Adams Family Correspondence, volume 12

Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch, 15 February 1798 Adams, Abigail Cranch, Mary Smith
Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch
my dear sister Philadelphia Feb’ry 15 1798

I have not received a Line from Since the last of Jan’ry 1 Betsy is much distresst to hear from her sister and I am not a little anxious. I hoped the twesday post as usual would have given me some information. I must attribute it to the weather for my dear sister, write me a line every post if only to tell me how you all are.

You will see much to your mortification, that congress have been fiteing, not the French, but the Lyon, not the Noble British Lyon, but the beastly transported Lyon. I am of the Quakers mind whom Peter Porcupine quotes “speakin of the Irish, he says, there is no mediocrity, or medium of Character in these people: they are either the most noble, brave generous and best bred: or the most ruffian like dirty and black gaurd of all the creation.[]2 What a picture will these, 14 teen days make upon our Journals?! yet are the supporters of Lyon alone to blame: the Gentlemen the real federilist would have expeld him instantly, and if it were possible a federilist could be found thus to have degraded himself, he would not have cost the Country 14 days debate, besides the infamy and disgrace of sitting again there I inclose you a paper containing a speach or two upon the subject3 the Brute has not been in the house for several Days, but he is unfealing enough to go again, and if he does, I have my apprehensions of something still more unpleasent.

These Philadelphians are a strange set of people, making pretensions to give Laws of politeness and propriety to the union. they have the least feeling of real genuine politeness of any people with 402 whom I am acquainted. as an instance of it, they are about to celebrate, not the Birth day of the first Majestrate of the union as such, but of General Washingtons Birth day, and have had the politeness to send invitations to the President Lady and family to attend it. The President of the united states to attend the celebration of the birth day in his publick Character, of a private Citizen! for in no other light can General Washington be now considerd, how ever Good how ever great his Character, which no person more respects than his successor. but how could the President appear at their Ball and assembly, but in a secondary Character, when invited there, to be held up in that light by all foreign Nations. but these people look not beyond their own important selves. I do not know when my feelings of contempt have been more calld forth. in answer to the invitation, the President returnd for answer, “that he had received the card of invitation, and took the earliest opportunity to inform them, that he delined accepting it.”—4 that the Virginians should celebrate the day is natural & proper if they please, and so may any others who chuse.5 but the propriety of doing it in the Capital in the Metropolis of America as these Proud Phylidelphians have publickly named it, and inviting the Head of the Nation to come and do it too, in my view is ludicrious beyond compare. I however bite my Lips, and say nothing, but I wanted to vent my indignation upon paper. you must not however expose it, nor me. it will be call’d pride it will be calld mortification. I despise them both, as it respects myself—but as it respects the Character I hold—I will not knowingly degrade it—

Let me know whether a Letter coverd to mr Cranch for dr Tufts has reachd you safely—6 we are all as well as usual. the Baby was here on sunday and is very well. Remember me kindly to all Friends

Your ever affectionate / Sister

A Adams—

RC (MWA:Abigail Adams Letters).


For Cranch’s 29 Jan. letter, see AA’s reply of 6 Feb., note 1, above.


AA was quoting from the Philadelphia Porcupine’s Gazette, 13 February.


The enclosure has not been found but was possibly from the Philadelphia Gazette of the United States, 15 Feb., which printed Samuel Whittlesey Dana’s 12 Feb. speech to the House of Representatives stating he would vote to expel Matthew Lyon, removing him “as citizens removed impurities and filth from their docks and wharves.” Dana also noted that if his fellow representatives chose “to associate with such a Kennell of Filth,” they would “be designated as the companions … by being pointed at, by ‘There goes the member of Congress, who voted to have Matthew Lyon as a companion!’”


On 12 Feb. Stephen Kingston and others sent JA an invitation to a ball and supper celebrating George Washington’s 66th birthday to be held at Ricketts’ Amphitheatre in Philadelphia on 22 Feb. (Adams Papers). Although JA’s reply has not been found, it was 403 published in the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser, 23 Feb., along with remarks that JA’s answer was “couched in … impolite & arrogant terms” and that the organizers “certainly had not the presumption to suppose, that the president of the U. States would so far forget the dignity of his station as to mingle with shop keepers.” An election caused the event to be held a day later than planned, and then it was only sparsely attended (Philadelphia American Daily Advertiser, 17 Feb.; Philadelphia Gazette of the United States, 23 Feb.; AA to Mary Smith Cranch, 28 Feb., MWA:Abigail Adams Letters).


On 22 Feb. Fredericksburg and Norfolk, Va., held celebrations in honor of Washington’s birthday. In both cities the day began with cannon fire; citizens in Fredericksburg had a celebratory dinner at Herndon’s tavern followed by a round of toasts, while those in Norfolk attended a ball at the Borough Tavern (Alexandria Times, 27 Feb., 3 March).


This was probably AA’s 6 Feb. letter to Cotton Tufts, above. In a 2 March letter to AA, Cranch noted that Richard Cranch had “receiv’d the Letter for Doctor Tufts which you inclos’d to him & will receive it to day. We have sent to the Docr. their was one for him. We dare not venture it by any body—but tis safe now” (Adams Papers).

John Adams to William Stephens Smith, 16 February 1798 Adams, John Smith, William Stephens
John Adams to William Stephens Smith
Sir Philadelpa: Feby. 16th 1798:

I have received the Letter you wrote me on the 7th of this month, and I shall give all the attention to the Subject of it which may be necessary. It is not new to me—

You are too precipitate in my opinion in pronouncing an opinion that the General has been guilty of high Crimes &Ca: 1

There have not been wanting Critics upon your conduct, as severe as you have been upon his It is reported not much to the advantage of your Reputation or mine that you have been to detroit, for Brockholst Livingston and company to Speculate in Lands, and Claims of those who mean to remain British Subjects, and to remove to Canada, and that to cloak your real purposes you gave out, that you had been Sent by me, for ends of government of Some Sort or other, I can scarcely beleive that you could Countenance a report so totally unfounded—2

I am Sir your most obedient & / most humble Servant

John Adams

LbC in Samuel Bayard Malcom’s hand (Adams Papers); internal address: “Coll. W Smith—”; APM Reel 117.


WSS wrote to JA on 7 Feb. (Adams Papers) enclosing two packets of documents relating to the military and political situation around Detroit, namely, the declaration of martial law made on 12 July 1797 by Gen. James Wilkinson in an effort to prevent military desertions. Wilkinson (1757–1825), a native of Maryland who achieved the rank of brigadier general during the Revolutionary War, served as Gen. Anthony Wayne’s second in command in the Northwest Territory and succeeded Wayne after his death in 1796. WSS reported that merchants were “building Houses & stores, on the British side of Detroit River, to move … from under the lash of military Law,” and he warned JA that “unless there is some interference on the part of our Government, martial Law, will depopulate the District.” WSS further commented, “I cannot pretend to say, that The General 404 derives any emolument from his despotick arrangements but I do believe his acts, and Orders, are not alway’s founded on the Laws of equity, and that generally Justice would not smile upon them” ( ANB ).


Brockholst Livingston and WSS had been classmates at Princeton. It is unclear if WSS was involved with any land speculation undertaken by Livingston, who had been consulted about Native American land grants to British subjects ( Princetonians , 2:397, 425; John Askin, The John Askin Papers, ed. Milo M. Quaife, 2 vols., Detroit, Mich., 1928–1931, 2:60–62).