Papers of John Adams, volume 15

To Elbridge Gerry, 8 September 1783 Adams, John Gerry, Elbridge
To Elbridge Gerry
My dear Mr. Gerry, Paris Sept. 8th. 1783.

Yesterday morning, Dr. Franklin produced a Resolution of Congress, that A. F. & J. should be joined in a Commission to treat of Commerce with Great Britain. This is well, & I hope you will pursue the plan & send another Commission to the same Persons to treat with Joseph, Catharine, Denmark & Portugal. Jay & I do admirably well with the old Man. We go on very smoothly, & make him know what is right & do it, for absolutely he does not know of himself.

If you appoint a Secretary, will you let it be Thaxter? He has richly merited it. You need not give him a thousand a year, as you did Carmichael, Dana & W. T. Franklin—five hundred a year would do— But with less it would be impossible to live. Three hundred a year is really as little as a private Clerk can live upon with Decency, even when he has his Rent; his Board, Washing, Lodging, Coach when he wants it, &ca, in the Family of a Minister. I hint at Mr. Thaxter, because I think him from Experience the fittest for it— But this is the Affair of Congress, & they must do as they judge best. I hope none will complain of Expence, when it is necessary & reasonable. Compute how much my Residence in Holland has cost you— not more than five thousand pounds— Indeed it has not cost you 269any thing, for you must have been at the same Expence for me as Minister of Peace, if I had lain idle at Paris. Compute next, how many Millions of Dollars the Capture of Burgoyne or Cornwallis cost you—nay how many Millions sterling? Now I say, and I can demonstrate, that the Negotiation in Holland advanced the American Cause more than the Capture of either of those Armies did. If Congress had indulged more Confidence in their Negotiations & Negotiators, they would have made more Advantage of them. I am as parsimonious of public Money, in principle & by habit, as any Man ought to be— But there is an œconomy at the Spigot & a Profusion at the Bung sometimes. Parsimony should not prevent your finishing your European System, by which you may save twenty Millions sterling in a future War. I am clear in this opinion, that, by the Expence of a few thousand pounds in Europe for two or three years to come, you will save many many Millions both in Commerce, Negotiation and War in future years. One thing more I beg may be attended to— The French dont wish you should have Ministers in Europe— They wish you may employ their little Agents to solicit for you every thing— They will therefore probably fall in with the Shoestring Ideas, in order to take you in, and secretly foment the Cry against Expence. Timeo Danaos, et dona ferentes.1 I dont think it worth while to send Ambassadors, but would continue Ministers Plenipotentiary. But I really think the Error would be less expensive in the end, to send Ambassadors to every great Court in Europe, with Salaries of six thousand sterling a year, than to recal all your Ministers, & appoint Residents only with one thousand a year, at present, & for two or three years to come. I beg you would not think of sending Residents only to the great Courts— It would sink the Reputation of our Country infinitely more than recalling all your Ministers, & sending no Residents at all. In Europe, Appearance is so decidedly necessary, that nothing can be done without it.— Your Resident could keep no Company with Ambassadors or Ministers— They would be the Scorn & Ridicule of every Commis in Office— These Commis have sixty thousand Livres a year, besides all their innumerable & unknown Perquisites.

When I was first in Holland, I used to make Visits with one Footman behind my Coach. The plainest Republicans, the severest of them all, came to me to remonstrate. Mr. Adams, Said they, you must never make a Visit with less than two Servants in Livery behind your Coach. You can neither keep up your own Reputation with our People, nor that of your Country, nor our Reputation who 270associate with you & call you the American Minister, without it. “C’est trop en Bourgeois”2 This is the Fact.— It is seen and felt by every one.

The foreign Ministers at European Courts may be divided into three Classes. First.— Noblemen of high Rank and great Fortune in their Countries, who have six, eight or ten thousand Pounds from their Courts—some of whom are supposed to spend as much more out of their private Fortunes. These are commonly more fit for Parade than any thing else, or have particular Reasons for wishing to live out of their own Countries, or whose Courts have such Reasons for wishing them away. Secondly— Others who have smaller Salaries, but still handsome ones, & who spend twice as much, which they acquire by Speculations in Stocks, by making use of their Prerogatives in saving Duties upon Goods, even by secret Connections with Smugglers, by gaming & many other ways equally unfit to mention or suspect. All these Practices have been used, & perhaps are still— But Congress ought to execrate & condemn, in the most decided manner, every such thing in their Ministers. Thirdly— There are others, who have honorable Salaries, spend them honorably & are industrious & attentive to the Rights and Honor of their Country and their Masters.— Such and such only ought to be the American Ministers. The present Allowance to your Ministers, with an addition of 300. a year for a Clerk, is in my opinion as little as will possibly bear.— For besides all the expensive Articles of House, Coach, Livery Servants, Domestick Servants, Presents to the Servants at Courts, and the Pilferings of Servants, Tradesmen, Shopkeepers &ca., a great & inevitable deduction, your Ministers must keep an handsome Table, suitable to entertain genteel Company at all times, & great Company very often.3

Let me beg of you, my Friend, to write to my Wife, and advise her, whether it is prudent for her to come to me or not this Fall, or next Spring— Of this you will make no Words with any one, as it is not necessary to trouble others with the Cares of my Family.4

With great Esteem & sincere Affection, / your Friend.

