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Abigail Adams Smith to John Adams, 29 April 1794

Abigail Adams Smith to John Adams

New-York, April 29th, 1794.

My Dear Father:

Your letter of the 21st of March, has lain by me some time.1   *  *  *  * 

The prospect of a war alarms me much; many persons express their apprehensions respecting the safety of this town in particular— supposing that in case of a war, it would be of great consequence for the British to have possession of it, and presuming they will attempt to invade it; but I hope they will find other objects to engage their attention, and that we shall be permitted to enjoy peace, however little we may merit its continuance.

Our fortifications do not proceed with much rapidity. I cannot but lament that the Baron Steuben has been wholly unnoticed; he would have considered it as complimentary, if he had been appointed to superintend the buildings, and I believe would be allowed by the best judges, to be as capable of the business as those who are honoured with the attentions of the President.2

I hope Congress will not continue in session until the approach of the hot weather, or, if they are obliged to, that they will adjourn out of that uncomfortable city. I shall be distressed from an apprehension of the return of the fever.

Do you, my dear sir, flatter yourself with the idea, that the mission of Mr. Jay will secure to us the blessings of peace? He is to carry the olive branch in one hand, and the sword of defence in the other. I wish the former may soothe, and the latter strike them with terror; but I fear that we are too incapable of exciting their apprehensions on the subject of self-interest; and until they find us necessary to their prosperity, they will not pay us much respect. I not only wish the cause prosperity, but I wish Mr. Jay, individually, success. I confess I do not feel very sanguine upon the subject.

From the debates in the British Parliament, we find that the opposition make honourable mention of our government, and of the President’s measures; but the opposition does not gain much strength or many numbers, and there are so many persons interested in the support of their government, that the minister is generally sure of carrying his points.3

Will you be so good as to let me know when you think it probable that you shall return?

Yours, affectionately,

A. Smith.

MS not found. Printed from AA2, Jour. and Corr., description begins Journal and Correspondence of Miss Adams, Daughter of John Adams, … Edited by Her Daughter [Caroline Amelia (Smith) de Windt], New York and London, 1841– [1849]; 3 vols. description ends 2:131–132.

1Not found.

2In early March a committee submitted a report to the House of Representatives listing those ports and harbors that “ought to be put in a state of defence,” including New York City. On 20 March Congress approved “An act to provide for the defence of certain ports and harbors in the United States,” which authorized money for the fortification of those ports under the president’s direction. Several French engineers were appointed to oversee this work. Baron von Steuben, who had written around the same time an “Opinion on a Proper System of Defense of the City and Harbour of New York,” was instead appointed by the New York State legislature to supervise the building of forts in the western part of the state (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 3d Cong., 1st sess., p. 479–480, 1423–1424; J. E. Kaufmann and H. W. Kaufmann, Fortress America: The Forts That Defended America 1600 to the Present, Cambridge, 2004, p. 142–143; 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. 379, 391).

3On 21 Jan. King George III gave his address at the opening of Parliament justifying the necessity of war with France. In response, John Henry Petty, Earl Wycombe, suggested that the British, “so far from rushing on with avidity to the contest, we might have, like America, avoided, and like her enjoyed in its stead, all the benefits of a neutral situation against contending powers.” Wycombe, however, was in the minority. A proposed amendment by Charles James Fox in the Commons encouraging the king to open negotiations for peace with the French as soon as possible was defeated by a vote of 277 to 59; a similar amendment in the Lords likewise failed by a wide margin (Parliamentary Hist., description begins The Parliamentary History of England, from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803, London, 1806–1820; 36 vols. description ends 30:1045–1047, 1062–1286; New York Daily Advertiser, 26 April; Clive Emsley, Britain and the French Revolution, Harlow, Eng., 2000, p. 25–26).

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