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Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 9

Docno: ADMS-04-09-02-0140

Author: Adams, Thomas Boylston
Recipient: Cranch, William
Date: 1792-01-28

Thomas Boylston Adams to William Cranch

[salute] Dear William

This day week I put a letter into the Post Office for you under cover to my Brother JQA. and this morning I have receiv'd your many dated letter, the last is the 16th:.1 I complained in my other letter of our long silence, and am happy our thoughts should so well unite in breaking the charm. I should not have undertaken so suddenly to answer your letter, but for this circumstance. The last clause in your letter contains a few observations upon the Indian War, and a request for information concerning the original causes and the present continuation of Hostilities. This has been the enquiry, in this part of the Country; our newspapers are filled with invectives against heads of departments, which tho they come in an oblique direction yet they strike very forcibly upon The ——. It is a fundamental principle you know in the Constitution of England, as well as in most other Governments, that the King can do no wrong. This principle opperates as powerfully in this Country as in any other, only perhaps with this difference, that there is more freedom of expression and thought here, than in England. But the Minister of the War department has been and still is violently censured for continuing this War; but it is well known that he is but a Servant of Government; he however is the only mark too shoot at—and if this sort of warfare will kill him, I think he has but little chance for his { 251 } life.2 The people are not satisfyed that this is either a just or beneficial war, and they have repeatedly demanded information upon this head. Until this day they were as ignorant of the business as the people in your part of the Country. The enclosed, is the only official information that has appeared, and I am very happy that your request, and the means of gratisfying it, were put into my hands almost at the same instant.3 Even this I fear will not entirely hush the clamors. The members of the house of Reps, are many of them dealing out to us, a kind of Newspaper Stuff as tis called, and they appear very unwilling to allow the demands upon the Treasury, to which this War gives rise. The first year, Congress were called upon for 100,000 dollars upon this score, the second year the sum was more than threble, and the last year the expense is calculated at a Million and a quarter.4 The People have a right to be informed of the probable advantages of these expenditures, it ought also to be known whether they are absolutely necessary. Governor St Clair is in this City; he is not looked upon with much complacency, however whether his conduct has been culpable or not is still a question.—5 He has certainly been unsucessfull, which in former ages was considered but one degree removed from a crime.
Sub— There is one part of your letter that has affected me in a very different manner from the rest. You will easily imagine what it was. I am almost afraid to write any thing upon the subject; but I will say this, that the destruction of our whole frontire army, did not affect me so nearly. In this I believe you will think me safe. How it happens that I should feel more interested in the health happiness and wellfare of that Y—— L.—— than in that of any other with whom I am equally acquainted, I am unable to conjecture; but such I acknowledge is the case. I shall not write enthousiastically upon this point, but will only say with My Uncle Toby and [. . .] She must not die, if she does, in my mind the brightest [star?] in H—— will be extinguished. —Rosa.
My last letter was an attempt at describing [. . . .]ing features of the Times. The Rage for Scrip—is perhaps the m[ost] prominent; The Indian War is second at least. These things are exactly opposite in themselves—for the expenses of the War have counteracted all the benefit derived to the Governt from Speculation. I am glad to hear that business in your line has but one alternative, I presume you're in no need of a memento from me to perseverance. The Lawyers here as well as in Massachusetts can not boast of their business at first setting out. But there is this difference, that the old Lawyers { 252 } here do have enough and to spare, so that age and experience are sure to be rewarded. But in the present state of business among you, there is no certainty upon this head. I see by the Newspapers they are making JQA a consequential committee man I hope he has something to excuse his negligence to his friends in this part of the world.6 My best regards are at your disposal to Mr White's and other families, and my best wishes for you and your's.
[signed] Thomas B Adams
RC (OCHP:William Cranch Papers, Mss fC891c RM); addressed: “William Cranch Esqr: / Massachusetts / Haverhill”; endorsed: “T.B. Adams / Jany. 28th: 1792. / Answd. february 18th.”; docketed: “Decr. 1. 1792.” Some loss of text where the seal was removed.
1. William Cranch's letter to TBA has not been found.
2. An article signed “A” in the Philadelphia American Daily Advertiser, 6 Jan., opined, “That the military arrangements, and other governmental operations with respect to Indian affairs, have not been well ordered, is a truth as incontestable as the consequences have been deplorable. . . . Measures injurious to the reputation, the revenue, or the peace of the community demand immediate explanation, and if not promptly done, the minister should attone for the contempt by a loss of confidence, a loss of office, nay a forfeiture, of more consequence to him perhaps than both.”
3. The enclosure has not been found but was probably Henry Knox's “The Causes of the Existing Hostilities between the United States, and Certain Tribes of Indians North-West of the Ohio,” Philadelphia, 1792, Evans, No. 24944. On 16 Jan., George Washington had written to Knox noting that “as the circumstances which have engaged the United States in the present Indian War may some of them be out of the public recollection, and others perhaps be unknown, it may appear advisable that you prepare and publish, from authentic documents, a statement of those circumstances, as well as of the measures which have been taken, from time to time, for the re-establishment of peace and friendship.” Knox's response was published first as a broadside on 26 Jan. and then reprinted in the Philadelphia Federal Gazette and The Mail on 28 January.
4. While Knox had originally suggested in 1789 that the cost to suppress the Northwest Indians would be around $200,000, by 1791, Congress had appropriated $313,000. After Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair's defeat in November at Fort Wayne, Knox requested that Congress authorize an additional $675,000 for a total to that point of slightly over $1 million (Francis Paul Prucha, The Sword of the Republic: The United States Army on the Frontier 1783–1846, N.Y., 1969, p. 19–20, 22; Amer. State Papers: Indian Affairs, 1:199).
5. St. Clair arrived in Philadelphia on 21 Jan. 1792, presumably to defend himself against charges stemming from the Fort Wayne defeat (Philadelphia Federal Gazette, 23 Jan.).
6. See JQA to TBA, 1 Feb., note 2, below.

