Papers of John Adams, volume 17

From Francis Dana

To Elbridge Gerry

From Tristram Dalton, 11 April 1785 Dalton, Tristram Adams, John
From Tristram Dalton
Dear Sir Boston April 11th. 1785

Under date of the 21st Decem, of the last Year, I did myself the honor of addressing You; since which time I have not had the pleasure of receiving any advise of your good Self or esteemed Family, except by enquiry from some of their near connections—who, with me, regret their personal loss in not hearing oftener; tho’ they submit to the consideration of the great importance of your every moment—1

Your appointment to the Court of London has given great Joy & Confidence.

The good Citizens of these States have been for some time very uneasy at the Situation of our Commerce with the Subjects of G Britain— Those of this State have abundant reason of resentment—

To see the Whale Fishery decreasing, and tending rapidly to Annihilation—

To see the Colonies of Nova Scotia & New Brunswick fed and nursed by provisions and supplies, freely exported from these States in British Vessels; while those belonging to the Citizens of them cannot enter their ports without insult—and are not permitted to land any article—

To see British Vessells the only Carriers of our Lumber to their Islands—which must have immediately sunk without a supply from us—while all commerce with their plantations, of the least benefit, is prohibited—

To see British Ships have the preference in the transportation of their own Manufactures to these Ports, owing undoubtedly to an insiduous influence that their interest caused with the Barbary States to interrupt our Navigation—

To see these things, and many others of like nature, has roused the Spirit of the People to so high a degree, that, I am, humbly, of opinion, they would strictly comply with any measures, be they what they might, which Congress should think proper to recommend


The Lre. of Rhode Island have, at length, on their part, passed an Act, vesting Congress with power “to regulate Commerce not founded on Principles of Equality—” There being not more than one State which has not granted this Power, I am in hopes of soon hearing that this recommendation is fully complied with—which must operate in the minds of those who now treat our Union with contempt—2

Another recommendation Congress has in contemplation—Vizt That They be vested with power to regulate Commerce between the several States themselves as well as with foreign Nations—3 if the present disposition and conduct of Connecticutt, & some other of the States, be considered, this measure must appear absolutely necessary

Great expectations are formed from the Negotiation of the present Commission, Who, it is said, are going to London to settle a Treaty of Commerce with that Court—which may take up a different line of Conduct, should Congress be vested with the full powers beforementioned

The General Court of this Commonwealth was prorogued on the 18th Ulto. to the 24th May, after a session of 8 weeks— They did much business— A new Code of Criminal Laws passed—with many other public & private bills— One of them, a Bill incorporating a Company, with powers to build a Bridge over Charles River—where the Ferry now is—which is expected to be passable next November twelve months—4

The Claim of this Commonwealth to Lands Westward of Hudson’s River is in a serious Train— A Foederal Court is appointed, by Congress, to be holden at Williamsburg in Virginia, on the first tuesday of next June— The Agents of this State and the Agents of the State of N York havg, previously, agreed on the Judges—5

The Agents on the part of this Commonwealth are Mr Lowell—Mr Sullivan—Mr Theo Parsons and Mr Rufus King— Mr Johnson of Connecticutt being engaged as Counsel—6 £4500 is granted to carry on the Cause— The Gentlemen of New York appear to be deeply impressed with the importance of the Subject, and treat it with more decency than they have heretofore

You will hear of the Resignation of Governor Hancock—on Account, as he saith, of ill Health— since which Event, however, He has been the gayest Person in Town and has pursued convivial enjoyments uninterruptedly— It is not doubted that Mr Bowdoin will succeed him in the Chair, on a new Chaise— Mr Hancock pushed 13hard to get Mr Cushing, our present chief magistrate, elected—who, by this very endeavor, stands a chance of losing the place of Lt Governor—

My private Affairs oblige me to take leave of the G Court, for the present—which will deprive me of the opportunity of handing you, in future, much political intelligence— indeed, sensible that your informations have been much better from others, I have troubled you with a few Sentiments, rather to show my wishes, than in an expectation of rendering any service—

In every place my Friendship and Esteem continue sincere—and the receipt of any advise from You will afford me the greatest happiness—

Mrs & Miss Dalton request my tendering their most respectful regards to your good Self & to Mrs & Miss Adams, to whom be so kind as to present mine—and beleive me— / Dear Sir— / Your affectiote Friend / And most hble Servant

Tristram Dalton

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “His Excellency John Adams Esqr.


