Adams Papers

Abigail Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams, 1 May 1798

Abigail Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams

Philadelphia May 1. 1798

my dear son

I promised My dear Thomas to write to him by the May packet. on Fryday Evening at the drawing Room the British Minister informed me that he would take charge of any Letters I might have to Send. I wrote to your Brother by the April Packet, since which there has been a continuation, and increase of that American Spirit which I informd him was rising into activity. I have sent to your Brother, by way of England and Hamburghs Coppies of the dispatches and instructions, both which Mr Thornton secretary to Mr Liston, has promised to deliver to Mr King, as I do not now know of a private Hand.1 I shall not venture News papers by this Conveyance on account of their postage.

The effect produced upon the minds of the people by the publication of the dispatches, is wonderfull, considering What a blind attachment they had towards France. previous to their publication, meetings were held in many Towns, in different states of the union petitioning Congress not to permit the merchants to Arm their vessels, and in general, not to take any active measures against France, but since they have been made acquainted with the views, and designs of France towards us, no less than 5 different addresses from this City and its Subbubs have been presented to the President within these ten days, one from the Merchants insurers & underwriters with 5000 Names one from the Major Alderman and common counsel of the city, one from the Nothern Liberties, and one from southwark and one from the Young Men of the city. York Town & Lancaster have follow’d.2 I have been more particular in enumerating these, because You well know, this city has been the Center of Jacobinism and foreign Faction. I may add to these in the order in which they have come Addresses from New York the Jersies Baltimore, George Town, Alexandria and Boston. all of the addresses express their firm determination to write in such measures as shall be demed proper for the safety Security and independance of the Country, and expressive of an intire Satisfaction with the Executive in his endeavours to effect a reconciliation with France.3

The Theatre you know; has been call’d the pulse of the people. if so the pulse of ours precedes a fever. it has been customary to play and sing French songs and Airs. Ci era and other songs have been countananced at all the Theatres, untill since the dispatches from France have been made publick, the first attempt afterwards was hist, and the Presidents March call’d for. the Mussicians not regarding the call, were driven off. the managers apologized and said, “they had not any words to the tune.[”] one of the Actors applied to a Gentleman to write him a National song suited to the Tune. the song inclosed is the first production of his pen in the Poetic line, and tho not perfect, being suited to the spirit of the times has had great effect. I had a curiosity to witness the first effect of it. it was not then made publick, but the unbounded applause with with it was received fully manifested the temper of the times, and such was the enthusiasm, that the last time of singing it, (for it was four times enchord,) the whole Audience rose and joind in the Chorus. It has several times Since been sung, and with redoubled Applause4 I relate these circumstances, as it must be pleasing to you to learn that the spirit of the Fathers, still lives in their Son’s—and tho from the Love of Peace, they have borne with unequal’d patience, bordering even to submission, the injuries, and injustice of Nations who stile themselves our Friend’s, Yet they have now arrived to such indignities, as to call upon every American to resist and repell them, and to shew them, that we did not break from the shackles of our Parent, to become slaves of our sister, a venal depraved corrupt and proffligate wretch, who has rejected our proferd terms of reconciliation, and calls for bribes. I see no prospect of a Continuence of Peace, and we must prepare for the event with firmness and with resolution. Congress are proceeding to raise a Provisional Army, to raise a Navy Sufficient to protect our Commerce and to fortify our harbours. a New department is instituted, and a Minister of Marine will in a few days be appointed. our merchantmen are Arming and we shall soon put on the appearence of defence5

Yesterday a Letter was received from our Envoys of Feb’ry 6th they had then made to the Minister a long Memorial if it did not receive any notice within a given time, they were determined to call for their pasports.6 I wish we could for a certainty, learn that they were safe out of the Fiery Furnace.

