Papers of John Adams, volume 17

The American Commissioners to John Jay

From the Baron von Thulemeier

From Thomas Jefferson, 11 October 1785 Jefferson, Thomas Adams, John
From Thomas Jefferson
Dear Sir Paris Oct. 11. 1785.1

Colo. Franks and mr̃ Randolph arrived last night. this enables me to send copies of all the Barbary papers to Congress by the mr̃ Fitzhughs, together with the Prussian treaty. they wait till tomorrow for this purpose. Considering the treaty with Portugal as among the most important to the U.S. I some time ago took occasion at Versailles to ask the Portuguese Ambassador if he had yet received an answer from his court on the subject of our treaty. he said not, but that he would write again. his Secretaire d’Ambassade called on me two days ago & translated into French as follows a paragraph of a letter from his minister to the Ambassador. “relativement à ce que V. E. nous a fait part de ce qu’elle avoit parlé avec le ministre de l’Amerique, cette puissance doit etre dejà persuadée par d’effets la maniere dont ses vaisseaux ont eté accueillis içi: et par consequence sa majesté auroit beaucoup de satisfaction à entretenir une parfaite harmonie et bonne correspondence entre les memes etats unis. mais il seroit à propos de commencer par la nomination reciproque des deux parties des personnes qui, au moins avec la caractere d’Agens, informeroient reciproquement leurs constituents de ce qui pourroit conduire à la connoissance des interets des deux nations sans prejudice de l’un ou de l’autre. c’est le premier pas qu’il paroit convenable de donner pour conduire à la fin proposée.” by this I suppose they will prefer proceeding as Spain has done, & that we may consider it as definitive of our commission to them. I communicate it to Congress that they may take such other measures for leading on a negotiation as they may think proper.2


You know that the 3d. article of instructions of Oct. 29. 1783. to the Ministers for negotiating peace, directed them to negociate the claim for the prizes taken by the Alliance & sent in to Bergen, but delivered up by the court of Denmark: you recollect also that this has been deferred in order to be taken up with the general negotiation for an alliance. Capt Jones desiring to go to America proposed to me that he should leave the sollicitation of this matter in the hands of Doctor Bancroft, and to ask you to negotiate it through the minister of Denmark at London. the delay of Baron Waltersdorf is one reason for this. your better acquaintance with the subject is a second. the Danish minister here being absent is a third: & a fourth and more conclusive one is that, having never acted as one of the commissioners for negotiating the peace I feel an impropriety in meddling with it at all, & much more to become the principal agent. I therefore told capt Jones I would sollicit your care of this business. I beleive he writes to you on the subject.—3 mr̃ Barclay sets out in two or three days. Lamb will follow as soon as the papers can be got from this ministry. having no news, I shall only add assurances of the esteem with which I am Dear Sir / your friend & servant

Th: Jefferson

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mr̃ Adams.”; endorsed: “Mr Jefferson Oct 11 / 1785”; notation by CFA: “not published.”


JA did not receive this letter until 4 Nov. because Sir Robert Preston, to whom it was entrusted, misplaced it, for which see JA’s 24 Oct. letter to Jefferson, and note 1, below.


Regarding what your excellency sent us on your conversation with the American minister, that power should already be persuaded that, in effect, from the manner in which their vessels have been received here, His Majesty accordingly would have great satisfaction in maintaining a perfect harmony and good correspondence with the United States. But it would be proper to begin by the reciprocal nomination by the two parties of persons, at least in the character of agents, who would mutually inform their constituents of that which would lead them to an understanding of the interests of the two nations without prejudice to either. This is the first step that it appears reasonable to take in order to produce the desired end.

Jefferson included the French passage in his 11 Oct. letter to John Jay and there described its origins and its consequences in essentially the same terms, meaning that un der the joint commission the American commissioners could go no further (Jefferson, Papers , 8:606–609). Portugal had determined that there would be no treaty, so it was up to Congress to decide how to proceed, but see JA’s 5 Nov. letter to Jay, and note 3, below.


For the instruction of 29 Oct. 1783 and a brief account of the Danish-American dispute over the frigate Alliance’s prizes, which in 1779 were sent into Bergen, Norway, and then returned to the British by Denmark, and Benjamin Franklin’s efforts to settle it, see vol. 15:331–332, 333–334. For JA’s response to this request, which he received on or about 4 Nov. 1785, see his letter to Jefferson of that date, below. John Paul Jones did not write until 7 Jan. 1786 (Adams Papers), and then he requested JA to support the efforts of Dr. Edward Bancroft to whom he had sent the relevant documents. JA replied on 21 Jan. (LbC, APM Reel 113) that he would assist Bancroft “as fully as may be in my power” but also recommended that Jones write to the Baron von Walterstorff at Paris.