James Madison Papers
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To James Madison from Elbridge Gerry, 12 December 1811

From Elbridge Gerry

Cambridge 12th December 1811

Dear Sir,

The late President Adams communicated to me yesterday, in a friendly interveiw at my house, the enclosed extract of a letter;1 & expressed great apprehension, that if all the propositions, for enforcing the non intercourse act, should be adopted,2 they will overthrow the republican governments of the New England States & make them compleatly federal. The searching houses, as proposed before the repeal of the embargo act,3 produced great excitements in this quarter, & being high ground, was immediately seized by the malecontents to produce a civil war. It will be wise to consider well of the subject, before it is adopted in toto. The above, with the extract, will be considered in a confidential light, & used with precaution.

As there are ten thousand troops to be raised, it is the wish, as far as I am informed, of your friends, & certainly of the one who now addresses You, that our firm & determined friend Governor Hull should have a Brigadier General’s command, if, as it appears to be, consistent with his present office.

I propose to address you soon on the subject of my public greivance, & in the interim remain dear Sir with the highest estimation & respect, your Excellency’s obedt Sert

E. Gerry

RC and enclosure (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers). Docketed by JM, “Decr. 12. & 27 1811.”

1The enclosed two-page extract was from John Quincy Adams’s 30 June 1811 letter to Abigail Adams (see Ford, Writings of J. Q. Adams, 4:126–28), discussing the interest Americans in Europe were taking in the outcome of the Massachusetts state elections. The American minister in St. Petersburg was uncertain whether the Federalist or the Republican candidates had been victorious, but he asked, “Why this extreme anxiety and concern for the Massachusetts Election?” Adams believed there was “much foreign hope and fear involved in these Massachusetts Elections,” mainly because it was in that state that the “federal politicians have got to talk so openly and with such seeming indifference, not to say readiness for a dissolution of the Union” that they seemed “resolute for a little experiment upon the energy of the Union, and its Government.” Adams added that “most of the British States-men now at the helm” considered a war with America “as in the line of wise policy” and that “they and all their partizans calculate boldly and without concealment or disguise upon the co-operation of the Massachusetts federalists.” The election, therefore, was “a touchstone of national principles and upon its issue may depend the question of peace and War between the United States and England.”

Adams assumed that no matter how hostile the British ministry was, its members would never risk war with America “untill they can depend upon an active co-operation with [Federalists], within the United States,” and it was “from the New-England federalists alone that they can … receive it.” Declaring that he had long been familiar with “the projects of the Boston faction against the Union,” Adams warned that they had been seeking since at least 1804 “a pretext and an occasion for avowing the principle.” The people, however, had “never been ready to go with them,” not even during the Embargo. “Mr: Quincy has been at the pains now of furnishing them with a new pretext, which will wear no better than its predecessors,” Adams wrote. The minister then declared his own attachment to the Union and expressed his fear that if the Federalists were “not ultimately put down in Massachusetts as completely as they already are in New York & pennsylvania, & all the Southern & Western States, the Union is gone. Instead of a nation co-extensive with the North American Continent, destined by God & Nature to be the most populous & most powerful People, ever combined under one social compact, we shall have an endless multitude of little insignificant clans and tribes, at eternal War with one another, for a rock or a fish-pond, the Sport & fable of European Masters and oppressors.”

2In accordance with the recommendation made in JM’s 5 Nov. message, committees in both the Senate and the House of Representatives were considering legislation relating to “the evasions and infractions of the commercial laws” (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 12th Cong., 1st sess., 16, 335).

3Gerry referred to section 8 of the Nonintercourse Act of 1 Mar. 1809 which allowed customs and naval officers “to enter any ship or vessel, dwelling-house, store, building or other place, for the purpose of searching for and seizing any such goods, wares and merchandise which he or they now have by law in relation to goods, wares and merchandise subject to duty” (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America … (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends , 2:530).

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