Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 14 June 1813

From John Adams

Quincy June 14. 1813

Dear Sir

In your Letter to Dr Priestley of march 21. 1801, you “tender him, the protection of those laws which were made for the wise and good, like him; and disclaim the legitimacy of that Libel on legislation, which, under the form of a Law, was for Sometime placed among them.” This Law, I presume was, the Alien Law, as it was called.

As your name is Subscribed to that law, as Vice President, and mine as President, I know not why you are not as responsible for it as I am. Neither of Us were concerned in the formation of it. We were then at War with France: French Spies then swarmed in our Cities and in the Country. Some of them were, intollerably, turbulent, impudent and Seditious. To check these was the design of this law. Was there ever a Government, which had not Authority to defend itself against Spies in its own Bosom? Spies of an Ennemy at War? This Law was never executed by me, in any Instance.

But what is the conduct of our Government now? Aliens are ordered to report their names and obtain Certificates once a month: and an industrious Scotchman, at this moment industriously labouring in my Garden is obliged to walk once a month to Boston, eight miles at least, to renew his Certificate from the Marshall. And a fat organist is ordered into the Country. &c &c. &c. All this is right. Every Government has by the Law of Nations a right to make prisoners of War, of every Subject of an Enemy. But a War with England differs not from a War with France. The Law of Nations is the same in both.

I cannot write Volumes in a Single Sheet: but these Letters of yours require Volumes from me.

The mighty Wave of public opinion, which has rolled over”! This is, in your Style, and Sometimes in mine, with less precision, and less delicacy. Oh! Mr Jefferson! What a wave of public opinion has rolled over the Universe? By the Universe here, I mean our Globe. I can yet Say there is nothing new Under the Sun, in my Sense. The Reformation rolled a Wave of public opinion over the Globe, as wonderful as this; A War of thirty years, was necessary to compose this wave. The Wars of Charlemaigne rolled a Wave. The Crusades rolled a Wave, more mountainous than the French Revolution. Only one hundred years ago, a Wave was rolled; when Austria England and Holland in Alliance, contended against France, for the dominion or rather the Alliance of Spain.

Had “The Clock run down,” I am not So Sanguine, as you, that the Consequence would have been as you presume. I was determined in all Events to retire. You and Mr Madison are indebted to Bayard, for an Evasion of the Contest. Had the Voters for Burr, addressed the Nation, I am not Sure that your Convention would have decided in your Favour. But what Reflections does this Suggest? What Pretensions had Aaron Burr to be President or Vice President?

What “a Wave” has rolled over Christendom for 1500 years? What a Wave has rolled over France for 1500 years Supporting in Power and Glory the Dinasty of Bourbon? What a Wave Supported the House of Austria? What a Wave has Supported the Dinasty of Mahomet. for 1200 years? What a Wave Supported the House of Hercules, for So many Ages in more remote Antiquity? These waves are not to be Slighted. They are less resistable than those in the Gulph Stream in an hurricane. What a Wave has the French Revolution Spread? And what a Wave is our Navy of five Frigates raising?

If I can keep this book, “Memoirs of Lindsey” I Shall have more to Say. Meantime I remain your Friend

John Adams.

RC (DLC); addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esquire late President of U. S.Montecello Virginia”; franked; postmarked Quincy, 14 June; endorsed by TJ as received 23 June 1813 and so recorded in SJL. FC (Lb in MHi: Adams Papers).

Adams here conflates two of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. TJ regarded the Alien Friends Act, which authorized the president to deport any alien he deemed dangerous, as a libel on legislation. While TJ and Adams both signed this statute, TJ was arguably not as responsible for a law he simply certified as president of the Senate as Adams was for approving a measure on which he could have exercised a presidential veto. The act expired in 1800, but not before Adams signed arrest warrants that were never executed only because those who were named in them evaded capture. The Alien Enemies Act provided for the control of aliens from nations with whom the United States was at war. It was not used in 1798 because war was never formally declared on France, but it remained in force and was implemented against British nationals during the War of 1812 (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, 1845–67, 8 vols. description ends , 1:570–2, 577–8; James Morton Smith, Freedom’s Fetters: The Alien and Sedition Laws and American Civil Liberties [1956]). the mighty wave of public opinion, which has rolled over quotes from TJ to Joseph Priestley, 21 Mar. 1801 (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 34 vols. description ends , 33:394). there is nothing new under the sun comes from the Bible, Ecclesiastes 1.9. the clock run down paraphrases another passage from TJ to Priestley, 21 Mar. 1801 (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 34 vols. description ends , 33:394). In the contested election of 1800, James Ashton bayard, a Federalist and sole member of the United States House of Representatives from Delaware, entered a blank ballot on the decisive vote that helped TJ to defeat aaron burr for the presidency (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ).

Index Entries

  • Adams, John; and Alien and Sedition Acts search
  • Adams, John; and T. Belsham’s Memoirs of the Late Reverend Theophilus Lindsey search
  • Adams, John; and U.S. Navy search
  • Adams, John; letters from search
  • Adams, John; on A. Burr search
  • Adams, John; on election of1800 search
  • Adams, John; on retirement search
  • Alien and Sedition Acts search
  • Austria; Habsburg dynasty search
  • Bayard, James Ashton; and election of1800 search
  • Belsham, Thomas; Memoirs of the Late Reverend Theophilus Lindsey, M.A. search
  • Bible; Ecclesiastes referenced search
  • Burr, Aaron (1756–1836); and election of1800 search
  • Burr, Aaron (1756–1836); J. Adams on search
  • Charlemagne, Holy Roman emperor search
  • Christianity; Crusades search
  • Christianity; Protestant Reformation search
  • France; Bourbon dynasty restored search
  • French Revolution; mentioned search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Alien and Sedition Acts search
  • Lindsey, Theophilus; Memoirs of the Late Reverend Theophilus Lindsey search
  • Madison, James; mentioned search
  • Memoirs of the Late Reverend Theophilus Lindsey, M.A. (T. Belsham) search
  • Muhammad (founder of Islam) search
  • Priestley, Joseph; TJ’s correspondence with search
  • Thirty Years’ War search
  • War of the Spanish Succession search