I thank you my dear Thomas for your Letter of December;7 you mention only the sickness of your sister, tho your Brother writes that you had yourself been very ill. I fear you have a constitution too much like your Mothers, who has all her life been subject to inflamitory diseases, and who this very Winter was seizd with a soar throat much like what your Brother describes yours to be. I have been better in Health this winter than usual

I have the pleasure to inform you, and I bless God for it, that your Father is Supported according to the Exigencys of the times, and tho the song says, the “Rock on which the storm will beat” Supported by the Justice of the Cause, and the Integrity of his own mind, he will not despond;—

I received a Letter from Mrs Johnson this week8 She appears to me to be home sick. I wish she could have come this way. I think she would have been more satisfied. it requires Some time to live in a Country, in order to be reconciled to it and old England possesses so many conveniencies of a domestic kind and house keeping is such a science there, to what it is here, where you can organize your Household, with due subordination that I do not at all wonder a Lady feels discontented when she sits down in this Country with the domesticks which are to be had here.

My old steward the Faithfull Brisler his wife and Children live with me here. You know his valuable qualities. I could not live here without him, and I have much comfort and satisfaction with my domesticks. I hope Tilly still adheres to you, and proves the Faithfull domestick you at first found him.

Present me affectionatly to your Brother and sister. I shall not write to him by this conveyance. the last Letter received from him is the 30 Jan’ry to Your Father—9 It is thought Gov’r Jay is Reelected, by a very Great Majority—10

I am my dear son / most / affectionatly Your / Mother—11

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mrs: A Adams / 1 May 1798. / 28 June Recd: / 26 July acknd.”

1AA’s letters to JQA of 4, 8, and 13 April, for which see vol. 12:480–483, 498–500, were accompanied by publications relating to the XYZ Affair and sent via the British packet. Rufus King reported the arrival of the letters in his 18 May letter to JQA (Adams Papers). AA sent JQA duplicates of the XYZ documents with her letter sent via Hamburg dated 21 April, for which see vol. 12:516–519.

2For the petitions to Congress opposing the arming of merchant vessels, see vol. 12:467, 468, and for the Pennsylvania memorials in support of JA that followed the publication of the XYZ correspondence, see same, 12:499, 501–502, 518, and 519.

A public meeting held at the Lancaster County courthouse on 19 April approved an address supporting JA’s actions toward “the preservation of the neutrality and peace.” On 28 April some young men from the Southwark and Northern Liberties districts of Philadelphia gathered at the tavern of James Cameron, pledging their support of the government and appointing a committee to draft an address. They reconvened on 30 April and approved a memorial declaring their “most entire confidence” in JA and pledging that should the need arise, “we will assemble with promptitude, obey the orders of the constituted authorities with alacrity, and on every occasion act with all the exertion of which we are capable” (Adams Papers, filmed at [7 May]; Philadelphia Gazette, 1, 2 May; Philadelphia Directory description begins Philadelphia Directory [title varies], issued annually with varying imprints. description ends , 1798, p. 32, 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, Mass., 1903–1959; 14 vols.; rev. edn., description ends No. 34593; Patriotic Addresses description begins A Selection of the Patriotic Addresses, to the President of the United States. Together with the President’s Answers, Boston, 1798, Evans, No. 33345. description ends , p. 195–196, 200–202; Philadelphia Carey’s United States’ Recorder, 1 May).

3The resolutions and memorials supporting the executive enumerated by AA here likely included one from the New York Chamber of Commerce, which met on 20 April, published a series of resolutions supporting the executive on 24 April, and received a response from JA dated the 27th. Residents from Burlington County, N.J., met at the courthouse in Mount Holly on 21 April and similarly pledged their support of the government, as did a group from Windsor, Montgomery, Kingston, and Princeton, N.J., which met in Princeton on the same day. The Baltimore memorial resulted from a meeting on 17 April of town residents who declared “themselves impelled by considerations of duty and love to their country, to express their sentiments and declare their determination to support the constituted authorities.” Resolutions were also adopted by residents of Georgetown, D.C., on 21 April, and that same day 1,800 Bostonians signed a memorial. In Alexandria, Va., a meeting was held on 25 April and similarly generated an address of 27 April (Adams Papers) that praised JA: “We are pleased to see those virtues and talents so often exercised for the benefit of your country … exerted in the discharge of the arduous duties of the first magistrate” (New York Commercial Advertiser, 24 April, 3 May; Philadelphia Gazette of the United States, 21, 23, 26, 28 April; Boston Price-Current, 26 April; Alexandria Times, 24, 28 April; Patriotic Addresses description begins A Selection of the Patriotic Addresses, to the President of the United States. Together with the President’s Answers, Boston, 1798, Evans, No. 33345. description ends , p. 32–33, 163–164, 172–176, 250–251).

