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Abigail Adams to William Smith, 28 February 1798

Abigail Adams to William Smith

Philadelphia Febry 28 1798

my Dear Sir

We now have the appearence of some fine weather our Rivers are open, but our Roads are all like what we experienced when we came through the Jersis in April last. I begin to look towards my Native state with a wish to be early there, which I fear will not be seconded by Congress, for tho many of them are distresst at the manner this session has heitherto been wasted, yet they cannot controul those who wish to make long speeches, and upon subjects which have been canvassed and upon which nothing new; which is not absurd can be offerd. the shamefull buisness respecting Lyon ought not to have occupied as many hours, as it did days—but not content with performing so little, they are Spinning a mere Penolipean Webb not with such pure motives as actuated that Virtuous Lady, for she destroyd the works of the day, by night to preserve her honour and her integrity.1 Congress have already repeald a Law respecting foreign coins which they past last sessions, and now are repealing the stamp act, and that before any experiment is made to see what might be the result,2 at a time too, when Revenue is wanted for to defend the southern states against the Indians, to form new treaties to purchase their lands. Money is also calld for to put the forts & garisons in repair by Charlstown s C. Money is calld for to assist in compleating the Solitary buildings in the Federal city.3 commerce is distrest, unable to yeald the Revenue which has heretofore been so productive yet every measure which can aid or protect that, is bellowd against as a declaration of War—and mr Giles declares that he would if he could, destroy every tax throughout the united states. this is the method by which he would pay his adoration to the sovereign People— our Envoys have been near six months in Paris, but to this hour not a line has been received from them, not with standing the bold assertion of Plain truth in the Chronical, and I challenge him for his proof. I have not a doubt that their dispatches have been intercepted if any have been sent, or that they are so situated that they cannot communicate in either case it is very dissagreable—

I do not see by your papers that you have followd the lead of the Metropolis of the united states, and celebrated the Birthday of a truly Great and Good Private citizen—or so far fortogtton what belongs to the Character of the Head of your Nation, as to call upon him to attend the Birth Night of Gen Washington. In what light would such a step be looked upon by foreign Nations? the President the chief Majestrate of an independant Nation, placing himself in a secondary Character, celebrating Birth Nights, not of a President, but a Private citizen? yet these wise judicious people cannot find out the Reason why the President declined to accept their invitation. some of their Masters of the Ceremonies were polite enough to publish in Baches paper the inclosed Scrap the morning of the Ball, but they defeated their own plans.4 as soon as it was known, it went through the city like an Electrical shock—and the Ball was meager enough, so much so, that tho it was by subscription I have heard but 15 Ladies were present. not a lisp of it has appeard in one of their News papers. there were a number of persons who were not subscribers who went and I suppose came under Baches denomination of shop keepers— if the Chronical should undertake to publish any thing upon the subject, I hope some persons will represent it in its true light. it most assuredly was not any want of Respect and Regard to Genll Washington he himself would have done the same in like circumstances Witness his refusal to dine with Gov Handcok, after the dinner had been purposely prepared and the company invited he would not subject the Character of the chief Head of the Government to state soverignty5

what I write to you is in confidence that I shall not be brought as an Authority. one thing I think I ought to say, I have heard that there is a design to shift this matter off upon the Vice President, but in Justice to him, he had no hand in it further than to subscribe to it, being told that the President would certainly attend. when he found that he would not go, he refused also, this I am sure of so that let no more be laid upon him than he deserves.6 I wish he always conducted with as much propriety— the Philadelphians drew in the N yorkers in order to keep them in Countanance, and that after the President had refused. adieu my paper say I must only add / yours &c

A A—7

RC and enclosure (MHi:Smith-Carter Family Papers).

1Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, was pressured to marry a local noble in her husband’s absence. She pretended she must first weave a shroud for her father-in-law, and every night for ten years she unraveled her day’s work in order to delay the marriage (Oxford Classical Dicy. description begins Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, eds., The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d edn., New York, 1996. description ends ).

2On 9 Feb. 1793 Congress passed a law regulating foreign coins, the second section of which stated that in three years “all foreign gold coins, and all foreign silver coins, except Spanish milled dollars … shall cease to be a legal tender.” On 22 July 1797 JA announced that in conformity with the law, all foreign silver coins (except Spanish milled dollars) would cease to be legal tender on 15 Oct., and all foreign gold coins would cease to be legal tender on 31 July 1798. On 13 Dec. 1797 a House committee submitted their report on necessary alterations to the act, noting that very little U.S. specie had made its way to the interior of the country and that it would be impossible to mint enough coinage by the required date to replace all foreign coins currently in circulation. On 24 Dec. the House passed an act suspending the second section of the 1793 law, relating to foreign coins, for three years; the Senate passed the bill on 17 Jan. 1798.

