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A PAMPHLET of more than two hundred pages has appeared, under the title of “ CORRESPONDENCE between “ the Hon. John Adams, late President of the United “States, and the late William Cunningham, Esq. beginning in 1803, and ending in 1812.",
A family connexion appears to have had some infuence to induce Mr. Adams to unbosom himself to Mr. Cunningham. In one of his letters he tells us, that Cunningham's
grandmother was the beloved sister of his mother. Two objects were obtained by Mr. Adams's disclosures: He gratified the keen appetite of his friend for secret history, and eased his own mind, by giving vent to his spleen against some public men whom he hated.
Mr. Adams, roused at length by his subject, and stimulated by the constant flatteries of his friend, resolves to write his own history ; because, says he, “no human “ being but myself can do me justice; - and I shall not * be believed. All can say will be imputed to vanity * and self love." In the progress of this Review, the reader will find these prophetic anticipations verified. He will see, from the numerous aberrations of Mr. Adams, that his statements are not entitled to belief; while every page is characterized by his vanity and self-love.
In performing the task which Mr. Adams has imposed on me, I shall be obliged to take a pretty extensive view of his character; and present some features in the characters of others whom he has introduced into his letters. In these he has been pleased to give me a conspicuous place; making me a standing theme of reproach. But although so many of his shafts have been levelled at me, from his full quiver he has shot many at others; especially at one who, by way of eminence, may be justly styled THE FEDERALIST. Federalists generally, perhaps almost universally, were once the friends of Mr. Adams; and they continued such, so long and so far as his public conduct permitted them to support him, consistently with their views of what the public welfare required. The mere abatement of their zeal wounded his pride, excited his resentment, and exposed them to his reproach.
For myself, I determined on a formal vindication ; aware, at the same time, of the labour it would cost me, in looking for and examining numerous documents, written and printed, of many years' standing. Accusations, which a page would comprise, might require a volume to refute. But Mr. Adams's calumnies are spread over many pages, and will bring into view a variety of topics for reflection.
The letters of Mr. Adams present a tissue of misrepresentations, perverse constructions, and unfounded assertions. The latter, in any other case, I might designate by a harsher term. While under the influence of his passions strongly agitated (and a little excitement, like a small match to a mass of gunpowder, is sufficient to produce an explosion) he may not be perfectly qualified to distinguish between truth and falsehood. Suspicions, the offspring of a provd and jealous mind, are substituted for facts.s, and on these chimeras he rests confident assertions...But:keçitless precipitation is itself criminal; and its consequences may be as injurious to the party accused, as the fiberäte: falsehood.
By many persons, forgetting the latter years of his life, and thinking only of his revolutionary services, Mr. Adams is hailed as “ great and good ;” and is now familiarly designated by the flattering title of “the venerable sage of Quincy.” 'I am as ready as any man to acknowledge— I have, not long since, before a very numerous assembly, acknowledged-Mr. Adams's merit in contributing largely to the vindication of the rights of the Colonies, and in effecting the independence of the United States: it was an act of justice, which I feel no disposition to retract. But “great men are not always wise;" and some, after many good deeds, commit inexcusable faults; and, whether these injuriously affect one's country, or individual citizens, they ought to be exposed; for the public welfare, in one case; and, in the other, to rescue individuals from the effects of undeserved reproach.
In analyzing the “Correspondence,” and some other letters of Mr. Adams written at the same period, it will be seen with what facility, and how little truth, he could represent facts and occurrences concerning persons who were the objects of his hatred. This may serve to put on their guard readers of all his productions, whether already written, or which may hereafter appear, during his life, or after his death. Of the latter, I doubt not he has made ample preparation. The present examination will demonstrate, that when the interest of himself or of any member of his family is involved, or his yanity and ambition have room to operate, or meet with checks and obstacles, little reliance can be placed on his statements. If ingenuity or charity can find an apology for him—and that will be a bad one-it will be, that his selfish and ungoverned passions blind him.
