Adams Papers

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 12 December 1793

John Adams to Abigail Adams

Philadelphia Decr 12. 1793

My dearest Friend

This Day having been devoted to Thanksgiving by the Governor of Pensilvania, Congress have adjourned to Fryday.1 We have had a great Snow and afterwards a great Rain but not enough to carry off all the Snow. The Weather therefore is still cool, tho fair and pleasant. All Apprehension of the Fever Seems entirely departed, a Circumstance the more comfortable to me, as, having been among a few of the Earliest who came into Town, if any Thing unfortunate had followed I might have been reproached for Setting a precipitate Example.

our Son Thomas was examined approved and Sworn the last Week; so that We have three Lawyers upon the Theatre of Action. May they be ornaments to their Country and Blessings to the World.

Congress has a great Task and a very unpleasant one before them. With Indians and Algerines for open Ennemies and so many other Nations for suspicious Friends, besides so many appearances of ill Will among our own Citizens, who ever Envies a seat in that Body I believe the Members have no great reason to be delighted with theirs.2 My own is a situation, of Such compleat Insignificance, that I have Scarcely the Power to do good or Evil: yet it is the Station the most proper for me, as my Eyes and hands and Nerves are almost worn out.

The two Houses have been tolerably unanimous in giving to the Presidents system a kind of rapid approbation: but what will be the Result of the Negotiations with France and England I know not.3 Mr Jefferson has regained his Reputation by the Part he has taken, and his Compositions are much applauded by his old Friends and assented to by others. The fresh depredations of the Algerines are so well calculated to prevent Emigration to this Country from England scotland and Ireland, that People are ready enough to impute their Truce with Portugal and Holland to British Interference. our Trade is like to suffer by the Arbitrary Decrees of England Spain and France as well as by the ferocious Pyracy of Affrica.4

This Winter will Shew Us the Temper of England as well as France. Americans cannot see with Pleasure the French Islands fall into English hands, nor will even French Emigrants be gratified with the Partition of their Country.5 But Foresight is impossible in such a Chaos. I am with great Anxiety for / your health, your

J. A

RC (Adams Papers).

1On 14 Nov., Pennsylvania governor Thomas Mifflin declared 12 Dec. a day of thanksgiving to mark the end of the Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic. Four days later nineteen city clergymen signed an address encouraging participation in the observance (Philadelphia Federal Gazette, 11 Dec.).

2The ongoing problem of U.S. relations with Algiers came to the fore again in late 1793 when Portugal—which had customarily protected U.S. ships from Barbary pirates around the Strait of Gibraltar to ensure continuing imports of American corn and flour—signed a peace treaty with Algiers. This new situation left U.S. ships vulnerable to piracy, and the Algerines immediately took advantage, capturing eleven vessels by December and enslaving their crews. Some in the United States also blamed the British for the situation, arguing that the British were allied with the Algerines, had encouraged the peace treaty with Portugal, and had possibly incited the Algerines to make their captures. These events pushed Congress to act on the crisis in early 1794, authorizing a million dollars to purchase peace and ransom captive sailors and additional money to establish a U.S. Navy (Frank Lambert, The Barbary Wars: American Independence in the Atlantic World, N.Y., 2005, p. 73–77).

3George Washington’s Neutrality Proclamation received the endorsement of the House of Representatives on 6 Dec. 1793 and of the Senate on the 9th in their respective replies to his annual address, even though neither body had completed its review of his intervening message respecting relations with France and Britain (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 , 3d Cong., 1st sess., p. 17–18, 138–139).

4After the outbreak of war in Europe in the spring of 1793, Britain and France each maneuvered to starve the other of provisions from the United States by unilaterally decreeing neutral trade with the enemy illegal and then seizing American merchant vessels caught in violation (Cambridge Modern Hist. description begins The Cambridge Modern History, Cambridge, Eng., 1902–1911; repr. New York, 1969; 13 vols. description ends , 7:318–319).

5In the spring and summer of 1793, Britain expanded the war with France to the Caribbean. After capturing Tobago in April, British forces invaded St. Domingue, and the colony was divided between the warring armies. The French government of St. Domingue responded by freeing the colony’s slaves and inviting them to join the army, a move that eventually turned the conflict in France’s favor (Michael Duffy, “The French Revolution and British Attitudes to the West Indian Colonies,” in David Barry Gaspar and David Patrick Geggus, eds., A Turbulent Time: The French Revolution and the Greater Caribbean, Bloomington, Ind., 1997, p. 83–85).

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