Adams Papers

William Smith Shaw to Abigail Adams, 5 February 1799

William Smith Shaw to Abigail Adams

Philadelphia Feb 5th 1799 Tuesday Eve.

My dear aunt

There is a class of men in this country, possessing some public confidence, but entirely destitute of any moral principle, whose whole lives are spent in the prostitution of their talents to the perversion of reason—whose unceasing endeavors are to mislead the public mind— to obstruct public business and by the aid of cavil, misrepresentation and artificial odium, to deprive the government of that public and general confidence and support, without which, it cannot act with vigor and effect. I am led to these observations by the hellish conduct of the Virginians. Some of them do not hesitate to say that they wish a seperation of the state from the general union to take place. Giles openly avows this.1 They appear as if they were determined to bid defiance to all laws human and divine. A printer at Richmond published seditious matter the day before the circuit court sat there in hopes of a prosecution; & the friends of government passed it over on account of the irritation it would produce & because they knew that such a prosecution would recommend him to the Legislature for printer to the state.2 You must have seen the address to the commonwealth of Virginia, proposed by Taylor in house of Representatives of that state and which passed the house by a majority of 22. This was a most infamous appeal to the people. I send you with this, the address from the minority which will prove to you that some good can come even out Nazareth.3

My love to Louisa if your please / Yours / with respect & esteem.4

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “W s Shaw Feb’ry / 5th 1799.”

1The day after Shaw wrote this letter, an open letter from a J. Nelson to William Branch Giles appeared simultaneously in newspapers in Philadelphia, New York, and Charleston, S.C. In it Nelson called upon Giles to refute a report that in dinner conversation “you did unequivocally declare it to be your wish and object to effect a dissolution of the Fœderal compact.” A response from Giles dated 21 Feb. appeared in the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 19 March: “This information of the gentleman I unequivocally assert to be totally unfounded and calumnious.” He added, however, that during a discussion of the Adams administration at a recent dinner party he had said that he “always had been, and still was a friend to the Union—yet if the measures proposed were to be adopted as permanent systems; I would rather see a separation of the Union upon proper and pacific arrangements; than be perpetually subject to all the pernicious consequences, which in my opinion would necessarily flow from them” (Philadelphia Gazette of the United States, 6 Feb.; New York Daily Advertiser, 6 Feb.; Charleston South Carolina State Gazette, 6 Feb.).

2The printer was probably John Dixon Jr., who on 22 Nov. 1798, the day the U.S. Circuit Court convened in Richmond, Va., printed in the Richmond Dixon’s Observatory an essay entitled “Political Creed of a Virginian,” which stated: “I believe that there was a settled plan in, what, by a certain set, is triumphantly termed the constituted authorities, to subvert the liberties of the People of America. I believe that when John Adams approved those bills he did it, knowing that they were subversive of the Constitution.” Dixon reprinted the essay on 26 Nov., in what would be the last issue of the newspaper. On 6 Dec. Dixon and new publishing partner Meriwether Jones were appointed Virginia state printers (Doc. Hist. Supreme Court description begins The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789–1800, ed. Maeva Marcus, James R. Perry, and others, New York, 1985–2007; 8 vols. description ends , 3:304; Brandon D. Quarles, “Public Printers,” in W. Hamilton Bryson, ed., Virginia Law Books: Essays and Bibliographies, Phila., 2000, p. 534).

3For the Virginia Resolutions introduced in the Va. house of delegates by John Taylor, see AA to Shaw, 20 Dec., and note 3, above. The resolutions actually passed by a tally of 100 to 63. The Philadelphia Gazette of the United States, 5 Feb. 1799, printed an address from 58 of the members who voted against the resolutions. The address supported the Alien and Sedition Acts and called the union “the rock of our political salvation” (Kevin Raeder Gutzman, Virginia’s American Revolution: From Dominion to Republic, 1776–1840, Lanham, Md., 2007, p. 125).

4Shaw also wrote to AA earlier in the day, condemning a recent French decree, which he enclosed to AA, and noting a possible congressional response. He also reported that vacancies in Congress had been filled and a subscription was being raised to pay the expenses of Matthew Lyon (Adams Papers).

Index Entries