Mr. Adams's virulent reproaches of federalists, of Hamilton and of me in particular, seem to have been written when he was tortured with the keen feelings of disappointed ambition (feelings which, after the lapse of eight years, since he failed of a re-election to the presidency, recurred in full force)—an ambition which could bear no opposition, or even lukewarmness, in regard to the means of gratifying it. He has himself described this passion in language that would not have occurred to any man who had not felt it in its utmost violence. 66 The desire of the esteem of others,” says he, “is as real a want of nature, as hunger-and the neglect and contempt of the world, as severe a pain " as the gout or the stone."*
Of Mr. JEFFERSON I should have said nothing beyond what appeared in Mr. Adams's own writings; and that, merely to contrast his different representations, to show their inconsistency, and that his course of conduct was directed exclusively by his views of existing interests of himself and family. But Mr. Jefferson's letter to Mr. Adams, of October 12th, 1823, published in the Boston Patriot in December, and thence introduced into other papers to be spread through the Union (for every letter from the pens of these two gentlemen is eagerly circulated in the public prints) appeared to me calculated to lead the readers into a misconception of their characters, and of the relations in which they stand towards each other. That letter, therefore, with its connexions, will demand some notice.
What is history ? A mere detail of events may engage curiosity ; but it is the characters of the actors which especially interest the reader; and the exhibition of their actions, whether these be good or bad, which furnishes useful lessons of instruction. Mr. Adams and Mr. Jefferson were conspicuous actors in the period of our revolution, and received applause. Future historians will investigate their characters, and by their actions regulate the award of censure and of praise, for the information and warning of those who shall live after them. But, seeing they have at one time done deeds worthy of remembrance, why drag their faults and failings before the eyes of their countrymen, many of whom, without inquiry, seem now inclined to forget and forgive ? Let a celebrated ancient give the answer : “ In this, I apprehend, consists the “chief part of the historian's duty : It is his, to rejudge “ the conduct of men, that generous actions may be “ snatched from oblivion, and the authors of pernici"ous counsels, and the perpetrators of evil deeds, may see, beforehand, the infamy that awaits them at the * Discourses on Davila, No. 4; ascribed to Mr. Adams as the author.
6 tribunal of posterity."* The occasion calls on me to make some contributions for this object. Hence this Review will be extended, and assume, in some degree, the shape of historical memoirs. With respect to Mr. Adams, the truths I state may, without much difficulty, gain admittance; for, by his own account, he has few friends among those denominated federalists; and still fewer among his old enemies, the adherents of Mr. Jefferson.t
Of all the persons vilified and slandered by Mr. Adams, Mr. Jefferson is the only one to whom he appears to have been solicitous to make reparation. But was he the only one entitled to it? Do his eulogists think nothing due to the memories of Hamilton and Ames and other departed federalists, and to their surviving compatriots, who have been calumniated by the
* Tacitus, Annals, iii, Murphy's translation. These ideas are compressed in the original: Præcipuum munus annalium reor, ne virtutes sileantur, utque pravis dictis factisque ex posteritate et infamia metus sit.
# In March, 1809, a short time prior to the election of governor and senators of Massachusetts, two democrats of Northampton addressed a flattering letter to Mr. Adams, requesting him to express his opinion respecting the present circumstances of the nation, with regard to foreign powers and domestic parties. On the 20th of that month, Mr. Adams sends an answer, in which he gives a dialogue, which he says passed in Holland, in 1784, between himself and Deodati, minister of the Elector of Saxony. Deodati overwhelms him with compliments; ascribing to him the glory of having made his countrymen and their government Republican; that he had made his country very celebrated; that he had made it independent; that he had made an astonishing treaty with Holland, and a marvellous peace with England, and made her acknowledge our independence. Mr. Adams tells Deodati, that he is too polite; that he had no pretensions to have performed all those great achievements; that he had acted a part in some of those affairs. Deodati then predicts, that his fate would be the same with all the ancient republicans, Aristides, Phocion, Miltiades, Scipio, &c. &c. To which Mr. Adams answers, “I believe it.” Deodati goes on : “ You will experience ingratitude, injustice ;" -“ You will be ill-treated, hated, despised, persecuted.”
Mr. Adams an. swers, “ I have no doubt of all that: it is in the ordinary nature and course of things.” Mr. Adams then proceeds to say, that a curious coalition of French and English emissaries, with Federal and Republican Libellers, had so completely fulfilled the prophecy of Deodati, and his own forebodings--so totally destroyed his reputation by their calumnies—that he had then neither power nor influence to do any thing for his country. The last paragraph of his letter is particularly characteristic, and is in these words :
“ I always consider the whole nation as my children ; but they have almost “all proved undutiful to me. You two gentlemen are almost the only ones, “out of my own house, who have for a long time, and I thank you for it, expressed a filial affection for