Adams Papers

John Adams to William Stephens Smith, 19 December 1798

John Adams to William Stephens Smith

Philadelphia Dec 19th [1798]

Dear Sir

Before you receive this you will probably receive a letter from the Secy at war informing you that the general officers have proposed either you or Mr Hammond to be a Lt Col commandant.1 This event has embarassed me. I know not what to do. I know not whether the senate will not negative the nomination if I make it; nor whether you will accept the appointment if they should advise and consent to it.

Upon this occasion I must be explicit with you. Your pride and ostentation which I myself have seen with inexpressible grief for many years have excited among your neighbors so much envy & resentment that if they have to alledge against you any instance of dishonorable and dishonest conduct as it is pretended they have, you may depend upon it, it will never be forgiven or forgotten. He whose vanity has been indulged & displayed to the humiliation & mortification of others may depend on meeting their revenge when ever they shall find an opportunity for it. They are now takeing vengeance on you with a witness.2

If I were to nominate you to any thing more than a regiment according to reports & spirit that prevail, I have no doubt you would be again negatived by the Senate. If I nominate you to a regiment I still fear it will not pass.

It is a great misfortune to the public that the office I hold should be disgraced by a nomination of my son in law, which the Senate of the U.S. think themselves obliged to negative. If the disgrace should be repeated it will be a serious thing to the public as well as to me & you & our children.

I pray you then to write me without loss of time whether you wish me to make the nomination & whether you will accept it if made & consented to.

My love to my daughter & Miss Caroline. I am dear Sir you affectionate father in law

John Adams3

LbC in William Smith Shaw’s hand (Adams Papers); internal address: “Col W Smith”; APM Reel 117.

1Abijah Hammond, for whom see vol. 10:464, was not nominated for an army position (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 , 22:353–354).

2JA was similarly critical of WSS’s character in a letter to CA of [ca. 20 Dec.], writing of WSS’s “want of Sagacity or want of something, has given him too little Veneration” for John Jay, which JA believed would be to WSS’s “Misfortune.” In contrast, JA praised the character of Samuel Bayard Malcom, for whom he had written a glowing letter of recommendation to the New York governor (MHi:Seymour Coll.).

3WSS replied to JA on 20 Dec. (Adams Papers) expressing chagrin that he had “been the cause of anxiety” but assigning blame elsewhere: “the fault is in my stars not in me.” For WSS’s subsequent military nomination, see JA to AA, 31 Dec., and note i, below.

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