Ladies of Liberty Quotes
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“At night the envoys received visits of a less savory sort. Three henchmen of Talleyrand’s came around regularly to demand payment in exchange for recognizing the U.S. diplomats. The foreign minister’s agents, characterized in the communications to Philadelphia as X, Y, and Z, laid out the terms: an American loan of ten million dollars to the French government plus a quarter million dollars for Talleyrand’s personal pocket. The envoys angrily rejected the demand, with Pinckney famously replying, “No! No! Not a sixpence.” In the retelling, Pinckney’s refusal evolved into the more American aphorism “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.”
“The Fifth Congress had recessed in July 1798 without declaring war against France, but in the last days before adjourning it did approve other measures championed by Abigail Adams that aided in the undoing of her husband—the Alien and Sedition Acts. Worried about French agents in their midst, the lawmakers passed punitive measures changing the rules for naturalized citizenship and making it legal for the U.S. to round up and detain as “alien enemies” any men over the age of fourteen from an enemy nation after a declaration of war. Abigail heartily approved. But it was the Sedition Act that she especially cheered. It imposed fines and imprisonment for any person who “shall write, print, utter, or publish…any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States” with the intent to defame them. Finally! The hated press would be punished. To Abigail’s way of thinking, the law was long overdue. (Of course she was ready to use the press when it served her purposes, regularly sending information to relatives and asking them to get it published in friendly gazettes.) Back in April she had predicted to her sister Mary that the journalists “will provoke measures that will silence them e’er long.” Abigail kept up her drumbeat against newspapers in letter after letter, grumbling, “Nothing will have an effect until Congress pass a Sedition Bill, which I presume they will do before they rise.” Congress could not act fast enough for the First Lady: “I wish the laws of our country were competent to punish the stirrer up of sedition, the writer and printer of base and unfounded calumny.” She accused Congress of “dilly dallying” about the Alien Acts as well. If she had had her way, every newspaperman who criticized her husband would be thrown in jail, so when the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed and signed, Abigail still wasn’t satisfied. Grumping that they “were shaved and pared to almost nothing,” she told John Quincy that “weak as they are” they were still better than nothing. They would prove to be a great deal worse than nothing for John Adams’s political future, but the damage was done. Congress went home. So did Abigail and John Adams.”