Papers of John Adams, volume 16

From Charles Storer

To Charles Storer

The Duke of Dorset to the American Commissioners, 26 March 1785 Dorset, John Frederick Sackville, third Duke of American Commissioners
The Duke of Dorset to the American Commissioners
Gentlemen, Paris 26th. March 1785.

Having communicated to my Court the readiness you express’d in your Letter to me of the 9th. of December to remove to London for the purpose of treating upon such points as may materially concern the Interests both political & commercial of Great Britain & America, and having at the same time represented that you declared yourselves to be fully authorized & empowered to negotiate— I have been in answer thereto, instructed to learn from you, Gentlemen, what is the real nature of the Powers with which you are invested; whether you are merely commission’d by Congress, or whether you have receiv’d seperate Powers from the respective States. A Committee of North American Merchants have waited upon His Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to Express how anxiously they wish to be inform’d upon this subject, repeated experience having taught them in particular, as well as the Public in general how little the authority of Congress could avail in any respect, where the Interests of any one individual State was even concern’d, and particularly so, where the concerns of that particular State might be suppos’d to militate against such resolutions as Congress might think proper to adopt.

The apparent determination of the respective States to regulate their own seperate Interests renders it absolutely necessary, towards forming a permanent system of commerce that my Court should be inform’d how far the Commissioners can be duly authorized to enter into any engagements with Great Britain which it may not be in the power of any one of the States to render totally fruitless & ineffectual.—1

I have the honor to be, / Gentlemen / with great truth / Your Most obedient humble Servant


RC (PCC, No. 86, f. 203–206); internal address: “Messrs. Adams, Franklin & Jefferson / &c &c &c—”; endorsed: “Paris March 26. 1785 / from / The Duke of Dorset”; notation: “No. 6.” FC (Adams Papers).


The British ambassador’s inquiry is of a piece with the issues raised in Charles Storer’s conversation with a “Mr. Petree,” which Storer recounts in his letter of [22] March, above, and which JA comments on in his reply to Storer of the 28th, below. The commissioners enclosed Dorset’s letter in theirs of 13 April to John Jay. There they indicated that “new information and instructions from Congress as to our affairs with the British court” were expected, so that with respect “to the doubts they pretend and the information they ask with respect to the powers of Congress” the commissioners did not believe themselves competent to respond “till we see whether we receive by this conveyance any new instructions” (Jefferson, Papers , 8:80–83). The commissioners did not respond to Dorset’s letter until 16 May, and then it was to formally announce JA’s appointment as minister to Great Britain, which obviated the need for further discussions of the powers of the commissioners to negotiate (same, p. 153).