John Adams to Charles Adams
Philadelphia Feb. 9. 1796
I recd this morning your favour of the 7th and am glad that your State have not too much Complaisance for the restless Projects of old Aunt Nell. The peevish fretful old Creature has got, to day, a worse Compliment from the senate of this State, than she recd even from the Massachusetts. They have not only rejected her vapoury humours but have proposed to her some other Amendments of the Constitution, which she will not relish. But as I have the Account of them only transiently from Mr Lewis, I will not attempt to give you an Account of them, but leave you to read them when they shall become public.1
I have attended to day in the Supream Court an argument by Mr Marshall and Mr Campbell, of a great Question concerning the British debts which were paid into the Treasury of the state of Virginia before the Peace. These are able Lawyers and good Speakers.2
Pray what are the Dates of your Letters from Holland? My latest from John is the 30 of septr.—3 We shall next hear of him from England.
Is Col Hamilton growing rich by his Profession? Does he shine at the Bar? Is he in great request among the Clients?— Who does he associate with him in Business? Does he Speculate in Lands or stocks like all the rest of the World—or does he intend to drudge like me? and be a slave for forty Years for the honour of riding in Stage Coaches and living in noisy Taverns? while every Body about him is growing rich as well as riding in gay Coaches and building grand houses?4 Mr Neckar, in his Essay on the true Principles of Executive Power in great States. Vol. 1. p. 206 has a Passage which is worth quoting.
“A Man who, like myself, has been Some Years placed in the Center of public affairs, who has been, one of the Axes round which the motions of personal Interest perform their Circuit, is best able to judge from his own Experience of the Activity of those Interests and to perceive in what manner the human heart is influenced, irritated and Soothed by hope. Full often are the thoughts of Men employed upon their own personal Views when they affect most carelessly to neglect or most generously to sacrifice them. I grant that Individuals have for their days of parade a pompous and wonderworking Language; but I affirm that in their daily habits and their Secret Confessions, We find them always occupied either with the fortune they are pursuing, or the Eminence to which they aspire.”5 Thus far Mr Neckar and I can add my Experience to his. There is a difference however— Some pursue their fortune and Elevation by fair and honourable Means, others by mean Craft, low Cunning wicked deceit, and vicious Courses of every sort.—
The Popes Bull Quando quidem bonus Populus vult decipi, decipiatur,6 is practised by many of the most pretending Protestants, with as much Ardour as if they believed in his Holinesses Infallibility. Be honest Charles but be not their Dupe. I am, most affectionatel / your
RC (MHi:Seymour Coll.); internal address: “Charles Adams Esq.”
1. The Penn. senate’s rejection of the Virginia amendments included the observation, “If it were proper, at this time, for this House to join in an application to Congress, for calling a Convention to alter the constitution of the United States, the amendments, to be proposed, should be such as would promote private justice, by rendering real property liable to the payment of just debts; and would establish the National Legislature on the true principles of representation, by enabling freemen, as well as freeholders, to vote; and, by apportioning the Representatives among the several States, according to the number of those freemen” (Journal of the Senate of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Commencing on Tuesday, the First Day of December, in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety-Five, Phila., 1796, p. 103, Evans, description begins Charles Evans and others, American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of All Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America [1639–1800], Chicago and Worcester, 1903–1959; 14 vols. description ends No. 30980). Report of Pennsylvania’s action appeared in the New York Argus, 13 February.
2. The U.S. Supreme Court was hearing arguments in the case of Ware v. Hylton, which was expected to settle the question of whether Virginia merchants were obligated to pay debts owed to the British from before the American Revolution. The case had been working its way through the courts (under various names) since 1790, finally reaching the Supreme Court in Feb. 1796. John Tyndale Ware, representing the British firm of Farell & Jones, was the plaintiff, while Daniel L. Hylton, a Richmond merchant, was the defendant. Both John Marshall and Alexander Campbell (d. 1796), the U.S. attorney for the district of Virginia, spoke on behalf of Hylton. On 7 March the justices ruled in favor of the plaintiff, finding that the promise to repay debts contained in the Treaty of Paris overruled local laws that annulled them and ordering Hylton to pay Ware the debts owed as well as legal costs (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 7:203–207, 215–222, 248).
3. Not found.
4. Upon resigning his position in the Treasury Department, Alexander Hamilton returned to his legal practice in New York City. He was hardly, however, “growing rich by his Profession.” He was routinely in debt and often had to rely on his father-in-law for financial assistance. In July 1795 Hamilton enumerated his debts to the prospective executor of his will—he was anticipating a duel with James Nicholson, a dispute subsequently settled without violence—and indicated that he owed many thousands of dollars to various creditors. He also described receiving fees for prospective legal work but at a rate that would make clearing the debts difficult (Robert Hendrickson, Hamilton II (1789–1804), N.Y., 1976, p. 309–310; Hamilton, Papers, description begins The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett, Jacob E. Cooke, and others, New York, 1961–1987; 27 vols. description ends 18:503–507).
6. Since the good people wish to be deceived, let them be deceived. Usually attributed to Cardinal Caraffa, legate of Pope Paul IV, this quotation also appears in Necker’s Essay on the True Principles, 2:267.
7. The next day JA wrote again to CA to comment on the French constitution, particularly its plural executive of five directors. In his letter JA predicts that each member will strive to be considered first among equals and inevitably divide the executive into factions. Comparing the situation to the political tensions in the U.S. Congress, JA instructs CA, “Take into your Consideration next the Emulations Jealousies Rivalries between Leading Members of both Houses and the Leading Members of the Directory and say whether the French Constitution can last one Year or two one Month or two” (MHi:Seymour Coll.).