BECK index

President John Adams in 1799

by Sanderson Beck

Adams Administration in Early 1799
Adams Administration in Later 1799

Adams Administration in Early 1799

      James Madison was elected to the Virginia legislature again in 1799. Liberty poles became popular in Pennsylvania. Citizens were sending petitions to President Adams complaining about a law creating a standing army, the Alien and Sedition Acts, the stamp tax, the direct tax on property, and more revenue officers. On 15 January 1799 Adams directed Secretary of State Timothy Pickering to draft a treaty for negotiation with France. Vice President Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Elbridge Gerry on January 26 expressed his purposes as preserving the powers of the states, keeping the general government frugal by saving revenues to pay off the public debt, relying on militia for defense, avoiding the quarrels in Europe, protecting freedom of religion and the press, and opposing violations of the Constitution.
      On 30 January 1799 President John Adams signed the Logan Act into law. This was a reaction to the private diplomatic effort for peace by George Logan and made such efforts a felony. Although the Logan Act was revised as late as 1994, no one has ever been prosecuted for that nor has its constitutionality been tested.
      Joel Barlow, who knew German, French, and Italian, in 1792 had written Advice to the Privileged Orders, which emphasized social justice and was banned in England while it made him a citizen of France. In this work he recommended a United States of Europe in a federal system as the best hope for peace. He was consul at Algiers 1795-97 and was able to ransom sick American hostages by borrowing $200,000 from the Jewish banker Joseph Bacri. In Paris he was a friend of Logan and of Robert Fulton who was working on a submarine and a steamship. George Washington received a letter from Barlow on January 31 informing him that France wanted to restore harmony with the United States and urging him to prevent an imminent war. On 20 December 1798 Barlow had published an open letter to American citizens “On Certain Political Measures,” arguing against the national debt and standing armies and navies. He wanted France to define the rights of neutrals, and his suggestion was incorporated in the treaty the United States made the next year with France. If blockades and privateering could be banned, then commerce between nations would be free.
      Washington on February 1 forwarded Barlow’s letter to President Adams with a note saying he would be glad if Adams could arrange an honorable peace. On that day the Aurora published statistics compiled by the Insurance Company of North America showing that in the preceding six months losses to American shipping caused by the British were $280,000, which was $20,000 more than what French privateers had done. On February 2 Adams made public Gerry’s notes and report on his conversations in France.
      Former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton was still urging Congress to declare war on France, and on February 2 he wrote in a letter to Theodore Sedgwick that he favored “attacking and arraigning” the enemies of the government. He considered the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions by Jefferson and Madison evidence that a conspiracy wanted to overthrow the government. Three days later Jefferson wrote to Madison that he must use his pen and purse to persuade people of the changes needed.
      On February 9 President Adams signed a law authorizing trade with Toussaint’s revolution in Haiti. On the same day the USS Constellation captured the French frigate L’Insurgente which had seized many American ships. The news did not reach Philadelphia until the second week in March.
      Vice President Jefferson on February 14 warned Edmund Pendleton against insurrection because any use of force to block the progress of public opinion would rally people around the government. He advised that rather they should use the “constitutional means of election and petition.” He believed that the spirit of 1776 was not dead and that the American people are “substantially republican.”
      On February 15 Adams learned that France had retracted more of its hostile maritime decrees. After the United States provided for an army of 30,000 men as preparation for a war, President Adams on February 18 nominated the diplomat William Vans Murray, who was at The Hague, to be the American minister to France and to negotiate a new treaty. Adams included a translation of a letter by Foreign Minister Talleyrand that referred to Gerry and Murray. This is the short message:

   Always disposed and ready to embrace every plausible
appearance of probability of preserving or restoring
tranquility, I nominate William Vans Murray,
our minister resident at The Hague, to be minister
plenipotentiary of the United States to the French Republic.
   If the Senate shall advise and consent to his appointment,
effectual care shall be taken in his instructions that he shall
not go to France without direct and unequivocal assurances
from the French Government, signified by their Minister
of Foreign Relations, that he shall be received in character,
shall enjoy the privileges attached to his character by
the law of nations, and that a minister of equal rank, title,
and powers shall be appointed to treat with him,
to discuss and conclude all controversies
between the two Republics by a new treaty.1

