Adams Family Correspondence, volume 11

130 John Adams to Abigail Adams, 7 January 1796 Adams, John Adams, Abigail
John Adams to Abigail Adams
My Dearest Friend Philadelphia Jany. 7. 1796

Inclosed is another Production of Porcupine, whose quils will Stick.1

“And Midas now neglected Stands With Asses ears and dirty hands.[”]2

The President appears great in Randolphs Vindication throughout excepting that he wavered about Signing the Treaty which he ought not to have done one moment. Happy is the Country to be rid of Randolph: but where shall be found good Men and true to fill the offices of Government. There seems to be a Necessity of distributing the offices about the States in Some Proportion to their Numbers: but in the Southern Part of the Union false Politicks have Struck their roots so deep that it is very difficult to find Gentlemen who are willing to accept of public Trusts and at the same time capable of discharging them. The President offered the office of State to Seven Gentlemen who declined: to Mr Patterson, Mr King, Mr Henry of Virginia, Mr Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of S. C. and three others whose names I dont recollect.3 He has not been able to find any one to accept the War Office.4 The Expences of living at the Seat of Government are so exorbitant, so far beyond all Proportion to the salaries and the Sure Reward of Integrity in the discharge of public functions is such obloquy Contempt and Insult, that no Man of any feeling is willing to renounce his home, forsake his Property & Profession for the sake of removing to Philadelphia where he is almost sure of disgrace & Ruin. Where these Things will end I know not. In perfect Secrecy between you & me, I must tell you that I now believe the P. will retire. The Consequence to me is very Serious and I am not able as yet to see what my Duty will demand of me. I Shall take my Resolutions with cool deliberation, I shall watch the Course of Events with more critical Attention than I have done for sometime, and what Providence shall point out to be my Duty I shall pursue with Patience, and Decision. It is no light thing to resolve upon Retirement. My Country has claims—my Children have claims and my own Character have claims upon me. But all These Claims forbid me to serve the Public in disgrace. Whatever any one may think I love my Country too well to shrink from Danger in her service provided I have a reasonable prospect of being 131 able to serve her to her honour and Advantage. But if I have Reason to think that I have either a Want of Abilities or of public Confidence to such a degree as to be unable to support the Government in a higher Station, I ought to decline it— But in that Case, I ought not to serve in my present Place under another especially if that other should entertain sentiments so opposite to mine as to endanger the Peace of the Nation. It will be a dangerous Crisis in public affairs if the President and Vice President should be in opposite Boxes.

These Lumbrations must be confined to your own Bosom— But I think upon the whole the Probability is strong that I shall make a voluntary Retreat & spend the rest of my days in a very humble Style with you. of one Thing I am very sure— It would be to me the happiest Portion of my whole Life.

I am with unabatable Affection / Yours

J. A

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mrs A”; endorsed: “Janry 7th / 1796.”


Peter Porcupine, A New-Year’s Gift to the Democrats; or, Observations on a Pamphlet, Entitled, “A Vindication of Mr. Randolph’s Resignation,” Phila., 1796, Evans, No. 30215.


Jonathan Swift, “The Fable of Midas,” lines 81–82. These lines appeared as part of an epigraph on the title page of Peter Porcupine’s A New-Year’s Gift.


In a late October 1795 letter to Alexander Hamilton, George Washington largely reiterated JA’s comments here: Washington had offered the post of secretary of state to William Paterson of New Jersey, Thomas Johnson of Maryland, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina, and Patrick Henry of Virginia, in that order, all of whom had declined. Subsequent correspondence with Hamilton indicates that Rufus King of New York was also approached but likewise declined. Although Hamilton made other suggestions for possible candidates, on 9 Dec. Washington submitted Timothy Pickering’s name to Congress to make his position as acting secretary of state permanent. The Senate gave its advice and consent to the appointment the following day.

Paterson (1745–1806), Princeton 1763, was Irish-born but raised in New Jersey. A lawyer, he held various posts in New Jersey government and served as one of that state’s delegates to the federal Constitutional Convention in 1787. In 1793 he became an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Pinckney (1745–1825), of the prominent Pinckney family of South Carolina, was educated in England at Oxford and the Middle Temple. He rose to the rank of brigadier general during the Revolutionary War and later was named a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. He held no other federal positions, however, until named U.S. minister to France in 1796 (Hamilton, Papers, 19:356–357, 395–397; U.S. Senate, Exec. Jour., 4th Cong., 1st sess., p. 193; ANB ).


James McHenry, for whom see vol. 1:338, was named the new secretary of war in January after three others turned down the position; he took the oath of office in February ( ANB ).

Elizabeth Smith Shaw Peabody to Abigail Adams, 9 January 1796 Peabody, Elizabeth Smith Shaw Adams, Abigail
Elizabeth Smith Shaw Peabody to Abigail Adams
My Dear Sister— Atkinson Jan. 9th 1796

It is indeed several weeks since I have written to you—an eventful term to me—multiplied with cares, which have prevented me from 132 presenting my most cordial Thanks to my dear Sisters, for their kindness, & the maternal affection they have shewn my Daughter— I think I Justly estimated her genius & temper—& my expectations were raised, that, when under your fostering hand she would greatly improve; & I am happy to find that she does honour to herself, & I hope no dishonour to you—

You ask, why my marriage was not announced in the Paper? were this question asked of any one else but myself, I could say many things in the figurative way, but now shall only tell you, that my little Bark though built by a skillful hand, yet in its constituent parts, was very unfit for the rough billows upon which it was to be tossed in the voyage of Life, & had been so enfeebled, & battered by unforeseen, & sudden Storms as to be of too little consequence to be noticed by the world; which perhaps knew, that I had long ago, for many reasons, adopted the language of Mr Pope; & with much more sincerity (I believe) wished that I could “live, & die unseen, unknown, steal from the world, & not a stone tell where I lie—”1

