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Your letter of June 13th, came duly to hand. If it had contained no other sentiments and opinions than those which my letter of condolence could have excited, and which are expressed in the first page of your reply, our correspondence would have terminated here. But you have been pleased to enter upon some subjects which call for a reply ; and as you observe that you have wished for an opportunity to express your sentiments, I have given them every weight they claim.
" One act of Mr. Adams's life, and one only (you repeat) ever gave me a moment's personal displeasure. I did consider his last appointments to office as personally unkind ; they were from my most ardent political enemies."
As this act, I am certain, was not intended to give any personal pain or offence, I think it a duty to explain it, so far as I then knew his views and designs. The Constitution empowers the President to fill up offices as they become vacant. It was in the exercise of this power, that appointments were made, and characters selected, whom Mr. Adams considered as men faithful to the constitution, and where he personally knew them, such as were capable of fulfilling their duty to their country. This was done equally by General Washington in the last days of his administration, so that not an office remained vacant for his successor to fill upon his coming into office. No offence was given by it and no personal unkindness thought of.
But the different political opinions, which have so unhappily divided our country, must have given rise to the idea that personal unkindness was intended. You will please to recollect, Sir, that at the time these appointments were made, there was not any certainty that the Presidency would devolve upon you, which is another circumstance to prove that no persona] unkindness was intended. No person, I am sure, was ever selected from such a motive, and so far was Mr. Adams from harboring such a sentiment, that he had not airy idea of the intolerance of party spirit at that time. I know it was his opinion, that if the Presidency devolved upon you, except in the appointment of Secretaries, no material change would be made. I perfectly agree with you in opinion that those should be men in whom the President can repose confidence, possessing opinions and sentiments corresponding with his own ; or if differing with him, that they ought rather to resign their offices than to cabal against measures which he may consider essential to the honor, safety and peace of the country. Neither ought they to unite with any bold and daringly ambitious character to overrule the Cabinet or to betray the secrets of it to friends or enemies. The two gentlemen who held the offices of secretaries, when you became President, were not of this character. They were persons appointed by your predecessor nearly two years previous to his retirement. They had cordially cooperated with him, and were gentlemen who enjoyed the public confidence. Possessing, however, different political sentiments from those which you were known to have embraced, it was expected that they would, as they did, resign.
I have never felt any enmity towards you, Sir, for being elected President of the United States. But the instruments made use of and the means which were practised to effect a change have my utter abhorrence and detestation, for they were the blackest calumny and the foulest falsehoods. I had witnessed enough of the anxiety and solicitude, the envy, jealousy and reproach attendant upon the office, as well as the high responsibility of the station, to be perfectly willing to see a transfer of it ; and I can truly say, that at the time of election, T considered your pretensions much superior to his who shared an equal vote with you. Your experience, I dare venture to affirm, has convinced you, that it is not a station to be envied. If you feel yourself a freeman, ai.d can conduct, in all cases, according to your own sentiments, opinions and judgment, you can do more than either of your predecessors could, and are awfully responsible to God and your country for the measures of your administration. I must rely upon the friendship you still profess to entertain for me, (and I am conscious I have done nothing to forfeit it), to excuse the freedom of this discussion, to which you have led with an unreserve, which has taken off the shackles I should, otherwise, have found myself embarrassed with. And now, Sir, I will freely disclose to you what has severed the bonds of former friendship, and placed you in a light very different from what some viewed you in.
One of the first acts of your administration was to liberate a wretch, who was suffering the just punishment of his crimes for publishing the basest libel, the lowest and vilest slander which malice could invent or calumny exhibit, against the character and reputation of your predecessor ; of him, for whom you professed a friendship and esteem, and whom you certainly knew incapable of such complicated baseness. The remission of Callender's fine was a public approbation of his conduct. If abandoned characters do not excite abhorrence, is not the last restraint of vice, a sense of shame rendered abortive ? If the Chief Magistrate of a nation whose elevated station places him in a conspicuous light and renders his every action a concern of general importance, permits his public conduct to be influenced by private resentment, and so far forgets what is due to his character as to give countenance to a base calumniator, is he not answerable for the influence which his example has upon the manners and morals of the community ?
Until I read Callender's seventh letter containing your compliment to him as a writer and your reward of fifty dollars, I could not be made to believe that such measures could have been resorted to, to stab the fair fame and upright intentions of one who, to use your own language, " was acting from an honest conviction in his own mind that he was right." This Sir, I considered as a personal injury ; this was the sword that cut asunder the Gordian knot, which could not be untied by all the efforts of party spirit, by rivalry, by jealousy, or any other malignant fiend.
The serpent you cherished and warmed bit the hand that nourished him and gave you sufficient specimens of his talents, his gratitude, his justice and his truth. When such vipers are let loose upon society, all distinction between virtue and vice is levelled ; all respect for character is lost in the deluge of calumny ; that respect, which is a necessary bond in the social union, which gives efficacy to laws, and teaches the subject to obey the magistrate, and the child to submit to the parent.
There is one other act of your administration which I considered as personally unkind, and which your own mind will easily suggest to you ; but as it neither affected character nor reputation, I forbear to state it.
This letter is written in confidence. Faithful are the wounds of a friend. Often have I wished to have seen a different course pursued by you. I bear no malice. I cherish no enmity. I would not retaliate if it was in my power ; nay more, in the true spirit of Christian charity, I would forgive as I hope to be forgiven. With that disposition of mind and heart, I subscribe the name of
- Abigail Adams
- Letters of Mrs. Adams, The Wife of John Adams With an Introductory Memoir by Her Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, Volume II, 1840