John Adams to Abigail Adams
Philadelphia Nov. 26. 1794
My Dearest Friend
The Pamphlet inclosed may be called “The most astonishing Concentration of Jacobitical Malevolence that ever Scottish Spite exhibited.” I have read it however with Interest and Avidity. It is not badly written— It has, no doubt, too much foundation in Truth. It has little of the Wit and none of the humour of Tom Pain, but has more than his Malice & Revenge. It is sometimes amusing to contemplate Sheer Malignity, especially when it seems not to have any Power to do harm. The Writer is a “Callender” now in this City employed as a Writer of Essays and Paragraphs for his Newspaper by Andrew Brown. We shall soon see the offspring of his Genius applied to Men & Measures in America. very soon will he be a Member of the Democratical society, as I foresee. This Country is to be the Asylum of all the discontented, turbulent, profligate and Desperate from all Parts of Europe and Democratical societies are to raise them to fame, Popularity, Station & Power. How long the People will countenance this I know not. Jefferson it seems is to give the first Passport to these Incendiaries. Malignity seemed to have Seized upon that Mans mind as deeply as upon Paines & Callenders.1
I expect a Letter tomorrow
The President and Senate have fixed a Stigma on certain Anarchical societies. The House will do the same though perhaps in feebler terms.2 No Party No Man in either house has justified them—None has even excused them. some have imprudently admitted their Legality. People have a right to meet & consider of Laws express their Opinions and feelings, for the Purpose of petitioning the Legislature for Repeals Or Amendments. But it is not lawful to meet to frame & publish Censures upon Laws, and Libels upon Men or Measures. If when assembled they do an unlawful Act Their Assembly is adjudged to unlawful from the Beginning. The Legality of the Meeting depends upon the Legality of their Conduct. It is incautious and improvident therefore to acknowledge their Legality, without Exceptions Qualifications & limitations as some have done who are no friends to them.
My Waggish Friend Fitch of Jamaica applies to me from the Rolliad, or Probationary Odes.
“There Cornwall Sits, and oh unhappy fate!
Must sit forever, through the long Debate;
Painful Pre-eminence! he hears, tis true,
Fox, North and Burke—but hears, sir Joseph too.
Like Sad Prometheus fasten’d to his Rock
In vain he looks for Pity to the Clock;
In vain the Effects of Strengthening Porter tries
And nods to Bellamy for fresh Supplies
While Vulture like the dire Mahon appears
And far more Savage, rends his suffering Ears.
With Mulgrave—at whose Scream, in wild surprize
The Speechless Speaker lifts his drowsy Eyes.”3
RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Novbr / 26 1794.”
1. The pamphlet has not been found but was presumably James Thomson Callender’s The Political Progress of Britain, Edinburgh, 1792, an attack on the British government. Callender (1758–1803) was indicted for sedition in 1793 for the pamphlet but fled to the United States. There he found support from Thomas Jefferson and other Democratic-Republican politicians, which allowed him to continue as a political writer. He famously attacked JA in The Prospect before Us, 3 vols. in 1, Richmond, Va., 1800–1801, secretly sponsored by Jefferson. Andrew Brown (1744?–1797) was the publisher of the Philadelphia Gazette (DAB; description begins Allen Johnson, Dumas Malone, and others, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–1936; repr. New York, 1955–1980; 10 vols. plus index and supplements. description ends Stewart, Opposition Press, description begins Donald H. Stewart, The Opposition Press of the Federalist Period, Albany, 1969. description ends p. 618).
2. Both George Washington in his address to Congress and the Senate in their reply condemned “self-created societies” for helping to foment the Whiskey Rebellion. The House, in their reply, made no direct reference to such societies, though they debated the topic at length in preparing their response and did in the end agree to language condemning actions “either by individuals or combinations of men … to foment the flagrant outrage which has been committed on the laws” (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 3d Cong., 2d sess., p. 788, 794, 899–905, 906–949).
3. The first ten lines come from “Criticisms on the Rolliad, Part the First,” in The Rolliad, in Two Parts; Probationary Odes for the Laureatship; and Political Ecologues, 21st edn., London, 1799, No. IX; the last two from “Jekyll,” in the same, lines 25–26.