Adams Papers

John Adams to William Stephens Smith, 16 February 1798

John Adams to William Stephens Smith

Philadelpa: Feby. 16th 1798:


I have received the Letter you wrote me on the 7th of this month, and I shall give all the attention to the Subject of it which may be necessary. It is not new to me—

You are too precipitate in my opinion in pronouncing an opinion that the General has been guilty of high Crimes &Ca:1

There have not been wanting Critics upon your conduct, as severe as you have been upon his It is reported not much to the advantage of your Reputation or mine that you have been to detroit, for Brockholst Livingston and company to Speculate in Lands, and Claims of those who mean to remain British Subjects, and to remove to Canada, and that to cloak your real purposes you gave out, that you had been Sent by me, for ends of government of Some Sort or other, I can scarcely beleive that you could Countenance a report so totally unfounded—2

I am Sir your most obedient & / most humble Servant

John Adams

LbC in Samuel Bayard Malcom’s hand (Adams Papers); internal address: “Coll. W Smith—”; APM Reel 117.

1WSS wrote to JA on 7 Feb. (Adams Papers) enclosing two packets of documents relating to the military and political situation around Detroit, namely, the declaration of martial law made on 12 July 1797 by Gen. James Wilkinson in an effort to prevent military desertions. Wilkinson (1757–1825), a native of Maryland who achieved the rank of brigadier general during the Revolutionary War, served as Gen. Anthony Wayne’s second in command in the Northwest Territory and succeeded Wayne after his death in 1796. WSS reported that merchants were “building Houses & stores, on the British side of Detroit River, to move … from under the lash of military Law,” and he warned JA that “unless there is some interference on the part of our Government, martial Law, will depopulate the District.” WSS further commented, “I cannot pretend to say, that The General derives any emolument from his despotick arrangements but I do believe his acts, and Orders, are not alway’s founded on the Laws of equity, and that generally Justice would not smile upon them” (ANB description begins John A. Garraty, Mark C. Carnes, and Paul Betz, eds., American National Biography, New York, 1999–2002; 24 vols. plus supplement; rev. edn., description ends ).

2Brockholst Livingston and WSS had been classmates at Princeton. It is unclear if WSS was involved with any land speculation undertaken by Livingston, who had been consulted about Native American land grants to British subjects (Princetonians description begins James McLachlan, Richard A. Harrison, Ruth L. Woodward, Wesley Frank Craven, and J. Jefferson Looney, Princetonians: A Biographical Dictionary, Princeton, N.J., 1976–1991; 5 vols. description ends , 2:397, 425; John Askin, The John Askin Papers, ed. Milo M. Quaife, 2 vols., Detroit, Mich., 1928–1931, 2:60–62).

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