Papers of John Adams, volume 15

To Robert R. Livingston, 1 August 1783 Adams, John Livingston, Robert R.
To Robert R. Livingston
Sir The Hague August 1. 1783.

I had last evening some Conversation with D. Joas Theolonico de Almeida the envoy extraordinary of Portugal who desired to meet me to day at any hour at his House or mine.1 I promised to visit him at twelve, which I did.


He said he had heard that the French Minister had proposed to the Duke of Manchester, at Versailles, to reduce the Duties upon French Wines in England, to the level of those upon Portugal Wines, and begged of me to inform him, if it was true, because if it were, Portugal must endeavour to indemnify herself by opening a Trade with America or some other Way for such a Project would be ruinous to the sale of their Wines in England which was their only Market. I answered that I had heard of Such a Project among Multitudes of others in private Conversation, but know of no Authenticity for it.

We have a Treaty, says he, made in 1703, by which we have stipulated with the English to permit the Importation of their Cloths, upon Condition that they allow the Importation of Portugal wines, upon paying one third of the Duty of French Wines, if they violate the Treaty Says he, We shall be rid of it.—2 I asked him if his Court permitted the English, or any other Nation to go to the Brazils? In the last Century says he, between 1660, and 1670, We did agree with Charles the second, who married a Daughter of Portugal,3 that the English should go to the Brazils, and after that, the Dutch sued for Permission to go there too, and we granted it. But we found it inconvenient and in 1714 or 1715 at the Treaty of Utrecht, we agreed upon an Article with Spain, to exclude all Nations from the Brazils, and as the English Ambassadors were there, we have since held that Nation bound, and have confiscated their Vessells, as well as the Dutch which ventured there.4 The English have made Sometimes strong Remonstrances, but we have always told them, if we admit you we must admit the Dutch too, and such has been their Jealousy of the Dutch, and dread of their Rivalry, that this had always quieted them, choosing rather to be excluded themselves, than that the Dutch should be admitted. So that this Commerce has been a long time carried on in Portuguese Ships only, and directly between the Brazils & Lisbon.

I asked him whether we might not have a free Communication with all their western Islands,5 and whether one or all of them might not be made a Depot for the Produce of the Brazils, so that Portuguese Ships might stop and deposit Cargoes there and American Vessells take them? He said he would write about it to his Court by the next Post. At present Brazil communicated only with Lisbon, and perhaps it might be difficult for Government to secure the Duties at the Western Islands.

I asked if there were any Refineries of Sugar at Lisbon? He said 195“None.” Their sugars had been all brought here for Refinement. That all their carrying Trade with other Parts of Europe had been carried on by the English and Dutch. That their Mercantile Navigation “Marine Marchande” before this War, had been upon a very poor footing, but it was now much changed, and they began to carry on their Trade in their own Vessells.— I observed if their Trade should continue to be carried on by others, it must be indifferent to them, whether it were done in English, Dutch or American Vessells, provided it was done to their equal Advantage. But if they should persist in the desire to conduct it in their own Vessells they might purchase Ships, ready built in America, cheaper than they could build them, or buy them elsewhere, all this he said was true. That they could supply us with Sugars, Coffee, Cocoa, Brazil Wood, and even with Tea, for they had an Island called Macao near China, which was a flourishing Establishment, and sent them annually a good deal of Tea, which the Dutch actually bought very cheap at Lisbon to sell again.

He asked whether Portugal Wines had been much used in America? I answered that Port Wines, common Lisbon, and Caracavalles had been before the War frequently used, and that Madeira, was esteemed above all other wine. That it was found equally wholesome and agreeable in the heats of Summer, and the Colds of Winter, So that it would probably continue to be preferred, tho there was no doubt that a Variety of French Wines would now be more commonly used than heretofore.

He said they should have occasion for a great deal of our Fish, Grain, and perhaps Ships, or Ship Timber and naval Stores, and other Things, and he Thought there was a Prospect of a very beneficial Trade with us, and he would write largely to his Court upon it. I replied that I wondered his Court had not Sent a Minister to Philadelphia, where the Members and Ministers of Congress, and even the Merchants of the City, might throw much light upon the Subject and assist in Framing a Treaty to the greatest possible Advantage for both Countries. He said he would write for a Commission and Instructions, to negotiate a Treaty with me. I told him that I believed his Court had already instructed their Ambassador at Versailles to treat with Mr: Franklin. But that I thought Philadelphia or Lisbon, were the properest Places to treat, and that I feared mutual Advantages might be lost by this method of striking up a bargain in haste in a distant Country, between Ministers who could not be supposed to have made of Commerce a study.


