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Raised to an
elevation they had not a right to expect, nor judgment to conduct,
they became like feathers in the air, and blown about by every puff of
passion or conceit.

Candour would find some apology for their conduct if want of judgment
was their only defect. But error and crime, though often alike in their
features, are distant in their characters and in their origin. The one
has its source in the weakness of the head, the other in the hardness
of the heart, and the coalition of the two, describes the former
Administration.(1)

1 That of John Adams.--_Editor._

Had no injurious consequences arisen from the conduct of that
Administration, it might have passed for error or imbecility, and
been permitted to die and be forgotten. The grave is kind to innocent
offence. But even innocence, when it is a cause of injury, ought to
undergo an enquiry.

The country, during the time of the former Administration, was kept in
continual agitation and alarm; and that no investigation might be made
into its conduct, it entrenched itself within a magic circle of terror,
and called it a SEDITION LAW.(1) Violent and mysterious in its measures
and arrogant in its manners, it affected to disdain information, and
insulted the principles that raised it from obscurity. John Adams and
Timothy Pickering were men whom nothing but the accidents of the times
rendered visible on the political horizon. Elevation turned their heads,
and public indignation hath cast them to the ground. But an inquiry
into the conduct and measures of that Administration is nevertheless
necessary.

The country was put to great expense. Loans, taxes, and standing armies
became the standing order of the day. The militia, said Secretary
Pickering, are not to be depended upon, and fifty thousand men must be
raised. For what? No cause to justify such measures has yet appeared. No
discovery of such a cause has yet been made. The pretended Sedition Law
shut up the sources of investigation, and the precipitate flight of John
Adams closed the scene. But the matter ought not to sleep here.

It is not to gratify resentment, or encourage it in others, that I enter
upon this subject. It is not in the power of man to accuse me of a
persecuting spirit. But some explanation ought to be had. The motives
and objects respecting the extraordinary and expensive measures of the
former Administration ought to be known. The Sedition Law, that shield
of the moment, prevented it then, and justice demands it now. If the
public have been imposed upon, it is proper they should know it; for
where judgment is to act, or a choice is to be made, knowledge is first
necessary. The conciliation of parties, if it does not grow out of
explanation, partakes of the character of collusion or indifference.

1 Passed July 14, 1798, to continue until March 3, 1801.
This Act, described near the close of this Letter, and one
passed June 35th, giving the President despotic powers over
aliens in the United States, constituted the famous "Alien
and Sedition Laws." Hamilton opposed them, and rightly saw
in them the suicide of the Federal party.--_Editor._,

There has been guilt somewhere; and it is better to fix it where
it belongs, and separate the deceiver from the deceived, than that
suspicion, the bane of society, should range at large, and sour the
public mind. The military measures that were proposed and carrying on
during the former administration, could not have for their object the
defence of the country against invasion. This is a case that decides
itself; for it is self evident, that while the war raged in Europe,
neither France nor England could spare a man to send to America. The
object, therefore, must be something at home, and that something was the
overthrow of the representative system of government, for it could be
nothing else. But the plotters got into confusion and became enemies to
each other. Adams hated and was jealous of Hamilton, and Hamilton hated
and despised both Adams and Washington.(1) Surly Timothy stood aloof, as
he did at the affair of Lexington, and the part that fell to the public
was to pay the expense.(2)

1 Hamilton's bitter pamphlet against Adams appeared in 1800,
but his old quarrel with Washington (1781) had apparently
healed. Yet, despite the favors lavished by Washington on
Hamilton, there is no certainty that the latter ever changed
his unfavorable opinion of the former, as expressed in a
letter to General Schuylor, Feb. 18, 1781 (Lodge's
"Hamilton's Works," vol. viii., p. 35).--_Editor._

2 Colonel Pickering's failure, in 1775, to march his Salem
troops in time to intercept the British retreat from
Lexington was attributed to his half-heartedness
in the patriotic cause.--_Editor._

But ought a people who, but a few years ago, were fighting the battles
of the world, for liberty had no home but here, ought such a people
to stand quietly by and see that liberty undermined by apostacy
and overthrown by intrigue? Let the tombs of the slain recall their
recollection, and the forethought of what their children are to be
revive and fix in their hearts the love of liberty.

