John Adams to Abigail Adams
Phila. Feb. 27. 1796
My Dearest Friend
I dined Yesterday with Mr Madison. Mrs Madison is a fine Woman and her two sisters are equally so: one of them is married to George Washington one of the two Nephews of the President who were sometimes at our House. Mr Washington came and civilly enquired after your Health. These Ladies, whose Names were Pain, are of a Quaker Family once of North Carolina.1
The Treaty with Spain is arrived and is according to our Wishes. The Algerine Treaty is horridly Costly. It is worse than the British: but will not be so fiercely opposed.
There is no Vessell here for Boston: I can not yet send any seeds.
The great Affair is as it was— I hear frequent Reflections which indicate that Jefferson, although in good hands he might do very well; yet in such hands as will hold him, he would endanger too much.— Some Persons of high Consequence have Spoken to me confidentially— But in general there is great delicacy on that head and I hold an entire reserve. The Question with me is between entire Ease and entire Disquietude. I will not fly from the latter nor will I court it. I can live as happily without a Carriage as Hamilton
Two great Political Questions have been agitated in the supream Court. one about Virginia Debts paid into the Treasury—the other the Constitutionality of the Carriage Tax. Hamilton argued this last for three hours with his usual Splendor of Talents & Eloquence as they say. In the Course of his argument he said no Man was obliged to pay the Tax. This he knew by Experiment: for after having enjoyed the Pleasure of riding in his Carriage for six years he had been obliged to lay it down and was happy.2
There is no hope of getting away till June. The House never went so slowly on.
RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mrs A”; endorsed: “Febry 7th 1796.”
1. Dolley Payne (1768–1849) was born of Quaker parents in North Carolina but raised in Virginia and later Philadelphia. She married John Todd Jr. in 1790, but he died during the yellow fever epidemic in 1793. In 1794 she married James Madison. Her three sisters were Lucy Payne (1777?–1846), who had married George Steptoe Washington (ca. 1773–1809) in 1793; Anna Payne (1779–1832), who married Richard Cutts in 1804; and Mary (Polly) Payne (1781–1808), who would marry John George Jackson. The other of George Washington’s nephews mentioned by JA was probably Lawrence Augustine Washington (1775–1824), George Steptoe’s brother. Both boys were educated at the University of Pennsylvania thanks to the support of their uncle (Notable Amer. Women description begins Edward T. James and others, eds., Notable American Women, 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary, Cambridge, 1971; 3 vols. description ends ; The Selected Letters of Dolley Payne Madison, ed. David B. Mattern and Holly C. Shulman, Charlottesville, Va., 2003, p. 398, 404, 409, 414; Washington, Papers, Presidential Series, description begins The Papers of George Washington: Presidential Series, ed. W. W. Abbot, Dorothy Twohig, Jack D. Warren, Mark A. Mastromarino, Robert F. Haggard, Christine S. Patrick, John C. Pinheiro, and others, Charlottesville, Va., 1987– . description ends 1:12).
2. The case of Hylton v. United States challenged the legality of what became known as the Carriage Tax Law, a tax on carriages enacted in 1794 and designed to raise revenue to pay for defense. Alexander Hamilton was not directly connected to the proposal of this tax in Congress, though he likely had been consulted about it. The dispute centered on whether the tax was a direct or indirect one and thus its constitutionality. Initially heard in the Circuit Court in May 1795, the case came to the Supreme Court in early 1796, when the federal government retained Hamilton and Charles Lee to argue on its behalf. The court ruled on 8 March that the tax was not a direct one in the constitutional sense, and thus it was upheld (Alexander Hamilton, The Law Practice of Alexander Hamilton: Documents and Commentary, ed. Julius Goebel Jr. and others, 5 vols., N.Y., 1964–1981, 4:297–300, 303–304, 307, 314, 330–336). For Hamilton’s notes on the case—which may have provided the basis for his presentation before the court—see Law Practice, 4:342–355.