|1. THOMAS JEFFERSON, BY JEAN ANTOINE HOUDON, 1789
|Soon after learning of his appointment as the first American minister to Great Britain, John Adams reflected on parting from his friend and colleague Thomas Jefferson. “Mr: Jefferson is an excellent Citizen, Philosopher and Statesman, with whom I promise myself the most friendly and Cordial Correspondence, altho’ I shall leave him with regret” (to William Gordon, 27 April 1785, below). Over the next three years, Jefferson maintained a lively and familiar correspondence with both John and Abigail Adams. Abigail regularly traded shopping lists with the Virginia planter, acquiring Jefferson’s table linen and shirts in London while he selected shoes, platters, and statuettes on her behalf in Paris (
, 6:index). In late May, as they journeyed to London and braced for “the dull political Prospect before Us,” the Adamses found “Meditation all the Day long” in Jefferson’s newly published Notes on the State of Virginia (Paris, 1785). On 22 May, Adams wrote Jefferson that his Notes “will do its Author and his Country great Honour. The Passages upon Slavery, are worth Diamonds.” In his 25 May reply, Jefferson indicated his appreciation of the “amusement” the Notes provided the Adamses on their “triste journey” and was happy they found it worthy of praise, but he lamented that his “country will probably estimate them differently” (both below).
Jean Antoine Houdon (1741–1828), who captured Jefferson’s likeness in the Saravezza marble bust shown here, was among the circle of French thinkers and artists with whom Jefferson associated at Paris. Houdon studied at the École royale des élèves protégés in Paris, spent four years refining his technique in Rome, and was noted for crafting studies from nature that evoked the dynamism of his subjects’ gazes. Houdon would also sculpt a likeness of George Washington on a visit to America in 1785 that would serve as the model for the statue of Washington in the Virginia state capitol at Richmond. Jefferson recommended him to his fellow Virginian as a sculptor whose work in marble and bronze is “without rivalship” and as a man who “is disinterested, generous, candid, and panting after glory: in every circumstance meriting your good opinion” (Jefferson,
, 8:279). Jefferson later paid one thousand livres for Houdon’s bust of himself, together with at least three copies, and similar busts of Benjamin Franklin, the Marquis de Lafayette, and Washington. Houdon displayed this bust of Jefferson at the xiiannual Salon of the Académie royale de peinture et sculpture in Paris during the summer of 1789 (from Jefferson, 7 July, note 7, below; Oxford Art Online; Jefferson, Papers
Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
|2, 3. KING GEORGE III AND QUEEN CHARLOTTE, BY SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS, 1779
|Presentations to King George III (1738–1820) and Queen Charlotte (1744–1818) marked the beginning of all diplomatic missions to the Court of St. James. In letters to John Jay of 2 and 10 June 1785 (both below), John Adams reported in detail on his audiences with the king and queen on 1 and 9 June, respectively. Adams encoded his accounts because of his apprehension that the remarks exchanged by him, George, and Charlotte might cause controversy when received in America. The audiences were a dramatic opening to his tenure as minister, but his reports make it clear that they were stressful for all parties. Abigail Adams and her daughter, Nabby, wearing “elegant but plain” white crêpe dresses with lace trim, found their own presentation at court on 23 June more enjoyable, if not less taxing (
, 6:188–190, 192, 193).