4AA referenced here, and quoted later in the letter, “The President’s March,” for which see vol. 12:xvi–xvii. Although the enclosure has not been found, the song’s lyrics were printed in the Philadelphia Gazette of the United States, 26 April, and published separately by Carr’s Musical Repository with a portrait of JA on 30 April (Philadelphia Porcupine’s Gazette, 27 April). For AA’s comments on the portrait, see her letter to Catherine Nuth Johnson of 4 May, below.

5While JA had called on Congress to raise a provisional army at the beginning of his presidential term, no action was taken until after the revelation of the XYZ Affair. On 13 April Benjamin Goodhue introduced a bill in the Senate for a provisional army of 20,000 men, and it passed ten days later in a 13 to 8 vote. A heated debate in the House followed, with Federalists arguing that state militias could not stand against a French invasion and urging measures to deter French hostility, while Democratic-Republicans believed the bill was unnecessary and threatened to militarize the country with a standing army that would be used against domestic opponents of the administration. This opposition was partially successful, and the resulting bill limited the army to 10,000 troops, which could be called upon only “in the event of a declaration of war against the United States, or of actual invasion of their territory, … or of imminent danger of such invasion,” and only if such occurred before the next session of Congress. This weakened bill passed 51 to 40 on 18 May, the Senate concurred in the amendments on 22 May, and JA signed it on 28 May. The U.S. Department of the Navy was established by Congress on 30 April (vol. 12:118; 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. 540, 546, 561, 1772; Kohn, Eagle and Sword description begins Richard H. Kohn, Eagle and Sword: The Federalists and the Creation of the Military Establishment in America, 1783–1802, New York, 1975. description ends , p. 224–226; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, 1789– , Boston and Washington, D.C., 1845–. description ends , 1:553–554, 558–561). For the construction of naval vessels, the fortification of U.S. ports, and the arming of merchant vessels, see vol. 12:150–151, 173, 449–450, 455.

6A 7 Feb. dispatch to Timothy Pickering from the American envoys to France, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, John Marshall, and Elbridge Gerry, enclosed a lengthy memorial dated 17 Jan. to the French foreign minister Talleyrand and a copy of the 18 Jan. French decree against neutral shipping, for which see vol. 12:355–356. The commissioners’ letter to Talleyrand reviewed the history of Franco-American relations, defended various U.S. decisions, in particular the declaration of neutrality at the start of the French Revolution and the ratification of the Jay Treaty, and detailed the abuses suffered by American shipping by French acts against neutral vessels. In their covering letter, the commissioners informed Pickering that if they did not receive a satisfactory answer, they would formally request their passports to leave France (Amer. State Papers, Foreign Relations description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–1861; 38 vols. description ends , 2:169–182).

7For TBA to AA, 22 Dec. 1797, see vol. 12:395, 396.

8This letter has not been found, nor are there any extant letters from Johnson to AA.

9AA likely meant JQA’s letter to JA of 31 Jan. 1798, in which JQA reported his inability to move forward with treaty negotiations until he received new credentials to present to the Prussian government, offered extensive comment on France’s impact in Europe, and questioned the veracity of reports about the new Russian emperor, Paul I. He also reported meeting several diplomats who had known JA during his diplomatic service (Adams Papers).

10John Jay was reelected in the 1798 New York gubernatorial contest, receiving 54 percent to his opponent Robert R. Livingston’s 46 percent of the 29,644 votes cast (Hamilton, Papers description begins The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett, Jacob E. Cooke, and others, New York, 1961–1987; 27 vols. description ends , 21:534).

11AA wrote again to TBA on 7 May, offering further comment on the many addresses being submitted to JA, reporting that a deputation of Philadelphia youth were expected that day for the same purpose, and claiming that “the spirit of addressing will be succeeded by a military spirit, and our youth will prepare to defend the Boon obtaind through much danger many difficulties and seald with the Blood of their Fathers.” She also noted JA’s good health despite the rigors of the presidency (Adams Papers).

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