Vice President Jefferson read the message of President Adams to the United States Senate which shocked the Federalists and pleasantly surprised the Republicans, and some objections were made. In the Cabinet only Attorney General Charles Lee and Navy Secretary Stoddert supported the peace initiative by Adams while Secretary of State Pickering, Treasury Secretary Wolcott, and Secretary of War McHenry were opposed and supported Hamilton.
      John Adams on February 19 wrote this letter to George Washington:

   Although I received the honor of your letter of the
first of this month in its season, I determined to postpone
my answer to it, till I had deliberated, on it, and the letter
from Barlow enclosed in it, as well as a multitude of other
letters and documents official and unofficial, which relate
to the same subject, and determined what part to act.
   I yesterday determined to nominate Mr. Murray to be
minister plenipotentiary to the French republic.
This I ventured to do upon the strength of a letter
from Talleyrand himself giving declarations in the
name of government that any minister plenipotentiary
from the United States shall be received according
to the condition at the close of my message to Congress,
of the 21st of June last.
As there may be some reserves for chicane, however,
Murray is not to remove from his station at the Hague
until he shall have received formal assurances
that he shall be received and treated in character.
   Barlow’s letter, had I assure you very little weight
in determining me to this measure.
I shall make few observations on it.
But in my opinion it is not often that we meet with
a composition which betrays so many and
so unequivocal symptoms of blackness of heart.
The wretch has destroyed his own character to such
a degree, that I think it would be derogatory to yours,
to give any answer at all to his letter.
Tom Paine is not a more worthless fellow.
The infamous threat, which he has debased himself to
transmit to his country, to intimidate you and your country,
“that certain conduct will be followed by war, and that
it will be a war of the most terrible and vindictive kind,”
ought to be answered by a Mohawk.
If I had an Indian chief that I could converse with freely,
I would ask him what answer
he would give to such a gasconade?
I fancy he would answer that he would if they began their
cruelties, cut up every Frenchman joint by joint, roast him
by a fire, pinch off his flesh with hot pincers &c.
I blush to think that such ideas should be started in this age.
   Tranquility upon just and honorable terms is undoubtedly
the ardent desire of the friends of this country,
and I wish the babyish and womanly blubbering for peace
may not necessitate the conclusion of a treaty
that will not be just nor very honorable.
I do not intend, however, that they shall.
There is not much sincerity in the cant about Peace—
those who snivel for it now were hot for war against Britain
a few months ago, and would be now if they saw a chance.
In elective governments, peace or war are alike embraced
by parties when they think they can employ either
for electioneering purposes.2

On February 25 Adams proposed a commission with Murray, Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth, and Patrick Henry who declined because of health and was replaced by Governor Davie of North Carolina. On that day Congress acquired forests for timber to build ships, and they adjourned on March 4.
      On March 10 at a cabinet meeting Adams decided to propose that France indemnify American citizens for all the damages in the undeclared naval war, that all American ships taken be returned or paid for, and that the United States should no longer guarantee to protect French territory in the western hemisphere as it had in the 1778 treaty. Two days later Adams left Philadelphia to go home to Quincy, and he did his work there by mail until the end of September.
      On March 29 John Adams wrote in a letter to the Attorney General Charles Lee,

The nomination of Murray has had one good Effect at least.
It has shown to every observing & thinking Man,
the real Strength or Weakness of the Constitution,
and where one part of that Weakness resides.
It has also produced a display of the real Spirit of the
Parties in this Country, and the Objects they have in view.
To me, it has laid open Characters.
Some of these will do well, to Study,
a little more maturely the Spirit of their Stations.
But vanity has no limits.
Arrogance shall be made to feel a Curb.
If any one entertains the idea that because I am a President
of three Votes only, I am in the Power of a Party,
they shall find that I am no more so,
than the Constitution forces upon me.
If Combinations of Senators, Generals and Heads
of Departments, shall be formed such as I cannot resist,
and Measures are demanded of me that I cannot adopt,
my Remedy is plain and certain.
I will try my own Strength at Resistance first however.
This is free and entre nous.3