Docno: ADMS-04-09-02-0141

Author: Adams, John Quincy
Recipient: Adams, Thomas Boylston
Date: 1792-02-01

John Quincy Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams

[salute] My dear Brother,—

I have been for more than three weeks indebted to you for two very agreeable Letters, which Mr. Otis brought from you.1 They would not have remained so long unanswered but for a variety of circumstances which have concurred to engross all my time during { 253 } that period. It is possible that you may have observed in the Centinel about a month since, that a Committee of 21 inhabitants at this Town was chosen in town-meeting, to report to the town what measures it might be proper to take in order to reform the present state of the police of the town; and you may have noticed that my name was among those of several of the most respectable characters in this Town upon that Committee; if you read the Centinels in course as they arrive, you must have seen that this Committee reported a certain plan, which after being debated in town meeting for three days was finally rejected by the votes of 700 men against more than 500 who were in favor of its adoption.2 If you have noticed all these circumstances, it is probable you may feel some degree of curiosity to know something further upon the subject: You will perhaps wish to be informed what it is, that has thus agitated the whole town of Boston these five or six weeks, how it happened that I was placed upon this same Committee, and why the report was rejected—I will tell you, at the risque of fatiguing you with a tedious narration, which you may throw aside if it should become intolerable.
The Government of this town, in its corporate capacity, like that of all the other Towns in this Commonwealth, is a pure democracy; all the affairs of the town are transacted by the inhabitants in town meeting assembled, or by committees appointed by them; excepting certain powers which are vested in the Select-men, and which are very immaterial. The by-laws of the corporation are supposed to be enacted by the whole body of the people, and to be put in force by trials before Justices of the Peace.— In consequence of this system, the fact is, that no by-laws are enforced at all, and the inhabitants are subjected to various inconveniences, for the want of some internal regulation. Several attempts have been heretofore made to introduce a reformation, and to induce the inhabitants to request for a City charter. Those attempts have always been ineffectual, and the inconveniences have continued. About 6 weeks since, a town meeting was called, where after a debate upon the subject, in which the objects to be reformed were fully laid open and explained, the Committee, which I have already mentioned, were chosen.— It was a subject upon which I felt altogether uninterested, having been so short a time an inhabitant of the Town, and suffering personally very little from the inconveniences which had occasioned the complaints from whence that town-meeting resulted. I happened however quite accidentally to be present at the meeting and was { 254 } nominated by Dr. Jarvis, to be a member of the Committee, and was accordingly chosen. He was indeed the last man in this town from whom I should have expected such a nomination, and I cannot very readily account for his motives.3 Dr. Welsh asked him what his object was; and he answered, “that this Country were under great obligations to my father, and he thought it very proper that some notice should be taken of his Son; that he observed I generally attended the town-meetings, and appeared to interest myself in the affairs of the town; that I was a sensible young man” (excuse the vanity of the relation) “and he wished to hear my sentiments upon this subject.”— I mention these circumstances because it will I believe, be somewhat surprising to your father, as it was to myself, that the first public notice ever shown me by the town of Boston should proceed from the nomination of Dr. Jarvis. I may now proceed to the transaction of the business itself.— The Committee met several times, and after discussing the subject amply and deliberating with great coolness and harmony agreed upon the plan which was proposed, and which you have perhaps read. The agreement was unanimous, with one exception, which was Mr. B. Austin, commonly called Honestus; he set his face against the reform from the beginning and did not agree to one article of the report. All the rest, though many of them differing widely as the poles, in most of their political sentiments, were fully agreed upon this point. When the report was debated in town-meeting Austin opposed it with the utmost degree of vehemence and absurdity. “It was to destroy the liberties of the people; it was a resignation of the sovereignty of the town; it was a link in the chain of Aristocratic influence; it was intended in its operation to throw the whole burden of taxation upon the poor.” In short his speeches were such a farrago of nonsense and folly that it was hardly possible to imagine they could have any effect at all. On the other hand, Sullivan and Jarvis and Otis with several other Gentlemen argued the whole subject over and over with more popular eloquence than I ever saw exhibited upon any other occasion; yet upon the final Question, the result was as I have stated, seven hundred men, who looked as if they had been collected from all the Jails on the continent, with Ben. Austin like another Jack Cade, at their head outvoted by their numbers all the combined weight and influence of Wealth of Abilities and of Integrity, of the whole Town.— From the whole Event I have derived some instruction, and above all a confirmation of my abhorrence and contempt of simple democracy as a Government; but I took no part in the debate.— It { 255 } was indeed a very good opportunity, that was offered me, of opening a political career, especially as I had been put upon the Committee; but for a variety of reasons I chose at least to postpone to some future period, my appearance as a speaker in town meeting; the principal of which was a want of confidence in myself, which operated most forcibly upon me. I hope, however, the time will come, when I shall not be so much oppressed by my diffidence.
