Papers of John Adams, volume 16

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.

John Adams to John Jay, 9 March 1785 Adams, John Jay, John
To John Jay
Sir Auteuil near Paris 9. March 1785

Permit me to congratulate the United States, upon the Acquisition of a Minister of foreign Affairs, whose long Services have So justly acquired their Confidence and whose Experience as well as his Talents, so fully qualify him for this important Trust.1

The joint Dispatches2 of their Ministers here will inform Congress of the Slow Progress of the Negotiations entrusted to their Care. These delays are owing to the ordinary Character of the Deliberations of Courts, and are in no measure occasioned by any Inattention or Inactivity on our Part, and as they are irremediable must be Submitted to with Patience.

I must beg Leave to repeat a request mentioned in Several of my late Letters, that Congress would be pleased to transmit the Ratification of my last Loan which I opened a Year ago in Holland and is long Since full. The Delay of the Ratification has an ill Effect.— Congress will be pleased too to give Orders if it is not yet done as I hope it has been, concerning near a Million of Guilders, which remain in the Hands of their Bankers at Amsterdam, as appears by Some Extracts of Letters inclosed3

I have lately enquired of the Baron de Stael, the Sweedish Ambassador, and of Mr D’Asp, the Sweedish Chargé des Affairs, an old Acquaintance at the Hague who has been lately removed to this Court, concerning the Presents given by their Court to the Barbary Powers. Both very obligingly promised to write to Stockholm for full Information, upon this Subject. I have written to Mr Dumas, to apply to Mr Bisdom and Mr Van der Hope, to learn the Sums given by the Republick. The Answers of those Gentlemen I have 554 communicated to my Colleagues, and Copies of them will be transmitted to Congress by, Mr Humphreys in the joint Dispatches.4 If We can avoid, this humiliating Tribute, I Should wish it with all my Heart, but am afraid We must Sooner or later Submit to it. I cant find it in my Heart, to wish ill Success to the two Empires, if they really have, as they are Suspected to have, the Project of driving wholly out of Europe, the Turkish Empire, because the Barbary Powers and their hatefull Piracies would probably come to an End at the sametime. We wait for Orders relative to these States, thinking it dangerous Saying a Word to Morocco, before We are ready to treat with all.

There is at this Time So intimate a Connection, between France Sweeden and Holland, that I fancy, We Shall Scarcely perswade either of the latter to agree to any Supplementary Treaties unless the former Should Set the Example, which We cannot expect, considering the Opposition the Ministry meets with from the Merchants of the Sea Port Towns and even from Some Souvereign Courts. The ordonnance of 30 of August 1784, which moderates the rigour of the Letters Patents of October 1727 and admits Foreigners to the Commerce of the Colonies under certain Restrictions, has excited Remonstrances from the Merchants of Marseilles, Bourdeaux Rochelle, Nantes, St. Maloes and Havre de Grace, and the Parliament of Bordeaux, has remonstrated, and that of Bretagne, was very near it. The Marshall de Castries, is yet unmoved, but this Opposition will I fear discourage him from going further.—

These Remonstrances attack, every Part of the first Article[;] They oppose the Free Ports, or “Entrepots,” They oppose the Liberty, to Strangers to import, Timber Coal, even Live Stock, but especially Salt Beef, Salt Fish, Rice, Indian Corn, Vegetables, Leather tanned or in the Hair, Pitch Tar, Turpentine. they are eager for reviving, the Regulation of 1727, and totally excluding all Foreigners from their Islands. in Short I see that french Merchants, consider their Colon[ies] and Colonists as English Merchants considered Us twenty Years ago. it is true that all have not been equally extravagant. Some have gone in their Remonstrances no farther, than against Salt Beef and Fish.

Merchants whether French, English or Dutch are very bad Rulers of Colonies at a Distance, and their Mistakes if not firmly corrected by their Governments will make a Serious common Cause, between Americans northern and Western.

The French Fisheries, in Consequence of the Extension of their 555 Limits by the Treaty of Peace, upon the Island of Newfoundland, and the free Communication between the United States and St. Peters and Miquelon, have Succeeded the last Year, in a remarkable manner. Marseilles, Bourdeaux & Rochelle, and many other Places have engaged in the Newfoundland Fishery with a new Ardour, and uncommon Profit. This is one Striking Advantage, arising wholly from their Alliance with Us, and they ought to be too Sensible of it, to wish So Soon, to exclude Us wholly from their Islands. The Government and more enlightened Part of the Nation are so, and will not give Way to the interested Clamours of those who see no further than their own private Profit.

Nothing is more extravagant than the confident Pretensions of French and English Merchants, that they can Supply their own Islands. It is whimsical, but it is true, that the mercantile Spirit, Should be the most hostile to the Freedom of Commerce. Governments the most disposed to favour it, are continually Solicited by Bodies of Merchants, from partial Views and private Interests to restrain and Shackle it.

England it is plain will never treat with Us here. and it is for Congress to determine, whether they will accept the Proposition of the Court of St. James and Send a Minister there, or renounce all Thoughts of treating with it, upon any Thing.

Spain Seems equally averse to treating here. But if Mr Guardoqui has arrived, who has full Powers, Congress may treat with him at New York.

The general State of Europe is critical, but the Claims of the Emperor, are so directly against Treaties, which interest so essentially all Europe, that I dont believe he will urge on a War, that must embroil all the World, and end not at all to his Advantage or Honour

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

John Adams

RC and enclosures (PCC, No. 84, V, f. 371–380); internal address: “His Excellency John Jay Esqr. / Secretary of State for foreign / Affairs.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 107. Text lost due to a tight binding has been supplied from the LbC.


A reference to Jay’s announcement in his 14 Jan. letter to the commissioners, above, which had arrived on 4 March. JA and his colleagues had known of Jay’s appointment as secretary for several months, but there had been uncertainty over whether he would accept the position (JQA, Diary , 1:228).


Of 18 March, below.


The enclosures were the consortium’s letters of 6 Jan. and 2 Feb., both above.


See JA’s 22 Dec. 1784 letter to C. W. F. Dumas, and Dumas’ reply of 25 Feb. 1785, both above.