Papers of John Adams, volume 16

John Adams to Francis Dana, 8 March 1785 Adams, John Dana, Francis
To Francis Dana
Dear Sir Auteuil near Paris March 8. 1785

I received your Favour of 12 Decr, Some days ago, and rejoice to hear of your returning Health and increasing Family. I wish the Young Lady whom I love the better for the much respected Name you have given her as good an Husband as the World Shall afford, whether Charles Shall be fidele to his Engagements or not.— I thank you, Sir for your kind attention to my Sons, the eldest of whom I hope will be near you e’er long, and if he could have an Opportunity of Studying the Law under your Auspices and those of the venerable Judge Trowbridge, it would be the Completion of my Wishes.1 I dont know whether the Prejudices of the World, have permitted you to return to the Bar or not nor whether they would permit me. if they would I would embrace with Pleasure the first opportunity and endeavour to introduce my own Boys, to a Profession in which they might get Bread and do good. I must do your Russian Companion the Justice to say that so far from having forgotten you, he entertains all those Sentiments of Veneration for you, which he ought.

I can tell you nothing of European Politicks. I believe, the K. of France and the Emperor of Germany are as uncertain as you and I are, whether there will be War or Peace.— In all Events let Us keep the Peace. The probable Issue of our last Commission, will be many fair Words. But England and Spain refuse to treat here, and all those Powers who are jealous of France, keep a distance and reserve here, So that I see little Chance of doing much good.— I think a Minister should be sent to London according to the polite Invitation 550 of the Court of St James’s, and if he does not Succeed, the States must pass Acts of Reciprocity, I will not call them Retalliation.— A Navigation Act, against the English, or Imposts or Prohibitions, which would do ourselves Justice.

You may draw upon me as soon as you please, for the Sum I owe you, and your Bill Shall be honoured.

I will take Care that your Letter in answer to my Enquiries shall do no harm. Your Answers were Such as your Frienship for me dictated, and were by no means Severe.— Young People must choose for themselves, and I must acquiesce, even although I might fancy that I could have chosen better. I hope in this Case, however, that a little Experience may retrieve the Errors of a more thoughtless Youth, and I beg Leave to recommend the Young Gentn, to your Candour and Favour—2

I am anxious to know the State of our Fisheries and West India Trade, and whether Vessells continue to arrive in Boston from the Nations of Europe. Here is a powerfull Opposition, to our Trade with the French Islands at least in Fish and Salt Meat. Marseilles, Bourdeaux, Rochelle, Nantes, st Malois and Havre, have remonstrated against it. and the Parliament of Bourdeaux, have added their Weight: But I am told it will make no more Impression than a Whip upon an Horse of Bronze. Yet if it does not prevail with the King to revoke his Edict, It will I fear wholly discourage the Ministry from agreeing to any further Improvements in Policy or Commerce which We may propose.3

Dr F. is wholly confined by the Stone, and can no longer take the Exercise in his Chamber, which he used: Mr Jefferson, is as good a Coadjutor, as I could desire: But it grieves me to See, that his Time as well as mine and the Expences of Us all, are in a manner lost. I hope, Our Commissions, when they expire will never be renewed.— We could not do less at seperate Courts and I think We might do more. at least I am Sure We could do more good at home. The Ministers of all the Courts not in hearty Friendship of France Seem afraid of Us here.

My Family all join in Sincere Respects to you and Mrs Dana, and to Judge Trowbridge.

I am sir, with great Esteem your / Frd & sert

John Adams

RC (MHi:Dana Papers); addressed by JQA: “The Honourable / Francis Dana Esqr: / Boston / Massachusetts.”; internal address: “Hon. Francis Dana Esq.”; endorsed: “Honble Jno: Adams’s Letter / Dated March 8th: 1785— / Recd. May 26th:—. / Authorising me to draw upon him.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 107.

551 1.

JQA studied the law under neither Dana nor Dana’s mentor Edmund Trowbridge, but rather Theophilus Parsons of Newburyport (JQA, Diary , 2:xiii).


JA refers to Dana’s comments on Royall Tyler’s character with regard to Tyler’s courtship of AA2, for which see Dana’s letter of 12 Dec. 1784, and note 5, above.


For the uproar among French merchants over the opening of the French islands to American ships, see JA’s 9 March 1785 letter to Elbridge Gerry, and note 2, below.

John Adams to Elbridge Gerry, 9 March 1785 Adams, John Gerry, Elbridge
To Elbridge Gerry
My dear Sir Auteuil near Paris March 9. 1785

You will See, by our joint Dispatches, that The Pope, Sardinia and Naples, by their Answers, have politely invited our Vessells into their Ports, but have not accepted the Proposition of Treaties of Commerce.1 His Holiness has gone as far I believe, in his Complaisance to Us as his Maxims will allow, there being as I believe no Example of a Treaty, between his Court and any Protestant Power. Naples probably waits for Spain. The Motives of Sardinia, who has two Daughters near the Throne of France, although he has ancient Attachments to England, are not So obvious.