But the sequel of the story is no less curious than the rest. The day after the question was decided, Russell the printer demanded of Austin, in the public street, satisfaction, for a personal insult he had received from him at the town-meeting; and upon Austin's refusing to give satisfaction, Russell treated him with every possible indignity, and gave him a severe corporeal bruising: upon which Austin spread abroad that Russell was the mere instrument of aristocratic revenge, and that he did not act from resentment for his own injury, but at the instigation of a few rich men, who were enraged at seeing the success with which he had advocated the cause of the people.— And such was the obsequious servility of his rabble, that in consequence of this suggestion, several hundreds of them assembled the same evening; threatened to pull down Russell's printing office, and the houses of the aristocrats who wished to enslave the people, and actually paraded the streets with clubs, and with violent menaces for two or three hours: however they did no real mischief, and the matter seems now to have blown over pretty generally; though the partizans on both sides are still warm and ready to quarrel.4 I have from the beginning taken the part of a spectator rather than that of an actor in the scene, and I think the whole affair has given me some additional knowledge of human nature.
The present is quite a busy time in our political world; there are several other subjects upon which I could write you other letters as long and as tedious as this; but I must reserve some of my information for your father, to whom I am ashamed not to have written this long time. I intend soon to give him some account of another occurrence, which has made not a little political agitation in our atmosphere.
I have not much more to say to you respecting myself. Our Court of Common Pleas have sat again since I wrote you; I argued one more cause, and was successful. I gain my causes, but I get no business; that is at as low an ebb as ever, but I am tolerably habituated to the lot, and say, with Ancient Pistol, “si fortuna me tormenta, il sperare me contenta.”5
{ 256 }
The Petition from the North Parish in Braintree is hitherto successful. The Committee of the General Court before whom I mentioned to you our having argued the point, reported in favour of the petitioners: the bill for incorporating the town of Quincy, has past the Senate and is now before the House of Representatives. Hichborn has been indefatigable in his opposition to the business in every stage of it, but has not yet been able to defeat us.— The Question will not be finally decided till next week.
Mr. Cranch has been in town about a fortnight upon this affair, and attending the Court of Common Pleas. He has recovered to all appearance from his sickness, though he does not look so healthy, or in such spirits, as he was wont. Our other friends are all well.
Your brother,
[signed] J. Q. Adams.
MS not found. Printed from MHS, Procs., 2d ser., 4:62–65 (1887–1889).
1. Not found.
2. The Boston Columbian Centinel, 31 Dec. 1791, noted the formation of a committee “to take into consideration the present state of the town, and adopt such measures, as may conduce to lessen, if not remove, the present embarrassment, either by an application to the Legislature to add new officers, with an increase of power, to the Corporation, or take such orders on the present police, as to give energy and respectability to the executive authority of all the Town Officers.” The paper went on to reprint the committee's report and the debates around it on 14 and 21 Jan. 1792. On 28 Jan., it gave the final vote tally as 517 in favor of the committee's report and 701 against it at a meeting that JQA described in his Diary as “very disorderly. Hall overflowing” (D/JQA/18, 26 Jan., APM Reel 21). The plan would have divided Boston into wards and created a town council with increased authority to appoint officers and enforce the by-laws.
3. For Dr. Charles Jarvis and his quarrel with JA, see vol. 8:413, note 2.
4. Benjamin Russell (1761–1845) was the owner and editor of the Boston Columbian Centinel, a Federalist newspaper. At the town meeting, Russell was selected to count votes along with Benjamin Austin Jr. Austin initially accepted the task but then refused, saying he would not serve with “such a fellow as Ben Russell.” Russell took offense and the next day, 27 Jan., called Austin out, threatening and spitting on him. That and subsequent evenings, a mob of mechanics—who supported Austin—gathered to tear down Russell's offices. They were stopped by the authorities.
Austin sued Russell for assault and battery, asking for £1,000 in damages. The Supreme Judicial Court found in Austin's favor in March 1793 but fined Russell only £1 (DAB; Philadelphia Mail, 25 Feb. 1792; Boston Columbian Centinel, 27 March 1793).
5. Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 2, Act V, scene v, line 102.
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2018.