LS as president, "John Adams," one page both sides, 8 x 9.75, June 4, 1798. Letter “To the Inhabitants of Medford in the State of Massachusetts.” In full: “Gentlemen. I thank you, for this address, expressive as it is concise, which has been presented to me by your Representative in Congress Mr. Sewall—The advantages and disadvantages of Treaties and the propriety of war or peace, depend commonly upon a System of information so complicated, that it requires all the time of the people to possess themselves of it,—and frequently much of it is of a Nature, which cannot be laid open to public view—It seems therefore inevitable, that those high attributes of national sovereignty, should be delegated to such a number, as is best calculated, to produce and secure the union, of Liberty, with the good Government of Laws—Your declaration, that the system of the late, and present administration, commands your warmest attachment, and is entitled, to your most energetic support because it has been productive of so much national prosperity, is very consolatory—The oath you have again, taken, on the altar of freedom, to preserve your Constitution and Government, will be regarded by all who know you as solemn and sincere, not like those of eternal enmity to Tyranny and anarchy, taken by those Moderns, who by their arts and arms, are daily extending, and propagating both—There is indeed, a point of degradation to which the just pride of Americans will never suffer them to stoop—Sooner than yield our Liberties to anarchical despotism, an appeal to the last reason of Republics, becomes the highest duty of Freemen.” A few dark stains (one just below his signature), show-through from writing to opposing sides, and unobtrusively repaired edge separations at folds, otherwise fine condition.
Accompanied by a letter from Congressman Samuel Sewall, dated June 5, 1798, forwarding Adams’s letter to members of the Committee of the Town of Medford. In part: “I am pleased that you have honored me with the charge of communicating to the President of the United States, the wise manly and energetic address of the inhabitants of Medford. I improved the earliest opportunity of presenting it, and yesterday had the honor to receive the answer inclosed with this.” He goes on to discuss the subject of their concerns, the impending war with France over their interference with American shipping: “The effect appears to be, to unite this injured people in a determined resistance of our aggressor. It must be desirable, while possible by honorable means, to avert the calamities of War; but when these become inevitable, our best consolation is, that we are innocent of the occasion, and that we possess ample resources to secure our defense.”
Despite George Washington’s plea for isolationist policies in his farewell address, his successor was swept into intense international disputes stemming from the war between Britain and France. The United States declared neutrality in the conflict but the support of the people was split between Great Britain and France. French privateers began seizing American ships trading with Britain and refused to accept the new US minister sent to Paris in 1796. Refusing to negotiate, France demanded enormous bribes for the restoration of diplomatic relations in what became known as the ‘XYZ Affair.’ While his fellow Federalists called for war, Adams hoped to preserve peace for as long as possible. Rather than formally declaring war, Congress allowed the arming of merchant vessels and the ‘Quasi-War’ commenced. Adams thanks the people of Medford for their support of his decisions and allegiance to the United States, and would soon pass the Alien and Sedition Acts to silence any outspoken opponents. Speaking in tones that characterize his concern for protecting the fledgling nation, this letter exudes Adams’s patriotic sentiments and brilliant statesmanship in navigating both domestic and foreign affairs.
Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.