ADAMS, John, President. Autograph letter signed ("John Adams") TO DR. BENJAMIN RUSH (1745-1813), Signer (Pennsylvania), Quincy, 18 September 1812. 2 pages, 4to, integral autograph address panel, with Adam's frank "Free," small seal tear, address panel a bit browned, otherwise in fine condition.
ADAMS ON JEFFERSON'S AND MADISON'S PRESIDENTIAL TERMS: "MADISON'S PRIVATE OPINIONS AND JEFFERSON'S TOO, ARE MORE CORRECT THAN THEIR PUBLIC CONDUCT HAS BEEN...THOSE WHO BROUGHT US INTO THIS CONFUSION ARE THE BEST QUALIFIED TO BRING US OUT OF IT..."
An exceptionally interesting letter on national politics, written a few scant months before Madison won a second term in the midst of the War of 1812. Adams writes to his closest confidant, an old friend since the Continental Congress, the Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush. As President, Adams had named Rush treasurer of the U.S. Mint; at the end of his term as treasurer, Rush had sent some Greek wine to the ex-President in thanks. Adams responds: "Ten thousand thanks for the Muscat Wine of Samos...It will increase my Love of Greek and Latin more than my Patriotism...When you thanked me...you did wrong. I gave you nothing. I was Trustee for our Country. Had I known a man more fit, more deserving, you would not have been selected...You have given me your own. I have accepted your own...You had a head metaphisical [sic] enough to discern and an heart susceptible enough to feel these nice distinctions..."
"I feel the Force of all your 'But,' 'Butt,' 'Butts.' I know of but one 'Butt,' however, that ought to have been decisive. This is the rash Insult to Jefferson and Madison, in the address to Congress. This I give up. I would have done as Jefferson did. I could have done no otherwise. And this I consider as an eternal sentence against the man to Poverty and obscurity and Inutility. I never heard him speak of either W's with any contempt...He once sent me when I was President a Bundle of Papers of Complaint of Wilkinson, from Detroit. Upon the calmest coolest, most impartial and deliberate Consideration of them I thought they did more honor than any thing else to Wilkinson. The amount of them all was that he had proclaimed Martial Law at Detroit. This I believed to be necessary because the Inhabitants there were Tories, and I fear they remain Tories still. I therefore acquitted Wilkinson and continued him in Command all my time."
He continues his letter in an intellectual vein, discussing "Apostate Angells, fallen Angels and Devils," madness and possession, then turns again to national politics, commenting forcefully: "To be sober, I believe Mr Madison will be again elected; and upon the whole, I wish it, because I see no Man who will likely to do better. The Nation it is true is greatly and justly alarmed at the Imbecility of the last twelve years [Jefferson's two terms and the first two of Madison's] But those who brought us into this Confusion are best qualified to bring us out of it, if they can be made to attempt it in the right way. Madisons private opinions and Jeffersons too, are more correct than their public conduct has been...Neither Mr Clinton nor Mr Jay, nor Mr Marshall, nor any other Man...could in the present Circumstances serve us so effectually as Mr Madison, if Congress will let him. But if Congress at their next Session do not commence some serious efforts for a Navy, though Mr Madison may be chosen, a dissaffection will be so deeply radicated in New York and all the northern states as to parrallyse all the Measures of Government and produce a disastrous War, by Sea and Land, and possibly a rupture of the Union. Besides Mr Madisons Majority will be very small. I am perfectly of your opinion that the federal denial of the Justice of the War, by which they identify themselves with the Tories and the English is as great a blunder on their part, as any that has been committed by their antagonists, these twelve years. The Federalists are as apt to stumble as the Republicans, and are so more to be trusted than they: yet as the latter are in possession of the fond affections of the People they can do better, if they will, than the former. I speak with deference however, having been so long out of the World."
Exactly three months earlier, a divided Congress had declared war on Great Britain (18 June 1812). The West and South had voted for war, with New England trade interests generally opposing it. As one Adams biographer has noted, in 1812 Adams had come to a "conviction that history had finally vindicated him. Eighteen twelve was the year of Madison's re-election and the year of the outbreak of war with England--the war that Jefferson's policies had made inevitable. Adams had wished for Madison's re-election," especially as he moved away from the policies of his predecessor, which Adams considered so disastrous (P. Smith, John Adams, 2:1107-1108).