John Adams to Charles Adams
Philadelphia December 20. 1794
The inclosed Tryals of Muir, Margorot and Gerald, will afford you Entertainment and Information. as Nothing lays open the Spirit and Temper of the Times, better than the Criminal Proceedings in the Courts of Justice: I thought I could not send you a more acceptable Present.
The great Question whether a Part of the People may So far assume the Powers of Government, already delegated by the whole to the ordinary Legislative Executive and Judicial Authorities, as to appoint Deputies to meet in Conventions even for the Purposes of petitioning, or of instructing Representatives, will now receive a decision in more Nations than one. The Right of meeting in Societies, Sodalities or Clubbs, to converse, investigate, examine criticise, even the Measures of Government, or the Characters of Governors is one Thing. A Claim to meet for the Purpose of publishing Censures, or of opposing Measures or of writing Laws is another. A Pretension to meet by Proxies, for such Purposes is a third Thing.
If the French national Convention should put down Such societies, they will dwindle also in America.
King McClenican has come out to Day with a Manifesto against the President, senate & Representatives of the United States: and a few Days ago, appeared an Apology of the Society in Baltimore.1 I Suppose the Measure will go through and We shall see, the Eloquence and Learning of all the Clubbs in the Union
The Tryal of Gerald is the most valuable, of any I have yet seen. The Arguments of Mr Gilles and Mr Laing his Council are masterly Productions; Those of Mr Montgomery and the other Council for the Crown are ingenious, too—2 The Prisoners had all been to School,: Muir and Margarot to France: Gerald to Philadelphia.3
The Tryals of Sinclair, Skirving and Palmer I have not yet been able to procure.—4 My old Acquaintance, Lord Daer, son of the Earl of Selkirk I find was a Member of The British Convention, and the first to assume and bestow the Appellation of Citizen. He is a Man of Learning. He brought Letters to me in Paris and was treated with a good deal of Civility. I wonder he was not Sent to the Bay.5 But I Suppose that Transportation like kissing goes by favour.
I hope your Finger is better: and that your Business is brisk.
I am told there are many Runners and Riders in your State, employed to bring forward Mr Burr to the Chair.
Adieu, my Son. Write as often / as you can to your Father
RC (MHi:Seymour Coll.); internal address: “Councillor Adams.”
1. Blair McClenachan (d. 1812), an Irishborn merchant in Philadelphia and later member of Congress, was president of the Democratic Society of Pennsylvania. On 20 Dec. the society released a statement excoriating George Washington’s attack on selfcreated societies in his address to Congress and railing against the “various charges and invectives, fabricated for the destruction of the Patriotic Societies in America.” Three days earlier, Philadelphia newspapers had published a similar defense by the Republican Society of Baltimore (Biog. Dir. Cong. description begins Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–1989, Washington, D.C., 1989. description ends ; Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, 17, 20 Dec.; Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 17 Dec.).
2. JA was undoubtedly reviewing the trial transcript as printed in The Trial of Joseph Gerrald, Delegate from the London Corresponding Society, to the British Convention … for Sedition, Edinburgh, 1794. Adam Gillies (1760–1842) and Malcolm Laing (1762–1818), both Scottish lawyers, defended Joseph Gerrald. Sir James Montgomery (1721–1803), a Scottish judge, lord advocate, and former member of Parliament, argued the case against him (DNB description begins Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds., The Dictionary of National Biography, New York and London, 1885–1901; repr. Oxford, 1959–1960; 21 vols. plus supplements. description ends ). For more on the copies of Muir’s and Gerrald’s trials that JA sent to CA, see JA to CA, 31 Jan. 1795, note 3, below.
3. That is, both Thomas Muir and Maurice Margarot had spent time in France during the Revolution, and Joseph Gerrald had practiced law in Pennsylvania in the mid-1780s (DNB description begins Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, eds., The Dictionary of National Biography, New York and London, 1885–1901; repr. Oxford, 1959–1960; 21 vols. plus supplements. description ends ; M. Roe, “Maurice Margarot,” Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 31:69 [May 1958]).
4. The Trial of William Skirving, Secretary to the British Convention … for Sedition, Edinburgh, 1794; The Trial of the Rev. Thomas Fyshe Palmer, before the Circuit Court of Justiciary … on an Indictment for Seditious Practices, Edinburgh, 1793. Charles Sinclair’s trial was not published as a separate pamphlet but the record of it does appear in T. B. Howell and Thomas Jones Howell, comps., A Complete Collection of State Trials and Proceedings for High Treason and Other Crimes and Misdemeanors, 33 vols., London, 1809–1826, 23:778–802. Palmer and Skirving were both found guilty and sentenced to transportation to Botany Bay, but the case against Sinclair was eventually dropped (Kenneth J. Logue, Popular Disturbances in Scotland 1780–1815, Edinburgh, 1979, p. 15–16).
5. Basil William Douglas, Lord Daer (1763–1794), the eldest son of Dunbar Douglas, 4th Earl of Selkirk, was living in Paris at the beginning of the French Revolution. He was a member of the London Friends of the People and various other reform societies (Henry W. Meikle, Scotland and the French Revolution, Glasgow, 1912, p. 106).