Papers of John Adams, volume 17

From James Warren

The American Commissioners to John Jay

501 From James Sullivan, 10 October 1785 Sullivan, James Adams, John
From James Sullivan
Dear Sir Boston October 10th 1785

By the Ship which will sail in a day or two, I beg leave to inform you that our Situation in america is, by no means so pleasing as would be agreeable to you, the poverty of the general treasury, as soon as the money now resting in holland shall be exhausted will be very distressing. a reluctance in the Legislatures to levy taxes and a greater in the people to pay them seem to urge us with great velocity to a change of System in the union. we place too much dependence in forms of Government, while our only remedy is firmness in the Governors and a proper submission in the Governed, aided or rather indeed Supported by frugality industry and a love to our Country. did our people content themselves with living as well as they did before the revolution or three times so well as common people in other Countries live, they might pay taxes enough with ease to discharge in a short time our public debt. our general Court have in their Last Session Instructed their delegates to obtain a Convention “generally to revise and make alteration in the Confederation” but the delegates have ventured to delay it and have wrote the Governor against it.1 I beleive he is the author of the measure but the reason assigned for the measure I cannot conceive to be his, to wit that the Confederation is not capable Suffcient to Justify congress in making treaties &c.

I wish we could have the True method of your reception by the K of G B. the Account published here without Authority is said to hold up the Idea of your being affected, and his replying in a haughty manner that Your feelings were Just and proper. others give a different Construction and are pleased with the Account.2 there is nothing new that I recollect but what I have mentioned. our merchants seem to Close their doors more than usual and unless our Oyl obtains a market in England or even if it does I see no way by which they can make remittances for the great quantity of merchandize they have been Credited with.

I thank you for mentioning Your Son to me I have had an opportunity to see him but once only being out of town while he was here. it would give me peculiar pleasure to Shew him any civilities within my power.

I have the honor to be / Your most obedt Hble Servt

James Sullivan

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “The Honbl Mr Adams”; endorsed by AA2: “Mr Sulivan Octr 10th. / 1785.”


On 1 July the Mass. General Court resolved that Congress should call a general convention to revise the Articles of Confederation. At the same time it approved a letter to the president of Congress and a circular letter to the states supporting its call for a convention. Finally it instructed its delegates to lay the resolutions and letters before Congress, “making every exertion in your power to carry the object of them into effect.” The intent of the General Court was to strengthen Congress’ power to regulate commerce, but the Massachusetts delegates—Elbridge Gerry, Samuel Holten, and Rufus King—were not prepared to submit the General Court’s proposal to Congress and stated their reasons in letters to Gov. James Bowdoin of 18 Aug. and 3 September. The delegates questioned whether the changes desired by the General Court should be temporary or permanent, and, more importantly, they were concerned that if a convention was called, its deliberations could not be restricted only to commercial regulation. Although they did not explicitly say so, their real concern was that a convention might strengthen the central government along the lines proposed by Robert Morris when he sought to fund the national debt through the imposition of an impost and the commutation of pay for Continental Army officers and thus create an aristocratic rather than a republican government. By November the General Court had reconsidered its proposal for a convention and on 25 Nov. resolved “that no further proceedings be had, in consequence of any Resolve then passed on the said subject” (Mass., Acts and Laws , 1784–1785, p. 666–668, 789; Smith, Letters of Delegates , 22:571–572, 610–614; Hall, Politics without Parties , p. 152–155, 164–165).


Sullivan refers to the accounts of JA’s audience with George III published in the 26 Sept. issues of the Boston Gazette and the Boston Independent Ledger, both of which were derived from a letter by Elizabeth Bowdoin Temple. For the report appearing in the Gazette, see JA’s 2 June letter to John Jay, note 18, above.