If the former administration can justify its conduct, give it the
opportunity. The manner in which John Adams disappeared from the
government renders an inquiry the more necessary. He gave some account
of himself, lame and confused as it was, to certain _eastern wise men_
who came to pay homage to him on his birthday. But if he thought it
necessary to do this, ought he not to have rendered an account to
the public. They had a right to expect it of him. In that tête-à-tête
account, he says, "Some measures were the effect of imperious necessity,
much against my inclination." What measures does Mr. Adams mean, and
what is the imperious necessity to which he alludes? "Others (says he)
were measures of the Legislature, which, although approved when passed,
were never previously proposed or recommended by me." What measures,
it may be asked, were those, for the public have a right to know the
conduct of their representatives? "Some (says he) left to my discretion
were never executed, because no necessity for them, in my judgment, ever
occurred."

What does this dark apology, mixed with accusation, amount to, but
to increase and confirm the suspicion that something was wrong?
Administration only was possessed of foreign official information,
and it was only upon that information communicated by him publicly or
privately, or to Congress, that Congress could act; and it is not in
the power of Mr. Adams to show, from the condition of the belligerent
powers, that any imperious necessity called for the warlike and
expensive measures of his Administration.

What the correspondence between Administration and Rufus King in London,
or Quincy Adams in Holland, or Berlin, might be, is but little known.
The public papers have told us that the former became cup-bearer from
the London underwriters to Captain Truxtun,(1) for which, as Minister
from a neutral nation, he ought to have been censured. It is, however,
a feature that marks the politics of the Minister, and hints at the
character of the correspondence.

1 Thomas Truxtun (1755-1822), for having captured the French
frigate "L'Insurgente," off Hen's Island, 1799, was
presented at Lloyd's coffee-house with plate to the value of
600 guineas. Rufus King (1755-1827), made Minister to England
in 1796, continued under Adams, and for two years under
Jefferson's administration.--_Editor._

I know that it is the opinion of several members of both houses of
Congress, that an enquiry, with respect to the conduct of the late
Administration, ought to be gone into. The convulsed state into which
the country has been thrown will be best settled by a full and fair
exposition of the conduct of that Administration, and the causes and
object of that conduct. To be deceived, or to remain deceived, can be
the interest of no man who seeks the public good; and it is the deceiver
only, or one interested in the deception, that can wish to preclude
enquiry.

The suspicion against the late Administration is, that it was plotting
to overturn the representative system of government, and that it spread
alarms of invasions that had no foundation, as a pretence for raising
and establishing a military force as the means of accomplishing that
object.

The law, called the Sedition Law, enacted, that if any person should
write or publish, or cause to be written or published, any libel
[without defining what a libel is] against the Government of the United
States, or either house of congress, or against the President, he
should be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars, and by
imprisonment not exceeding two years.

But it is a much greater crime for a president to plot against a
Constitution and the liberties of the people, than for an individual to
plot against a President; and consequently, John Adams is accountable to
the public for his conduct, as the individuals under his administration
were to the sedition law.

The object, however, of an enquiry, in this case, is not to punish, but
to satisfy; and to shew, by example, to future administrations, that an
abuse of power and trust, however disguised by appearances, or rendered
plausible by pretence, is one time or other to be accounted for.

Thomas Paine.

BORDENTOWN, ON THE DELAWARE,

New Jersey, March 12, 1803. vol. III--27



LETTER VII.

EDITOR'S PREFACE.

This letter was printed in _The True American_, Trenton, New
Jersey, soon after Paine's return to his old home at
Bordenton. It is here printed from the original manuscript,
for which I am indebted to Mr. W. F. Havemeyer of New York.
Although the Editor has concluded to present Paine's
"Maritime Compact" in the form he finally gave it, the
articles were printed in French in 1800, and by S. H. Smith,
Washington, at the close of the same year. There is an
interesting history connected with it.



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