John Adams

Message in Reply to the Senate

November 28, 1797

Address of the Senate to John Adams,

President of the United States.


SIR: The communications you thought proper to make in your speech to both Houses of Congress on the opening of their present session afford additional proofs of the attention, integrity, and firmness which have always marked your official character.

We can not but approve of the measures you had taken to ascertain the state and decline of the contagious sickness which has so lately afflicted the city of Philadelphia, and the pleasing circumstance that Congress is now assembled at that place without hazard to the health of its members evinces the propriety of your having postponed a determination to convene the National Legislature at another place. We shall take into consideration the law of 1794 on this subject, and will readily concur in any amendment which may be deemed expedient.

It would have given us much pleasure to have received your congratulations on the reestablishment of peace in Europe and the restoration of security to the persons and property of our citizens from injustice and violence at sea; but though these events, so desirable to our country and the world, have not taken place, yet we have abundant cause of gratitude to the Great Disposer of Human Events for interior tranquillity and personal security, for propitious seasons, prosperous agriculture, productive fisheries, and general improvement, and, above all, for a rational spirit of civil and religious liberty and a calm but steady determination to support our sovereignty against all open and secret attacks.

We learn with satisfaction that our envoys extraordinary to the French Republic had safely arrived in Europe and were proceeding to the scene of negotiation, and whatever may be the result of the mission, we are perfectly satisfied that nothing on your part has been omitted which could in any way conduce to a successful conclusion of the negotiation upon terms compatible with the safety, honor, and interest of the United States; and we are fully convinced that in the meantime a manifestation of that unanimity and energy of which the people of the United States have given such memorable proofs and a proper exertion of those resources of national defense which we possess will essentially contribute to the preservation of peace and the attainment of justice.

We think, sir, with you that the commerce of the United States is essential to the growth, comfort, and prosperity of our country, and that the faith of society is pledged for the preservation of the rights of commercial and seafaring no less than of other citizens. And even if our negotiation with France should terminate favorably and the war in Europe cease, yet the state of society which unhappily prevails in so great a portion of the world and the experience of past times under better circumstances unite in warning us that a commerce so extensive and which holds out so many temptations to lawless plunderers can never be safe without protection; and we hold ourselves obliged by every tie of duty which binds us to our constituents to promote and concur in such measures of marine defense as may convince our merchants and seamen that their rights are not sacrificed nor their injuries forgotten.

We regret that, notwithstanding the clear and explicit terms of the treaty between the United States and His Catholic Majesty, the Spanish garrisons are not yet withdrawn from our territory nor the running of the boundary line commenced. The United States have been faithful in the performance of their obligations to Spain, and had reason to expect a compliance equally prompt on the part of that power. We still, however, indulge the hope that the convincing answers which have been given to the objections stated by the Spanish officers to the immediate execution of the treaty will have their proper effect, and that this treaty, so mutually beneficial to the contracting parties, will be finally observed with good faith. We therefore entirely approve of your determination to continue in readiness to receive the posts and to run the line of partition between our territory and that of the King of Spain.

Attempts to alienate the affections of the Indians, to form them into a confederacy, and to excite them to actual hostility against the United States, whether made by foreign agents or by others, are so injurious to our interests at large and so inhuman with respect to our citizens inhabiting the adjacent territory as to deserve the most exemplary punishment, and we will cheerfully afford our aid in framing a law which may prescribe punishment adequate to the commission of crimes so heinous.

The several objects you have pointed out to the attention of the Legislature, whether they regard our internal or external relations, shall receive from us that consideration which they merit, and we will readily concur in all such measures as may be necessary either to enable us to fulfill our engagements at home or to cause ourselves to be respected abroad; and at this portentous period, when the powers of Europe with whom we are connected by treaty or commerce are in so critical a situation, and when the conduct of some of those powers toward the United States is so hostile and menacing, the several branches of the Government are, in our opinion, called upon with peculiar importunity to unite, and by union not only to devise and carry into effect those measures on which the safety and prosperity of our country depend, but also to undeceive those nations who, regarding us as a weak and divided people, have pursued systems of aggression inconsistent with a state of peace between independent nations. And, sir, we beg leave to assure you that we derive a singular consolation from the reflection that at such a time the executive part of our Government has been committed to your hands, for in your integrity, talents, and firmness we place the most entire confidence.


President of the Senate pro tempore.

NOVEMBER 27, 1797.

Reply of the President.


November 28, 1797

Gentlemen of the Senate:

I thank you for this address.

When, after the most laborious investigation and serious reflection, without partial considerations or personal motives, measures have been adopted or recommended, I can receive no higher testimony of their rectitude than the approbation of an assembly so independent, patriotic, and enlightened as the Senate of the United States.

Nothing has afforded me more entire satisfaction than the coincidence of your judgment with mine in the opinion of the essential importance of our commerce and the absolute necessity of a maritime defense. What is it that has drawn to Europe the superfluous riches of the three other quarters of the globe but a marine? What is it that has drained the wealth of Europe itself into the coffers of two or three of its principal commercial powers but a marine?

The world has furnished no example of a flourishing commerce without a maritime protection, and a moderate knowledge of man and his history will convince anyone that no such prodigy ever can arise. A mercantile marine and a military marine must grow up together; one can not long exist without the other.


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

Filed Under



Simple Search of Our Archives