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Adams family ? Are their names to be blotted from history, or remembered only to be associated with infamy? The • Correspondence” demands a full examination. As far as present circumstances require, I will examine it; and make an essay to do justice to the parties whose names Mr. Adams has introduced, and made the subjects of his reproaches or of his praise. Of the latter, the number is small indeed; principally himself-his son J. Q. Adams--his son-in-law Col. William S. Smith deceased, and Elbridge Gerry, also deceased.
A just defence of myself and others, the subjects of Mr. Adams's bitter calumnies, compels me to expose his numerous aberrations, and to state some necessary truths. Truth is the soul of history. To ascertain some facts, my testimony may be useful. The value of that testimony will depend on the estimate formed of my character by my contemporaries. On that footing I am willing it should rest.
By introducing a few sentences in Latin, I do not desire to impose on the reader an idea of literature, to which I make no pretensions ; but when a passage suited to my subject occasionally falls in my way, I take the liberty to use it. All I claim to possess is, some portion of common sense, and some force in argument; and knowledge enough of my mother tongue, to exhibit facts, reasonings and reflections, in a plain and perspicuous style, so that my meaning can be easily understood. To scurrilities I have been subjected through a large portion of my life: these I have despised. But when assailed in any point of morals, I have offered a vindication, or have caused the libellers to be prosecuted. This was a duty which I owed not to myself only, but to the great number of respectable men who have honoured me with their friendship. Some of these have been pleased to say, that I owed it to my country, in whose service so large a portion of my life has been employed. The first suit, was against one Dr. Reynolds, of Philadelphia. The case was clear, to the satisfaction of the Supreme Court; and so the cause was committed to the jury.
Eleven of these were
agreed; but one, a democrat, persevered in withholding his assent; and the jury was dismissed. On the second trial, there were two democrats on the juryand a verdict not obtained. Reynolds's counsel then observed to mine, that his client was a poor devil,” without property; and that if I should persevere, and finally obtain a verdict for damages, it would not operate as a punishment on the libeller; but if I would drop the suit, he would make him muster money enough to pay the costs. The suit was dropped. One Baptiste Irvine, editor of a paper in Baltimore, published a libel against me. I brought an action against him: he published a recantation, and I forgave him. Libelled once in a newspaper in my native town, the printer was indicted, convicted, fined and imprisoned. I was then absent, attending a session in Congress. Libelled once more in my native county, the libeller was prosecuted. He made his confession, which was entered on the records of the court; and I forgave him. The last prosecution was of a printer in New-Hampshire. He also humbled himself-published his recantation—and was forgiven.
Doubtless there were many other libellous publications, which never came to my knowledge.
Once I was hung in effigy in the Northern Liberties of Philadelphia, on a gallows fifty feet high; and a printed notice of the time was sent to me, then in Congress at Washington. This was during the existence of President Jefferson's glorious, indefinite embargo; of which I had taken the liberty to say, that I did not like it. On receiving the notice, the first thought that occurred to me was, that the effigy of one of the greatest and best men the United States ever knew, John Jay, had been exhibited, a public spectacle, in the same manner, and I believe in the same place; and, so associated, I felt myself honoured by the elevation.
