Thomas Jefferson Papers

Notes on a Conversation with Benjamin Rush, 10 January 1800

Notes on a Conversation with
Benjamin Rush

Jan. 10. Dr. Rush tells me that he had it from Saml. Lyman that during the XYZ Congress the Federal members held the largest Caucus they have ever had, at which he was present, & the question was proposed & debated whether they should declare war against France, & determined in the Negative. Lyman was against it.

he tells me that mr Adams told him that when he came on in the fall to Trenton, he was there surrounded constantly by the opponents of the late mission to France. that Hamilton pressing him to delay it, said ‘why, Sir, by Christmas Louis the XVIII. will be seated on his throne’—Mr. A. by whom?—H. by the coalition.—Mr. A. ah! then farewell to the independce of Europe. if a coalition moved by the finger of England is to give a government to France, there is an end to the independance of every country.

MS (DLC: TJ Papers, 108:18558); entirely in TJ’s hand; on same sheet as Notes on a Conversation with Tench Coxe, 2 Jan. 1800.

The large caucus may have been the one that Henry Tazewell reported to TJ in the summer of 1798; see Tazewell to TJ, 5, 12 July 1798.

Although in 1801 Adams made some notes of his October 1799 stay in Trenton, where the federal government had relocated due to yellow fever and where he instructed his cabinet to send forward the new diplomatic mission to France, only later, in 1808–9, did he pen a description of his meeting with Hamilton. In a letter of 30 Dec. 1799, Abigail Adams characterized her husband’s comments to Hamilton in some detail. By her account, when Hamilton declared that both the king of France and the Dutch stadtholder would be restored to power by Christmas, her husband retorted: “I should as soon expect … that the sun, moon & stars will fall from their orbits, as events of that kind take place in any such period.” Mrs. Adams was not in Trenton with her husband at the time of the interview with Hamilton, and it seems likely that she and Rush, whom she mentioned in her letter of 30 Dec., both learned of the conversation from the president in Philadelphia in the latter part of 1799. None of the accounts by Adams or his wife contained a warning by the president about the consequences that outside interference in the governance of France would have on national sovereignty. None of those versions, however, purported to include every particular. Hamilton did not record details of the conversation (Adams, Works description begins Charles Francis Adams, ed., The Works of John Adams, Boston, 1850–56, 10 vols. description ends , 9:253–6; Ephraim May Cunningham, comp., Correspondence between the Hon. John Adams, Late President of the United States, and the Late Wm. Cunningham, Esq.: Beginning in 1803, and Ending in 1812 [Boston, 1823], 48; Stewart Mitchell, ed., New Letters of Abigail Adams, 1788–1801 [Boston, 1947], 208–9, 224–5; Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends , 23:546–7; 25:219; Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism description begins Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism, New York, 1993 description ends , 639–40).

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