Adams Family Correspondence, volume 9

Abigail Adams Smith to John Adams, 7 May 1792 Smith, Abigail Adams Adams, John
Abigail Adams Smith to John Adams
My Dear Pappa— Dover May 7th 1792

the Letter which I had the pleasure to receive from you before I left New York I had not time to answer,1 I have now the pleasure to inform you of our safety after a Short but boisterous passage of 29 days and only 12 days from the Banks of Newfoundland to soundings in the English Channell, we were all very sick during the voyage but are now pretty well recovered and I hope to be able to proceed to London in a few days, I shall be very anxious untill I receive Letters from you and my good Mother I hope to hear that you are both recovering your health and that the ensueing season with air and exercise will establish to you both that invalueable Blessing—


you will I suppose ere this reaches you, have heard that the French have declared War against the Austrians that there has been an engagement at Tournay and that the French have been defeated with the loss of Six hundred Men—. the report is that the French army was at Breakfast in a Wood at Tournay and that the Austrians were concealed in this Wood fell upon the French and Cut them to peices. that General Dillon retreated with what Troops remained to Lyle where the People having an idea that he had intentionally sacrifised the Troops, hung him and quartered him— there are great Numbers of the French coming over daily, from Calais— many of them remain in this Country but more of them go from hence to Astend which being a free Port they perhaps feel themselvs secure—2

Mr Paine has been writing a second part of the rights of Man— and his Book has been stiled in the House of Commons an Infamous Libell upon the Constitution I will indeavour to send you the debates and the reviews of his Book the latter are rather civil to him—but perhaps the article was written by himself or his friends,3 you will see by the papers that there is a party in the House aiming at a parliamentary reform which in the sequel will I fear produce confusion if not civil War— Mr Grey has made known to the House that early in the next seshions he shall bring forward a motion for a reform he is supported by Mr Fox Mr Smith and others in the House and by Mr Hollis Dr Kippis and a Number of others out of it—who have signed an association and hold meetings for the purpose—4

Mr G—— Morris was here on his way to Paris the last week— he has been some time in London—and does not appear to be so much gratified with his appointment as his friends I beleive expected. I did not see him myself— he told Colln Smith that he was very glad they had not appointed him to this Court for he did not know a person they could have named who would have been so obnoxious as himself, he did not know how he should be received by the French Court for he had told them very candidly that they were going very fast to destruction—and now he should be obliged to hold his Tongue5

he says there is a party who are exerting themselvs to get rid of the Marquis La Fayette and he expects that they will succeed6

Colln Smiths business obliged him to go to London for a few days and as my situation would not permit me to take the journey so soon. he left me on Saturday I expect him in a few days when I hope to be able to proceed, 284my Chrildren desire to be pemembered to you with affection I hope to hear frequently from you it will ever confer pleasure upon your affectionate Child

A Smith—

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “The Vice President / of the United States / Braintree / Massachusetts—”; endorsed: “Mrs. Smith. / Dover May. 7. 1792.”


JA to AA2, 10 March, above.


France declared war on the Austrian empire, ruled by newly installed emperor Francis II, nephew to Marie Antoinette, on 20 April. The first major engagement of the war took place near Tournai, Belgium, and was a disastrous defeat for the French. A force of 5,000 men led by Gen. Théobald Dillon came under artillery fire before even reaching the town, leading to a panicked retreat. Dillon, sheltering himself in a peasant's home, was mistaken for a spy and taken to Lille, where a mob of soldiers and townspeople bayoneted him to death. The mob then hanged his corpse and paraded a severed leg around the town before finally burning the body (Schama, Citizens , p. 589–597, 599–600).


Thomas Paine's Rights of Man, Part II, received reviews in the March issues of both the London Monthly Review, p. 317–324, and Critical Review, p. 297–305. On 30 April in the House of Commons, William Pitt referred obliquely to “opinions published . . . that were libels on the form of our government”; in reply, Charles James Fox disputed the characterization, mentioning Paine by name and arguing that Paine's works were not “any great danger” to the well-being of the British government ( Parliamentary Hist. , 29:1312, 1314–1315). See also Descriptive List of Illustrations, No. 6, above.


