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Mr. Adams President of United States-Political parties continue; and party feelings strong-Mr. Adams's opinions and character-Governor Adams declines-Judge Sumner elected-State of public opinion-Governor Sumner rechosen-Difficulties with France-Measures of defence.
THE two great political parties, dividing the people of Massachusetts, as well as of the other states, nearly in equal numbers, remained when John Adams was elected President of the United States, in 1797. General Washington had held the place eight years, and then positively declined a reelection. Mr. Adams had been vice president while General Washington was the chief magistrate; and he had filled several highly important and responsible stations in the general government with great ability and integrity. He was one of the first delegates to the continental congress in September, 1774; and continued to be appointed every year after, till he was sent ambassador to France, in 1778. He continued in Europe several years, in a public capacity, where he rendered essential service to the United States, during the latter period of the war of the revolution, both in France and Holland; in negotiating the peace of 1783; and, afterwards, as envoy to the British court. But there were prejudices cherished against him by a portion of the people, who were ignorant of his true character, or who misrepresented his political views from sinister motives. He never had the entire confidence of so great a portion of the country as Washington possessed; and it was even pretended, that he was in favor of monarchy; especially of a limited monarchy, like that of England. And in some of his political writings, he had spoken in commendation of various parts of the British constitution, compared to other European governments. At an early period of the French revolution, he had also predicted the errors and excesses with which the people of that nation were afterwards chargeable.
Under the administration of President Adams, the opposition to the federal government increased, and the parties became still more distinctly marked and known. This was particularly the case in Massachusetts. While Governor Adams was a candidate, though he disapproved of some of the measures of the federal administration, he had no formidable rival. Some were dissatisfied; but they either presumed his opposition would not be violent or general, or that it would be vain to set up an opposing candidate, when he gave notice, in the beginning of 1797, that he declined the suffrages of the people, because of his age and infirmities. There was then a candidate for the place of chief magistrate offered by each political party in the state. Increase Sumner, one of the justices of the supreme judicial court, who was supported by the federal party, was elected. Moses Gill, the lieutenant governor, and James Sullivan, the attorney general, were also candidates for the office. They received the votes of the anti-federal party, being considered more in favor of the power of the states and of the liberties of the people, but not avowed or decided opposers of the measures of the federal government.
In his first public address to the general court, on being inducted into office, June, 1797, Governor Sumner spoke with decided and entire approbation of the policy and measures of the federal administration. He expressed his belief of the wisdom and prudence of the course pursued by General Washington, and as having been necessary for the peace, prosperity, and honor of the United States. And he declared his confidence in the intelligence and patriotism of President Adams, as qualifying him to administer the government with safety to the country, and in accordance with the great principles of the constitution. President Adams was a decided and zealous friend of commerce; and this rendered him more acceptable to the people of the eastern, than to those in the southern and western parts of the union. The treaty with Great Britain also operated more favorably than had been apprehended or predicted; and this removed one great objection to the federal administration. Still the conduct of the two great belligerent powers in Europe, was such as to be injurious to the rights of neutral nations; and to none more than to the United States.
The commerce of America, at this period, (1797,) was subject to frequent depredations. In their plans to injure each. other, both France and England were chargeable with committing great injustice and outrage on the merchants of the United States. The people loudly complained, and many were desirous of retaliatory measures. Some demanded war against
England, and some against France; and some advised to retire from the ocean, as the only wise and safe expedient.
In this state of the public mind, and with these conflicting opinions, the federal administration had much opposition to encounter, and the discharge of its duty to the country was extremely difficult. It was impossible to satisfy all the people, and not easy to decide which was the just and safe course. To maintain its neutral position, and to preserve peace if possible, seemed to be the policy and the wish of the administration. But it owed something to its own honor, and more to the interests of the people: and it was said, there was a point beyond which forbearance would neither be honorable nor safe. The majority of the people in Massachusetts manifested their approbation of the policy of the federal government, by the reelection, in 1798, of Mr. Sumner, who gave Mr. Adams' measures his decided support. The conduct of the French rulers was so threatening and hostile, that an attack by them. on the coasts of the United States was feared; and the governor recommended to the general court to adopt defensive measures for the protection of the people on the seaboard of the commonwealth.
