Papers of John Adams, volume 17

From Thomas Jefferson, 24 September 1785 Jefferson, Thomas Adams, John
From Thomas Jefferson
Dear Sir Paris Sep. 24. 1785.

I have received your favor of the 18th. inclosing your compliments on your presentation. the sentiments you therein expressed were such as were entertained in America till the Commercial proclamation, & such as would again return were a rational conduct to be adopted by Gr. Britain. I think therefore you by no means compromitted yourself or our country, nor expressed more than it would be our interest to encourage, if they were disposed to meet us.1 I am pleased however to see the answer of the king. it bears the marks of suddenness & surprize, & as he seems not to have had time for reflection we may suppose he was obliged to find his answer in the real sentiments of his heart, if that heart has any sentiment. I have no doubt however that it contains the real creed of an Englishman, and that the word which he has let escape is the true word of the aenigma. “the moment I see such sentiments as yours prevail & a disposition to give this country the preference, I will &c.” all this I stedfastly beleive. but the condition is impossible. our interest calls for a perfect equality in our conduct towards these two nations; but no preferences any where. if however circumstances should ever oblige us to shew a preference, a respect for our character, if we had no better motive, would decide to which it should be given.— my letters from members of Congress render it doubtful whether they would not that full time should be given for the present disposition of America to mature itself & to produce a permanent improvement in the federal constitution, rather than, by removing the incentive, to prevent the improvement. it is certain that our commerce is in agonies at present, & that these would be relieved by opening the British ports in the W. Indies. it remains to consider whether a temporary continuance under these sufferings would be paid for by the amendment it is likely to produce. however I beleive there is no fear that Great Britain will puzzle us by leaving it in our choice to hasten or delay a treaty.

Is insurance made on Houdon’s life? I am uneasy about it, lest we 466should hear of any accident. as yet there is no reason to doubt their safe passage. if the insurance is not made I will pray you to have it done immediately.2

As I have not received any London newspapers as yet I am obliged to ask you what is done as to them, lest the delay should proceed from some obstacle to be removed. there is a mr̃ Thompson at Dover who has proposed to me a method of getting them post free: but I have declined resorting to it till I should know in what train the matter is actually.3

I have the honour to be with the most perfect esteem Dear Sir / Your friend & servt

Th: Jefferson

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mr Jefferson / Sept. 24. 1785.”; notation by CFA: “published in his Writings / Vol 1st. p 319,” that is, Jefferson, Correspondence, ed. Randolph, 1:319–320.


With his letter of 18 Sept. (Jefferson, Papers , 8:525–526), JA enclosed accounts of his exchanges with George III on 1 June and with Queen Charlotte on 9 June, for which see JA’s letters to John Jay of 2 and 10 June, both above. The enclosures have not been found, but the versions sent to Jefferson were likely derived from undated FC’s that are now at [1 June] in the Adams Papers. These accounts differ in some respects from those sent to Jay, for which see the notes to the 2 and 10 June letters to Jay. In his letter to Jefferson, JA asked his colleague to “give me in confidence your Opinion of them. Is there any thing said by me which I ought not to have said? Is there any expression exceptionable? Have I compromised myself or the public in any Thing? more than ought to be.” There is no indication as to why JA waited so long to send the accounts of his audiences to Jefferson.


For the successful procurement of life insurance for Jean Antoine Houdon, see Richard Price’s [22 Oct.] letter and JA’s to Jefferson of 24 Oct., both below.


For Dover wine merchant Thomas Thompson’s correspondence with Jefferson about supplying him with London newspapers, see Jefferson, Papers , 8:366, 398, 423.