John Adams to Abigail Adams
Philadelphia April 19. 1796
My Dearest Friend
The Sensations of Ap. 19. 1775 and those of this Morning have some Resemblance to each other. a Prospect of foreign War and civil War in conjunction is not very pleasant. We are a poor divided Nation in the midst of all our Prosperity. The H. of R. after debating 3 Weeks about asking for Papers are now beginning another Discussion which may last as long on the Merits and Demerits of the Treaty.1
If the H. refuse to make The Appropriations it is difficult to see how We can avoid War and it is not easier to find out, how We can preserve this Government from Dissolution. We must however coolly and patiently Study and Search for the Means and Resources which may be left to avoid War and support Government.
Mr Swift and Mr Goodhue have Spoken ably in favour of the Treaty: and Mr Ncholas and Mr Giles Spoke more moderately against it than was expected.2
I had no Letter from you Yesterday— Brisler Says the Mail goes now 3 times a Week on Tuesdays thursdays & saturdays. I shall endeavour to write by each, tho it may be but a Line of Remembrance. I hope your Indisposition was not a grave one: but the omission of a Letter Yesterday gave me Some fears.
I cannot deny the Right of the H. to ask for Papers, nor to express their Opinions upon the Merits of a Treaty. My Ideas are very high of the Rights and Powers of the H. of R.— These Powers may be abused and in this instance there is great danger that they will be. Such a Combination of Party Motives as Debts,
Jacobism Antifederalism & French Influence, seldom occurs to overaw the Members and lead them into Party Violence. But the Faith and Honour of the Nation are pledged, and tho the H. cannot approve they ought to feel themselves bound.
Some Persons still think the H. will comply— But there is an Inveteracy and Obstinacy on this occasion as I scarcely ever Saw.
The Pride of Madison, Giles, Baldwin, ill broking the Superiour Powers of the Senate, Emulating the Dignity and Lustre of Members of that Body, ardently Struggling to Rival an Elsworth a King &c These are feelings that our Lawgivers in framing our Constitution did not advert to.— The Elections of the two Houses by such different Bodies as the People & their Legislators, will always leave this difficulty in full force. The Leading Members of the House, such as Madison & Baldwin should have been e’er now senators.
But I must not Speculate. I must come to / something more pleasing, Assurances of the / perpetual Affection of
RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mrs A.”; endorsed: “April 19th / 1796.”
1. On 15 April the discussion in the House of Representatives moved from requesting papers from the president to debating the individual points of the Jay Treaty. James Madison began by giving his major speech against the treaty. The underlying issue during this new round of debate was whether rejection of the treaty would mean war with Great Britain; Democratic-Republicans alleged no, while Federalists argued that a refusal to execute the treaty would eventually lead America to declare war. This final round of debate on the treaty lasted until 29 April, when the House voted 50 to 49 “That it is expedient to make the necessary appropriations for carrying the Treaty with Great Britain into effect.” On 30 April two votes were taken in the House regarding the treaty. The first, which failed 49 to 50, wanted to add a preamble that the treaty was “highly objectionable” in the opinion of the House. The second and final treaty vote, which passed 51 to 48, called for carrying the Jay Treaty into effect (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 4th Cong., 1st sess., p. 976–987, 1280, 1282, 1289, 1291–1292; Combs, Jay Treaty, description begins Jerald A. Combs, The Jay Treaty: Political Battleground of the Founding Fathers, Berkeley, Calif., 1970. description ends p. 181–182).
2. Zephaniah Swift (1759–1823), Yale 1778, served Connecticut in the House from 1793 to 1797, while John Nicholas (ca. 1757–1819) represented Virginia from 1793 to 1801. On 16 April 1796 Nicholas spoke against the Jay Treaty while Swift spoke in favor. Nicholas argued that the new treaty did not settle the disputes left from the 1783 Anglo-American peace treaty regarding confiscated slaves and British posts in the West, and more recently the taking of U.S. ships in the West Indies. Swift refuted Nicholas’ claims concerning slaves and British posts, and argued that failure to sign the treaty would lead to a loss of British posts, a loss of compensation for spoliations in the West Indies, and possible war with Great Britain (Biog. Dir. Cong. description begins Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–1989, Washington, D.C., 1989; rev. edn., bioguide.congress.gov. description ends ; 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 4th Cong., 1st sess., p. 1004–1024).