Adams Papers

Thomas Boylston Adams to John Adams, 30 October 1792

Thomas Boylston Adams to John Adams

Philadelphia Octr: 30th: 1792,

My dear sir,

Your kind favor of the 11th: reached me some time since.1 The reasons you assign for delaying your journey to Philada: would be sufficient to satisfy me, but I have been particularly requested by several of your warmest Friends, to mention that your determination may be viewed in a different point of light by those who seek occasions & opportunities to injure you or your cause. It has become a matter of pretty general enquiry why the VP—is not to be here at the first of the Session, and it is feared that your final resolution concerning your journey hither, is only to be decided by the event of the Election. There has been such a spirit discovered in this, & the Southern States within a few months past, that the Friends & advocates of the present state of things, feel themselves extreemly alarmed; and one of their principal reasons for wishing your presence as soon as possible at the head of the Senate, is the weight which your influence may have, to counteract the progress of dangerous measures. A single vote taken from any of the Eastern States, at this particular juncture, is thought to be of great consequence in the Political Ballance; especially as at this Session, a Reinforcement is expected from Kentucky.2

The dreadful scenes now acting in France, and the universal anarchy which appears to prevail, has excited terrors even in the breasts of the warmest enthousiasts for Revolution; and the justice of your principles with respect to Government begin to be openly acknowledged, tho’ they have long been silently seen.

’Tis said to be your happy fate to be the most obnoxious character in the United States, to a certain party, (whose hatred & opposition is the glory of every honest man) who for a long time have considered you as the first barrier to be removed in order to the success of their designs. If this be true, the necessity of your presence at this time will appear more striking than ever, as ’tis thought every exertion will be made on their part the coming Session to embarrass the most important measures, and even to subvert some that have allready received sanction. You will recollect that all the momentous questions which were agitated in Senate last session, were finally decided by the casting vote, and altho’ upon some accounts it may not be a very pleasing reflection, that the President of the Senate must necessarily encounter the Odium of half the Assembly in the honest discharge of his duty, yet there is some consolation to be derived from the involuntary veneration which that firmness of conduct must inspire, even in the breasts of those he may disappoint.3

The open opposition to the excise Law in the back parts of this State, has occasioned much anxiety to the President of the U, S,. His Proclamation has been treated with contempt, and some publications in the Pittsburgh Gazett have gone so far as to defy any attempts to enforce the law.4

Your goodness will I hope excuse [the] liberty I have taken in suggesting these inducements [in] hastening your Journey. If they appear to you of the same consequence as to those at whose request I have communicated them, I shall feel happy in having complyed with their desires; if not, I hope you will attribute it to the interest I feel in every thing that appears particularly to relate to you or your Office.

I have not yet been able to procure accomodations for your Reception; but hope to do it in a few days. Mr. & Mrs: Otis have made a very obliging offer of a Room in their House, but no exertion on my part shall be wanting to procure the appartments mentioned in your letter.

Presenting my best love to the Family at Quincy and all other friends

I subscribe myself your dutiful / Son

Thos B Adams

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “The Vice President of the U,S, / Quincy / near / Boston”; internal address: “The Vice President of the U,S,”; endorsed: “T. B. Adams / Octr. 30. 1792 / ansd Nov. 14. / recd 13.” Some loss of text where the seal was removed.

1Not found.

2Kentucky, which became a state on 1 June, sent two senators for the second session of the 2d Congress: John Edwards and John Brown, both of whom attended the Senate for the first time on 5 November. Edwards (1748–1837) had served in the Va. House of Delegates and helped to frame Kentucky’s state constitution. Brown (1757–1837), a lawyer, had represented Kentucky in the Va. senate and had also previously served as a congressional representative from Virginia from 1789 to 1792 (Biog. Dir. Cong. description begins Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–1989, Washington, 1989. description ends ).

3While most of the Senate’s deliberations were secret, the Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States [1789–1824], Washington, 1834–1856; 42 vols. description ends indicate that JA cast deciding votes on several procedural motions related to the bills for apportioning representatives and for conveying land to the Ohio Company (2d Cong., 1st sess., p. 47, 49–50, 51, 123–124).

4Although Congress had passed into law a tax bill that included an excise on distilled liquor in March 1791, no one attempted to enforce it in western Pennsylvania until Aug. 1792. People in that region, as well as in many other areas of the country, had been and remained strongly opposed to the law. They argued that the excise disproportionately affected those who lived in the western parts of the United States and laborers and the poor, primary consumers of domestic spirits. Opposition to the excise took a variety of forms, including petitions, assemblies, and occasionally violence, and would grow into what became known as the Whiskey Rebellion by 1794.

By fall of 1792, Alexander Hamilton’s concern at the continuing opposition to the excise—especially resolutions by a Pittsburgh assembly calling for “every other legal measure that may obstruct the operation of the law, until we are able to obtain its total repeal”—led him to push for the use of the military to enforce it. While he could not convince the rest of George Washington’s administration to support military action at that time, he did convince Washington to issue a proclamation, dated 15 Sept., decrying the “violent and unwarantable proceedings” and directing “all courts, magistrates and officers” to take appropriate action to enforce the law (Thomas P. Slaughter, The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution, N.Y., 1986, p. 105, 109–124; Philadelphia Federal Gazette, 25 Sept.).

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