you ever heard. they published two or three mornings gone, that they had the pleasure to inform their customers, that a vessel had arrived in the Deleware from France, with commissarys, who had dispatches from the Executive directory to our government, and that they did not doubt that peace and harmony would soon be restored between the two countries.3 When I read and hear of such abominable impudence and wickedness, I am all most compelled to cry with a certain philosophic great man, Oh that I were a dog, that I might not call man my brother.4

A committe from the house of representatives from Pensylvania have waited on the president this evening with a most excellent address, and the president intends gives an excellent answer tomorrow at 12 Oclock.5

Long before this reaches you, you must have received the presidents speech, I want to hear every word that is said in its favor and against it. The jacobins here say that the speech—the answer of the Senate and house are the most moderate they ever remember to have heard.— they dont say much against them. I can tell you the reason. Knowing the firm and intrepid policy which the president has always recommended and pursued and moreover convinced of what ought to be done, the jacobins have thought & I believe expected that a declaration of war between America and France would be recommended by the president and echoed back by the two houses— they are very agreeably disappointed and to be sure they have reason to be pleased.— they can now still pursue their tampering and lullaby policy.

It is most admirable slaying here and excessive cold. Please to remember me respectfully and affectionately to Uncle & aunt Cranch & to give my love to Cousen L—

With affection & respect I am sincerely your

Wm S Shaw

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “W S Shaw Decbr / 20 / 1798.”

1On 19 Dec. JA met with representatives of the Ottawa, Chippewa, and Potawatomi Nations, who represented more than twenty tribes northwest of Detroit that were reputedly “desirous of forming” treaties with the United States. This was the second time JA had met representatives of the tribes; on 4 Dec. they “paid their respects” to JA and George Washington (Baltimore Federal Gazette, 26 Nov.; Philadelphia Daily American Advertiser, 6 Dec.).

2In his Notes on the State of Virginia, Paris, [1785], Thomas Jefferson challenged the claims of both Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, who argued that the climate of the Americas caused the degeneracy of animals as well as Native Americans and transplanted Europeans, and Abbé Guillaume Thomas François Raynal, who criticized the artistic, literary, and scientific capabilities of Americans. Jefferson took issue with Buffon’s and Raynal’s attempts to “belittle” Americans, stating: “In war we have produced a Washington”; “In Physics we have produced a Franklin”; and “As in philosophy and war, so in government, in oratory, in painting, in the plastic art, we might shew that America, though but a child of yesterday, has already given hopeful proofs of genius” (p. 118–124). For JA’s comments on the same authors, see JA, Papers description begins Papers of John Adams, ed. Robert J. Taylor, Gregg L. Lint, and others, Cambridge, 1977–. description ends , 18:45–50, 298–300.

3Possibly the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 14 Dec., which announced that “A French Commissary” arrived in Philadelphia on 13 Dec. “charged with dispatches to our Government.”

4Benjamin Rush, Essays, Literary, Moral & Philosophical, Phila., 1798, 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.; rev. edn., description ends No. 34495, p. 145.

5That day, the Penn. house of representatives submitted an address to JA affirming its support of his leadership and its members’ continued willingness “to co-operate with the General Government” against French and domestic threats. In JA’s 21 Dec. reply he discussed French policy, describing it as “insidious and malevolent.” He also applauded the house’s “Solemn Pledge” to cooperate with Congress to protect “the common Welfare” (both Adams Papers).

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