Dalton’s letter of 21 Dec. 1784 reached JA on 4 March 1785. JA replied on the following day (vol. 16:474–477, 542–543). This letter of 11 April was to have been carried by Beriah Norton, but Dalton missed that opportunity and enclosed it with his letter of 19 April, below.


During its February session, the R.I. general assembly passed an act empowering Congress, upon agreement by all the other states, to “regulate, restrain or prohibit the importation of all foreign goods” in foreign ships with foreign crews (Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England, ed. John Russell Bartlett, 10 vols., Providence, 1856–1865, 10:80). But Dalton was too optimistic about the states’ ability or willingness to formulate a unified policy that would be adopted by Congress in order to regulate Anglo-American trade. This was largely because restrictions by one state offered opportunities to another, and as Rufus King indicated in a 4 Dec. 1785 letter to JA, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and South Carolina had yet to follow Massachusetts’ example (Smith, Letters of Delegates , 23:46; Ritcheson, Aftermath of Revolution , p. 43).


On 6 Dec. 1784 Congress created a committee, which it renewed on 24 Jan. 1785, to consider James Monroe’s motion to fundamentally alter Art. 9 of the Articles of Con federation. His intention, as embodied in the committee’s 28 March report and expressed in a 12 April letter to Thomas Jefferson, was to vest “Congress with almost the entire regulation of the commerce of the Union, in exclusion of the particular States.” The proposal was debated on 13 and 14 July, but nothing came of it because of substantial opposition to any increase in Congress’ powers and southern fears that northern ship-owners would monopolize the carrying trade ( JCC , 28:17, 70, 201–205, 538, 539; Smith, Letters of Delegates , 22:78, 323, 326–327). For the development of JA’s views on the amendment of Art. 9 so as to remove British doubts about Congress’ ability to enforce the terms of a commercial treaty on the states, see Charles Storer’s letter of 13 April to JA, and note 3; and JA’s of 26 April to Dalton, both below.


Between 17 Feb. and 16 March, the Mass. General Court passed eighteen separate acts defining penalties and punishments for a variety of crimes, providing for the imprisonment of convicts and petty offenders, and detailing the process for writs of habeas corpus (Mass., Acts and Laws , 1784–1785, p. 117–124, 125, 126, 128, 133–135, 154–155, 157–158, 163–168, 169–176, 178–183).

On 9 March the General Court granted an act of incorporation to the Proprietors of Charles River Bridge (same, p. 135–138). For 14a view of the bridge and an account of its construction and opening on 17 June 1786, the eleventh anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, see AFC , 7:xiii–xiv, 226.


For the origins of the ad hoc federal court intended to meet at Williamsburg, Va., on 7 June 1785 to settle the long-standing Massachusetts–New York boundary dispute, see vol. 16:238, 239, 300–301, 520, 522. Difficulties in obtaining responses and acceptances from the men appointed to sit as judges meant that the court did not meet on its appointed date, resulting, on 9 June, in a postponement of the proceedings until 15 November. But on 2 Nov. the Massachusetts and New York agents returned to Congress to ask that the convening of the court be left to their mutual agreement, explaining that continued difficulty in connecting with some of the judges “renders farther procrastination unavoidable” ( JCC , 28:440–441; 29:865).


On 14 March the Mass. General Court appointed John Lowell, James Sullivan, and Theophilus Parsons to represent the state in settling the Massachusetts–New York boundary dispute and empowered them to hire William Samuel Johnson, a lawyer from Stratford, Conn., as counsel. On 18 March the General Court resolved to add Rufus King (Mass., Acts and Laws , 1784–1785, p. 159–160, 422; ANB ).