Prussia will probably agree with Us, or We Shall agree with him as the Points in discussion, are not essential, although some of them are of Some importance. from Portugal, Denmark and the Emperor We have no decisive Answers, nor from Russia any Answer at all.— Spain and England, will continue, I Suppose to refuse treating here. Mr Hales, the British Charge des Affairs told me, that his Court were determined never to treat here, and this Declaration agrees with every Information and all the Circumstances, that have come to our Knowledge. I think the Invitation to send a Minister to London should be accepted, as it is undoubtedly our Place, to Send first, and as the Neglect of exchanging Ambassadors, will forever be regarded as a Proof of Coldness and Jealousies, by the People of England, the People of America, and by all the Courts and Nations of Europe. it is in vain to expect of Us Treaties of Commerce with England, While She will not treat here and Congress will not treat there. We cannot force them to treat: and it is not expected We should petition them. Petitions, would be neglected now as much as ever. We can do nothing with the Barbary States, without Money and orders to apply it.— You know best whether it is worth while to give fifty or Sixty Thousand Guilders a Year to Algiers, besides occasional Presents to the others.

France Holland and Sweeden, I Suppose will act in concert, and neither agree to Terms more favourable than the others. Such is the 552 opposition in France to the “Arrêt du Conseil D’Etat du Roi concernant le Commerce étranger dans les Isles Francoises de L’Amerique, du 30 Août 1784,” that I despair of perswading the Ministry to venture farther in our favour. There is a general Cry of the Merchants against that Ordonance.2 The Commerce of Marseilles, Bourdeaux, Nantes, Rochelle, St Maloes and Havre de Grace, have remonstrated against it in Strong and warm Terms. The Parliament of Bourdeaux too has joined in the Clamour, and the States of Bretagne, came very near it. The Minister will Stand firm to this Ordonnance, it is Said, but I fear will be discouraged from extending his Liberal Sentiments Still further.

We have my Friend a delicate and difficult Part to Act towards the Powers of Europe. Our Safest Course lies in a perfect Impartiality to all. Predilections and Attachments to any, will be narrowly watched, will be perceived, and will endanger our Tranquility and Neutrality. Spain France and England, will interest Us and endanger Us the most.— I wish that no Means of Settling all disputes, with the first and last may be neglected, and therefore I advise the sending a Minister to each. if he Succeeds, well, if not, We Shall have nothing to reproach to Ourselves. We Shall have done our Duty, and all that was in our Power.

I wait with Impatience, for the Ratification of my last Loan in Holland, and for Orders what to do with near a Million of Guilders, in the Hands of your Bankers at Amsterdam. You will remember, I have run you in debt, near Seven hundred Thousand Pounds Sterling, that you have received in Dollars, or drawn Bills for it at an advantageous Exchange. I hope you have Spent it wisely. But whether you have or not, you ought to take Measures to pay the Interest. My Dutch Friends will throw me into one of their Canals if you dont fullfill my Engagements.

My Respects to your Colleagues, and believe me / your faithfull Friend & very humble / servant

John Adams

RC (MHi:Hoar Autograph Coll.); internal address: “Hon. Elbridge Gerry Esqr.”; endorsed: “Auteuil Letter / His Excelly Mr / Adams Mar. 9 / 1785 / ansd July 14”; notation: “P. 1.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 107.


Of [9] Feb. to Congress, above, and 18 March to John Jay, below.


The French ordinance permitted foreign vessels of sixty tons or less to trade with the French islands in the West Indies through a number of newly created “entrepôts,” or free ports. In addition to the port at St. Lucia, three new ports were designated as free for the Windward Islands: St. Pierre on Martinique, Pointe-à-Pitre on Guadeloupe, and Scarborough on Tobago. Moreover, three more were to be established on St. 553 Domingue supplanting the port at Môle St. Nicholas, namely Cap Français, Port-au-Prince, and St. Louis. The foreign vessels would be able to import goods, the produce of their own countries, and export French goods. The French merchants were protesting the end of their monopoly under the “Lettres patents” of Oct. 1727 that excluded all foreign vessels from the French islands. Clearly the ordinance would be of immediate benefit to American merchants. But it could also provide a long-term benefit should the United States choose to be neutral in a future Anglo-French war because the 1784 ordinance could be seen as a response to the British Rule of 1756 whereby the Royal Navy interdicted neutral trade with the French islands on the basis that a trade illegal in time of peace could not become legal in time of war (Bemis, Diplomacy of the Amer. Revolution , p. 131). For JA’s additional comments on the ordinance, see his 9 March 1785 letter to John Jay, below; for the printed ordinance, the title of which JA gives correctly, see PCC, No. 80, I, f. 237–246.