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John Adams to Abigail Adams, 19 March 1796

John Adams to Abigail Adams

Philadelphia March 19. 1796

My Dearest Friend

We have a Turn of Weather as cold as any We have had through the whole Winter. The Violence of the North West Wind which has thrown down Chimneys and blown off Roofs in this City, We suppose has prevented the Eastern Mail from crossing the North River and deprived me of my Thursdays Letter as yet. I hope it will come to day.

A Thousand and one Speeches have been made in the H. of Reps. upon the Motion for petitioning the P. for Papers. Twenty complete Demonstrations have been made of the Constitutionality of it, and twenty more of its Unconstitutionality. Ten of its Expediency and as many of its Inexpediency, five of its Utility and the same number of its Inutility. After all they will ask and receive—and then lash and maul a while and then do the needful.1 I dined on the 17th with the friendly sons of st. Patrick2 and to day I dine with Rush. Judge Cushing departs this Morning and Mrs Cushing will call upon you. Elsworth embarks in a day or two for S. C. & Georgia.3 We have a Party Business from Kentucky: a Strange Complaint as Mr Marshall—which oblige is Us to sit to day a saturday4 I regret this, because it is too exhausting to me to sit so constantly. My Task is pretty severe, especially in cold Weather.—

This Wind will delay Intelligence from Europe for ten days or a fortnight.

Liancourt is going with Elsworth and Tallerand talks of embarking for Hambourgh.5

Having no Horse and reading more & walking less than Usual I am solicitous about my health.—

The Birds in Numbers and Vanity began to sing and the grass to grow green before this last Gripe of Queen Mab. The poor Birds have hard times now.—

The two Miss Daltons have been here all Winter. I delivered Your Message to Mrs Green & General Wayne.

I cannot see a ray of Hope, before June— If the House should be frenzical We must sit till next March and leave it to the People to decide by choosing a new President senate & House, who will harmoniously go all lengths, call George a Tyrant to his face the English Nation Pyrates break the Treaty enter into an alliance offensive with France & go to War, with spirit, Consistency & Dignity.

But I believe the House will adopt the Language which says that the Just keep their Promisiss though they have made them to [this trust?] and that they must make the best of a bad bargain and come off thus as well as they can by abusing Jay President & senate and Treaty without pretending to annul it.—

Hi! Ho! Oh Dear! I am most / tenderly

J. A.

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mrs A”; endorsed: “March 19 1796.”

1On 2 March Edward Livingston presented a resolution to the House of Representatives “That the President of the United States be requested to lay before this House a copy of the instructions given to the Minister of the United States who negotiated the Treaty with Great Britain … together with the correspondence and other documents relative to the said Treaty.” Debate on the resolution began on 7 March with numerous members speaking at great length on the subject. On 24 March the House finally approved the resolution, and it was sent to George Washington the following day. On 30 March Washington presented a written response to the House arguing that such foreign negotiations required secrecy, and that “a just regard to the Constitution and to the duty of my office … forbid a compliance with your request.” The House began debating a response to Washington’s message on 6 April; the next day it approved a resolution reiterating its right “to deliberate on the expediency or inexpediency of carrying such Treaty into effect” (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 4th Cong., 1st sess., p. 400–401, 426, 759–762, 769, 771, 782–783). For the entirety of the debate, see Annals, p. 424–783.

2The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick had been established in 1771 in Philadelphia but by the 1790s had begun to fade as an organization. It was gradually replaced by the Hibernian Society for the Relief of Emigrants from Ireland, founded in 1790. JA likely attended the anniversary dinner of this latter organization, which took place on 17 March 1796 at the Harp and Crown Tavern. The Sons of St. Patrick did have a small gathering on the same date at a private home, but no guests were recorded as having attended (John H. Campbell, History of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and of the Hibernian Society for the Relief of Emigrants from Ireland, Phila., 1892, p. 33, 60–61; Philadelphia American Daily Advertiser, 26 March).

3Oliver Ellsworth was setting out to attend the southern circuit of the federal courts in his new position as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (William Garrott Brown, The Life of Oliver Ellsworth, N.Y., 1905, p. 238).

4On 26 Feb. the Senate received material requesting that it investigate Sen. Humphrey Marshall of Kentucky for charges of perjury. A memorial printed in Kentucky in Feb. 1795 had made the original accusation against Marshall, but a case was never formally brought against him. The governor and representatives of Kentucky thus requested that the Senate pursue it. Marshall concurred in the request, presumably to allow for his name to be cleared of the accusation, which had circulated publicly but never been adjudicated. The matter, initially referred to a senatorial committee, was taken up by the whole Senate on 14 March 1796. Debate continued over several days, including Saturday, 19 March. On 22 March the Senate adopted a report arguing that in the absence of any formal charge, prosecutor, or evidence, and lacking jurisdiction, “any further inquiry by the Senate would be improper” (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 4th Cong., 1st sess., p. 47–49, 51–60).

5François Alexandre Frédéric, Duc de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, was traveling throughout the United States for his eventual publication, Travels through the United States of North America, 2 vols., London, 1799. He and Ellsworth took the same ship from Philadelphia to Charleston, leaving on 24 March and arriving six days later. The duke spent three weeks in South Carolina, then moved on to Georgia before returning to Charleston in early May (Travels, 1:552–553, 593, 618).

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord had decided to leave the United States for Hamburg by March but did not actually embark, on the Danish ship Den Nye Prove, until mid-June. He reached Hamburg at the end of July (David Lawday, Napoleon’s Master: A Life of Prince Talleyrand, London, 2006, p. 87; Philadelphia Gazette of the United States, 13 June).

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