Papers of John Adams, volume 15

To Robert R. Livingston, 30 July 1783 Adams, John Livingston, Robert R.
To Robert R. Livingston
Sir The Hague July 30th. 1783.1

I have been the more particular in my letters to you, concerning that extensive Manufacture and Commerce of refined Sugars, in this Country because the Proximity of all the Sugar Colonies to us, renders a share in it naturally usefull and convenient both to us and them. Fifty Thousand Hogsheads of raw Sugars are annually wrought in this Republick and exported at a great Profit to Germany, Denmark, Sweeden, Russia, Poland and Italy.

At Amsterdam I visited a number of respectable Merchants in order to discover their sentiments concerning the Communication between us, and their Islands and Sugar Colonies.— They all agree 183that St: Eustatius and Curaçao, are and will be commercial Islands, open and free to all our Vessells. St: Martin’s is divided between the French, the Danes and the Dutch, whose share of it does not flourish. The Colonies, upon the Continent, of Surinam, Berbice, Demerary and Essequebo are at a greater distance from us. But they will be open to our Vessells and their Cargoes, because they all agree, that those Colonies, cannot Subsist without our Horses, Lumber, and Provisions, nor without the sale to us of their Melasses. We shall be allowed to take in return Melasses, with which some Quantities of Sugar, Coffee, and other Produce, are always Smuggled as they say. But altho’ nothing has been as yet determined it is the general Opinion that the Produce of the Colonies must be brought home in Dutch Ships as heretofore, Melasses excepted.

From the Secretary of the West India Company, I have obtained a few Minutes, in so bad French that I almost despair of rendering it intelligible I have attempted it, however in the following Translation. viz.

“In the Grant of the West India Company, renewed or more properly newly erected in the year 1700, continued in 1730, prolonged afterwards in the year 1760 for two years, and in the year 1762. from the first of January, to the 31st. of December 1791, are found the Limits fixed, only for the Inhabitants of these Seven united Provinces under the name of the united Company of these Provinces upon the Coast and Country of Africa, computing from the Tropick of Cancer, to the Southern Latitude of the Equinoxial Line, with all the Islands in this district situated upon the said Coast, and particularly the Islands of St: Thomas, Annebon, Island of Principa, and Fernando Polo, as also the Places of Essequebo and Baunominora situated upon the continental Coasts of America, as also the Islands of Curaçao, Amaba and Buonaire all the other Limits of the ancient Grant being open for the Commerce of all the Inhabitants of the Republick without exception, upon Condition however, that if the Company Oriental and Occidental should judge proper to navigate to the Islands situated between the Coasts of Africa, and America beginning at the Assention and further South, or any of them, and should occupy it before any other, should have a private Grant with exclusion of all other, for so long time as it shall occupy its places, and in case they should desist, these Places should return under the Second Class open for the Navigation of every Individual of the Republick, paying an Acknowledgment &c.

That the said Particulars, trading in the said Districts, shall be 184obliged to acknowledge the Western Company, and to pay them for the Right of Convoy, and consequently in form of Acknowledgment, viz: for the Productions and Merchandizes for the West Indies, two per Cent and returning from thence into these Provinces two per Cent more, for the Commodities in return. and further the Ships navigating to Places, further distant in America, contained in the ancient Grant both in going and returning, should pay, five Florins per Last, or more or Less, according as their High Mightinesses shall judge proper to determine hereafter. observing nevertheless, that these five Florins per Last, shall not be demanded of Ships navigating to the Carabbee Islands, which shall pay the ordinary duty for Convoy to the Colledges of the Admiralty, from which they sail, and the said private Navigators shall be held, moreover, for the Satisfaction of the Western Company, to give sufficient Caution, that they will not Navigate nor cause to be Navigated, the Places contained in the first Class ceded to the said Company, with Exclusion of all others.

And if any one is found to act Contrary, and to navigate to any Place situated in the prescribed Limits, and granted to the Company, his Ship and Cargo Shall be confiscated and attacked in Force, by the Ships belonging to the said Company and if such ships and Merchandizes or Commodities shall be sold, or entered into any other Country, or foreign Port the owner and his Accomplice Shall be liable to Execution, for the Value of the said ships and Merchandizes or Commodities.