      The Adams administration had introduced the first direct taxes in July 1798, and in the first two years they raised $10.5 million. Alexander Hamilton and Treasury Secretary Wolcott developed a progressive tax program that Adams approved. Houses and land worth less than $500 were assessed only 20 cents per $100 while those having property valued at more than $500 had a tax five times as high. Resistance against federal tax assessors had begun in January 1799 in eastern Pennsylvania. On March 7 officials began moving prisoners to a federal court in Philadelphia.
      In reaction to the Direct House Tax the German-American community of Bucks County in southeastern Pennsylvania had been roused by John Fries in the fall of 1798. By 15 January 1799 assessors told Judge Henry they could no longer do their duty. At a meeting on February 8 Fries and George Mitchell drew up a petition in opposition to the tax that was signed by about 50 people. After assessing about 50 houses, the assessors dined at Jacob Fries’ tavern. John Fries came in and warned them not to assess another house. He and his comrades captured assessor Foulke and told him they had 700 men opposed to the law. Foulke and the other assessor decided to stop assessing and went home on March 6. President Adams applied the Eventual Army Act that allowed sending troops against insurrections favoring the French. Hamilton advised War Secretary McHenry to overcome the enemy by organizing an army, and the Cabinet persuaded President Adams to put Fries and his supporters on trial for treason. Adams then went home to Quincy.
      In Northampton County the US Marshal Col. Nichols arrested 18 protesters in Millarstown and took them to the Sun Tavern in Bethlehem on March 6. Two groups with 140 men led by Fries marched there and freed them by threatening force. On March 12 President Adams issued this Proclamation concerning the Insurrection in Pennsylvania:

   Whereas, combinations to defeat the execution of the law
for the valuation of lands and dwelling-houses within the
United States, have existed in the counties of Northampton,
Montgomery, and Bucks, in the State of Pennsylvania,
and have proceeded in a manner subversive of the just
authority of the government, by misrepresentations to
render the laws odious, by deterring the officers of the
United States to forbear the execution of their functions,
and by openly threatening their lives:
And whereas, the endeavors of the well-affected citizens,
as well as of the executive officers, to conciliate a
compliance with those laws, have failed of success, and
certain persons in the county of Northampton, aforesaid,
have been hardy enough to perpetrate certain acts, which,
I am advised, amount to treason, being overt acts
of levying war against the United States, the said persons,
exceeding one hundred in number, and, armed and arrayed
in a warlike manner, having, on the seventh day of the
present month of March, proceeded to the house of
Abraham Lovering, in the town of Bethlehem, and there
compelled William Nicholas, Marshal of the United States,
and for the district of Pennsylvania, to desist from the
execution of certain legal processes in his hands to be
executed, and having compelled him to discharge and set
at liberty certain persons whom he had arrested by virtue
of a criminal process, duly issued for offences against the
United States, and having impeded and prevented the
commissioners and assessors, in conformity with the laws
aforesaid, in the county of Northampton aforesaid,
by threats of personal injury, from executing
the said laws, avowing as the motive of these
illegal and treasonable proceedings an intention
to prevent, by force of arms, the execution
of the said laws, and to withstand by open violence
the lawful authority of the government of the United States.
And whereas, by the Constitution and laws of the
United States, I am authorized, whenever the laws
of the United States shall be opposed, or
the execution thereof obstructed, in any State,
by combinations too powerful to be suppressed
by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings or
by powers vested in the marshal, to call forth
military force to suppress such combinations,
and to cause the laws to be duly executed;
and I have accordingly determined so to do,
under the solemn conviction that the essential interests
of the United States demand it.
Wherefore I, John Adams, President of the United States,
do hereby command all persons being insurgents
as aforesaid, and all others whom it may concern,
on or before Monday next, being the eighteenth day
of this present month, to disperse and retire
peaceably to their respective abodes.
And I do, moreover, warn all persons whomsoever,
against aiding, abetting, or comforting the perpetrators
of the aforesaid treasonable acts, and I do require
all officers and others, good and faithful citizens,
according to their respective duties and the laws of the land,
to exert their utmost endeavors to prevent and
suppress such dangerous and unlawful proceedings.4

