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William Smith Shaw to Abigail Adams, 20 May 1798

William Smith Shaw to Abigail Adams

Cambridge May 20th 1798

My dear Aunt

Saturday April 21st, I received yours of the 9th. I wrote to you the 1st of April in answer to yours of March 20th, which before this you must have received, and shall always esteem my letters of inestimable value, so long as they purchase yours. The excellent pamphlet you sent me I thank you. The sentiment it contains—the spirit with which it is written prove to me, that the author possesses American blood enough to feel, and American emphasis enough to pronounce the insults of a rapacious, bloody and tyrannical nation. His observations on imigration were to me pecularly pleasing, and interesting because I believe the grand cause of all our present difficulties may be traced to this source—to so many hordes of Foreigners imigrating to America.1 I believe the English government will not allow any alien to be capable of receiving any office whatever. We shall not I am afraid continue long independent as citizens and as a nation, unless we speedily enact some such law. Let us no longer pray, that America may be become an asylum to all nations, but let us encourage [. . .] own men & cultivate our simple manners. Let us, like the silk worm, weave the web From our own bowels, & leaving Europeans, their manufactures, fashions and vices to themselves, pursue our own true interest.

With or before this the President will receive the adress of the collegians. As soon as it was drawn up 170 immediately signed it as fast as we could write our names. There are about 190 students belonging to college.— the greater part who did not sign it were out of town.2 Although the address to the President is expressed in the strongest possible terms, still “words do but wrong, the gratitude we owe him.”3 We know his firmness and independance.

“Tis like a rock besieged in vain by oceans

Tis like the polar ice built high to heaven

On which the sun with ineffectual flame

Plays For a six months day.”4

We anxiously wait For an answer5

Please to write soon.

I have written this letter in a great hurry, Please to excuse its errors &c. & believe my hand to be the agent of my heart, when I subscribe myself, your ever affectionate nephew

Wm S Shaw.

When does congress rise?

I have opened my letter, my dear aunt, to tell you of what I cannot bear to write, & what I still hope is not true, that Dr. Welsh is shut up.

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “Mrs. Abigail Adams / Philadelphia”; endorsed: “William Shaw 20 / May—” Some loss of text where the seal was removed.

1For AA’s letters to Shaw of 20 March and 9 April and Shaw’s letter of 2 April, see vol. 12:456–457, 476–478, 480. With her letter of 9 April, AA sent Shaw Joseph Hopkinson’s What Is Our Situation? And What Our Prospects?, 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. 33904, in which the author claimed that the “antagonists” to the federal government met with “few proselytes in this country” but instead found “recruits on the annual supplies of imported patriots,” watching “eagerly from the wharves for the gangs of discontented and factious emigrants that flock in from all parts of the world, and catch them eagerly to their fraternal embraces” (p. 25–26). See also vol. 12:486.

2Harvard College students in their address to JA pledged to fight for their country against France: “Our lives are our only property; and we were not the sons of those who sealed our liberties with their blood, if we would not defend with these lives that soil, which now affords a peaceful grave to the mouldering bones of our forefathers” (Patriotic Addresses description begins A Selection of the Patriotic Addresses, to the President of the United States. Together with the President’s Answers, Boston, 1798, Evans, No. 33345. description ends , p. 102–103).

3Thomas Otway, The Orphan; or, The Unhappy Marriage, A Tragedy, Act II, scene i, line 89.

4Charles Symmons, Inez, a Tragedy, London, 1796, p. 95.

5JA’s 25 May reply to the Harvard address praised the college and the “accuracy, perspicuity, and beauty” of the students’ words. He also called upon them to preserve themselves from disgrace and concluded, “Your youthful blood has boiled, and it ought to boil. You need not, however, be discouraged. If your cause should require defence in arms, your country will have armies and navies, in which you may secure your own honor, and advance the power, prosperity, and glory of your contemporaries and posterity” (Massachusetts Mercury, 5 June; Patriotic Addresses description begins A Selection of the Patriotic Addresses, to the President of the United States. Together with the President’s Answers, Boston, 1798, Evans, No. 33345. description ends , p. 104–105).

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