A stamp tax had been passed by Congress in July 1797 and was intended to take effect in December; however, on 11 Dec. the secretary of the treasury presented a report to the House stating that it would be “impossible to provide the necessary machinery, dies, &c.” to carry the act into effect by 1 Jan. 1798, and he recommended that implementation be delayed until 1 July. On 28 Feb. the House voted to repeal the act, but the same day the Senate “resolved that the bill for repealing the Stamp Act should not pass” (Amer. State Papers, Finance description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–1861; 38 vols. description ends , 2:197; 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., 2d sess., p. 489, 692–693, 717, 721–722, 758, 1097–1098; 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 , 1:527–532).

3On 17 Jan. JA recommended that Congress appropriate funds to defray the expenses of concluding a treaty with the Cherokee Nation, and on 26 Jan. Thomas Pinckney submitted a bill to the House for that purpose. The bill, which passed the House on 30 Jan. and the Senate on 21 Feb., provided up to $25,880 “to defray the expense of holding a treaty” (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., 2d sess., p. 842, 930–931, 953, 1058–1060, 3708).

On 5 Feb. JA presented materials to Congress submitted by Gov. Charles Pinckney of South Carolina detailing French depredations along the Charleston coast. On 10 April Samuel Sewall presented an appropriations bill “for the protection of the ports and harbors of the United States.” The bill passed the House on the 12th and the Senate on the 27th. Construction on Fort Moultrie in Charleston harbor, which had stopped in 1795 due to a lack of funds, was subsequently completed. Charleston residents supplemented federal funding, thus gaining a credit toward the state’s debt to the United States (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., 2d sess., p. 550, 963–964, 1384, 1402, 3726; J. E. Kaufmann and H. W. Kaufmann, Fortress America: The Forts that Defended America 1600 to the Present, Cambridge, 2004, p. 144). For a previous discussion on fortifying ports and harbors, see CA to JQA, 8 June 1797, and note 1, above.

On 23 Feb. 1798 JA presented a memorial from the Washington, D.C., commissioners asking Congress for additional funds. The House passed a bill on 20 March approving a loan for completing the construction of government buildings; the bill passed the Senate on 12 April. The loan authorized $100,000, of which half would be disbursed in 1798 and the remainder in 1799 (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., 2d sess., p. 539, 1063, 1275, 3722). For a previous discussion of the commissioners’ monetary requests, see William Cranch to AA, 21 Nov. 1797, note 7, above.

4The enclosure was from the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 23 Feb. 1798, for which see AA to Mary Smith Cranch, 15 Feb., and note 4, above.

5In Oct. 1789 George Washington, during a visit to New England, was escorted by Lt. Gov. Samuel Adams but not Gov. John Hancock. Washington noted the slight in his diary: “Having engaged yesterday to take an informal dinner with the Govr. to day (but under a full persuation that he would have waited upon me so soon as I should have arrived) I excused myself upon his not doing it.” That evening Hancock sent messengers to Washington “to express the Govrs. Concern that he had not been in a condition to call upon me so soon as I came to Town. I informed them in explicit terms that I should not see the Govr. unless it was at my own lodgings.” The following day Hancock visited Washington, claiming “that he was still indisposed; but as it had been suggested that” the governor “expected to receive the visit from the President, which he knew was improper, he was resolved at all hazds. to pay his Compliments to day” (Washington, Diaries description begins The Diaries of George Washington, ed. Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, Charlottesville, Va., 1976–1979; 6 vols. description ends , 5:473–476).

6On 2 Feb. 1798 Thomas Jefferson purchased a ticket to attend Washington’s birthday celebration, but on the 23d he wrote to Thomas Willing, one of the organizers of the ball, hoping that “his non-attendance will not be misconstrued,” as he had “not been at a ball these twenty years, nor for a long time permitted himself to go to any entertainments of the evening, from motives of attention to health” (Jefferson, Papers description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 30:112, 132).

7AA had previously written to William Smith, on 22 Feb., enclosing a letter for Dorothy Quincy Hancock Scott and requesting him to send “two more quontal of fish” (MHi: Smith-Carter Family Papers).

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