George and Charlotte, shown here in matching life-size oil portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds, first met on the afternoon of 8 September 1761 and married the same evening. George, blue-eyed and auburn-haired, reportedly was impressed with the sensible, charitable nature of his bride, a Lutheran noblewoman from Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Germany. The couple had fifteen children and enjoyed a relatively stable home life. In 1785 the family was comfortably settled in the richly decorated Queen’s House, later known as Buckingham Palace. By 1788, however, George III was suffering from occasional breakdowns, later attributed to porphyria, and in the ensuing regency crisis Charlotte became his official caretaker. Attending the anniversary of George and Charlotte’s joint coronation on 22 September 1785, Abigail Adams had her first full view of the entire royal family, remarking to her sister that the “Company were very Brilliant, and her Majesty was stiff with Diamonds. . . . The whole family have one complexion; and all inclined to corpulent, I should know them in any part of the world” (
George and Charlotte were enthusiastic and savvy collectors of culture. John Adams, after visiting George’s private library, marveled that it held “every book that a king ought to have always at hand” (JA,
, 3:150). George’s patronage extended to artists like Reynolds (1723–1792), known for his full-length representations depicting his subjects in a range of dignified poses that embodied classical virtue. Reynolds, who served as the first president of the king’s new Royal Academy of Arts, had a fractious relationship with his sovereign due to his Whiggish politics, but in 1784 he was named Principal Painter in Ordinary. In 1779 Reynolds painted George and Charlotte, shown here in their full state robes, for the Academy’s new apartments at Somerset House, perhaps as a xiiilasting reminder of the institution’s greatest benefactors (
; Oxford Art Online; Royal Academy of Arts, The King’s Artists: George III’s Academy, Gallery Guide, London, 2012, entries 1, 5).
Courtesy of Royal Academy of Arts, London.
|4, 5. JOHN ADAMS TO JOHN JAY, 2 JUNE 1785, PLAINTEXT AND ENCODED COPIES
On 2 June, John Adams reported to John Jay on his previous day’s audience with George III. The first document appearing here is Adams’ signed fair copy, later labeled a “duplicate” by William Stephens Smith, which Adams may originally have intended to be sent to Jay—and did send to Elbridge Gerry on 6 July (both below). The second is the letter as encoded by Smith, Adams’ secretary, which Jay received. The marks on the first document indicate that it was the source for the encoded letter. For a detailed account of Adams’ careful drafting of this letter and his decision to have it encoded, see the notes to the 2 June letter, below; and for the letter as decoded after Jay received it, see PCC, No. 84, V, f. 477–484.
Jay enclosed the code in his 13 April letter, although there he called it a “Cypher” (below). In fact it was a 660-element nomenclator code in which punctuation, letters, syllables, and entire words were converted into numbers. Unlike earlier variations of this type of code, however, words were not arranged in alphabetical-numerical order, but rather at random. This increased the security of the code but required that the user not only have encoding sheets, organized alphabetically, but also decoding sheets, organized numerically. For Adams’ encoding and decoding sheets, see Adams Papers, Ciphers and Cipher Keys, APM Reel 602.
Other than his 2 June letter to Jay and one of 10 June detailing his audience with Queen Charlotte (below), Adams used the code only once more. That was for his lengthy letter of 3 December 1785 wherein he wrote candidly about British policy toward the United States and sharply criticized the government officials with whom he dealt, including George III (
Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789
, 2:552–557). An example of Jay’s use of the code in his correspondence with Adams is his 1 May 1786 letter advising Adams to protract the negotiations with Britain on the surrender of the frontier posts under the terms of the Anglo-American peace treaty of 1783 (Adams Papers; Weber, Codes and Ciphers
, p. 77, 78, 89–93, 347–351).
Courtesy of the Gilder Lehrman Collection, on deposit at the New-York Historical Society; National Archives and Records Administration.
|6. “A VIEW OF GROSVENOR SQUARE LONDON,” BY THOMAS BOWLES III, CA. 1750
|On 9 June 1785, the day of his audience with Queen Charlotte, John Adams signed the lease for No. 8 (later No. 9) Grosvenor Square (below). Located at the corner of Duke and Brook Streets in the fashionable Mayfair district in London’s West End, it was an impressive address for the first American minister to Great Britain. xivThe house was acquired only after much effort by Abigail Adams, which she described in letters of 6 and 24 June to Thomas Jefferson and Mary Smith Cranch, respectively. The Adamses moved in on 2 July and occupied the legation until their return to America in spring 1788. For a rough map of its location in the square, drawn by their daughter Abigail Adams 2d, see her journal letter of 4 July to 11 August 1785 to her brother John Quincy,
, 6:170, 187, 213.