Charles Grey, later 2d Earl Grey (1764–1845), member of Parliament for Northumberland, had announced on 30 April that he planned to introduce a petition to Parliament from the “Society of the Friends of the People” advocating constitutional reform. He did so in 1793 but failed to move it into committee. Grey was a close lieutenant of Charles James Fox. Other supporters of Grey's work included Rev. Andrew Kippis and William Smith, M.P. for Camelford, both of whom the Adamses had known in England ( DNB ; Cambridge Modern Hist. , 6:476–477; vol. 7:27, 156).


George Washington named Gouverneur Morris as the American minister plenipotentiary to France in early 1792. Morris, who had lived as a private citizen in Paris since 1789, had previously spoken out in favor of a constitutional monarchy and in defense of Louis XVI, even helping to plot his escape attempt from Paris. In 1790–1791, he undertook an unsuccessful special mission to London to resolve lingering disputes over debts and commercial rights from the 1783 Treaty of Paris ( DAB ).


In Dec. 1791, Louis XVI, with the approval of the Legislative Assembly, had appointed the Marquis de Lafayette to command a portion of the French Army in the impending war against Austria. Lafayette, who continued to support a constitutional monarchy, became increasingly unpopular with more-radical groups in the Revolution, especially the Jacobins, who believed—without any evidence—that he was working with Louis XVI to subvert the Revolution by aiding the Austrians (Olivier Bernier, Lafayette: Hero of Two Worlds, N.Y., 1983, p. 235–237).

Thomas Boylston Adams to John Adams, 13 May 1792 Adams, Thomas Boylston Adams, John
Thomas Boylston Adams to John Adams
Dear Sir Philadelphia May 13th: 1792

Those Letters which I was directed to Copy and deliver to Mr. Cary for insertion in his “Museum”, were prepared in season for last month; when I took them to Cary, he wished me to explain the occasion upon which they were written.1 I told him that the Gentleman to whom one of the letters is addressed, (Mr. M. Weems), had 285

286applied in England for Orders, as an Episcopalian Bishop, but that the law required every person before he could receive orders, to take the Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown,— That as Mr. Weems was an American, the design of his application would be frustrated, by a complyance with this law, so far as regarded taking the Oath,— And that because he had little hope of obtaining his object without a Compliance—he applied to you, by letter, in Holland, desiring your intercession on his behalf, with the Ministers from different Courts, where he might possibly succeed with less difficulty, than in England. That in consequence of this, you applied to Comte Reventlaw, (The Gentleman by whom the other letter was written); and that it was an answer to your's, addressed to Comte Reventlaw upon the subject of Mr. Weems's application. I am not certain that this explanation was right, or if it was, that it is sufficient However if it should be both right & sufficient, it was not satisfactory to Cary. He said it would be necessary to “Head” them with a short explanation, of their intent; as well as the occasion upon which they were written. I could tell him no more than I had done; therefore I must request you Sir, to explain the subject to me, that I may satisfy Mr. Cary, (if such a thing is possible). Monsieur Le Comte Reventlaw mentions a resolution of Congress transmitted by you to him; whether it related to this subject, I am ignorant. I can find nothing of the kind in the Journals of Congress, of the 21 March 1785 to which he refers.2

I hope to afford you an half hou[r's] amusement, in perusing the enclosed Pamphlett. It appeared a day or two since, and by those who have seen it, is thought to be well adapted to the purpose intended; which was to ridicule the too prevalent & fashionable doctrines of “Liberality.” The 27 Article of the Confession of faith, is said to be the foundation of all the rest; these principles, if they may be called such, are openly avowed by those who profess to be deeply interested in the Politicks of France; and I believe it impossible to adopt the political, without avowing the religious opinions, of those Societies in France, which as Mr. Burke says, “are termed Philosophical.” I have heard it suggested, that the Secy. of S—— would subscribe cheerfully to all the Articles of the Creed; and that his name would not be an improper substitute, for “A liberal man.”3 It surely can't be treason in me, to relate what I have heard. The Letter is addressed to the young man, who advertized in the Newspapers a few weeks since, “that he proposed, preaching a number of discourses against, the divinity of Jesus Christ.” His name is Palmer.4

I am Sir / your dutiful Son

Thomas B Adams.