I close these introductory observations with one remark on the principal subject of this Review
JOHN ADAMS. No man, perhaps, has ever suffered more from disappointed ambition and mortified vanity, than Mr. Adams; for in no man, I believe, were those passions ever more highly sublimated. At the first organization of the general government, he complained (so it has been, and I doubt not truly, stated) because the votes of the electors were not unanimous for him as well as for Washington. At that time, (some readers may need to be informed) before the Constitution was altered, in the first term of Mr. Jefferson's presidency (specially, perhaps, for his accommodation, prior to another election) the candidates for the offices of President and Vice-President were not respectively designated in the electoral votes ; but he who had the greatest number, if a majority of the whole, was to be the President; and he who had the next greatest number was to be the Vice-President. And in case more than one had such majority, and an equal number of votes, then the House of Representatives, voting by states (that is, the representation from each state having one vote) were immediately to choose, by ballot, one of them for President. Under this provision of the Constitution, Mr. *Adams might hope, if the votes for him and Washington had been equal (and from his complaint that they were not, it is pretty evident that he expected it) to have obtained the preference, by the choice of the house; leaving to Washington the honour of being his * lieutenant.” At any rate, he would have contemplated the fact with great complacency, that the people, acting by their electors, held him in equal honour with Washington. From his education as a lawyer, and his learned investigations of what concerned civil rule, he probably thought himself entitled to a preference. But Mr. Adams has admitted and repeated a TRUTH, too well known, that “KNOWLEDGE is by no means necessarily connected with WISDOM or VIRTUE.”+
* Washington had all the votes—69: Adams, 34. # Defence of the American Constitutions of Government, vol. i, Letter 29.
R E VIE W.
The first letter in the “Correspondence” is from Mr. Adams, dated Nov. 28, 1803, near three years after his rival, Mr. Jefferson, had intercepted him in his second march towards the President's chair. In this letter, Mr. Adams acknowledges the receipt of an oration of Cunningham's, and of a “brochure,99* in which this friend àscribes to Mr. Jefferson the authorship of a pamphlet entitled “ Thoughts on Government, in a letter from a gentleman to his friend.” Mr. Adams says he was himself the author, and that it had been published with his name; but, from the quotation of his correspondent, “ suspects that some rascal had reprinted it, and imput66 ed it to the name of Mr. Jefferson.'
In his next letter, dated January 16, 1804, Mr. Adams returns to Cunningham a newspaper, in which, with a poignant sneer, he says, “My poor “Thoughts on Gov
ernment are wickedly and libellously imputed to the
greatest man in America !" "_“ libellously,” because (such appears to be the obvious implication) his own views of government were, probably, so different from Mr. Jefferson's theories. In the same letter, Mr. Adams, in replying to Cunningham's request to be furnished with information concerning Jefferson, communicates the sentiments I shall presently introduce. Mr. Jefferson, in his letter of October 12th, 1823, acknowledges the receipt of one from Mr. Adams, dated September 18th, which was a few days after his Correspondence with Cunningham had been published in Boston. This letter, no doubt, was written to apologize to Mr. Jefferson for the pointed reproaches he had uttered against him, in his confidential letters to Cunningham. On the 12th of the next month, Mr. Jefferson writes a consolatory answer to Mr. Adams; assuring him of his “ unabated and constant attachment, friendship and respect.” But Jefferson had not then seen the Correspondence. “I had for some time,” says he, “ observed, in the public papers, dark hints and * mysterious innuendoes of a correspondence of yours “ with a friend to whom you had opened your bosom “ without reserve, and which was to be made public by " that friend or his representative ; and now it is said “ to be actually published. It has not yet reached us, “ but extracts have been given, and such as seemed “most likely to draw a curtain of separation between you and myself.” Mr. Jefferson then exclaims with
* A pamphlet. 3
indignation against the author of this outrage on pri“vate correspondence.” This indignation is doubtless the echo of Mr. Adams's expression of resentment against Cunningham's son, the publisher of the Correspondence. But Mr. Adams, in his apologetical letter, did not tell Mr. Jefferson, that, although the present publication was “an outrage on private correspondence,” yet it was, in fact, only an anticipation of a year or two-perhaps of a few months only—of the publication of the same correspondence, with his (Adams's) permission : for the injunction of secrecy was limited to his own life. His words are,
His words are, “I shall insist that whatever I write to you upon the subject shall be confidential as long as I live.' It is true, the subject here directly referred to was his removing me from office; but his details on that act, and his libels on my character, pervade the whole correspondence. Besides, why should Cunningham, the publisher, be more tender of Mr. Jefferson's character than of mine ? The latter
* Letter, Nov. 7, 1808.