The house was both a place of business and a residence. John Adams used the two long rooms: an office on the first floor for “Publick business,” and another directly above, on the second floor. There, his daughter noted, “Pappa has put his Library, and in which he writes usually himself” (same, p. 213). In addition to serving as the place where John Adams received formal visits and held dinners related to his diplomatic function, the house at Grosvenor Square also served as the backdrop for several important Adams family events. Nabby married William Stephens Smith there on 11 June 1786, and the young couple returned to live with John and Abigail following the birth of the first Adams grandchild, William Steuben Smith, on 2 April 1787.
This northeastern view of Grosvenor Square circa 1750, produced by Thomas Bowles III (ca. 1712–1762), member of a prominent London printmaking family, shows the neighborhood a generation after Sir Richard Grosvenor, 4th Baronet, developed it between the early 1720s and 1735. The statue at center, now lost, was of King George I on horseback, by the sculptor John Nost. The legation is in the right center of the depiction, where Duke Street enters the square.
Grosvenor Square’s prominence is evident from its residents before, during, and after John Adams’ tenure as minister. The Marquis of Rockingham, whose ministry preceded the Earl of Shelburne’s, occupied No. 4 until his death in 1782. No. 8 was previously occupied by Vice Admiral John Byron, grandfather of the poet. Adams met often with the British foreign minister, the Marquis of Carmarthen, who resided at No. 2, and he was also a neighbor of Frederick, Lord North, who occupied No. 50. Regarding North, Abigail Adams assured a Boston friend, “we have not taken
a side with Lord North but are still opposite to him” (same, p. 297). Today the building is occupied by the offices of former British prime minister Tony Blair (same, 7:221, 448, 452;
; Arthur Irwin Dasent, A History of Grosvenor Square, London, 1935, p. v–vi; John Summerson, Georgian London, N.Y., 1946, p. 85–88; Greater London Council, The Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair, Part II: The Buildings [Survey of London 40], London, 1980, p. 113, 119, 120, 125, 166).
Courtesy of English Heritage, © English Heritage.
|7. “HONEST BILLY,” PUBLISHED BY SAMUEL WILLIAM FORES, 18 FEBRUARY 1785
|In December 1783, at George III’s behest, 24-year-old William Pitt the younger (1759–1806) formed his first ministry. It replaced the coalition ministry headed by Charles James Fox, whom George III xvdespised, and Frederick, Lord North, that had been discredited by the failure of Fox’s India Bill in the House of Lords.
John Adams’ views of Pitt and his ministry were mixed. In April 1785, Adams acknowledged that Pitt “had shewn himself superior to all his Rivals” and displayed a “firmness and Coolness” as well as a “comprehensive knowledge of Business” (to James Sullivan, 26 April, below). On 24 August Adams met with Pitt and found him “much more open than I expected” (to John Jay, 25 Aug., below). But by November, with the ministry unwilling to enter into substantive negotiations regarding commerce or issues left over from the peace treaty, Adams’ sentiments grew more critical. On 4 November he lamented to Jay that Pitt had “commenced his Career, with Sentiments, rather liberal towards the U. States” but after becoming prime minister has “departed from his first Principle,” and on 24 November Adams informed Jay that “Pitt is but a Tool,” out-matched in the ministry and unable to put forth “any honest system with America” (both below).
This caricature of “Honest Billy,” as Pitt was termed, shows him standing at the speaker’s table in the House of Commons. He appears deep in thought, his arm resting on two documents, entitled “Parliamentary Reform” and “Commutation Act.” Above the oval are the words, “Save, oh save my country!!! My father’s dying words I never can forget,” a paraphrase of the reported last words of William Pitt the elder, 1st Earl of Chatham (1708–1778), to his son, after he collapsed in the House of Lords.
Three other members of Parliament sit in the shadows behind Pitt. On the left side, Pitt’s rival Charles James Fox laments that he could “Reform him,” if only he “had him at Brooks’s!” This refers to Pitt’s ongoing effort to reform Parliament and to an attack on Pitt’s carriage outside of the Foxite Brooks’s Club. The second man sympathizes, “Oh that poor Charley had continued in, He’d never suppress our trade,” and the last figure worries that Pitt’s effort to eliminate tea smuggling “has made a Bankrupt of me.” The Commutation Tax of 1784 lowered customs duties on tea from an average of 119 percent to 25 percent, thus curtailing the temptation to smuggle tea.
