To Oliver Wolcott, Junior
[New York, June 5, 1798]
My Dear Sir
The answer from The President to the Commander in Chief &c of New Jersey contains in the close a very indiscreet passage.1 The sentiment is intemperate & revolutionary. It is not for us, particularly for the Government, to breathe an irregular or violent spirit. Hitherto I have much liked the Presidents answers, as in the main within proper bounds & calculated to animate and raise the public mind. But there are limits which must not be passed. And from my knowlege of the ardour of the Presidents mind & this specimen of the effect of that ardour, I begin to be apprehensive that he may run into indiscretion. This will do harm to the Government, to the cause & to himself. Some hint must be given for we must make no mistakes.
Inclosed is a sketch of some ideas which have run through my mind. They are perhaps none of them new but they are offered as the evidence of my Opinion on the points. As yet we are far short of the point of vigour.
ALS, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford; copy, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
1. On May 31, 1798, the New Jersey militia presented John Adams with an “address” supporting his foreign policy. This address was signed by Governor Richard Howell in his capacity as commander in chief of the militia and by several other officers. On the same day, Adams replied to this address. Both documents are printed in the Gazette of the United States, and Philadelphia Daily Advertiser, June 1, 1798.
The paragraph of Adams’s reply to which H objected reads: “Your voice of confidence and satisfaction, of firmness and determination to support the laws and Constitution of the United States, has a charm in it irresistible to the feelings of every American bosom; but when, in the presence of the God of armies and in firm reliance on his protection, you solemnly pledge your lives and fortunes, and your sacred honor, you have recorded words which ought to be indelibly imprinted on the memory of every American youth. With these sentiments in the hearts and this language in the mouths of Americans in general, the greatest nation may menace at its pleasure, and the degraded and the deluded characters may tremble, lest they should be condemned to the severest punishment an American can suffer—that of being conveyed in safety within the lines of an invading enemy.”