Adams Papers

Abigail Adams to William Smith, 30 March 1798

Abigail Adams to William Smith

March 30 1798

my Dear sir

I fully unite with you in sentiment, that much ill Blood and warmth of Passion is excited by Town meeting Government.1 the Merchants who are most interested ought to be left free to Arm or not as they please. You cannot conceive what Mischief will result to our Country from the inteference of People, who can have only a partial view of subjects of this nature; I will tell you Sir, that the Money paid by Portugal to France to purchase her Peace, was applied to the Army of France and enabled France to overthrow the directory on the 4 of sep’br. this being accomplishd, more Money is wanted, and the Portegeeze Ambassador is imprisoned to obtain it—2 England might have purchased a Peace as lasting as the present Rulers if she had not spurnd the Proffer— so that Money is what they want, plunder is their object, and no meaness too grose for them to resort to—3 where money cannot be obtaind the small weak States are parssel’d out amongst the conquerers— what I have mentiond with regard to Portugal & England is little known you will not name your Authority. it is however received through such channels as cannot be doubted. the report respecting America which you have seen in the publick papers—Viz a demand for 2 Million of dollors—is perhaps judging from Annalogy, not improbable— should you be willing to pay your proportion for a Six Months Peace, which Price might be again demanded by the next set of Directors—

The unfortunate movement in our state will and has given Impudence to Bache, if it was possible to add to his former audacity, and dampd the Friends of Government. it has given triumph to the Jacobins— it weakens the hands of Government, and has a Hydra Head of evils—4

Inclosed is a paper with Some debates which you may not perhaps get. I send you a pamphlet a speech of mr Harpers—5 adieu my dear sir excuse a very bad pen and be assured of the affectionate / Regard of your / Friend

A Adams

RC (MHi:Smith-Carter Family Papers); addressed by Louisa Catharine Smith: “William Smith Esqr, Merchant / Boston”; endorsed: “Philaa. 30 March 98 / A. Adams—”

1It is unclear when Smith had previously written to AA regarding this issue. The residents of Roxbury, Mass., met on 20 March and agreed to draft a petition “to entreat that Congress will not allow the Merchants to Arm their vessels by Public Authority.” Harrison Gray Otis presented Roxbury’s petition to the House of Representatives on 30 March. In a letter to Cotton Tufts of 30 March (Adams Papers), AA wrote, “I am sorry very sorry to see Massachusetts commence Town meeting government. how is it possible they should have sufficient information to judge of measure which are best calculated for the benifit of so widely extended a people as we are.” She also reported, “The Jacobins are all life spirit and triumph upon this Roxbury meeting & petition.” Similarly, a town meeting held at Milton on 22 March resolved, “as citizens who must eventually feel the distressing consequences of any measure tending to war, we most earnestly deprecate the system of arming.” The petition was presented in the House on 2 April by Joseph Bradley Varnum (Boston Independent Chronicle, 19–22 March; Dedham, Mass., Minerva, 29 March; 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 , 5th Cong., 2d sess., p. 1357, 1367–1368).

2AA possibly learned this information from Rufus King’s dispatch to Timothy Pickering of 18 Nov. 1797, in which he reported: “The fate of the late Treaty between France and Portugal would confirm this Truth, was it doubtful. Portugal was also required to pay down a sum of money to be distributed as a preliminary to Negotiation and she advanced it. By a secret article of the Treaty she was bound to make a loan to France, a part of which was paid at the Signature of the Treaty and was the money that enabled the Directory to march the Army which effected the Revolution of the 18th Fructidor. You may depend on this information” (The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King, ed. Charles R. King, N.Y., 1894–1900, 6 vols., 2:243).

3On 23 Dec. King wrote to Pickering from London, “This Cabinet last night, after several days consideration, gave a decided negative to a proposal of Peace made by the Directory thro’ Talleyrand.” According to King, “the price was a Bribe of a Million Sterling to be divided among Directors, Ministers and others.” King noted that this information was “obtained in a way that forbids its publication in this shape or as received from me” (same, 2:261–262).

4The Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 30 March 1798, printed “the spirited resolutions of Roxbury” and believed that “Milton will follow their worthy example.” The Aurora also commented on the impact of town meetings on arming: “The contagion of common sense will spread from town to town, from county to county, and from state to state till the aristocracy throughout the Union, are scared into their senses.”

5Enclosure not found. For Robert Goodloe Harper’s pamphlet, see AA to Mary Smith Cranch, 3 March, and note 3, above.

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