It is a month my Sister since I quitted one State, I hope for a far better— Agreeable as Haverhill had been to me, yet as I had no part, nor inheritance there, I tarried till I really longed to be gone, that I might be at rest, & freed from a multiplicity of vexatious, unprofitable Cares— The events, & occurences which impeded my course, interupted that sweet serenity which I wished to maintain upon this solemn occasion, are too many for me to particularize Suffice it therefore to say, that everything took a contrary turn, all my plans were deranged—& that had I lived in ancient days, I should have stood agast, & believed that all the Gods & Goddess had conspired against me, & had engaged the elements upon their side—raging with more violence than that which dispersed the Grecian Fleet— What, or whether old Juno had any thing against me, I could not say— Whether she thought I had not asserted my rights in former times, or feared I should be now, more condescending than the dignity of her Sex, would admit, is hard for me to determine—

I believe I told you, poor Cousin Betsy had been languishing for several weeks with a distressing pain in her side, & stomach, which the medicine could not reach, & was increasing upon her every day— The evening before our appointed marriage she was taken with fainting fits, & I really feared she would die before morning— She rested some, was not faint, but appeared with all the symptoms of a fever, unable to set up but a little while at a time— my Neighbour’s Children sick with the Canker all round me, some really dead, 133 others dying— you know what a tender part a feeling heart takes upon such occasions— & my Abby I feared every day would share the fate of others— Mr Peabody had agreed to arange his affairs so as to come to Haverhill upon Tuesday—desired a Team to be ready at the house wednesday for the Furniture, & Thursday a number of respectable Gentlemen were to wait upon us to Atkinson whose wives had beged the favour of Mr Peabody to roast a few Turkeys at his house, for our comfortable reception— so nothing could be done, but proceed—

Perhaps you may remember the eighth of December was a dreadful stormy day— It was one of those Eras, which I hope I shall not wish to be blotted from my remembrance— The Storm increased with so much voilence that, circumstanced as I was, I really hoped Mr Peabody would be too superstitious to come, & be married in a Storm— It was late in the afternoon before he came— I told him I had been approbating his conduct, & supposed he had been too wise, or too whimsical to think of being married in a storm— I confess it was rather too cavalier treatment, cold, & wet as he was, but he looked up with so much good-humour & said “Is it posible you can be in earnest, what if it does storm, is it not often a prelude to a calm sunshine?—[] I was silent though at that moment, I thought I would have given the world not to have been the cheif actor, in this gloomy solemn scene— Betsy sick—house wet—neighbours disappointed, every thing wrong, & wearing a sad aspect— add to all this, just as we were standing up, a fire was cried, which proved to be our chimney— Good Lord (thought I,) what next?— this was not a vain ejaculation, I assure you—but as some minds always rise in proportion to their exegencies, I thought it best, to call up all the magnanimity of which I was capable, & attend with proper composure to the duties, & solemn Obligations in which I was engaging— I cannot say, what passes in the mind of Others, but few have a more quick succession of Ideas than I had, or a greater weight (I hope) upon their minds.

My own affairs as administratrix unsettled, notwithstanding my repeated solicitations to the Parish for the purpose, conduced not a little to depress my spirits; & the accumalating expences occasioned by the necessity of my families being devided & leaving my dear sick Neice, rendered me almost one of the most pitiable Objects in nature, & very unfit for the duties before me.— How I bid farewell to my worthy Friends—& to a place where I had very strong local attachments—to a house endeared to me by the birth of my 134 Children—& with what grace I received my new Parishoners, I must leave for others to say— But this I must acknowledge, that if I had not had one of the kindest of Friends, to have supported, & encouraged me, I must have sunk— And in Justice to his daughter, I must tell you, that she met me at the door with so much sweetness benevolence, & affectionate respect, as has left an indeliable impression upon my heart, that has bound me to her forever—

When I left cousin Betsy I feared she would never be able to reach Atkinson, her symtoms were so consumtive, but the Dr said not fixed, that was some encouragment to me that she might recover, if she would but take proper care— I left Lydia, & Nancy Harrod with her, Mr Tucker lodged in the house, & Betsy Quincy, & myself took turns to stay with her till she got well enough for Mr Tucker to bring her here, which he did in a fortnight after I first came— She is far from being well now—but here we all are, & my Friend looks supremely blest, in the power of making others happy—

I thank you my dear Sister, for your kind, invitation to my Children to spend some time with you— I believe William will accept it, & go to Boston, before the vacation is out, if you can get him from your house to Cambridge— I know not where they can be better instructed than by your example, & your Library— Sometimes I think I will send Betsy to you, till the spring, & then I wish to have her go into this accademy— I think it will be for her advantage—

I rejoice to hear that Mrs Tufts is on the recovery, I was destressed for her— I am sorry my Sister Cranchs family has been so sick, I would write if I had2 time—moving &cc, has been fatiguing— you will be kind enough to let her see this Letter, she will want to hear from Me, & be assured my dear Sisters, that no place, time, or change will ever obliterate from my heart, the Love & Gratitude I feel for you, which glows in the breast of your affectionate Sister

Elizabeth Peabo[dy]

RC (Adams Papers). Some loss of text due to a torn manuscript.


“Thus let me live, unseen, unknown, / Thus unlamented let me die; / Steal from the world, and not a stone, / Tell where I lie” (Alexander Pope, “Ode on Solitude,” lines 17–20).


The remainder of the letter is written vertically in the left margin.