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “The Vice President of the United States / Braintree.”; endorsed: “Th. B. Adams / May. 13. 1792.” Some loss of text where the seal was removed.


Mathew Carey (1760–1839), an Irish printer, had emigrated to Philadelphia from Dublin in 1784. He began publishing the American Museum in 1786 ( DAB ).


Mason Weems (1759–1825) of Maryland traveled to England in the early 1780s to complete his divinity training. His ordination there was hindered, however, by the oath of allegiance to the British Crown required of all Anglican priests. In late Feb. 1784, Weems wrote to JA inquiring whether Weems might be ordained in another European country, specifically Sweden, Germany, or the Netherlands. JA consulted with the Danish minister to The Hague, Armand de Saint Saphorin (not the Comte de Reventlow, as TBA suggests), who supplied JA with a ruling that Americans could indeed be ordained in the Danish church, which JA in turn conveyed to Weems. In the end, Parliament lifted the requirement for the oath of allegiance in August, and Weems was ordained in the Anglican church the following month.

JA also submitted a copy of the Danish ruling to Congress. On 21 March 1785, Congress resolved to instruct JA to communicate to Saint Saphorin “the high sense the United States in Congress Assembled entertain of the liberal decision made by his Majesty on the question proposed to his Majesty's Minister at the Hague . . . respecting the Ordination of American Candidates for holy Orders in the episcopal Church.” (TBA would not have found record of this resolution in the then-published Journals of Congress as it was entered into the Secret Journal, Foreign Affairs.) JA did so in a letter of 30 July to Frederick, Comte de Reventlow, Danish minister to Great Britain, as Saint Saphorin had since left his position at The Hague. Comte de Reventlow's reply of 22 Aug. was presumably the second letter TBA sought to have published. Neither item appeared in the American Museum in 1792 ( DAB ; Weems to JA, [ca. 27 Feb. 1784], Adams Papers; JA to Weems, 22 April, LbC, APM Reel 107; JA, Works , 8:197–198; JCC , 28:187; JA to Reventlow, 30 July 1785, LbC, APM Reel 111; Reventlow to JA, 22 Aug., Adams Papers).


Eliphaz Liberalissimus, A Letter to the Preacher of Liberal Sentiments, Phila., 1792, Evans, No. 24365. The pamphlet was written, possibly by Rev. Ashbel Green, in response to comments made by Elihu Palmer, for whom see note 4. Its “A Liberal Man's Confession of Faith” includes such statements as “I believe there is only one thing in religion essential; and that is to believe that nothing is essential” and “I believe every man should do just as he pleases.”


Elihu Palmer (1764–1806), Dartmouth 1787, initially served as a Presbyterian minister before becoming a Universalist and later a deist. He advertised in mid-March 1792 a “Discourse . . . against the divinity of Jesus Christ” to be given at the Long Room in Church Alley but was shortly thereafter barred from doing so. According to Palmer, “the Gentleman from whom he engaged the house, has taken an alarm at the novelty of the sentiment, and fearing a temporal injury, has forbid his entrance into the house.” Palmer further observed that “the law of opinion, and the internal spirit of persecution, bear hard upon the rights of conscience.” Palmer was eventually forced to leave Philadelphia but continued to preach and publish on deism ( DAB ; Philadelphia National Gazette, 15 March; Philadelphia General Advertiser, 17 March).