Adams Papers

To John Adams from Margaret Smith, 25 April 1799

Bourbon County Kentucky April 25th 1799


it is natural to supose that as soon as you open this letter you will cast your eye to the bottom to find the name of the author—but I hope you are too much of a gentleman to throw it by with contempt when you find it is a woman—and too much of a philosopher to think there is any sex in souls—therefore I earnestly beg your attention—I know that according to the common notion of things it may look a little odd that a woman of common rank should presume to write to a man in your elevated station—but as a rational creature I can neither veiw myself as above or below any of the human race—and I feel a degree of pleasure when I reflect that I am writing to a man whose opportunity of information must have long since convinced him that sounding titles and accumalated wealth cannot of themselves give the possessor any real claim to honor—but often proves a snare in his way and causes him to display a want of merrit which would not have been known had he filled a humbler station—now sir as I intend to use plainess without fear <or fear> or flatery—before I proceed I wish to call to your remembrance that part of antient history where we find joab the captain general of the warlike tribe of judah not only condescending to talk with a woman but to take her counsil which was the means of saveing many lives that joab in his mistaken zeal had devoted to distruction may heaven grant that I may have the same succes with that antient matron as I fear there are more lives in danger now than there was then—

I have now your proclamation lying before me where in you recommend humiliation fasting and prayer with confession of sins and thankful acknowledgemant of mercies so far I agree with you—but when you say that the interests of the people are still held in jeopardy by the hostile designs and insidios arts of a foreign nation intimating this to be the source of our greatest impending danger—I <crying> cannot help crying out—is it possible that you are so near the light that you cannot see or <that> we so far from it that we are in total darkness—no sir neither of these can be the case—for it requires but a small degree of discernment to discover that the greatesst evils the nation is now labouing under or is threatned with originates at the seat of goverment—witness the british treaty with all its connections and consequences—this was a bitter pill yet the people made out to swallow it and found it was but the foreruner of many others they have had to force down since and have reason to fear the worst is yet to come—can any one in their senses beleive that it is for the defence of the nation that you are raising an army—no sir I apeal to your conscience if it is not to intimidate the people and force them to a compliance with the unjust unreasonable unconstitutional laws which have been and are constantly frameing—

Are you not sinking the nation in debt and by a kind of legal robery seizing on the fruit of our labour—and for what—why truly to enable you to place a yoke on our necks and chain us down to slavery—

now I fancy I see your cholar begin to rise you apear to be just ready to throw down the paper with disdain—but let me entreat you to suspend your resentment perhaps we may come to better terms when I tell you that I do not supose you solely to blame for it is evident there is a large combination about the seat of goverment which like a disorder in the head of the body natural reaches its baleful influence through every member of the body politic—we are even now feeling the bitter effects in our own state for there are some here who are so confident that the balance of power is on their side they are throwing off the mask and boldly pleading for the necessity of one part of the community submiting etirely to the will of the other and that without any other rule of discrimination that I know of but simply this that the poor and unfortunate are to be subjected to their more fortunate fellow creatures merrit apears to be intirely out of the question—I have again been reveiwing your proclaimation and it makes my blood thril through my veins when I see you call upon us to pray for the success of the army—is it possable that any true republican who is in any measure possessed with the spirit of the gospel can join in such a prayer—O no—rather let me call upon you to join with me and every freind to peace and good order and pray for the anihilation of the army that is already raised and that a stop may be put to such daring encroachments on the liberties of the people—you must excuse my being warm in this cause—nay you cannot help doing it when I tell you that most of my nearest relations who were capable of fighting were engaged in the glorious contest for liberty several of whom bled and died in the cause—in particular my husband who was possessed of a noble patriotic spirit he willingly entered into the service of his country from <he> whence he never returned and left me a desolate widow with a number of helpless orphans—since that time I have been carefully takeing notice to the management of our public affairs and has been amazed to find that a number who then bore such shining characters are now so far degenerated witness your predecessor who ratified the british treaty or rather what I call the infernal plot and has now (as I am informed) excepted of a commission to command an army to supress that very liberty he once fought to suport—certainly there is no one who is in any degree aquainted with the history of nations but what must know that the main business of a standing army is to suport despotism—our feaderal goverment is now so near a monarchy that it needs but one strong pillar more to enable it to shine out in full lustre and from some hints I have lately heard I have some reason to fear that pillar is now forming—I mean an established church if these two props can be fairly set up then farewell all civil and religeous liberty as despotism is so sure to have a hand in the whole busness if I should live to see such a crissis—and if I can but take some of my connections with me I should willingly seek an asylym on the heads of misouri and spend my few remaining days among the uncultivated savages rather than live under such a goverment—

