Abigail Adams to John Adams
29. Janry 1797.
Yes My Dear Friend I had seen and read the Tenth Muse, and I think she abuses our poor old Govenour who tho quite in his Dotage, is not the Man there represented1 I do not think him a Hypocrit, but a real Lover and Friend of Religion from pure Principles. He has served his Country many Years with honour and with fidelity. I respect his Virtues, tho I pitty his weakness. it is said that he means to decline an other Election. if this should be the case, I will go & see him and Mrs Adams as soon as they are out of Office, and shew them that personally, I respect old Friends and Friendships.—
Since I sit Down to write Neighbour Beal has sent in his paper of Saturday containing the Govenours attoneing Speach, and his retireing Speach. his Notice of the Presidents retireing from office cannot be chargeable with adulation. it is as cold as his Age, and as frozen as the Season what he says respecting the importence of preserving our Election pure, is wise and just Federal Commonwealth is an odd Epithet for our common Country. The old Gentleman could not refuse himself the pleasure of instructing his Kinsman and telling him he hoped he would [“]stick close to the Letter of the constitution” he should have advised him to look well to the Laws before he puts his Name to them, for erasing it after it becomes a Law, is an act of Despotism, a Veto. The old Gentleman discovers some mortification in his farewell address, tho I can assent to the whole as truths which all must readily allow.2
Mrs Washingtons congratulation to you I believe perfectly sincere who would not wish for a successor that would not disgrace his predecessor. every person Sees that the President pointed out his Successor in his address, and in his late reply to the senates address. I heard it said in company that he could not have spoken plainer if he had call’d the person by Name.
I shall think myself the most fortunate among women if I can glide on for four years with as spotless a Reputation, beloved and esteemed by all as that good and amiable Lady has Done. my endeavours shall not be wanting. at Meeting to Day a psalm was sung, a verse of which I could not but apply to Myself
“Still has My Life new Wonders seen
Repeated every Year:
Behold my Days that yet remain
I trust them to thy care.”3
The news paper announces Mr Madison appointed Ambassador extraordinary to France. if true I rejoice in the appointment. I have confidence in the honour and integrity of Mr Madison, that he would not betray a trust thus reposed or Prostrate the Dignity & independance of his Country to any foreign Nation, even tho that Nation be France. beside his instructions I trust would be positive, not Discretionary
The little extracts inclosed in your Letters diverted me, particularly Pompys scratching his Head with one finger. be sure it was designd as a Friendly Hint. the writer Did not know that the Scratching was sometimes oweing to a cause which peter Pinder celebrates.4
all peculiarities become conspicuous in proportion as the Character is exalted. [“]Ammon one shoulder had too high”5 the More luminous the Body, the more easily are the Spots discerned.
“Ah spare your idol! think him human still.
Charms he may have, but he has frailties too
Doat not too much, nor Spoil what ye admire”6
Adulation creats envy. Honours should be meekly Borne as shakspear expresses it.7 there are a Thousand Men in the United Stats fit for Presidents, said Modest Giles.8 happy Country! Who surely will dispute the palm of “Most enlightned[”] with us.?
My pen runs riot. I forget that it must grow cautious & prudent. I fear I shall make a Dull buisness when such restrictions are laid upon it, but you will soon be too full of buisness, to be amused with what may Create a Smile in Your present Solitary state. by the Dates of our Letters we are often writing to each other at the same Time. if that be the case now, may the same sentiments inspire / each Heart when we say we will / never be for any other. thus thinks / Your
RC (Adams Papers).
1. The “Guillotina” devoted several lines to mocking Gov. Samuel Adams’ age and political history: “If mischief’s brewing, much, or little, / Depend upon’t Sam finds the kettle; / And tho’ too old to hatch expedients, / He’ll borrow, beg, or steal ingredients.” The author stated that even in his hometown of Boston Adams was not beloved: “Yet round her throng’d and busy streets, / No honest tongue thy praise repeats, / Nor scarce can piety restrain / Their execrations on thy reign” (lines 280–283, 326–329, 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. 31979).
2. Samuel Adams’ 27 Jan. address to both branches of the Mass. General Court was published in the Boston Columbian Centinel the following day. In the speech Adams began by acknowledging the retirement of George Washington and stating that the next president’s administration should “be strictly conformable to the letter & true intent of the Constitution.” Adams next commented on three issues: that foreigners should produce proof of citizenship in order to vote, the importance of education to the state, and his belief that all men, regardless of wealth or rank, should serve in the militia. Adams finished by announcing his own retirement, noting, “The infirmities of Age render me an unfit person in my own opinion, & very probably in the opinion of others, to continue in this Station” (Mass., Acts and Laws, description begins Acts and Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts [1780–1805], Boston, 1890–1898; 13 vols. description ends 1796–1797, p. 643–646).
3. Isaac Watts, The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, Psalm LXXI, First Part, lines 9–12.
4. In the second letter JA sent to AA on 16 Jan., for which see JA to AA, 16 Jan., note 5, above, he noted, “I have cut out two or three Slips from Browns Paper of this Evening for your Amusement.” The Philadelphia Gazette of that date contained an article on the censure faced by statesmen who are often “wounded in their reputation” by those envious of their position. Quoting from Plutarch, the article noted that “the enemies of Pompey the Great having observed that he scratched his head with one finger, upbraided him with it.”
5. “Ammon’s great son one shoulder had too high” (Alexander Pope, “Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot,” line 117).
6. William Cowper, “The Time-Piece,” The Task, Book II, lines 496–498.
7. “In my profession? Knighthoods and honours, borne / As I wear mine, are titles but of scorn” (Shakespeare, Cymbeline, Act 5, scene ii, lines 6–7).
8. On 14 Dec. 1796 William Branch Giles spoke in the House of Representatives on a motion he presented to strike out several paragraphs from the House’s answer to the president’s speech. Giles “thought there were thousands of citizens in the United States able to fill that high office.” The speech was reprinted in the Boston Columbian Centinel, 4 Jan. 1797 (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., 2d sess., p. 1616).