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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 3

This note contained in document ADMS-01-03-02-0004-0003-0001
1. In their First Report to the President of Congress, 11 Nov. 1784, the Commissioners stated that on 31 Aug. they had notified David Hartley and on 28 Oct. the Duke of Dorset (the British ambassador who had succeeded the Duke of Manchester in Paris) that they had powers for entering into a treaty of amity and commerce with Great Britain; but Hartley had been ordered to England and Dorset had replied that he could only notify his government (Jefferson, Papers, ed. Boyd, 7:494–495; see also p. 456–457). On 24 Nov. Dorset informed the Commissioners of his government's view “that the United States should send a Person properly authorized and invested with the necessary powers to London, as more suitable to the dignity of either Power, than would be the carrying on at any third Place a negotiation of so great importance” same, p. 547). Dorset's letter was transmitted to Congress in the Commissioners' Second Report, 15 Dec. (same, p. 573–574). Before this report was received, presumably, Secretary Jay submitted to Congress a draft of “Instructions for the Ministers to be sent by the United States to the Court of London,” which was read in Congress on 7 Feb., debated from time to time, and exactly a month later was adopted with some omissions and the highly significant alteration of the word “Ministers” in the title to “Minister” (JCC, 28:45–46, 123). In the meanwhile a tussle had taken place over who should be the first American minister accredited to the Court of St. James's. It turned out to be JA, who was elected on 24 Feb., but the bare result recorded in the journal (same, p. 98) conveys no idea of the length of the struggle or the views of the members who were for and against his appointment. Fortunately Elbridge Gerry, in a letter written on the day the contest ended, supplied what is wanting elsewhere. The other nominees, he told JA, were Robert R. Livingston and John Rutledge; some southern members opposed JA on the ground that he was “totally averse to the Slave Trade” and would not exert himself “to obtain Restitution of the Negroes taken and detained from them in Violation of the Treaty”; other members thought he would not be as firm as he should be on the issue of American debts; and finally some of JA's communications to Congress, notably his “Peace Journal” of 1782 (see note on entry of 2 Nov. 1782, above), were cited as evidence of his vanity, “a weak passion, to which a Minister ought never to be subject” because it would make him vulnerable to flattery by “an artful Negotiator” (Gerry to JA, 24 Feb. 1785, Adams Papers; Burnett, ed., Letters of Members, 8:39–40).
JA's commission to Great Britain is in the Adams Papers, 24 Feb.; it was brought to him, with his instructions and other papers, by Col. William Stephens Smith (subsequently JA's son-in-law and referred to in this work as WSS), whom Congress had appointed on 1 March “Secretary to our legation to his Britannic Majesty” (JCC, 28:111, 149–150). On 7 March Congress gave leave to Benjamin Franklin “to return to America as soon as convenient,” and on the 10th Thomas Jefferson “was unanimously elected” to succeed Franklin at the Court of Versailles (same, p. 122, 134). JA and Jefferson retained their joint commission to negotiate commercial treaties with European and African nations.
JA learned of these new arrangements toward the close of April, and on the 28th of that month he addressed a letter to Gerry expressing profound thanks for his confidential account of the election contest and commenting in a temperate manner on the objections Gerry had reported as having been raised against his appointment (LbC, Adams Papers). On the day before the present Diary entry was written JA wrote a second answer to Gerry which is one of the most remarkable letters he ever composed. It is an historical and analytical discourse on the “various kinds of Vanity” to which men have been subject—the dangerous kinds that JA had had to contend with, as he explained, in his adversaries and even among his colleagues, and his own kind, which he conceded was a marked trait of his character but which was innocent and harmless. Since what appears to be the copy intended for the recipient remains among the Adams Papers, since no letterbook copy was made, and since, finally, no acknowledgment { 178 } by Gerry of such a letter has been found, JA evidently decided against sending it; but happily he did not destroy it, and it will be published in its place among his papers in Series III of the present edition.
The state of Anglo-American relations on the eve of JA's mission to London is well summarized and documented in an editorial note on the Duke of Dorset's letter to the American Commissioners, 26 March 1785, in Jefferson, Papers, ed. Boyd, 8:56–59.
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2018.