Papers of John Adams, volume 16

Charles Storer to John Adams, 22 March 1785 Storer, Charles Adams, John
From Charles Storer
Dear Sir, London. [22]1 March. 1785.

Pardon me if I again trouble you with a letter. I plead for my apology that the occasion does not relate entirely to myself—but in a degree concerns you.—

Yesterday, upon the Exchange, Mr: Burgess, of whom I have made mention before, desired Mr: Atkinson, my Brother-in-law, to acquaint me that a Mr: Petree, one of the Committee of Merchants respecting American Affairs, wished to have some Conversation with me upon the Subject of a Treaty of Commerce with the United-States.—2 In the evening I called upon Mr: Jackson, acquainted him with the matter & enquired if he knew either of the above Gentlemen— Mr: Petree had had a Conversation upon the same subject with him, but a few days before, and had given him to understand that the reason of a Treaty Commerce’s not bing made was owing to a disinclination to treat on the part of the American Commissioners: at least that Government had so given it out to the Merchants here; and that in consequence of this information they wished to know where was the obstacle to treating, that, if possible, it might be removed.— This morning Mr: Petree called upon me— He asked me if the American Commissr: were not authorised to make a Treaty with this Country—& if so why they did not come over here— a: I told him that I was not authorised to talk with him upon these matters, & 575 that therefore he must take what came from me, as originating with me: that so far as I knew anything it should be at his service— I told him then, that you were authorised to treat with this Country, & that I was surprised he should put the question to me—since the Ministry had been well acquainted with it ever since last Fall—and that, so far the disinclination to treat being upon your side, I believed it laid entirely here— I told him that Mr: Hartley had been recalled just when you were empowered to treat—and that you had been since amused with having an invitation from this Court, to come here—but that you had never had any— He hoped you wd. not stand upon any etiquette, & ceremony when the business was so important— I told him I was sure you would never suffer any unnecessary etiquette to be any obstacle to you—nor that you would act either unless upon an equal footing & with proper formality: that, however, I knew of no particular objection you had to treat—except the not having an invitation from this Court— He told me that he had waited upon Ld. Carmarthen, the last week, who told him that the only difficulty rested with you, as he had sent the American Commissioners an invitation abt: a month ago, thru’ the D. of Dorset, which you did not incline to accept of: he wondered that you had not been here before this, & said he really wished you would come.— I told him I equally wondered at this intelligence being given by Ld. Carmarthen—since he knew that, if he sent a proper invitation, you would come here— I asked Mr: Petree if there was any person to treat with you here, if you came. He said that Ld. Carmarthen he believed was authorised—but asked, in his turn, if Congress had power to treat, was this Court inclined to meet them— I told him that other Treaties had been made—but that this wd. be known when the full powers of each should be exchanged— Upon parting, Mr: Petree said he was glad to hear that the difficulty did not rest with you—and, being convinced of this, the Merchants would immediately remonstrance to the Ministry that a proper invitation should be sent to you, in order that Business should be begun— Mr: P. said the Merchts: had been alarmed at the appointment of a Consul General, supposing that some Convention had been made— Upon their application to Ld. C. he told them there was no Convention made, & that why a Consul had been appointed he did not know— The Merchants have objected to the man—

It seems the Ministry have industriously given it about that the American Commissrs: were averse to treating with this Country—wishing to throw all the blame upon them— Whether from a fear of 576 engaging upon an unpopular business, as they must make some concessions—whether from a wish to proffit from the monopoly of our carrying Trade to the W. Indies, or whether to give time to strengthen the Adventurers in the Whale-fishery, is not for me to say—perhaps they each have weight with them—

What I have said, Sir, I wish you may not disapprove, as I hope I have not exceeded the bounds of discretion— If you can make use of me any way here, I shall not only be very happy, but think myself highly honored & flattered by your Confidence— You may say I am too young—to wh: I can only say, that I wish I was older & more steady— If you shd. chuse to write me in answer to this, for safety, you had better enclose your letter to Mr: Jno: Appleton, No: 11. Spring-Gardens, or to Mr: John Harwood, No: 18. Cullum street

Excuse my troubling you with this long letter: the occasion I hope will be a sufficient apology—and I would beg your advice upon it.—

With best respects to the family, I have the honor to be, with much esteem, / dear Sir, / Yr: Most oblig’d, humle: servt:

Chas: Storer.

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mr Storer / 22 March / ansd 28. 1785.”


This date is taken from JA’s endorsement, but JA likely obtained the date from Storer’s 25 March letter to JQA (Adams Papers). There Storer indicated that “I wrote your father by the last Post, the 22d, informing him of a Conversation I had had with a Mr: Petree.” In his reply of 2 April (Adams Papers), JQA reported that he had shown his father the letter on 1 April.


“Mr. Atkinson” was John Atkinson, a London merchant and husband of Storer’s half-sister Elizabeth ( AFC , 7:115; JQA, Diary , 1:388). “Mr. Petree” remains unidentified, as does “Mr. Burgess.” Storer did not mention his conversations with Burgess in any extant letter to JA, but he did in his letters to JQA of 8 and 15 Feb. (both Adams Papers). Just as this letter to JA does, Storer’s February letters and that of 25 March to JQA, mentioned in note 1, center on the questions of whether the American commissioners had the power or willingness to negotiate an Anglo-American commercial agreement or were willing to come to London to do so. For the persistence of these issues, see the Duke of Dorset’s 26 March letter to the commissioners, below.

In his letter to JA, Storer is somewhat diffident regarding his conversation with Petree and the implications of the British position. He is much less so in his letter to JQA of 25 March. There he indicated that JA’s 17 Feb. letter to Charles Sigourney, above, may have been partly responsible for the apparent British uncertainty. According to Storer a report that the commissioners refused to negotiate at all “has been industriously spread abt:—(tho’ I am persuaded it to be false) has been strengthened by a misconstruction of a certain letter fm. yr: father, to a Gent: whose initials are the same as mine, dated the 17th. or 27th. ulto:— This Gent: […]red in a large Company, where were Silas Deane […] Franklin […] number of Refugees, that America wd. not now treat with this Country, & that, as a voucher, he had recd. the same intelligence fm. yr: father— Mr: J. told me this, who was present; but was sure he had either mistated the matter, or misunderstood it— I called upon the Gent: a few days ago, on purpose to see it, & am surprised how he cod. torture such a meaning fm. it, as it expressed direct contrary sentiments. I refer it to yourself— This intelligence, souvenez-vous-en, must not go abroad fm. ourselves— Should your father see this letter, wt: a young politician Charles is, he wd. say—but I wish he wd. instruct me & make me a better 577 one—” Some words were lost from this passage due to the removal of the seal. “Franklin” was probably William Franklin, son of Benjamin Franklin and loyalist governor of New Jersey, while “Mr. J.” and the “Mr: Jackson” mentioned by Storer in his letter to JA are likely the same person, presumably JA’s friend and correspondent Jonathan Jackson, who had mentioned Storer in the postscript to his letter of 25 Feb., above.

In his reply of 2 April (Adams Papers), JQA wrote that “I received yesterday your favour of the 25th: instt: and shew it immediately to my father: I was afraid it would raise his indignation, to see, his expressions had been so grossly misconstrued: but it had not that effect; he only smiled, and said he was not surprized: but I assure you I was.”

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).