In a letter from Paris yesterday I am informed that a Project of a Treaty with Portugal, and another with Denmark, are to go home in Captain Barney.6 These projects have never been communicated to me nor to Mr. Jay.7 I hope that Congress will not be in haste to conclude them, but take time to inform themselves of every thing which may be added to the mutual Advantage of the Nations and Countries concerned. I am much mistaken if we have not lost Advantages, by a similar Piece of Cunning in the Case of Sweeden.

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

John Adams.8

RC in JQA’s hand (PCC, No. 84, V, f. 81–84); internal address: “R. R. Livingstone Esqr: / Secretary of foreign Affairs.”; endorsed: “Mr Adams 1. Augst 1783.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 106.


For an earlier comment by JA regarding João Theotonio de Almeida Beja e Noronha, Portuguese minister to the Netherlands since May 1782, see vol. 13:423.


The Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1703, the provisions of which are mentioned here and in the previous paragraph, is usually known as the Methuen Treaty after the British negotiator John Methuen. It permitted Portuguese wines to be imported into England at two-thirds the duty charged on French wines, while allowing the importation of English woolens into Portugal. As a result of the 1786 Anglo-French commercial treaty, the duty on French wines was reduced to the existing levy on Portuguese wines. However, under the provisions of that treaty, duties on Portuguese wines were immediately reduced by an additional third. The Methuen Treaty was not finally abrogated until 1831 ( Cambridge Modern Hist. , 5:412; 8:284–285).


In 1662 Charles II married Catherine of Braganza, daughter of John IV of Portugal ( DNB ).


The treaty between Spain and Portugal signed at Utrecht on 6 Feb. 1715 was one of the last peace accords ending the War of the Spanish Succession. In Art. 6 Portugal promised to prohibit other Europeans from trading with or settling in Brazil; in Art. 22 Britain guaranteed the entire treaty (The Compleat History of the Treaty of Utrecht, 2 vols., London, 1715, vol. 1, part 2, p. 261, 263–264, 270; Cambridge Modern Hist. , 5:456).


That is, the Azores.


Presumably Matthew Ridley’s letter of 28 July, but see also John Jay’s of the 26th, both above.


At this point in the Letterbook, JA wrote and then canceled “This Secrecy is I suppose for some Reason.”


Closing and signature in JA’s hand.

To Robert R. Livingston, 2 August 1783 Adams, John Livingston, Robert R.
To Robert R. Livingston
Sir The Hague August 2 1783

Mr: Berenger the Secretary of the French Legation has this Moment left me He came in to inform me of the News. The Empress of Russia has communicated, to the King of Prussia, a Treaty of Alliance between the Emperor of Germany and her, defensive against the Christian Powers and offensive against the Turk. The King of Prussia has answered her “That he is very sensible, upon this Communication as one is upon the Communication of Things of Great 197Importance.” Thus wrapped up in an impenetrable Reserve is this great Warrior and Statesman. We may discern by this Answer, what all the World new without it. viz that his Majesty has no Joy in this new Alliance. Still he expresses no Sorrow: and maintains a perfect Liberty to take which side he will, or neither, at his Pleasure; and the same Reserve he will probably hold to the End of the War. Mr. Berenger says, if Prussia is neutral, France must be so too, for she cannot cope by Land, with the two Empires. That this Republick is desired to declare, but does not choose it. That they are dissatisfied & the Republicans murmur a good deal and are wavering, and that the other Party will do nothing. That England hitherto has favoured an Accommodation between Russia and the Turk, & that the British Ambassador at Constantinople has co-operated with the French, to bring about an Accommodation. That the Turks have offered Russia the free Navigation of the black Sea, and Passage of the Dardanelles; and the Same with the free Navigation of the Danube to the Emperor. But they will not accept it, and are determined to drive the Turks from Europe. That France has determined to put her Army upon a War Footing, because it has been much neglected during the late War. That he believes France and Spain will Shut the Mediterranean against a Turkish Fleet, as Russia, Sweeden and Denmark, excluded Warlike Vessells from the Baltick in the last War. That this State of things gives him Great Pain and must embarass the Comte de Vergennes.— It is a great and difficult Question whether France should take a Side; if she does not, and the Empires should prevail, it will be an immense Aggrandisement of the House of Austria, which with Russia, will become two Great Maritime Powers. That England will act an insidious Part, pretend to favour Peace, secretly foment War, and join in it at the End, if she sees a favourable opportunity to crush France.1

