Papers of John Adams, volume 17

From Benjamin Franklin

From C. W. F. Dumas

From William Smith, 2 May 1785 Smith, William Adams, John
From William Smith
Dear Sr. Boston 2d May. 1785.

I wrote you about 3 Weeks since by Col. Norton & inclos’d you some of our last papers.1 since which a Meeting of the Merchants & Traders of this Town has been held to consider what measures were necessary to be taken, to place the trade of the Continent, on a respectable footing. they have drawn up a petition to Congress, recommending a general system of Commerce thro’ the United-States, & another to our next general assembly that they wou’d pass an act to prevent British Ships from enterg. our ports on the same terms with our own shipg. in short, they have recommendd. that to be done, which shou’d have taken place, immediately on the conclusion of peace—2 Our Cod Fishery has revive’d much the last 2 Years, they have out of Cape-Ann & Marblehead abt. 1/3d the number of 83Schooners they had before the Warr. & other Towns are increasing in proportion, the heavy duty on Oyl prevents the increase of the Whale Fishery.— in the course of 6 Months in the year 1784—372 Vessells enter’d at this Naval Office & 450 were clear’d out in the same time. there are now 26 Distill Houses which on an average are suppos’d to turn out 400 Hhds of Rum annually—8 Sugar Houses which with proper encouragement wou’d manufacture sufficient to supply the State. there are 9 Rope Walks which find constant employ for 100 Men—for their encouragement no Duty is paid on Hemp & to promote the Fishery no Duty is paid on Salt. with Industry & Ecconomy we may become a respectable people, Extravagance & Idleness are the foundation of our present complaints. I have given you a short account of the Trade of this Town. I hope that it will soon increase, it certainly is in our own power to make such regulations as will produce this effect.—

you will please to remember me to Mrs. & Miss A. & Mr John & accept the best wishes of. / Yr. Oblig’d Friend

Wm. Smith

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “His Excellency / John Adams Esqr.”; internal address: “His Excellency Jno. Adams Esqr.”; endorsed: “Mr W. Smith 2. May / 1785.”


Not found.


The petition to Congress, dated 22 April, called for the regulation of British imports by imposing the same duties on goods imported from Britain or in British ships that Britain levied on imports from America (PCC, No. 42, I, f. 346–349). Congress received and tabled the petition on 11 May ( JCC , 28:345). The Mass. General Court received petitions from both the merchants and the tradesmen and manufacturers, and in a speech to that body on 31 May, Gov. James Bowdoin noted “the state of our foreign trade, which has given so general an uneasiness, and the operation of which, through the extravagant importation & use of foreign manufactures, has occasioned so large a balance against us, demands a serious consideration” (Records of the States: Mass., House Journal, A.1b, Reel 11, Unit 3, p. 44). On 23 June the merchants were rewarded by the adoption of a navigation act prohibiting all imports in vessels owned “either in whole or in part” by British subjects and imposing a duty on other foreign ships double that paid by American vessels (Mass., Acts and Laws , 1784–1785, p. 439–443). On 2 July, responding to the plea by the tradesmen and manufacturers, the General Court enacted a protective tariff “for the encouragement of agriculture and manufactures, and for promoting industry, frugality and economy” (same, p. 453–457). For an account of the unrest in Massachusetts over the trade imbalance and the conflict between the merchants and the tradesmen and manufacturers, see Merrill Jensen, The New Nation, N.Y., 1950, p. 290–293.