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Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 11

Docno: ADMS-04-11-02-0082

Author: Adams, Charles
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1796-02-07

Charles Adams to John Adams

[salute] My dear Sir

Our Legislature have been some time occupied in debating upon what are called The Virginia resolutions which you have doubtless seen and which have been so industriously forwarded to the different States for their concurrence though our good Sister has not been treated quite so cavalierly by New York as she was by Massachusetts yet I beleive they both concur in thinking her a very whimsical Old maid.1 Among the other objects which occupy the attention of our Statesmen the reduction of our penal code to a spirit of more mildness is one the most interesting to humanity. The Senate have passed a bill to abolish the punishment of death in all cases murder treason and burglary excepted.2 The House have also had under consideraton a bill for the gradual abolition of Slavery but it does not meet with much encouragement. I am not certain but it will be best to let the evil work its own remedy. individuals are daily { 165 } liberating their Slaves but people do not like to be forced to be generous. The Quakers in this State formerly held slaves but they took it into their heads that it was wrong and set them universally at liberty. no sooner had they done this than they wanted to oblige their neighbours to do that by force which they had done voluntarily and the methods they take to attain their purpose are not always the most delicate.3 I have received several letters lately from Holland which have been opened and perused by The British. this is not very civil treatment but I have one consolation that they do not find many compliments paid them. Mrs Adams joins with me in the sentiments of respect with which I am your affectonate son
[signed] Charles Adams4
RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “The Vice President of The United States / Philadelphia”; endorsed: “C. Adams. 7. Feb. / ansd 9. 1796.”
1. The N.Y. assembly began debating the Virginia resolutions on 29 Jan. following Gov. John Jay’s presentation of them to the legislature during the opening of the legislative session. After lengthy consideration and various proposed motions, the assembly resolved on 6 Feb. that “it does not appear to the Legislature expedient to concur in behalf of this state in the propositions contained in the resolutions of the state of Virginia” (N.Y. Assembly, Jour., 19th sess., 1796, p. 45–47, 56, 59, Evans, No. 47862).
2. Jay’s message of 6 Jan. to the New York legislature contained a request to consider “how far the severe penalties prescribed by our laws in particular cases admit of mitigation; and whether certain establishments for confining, employing and reforming criminals will not immediately become indispensible.” The following day a committee was appointed to consider the subject, and on 28 Jan. it reported two bills for consideration, which were eventually combined into a single “Act Making Alterations in the Criminal Law of This State and for Erecting State Prisons.” Debate over the bill continued until 19 Feb., when it passed the senate. The assembly concurred, after various adjustments, on 25 March. The act allowed for capital punishment in the case of murder and treason but, after debate, excluded burglary, arson, counterfeiting, and a variety of other crimes (N.Y. Senate, Jour., 19th sess., 1796, p. 6, 7, 22, 27–28, 29, 41, 44, 87, Evans, No. 30871).
3. The Society of Friends in New York had long formally opposed slavery, and in 1771 adopted a resolution requiring members to manumit their slaves or risk expulsion from the New York meeting. In 1785 the state legislature began to consider various means for implementing gradual emancipation of all slaves in the state. Although the assembly was nearly unanimous in its support for emancipation, the bill stalled over the question of suffrage for emancipated slaves. Thereafter, between 1792 and 1799, abolitionists routinely sought to introduce legislation for emancipation. In 1796 that legislation, although it was debated in committee, failed again to make progress, stumbling particularly over the issue of compensation for slaveholders. Finally, in 1799, the legislature reached an agreement that abolished slavery through gradual manumission (Edgar J. McManus, A History of Negro Slavery in New York, Syracuse, N.Y., 1966, p. 149–150, 162–165, 174–175; Patrick Rael, “The Long Death of Slavery,” in Slavery in New York, ed. Ira Berlin and Leslie M. Harris, N.Y., 2005, p. 124–125).
4. CA’s next letter to JA, on 28 Feb. 1796, following CA’s visit to Philadelphia (for which see JA to AA, 13 Feb., below), contained further comment on the New York legislature, which remained in session “and will remain so until the river opens which is always their rule whether they have any thing to do or not. It is a great pitty that these excressencies cannot be lopped off and that we cannot consent to be wholly under the direction of one general government.” CA also noted receiving JQA’s 29 Nov. 1795 letter, for { 166 } which see JQA to AA, 24 Nov., note 7, above. According to CA the 29 Nov. letter “relates to nothing but private affairs, but refers me to several letters of a date anterior which I have not received.” Finally, CA enclosed for JA a clipping from the New York American Minerva, 27 Feb. 1796, with an English translation of the preface to the 1792 French edition of JA’s Defence of the Const. (Adams Papers).

