Adams discusses the intrigue of Washington, centering on the Burr Conspiracy and the "Chesapeake Affair."
General James Wilkinson, a veteran of the Revolution, became entangled with Aaron Burr's scheme for establishing an independent nation in western North America when serving as governor of Louisiana under President Jefferson. Although Wilkinson testified for the prosecution at Burr's trial for treason, his own motives came under suspicion, as Adams explains. "Our most important public business is involved at present with personal accusations of the most unpleasant kind—the house of Representatives have been sifting the character of Genl. Wilkinson, and a Court of Inquiry has also been investigating his conduct. I now enclose to you the President's Message upon the subject and Mr. D. Clarke's Deposition." Daniel Clark was a wealthy New Orleans merchant who had evidently pledged to help fund Burr's ambitions.
Adams admits that the Burr controversy was occupying the Senate's time as well: "In Senate we have been performing a similar but a more distressing duty, upon one of our own members. I think I have heretofore sent you the Report of Committee and the Evidence in his case. The Senate have postponed the final consideration of the Report to the 1st of March, to give him further time for collecting exculpatory testimony." A Senate committee chaired by Adams had recommended that Senator John Smith of Ohio be expelled for his part in the Burr Conspiracy; in the event Smith resigned from the Senate on 25 April.
Another crisis facing Washington was the aftermath of the "Chesapeake Affair," in which a U. S. naval ship of that name was fired upon by HMS Leopard and searched for deserters from the British Navy. President Jefferson retaliated by closing America's territorial waters to the Royal Navy. The British Foreign Office accredited George Henry Rose as Envoy Extraordinary to negotiate a resolution with Jefferson. But Adams clearly indicates that he believes larger issues are at stake, some of which foreshadow the War of 1812.
"Mr. Rose is here; in Negotiation with the Executive. ... The difficulty does not arise, and I have never believed it would arise from the affair of the Chesapeake. But from the apparent determination of both the great belligerent powers that there shall be no more neutrality in the world. This crisis has in my belief long been approaching, and the only error which can justly be charged on our public men in this respect is that they have not foreseen it, and provided for it in time. The great error has been the opinion that we could by any possibility for a length of time keep ourselves free from the vortex of European Wars. That this was an error, I have always believed. That in the progress of that commercial warfare which has been intertwined with the French Revolution and its necessary Consequences, a question must arise between the two combatants, which could not be settled while a commercial power of such magnitude as ours remains neutral, has always appeared to me as clear as that the Sun and Moon must rise and set at their stated Seasons. The mistake has been the overrated estimate of the Empire of Reason. We are therefore totally unprepared for resorting to the umpirage of force. Unprepared not merely as respects physical means for those may be supplied with money. But morally and politically unprepared, which is infinitely worse. Unprepared with that intrepid and unyielding Spirit, unprepared with that energy of Soul, which can meet and vanquish difficulties and dangers. I do not however despair. That Spirit still exists among us, and in the day of need I confidently believe will yet kindle and burn with a splendour of which we shall hereafter glory. But it must rise from an heap of cold embers under which it is yet buried, and I fear that when it does rise, it will consume with too fierce a flame."
In closing, Adams turns his attention to the upcoming presidential election. "A Caucus or Convention of Republican members was held the Evening before last, and Mr. Madison agreed upon almost unanimously for the Presidential Candidate. But there were only 89 members present and Mr. Madison's voters did not quite amount to a majority of the two houses. Twenty-seven federal members were not invited to attend. The friends of Mr. Clinton and those of Mr. Monroe purposely absented themselves, and of those who did attend and vote for Madison I believe not all were very sanguine as his friends. It will be difficult for the three opposite parties to coalesce together, but the opposition against Mr. Madison will yet I think be very strong."
Adams's correspondent, William Plumer, had been a Senator from New Hampshire and later served as that state's governor. In 1820 he cast his Electoral College ballot for Adams, denying James Monroe unanimous reelection and gaining some early recognition for Adams's 1824 campaign.
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