Papers of John Adams, volume 15

To Elbridge Gerry, 10 September 1783 Adams, John Gerry, Elbridge
To Elbridge Gerry
My dear Friend, Paris Septr. 10th. 1783.

As to the Trade with the West Indies, I do not think we can hope to revive it upon more favorable Terms than those before the War. If we can be admitted to carry Cargoes to G. Britain & Ireland, or G. Britain alone from the Islands, giving Bonds with Sureties to land them in some Port of those Kingdoms, it will be all we can expect. If Congress, are of the same Mind, they had better empower Us to conclude upon those Terms— To admit Us to carry Sugars and all the produce of the West Indies to other parts of Europe or to North America, without restriction, would indeed be giving up all their West India Trade in a manner.

I beg you would make a point of putting Jay and me into the Commission for treating with Denmark, Portugal and the two Empires— Place Franklin at the head of the Commission if you will. It was perfectly right to put me first in the two Commissions, in which I came out to Europe sole— But it will be now right to put Franklin first in this Commission, provided he is chosen first, or has most Votes, according to your common Rule. As the Reason, which placed me foremost in two Commissions, now ceases, it will not be amiss to follow the rule of Seniority of Ministers— If you had pursued your plan of confiding one business to one Minister, all would have been well—but as you have broke the rule, & joined a Number in two Commissions, you ought to join them in all which are to be executed in the same place. None will have a right to complain, and any other rule has ill effects in Europe and America.1

But this is not all. This method of smuggling Treaties into 277Franklin’s Hands alone, is contrived by Vergennes on purpose to throw slights upon Jay and me, & to cheat you out of your Carrying Trade.

I beg it may be considered, that it ought to be insisted on by Us, with Portugal, Denmark, Germany & Russia, that American Productions, imported into their Dominions in American Vessels, navigated by American Seamen, ought to pay no higher Duties than if imported in the Ships of those Countries. This will never be insisted on, unless you put Jay & me into the Commission, or give it as a positive Instruction.

But you ought to have some Sympathy for the feelings of your Ministers, and more for their Reputations: This is hint enough for you. I beg you to write me. Our Affairs will all end extremely well, if we are supported— But if Franklin is suffered to go on with that low Cunning, and mean Craft, with which he has always acted, & by which he has done so much Mischief, the public will suffer.

your Friend.

John Adams.2

RC in John Thaxter’s hand (MHi:Hoar Autograph Coll.); internal address: “Mr. Gerry.”; endorsed: “10 Sepr 83.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 107.


See JA’s earlier, less-detailed comments regarding the order of names in past and future commissions, in his first letter of 8 Sept. to the president of Congress, above.


In JA’s hand.

To William Gordon, 10 September 1783 Adams, John Gordon, William
To William Gordon
Sir Paris Sepr. 10. 1783

I have recd yours of 28 June & thank you for the information it contains— In all domestick Disputes I wish our countrymen, may moderate their passions, & manifest as much mutual forbearance as possible. I dread the course of our elections if parties prevail. Every publick Man is in a dangerous & perplexed Situation at present, & as few obstacles should be thrown in his way & as much Candour & Indulgence shewn him as possible. I have had too many Obstructions contrived for me, & although I have always got the better of them, hitherto, I have felt the smart of them too sensibly, not to wish every other well meaning man excused from them.

There will be a variety of foreign interests in our Country, & We must be upon our Guard against them all. We must all think seriously of preserving our Union, which is of indispensible Importance to Us.

I am sorry my Friend Dalton declines going to Congress. More 278depends upon good Men at that great Wheel, than our People at the Northward are aware. That is the principal Place to guard against foreign Projects, which will address themselves sometimes to aristocratical, sometimes to democratical, & sometimes to military Passions & Prejudices. Nothing will come amis to carry a Point. Is the[. . . .]r1 that shoestring stinginess even may be stimulated, to get every honest man out of Europe, & leave only [. . .] at a certain Court.— Timeo danaos2 The great Point has been & will be to chicane honest Men out o[f Europ]e. I don’t care how soon it prevails against me, but I would have the rest preserved & others sent.— I have [s]een so many of the curses of low cunning & mean Craft, that I begin to think Homer wrong in not damning to Infamy the Character of Ulisses.

I hope that private honesty will not be violated in any debt, & that as much moderation may be shewn towards the Tories as possible. The Stipulations should be sacred, & the Recommendations at least treated with decency & seriously considered. I cannot help saying I wish they could be complied with.— We could not obtain the Peace without them.— When I agreed, that Congress should recommend, I was sincere, I then wished & still wish that the Recommendations may be agreed to. This is unpopular no doubt, But Treaties are solemn Things, in which there should be no mental Reservations. When N. York & Penobscot are evacuated, the People may be cooler.— It will be an ugly Bone of Contention.— I always dreaded it, & would have avoided it, if it had been possible, but it was not.—

Congress have resolved, that your humble Servant, Dr F & Mr J make a Treaty of Commerce with England. I hope they will resolve that the same Men should make others with Denmark, Portugal & the two Empires. How long one or the other may detain me I know not.— F. is trying to get appointed alone to treat with Denmark & Portugal, & unfair means have been used to assist him. But I hope he will be disappointed. I am persuaded a bad Treaty will be made if he is not.— He is not too wise or knowing, not to stand in need of the Advice & Reflections & Information of others. When we are all here, why should We not be all employed?— Business has not been better done by him alone, than by others alone; nor by him alone, than by him in Conjunction with others. Jay & I have no Interest, our Salaries are no larger, our Care is more & our Expenses more for being in more Business. But this smuggling of Treaties is intended, to deprive Us of Advantages that We should endeavour to 279secure. The carrying Trade should be cherished by every fair means, & this will be hurt by the Treaties if they are not more attended to than they will be by Dr F. if he makes them alone.

Your Friend & Servant.

Tr (NN:Gerry-Townsend Papers). The RC of this letter has not been found, but William Gordon copied it into his 24 Dec. letter to Elbridge Gerry. The version of the letter printed here is taken from that source. Some loss of text where the seal was removed.


Approximately three words missing.


JA means that the French would seek to have Benjamin Franklin left as the only American diplomat in Europe so that they could retain their influence over American policy. See JA’s 8 Sept. letter to Elbridge Gerry, above, for his use of the full quotation from Virgil.