On March 20th Adams and the War Department asked Pennsylvania’s Governor Thomas Mifflin to send the militia to quell the insurrection, but he turned the matter over to the legislature which delayed action. Adams then ordered 500 regulars from the new Army to capture the rebels. After a meeting on March 25 at Mitchell’s tavern Fries and other rebels in Milford ended their opposition to the tax, calming the disturbance in Bucks County. On March 28 Rev. Helmuth sent a letter to the Germans in Northampton reminding them that taxes are necessary and urging them to end the rebellion. Fries was arrested on April 6, and President Adams ordered him and his followers to be put on trial for treason.
      Sixty prisoners were taken to Philadelphia where about half of them were indicted and tried. Fifteen men were charged with treason, and others faced only misdemeanors. Fries and a few others were indicted as traitors before Supreme Court Justice James Iredell in Philadelphia on April 11, and their trial before a jury began on May 1. Fries was sentenced to death. He appealed and was tried a second time before the Circuit Court starting on October 11. The fanatical US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase tried three others for treason on the last three days of April 1800 and was upset when one was acquitted. On May 15 Chase sentenced Fries and the other two men to be hanged. President Adams did not believe they were guilty of treason, and on May 21 he granted the three a pardon and a general amnesty to all the tax resistors. Two of the 35 men sent to jail died there. The militia Adams sent cost $80,000, but no one was even wounded in the entire Fries rebellion. Adams wrote about the Fries Rebellion in this letter to Treasury Secretary Wolcott on May 17,

   The Termination of the Trial of Fries is an important,
an interesting and an affecting Event.
I am unable to conjecture the grounds of
Mr. Lewis’s opinion, and wish I had a Sketch of them.
Is Fries a Native or a Foreigner?
Is he a Man of Property and independent, or is he in Debt?
What has been his previous Life, industrious or idle?
sober or intemperate?
   It is of importance to discover, if possible the great men,
alluded to, by Fries in his Observation to Mr. Wood,
as at the bottom of this Business.
And the Evidence of any Agitator among the Insurgents,
ought to be collected.—
It is of moment also to ascertain, whether the Insurgents
had any general Views, or extensive communications
with others of similar dispositions in other Counties
or Correspondence with other States.
We ought also to enquire whether Fries is
the most culpable among the guilty, if that can be known.
It highly concerns the People of the United States and
especially the federal Government, that in the whole
progress and ultimate Conclusion of this Affair, neither
humanity be unnecessarily afflicted, nor public Justice
essentially violated, nor the public safety endangered.5

      On April 17 John Adams wrote this letter to Secretary of State Timothy Pickering:

   I received yesterday your favor of the 8th
with Mr. King’s letters of 10th and 16th of January,
with the enclosure in the former.
   These papers I have read with more than common
interest and anxiety; and, however sanguine I may be
in my disposition, or prone to determine my judgment
on the first view of a subject, in this case,
I must own myself puzzled and in doubt.
The whole affair leads to the independence of
the West India Islands; and although I may be mistaken,
it appears to me that independence is the worst and most
dangerous condition they can be in for the United States.
They would be less dangerous under the government
of England, France, Spain, or Holland all together,
and least of all, under the same powers
in parcels or divisions, as they are now.
This opinion, however, is liable to so much uncertainty,
that no great dependence can be placed upon it.
   Upon the projects proposed by the British ministry,
a great number of questions arise.
Will not the projected, partial, limited and restrained
independence of St. Domingo, excite alarms and jealousies
in Spain and Holland, such as will attach them
and subject them more entirely to France;
and in Denmark and Sweden, so as to make them
more timid, if not more complaisant to France?
Will it not involve us in a more inveterate and durable
hostility with France, Spain, and Holland,
and subject us more to the policy of Britain
than will be consistent with our interest or honor?
These questions may all be useless, because
the independence of St. Domingo, and consequently of all
the other islands in the West Indies, and of the Spanish,
Dutch, and Portuguese possessions on the continent,
may be brought about without our interference, and
indeed in opposition to all that we can do to prevent it.
   The project of a joint company is certainly liable to all
the objections which occurred to Mr. King, and although
the English government would meet with no difficulty,
we should certainly find it very difficult to manage.
   My own ideas are these.
1st. That it would be most prudent for us
to have nothing to do in the business.
2d. That if we should meddle, we had better leave
the independence of the island complete and total,
in commerce as well as legislation,
to the people who assert it, the inhabitants of the island.
3d. That if this is not the sense of the English, we had better
leave the whole management of the affair to them.
4th. That if they think fit, they may stipulate that
we shall have a right to accede to the treaty they make,
when we can, within a certain period
of one, two, or three years.
5th. That we should accede to it, provided the Senate
advise and consent as soon as it shall be determined that
no negotiation with France is likely to take place with effect.
6th. That we remain faithful to our promise,
to open our commerce with the island
as soon as privateering shall cease.
7th. Although these are my prevailing opinions
and inclinations, I am by no means
fixed in them or bigoted to them.
8th. I wish you to consult the heads of department
upon all these points, and if any other principles are
more agreeable to them and you, I shall be disposed
to concur in any rational expedient, which
can be reconciled to justice and sound policy,
which may be concerted with Mr. Liston.6

      William Vans Murray in a letter to Foreign Minister Talleyrand on 5 May 1799 announced his mission and asked for assurances that he would be received with the rights of embassy and negotiation.