Samuel William Fores (ca. 1761–1838), publisher and print seller, produced “Honest Billy” in his shop at “N
o 3 Piccadilly.” First opened for business in 1783, the family print shop continued to operate at various London locations for over 200 years (William Hague, William Pitt the Younger, London, 2005, p. 146–147, 165–166, 181; Mary Dorothy George, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, 11 vols. in 12, London, 1938, 6:223; Jeremy Black, Pitt the Elder, Cambridge, Eng., 1992, p. 299;
Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.
|8. “CHRISTIAN SLAVERY IN BARBARY,” 1861
|The most pressing matter before the American commissioners in 1785 was the need to negotiate treaties with the Barbary xviStates—Algiers, Morocco, Tripoli, and Tunis—in order to protect American trade in the Mediterranean and end the enslavement of American sailors. The issue came to the fore in October 1784 when Morocco seized the ship Betsy, but that crisis seemed to be easing by April 1785 when it was reported that the
|Betsy and its crew might soon be released. In August, however, relations with the Barbary States took on a new urgency when Algerian corsairs captured the Maria, Capt. Isaac Stephens, and the Dauphin, Capt. Richard O’Bryen, and it was asserted that Algiers had declared war on the United States.
John Adams soon heard directly from the captains of two seized vessels, who repeatedly petitioned Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Congress regarding their increasingly desperate circumstances. On 27 August, Stephens, O’Bryen, and fellow captive Zaccheus Coffin wrote to Adams that “we were Stript & Left destitute, of Everything.” They implored him to “take oure Grivances into Consideration & make Some Extra provision for us Besides what the King of Cruelties allows, otherwise my people will perish” (below). The Americans were not exaggerating, for once enslaved, captives endured frequent corporal punishment and were susceptible to a range of maladies arising from poor living conditions, including the bubonic plague. Although the crews of the
Maria and Dauphin received some assistance from Charles Logie, the British consul at Algiers, they would suffer through another decade of slavery despite the strenuous efforts to ransom them. The plight of the sailors—many of them native New Englanders—certainly remained on Adams’ mind long after he left London for America, and well into his executive tenure. Adams stayed in contact with O’Bryen throughout his captivity, and nominated him to be U.S. consul general to Algiers on 6 July 1797, a post O’Bryen held until November 1803.
The continuing American fascination with or horror at the rigors of white slavery in eighteenth-century North Africa can be seen in this engraving intended for a growing audience of antislavery advocates, which appeared as an illustration in William O. Blake’s
The History of Slavery and the Slave Trade, Ancient and Modern, Columbus, Ohio, 1861 (vol. 16:xv–xvi, 491; Barbary Negotiations, 12 Sept. – 11 Oct., below; commissioners to John Jay, 13 April, and note 3, below; from Thomas Jefferson, 6 Aug., and note 3, below;
, 11:553–554; Gary E. Wilson, “American Hostages in Moslem Nations, 1784–1796: The Public Response,” Journal of the Early Republic, 2:125–130 [Summer 1982]; U.S. Senate, Exec. Jour.
, 5th Cong., 1st sess., p. 248;
Courtesy of the Widener Library, Harvard College Library.
