Abigail Adams to Cotton Tufts
New York, Jan’ry 17, 1790.
I think our dear state makes full use of the liberty of the press, but they who write for the benefit of mankind whether learned or unlearned will always find more utility in reasoning than writing; I am led to these observations by several pieces, some in Edes paper, that fountain of Sedition, and a piece in Adams paper signed “a New England man.”1 This same writer and many others will find their hands full, whenever the systems and plans of the Secretary of the Treasury come before them. Many copies are ordered to be printed. They are not yet published, but are spoken of by many members of the House, as a performance which does much honour to the abilities of the Secretary.2 The two Houses are going on upon business and are now pretty full. The House condescended to go in a body to the President with their answer to his speech, tho’ many of them warmly opposed it, yet as the Senate, with their president at their Head, had done it, they did not know how very well to get over it. But the Senate all rode, & how should they look on foot with a rabble after them splashing through the mud, & this objection was obviated, by a member proposing that the Hackney men should be sent, to supply those with carriages, who had not them of their own.
“Then it looks so monarchial,” to go to the president, that they had best send a committee first to know when & where he would receive their answer, this was done, and the president returned for answer, that as the Senate had come to him, he could not think proper to make a distinction, besides it was the usage & custom of particular states to send answers to speeches made them by their Governours, & he would not wish to make innovations, and this polite answer being reported, a member moved that as the president had been so very delicate upon the subject, he would not any longer oppose the House going, so the Mountain went to Mahomet, and in style too.
Their Sergeant at Arms preceeded the carriage of the Speaker, bearing his maise before on horse back & carriages followed. Thus this mighty business was accomplished. Pray do not tell anybody from whence you get this story, I dare say it will not be entered upon the journals.3
The Ancient Ballad & the Hartford News Boys New Years Address should be bound up together, let those feel the rod who deserve it. Mac Fingal has not yet lost his talent at satire.4
I suppose Boston is not behind hand with New York in speculation. I have thought whether it would not be best to sell the indents & purchase certificates.5 I suppose they have risen with you, they are seven & six pence here, indents I mean. The little matter you have belonging to me I wish you to dispose of as you would of your own property to the best advantage by changing or selling according to your judgment. The small pitance distributed to the widows is but a mite, my Heart is much larger than my purse and I think I should experience a great pleasure and satisfaction if I could make the Fatherless and widows heart sing for joy. I wish you to order Pratt to carry to Mrs. Palmer a couple of loads of wood, it will be necessary to have fires in all the chimneys in the course of the winter and I wish to give her two cords of wood in that way, for several reasons, and you will order it done in the manner you think best.
My best regards to Mrs. Tufts, to all other friends, will you be so good as to give Mrs. Hunt a dollar on my account.
Sir your very / Affectionate Niece
MS not found. Printed from Walter R. Benjamin, ed., The Collector, 26:86–87 (June 1913).
1. Benjamin Edes’ Boston Gazette, which enjoyed great prestige during the Revolution but suffered a gradual decline in the 1790s, was a strongly Antifederalist and then Republican publication. AA probably refers here to items in the 11 Jan. 1790 issue, including the reprinting of a portion of JA’s “Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law” defending freedom of the press, first published in the Gazette years before, with a preamble noting, “the manly, and truly democratic sentiments they contain, entitles them to the notice of every consistent Republican. How far they correspond with recent opinions privately and publicly advanced by certain great Characters, the candid must declare. . . . The comparison may at least amuse your readers, and perhaps, may be a lesson to the very learned, and ‘Most Honorable’ Author.” For JA’s “Dissertation,” see Papers, 1:103–128.
Thomas Adams’ thriving Boston Independent Chronicle was similarly partisan. The piece signed “a New-England man,” from the 7 Jan. issue, contended that, taxed by the federal government, Americans would “suffer the insults and abuse which the peasants in a government of despotism, are constantly experiencing.” The author asked, “Is the aggrandizing of a few . . . and fatening with exorbitant salaries, those who are near the throne of despotism, what you suffered to purchase?” (Stewart, Opposition Press description begins Donald H. Stewart, The Opposition Press of the Federalist Period, Albany, 1969. description ends , p. 616; Jeffrey L. Pasley, “The Tyranny of Printers”: Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic, Charlottesville, Va., 2001, p. 107–108).
2. Alexander Hamilton presented his “Report of the Secretary of the Treasury on the Public Credit” to the House of Representatives on 14 January. The House ordered that 300 copies of the document be printed and resolved to open debate on the subject in two weeks’ time (First Fed. Cong. description begins Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789 – March 3, 1791, ed. Linda Grant De Pauw, Charlene Bangs Bickford, Helen E. Veit, William C. diGiacomantonio, and Kenneth R. Bowling, Baltimore, 1972–. description ends , 3:263; 5:743). For the text of the report, see First Fed. Cong. description begins Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789 – March 3, 1791, ed. Linda Grant De Pauw, Charlene Bangs Bickford, Helen E. Veit, William C. diGiacomantonio, and Kenneth R. Bowling, Baltimore, 1972–. description ends , 5:743–777.
3. According to the journal of the House of Representatives, the members of the House waited on George Washington at his home on 14 Jan. to deliver their reply to his State of the Union speech. The Senate also visited the president that morning (First Fed. Cong. description begins Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789 – March 3, 1791, ed. Linda Grant De Pauw, Charlene Bangs Bickford, Helen E. Veit, William C. diGiacomantonio, and Kenneth R. Bowling, Baltimore, 1972–. description ends , 1:222; 3:262). The following day, the New York Daily Gazette reported, “Yesterday the Members of the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States went in their carriages, preceded by the Serjeant at Arms on horseback, and presented their Addresses to the President, in answer to his Address to both Houses.”
4. “The Ancient Ballad” probably refers to the poem titled “Fragments of Ancient Ballads,” dated 1 Jan., which appeared in the Massachusetts Centinel, 6 January. An indictment of Gov. John Hancock’s behavior during Washington’s visit to Massachusetts in the fall of 1789, a portion read: “They rais’d a grand Triumphal Arch / With trophies on the top, / And all agreed in form to march / And meet him, when he’d stop. / But then this City govern’d was, / By such a little man. / That he determin’d, ah! alas! / To intercept their plan.” The other piece was likely “The News-Boy’s Address to His Customers,” which appeared in the Connecticut Courant, 7 Jan. 1790. Touching on a number of political subjects, it also alluded to Hancock: “Now states, ’tis clearly proved at Boston, / Their sovereignty should make the most on, / Each State, in governor’s opinion, / At home should rank before the Union; / And should our President but doubt, / We’ll try the reasoning force of gout.” This poem was probably drafted by one of the Connecticut Wits—perhaps, as AA suggests, by John Trumbull, the author of McFingal.
5. For AA’s activities as a bond speculator, see Descriptive List of Illustrations, No. 5, above.