The Company has also the Right to require an Acknowledgment of all tho[se] who shall navigate, import or export any Merchandize to or from Places belongin[g to] the said Company notwithstanding they may be Subject and may belong to the Domination of other things or Princes, situated within the Limits stipulated in [the] Grant; and especially of every foreign Vessell, bringing any Commodities or Merchan[dizes,] from the West Indies or the Limits stipulated in the Grant, unto these Provinces, whether upon its own account on freight, or on Commission, whether such foreign Vessell shall come directly, from the West Indies and the Limits of the Gra[nt,] into these Provinces, or whether she shall have carried her Cargo to other Count[ries] or Kingdoms for what Reason so ever this may be. Exception, only in case the Merc[han]dizes of the Proprietor, should by Negotiation, be changed in nature, and that the Duty of this Country, fixed to the Place, should be Paid, which any 185one alledging shall be obliged to prove, Sufficiently, according to the Amount of the Merchandizes.

Declaring, moreover, for further Elucidation of the said, Grant, that under the Name of the New low Countries, in Consequence of the three per Cent, which [the] Company has a right to require for the Merchandizes sent there or bought from thence, is understood, that part of North America, which extends itself West and South of the northern Part of Newfoundland as far as the Cape of Florida, to the River of Oronoque, and the Islands of Curaçao. For what concerns the other Places of Am[erica] contained in the most ancient and precedent Grant in regard to the five Florins per Last, upon the Vessells there navigating shall be understood all the Caraibbee Islands, Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola and Porto Rico as also all the Coasts and Countries computing from the river Oronoque, aforesaid, by the straights of Magellan, Le Maire or other passages or Straights situated under these, as far as the streight of Anjan, both upon the Sea of the North, and the Islands situated on the other side, and between them, as also the Southern Countries situated between the two Meridians, touching at the East the Cape of Good Hope and in the West, the Eastern part of New Guinea inclusively”

If this Paper is not very clear to Congress, it is not more so to me, and perhaps to the Dutch themselves. There is a Dispute likely to arise between the West India Company and the Colledge of the Admiralty about it; which will [be] explained further, as it proceeds, by whatever Minister you may send here.

Upon the whole Matter of our Communications with the European Establishments in the West Indies—We shall carry freely our Commodities to the French and Dutch, excepting perhaps Flour to the French, which however will be carried I suppose to St Lucie and Port Royal, as well as to St: Eustatius and Curaçao, St: Thomas and St: Martin’s, and there sold to any Nation that will purchase it. Melasses and Rum we shall bring away freely from the French and Dutch. And if we can obtain of them the Liberty of carrying Sugars, Coffee &c. from their Possessions in the West Indies to their Ports in Europe giving Bonds with Surety, to land them in Such Ports it will be as much as we can expect, if they will allow raw Sugars, Coffee, Cotton &c. to be sent freely to the United States in their own Vessells, this would be an Advantage for us, tho’ not so considerable as to bring them in ours.

What the English will do is uncertain. We are not to take the Late 186Proclamation for a Law of the Meeds.2 The Ministry who made it are not firm in their seats, if Shelburne comes in we shall do better; and to be prepared to take Advantage of so probable an Event, you should have a Minister ready. We have one infallible Resource if we can unite in laying a Duty or a Prohibition But this Measure need not to be hastily taken, because by Negotiation I apprehend the Point may be carried in England; to this end it may be proper to instruct your Minister, and authorize him to Say that the States will find themselves obliged against their Inclinations, to lay a Prohibition or an heavy Duty upon all the West India Goods, imported, and all American Productions exported in British Bottoms, if the Trade is not regulated by Treaty upon an equitable Footing.

With great Respect and Esteem, / I have the Honour to be, Sir, your / most obedient and most humble / Servant

John Adams.3

RC in JQA’s hand (PCC, No. 84, V, f. 57–63); internal address: “R. R. Livingstone Esqr: / Secretary of foreign Affairs”; endorsed: “Mr Adams 30 July / 1783.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 106. Text lost due to a tight binding has been supplied from the LbC.


