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for the last war with Great Britain ?
What think you of the Salem Memorial, 1806, upon the rule of the war of 1756?
I pause for a reply; and remain with the highest regard and esteem,
J. Q. Adams.
Cambridge, October 2d, 1829. Dear Sir:
Owing to some delay in the transmission I did not receive your letter of the twenty-fifth of September until the evening before the last, and I avail myself of my first leisure to reply to it. I sincerely thank you for the favorable expressions you have used respecting my discourse, and your criticisms are truly welcome to me, not only from the pleasure I feel in such confidence, but also from the consideration that it affords the highest proof of your attention to all the topics of the discourse. Allow me to make a few observations on this subject, before I proceed to notice other important matters in your letter.
I plead guilty to the use of the word “inosculated.” Is your objection to the word itself, or to my use of it as inexact or incongruous ?
In speaking of “Platonic dreams” I confess myself to have had in view rather the visionary speculations of his (Plato's) followers in other ages, than his own opinions. I have been accustomed, however, to consider that he himself, was singularly metaphysical and abstract in some of his notions, both as to spirit and matter. So I have learned, not from reading his writings, but from the criticisms of those who have written the History of Philosophy.
I have spoken, it is true, in strong terms of praise of Lord Mansfield and Lord Stowell, but that praise respects alto
gether their legal and not their political character. I have always deemed Lord Mansfield in a great measure, the author of the Commercial Law in England, and that it is a system of great beauty and equity. Am I wrong in this respect? I am not aware that any portion of his administration of the Common Law is reprehensible, though it must be admitted that some of his decisions are erroneous. What Judge has not made some erroneous decisions which were important in their consequences! The most objectionable of his decisions are upon
the Law of Libel, at least as far as I now recollect them, - and yet, after all, notwithstanding the more recent decisions, and the statutes of Mr. Fox on the subject, it is very easy to trace in the later decisions in England the spirit of his decisions. If he was wrong, therefore, he has not stood alone, and is scarcely more obnoxious to censure than some of his contemporaries and successors. I am not his indiscriminate admirer or advocate, but in Commercial Law I am not prepared to abate any portion of my praise.
As to Lord Stowell I may again remark that I have nothing to say as to his political character. But as a civilian, I cannot but deem him very eminent. He sat thirty years in the Admiralty. I have read all his printed judgments and must confess, that generally, though not universally, they have my unqualified praise. On some principles one would differ, but there again, I may say that these differences are incident to national position or to personal opinion. The application of the rule of 1756 is that in which he bore most powerfully upon American Commerce and American rights. But even here, if you assume that rule to be correct as a part of National Law, his application of the rule, though in some cases harsh, was generally within its reach. I for one, have never admitted the legal existence of the rule. The Salem Memorial denied its justice.
I plead guilty as to the authorship of that Memorial. But if I were not convinced that it was founded in error, I should unhesitatingly admit my error. But after all, I am bound to
do this justice to Lord Stowell, and to state that he had Bri. tish authority for the rule, and that he did not create it. It is one of those questions upon which enlightened men may honestly differ. If Lord Stowell led the way the last war, in any measure, I cannot but believe his opinions, as a Judge, were sincere. He might relax the strict belligerent rule where his own government allowed it. But I have no reason to suppose that he ever administered a stricter law than he conscientiously believed right. I have not avowed that he was always a safe guide. But is he not the ablest expounder of the Law of Nations in modern times? Compare him with the Judges of the Prize Courts of Continental Europe.
I do not put these questions to you expecting a reply to them, which I am aware would occupy too much of your time, but merely to put my reasoning into a distinct form.
In respect to the Hartford Convention I am glad that your letter alludes to it, as connected with the University dinner given in honor to Mr. Dane as founder of the Law Professorship. The subject was introduced on that occasion quite unexpectedly to me, and I was asked, in a pleasant way, to say how I could vindicate Mr. Dane from such an egregious fault. In reply, I ventured to narrate a conversation which took place between us before the Convention was held, and also a conversation between Mr. Dexter and Mr. Prescott, (the latter having been referred to specially in a speech at the same dinner,) in which Mr. Dane, and Mr. Prescott expressly disclaimed any intention to promote any measure calculated to dissolve the Union in this Convention. This was the substance of all I had occasion to say at that dinner, and it has been most grossly misrepresented in the news. papers. I authorized a short statement to be printed in some of them in reply to these misrepresentations, which I trust you have seen.
I feel greatly obliged to you for the confidence which you reposed in me at Washington respecting your intentions of a future vindication of your opinions respecting the views of the federal party in New England, as to a dissolution of the Union. Some change has since taken place with reference to my relation to Mr. Dane, but I am aware of none that would prevent me from reading your manuscript with a determination frankly to offer any suggestions for your consideration, which might strike my mind. At the same time, I cannot but feel that you may very properly indulge the belief that I might naturally wish, that passages affecting Mr. Dane as one of that body, and which you might deem essential to the true posture of your defence, might be varied or moderated. In short, I cannot but suppose that every thing you could write would bear on your vindication in a general view, without favor or affection; and therefore, if the manuscript should be submitted to my perusal, I should give my suggestions not so much upon the general scope of the reasoning, or its cogency and force, as to ask your revi. sion of any passages the tone of which might strike me as requiring your own deliberate revision. I shall be most happy to be of any aid which I can in any such respect, if you
shall on the whole deem it useful to you. At the same time I shall not feel myself authorized to draw any conclusions, if, looking to my new appointment, you should think that the delicacy of my situation would render my examination of your manuscript no longer important to you. I wish you, therefore, to act in this matter as you may deem best, and shall be entirely satisfied with the result.
While upon this subject, I take leave to add, that in the many conversations which have occurred on the subject since my return to Massachusetts, I have never heard a single doubt breathed respecting the integrity of your conduct, or the sincerity of your opinions. Those who were the least friendly to you, never intimated the slightest doubt, that you were, in what you said, governed by a high sense of truth and honor and belief. They thought you were under a mistake, but not wilfully wrong. I think, therefore, that so far as your honor is concerned, a publication may be postponed as long as you choose without suspicion of any change of opinion. There is great tranquillity in the public mind, as far as I can judge, and no disposition to revive the controversy in a manner unfavorable to yourself. Nothing that passed at the dinner alluded in the slightest manner to you.
I find, in looking over my letter, that I have omitted to notice your remark as to my speaking of Grotius's work being the first great effort in systematizing the Law of Nations, and you ask if I have forgotten Albericus Gentilis. I own the work of Gentilis, and certainly value his labors; but though the work is earlier than that of Grotius, and is a respectable compend, I hardly thought I ought, in so general a discourse, to speak of it as a great effort. I am glad, however, to be reminded of the omission, and in my lectures I shall take care to do him more exact justice.
You will observe that my letter bears date at an early day of the month, and now (the 11th,) I am concluding it. The truth is, that it was nearly finished when I was called away from Cambridge, to attend to judicial and other pressing avocations, and it is only since my return home, yesterday, that I have found any leisure to finish it. I hope you will accept this as an excuse for the tardiness of my reply. I hope to have the pleasure of seeing you at Quincy before I go to Washington, and after my circuit duties are over. My intention is to make you a visit as soon as I can command my leisure, but that, with my new duties, is not very easy. Believe me, with the highest esteem and respect,
Your obliged friend,