Adams Administration in Later 1799

      On 7 June 1799 John Adams wrote to Secretary of State Pickering,

   I return you all the letters of Mr. King & Mr. Humphry’s
which were enclosed with your letter of May 30th.
Encourage Mr. King I pray you in your letters &
instructions to him, to persevere with all the decision,
which may be consistent with decency & politeness,
in denying the right of British men of war to take from
our ships of war, any men whatever & from our merchant
vessel any Americans, or foreigners, or even Englishmen.
There is no principle under heaven, by which
they can justify taking by force, even from
an American merchant vessel, even a deserter
from their army or navy, much less private seamen.
If they have a right, we have the same.
I know not whether the exercise of it,
would not be most useful to us.
Their merchant’s ships are more numerous than ours,
and they have more foreigners—Swedes, Italians,
Portuguese, Spaniards, Danes, Dutch &c than we have.
If our men of war had a right to take them, we might
easily man our navy—but the thing has no principle.7

      On 23 June 1799 President Adams ended the American embargo on trade with Saint Domingue, and Treasury Secretary Wolcott notified customs collectors that American ships could now bring arms and supplies to Toussaint in Haiti but not to Benoit Joseph Rigaud.
      The American sailor Jonathan Robbins had been arrested in Charleston, South Carolina in February 1799 for having been part of mutiny on the British ship Hermione in 1797. Robbins claimed that he had been impressed into service and did not participate in the murders and that he was a citizen of the United States. The British applied for extradition, and President Adams allowed that process. Judge Bee on 26 July 1799 turned Robbins over to the British. He was tried by their court martial in Kingston, Jamaica on August 15, and four days later he was hanged. In February 1800 Edward Livingston of New York proposed censure of Adams, and the House of Representatives debated that for two weeks. John Marshall defended Adams with an effective speech, and the motion was defeated 61-35. The issue was used against Adams in the election in 1800.
      On August 5 Adams received a letter that Foreign Minister Talleyrand had dated May 12 promising that the American diplomats would be received with due respect. On August 6 Adams wrote this letter to Secretary of State Pickering:

   I received late last Evening your favor of the 31st of July,
inclosing a triplicate of Mr. Murray’s Letter of the
17th of May and a copy certified by Mr. Murray
on the 18th of May, of a letter of Charles Maurice
Talleyrand, dated Paris, le 23 Floreal de l’an 7
de la Republique Française une et indivisible.
   Sovereign to sovereign, and minister to minister is
a maxim in the cabinets of Europe, and although neither
the President of the United States nor the executive
Directory are sovereigns in their countries, the same
relations exist between them and their ministers, and
therefore the reason of the maxim is applicable to them.
It is far below the dignity of the President of the
United States, to take any notice of Talleyrand’s
impertinent regrets, and insinuations of superfluities.
You, or the envoys or Mr. Murray may answer them
as you please, in your correspondence
with one another or with the French minister.
I will say to you, however, that I consider this letter
as the most authentic intelligence yet received in America
of the successes of the coalition.
That the design is insidious and hostile
at heart I will not say.
Time will tell the truth.
Meantime I dread no longer their diplomatic skill.
I have seen it and felt it and been the victim of it,
these twenty one years.
But the charm is dissolved.
Their magic is at an end in America.
Still, they shall find, as long as I am in office, candor,
integrity, and as far as there can be any confidence
or safety, a pacific and friendly disposition.
If the spirit of exterminating vengeance ever arises,
it shall be conjured up by them not me.
In this spirit I shall pursue the negotiation, and
I expect the cooperation of the heads of departments.
Our operations and preparations by sea and by land
are not to be relaxed in the smallest degree.
On the contrary I wish them
to be animated with fresh energy.
St. Domingo and the Isle of France and all other
Parts of the French dominions are to be treated
in the same manner as if no negotiation was going on.
These preliminaries recollected, I pray you to lose no time
in conveying to Governor Davie his commission, and to the
Chief Justice and his Excellency, copies of these letters
from Mr. Murray and Talleyrand with a request
that laying aside all other employments,
they make immediate preparations for embarking.
Whether together or asunder, from a northern,
a southern, or a middle port, I leave to them.
I am willing to send Truxton, or Barry, or Talbot, with them;
consult the Secretary of the Navy
and heads of department on this point.
Although I have little confidence in the issue of this business,
I wish to delay nothing, to omit nothing.
   The principal points indeed all the points of the
negotiation, were so minutely considered, and
approved by me, and all the heads of department,
before I left Philadelphia that nothing remains
but to put them into form and dress.
This service I pray you to perform, as promptly as possible.
Lay your draught before the heads of department,
receive their corrections, if they shall judge any to be
necessary, and send them to me as soon as possible.
My opinions and determinations on these subjects are
so well made up, at least to my own satisfaction,
that not many hours will be necessary for me to give you
my ultimate sentiments concerning the matter or form
of the instructions to be given to the envoys.8