JA and JQA returned to The Hague on this date (JQA, Diary , 1:176).


A reference to Daniel, 6:15: “Then these men assembled unto the king, and said unto the king, Know, O king, that the law of the Medes and Persians is, That no decree nor statute which the king establisheth may be changed.”


In JA’s hand.

To Robert R. Livingston, 31 July [1783] Adams, John Livingston, Robert R.
To Robert R. Livingston
Sir The Hague July 31. 1781 [1783]

The last Evening, at Court, in the House in the Grove, where all the foreign Ministers supped, the Comte Montagnini de Mirabel, the Minister Plenipotentiary from the King of Sardinia, took an opportunity to enter largely into Conversation with me. As he and I were at a Party of Politicks while the greatest Part of the Company were at Cards, for two or three hours, We ran over all the World, but nothing occurred worth repeating except what follows.1

The Comte said, that his advice to Congress would be, to write a circular Letter to every Power in Europe, as soon as the definitive Treaty should be signed and transmit with it a Printed copy of the Treaty. In the Letter, Congress should announce that on the 4th of July 1776. the United States, had declared themselves a sovereign State, under the Style and Title of the United States of America; 187that France on the 6th: of Feby: 1778 had acknowledged them, that the States General, had done the same on the 19th: of April 1782. that Great Britain, on the 30th: of Novr: 1782 had signed with them a Treaty of Peace, in which she had fully acknowledg’d their Sovereignty, that Sweeden had entered into a Treaty with them, on the 5th: of Feb’y 1783. and that Great-Britain had concluded the definitive Treaty, under the Mediation of the two Empires if that should be the fact. &c. Such a Notification to all the other Powers would be a regular Procedure, a Piece of Politeness, which would be very well receiv’d, and the Letter would be respectfully answered by every Power in the World, and these written Answers would be explicit, and undeniable Acknowledgments of our Sovereignty. it might have been proper to have made this Communication in form, immediately after the Declaration of Independence: it might have been more proper to have done it, after the Signature of the provisional Treaty: But that it was expected it would be done after the definitive Treaty. That these circular Letters might be transmitted to your Ministers for Peace, or such of them as may remain, or to any of your Ministers in Europe, to be by them delivered to the Ministers at the Court where they are or transmitted any other way.— That Congress must be very exact in the Etiquette of Titles, as this was indispensable and the letters could not be answered, nor received without it. That we might have these Titles, at the C. de Vergennes’s office, with Precision &c.

The Comte then proceeded to Commerce, and said that all the Cabinets of Europe had lately turned their Views to Commerce, so that we should be attended to, and respected by all of them— He thought we should find our account in a large Trade in Italy, every Part of which had a constant demand for our Tobacco and Salt-Fish at least. The Dominions of the King his Master, could furnish us in exchange, Oranges, Citrons, Olives, Oyl, Raisins, Figs, Anchovies, Coral, Lead, Sulphur, Allum, Salt, Marble of the finest Quality and gayest Colours, Manufactures of Silk, especially silk Stockings 20 per Cent cheaper than France, Hemp, and Cordage— He said we might have great Advantages in Italy in another respect. We had it in our Power to become the Principal Carriers for the People of Italy, who have little skill or Inclination for Navigation or Commerce The (Cabotage) carrying Trade of Italy had been carried on by the English, French and Dutch; The English had now lost it, the French had some of it, but the Dutch the most who made an 188immense Profit of it, for to his Knowledge, they sold in the Baltick and even in Holland many Italian Productions, at a Profit of five or Six for one. That we should have the Advantage of them all. By bringing our Tobacco and Fish to Italy, we might unload at some of their Ports, take in Cargoes upon Freight, for other Ports of Italy, and thus make coasting Voyages untill we had made up our Cargoes for return, or we might take in Cargoes on freight for Germany or the Baltick. The Dutch, he said would be the greatest Losers by this Rivalry, but as long as the Italians and Americans would be honestly gainers, neither need be anxious for that. That there was a very good Port, in his Masters Dominions, which was perfectly free, where we might go in and out at Pleasure, without being subject to Duties, searches or Visits.— We then made a Transition to Turkey; The Comte, could not for his Part blame the Emperor for wishing to open the Negotiation of the Danube. His Kingdom of Hungary was one of the finest Countries in the World. It was one of the most fertile, producing in great Abundance, Wines of various sorts all excellent, tho’ Tockay was the best: Grains of every Sort, in great Quantities, Metals of all Sorts, Gold, Silver, Copper, Iron, Quick silver; yet all these Blessings of Nature were rendered in a manner useless by the Slavery of the Danube.— The Emperor was very unfortunate, in having the Danube enslaved on one Side, and the Scheld on the other, and in this Age when the Liberty of Navigation and Commerce, was the universal cry, he did not wonder at his Impatience under it.— He did not think, that England would meddle in the Dispute, as her Trade to the Levant had declined— The Dutch had some still; but France had now the greatest part of it to Smirna, Alexandria, Aleppo in short to all the Trading Towns of Turky in Asia, for this is what is understood by the Levant Trade.— France he thought could not venture to engage in the War, in earnest, in the present State of her Finances.

