Adams Family Correspondence, volume 9

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).

Thomas Boylston Adams to Abigail Adams, 14 May 1792 Adams, Thomas Boylston Adams, Abigail
Thomas Boylston Adams to Abigail Adams
Dear Mama Philadelphia May 14 1792

I received your kind letter of the 6th: this Evening, and feel happy that you advanced so far on your Journey, without receiving any injury.1 I was somewhat anxious for your health, but the favorable account you give, has relieved me in a measure from the 288apprehension. I hope you may enjoy it much more this Summer than the last. The directions left with me respecting Mr: Harrison, are rendered of no consequence, by his declining in a very polite manner the kind offer you made him & lady.2 He waited on me, and resquested that I would assure you how much he felt himself obliged; but that after reflecting upon the affair, he thought it most prudent to decline, as he expected very shortly to procure a “little Box” for him & Mrs. Harrison, and that the time he would be able to stay in the House, would hardly compensate for the trouble of removing. I confess to you, that I was not grieved at this answer—for tho I had rather have had them in the House than any body I know, yet I had found a Bachelors life so little irksome, that I had no inclination to change my situation. How long this will last I can't say; for my own sake, I hope during your whole absence. I find very little alteration with respect to the sociability of my meals; for you may recollect that we never were remarkably talkative An half dozen of insipid Newspapers, which the Printers still continue to send, generally fill up the intervals at Breakfast; and at dinner a Magazine, Museum, or Bolinbrook, make a substitute for companions.

I had thought of my duty to Madam Washington, and accordingly fulfill'd it on Friday Evening— She was very well, and enquired particularly if I had heared from you and how your health continued. Mrs. Dalton too, enquired—besides many others. You will pardon this small talk in me—I have nothing better at present. Miss B Smith had the civility to invite me to her wedding, through the medium of her Father; on thursday Evening; Her Bride maids were Miss A Hamilton, Miss Mead & Miss Keppele. The Bride Grooms attendants were Mr. Cutting, Mr. J Trumbull and Mr. Welsh; I don't know in what particular capacity I had the honor to Act, but as I was the only Gentleman, out of office, I thought myself highly honored.3 The Ceremony was conducted with great decency & much propriety;— the Church service performed by Bishop White, was new to me; and except that part of it, in which the Lady says “I take thee Samuel” or whatever the name is, Miss S—— performed extreemely well.4 She was dressed neat & simply—much frightened at first; but soon composed. Cutting made us very happy at a very handsome supper, and the Evening was spent in mirth and gayety. All formality and restraint seemed to be out of the question, especially as Mr. C. appeared perfectly in his element. On Saturday morning they sat out for NE—where you will probably see them in a 289short time.— Mrs: Dalton & Mrs. Otis direct me to remember them particularly to you; in doing which I subscribe your Son

Thomas B Adams

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “Mrs: A Adams”; endorsed: “T. B. A. May 14. 1792 / Philadelphia.”


Not found.


Probably George Harrison (1762–1845), son of former Philadelphia mayor Henry Harrison and a business associate of Robert Morris, who had recently married Sophia Francis (1769–1851), daughter of Anne Willing and Tench Francis (JA, Papers , 11:388; Charles P. Keith, The Provincial Councillors of Pennsylvania, Phila., 1883, p. 106).


Rebecca (Becky) Smith (1772–1837), daughter of the Episcopal priest Rev. William Smith, married Samuel Blodget Jr. (1755–1814) of Boston on 10 May. Another account of the wedding noted that the bride “was dressed in a sprig'd muslin chemise, and wore a bonnet with a curtain. The young ladies, her bridesmaids, had also on chemises, but their hats ornamented. . . . There was a monstrous company—forty-seven people—at supper. That was perfectly elegant in every respect, and not even a whisper or joke that could have raised a blush in a vestal” (Philadelphia Federal Gazette, 12 May; Horace Wemyss Smith, Life and Correspondence of the Rev. William Smith, D.D., 2 vols., Phila., 1879–1880, 2:350, 514–519, 542; DAB , entry on William Smith).


Bishop William White (1748–1836) of Philadelphia served as the first Episcopal bishop for the diocese of Pennsylvania. He had dined with the Adamses in London in 1787 while there to be consecrated ( DAB ; vol. 7:443).