Adams Papers

Jeremy Belknap to Abigail Adams, 30 May 1798

Jeremy Belknap to Abigail Adams

Boston May 30 1798

Dear Madam

Yesterday morning I had the honour of writing to the President & enclosing my fast Sermon.1 At noon, I had the very great pleasure of voting for him as President of the Academy to which office he was re-elected unanimously;2 & before night I received your very obliging favour of the 24th with the Books & the extract, for which I return you my cordial thanks.3 As I had not seen Robinsons work (tho’ Dr morse had promised to lend it to me) I suppose I am at liberty to consider it as my own; tho’ I will lend it to Mr Cranch. I hear there is a proposal of reprinting it here.4 The extract is copied & sent to John Russell to be published in his Commercial Gazette tomorrow. I have titled it “Extract of a letter from a Gentn of good information in Europe” Russell knows tht it came from me & that I have a Correspondent at Hamburgh, which is enough to satisfy him & any person who may make inquiry of him.5 Pray, Madam, is the Dupont mentioned in the Extract the same person who is sent to succeed L’Etombe as Consul Genl? and is he or will he be received in that Character?

The Confidence which you repose in me, & your kind wishes for my health & usefulness require my warmest gratitude. It is every one’s duty at this critical time to say & do all in his power to serve his Country in its religious & political Interests & I hope I shall not be backward to perform mine. Should there be any services in the Cause of truth, virtue, genuine liberty & the public safety which you or the man you love best can recommend to me I shall be very happy to receive your commands.

Notwithstanding the dark & threatning aspect of the political hemisphere yet I do not think it equal to what we passed through in 1774 & 1775. Under the present Executive Administration of our federal Government, I enjoy as much tranquillity of mind as Eneas did when navigating the Streight between Sicily & Italy under the conduct of Palinurus, whilst Scylla & Charybdis foamed & roared on either side & Etna thundred over his head.6 I pray most sincerely for the preservation of the life, health & vigour of our Palinurus & hope he will not think of a retreat till like our Friend Washington, he shall have the prospect of a Successor to whom the helm may be safely committed. Let his heart be fixed & his confidence be placed in that guardian power which “rides in the Whirlwind & directs the Storm.”7 I think nothing would be a more proper subject of contemplation & consolation for him that the Text of John Cotton’s Election sermon in 1633. You may find it in the book of Haggai ch. ii. ver. 4.8

After our last Commencement I sent Governor Wentworth one of our College Catalogues & mentioned to him the pleasure it gave me to see the names of 2 Gentlemen so dear to me printed in Capitals in the Class of 1755. at the same time I repeated some expressions of affectionate regard toward him which I had heard from the President a little while before. I added respecting the latter that “I felt myself very happy in his advancement to the chief Magistracy of the Union, because I believed there was more political sagacity in his head than in all the crowned heads of Europe.” His answer, which was not designed for any eye but mine, I take the liberty of sending for your perusal together with two specimens of Nova Scotia Poetry, which may afford you some amusement.9

I am, Madam, with great respect, your friend / & humble servt

Jeremy Belknap

I hear that Mrs Black is immoderately fond of her baby!

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mrs Ab. Adams.”; endorsed: “Dr Belknap.”

1In his letter of 29 May Belknap informed JA that Elbridge Gerry and Timothy Pickering would receive honorary degrees from Harvard College at the next commencement (MHi:Jeremy Belknap Papers). He also enclosed a copy of his fast day sermon, in the preface of which he defended JA’s proclamation, stating that it was “not to be considered as an act of legislative or executive authority; because no power is delegated, by the Constitution, to any person to direct us in matters of religion,” but rather it was “a letter of advice, or a friendly call, from a man, whom the people have placed at their head” (A Sermon, Delivered on the 9th of May, 1798, the Day of the National Fast, Recommended by the President of the United States, Boston, 1798, p. v, 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. 33394). For the controversy surrounding the fast day, see vol. 12:xiv–xv.

2JA was reelected president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences at a 29 May meeting held in the rooms of the Boston Library Society on Franklin Place (Boston Columbian Centinel, 26 May, 20 June).

3For AA’s letter to Belknap of 24 May, see AA to Mary Smith Cranch, 26 May, and note 2, above.

4The Philadelphia edition of John Robison, Proofs of a Conspiracy Against All the Religions and Governments of Europe, sent by AA to Belknap is presumably the copy in JA’s library at MB signed “Jeremy Belknap, 1798, from Mrs. A. Adams.” An advertisement by Thomas & Andrews for a proposed Boston subscription printing of the work appeared in the Boston Columbian Centinel, 30 May, but it does not appear to have gone to press. Manning & Loring later printed William Bentley, Extracts from Professor Robison’s “Proofs of a Conspiracy,” Boston, 1799, 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. 35181 (Catalogue of JA’s Library description begins Catalogue of the John Adams Library in the Public Library of the City of Boston, Boston, 1917. description ends ).

5The extract from JQA’s 17 Feb. letter to JA was printed in the Boston Price-Current, 31 May. The newspaper’s editor was John Russell (b. 1761), a brother of Boston printer Benjamin Russell (Oliver Ayer Roberts, History of the Military Company of the Massachusetts Now Called The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, 4 vols., Boston, 1895–1901, 2:281).

6Virgil, Aeneid, Book III, lines 548–587.

7Joseph Addison, “The Campaign, a Poem to His Grace the Duke of Marlborough,” line 292.

8In Sept. 1634 a divided Mass. General Court was debating whether to allow a group headed by Rev. Thomas Hooker to remove to Connecticut. Divisions within the legislature were said to melt away after a sermon by Rev. John Cotton on Haggai, 2:4: “Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the Lord; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the Lord, and work: for I am with you, saith the Lord of hosts” (A. W. M’Clure, The Life of John Cotton, Boston, 1846, p. 227–229).

9JA’s Harvard classmate John Wentworth had been appointed governor of Nova Scotia in 1792. In his reply to the letter Belknap mentioned sending, Wentworth wrote about JA, “I rejoice in and am proud of the affectionate remembrance of my old Friend … ‘I always loved John Adams,’ our Youth was spent in confidence and intimacy, which discovered to me so many virtues; and such pre-eminent abilitys, that they created an esteem which has not since been estranged, and still affords me many hours of comforting reflection.” Wentworth agreed that JA’s political wisdom “may exceed the endowments of those whom you designate— The most of them I really believe it does,” to which Belknap added a note, “meaning the crowned heads of Europe.” The poems enclosed by Wentworth have not been found, but he described them as “some lines composed No. 1—by a Lady upwards of 70 years old—the other by a Lady of 25—both of them Natives of this Province, and I believe never beyond New-Brunswic at farthest” (vol. 3:134; Sibley’s Harvard Graduates description begins John Langdon Sibley, Clifford K. Shipton, Conrad Edick Wright, Edward W. Hanson, and others, Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Cambridge and Boston, 1873–. description ends , 13:650–681; Wentworth to Belknap, 15 Sept. 1797, MHi:Jeremy Belknap Papers).

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