7
7
Adams, John, second President
Estimate
70,000100,000
LOT SOLD. 62,500 USD
JUMP TO LOT
7
Adams, John, second President
Estimate
70,000100,000
LOT SOLD. 62,500 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

The JAMES S. COPLEY LIBRARY: MAGNIFICENT AMERICAN HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS: FIRST SELECTION

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New York

Adams, John, second President
Autograph letter signed ("John Adams"), 3 pages (9 x 7 3/8 in.; 229 x 190 mm), Quincy, 13 May 1812, to Dr. Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia, replying to Rush's advice that he restrain himself from publishing a rebuttal to charges made against him in recent polemics by Timothy Pickering; stains from an earlier binding at margins, with a few small holes in lefthand margin of third page, apparently the result of tears in disbinding the letter. Blue moire folding-case, navy blue morocco spine with light blue lettering pieces.
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Catalogue Note

Adams's vituperations on political scandal. Here the former President replies to Rush's advice that he refrain from publishing a rebuttal to charges levelled against him in recent polemics by Timothy Pickering. Rush had quoted John Witherspoon's sage maxim: "Scandal will die sooner than you can kill it," and suggested that posterity would do Adams justice. Not so easily mollified, Adams replies: "Say what you will, that Man is in a poor case who is reduced to the necessity of looking to Posterity, for Justice or Charity ..." He brings Rush up to date on Pickering's latest slanders: "[H]e charges Jefferson and Madison with Duplicity, Falshood, Deception, Hipocracy Enmity to commerce, Subserviency to Napoleon, concert with him to destroy Great Britain &c &c &c &c. Wetherspoon had Witt and Sense and taste; but his Maxim is not universally infallible. Scandal may sometimes be killed much sooner than it would die a natural death ... You will soon see the fruits of Scandal in the Votes of Massachusetts and New York. The Northern Politicians, for twelve years past have retaliated upon the Southern Politicians, the Scandal they published and recorded against me for twelve Years before. I would subscribe 100 Guineas for a compleat Edition of all the Scandal against me from 1789 to 1801 contained in the circular Letters of the Members of Congress from all the Southern and middle States ..."

"There is a difference, Doctor Rush, between Truth and Falshood, Right and Wrong, Virtue and Vice: let us not endeavour to confound them. There is Something ... rotten, which if not explored will end in Blood and Division." Adams revisits the scandalous slanders launched against him by Rush's fellow Pennsylvanians for having refused them the favor of government appointments: "How soon did the Scandal of your Tenche Cox, your Augustus Muhlenbourg your Peter Muhlenburg, die, without being killed? And why was Augustus Muhlenburg my Ennemy? because I did not comply with his Servile abject Beggary of the office of Treasurer of the Mint which he had the creeping humility to beg of me by Letter ... and because I bestowed that office upon Dr Benjamin Rush, against his Muhlenbergs Solicitations and forty others. I have told you in former letters why Peter Muhlenburg joined with Tenche Coxe and his Brother in propagating Scandal against me. Hamilton would not let Washington and Washington and the Senate would not let me make him a Brigadier General and therefore he united with Tenche, Muhlenburg, Pierce Butler and another of your Philosophical Scoundrels whose Name I forget, to libel and scandalize me."

Adams then offers the one sure-fire tactic to squelch scandal (which he admits he himself is incapable of doing): "I know of no Remedy against it, but Puffing. ... These Puffers, Rush are the only killers of Scandal. Washington, Franklin—I will go no farther at present—killed all Scandal by Puffing. You and I have never employed them and therefor Scandal has prevailed against Us."

Adams then upholds the integrity of his son-in-law, Colonel William Smith, who was alleged to have made disparaging remarks about Washington. "[He] ... I assure you never spoke in my hearing one disrespectful word of my Man of ten or fifteen or twenty Talents. I have never conversed with any officer who uniformly mentioned his General with more Affection and respect. Steuben told Smith that Washington once Said to him Steuben, that Smith was a Stiff backed Young Man; and this anecdote Smith told me. But not one word did he ever utter in my presence of Resentment and disrespect to Washington living or to his Memory since his death."

He concludes with one last scandal, that of Edward Livington's suit for $100,000 in damages against Thomas Jefferson in the batture controversy. "Jefferson has sent me his 'Batture' a most sensible, learned and masterly Pamphlet." Adams refers to Jefferson's 1812 publication, The Proceedings of the Government of the United States in Maintaining the Public Right to the Beach of the Missisipi, adjacent to New-Orleans, against the Intrusion of Edward Livington.  In 1807, after conducting a successful suit on behalf of a client's title to a part of the batture (alluvial land) near New Orleans, Livingston attempted to improve part of this land (which he had received as his fee) in the batture, but a resentful public who long had access to the land, mobbed his workmen. The legal question whether the land was public or private property was referred to the Federal government.

It has been alleged that Livingston's case was damaged by then-President Thomas Jefferson, who believed that Livingston had favored Aaron Burr in the presidential election of 1800, and that he had afterwards been a party to Burr's schemes. Jefferson made it impossible for Livingston to secure his title by asserting the claim that such battures were the property of the Federal government.  In response, Livingston filed a lawsuit against Jefferson, now a private citizen, in 1810. The case was dismissed 5 December 1811 by Chief Justice Marshall due to lack of jurisdiction.

 "I hope Ned Livingston has opened Jeff's Eyes on the Subject of Jonathan Robbins, a scandal that ought to have been killed before it died of old age."  Jefferson had not been the sole target of the litigious Livingston: in 1800, he attacked President Adams for permitting the extradition to the British government of Jonathan Robbins, who had committed murder on an English frigate and then escaped to South Carolina, falsely claiming to be an American citizen. In closing Adams hurls a volley of invective at Livingston's fractious behavior: "Indeed I know not whether it be dead yet. a more infernal wicked malicious unprincipled deliberate and cruel Scandal never stalked this Earth." 

The JAMES S. COPLEY LIBRARY: MAGNIFICENT AMERICAN HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS: FIRST SELECTION

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New York