By Neal Millikan, Adams Papers
When John Quincy Adams arrived in London on October 15, 1794, on his way to The Hague to become minister resident to the Netherlands, he was a 27-year-old beginning his new life as an American statesman. We know much about his two week stay in London because he recounted his visit in his diary, transcriptions of which will eventually be available through The John Quincy Adams Diary Digital Project website.
John Quincy purposefully stopped in London to deliver important government documents; however, he almost lost these papers. “Just before we got to the London Bridge we heard a rattling before us and immediately after a sound as of a trunk falling from the Carriage. I instantly looked forward and saw that both our trunks were gone. One of them contained all the public dispatches which I brought for the American Ministers here … For a moment I felt sensations of the severest distress.” Luckily his brother, Thomas Boylston Adams, who accompanied him as his secretary, jumped out of the carriage and located the trunks. John Quincy noted how detrimental their loss would have been to American diplomacy and his career: “Entrusted with dispatches of the highest importance … particularly committed to my care, because they were highly confidential,” he questioned how he could have ever “presented myself” to the men for whom they were intended, only to inform them “that I had lost” their documents. He believed the trunks had been purposefully cut loose and considered their quick recovery “as one of the most fortunate circumstances that ever occurred to me in the course of my life.”
It was during this visit that John Quincy participated in one of his first diplomatic activities. He, Chief Justice John Jay, and U.S. minister to Great Britain Thomas Pinckney discussed the document that would become known as the Jay Treaty, which sought to settle outstanding issues between America and Great Britain left unresolved after the Revolutionary War. That Jay and Pinckney included Adams in these deliberations demonstrated the young man’s status among the American diplomatic corps. The three men held lengthy conversations during which the draft treaty was “considered Article by Article.” Adams commented on the treaty in his diary: “it is much below the standard which I think would be advantageous to the Country, but … it is in the opinion of the two plenipotentiaries, preferable to a War: and when Mr Jay asked me my opinion I answered that I could only acquiesce in that idea.” John Quincy’s inclusion in these discussions proved prescient, for in 1795 he received instructions to return to London to exchange ratifications of the Jay Treaty.