      In August another yellow fever epidemic began in Philadelphia, and the government was moved temporarily to Trenton, New Jersey. Pickering, Wolcott, and McHenry again demanded that Adams postpone the diplomatic mission to France because they expected its government to fall. The commission to France was delayed, and on September 18 Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth wrote to Adams asking for an additional postponement. An American agent in Kingston, Jamaica reported that the British had impressed more than 250 Americans to serve on their ships in the West Indies. In the fall the merchants appealed to President Adams for more protection and extending it south to the Equator as Navy Secretary Stoddert proposed. In 1799 the new Navy helped reduce the merchant ships lost in the West Indies by almost two-thirds.
      Adams arrived at Trenton on October 15. That day General Alexander Hamilton tried to persuade the President to suspend the mission, and his minions Pickering, Wolcott, and McHenry at the cabinet meeting also opposed the diplomats and asked that they be delayed. On October 16 Adams ordered Pickering to give the commissioners their instructions, and the envoys were to leave by November 1. Pickering gave them the instructions on the 3rd, and that day they sailed from Newport, Rhode Island. The commissioners Ellsworth and Davie did not meet with Murray in Paris until 2 March 1800. By then Napoleon had taken control of the French Government.
      On 14 November 1799 the Kentucky legislature passed more resolutions affirming their right to resist violations of the Constitution, and on the 26th Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison that their main goals were the following:

1) peace even with Great Britain;
2) a sincere cultivation of the Union;
3) the disbanding of the army
   on principles of economy and safety;
4) protestations against violations
   of the true principles of our constitution.9

In response Madison wrote the Virginia Report of 1800 in which he argued that states had a duty to interpose to “arrest the dangerous exercise of powers not granted.” In the fourth resolution he argued against interpreting the Constitution too broadly to enlarge the powers of the federal government. He suggested that the liberty of conscience and freedom of the press cannot be cancelled or restrained by any authority in the United States.
      Congress convened on November 22, and Adams gave this Third Annual Address to Congress on December 3:

