Adams Papers

Thomas Boylston Adams to Abigail Adams, 10 August 1793

Thomas Boylston Adams to Abigail Adams

Philadelphia Augst: 10th: 1793.

My dear Mother

I ought to have written you from New-York, of my safe arrival there in little more than three days, after a pleasant Journey, with only one constant companion from Boston, who was a French Gentleman now a Merchant in that place— We found the roads remarkably fine, and the Country at 20 Miles distanc from Boston presenting a more favorable appearance. Our journies were between 70 & 80 miles distance each day, & you will readily suppose I wanted no further rocking to lull me to sleep. I found our friends in N.Y—— all well—& as Col Smith was upon a small Jouney in the Country, I was persuaded to wait his return, as he was anxious to hear what account I could give of his wife, with whom he accuses me of having run away

The people of N York many of them are raving mad with French Politicks, & the sober part are asleep—or if awake dare only yawn & gape. The Sea Duel between Bompard & Courtney engrossed all conversation, and the partizans of each are equally imprudent in their behavior— The Coffee-House, proper only for the resort of Merchants, is converted into a den of thieves & Jacobins,1 and the Citizen Mechanicks have deserted their Shops & occupations for the less arduous task of settling the affairs of the Nation. In Philadelphia things have been carried to greater lengths in some respects. The Household of the Citizen Minister have been convicted of conduct, which in any other Country would deserve no other name than Treason, & would probably meet a punishment adequate to that crime. Handbills have been distributed representing the President and Judge Willson with their heads under the Guillotine, and proclaiming their death to the Citizens of Philadelphia on account of the acquittal of Henfield lately tried for entering into the service of France.2 If such things do not destroy our Government it will be because we have none to fall a sacrifice. Like the City of Paris however in the heighth of their Massacres, we are said to be in perfect tranquility; and because the consequences are not immediate, nobody appears alarmed.

The Sup Court of the U, S. having no business ready for trial sat but two days—the State of Massachusetts did not appear & the same process will be observed against her as against the State of Georgia—3

Our friends in Philada are well, those who remain in the City, which is but a small proportion. The sudden death of Mrs Lear will no doubt distress you—she fell a victim to neglect of her person when in a bad habit, not as at first represented from eating too freely of unripe fruit.4 Mr Lear is inconsolable under his loss, & has suffered himself to be seen by none but the Family since the funeral.

Presenting love &ca / I remain / your son

Thos B Adams.

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mrs: A Adams.”

1The Tontine Coffeehouse was a center of pro-French sentiment in New York. It hosted banquets for visiting Frenchmen and auctions of prizes taken by French privateers (Edwin G. Burrows, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, N.Y., 1999, p. 318–320; New York Daily Advertiser, 13 Aug.).

2Gideon Henfield, a Salem, Mass., sailor, was prosecuted by the Washington administration for enlisting in the French Navy, which the president considered a violation of American neutrality. Supreme Court justice James Wilson presided over a special session of the U.S. Circuit Court of Pennsylvania to try the case. The government made the argument that although Congress had not passed a law specifically forbidding such enlistments, Henfield’s actions nonetheless violated U.S. treaties with Britain, the Netherlands, and Prussia. The jury acquitted Henfield on 29 July of all charges (Jefferson, Papers description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, Princeton, 1950–. description ends , 26:130–131).

3During an abbreviated session in Philadelphia on 5 and 6 Aug., the U.S. Supreme Court considered the cases of Chisholm v. Georgia and Vassall v. Massachusetts. In the Chisholm case the state of Georgia had refused to send a representative to the February session of the court because it denied the legitimacy of a suit brought against it by a citizen of another state. At that time the justices ordered Georgia officials to appear in August or face a default ruling. A representative did attend the August session and the case was continued. The Vassall case was similar but involved an Englishman suing the state. Massachusetts also claimed sovereign immunity by denying the legitimacy of a suit brought by a citizen of another country. Massachusetts officials had been subpoenaed to appear at the August session, but they did not do so and Vassall was continued as well. Both cases remained unresolved until they were nullified by the ratification of the Eleventh Amendment, which prohibits such suits (Doc. Hist. Supreme Court description begins The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789–1800, ed. Maeva Marcus, James R. Perry, and others, New York, 1985–2007; 8 vols. description ends , 1:217–219; 5:134–137, 364–369).

4Mary Long Lear died of yellow fever in Philadelphia on 28 July (Ray Brighton, The Checkered Career of Tobias Lear, Portsmouth, N.H., 1985, p. 114–115). See also TBA to JA, 9 Oct., and note 2, below.

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