|The American Presidency Project|
|• John Adams|
|Message in Reply to the House of Representatives|
|December 14, 1798|
Address of the House of Representatives to John Adams,
President of the United States.
SIR: The House of Representatives unite with you in deploring the effects of the desolating malady by which the seat of Government and other parts of our country have recently been visited. In calling our attention to the fatality of its repeated ravages and inviting us to consider the expediency of exercising our constitutional powers in aid of the health laws of the respective States, your recommendation is sanctioned by the dictates of humanity and liberal policy. On this interesting subject we feel the necessity of adopting every wise expedient for preventing a calamity so distressing to individual sufferers and so prejudicial to our national commerce.
That our finances are in a prosperous state notwithstanding the commercial derangements resulting from this calamity and from external embarrassments is a satisfactory manifestation of the great extent and solidity of the public resources. Connected with this situation of our fiscal concerns, the assurance that the legal provisions for obtaining revenue by direct taxation will fulfill the views of the Legislature is peculiarly acceptable.
Desirous as we are that all causes of hostility may be removed by the amicable adjustment of national differences, we learn with satisfaction that in pursuance of our-treaties with Spain and with Great Britain advances have been made for definitively settling the controversies relative to the southern and northeastern limits of the United States. With similar sentiments have we received your information that the proceedings under commissions authorized by the same treaties afford to a respectable portion of our citizens the prospect of a final decision on their claims for maritime injuries committed by Subjects of those powers.
It would be the theme of mutual felicitation were we assured of experiencing similar moderation and justice from the French Republic, between which and the United States differences have unhappily arisen; but this is denied us by the ultimate failure of the measures which have been taken by this Government toward an amicable adjustment of those differences and by the various inadmissible pretensions on the part of that nation.
The continuing in force the decree of January last, to which you have more particularly pointed our attention, ought of itself to be considered as demonstrative of the real intentions of the French Government. That decree proclaims a predatory warfare against the unquestionable rights of neutral commerce which with our means of defense our interest and our honor command us to repel. It therefore now becomes the United States to be as determined in resistance as they have been patient in suffering and condescending in negotiation.
While those who direct the affairs of France persist in the enforcement of decrees so hostile to our essential rights, their conduct forbids us to confide in any of their professions of amity.
As, therefore, the conduct of France hitherto exhibits nothing which ought to change or relax our measures of defense, the policy of extending and invigorating those measures demands our sedulous attention. The sudden and remarkable advantages which this country has experienced from a small naval armament sufficiently prove the utility of its establishment. As it respects the guarding of our coast, the protection of our trade, and the facility of safely transporting the means of territorial defense to every part of our maritime frontier, an adequate naval force must be considered as an important object of national policy. Nor do we hesitate to adopt the opinion that, whether negotiations with France are resumed or not, vigorous preparations for war will be alike indispensable.
In this conjuncture of affairs, while with you we recognize our abundant cause of gratitude to the Supreme Disposer of Events for the ordinary blessings of Providence, we regard as of high national importance the manifestation in our country of a magnanimous spirit of resistance to foreign domination. This spirit merits to be cherished and invigorated by every branch of Government as the estimable pledge of national prosperity and glory.
Disdaining a reliance on foreign protection, wanting no foreign guaranty of our liberties, resolving to maintain our national independence against every attempt to despoil us of this inestimable treasure, we confide under Providence in the patriotism and energies of the people of these United States for defeating the hostile enterprises of any foreign power.
To adopt with prudent foresight such systematical measures as may be expedient for calling forth those energies wherever the national exigencies may require, whether on the ocean or on our own territory, and to reconcile with the proper security of revenue the convenience of mercantile enterprise, on which so great a proportion of the public resources depends, are objects of moment which shall be duly regarded in the course of our deliberations.
Fully as we accord with you in the opinion that the United States ought not to submit to the humiliation of sending another minister to France without previous assurances sufficiently determinate that he will be duly accredited, we have heard with cordial approbation the declaration of your purpose steadily to observe those maxims of humane and pacific policy by which the United States have hitherto been governed. While it is left with France to take the requisite steps for accommodation, it is worthy the Chief Magistrate of a free people to make known to the world that justice on the part of France will annihilate every obstacle to the restoration of a friendly intercourse, and that the Executive authority of this country will respect the sacred rights of embassy. At the same time, the wisdom and decision which have characterized your past Administration assure us that no illusory professions will seduce you into any abandonment of the rights which belong to the United States as a free and independent nation.
DECEMBER 13, 1798.
Reply of the President.
DECEMBER 14, 1798.
To the House of Representatives of the United States of America.
GENTLEMEN: My sincere acknowledgments are due to the House of Representatives of the United States for this excellent address so consonant to the character of representatives of a great and free people. The judgment and feelings of a nation, I believe, were never more truly expressed by their representatives than those of our constituents by your decided declaration that with our means of defense our interest and honor command us to repel a predatory warfare against the unquestionable rights of neutral commerce; that it becomes the United States to be as determined in resistance as they have been patient in suffering and condescending in negotiation; that while those who direct the affairs of France persist in the enforcement of decrees so hostile to our essential rights their conduct forbids us to confide in any of their professions of amity; that an adequate naval force must be considered as an important object of national policy, and that, whether negotiations with France are resumed or not, vigorous preparations for war will be alike indispensable.
The generous disdain you so coolly and deliberately express of a reliance on foreign protection, wanting no foreign guaranty of our liberties, resolving to maintain our national independence against every attempt to despoil us of this inestimable treasure, will meet the full approbation of every sound understanding and exulting applauses from the heart of every faithful American.
I thank you, gentlemen, for your candid approbation of my sentiments on the subject of negotiation and for the declaration of your opinion that the policy of extending and invigorating our measures of defense and the adoption with prudent foresight of such systematical measures as may be expedient for calling forth the energies of our country wherever the national exigencies may require, whether on the ocean or on our own territory, will demand your sedulous attention.
At the same time, I take the liberty to assure you it shall be my vigilant endeavor that no illusory professions shall seduce me into any abandonment of the rights which belong to the United States as a free and independent nation.
|Citation: John Adams: "Message in Reply to the House of Representatives", December 14, 1798. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=65664.|
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