At this period, the federal government gave authority for building several large frigates, and for raising an army, for the protection and safety of the United States, if an attack should be made by any foreign nation. President Adams ordered one to be built in Boston, which was called the Constitution; and the officers from Massachusetts, appointed for the provisional army, were Henry Knox, as major general, and John Brooks, as a brigadier. These measures, with some others adopted at the same time, served to increase the opposition in Massachusetts to the federal administration; for it was said to create a needless expense, as the French would not probably send troops to invade the country. And the objection was greater to an army than to a navy. For the latter might be necessary for the protection of commerce, in which a great portion of the state was engaged. Political parties, of the character previously existing, were very bitter in their writings; and their disputes respecting candidates for office, were fierce and violent. Those who complained of French aggressions were charged with being the friends of Great Britain; and such as censured British depredations were accused as being the friends of France. And the great dispute with many was, not whether the United States had unjustly and wantonly suffered, and what was necessary for redress and defence, but whether war should be declared against England or France. No doubt
there was much true patriotism in most of each party, and that each and all would readily defend their own country against any foreign power, which should dare to invade it; but the question was, which was most unjust and violent in its treatment, and which ought to be selected for hostile attack. There was, however, apparently too much of passion and prejudice mixed with patriotism, in a great portion of the people, to qualify them to decide with perfect impartiality and correctThe spirit of party had undue influence; and, as in all similar cases, few were justly desirous of forming a just and correct judgment. When party feelings have been long cherished, the people contend for victory rather than truth; and seek rather to confound their opponents than to establish what is right.*
Party is an evil incident to all free governments. In a republic, where all the citizens have a right to speak and vote, and a chance to gain power and office, there will be an indulgence of the selfish passions, as well as a diversity of political opinions. Such is the fact even in England. In the United States, it is much more so. Whether a politician shall be esteemed honest and patriotic, or not, must depend on his general character, rather than on his particular opinions, touching the conduct and policy of rulers. The intelligence and good sense of the people can alone correct the evil, so far as it is possible to prevent or restrain it at all.
Legal Provision for Public Worship, and Religious Teachers-Complaints by minor sects of the Constitution on the subject-A law in 1800, more favorable to religious liberty-Reference to law of 1811-Complaints of Alien and Sedition Acts-Resolutions of Virginia, condemning them-General Court of Massachusetts disagrees to Resolutions of Virginia-Death of Gov. Sumner-Gov. Strong-His character and opinions -Death of General Washington-Gov. Strong reelected-His Conciliatory Speech.
RELIGIOUS freedom was always a subject of strong interest with the people of Massachusetts. It led to their emigration from their native country, and to their settlement in a far distant and wild region. Their descendants always cherished the same spirit. The article in the constitution of the commonwealth was the result of much debate and deliberation. It was nearly the universal opinion, that religion was important to the order of society, as its sanctions were essential to virtue and morality. But it was a question, how far civil government might justly or safely interfere by directions and laws for the support of religion. Some insisted that the civil authority should require nothing, but leave religion wholly to the will and choice of every individual: while the majority were of opinion, that the legislature should have power to require the support of religious teachers and worship; leaving it to the people to choose their teachers, and their particular form of worship, provided that was christian and protestant.
The constitution had been generally so construed as to give dissatisfaction to those who belonged to minor sects or denominations; for it had been decided, that except a person usually and statedly attended a different place of worship, he must pay to the support of the minister of the town where he resided, though he could not conscientiously attend his instructions: thus subjecting a person to the inconvenience and trouble of obtaining a certificate from the minister or society where he