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Lot 1: Adams, John, Fine autograph letter signed as President, 1 pages (10 x 8 in.; 254 x 203 mm.)

The Property of a Distinguished American Private Collector

Platinum House

by Profiles in History

December 18, 2012

Calabasas Hills, CA, USA

Live Auction
  • Adams, John, Fine autograph letter signed as President, 1 pages (10 x 8 in.; 254 x 203 mm.)
  • Adams, John, Fine autograph letter signed as President, 1 pages (10 x 8 in.; 254 x 203 mm.)
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1. Adams, John,Fine autograph letter signed as President, 1 pages (10 x 8 in.; 254 x 203 mm.), “Washington,” 30 December 1800 to “Hon. Mr. Gerry” - fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence Elbridge Gerry, with Gerry’s twelve-word autograph docket on the verso of the integral leaf: “Washington Letter, President Adams, 30th Decr 1800, & Gerry’s answer 20th Jany 1801”discussing the uncertainty over who would succeed Adams as President; repair to folds, light browning.

Who will succeed Adams as President of the United States?

Adams writes to Elbridge Gerry regarding the outcome of the “election” of 3 December 1800. The “election” was, in fact, a series of local contests to choose Presidential electors.  In a number of cases, the outcome had already been determined months before.  In other cases, electors were chosen on various dates during the month of November. The day set for the electors to actually cast their votes in their respective states was 3 December 1800. 

The possibility loomed that it might be Aaron Burr, as Adams explains in full: Dear Sir I have rec’d your favour of the 18th.  It has been an invariable usage twelve years, for the P. to answer no Letters of Solicitation or recommendation to Office.  But with you in full Confidence I will say that it is uncertain whether I shall appoint any Consuls to France.  Mr. Lee is represented to me as a Jacobin, who was very busy in a late Election in the Town of Roxbury on the wrong Side.  His Pretensions however shall be considered with all others impartially, if I should make any appointments. Your anxiety for the issue of the Elections is by this time allayed.  How mighty a Power is the Spirit of Party?  How decisive and unanimous it is!  73 for Mr Jefferson and 73 for Mr Burr.  May the Peace and Welfare of the Country be promoted, by this result. But I see not the way, as yet.  In the Case of Mr. Jefferson there is nothing wonder full: but Mr Burr’s good fortune surprises all ordinary rules, and exceeds that of Bonaparte.  All the old Patriots, all the Splendid Talents, the long experience, both of Feds and Antifeds, must be subjected to the humiliation of seeing this dexterous Gentleman rise like a balloon, filled with inflam[m]able air, over their heads, and this is not the worst.  What a discouragement to all virtuous Exertion and what an Encouragement to Party Intrigue and corruption?  What course is it We steer and to what harbour are we bound?  Say, man of Wisdom and Experience, for I am wholly at a loss.  I thank you Sir and Mrs Gerry for your kind condolence with us in our afflictions under a very melancholly [sic] and distressing Bereavment.  I thank the Supream [sic] that I have yet two Sons, who will give me Lone consolation, by a perseverance in those habits of Virtue and Industry which they have hitherto preserved.  There is nothing more to be said, but let the eternal Will be done. With great regard, I have the honor to be, Sir, your obliged friend and obedient Servant.  John Adams.

The election of 1800 was a battle between the Federalists - who advocated a strong central government with only such political power for the various states as was absolutely necessary - and the Democratic Republicans - who believed that the states should yield to the federal government only that which was necessary.  The Federalist candidates were President John Adams (for a second term) and Charles C. Pinckney as his running mate.  The Democratic-Republican candidates were Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr.  Both the President and Vice President were elected by the same ballot.  One faction of the Federalists - led by Alexander Hamilton - hoped that Pinckney would receive the Presidency and that Adams, with the second largest number of votes, would then become Vice President.

Reports came in very slowly, prolonging the outcome.  As time progressed, it became certain that neither John Adams nor Charles Cotesworth Pinckney could be considered the winner, but the outcome of the voting concerning the other two candidates was still unknown.  One thing was clear: the Federalist Party had lost its grip in the new nation.  Of the 276 votes cast, 73 went to Thomas Jefferson and 73 went to Aaron Burr.  [Adams received 65, Pinckney received 64 and John Jay received 1 vote.]  The election was referred to the House of Representatives (which was dominated by Federalists) to decide which candidate would be the President - and which would be the Vice President.  [Some Federalists believe Burr to be the lesser evil of the two - and plotted to elect him President.]  Balloting to decide the tie took place on February 11, 1801.  The representatives did not vote individually - but by state groups, each state being entitled to one vote.  To win, Jefferson or Burr had to carry nine states, a majority of the sixteen in the Union.  On the 36th ballot (February 17, 1801), Federalists in the Vermont and Maryland delegations abstained, thereby giving those two deadlocked states to Jefferson.  Ten states voted for Jefferson, four for Burr, and two voted blank (Delaware and South Carolina).  Jefferson was declared elected President and Burr his Vice President.

Provenance:  The Collection of Philip D. Sang, Sotheby’s, New York 26 April 1978, lot 5.

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