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John Adams to Abigail Adams, 4 December 1796

John Adams to Abigail Adams

Philadelphia December 4. 1796

My dearest Friend

After Spending a Day and a Night at East Chester with our Children there and another at Newyork with our Children there I came to this City on Fryday night after a cold ride of 80 miles from Elizabeth Town. There are great Complaints of Want of Water for grinding, for Cattle and for Families through the whole Country.

Yesterday I dined with the President in Company with John Watts the King of the Cherokees with a large Number of his Chiefs and their Wives—among the rest the Widow and Children of Hanging Maw a famous Friend of ours who was basely murdered by Some White People. The President dined four Setts of Indians on four several Days the last Week.1

The French Manoeuvres have gained the Votes of Pensilvania and how many others is unknown. The Election will be a meagre one and I shall not envy it.

I shewed the Letters of Mr J. Q. A. to the President who told me that Things appeared to him exactly as they did to his Minister. To Day he has Sent me a Letter to him from Mr T. Paine dated at Paris 20 of September 1795 which he Said was the most insulting Letter he ever recd.

Paine accuses the President of Connivance at his Imprisonment in France thinks he ought to have interposed in his behalf and reclaim’d him.

“I ought not to have Suspected you of Treachery, but I must continue to think you treacherous, till you give me cause to think otherwise. I am Sure you would have found yourself more at your Ease, if you had acted by me as you ought, for whether your Desertion of me was intended to gratify the English Government, or to let me fall into Destruction in France, that you might exclaim the louder against the French Revolution, or whether you hoped by my Extinction to meet with less opposition in mounting up the American Government, either of these will involve you in Reproach you will not easily shake off.” These are his Words.2

I am told that Mr Pride of Virginia who had the Duel with Mr Carpenter in England went over to France and has return’d to America and brought Packetts and Letters for Mr Jefferson Mr Madison, Mr Giles & Mr Bache, as well as for the Sec. of State.3

Mr Paines long threatned Pamphlet against the President it is Supposed is Arrived and Mr Bache is to publish it, in the form of a Letter to George Washington. It is even Said that a Patent is to be obtained for the exclusive Priviledge of publishing it.4

Whether the French Directory have only been drawn in, to favour the Election of a Favourite, or whether in their Trances and Deliriums of Victory they think to terrify America, or whether in their Sallies they may not venture on Hostilities time will discover. Americans must, be cool and Steady if they can. Some of our People may be cured or their extravagant Love, and shaken in their unlimited Confidence. The French Character whether under Monarchical or Republican Government is not the most equitable, nor the least assuring of all Nations. The Fire, Impetuosity, and Vehemence of their Temperament is apt to be violent, immoderate and extravagant. The Passions are always outragious. A Frenchman in Love, must shoot himself or succeed— A Frenchman in Anger must shed the Blood of his Object, and so of the rest.

I hope We shall make two Houses tomorrow.5

My Duty to my Mother and Love to all

J. A

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mrs A”; endorsed: “December 4th / 1796.”

1John Watts (1752?–1802) and Hanging Maw (d. 1796) were both war leaders of the Cherokees, though Watts represented the Lower Cherokees, who took a more militant stance against the U.S. government, while Hanging Maw served the Upper Cherokees and favored negotiation with the United States. Watts came to Philadelphia in December in an attempt to get the government to enforce boundaries established by the 1785 Treaty of Hopewell.

Hanging Maw was not killed in an attack but had died, apparently peacefully, in April 1796. His wife, however, had been injured by white settlers in an earlier attack on their home in which several other “well disposed Indians” were killed. Hanging Maw’s widow petitioned Congress on 17 Jan. 1797 for compensation for this and other attacks. The committee that reviewed the petition determined that although it supported “small pecuniary interpositions” for Native Americans as a means of keeping the peace on the frontier, it was the responsibility of the executive branch to handle the matter (ANB; description begins John A. Garraty, Mark C. Carnes, and Paul Betz, eds., American National Biography, New York, 1999–2002; 24 vols. plus supplement; rev. edn., description ends Stewart Kentucky Herald, 11 Oct. 1796; Robert J. Conley, The Cherokee Nation: A History, Albuquerque, N.M., 2005, p. 73, 78–79; Amer. State Papers, 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 4:406, 621).

2George Washington’s cover letter to JA, enclosing the letter from Thomas Paine to Washington of 20 Sept. 1795, has not been found. Paine’s letter was among those published in his Letter to George Washington, President of the United States of America, on Affairs Public and Private, Phila., 1796, p. 29–31, 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, 1903–1959; 14 vols. description ends No. 30951. JA accurately summarizes the contents and quotes from the final paragraph of the letter.

3John Pride and William Fountleroy Carpenter, both young men from Virginia, fought a duel in London’s Hyde Park on 21 Aug. 1796 after arguing about the character of William Branch Giles and the merits of the Jay Treaty. Carpenter died from his wounds on 22 Aug. (Philadelphia Gazette of the United States, 12 Oct.; Gentleman’s Magazine, 66:709 [Aug. 1796]).

4Benjamin Franklin Bache secured a copyright to publish Paine’s Letter to George Washington, a collection of letters accusing Washington of being “treacherous in private friendship” and “a hypocrite in public life” but also condemning JA as one of the “disguised traitors that call themselves federalists” (p. 11–12, 63; Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 12 Dec.).

5The 2d session of the 4th Congress was held from 5 Dec. 1796 to 3 March 1797. The House achieved quorum on 5 Dec. 1796 while the Senate did so the following day (Biog. Dir. Cong. description begins Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–1989, Washington, D.C., 1989; rev. edn., description ends ; 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., 2d sess., p. 1518, 1590).

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