John Adams

Message in Reply to the Senate

December 12, 1798

Address of the Senate to John Adams,

President of the United States.


SIR: The Senate of the United States join you in thanks to Almighty God for the removal of the late afflicting dispensations of His providence and for the patriotic spirit and general prosperity of our country. Sympathy for the sufferings of our fellow-citizens from disease and the important interests of the Union demand of the National Legislature a ready cooperation with the State governments in the use of such means as seem best calculated to prevent the return of this fatal calamity.

Although we have sincerely wished that an adjustment of our differences with the Republic of France might be effected on safe and honorable terms, yet the information you have given us of the ultimate failure of the negotiation has not surprised us. In the general conduct of that Republic we have seen a design of universal influence incompatible with the self-government and destructive of the independence of other States. In its conduct toward these United States we have seen a plan of hostility pursued with unremitted constancy, equally disregarding the obligations of treaties and the rights of individuals. We have seen two embassies, formed for the purpose of mutual explanations and clothed with the most extensive and liberal powers, dismissed without recognition and even without a hearing. The Government of France has not only refused to repeal but has recently enjoined the observance of its former edict respecting merchandise of British fabric or produce the property of neutrals, by which the interruption of our lawful commerce and the spoliation of the property of our citizens have again received a public sanction. These facts indicate no change of system or disposition; they speak a more intelligible language than professions of solicitude to avoid a rupture, however ardently made. But if, after the repeated proofs we have given of a sincere desire for peace, these professions should be accompanied by insinuations implicating the integrity with which it has been pursued; if, neglecting and passing by the constitutional and authorized agents of the Government, they are made through the medium of individuals without public character or authority, and, above all, if they carry with them a claim to prescribe the political qualifications of the minister of the United States to be employed in the negotiation, they are not entitled to attention or consideration, but ought to be regarded as designed to separate the people from their Government and to bring about by intrigue that which open force could not effect.

We are of opinion with you, sir, that there has nothing yet been discovered in the conduct of France which can justify a relaxation of the means of defense adopted during the last session of Congress, the happy result of which is so strongly and generally marked. If the force by sea and land which the existing laws authorize should be judged inadequate to the public defense, we will perform the indispensable duty of bringing forward such other acts as will effectually call forth the resources and force of our country.

A steady adherence to this wise and manly policy, a proper direction of the noble spirit of patriotism which has arisen in our country, and which ought to be cherished and invigorated by every branch of the Government, will secure our liberty and independence against all open and secret attacks.

We enter on the business of the present session with an anxious solicitude for the public good, and shall bestow that consideration on the several objects pointed out in your communication which they respectively merit.

Your long and important services, your talents and firmness, so often displayed in the most trying times and most critical situations, afford a sure pledge of a zealous cooperation in every measure necessary to secure us justice and respect.


President of the Senate pro tempore.

DECEMBER 11, 1798

Reply of the President.

DECEMBER 12, 1798.

To the Senate of the United States.

GENTLEMEN: I thank you for this address, so conformable to the spirit of our Constitution and the established character of the Senate of the United States for wisdom, honor, and virtue.

I have seen no real evidence of any change of system or disposition in the French Republic toward the United States. Although the officious interference of individuals without public character or authority is not entitled to any credit, yet it deserves to be considered whether that temerity and impertinence of individuals affecting to interfere in public affairs between France and the United States, whether by their secret correspondence or otherwise, and intended to impose upon the people and separate them from their Government, ought not to be inquired into and corrected.

I thank you, gentlemen, for your assurances that you will bestow that consideration on the several objects pointed out in my communication which they respectively merit.

If I have participated in that understanding, sincerity, and constancy which have been displayed by my fellow-citizens and countrymen in the most trying times and critical situations, and fulfilled my duties to them, I am happy. The testimony of the Senate of the United States in my favor is an high and honorable reward, which receives, as it merits, my grateful acknowledgments. My zealous cooperation in measures necessary to secure us justice and consideration may be always depended on.


John Adams, Message in Reply to the Senate Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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