|9. FILIPPO MAZZEI, BY JACQUES LOUIS DAVID, 1790–1791
|Born in Tuscany, Filippo or Philip Mazzei (1730–1816) went to Virginia in 1773. There he was befriended by Thomas Jefferson and became an ardent supporter of the American cause. John Adams first met him in June 1780 when he returned to Europe as Virginia’s agent to raise a loan.xvii
In August 1785 Mazzei informed Adams of his return from a two-year visit to America, and he was soon soliciting Adams’ assistance in preparing his forthcoming book,
Recherches historiques et politiques sur les États-Unis de l’Amerique Septentrionale, 4 vols., Paris, 1788. Recherches was intended “to confute errors, blunders, & falsities published [ in Europe] on the subject of America.” Mazzei’s principal targets were works by Abbé Guillaume Thomas François Raynal and Abbé Gabriel Bonnot de Mably. In his view, “the writings of the untrue & partial Abbé Raynal, & the good natured & uninformed Abbé de Mably” were harmful to the world’s view of the United States. Adams was a logical source for assistance since he had expressed similar concerns about European treatments of American history and sought to discourage such undertakings, but he was also less concerned than Mazzei about their harmful effects (from Mazzei, 5 Sept., and note 2, 29 Oct., and note 3, both below). In 1788, Mazzei sent Adams two copies of Recherches, one of which is in his library at MB.
While living in Paris at the dawn of the French Revolution, Mazzei became friends with the neoclassical painter Jacques Louis David, although Mazzei’s views were less radical than the artist’s. David is most celebrated as a painter of historical events, but portraiture played a key role in his early career and throughout the French Revolution. David probably started sketching Mazzei’s portrait after the June 1791 flight of Louis XVI, intending his likeness for inclusion in the unfinished canvas “Oath of the Tennis Court.” Although the identity of the sitter has been a subject of some debate, the face, eyes, and hair closely resemble those depicted in an earlier miniature of Mazzei by an unknown artist (vol. 9:483; from Mazzei, 10 Aug. 1785, below; from Mazzei, 11 Jan. 1788, Adams Papers;
Catalogue of JA’s Library
; Philip Mazzei, My Life and Wanderings, transl. S. Eugene Scalia, ed. Margherita Marchione, Morristown, N.J., 1980, p. 320–321; Oxford Art Online; Philippe Bordes, Le Serment du Jeu de Paume de Jacques-Louis David: Le peintre, son milieu et son temps de 1789 à 1792, Paris, 1983, p. 190–191, 192).
Courtesy of Musée du Louvre / Art Resource, New York.
|10. FRANCIS OSBORNE, 5TH DUKE OF LEEDS, ATTRIBUTED TO BENJAMIN WEST, CA. 1769
|Francis Godolphin Osborne (1751–1799), Marquis of Carmarthen, (later the 5th Duke of Leeds), served as William Pitt’s foreign secretary from 1783 to 1791. In his role as American minister, John Adams met with Carmarthen on numerous occasions concerning lingering issues from the Anglo-American peace and a proposed commercial treaty. His meetings with Carmarthen on those issues were unproductive because of British doubts about Adams’ authority to negotiate and Congress’ ability to enforce treaty obligations on the states, but also because other matters, such as the Irish Trade Bill and the conclusion of an Anglo-French commercial treaty, had a higher priority for the Pitt ministry than substantive negotiations with the United States. Writing to Jay on 21 October, xviiiAdams reported on his meeting with Carmarthen the previous day and his frustration with the “useless Conversation” that “was all on one side” and met with silence on the other (below). Adams believed that while Carmarthen was “very civil and obliging,” he was ineffectual in the cabinet and “not enough a man of business” (to Jay, 3 Dec. 1785,
|Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789
Carmarthen’s portrait was painted around 1769, the year he obtained his master’s degree from Oxford’s Christ Church, and shows him outfitted for a costume ball. A masquerade mask is just visible in his right hand and he wears a silk domino gown over his red costume. A tricornered hat, trimmed with gold braid and white feathers, rests on the table behind him. Wigs were then going out of style, but men’s natural hair was often styled as such. The marquis’ light-colored hair is thus rolled at the crown of his head and tied at the nape of the neck with black silk.
This portrait is attributed to the American artist Benjamin West. Highly sought after for portraits, West was appointed historical painter to the king by George III, and thereafter he was freed from seeking private commissions. West, a friend of Adams’, depicted him in his 1784 unfinished portrait of the signers of the 1782 preliminary Anglo-American peace treaty (vol. 14:x, 104;
; to John Jay, 17 June 1785, below; Aileen Ribeiro, The Gallery of Fashion, London, 2000, p. 126–127; Oxford Art Online).
Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London.