   It is with peculiar satisfaction that I meet the
6th Congress of the United States of America.
Coming from all parts of the Union at this critical and
interesting period, the members must be fully possessed
of the sentiments and wishes of our constituents.
   The flattering prospects of abundance from the labors
of the people by land and by sea; the prosperity of our
extended commerce, notwithstanding interruptions
occasioned by the belligerent state of a great part
of the world; the return of health, industry, and trade to
those cities which have lately been afflicted with disease,
and the various and inestimable advantages, civil and
religious, which, secured under our happy frame of
government, are continued to us unimpaired, demand of the
whole American people sincere thanks to a benevolent Deity
for the merciful dispensations of His providence.
   But while these numerous blessings are recollected,
it is a painful duty to advert to the ungrateful return which
has been made for them by some of the people in certain
counties of Pennsylvania, where, seduced by the arts and
misrepresentations of designing men, they have openly
resisted the law directing the valuation of houses and lands.
Such defiance was given to the civil authority as rendered
hopeless all further attempts by judicial process
to enforce the execution of the law, and it became
necessary to direct a military force to be employed,
consisting of some companies of regular troops, volunteers,
and militia, by whose zeal and activity, in cooperation with
the judicial power, order and submission were restored
and many of the offenders arrested.
Of these, some have been convicted of misdemeanors,
and others, charged with various crimes, remain to be tried.
   To give due effect to the civil administration of
Government and to insure a just execution of the laws,
a revision and amendment of the judiciary system
is indispensably necessary.
In this extensive country it can not but happen that
numerous questions respecting the interpretation of the laws
and the rights and duties of officers and citizens must arise.
On the one hand, the laws should be executed;
on the other, individuals should be guarded from oppression.
Neither of these objects is sufficiently assured
under the present organization of the judicial department.
I therefore earnestly recommend the subject
to your serious consideration.
   Persevering in the pacific and humane policy which
had been invariably professed and sincerely pursued
by the Executive authority of the United States,
when indications were made on the part of the
French Republic of a disposition to accommodate
the existing differences between the 2 countries,
I felt it to be my duty to prepare for meeting
their advances by a nomination of ministers upon certain
conditions which the honor of our country dictated, and
which its moderation had given it a right to prescribe.
   The assurances which were required of the
French Government previous to the departure of our envoys
have been given through their minister of foreign relations,
and I have directed them to proceed
on their mission to Paris.
They have full power to conclude a treaty, subject to
the constitutional advice and consent of the Senate.
The characters of these gentlemen are sure pledges to their
country that nothing incompatible with its honor or interest,
nothing inconsistent with our obligations of good faith
or friendship to any other nation, will be stipulated.
   It appearing probable from the information I received
that our commercial intercourse with some ports
in the island of St. Domingo might safely be renewed,
I took such steps as seemed to me
expedient to ascertain that point.
The result being satisfactory, I then, in conformity with
the act of Congress on the subject, directed the restraints
and prohibitions of that intercourse to be discontinued
on terms which were made known by proclamation.
Since the renewal of this intercourse our citizens trading to
those ports, with their property, have been duly respected,
and privateering from those ports has ceased.
   In examining the claims of British subjects by the
commissioners at Philadelphia, acting under the 6th article
of the treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation
with Great Britain, a difference of opinion on points
deemed essential in the interpretation of that article
has arisen between the commissioners appointed by
the United States and the other members of that board,
from which the former have thought it
their duty to withdraw.
It is sincerely to be regretted that the execution of an article
produced by a mutual spirit of amity and justice
should have been thus unavoidably interrupted.
It is, however, confidently expected that the same spirit
of amity and the same sense of justice in which
it originated will lead to satisfactory explanations.
   In consequence of the obstacles to the progress
of the commission in Philadelphia, His Britannic Majesty
has directed the commissioners appointed by him
under the 7th article of the treaty relating to the British
captures of American vessels to withdraw from the board
sitting in London, but with the express declaration
of his determination to fulfill with punctuality and good faith
the engagements which His Majesty has contracted
by his treaty with the United States, and that they will be
instructed to resume their functions whenever the obstacles
which impede the progress of the commission
at Philadelphia shall be removed.
It being in like manner my sincere determination,
so far as the same depends on me, that with equal
punctuality and good faith the engagements contracted
by the United States in their treaties with
His Britannic Majesty shall be fulfilled,
I shall immediately instruct our minister at London
to endeavor to obtain the explanation necessary to
a just performance of those engagements
on the part of the United States.
With such dispositions on both sides, I can not entertain
a doubt that all difficulties will soon be removed
and that the 2 boards will then proceed
and bring the business committed to them
respectively to a satisfactory conclusion.
   The act of Congress relative to the seat of the
Government of the United States requiring that
on the 1st Monday of December next it should be
transferred from Philadelphia to the District chosen
for its permanent seat, it is proper for me to inform you that
the commissioners appointed to provide suitable buildings
for the accommodation of Congress and of the President
and of the public offices of the Government have made
a report of the state of the buildings designed for those
purposes in the city of Washington, from which
they conclude that the removal of the seat of Government
to that place at the time required will be practicable
and the accommodation satisfactory.
Their report will be laid before you.

Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:
   I shall direct the estimates of the appropriations necessary
for the service of the ensuing year, together with an account
of the revenue and expenditure, to be laid before you.
During a period in which a great portion of the
Civilized world has been involved in a war
unusually calamitous and destructive, it was not to be
expected that the United States could be exempted
from extraordinary burthens.
Although the period is not arrived when the measures
adopted to secure our country against foreign attacks
can be renounced, yet it is alike necessary for the honor
of the Government and the satisfaction of the community
that an exact economy should be maintained.
I invite you, gentlemen, to investigate
the different branches of the public expenditure.
The examination will lead to beneficial retrenchments
or produce a conviction of the wisdom
of the measures to which the expenditure relates.

Gentlemen of the Senate and
Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:
   At a period like the present, when momentous changes
are occurring and every hour is preparing new and great
events in the political world, when a spirit of war is
prevalent in almost every nation with whose affairs
the interests of the United States have any connection,
unsafe and precarious would be our situation were we
to neglect the means of maintaining our just rights.
The result of the mission to France is uncertain;
but however it may terminate, a steady perseverance
in a system of national defense commensurate
with our resources and the situation of our country
is an obvious dictate of wisdom; for, remotely as we are
placed from the belligerent nations, and desirous as we are,
by doing justice to all, to avoid offense to any,
nothing short of the power of repelling aggressions will
secure to our country a rational prospect of escaping
the calamities of war or national degradation.
As to myself, it is my anxious desire so to execute
the trust reposed in me as to render the people
of the United States prosperous and happy.
I rely with entire confidence on your cooperation in objects
equally your care, and that our mutual labors will serve
to increase and confirm union among our fellow citizens
and an unshaken attachment to our Government.10

In this optimistic message he hoped for peace and the return of prosperity after the disease the cities had suffered. He noted that revenues in 1799 were a new record, and he urged improvement of the judiciary. National expenses had risen to $7.6 million in 1798 and $9.3 million in 1799. He prayed to the “Supreme Ruler of the universe” that the new capitol would be blessed as a place of virtue, wisdom, and magnanimity.
      George Washington died at Mount Vernon on December 14 after a short illness caused by a streptococcus infection. His will ordered that all his slaves be freed upon the death of his wife Martha. On the national day of mourning on the 26th General “Light-Horse Harry” Lee eulogized the founding father as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
      Napoleon’s government in December repealed the French law against neutral shipping, and the Consulate tried to control the abuses of the prize courts. After being away for ten months, News arrived in February 1800 that General Napoleon Bonaparte had become the ruler of France as first consul on 9 November 1799, ending the era of the French Revolution. Vice President Jefferson became president of the Philosophical Society and worked on science. He wrote the useful Manual of Parliamentary Practice for the Senate. On April 24 the Library of Congress was initiated with an appropriation of $5,900 for books.
      Scottish James Callender wrote for the Richmond Examiner, and in late 1799 he criticized President Adams severely in his pamphlet The Prospect before Us. He had left Philadelphia and moved to Richmond, Virginia. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, who had condemned the English scientist and lawyer Thomas Cooper, sentencing him on May 1 to a $400 fine and six months in prison, went to Richmond and indicted Callender for sedition that May. Justice Chase treated him contemptuously and would not let him challenge the constitutionality of the Sedition Act before the jury chosen by federal marshals. He sentenced Callender to pay a fine of $200 and spend nine months in jail. Jefferson contributed $50 to his fine and pardoned him and the others when he became President.
      After an absence for ten months Vice President Jefferson returned to Philadelphia on December 28.


1. John Adams by David McCullough, p. 523.
2. The Works of John Adams: Second President of the United States, Volume 8 by Charles Francis Adams, p. 624-625.
3. John Adams Writings from the New Nation 1784-1826, ed. Gordon Wood, p. 384.
4. The Works of John Adams: Second President of the United States, Volume 9, p. 174-175.
5. John Adams Writings from the New Nation 1784-1826, p. 384-385.
6. The Works of John Adams: Second President of the United States, Volume 8, p. 634-635.
7. John Adams Writings from the New Nation 1784-1826, 385-386.
8. The Works of John Adams: Second President of the United States, Volume 9, p. 10-12.
9. The American Revolution of 1800 by Daniel Sisson, p. 333.
10. A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents 1789-1908 Volume 1 ed. James D. Richardson, p. 289-292.
11. Writings by Thomas Jefferson, p. 1082.
12. Stoddert’s War: Naval Operations During the Quasi-War with France, 1798-1801 by Michael A. Palmer, p. 235.

copyright 2024 by Sanderson Beck

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