These are Sensible Observations of Mr: Berenger, who added that a new difficulty in the Way of the definitive Treaty had arisen between England and Spain, respecting the Musqueto shore, so that more Couriers must go and return.

I confess myself as much in Pain, at the state of Things as Mr: Berenger, and therefore I wish most ardently, that we may omit no proper Means of settling our Question with every Court in Europe, and especially our Plan of Commerce with Great Britain. if this is too long left in Uncertainty, the Face of Things may soon change, so as to involve us in the complicated, extensive and long War, which seems to be now opening.


My Advices from England are, that Lord Sheffield, with his Friends Deane, Arnold, Skeene and P. Wentworth, are making a Party unfriendly to us. that the Ministry adopt their Sentiments and Measures. That Fox has lost his Popularity and devoted himself to North, who has the Kings Ear, and disposes of Places. That, Burke is Mad with Rage and Passion. That the Honest Men are much disgusted that there is no Parliamentary Reform, the Merchants that Commerce does not revive. The Monied Men at their Wits end, on account of the Conduct of the Bank, and the Army and Navy disbanding in a Spirit of revolt. That it is much to be feared that in a Year there will be a Convulsion in the State and public Credit ruined. That the present Ministry cannot stand, to the Meeting of Parliament, for that nothing has been or can be done by them.2

The Prospect of returning to Paris, and living there without my Family in absolute Idleness at a Time, when so many and so great Things want to be done for our Country elsewhere is very disagreeable; If we must live there, waiting for the moving of many Waters, and treaties are there to be negotiated, with the Powers of Europe, or only with Denmark and Portugal, I pray that we may be all joined in the Business, as we are in the Commission for Peace, that at least we may have the Satisfaction of knowing what is done, and of giving a Hint for the public Good, if any one occurs to us, and that we may not be made the Sport and Ridicule of all Europe, as well as of those who contrive such Humiliations for us. I declare I had rather be Door keeper to Congress, than live at Paris as I have done, for the last Six Months.

With Great Respect I have the honour to be, / Sir, Your most obedient Humble Servant.

John Adams.3

RC in JQA’s hand (NHi:Livingston Papers); internal address: “R. R. Livingstone Esqr / Secretary of foreign Affairs.”; endorsed: “John Adams.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 106.


JA’s account of his conversation with Laurent Bérenger, secretary to the Duc de La Vauguyon, provides an excellent overview of the diplomatic crisis afflicting Europe in the summer of 1783 over the Eastern Question and the fate of the Ottoman Empire. At its heart was the Austro-Russian alliance of 1781, which served to advance Russia’s efforts to wrest additional territory from the Ottomans and even gain direct access to the Mediterranean, and which ensured Austria compensation for Russia’s territorial gains. Equally important, however, was the fact that it ended Russia’s alliance with Prussia, Austria’s chief rival in central Europe. Frederick the Great had good reason to be chagrined at this turn of events since it left him isolated in Europe with no obvious ally against Austrian aggression. France’s position was equally anomalous because it was allied with Austria but also had traditionally supported the Ottomans against Russian expansion. Bérenger’s assertion that the situation “must embarass the Comte de Vergennes” likely refers to the foreign minister’s service as executor of French policy during 199his tenure as ambassador at Constantinople between 1756 and 1769. Great Britain remained neutral ( Cambridge Modern Hist. , 8:306–314; Murphy, Vergennes , p. 312–320, 333–344; Repertorium , 3:142).


The information provided in this paragraph is taken from Edmund Jenings’ letters of [ca. 8] and 22 July, both above.


In JA’s hand.