Adams Papers

William Smith Shaw to Abigail Adams, 15 January 1799

William Smith Shaw to Abigail Adams

Philadelphia Jan 15th 1799 Tuesday Eve.

My dear Aunt

I have received your letters of Jan. 3d & 6th with all that pleasure & gratitude which so much good counsel deserved. I do love to read your letters.

Before this reaches you, you must have heard of Cousen Thomas’s arrival at N York, from whence he wrote to you.1 He arrived in this city this afternoon, & is very well. It would do you good to see how happy it has made Uncle. I wish Aunt was here.

“The political green house” I have read and admired. You will see by the papers which I sent you this morn, that a part of it has been read in the house of Rep. by Nicholas and more by Mr Dana.2 Have you seen “Guillotina” for this year? It is much better than the last.3 In the green house, I think the description of the battle between Nelson & Buonaparte is equal to any of Homer’s battles.4

I wish I could think with you with any reason “that congress seem disposed to do any thing” they have not I believe passed a single bill as yet.5 The bancrupt bill—the bill on Mr Griswolds motion & Blounts impeachment have occupied all their time. & neither of the bills have passed the house & it is very doubtful whether the bankrupt bill will pass the house.6 The Senate after spending nearly a fortnight on Blounts impeachment have declared it null & void—that a senator is not an officer of the United States & therefore unimpeachable. I tremble for my country if it has not energy enough to punish a man “guilty of crimes & misdebeanors.”7

The meeting of the president & his son was to me very affecting. He took him in his arms the tears all the while running down his cheeks and said I thank, my God, my son that you have returned again to your native country. I would not wish to live, if I could have seen such a scene and not have been moved.

Turell Tufts is apointed consul to Surrinam Please to mention it to Uncle T.

The dispatches are not yet published I have been to Mr—s office a number of times in order to get them to carry to the house & Senate, but he says he wishes to make some comments &c. There are some very hard things said against him. You must have seen G—ns motion requesting the president to send them in.8

I wrote to my mother by this mornings mail but will write in a few days again & send the letter to you. I have received no letters from her as yet.

Love to Louisa


Wm S S—

There is no one who enquires after you with more affection than Mr Tracy Senator from Conn. I love to have him come & ask me.

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “W S Shaw Janry / 15th / 1799.”

1Not found.

2Shaw likely sent AA the Philadelphia American Daily Advertiser, 14, 15 Jan., which covered the 10 Jan. debate in the House of Representatives over the Logan Act, where John Nicholas and Samuel Whittlesey Dana both read from The Political Green-House, For the Year 1798, Hartford, Conn., [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. 36133.

3The “Guillotina, For the Year 1799” was published in the Connecticut Courant, 7 January. The poem recapped the previous year’s major political events from a Federalist viewpoint, in particular the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts, the appointment of George Washington as commander in chief, and Dr. George Logan’s unauthorized mission to France. The poem accused Thomas Jefferson of instructing Logan to go to France and in Jefferson’s name: “‘Tell them, to make impression far, / That they would fain avoid a war; / Such demo plans must surely thrive, / In spite of our Executive. / ’Tis thus they’ll raise our chop-fall’n party, / And gain a host of friends full hearty— / Fly, speed your course, and Satan bless, / Your Mission with complete success’” (lines 285–292).

4The Political Green-House, For the Year 1798 described the Battle of the Nile, in part: “The Gallic navy foil’d and torn, / With pale discomfiture forlorn, / Wide scatter’d o’er Rosetta’s bay, / In prostrate ruin helpless lay; / Two shatter’d fly; the rest remain / To wear the valiant victor’s chain; / While o’er the wreck-obstructed tide / The British ships in triumph ride” (lines 721–728).

5Shaw was quoting from AA’s letter to JA, 6 Jan., above.

6Congress had tried throughout the 1790s to pass bankruptcy legislation without success. The issue gained urgency, however, after the financial failure and imprisonment of Robert Morris. Debate on the most recent bill, which dealt with large commercial debtors, hinged on ideological differences between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans over whether the country was primarily commercial or agrarian. Despite a Federalist majority in the House, the bill failed by three votes on 15 Jan. 1799 (Bruce H. Mann, Republic of Debtors: Bankruptcy in the Age of American Independence, Cambridge, 2002, p. 168–169, 205–214, 327).

7For the Blount affair, see vol. 12:x–xi. William Blount refused to appear at his trial before the Senate on 3 Jan. and instead was represented by Jared Ingersoll and Alexander James Dallas, who argued that the Senate lacked the jurisdiction to try him. James Asheton Bayard and Robert Goodloe Harper,the managers from the House, argued that Blount was subject to impeachment as a civil officer as the term was used in the Constitution; however, Ingersoll and Dallas prevailed, and after three days of debate a motion to overrule Blount’s plea was rejected, and the case was dismissed on 14 Jan. (William H. Masterson, William Blount, Baton Rouge, La., 1954, p. 339, 341–342; 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., 3d sess., p. 2245–2319).

8In his 8 Dec. 1798 speech to Congress, JA said he would submit dispatches on French affairs that had been received since the close of the previous session. Despite this assertion and JA’s repeated requests, Timothy Pickering had been holding the papers, primarily Elbridge Gerry’s correspondence with Talleyrand, ostensibly because he was drafting a report to accompany the dispatches. Unaware of the reasons for the delay, Albert Gallatin on 8 Jan. 1799 introduced a resolution requesting the dispatches because he did not believe the House should consider legislation on Franco-American relations without them. On Harper’s belief that the information was forthcoming, the resolution was laid aside until 16 Jan. when Gallatin repeated his motion but again agreed to postpone it. The dispatches were finally submitted on 18 Jan. (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., 3d sess., p. 2421, 2572–2573, 2677, 2725; 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 , 2:204–229; Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism description begins Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism, New York, 1993. description ends , p. 613–614). For Pickering’s report, submitted on 21 Jan., see Shaw to AA, 21 Jan., and note 2, below.

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