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Adams, John Quincy (1767-1848) to Uriah Tracy

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC04754 Author/Creator: Adams, John Quincy (1767-1848) Place Written: Quincy Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 3 April 1812 Pagination: 4 p. : address ; 22.9 x 18.7 cm.

Summary of Content: Adams writes about the possibility of an amendment against slavery, the fact that the House of Representatives represents freemen, and discusses the New York elections.

Background Information: In 1804, Federalist Senator Timothy Pickering (1745-1829) called for a constitutional amendment apportioning each state's representation in the House of Representatives solely on the basis of the number of freemen. Such ...an amendment would have overturned the Three-Fifths Compromise and greatly reduced the number of slave state representatives.
While Federalists, during the first years of the nineteenth century, attacked the three-fifths clause as a source of Republican power, they hesitated to directly challenge the institution of slavery itself. Their descendants, however, would assume a leading role in the antislavery campaign. Nevertheless, it is striking that as early as 1804, Adams was already thinking in terms of a "Slaveholding power."
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Full Transcript: Quincy 17. July 1804.

Dear Sir.
I received a few days since your very obliging favour of 18. ulto: and have derived the sincerest pleasure from the information of the agreeable manner in ...which you had rested at the several Stages of the journey homeward from the American Metropolis, of the satisfaction you enjoyed on being restored to your family, and above all, of the improved and improving State of your health- Its complete and permanent re-establishment I beg you to be assured would be a day of Jubilee to me more grateful by many times than any anniversary festival for the purchase of Louisiana
That heart must be strangely and to me unaccountably constituted which on being restored to the pure and tranquil enjoyments of domestic life, after a long experience of political turbulence and vexation, should not feel and pointedly contrast the operation of the two conditions upon itself.- But I confess I never yet was able to comprehend the Virtue, which it is not uncommon to see held up for admiration in the Love of retirement. - Selfishness may very naturally be glad to creep into any corner, or slink into any thickets, for a shelter from the driving tempest of active life, but voluntary seclusion in a Country like ours, from those concerns which constitute the great objects of general interest, forms no item in my Catalogue of Virtues. On the contrary, I have long thought it an important error, of many good and distinguished men among us, that they are too ready to indulge that love of ease and domestic comfort-Too ready to withdraw from the field of public action; too ready
to forsake the Ship and gain the Shore
When the winds whistle and the tempests roar.
[2]This love of retirement and domestic pleasures, has in this State kept in confinement to their chimney corners, numbers of men, who ought to stand forth the guardians of the public interest, and the guides of the public opinions-It is the only thing which can possibly hazard the steadiness of our politics-I hope they will even resist the dangers of this drowsy opiate-You will have seen by the proceedings in our Legislature that a serious alarm has been taken at that partial and uncontrouled dominion which has of late been so active at the Seat of Government to establish an impregnable rampart of Slave-holding power, under the false batteries of democracy-The Senators of the State in Congress are instructed to propose and endeavour to effect an amendment of the Constitution, so that the representation in the National House of Representatives may be a representation of freemen-I believe this alteration must be made, and I have no doubt it will be effected, whenever those States can be United in its favour, who have an unquestionable interest in obtaining it-I count upon ten States of this description-To which may be added the great and growing part of Virginia beyond the mountains-If this great majority of the numbers, wealth and strength of the Country can be made to harmonize in the pursuit of an object so obviously just in itself, and so clearly important to them I cannot doubt but they will obtain it-This however must be the work of Time, and of chance perhaps more than of anything else-At present the predominating Spirit of party will crush every effort for this or for any other purpose of public benefit.
I believe that in this State as well as in yours, the Federalists have become sensible of the necessity for concert and harmony among themselves-It is probable an exertion will be made at the ensuing elections for the National Government, and if properly made [inserted: it] will undoubtedly be attended with success-It is however in some measure difficult to shake off a certain apathy, which has taken possession of the principal part of our People.
[3] The contest of electioneering for the Governor's Office at New York, which you witness'd has been succeeded by a more cruel and fatal contest, and which was not to have been expected on this Occasion-The stories now circulating are much to the disadvantage of our President, who I most Sincerely hope, will never preside among us again-He has done evil enough for one man, and for a whole life-What good he has ever done has not reached my knowledge-
We are to lose two other Members of the Senate, if we may credit the voice of common Fame-Mr. Nicholas is Collector at Norfolk; and Genl. Armstrong succeeds Mr: Livingston, at the Imperial Court of France; this last appointment was somewhat unexpected to me, as before we left Washington a pretty general report indicated another of our learned Generals as destined for France.
The President still continues to express the public will by removals. A recent instance has occurr'd in Boston, where the Commissioner of Loans, has just been ordered to make way for General Skinner-
Since my return I have constantly resided at my father's house, and the first time for many years have enjoyed the beauties of the fine Season in the Country.- The Spring though late has been uncommonly beautiful and the common Mother so copiously replenished with the rains of Heaven, that her fertility has been unusually great- The progress of vegetation and the multiplication of animal life in the innumerable tribes of being which exist upon it have been the principal amusement and occupation of my leisure; and though not thoroughly satisfied that it is the most useful manner in which I could have employed the Summer, I know not how it could have been rendered here, more agreeable to me-I look forward to the approaching Winter with much reluctance and nauseating anticipation-We shall have topics as unpleasant, and virulence more rancorous to contend with than we had the last-I find at least [4] a comfort in the hope that the complete restoration of your health, will give us the advantage of your presence in the Senate, with less interruption than at the last Session.
In the meantime I must rely with confidence as with real satisfaction on the obliging promise of your constant, and I hope I may add frequent correspondence; being with the Sincerest respect and regard, [text loss] your friend & very humble Servt.
John Quincy Adams.

Hon:ble U. Tracy

[address leaf]
Uriah Tracy.

John Q. Adams
July 3d. 1804
Thos. Robinson
Jerh Dauchy
March 1799-
Constables fees $4
E Sterling Esqr
I am to tell
$10: 94Cts

Quincy, July 3: 1804 (12 ½ )

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People: Adams, John Quincy, 1767-1848

Historical Era: The New Nation, 1783-1815

Subjects: PresidentWar of 1812PoliticsGovernment and CivicsElectionFreemenCongressSlaveryAbolitionEmancipationUS ConstitutionUS Constitutional Amendment

Sub Era: The Age of Jefferson & Madison

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