O sir are you not a parent and do you not feel the tenderest anxiety for the future wellfare of your posterity do you not feel a flatering hope of leaving them in possession (of at least large share) of the permanant revenue of your country—I am also a parent and feel at this time all the mother moveing in my breast but my highest wishes with regard to my children terminates in this—that they live virtuous eat and drink and enjoy the fruit of their own labor—solomon says <he says> he saw nothing better—now sir let us for a moment supose that the matter rests entirely betwixt you and me—can you without blushing tell me that my children ought to labour hard and live low to support yours in idleness and luxery—but perhaps you can realize the matter better if we reverse it and say that you and yours is to work for me and mine—and let us futher supose that by some artfull strategem we should find out a way to compell you to it without making you any recompence or in any sense of the word be of any benefit to you—surely your heart recoils at this and so it ought—this shows something of the dignity of human nature—I hope sir you will acknowledge that what would be wrong between you and I would by the same parity of reason be wrong betwixt us and all or any part of the human race—solomon says surely oppression makes a wise man mad—and you surly know that mad men will do mad actions—the period is fast advanceing when I fear we will see this demonstrated—for it is certain that the people at large are not ignorant enough tamely to submit to arbitrary measurs neither are they so much enlightned as to oppose in a becoming manner tho I am much opposed to disorderly mobs and insurrections—yet had I the influence Mahomet, and the eloquence of Ciciro—I would exert these talents to the utmost in order to exite all the states to a unanimous cool deliberate steady opposition to every species of injustice—to form a new constitution on a more equitable plan—and establish liberty on its own bases—

as the public mind at present is much agitated and many through design or prejudice or both are constantly sowing the seeds of dissention among the people—and as there are so many new contrivances to expend the public mony—and such a constant creation of officers till they are almost become as pernicious as the locusts in egypt—for these reasons and many more which your own recolection can easily furnish you with, I beg you to take the alarm—although there is more power put into your hands than ever ought to be comited to any one man—yet if you exert that power in the cause of truth equety and justice and then exert your utmost influence in order to prevent such undue power ever being deligated to any man for the future—it may be the means of preventing much distress and render you happy in the approbation of your own conscience—you would then merit the love and esteem of your fellow citizens which is more desirable than the applause of sycophants—but above all you would have reason to expect the “blessing of the Lord which maketh rich and addeth no sorrow with it”—I think I may venture to afirm that if there is not imediate atention paid to these things, you and I with all the inhabitants of the land will have cause to tremble—

I supose I have wrote enough at this time to try your patiance—if you see cause to answer this epistle perhaps I may write to you in another maner again—

I can scarcely read your countinance now but I rather suspect it is a smile of contempt if that is the case I supose you intend pasing it by in silence— but do you not know that you can hardly affront a woman worse than to treat her with neglect—therefore I shall wait with patiance till the first of august and then if I receive no answer I intend publishing it in the Kentucky gazette and so give the public an opportunity of judging between us—if you do write direct to the care of Coll’ Thomas jones town of parris Bourbon County—now sir as I profess myself to be a citizen of the world I may without hesitation subscribe myself your freind—

Margaret Smith

PS I do not think I should have wrote to you at this time had you not set this day apart for a paticular purpose—for <[. . .]> reasons which perhaps I may let you know hereafter I could not feel a freedom in observing the day in the manner you recommened—yet I was not willing to pass it by unnoticed. I therefore concluded to spend the time in writing to you—as you profess a regard for the sacred oracles please to turn your eyes to 58th chapter Isaiah there you will find the requesites for an acceptable fast is to loose the bands of wickedness, undo the heavy burdens to let the oppressed go free and that ye break every yoke—I submit these things to your own reflections and shall wait for your answer adieu


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