I have learnt, Since I came here, that France is desirous that this Republick should declare her self concerning this Turkish War— But she will avoid it, Unhappily. France has lost much of her influence here. Her friends fear, that the Odium of loosing Negapatanam, will fall upon them, among the People. The English and the Statholderians, are endeavouring to detach the Republick entirely from France, and to revive the ancient Connections, particularly the ancient Alliance, offensive and defensive, in the Treaty of 1674. A Mr: Shirly at Paris, has lately proposed to Mr: Boers, and Mr: Van der Pere, two Agents of the Dutch East India Company who have been a year or 189two at Paris and are reputed to be in the Statholders interest, that England had the best dispositions towards the Republick, and would give them ample Satisfaction, if they would treat distinctly from France, and renew the ancient cordial Friendship, and proposed an interview with the Dutch Ambassadors upon this Subject. The Agents proposed it, but Brantzen refused, to the great Satisfaction of the principal Republicans. Yet Mr: Berenger tells me, that some of the Republican Members begin to be afraid, and to think [they] shall be obliged to fall in with the English

Upon conversing with many People in Government, and out of it in Amsterdam as well as the Hag[ue,] they all complain to me of the Conduct of France. They all confess that the Republick has not done [So] much in the War as she ought, but this is the Fault of the Friends of England they say, not those [of] France, and the worst Evil of all, that befalls the latter, are the reproaches of the Former, who now say insultingly “This comes of confiding in France” “We always told you, you would be cheated &c” Fr[ance] ought they say, to have considered this, And not have imputed to the Republick the Faults of her Enem[ies] because the Punishment falls wholly on her Friends.

I mention these things to you, because, altho’ we are not immediately interested in them, t[hey] may have consequence which may affect us. And therefore you ought to know them. I think, however upon the whole the Republick will stand firm, and refuse to receive the Alliance tho’ they Sacrifice Negapatnam— France wishes to win the Republick into an Alliance, but feels an Aw[kward]ness about proposing it; and indeed, I doubt whether she would now succeed— she might have suc[ceeded] heretofore— But in plain English Sir, the Comte de Vergennes has no Conception of the right w[ay of] negociating with any free People, or with any Assembly Aristocratical or Democratical. He can[not] enter into the Motives which Govern them, he never penetrates their real System, and never app[ears] to Comprehend their Constitution—with Empires, and Monarchs; and their Ministers of S[tate,] he negotiates aptly enough.

With great Respect I have the Honour / to be, Sir your most obedient and most / humble servant

John Adams2

RC in JQA’s hand (PCC, No. 84, III, f. 335–338); internal address: “R. R. Livingstone Esqr: / Secretary of State for foreign Affairs.”; endorsed: “Mr Adams 31 July 1783.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 106. Text lost due to a tight binding has been supplied from the LbC.

190 1.

For JA’s very favorable view of the longtime Sardinian minister Count Carlo Ignazio Domenico Montagnini di Mirabello, “the most learned ambassador I ever knew,” see vol. 13:425.


In JA’s hand.