Adams Family Correspondence, volume 6

Mary Smith Cranch to Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams 2d to Elizabeth Cranch


Anglo-American relations had remained strained since the signing of the peace in Sept. 1783, and from the outset of their mission, JA, Franklin, and Jefferson recognized the difficulty of bringing Great Britain, which was reasonably satisfied with its American trade, to any commercial agreement that would have important advantages for the United States (see JA to Joseph Palmer, 26 Aug., MSaE: Benjamin Pickman Coll., and to Thomas Cushing, 27 Aug., LbC, Adams Papers; and JQA to Richard Cranch, 6 Sept., MeHi).

Nevertheless, the commissioners communicated their eagerness to negotiate a commercial treaty to David Hartley on 31 August. Following Hartley's recall to England in September, they repeated this overture to John Frederick Sackville, 3d duke of Dorset, Britain's ambassador to France, on 28 October. On 24 Nov., Dorset replied that the British ministry was ready to negotiate, but preferred that the United States send a properly authorized envoy to London to negotiate the treaty ( Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789, 1:503–504, 515–516, 542–543).

After some hesitation, the commissioners replied on 9 Dec. that if Britain “intended that the United States should send a public Minister to reside constantly at the Court [of St. James's],” they were not authorized to play that role, but they would transmit the request to Congress. If Britain “intended only that the proposed negotiation should be concluded in London,” however, they had the authority “not only to treat but to conclude upon all the Subjects in question” in that city (same, 1:543–544).

The commissioners' hesitation was due to their reluctance to travel to London, both because of the attendant expense at a time when all three felt that their salaries were inadequate to the performance of their duties even in one location, and because of Franklin's and Jefferson's ill health. Further complicating the picture was Franklin's longstanding request to Congress to be relieved of his post so that he could return to America.

For his part, however, JA clearly understood 22that America's only chance at securing a satisfactory commercial treaty, as dubious as that chance might be, lay in sending a minister to Britain. And he knew that he was the logical, but not the inevitable choice (see JA to Cotton Tufts, 15 Dec., Adams Papers). On 15 Dec. the commissioners sent copies of Dorset's 24 Nov. letter, and of their reply of 9 Dec., to the president of Congress, virtually without comment ( Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789, 1:544–545); but in letters to Massachusetts congressmen Elbridge Gerry (12 Dec., LbC, Adams Papers) and Samuel Osgood (13 Dec., NHi: Osgood Papers), JA insisted on the necessity of the American commissioners' going to London. And in letters of early 1785 he wrote of the need to post an American minister there. In these letters, however, JA offered no opinion on proper candidates for that post, and he gave no explicit indication that he wanted to fill it himself. His most candid recorded expression of his belief in his suitability for the position was in his 15 Dec. letter to Cotton Tufts.

Thus when AA, in this letter, anticipates moving to London in January, it was because the commissioners thought that the British ministry might accept their second offer, in their 9 Dec. letter to Dorset, and invite them to begin negotiations immediately. See also JA, Diary and Autobiography , 3:177–178, note 1.