J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, January 02, 2020

“Aged SAM. in dotage frail”?

Yesterday I quoted some lines from Dr. Lemuel Hopkins’s poem welcoming the year 1795 for the Connecticut Courant.

Having praised Federalist heroes from Massachusetts, Hopkins turned to attacking the state’s Jeffersonians:
But still no flowers of greatness grow,
Where thorny plagues lurk not below:
There swarms Honestus’ rabble throng,
And Lawyer Incest joins the song;
While Jarvis with his bob-tail crew,
Retreats before great AMES’s view.
“Honestus” was a pen name of Benjamin Austin, Jr. “Lawyer Incest” referred to Perez Morton, who had been caught having an affair with his wife’s sister. “Jarvis” was Dr. Charles Jarvis. They were all Jeffersonian politicians. Against them, Hopkins favored the Federalist party of Fisher Ames.
And now, O Muse! throw Candour’s veil,
O’er aged SAM. in dotage frail;
And let past services atone,
For recent deeds of folly done;
When late aboard the Gallic ship,
Well fraught with democratic flip,
He praying fell on servile knees,
That France alone might rule the seas;
While Sense and Reason took a nap,
And snor’d in Jacobinic cap.
This political attack had to start out more delicately. No one could deny Samuel Adams’s leadership during the Revolution. He was still popular enough to have just been elected governor. Finally, though Adams was senior voice for limiting federal power in Massachusetts and still saw potential in the French Revolution, he didn’t oppose all of President George Washington’s policies like some of his younger colleagues.

On the other hand, on 3 Nov 1794 Gov. Adams had issued a proclamation reminding Massachusetts officials of their obligations under Article Seventeen of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between France and the U.S. of A. That agreement required American ports not to offer refuge to British naval vessels or formerly French ships that they had captured.

In doing so, Adams cited a recent message from Edmund Randolph, Secretary of State, who was struggling to maintain President Washington’s neutrality policy. Hopkins and his fellow New England Federalists revered Washington, but they leaned heavily toward Britain and disliked any accommodation of the French.

Therefore, Hopkins attacked Samuel Adams as “in dotage frail,” “on servile knees” about a “Gallic ship.” Because that’s the true spirit of the New Year.

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