John Adams.5

RC in John Thaxter’s hand (private owner, 1978); internal address: “Mr. Gerry.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 106.


I fear the Greeks even when they bear gifts (Virgil, Aeneid, Book II, line 49).


It is too common.


In the spring of 1783 the “happy arrival of peace” and the “reduced state of public finances” inspired Congress to take a fresh look at the arrangements of the department of foreign affairs, including the rank and 271salary given to America’s overseas representatives. But it was a 11 July letter from the Mass. General Court complaining about congressional extravagance in the grant of military pensions and civil service salaries that for almost a year spurred Congress to explore decreasing the expense of national administration through the elimination of offices and the reduction of pay. Congress considered but ultimately rejected the idea of sending no ministers to foreign courts “except on extraordinary occasions.” It entertained multiple proposals to lower the salaries of ministers, set at £2,500 sterling, or $11,111.11, per year in Oct. 1779, before it settled on a new annual figure of $9,000 in May 1784 ( JCC , 15:1145; 24:312, 483; 25:571–572, 577, 582–585, 606–609, 612–613, 825, 967; 26:125–127, 342–343, 349–350, 352–354; 27:367).


In the recipient’s copy this paragraph is crossed out, but by whom it is not known. It was omitted from the extract that was misdated 9 Sept. 1783 and published in Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 6:684–685. Gerry referred to the first sentence in his 24 Nov. letter to AA and told her that “I cannot think it advisable this fall as it is almost elapsed and a winters passage would be extremely disagreeable as well as dangerous” ( AFC , 5:275).


In JA’s hand.

To Samuel Adams, 10 September 1783 Adams, John Adams, Samuel
To Samuel Adams
My dear Friend, Paris Sept. 10th. 1783.

We were very happy to have the definitive Treaty signed, altho’ We could obtain no Improvement Amendment or Alteration. The English had got so bewitched again, & began to appear to obtain such strange hopes, from the proceedings of the Army & the difference of Sentiments between Congress & some of the States, & discovered such an Inclination to sign with France & Spain without Us, that We were glad to get the Ratifications of the Provisional Treaty exchanged, & then to sign it over again for a definitive Treaty. We could do no better and were afraid of doing worse.— We have just recd. a fresh Authority to treat of Commerce with Britain. We may possibly go over to London in October for three or four Weeks, & hope to succeed tolerably, altho’ some very improper Characters have an Influence with the present Ministry. It remains to form Treaties with the two Empires, with Denmark, Portugal, Sardinia & Naples, as well as all the Barbary Powers. These things should all be done as soon as may be conveniently. If Congress should think fit to send Ministers to all or any of these, very well— But it does not appear to be necessary, & therefore they may think, in order to save Expence of sending Powers to one, or more, or all of their present Ministers in Europe.— I think if they send such Powers at all, they ought to send them to all, at least to those who are obliged to act together in Paris or London in the Commercial Negotiation with G. Britain.

Mr. Dana will soon be with you, & it is of great Importance you should send him forthwith to Congress. He can give great light in 272our foreign Affairs. I recd. & answered your Letters by the Viscount and Marquiss & have written you since several times, but have no Letter from you since that time.1

You are happy with your Family, to whom please to present my Respects— Alass when shall I be so with mine. I had rather for my own personal Enjoyment be a select Man of Braintree, than Ambassador at any Court in Europe.

Mr. Jay has, I confess, disappointed me much—for altho’ I always thought him a consciencious Man, I did not expect from him so much Wisdom, Intrepidity, Perseverance and Disinterestedness, as I have found in him

Mr. Laurens has been little with Us. He is expected here daily, in his way to his Brother, in the South of France, whose precarious state will I believe detain Mr. Laurens in Europe another Winter.2

With great Regard, my dear Sir, your / Friend & Servant.

LbC in John Thaxter’s hand (Adams Papers); internal address: “Honble. Saml. Adams Esqr / President of the Senate”; APM Reel 106.


Samuel Adams wrote two letters to JA on 18 Dec. 1781, the first carried by the Marquis de Lafayette and the second by the Vicomte de Noailles (vol. 12:149–152). JA acknowledged only the former letter in his answer of 2 March 1782 (same, p. 282–284). He subsequently wrote to his second cousin on 15 June, 19, 29 Aug., and 5 April 1783 (vol. 13:125–126, 252–253, 402–403; 14:386).


Henry Laurens’ younger brother James had retired to Le Vigan in the south of France in fragile health in 1778. He died there on 25 Jan. 1784. Henry Laurens passed through Paris in Sept. 1783 and was at Le Vigan in early October, but by the date of his brother’s death he had returned to London (Laurens, Papers , 1:xxxix; 14:309–310; 16:343, 344, 372, 373).