Docno: ADMS-04-11-02-0083

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Adams, Abigail
Date: 1796-02-08

John Adams to Abigail Adams

[salute] My Dearest Friend

It is monday, the Time to expect the Eastern mail other Men have Letters— I have none— humiliated and mortified and at the Same time irritated, I feel sometimes a disposition to abuse the Post offices, sometimes to make a rash Vow never to Spend another Winter seperated from my Small Family that remains to me, but never once harbour a Suspicion that Madam may have omitted to write.
Upon the whole however my health and Spirits have been better this Winter, than at any time Since I had the Ague, a Blessing which I attribute to the free Use of my horse the last summer. Health and Spirits & Leisure have revived my old Passion for Reading to such a degree as diverting me from my usual Exercise of Walking when I cannot ride, allarms me for the Continuance of my Health.
A gloomy Prospect moreover of four Months longer attendance upon Congress, aggravated by the Recollection that a few days later than this, the last Year, on the 19 of February I got my Release & Liberty, makes a great defalcation from my Philosophical Serenity.
While We are informed that you have Plenty of snow and fine sledding and slaying, We have Weather as mild as April and streets as dirty as march.
No further News of the Treaty or any Thing else from Europe— Business in Congress as languid as gaping & yawning as if Morpheus had poured out all his soporifecks upon the two Houses.— The Voice of Faction even is Scarcely heard. I suppose however when the Treaty comes he will lift up his Notes like a Trumpet.
General Wayne has returned and enjoyed his Tryumph1 Judge Chace is here with the rest— Mr. Lee the Attorney General a Brother of our Friend the late Member of the House and of the late Governor of Virginia, married to a Daughter of Richard Henry Lee is arrived with his Family—so is Mr McHenry the Secretary at War.2 The offices are once more full.
But how differently filled, than when Jefferson Hamilton Jay &c were here— The present Incumbents not being much thought of or { 167 } at least talked of for President Vice President, or substitute for both, the Public may be less disposed to fight for them or against them.
The first situation is the great Object of Contention—the Center and main source of all Emulation as the learned Dr Adams teaches in all his Writings, and every Body believes him tho nobody will own it—
My Letters to You must never be seen by any Body else—and I ought here to caution you to be very careful and reserved in showing our sons Letters—for thousands are watching for his halting, as well as mine & yours.
Mrs Green with her two Daughters are here3 and mourns in pathetic Accents that her Friend Mrs Adams is not here—and so does
[signed] J. A
RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mrs A”; endorsed: “Febry 8.”
1. Gen. Anthony Wayne reached Philadelphia on 6 Feb., escorted by a military honor guard. Cannons were fired and bells rung in his honor, and thousands turned out to greet him. “In the evening,” the Philadelphia American Daily Advertiser, 8 Feb., reported, “a display of Fire-Works was exhibited, in celebration of the Peace lately concluded with the Western Indians, and the Algerines; and also, on account of the Peace concluded by France with several European Powers.”
2. Charles Lee (1758–1815), Princeton 1775, was a lawyer and had been the customs collector at Alexandria, Va., before being named attorney general in Nov. 1795. He was a member of the prominent Lee family of Virginia and brother to Gov. Henry (“Light-Horse Harry”) Lee and Richard Bland Lee (1761–1827), who had recently lost reelection as a Virginia member of Congress. Charles Lee’s wife, Anne Lucinda, was the daughter of Richard Henry Lee (Biog. Dir. Cong.; ANB, entry on Charles Lee).
3. Catharine Littlefield Greene, widow of Gen. Nathanael Greene, had two unmarried daughters, Cornelia Lott (b. 1778) and Louisa Catharine (1784–1831) (Greene, Papers, 13:144, 210, 704).
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.