Papers of John Adams, volume 17

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 ).

To Elbridge Gerry, 13 April 1785 Adams, John Gerry, Elbridge
To Elbridge Gerry
Dear sir Auteuil near Paris April 13. 1785

I am, this moment informed, that the Packet is arrived but neither Dr F. nor I have any Letters as yet.1 this is unlucky, because We Shall not be able to answer by this Packet.

I Suppose it is a question with you whether you shall Send a Minister to Spain; I really hope you will. it is a question too no doubt, who to send.— There will be some perhaps many, perhaps all for Mr Charmichael. I know not this Gentn personally. He is active and intelligent, by all, I have learnt. He has made himself Friends among the Spanyards, and among the foreign Ministers, and at the French Court, and at Passy.2 I see that the Comte de Vergennes, the Duc de la Vauguion who is gone to Spain,3 and Dr Franklin, have an affection for him, and are labouring to Support him. These Circumstances are much in favour of his Happiness, and if he has that pure and inflexible Virtue, that thorough Penetration into the Hearts of Men and the Systems of Affairs, and that unchangeable Attachment to our Country that you require in a public Man you will honour him with your Support. You know from his Correspondence with Congress whether he is this Man. I know nothing to the Contrary. But I confess to you, that the ardent Friendship of Courtiers and Diplomatick Characters, to any American Ministers is to me, a Cause of Suspicion. I know it to be impossible for any Man to do his Duty to his Country, and preserve it, all he can hope for is to be esteemed and respected, it is well if he is not hated and despised.

But Mr Jay is Master of the Character in question. I have heard with Pleasure that Mr Charmichael in their last Interview Settled 15Things to the satisfaction of Mr Jay, and cleared up some Things which Mr Jay had not been Satisfied in. You may know the Truth from him. I am, disposed to favour Charmichael, from all I have heard of him, and know of him, at least so far as to wish for his Continuance in service provided you dont see Symptoms of his Endeavours to Support his Character upon foreign Interests, at the Expence of those of our Country. But there is too marked a Love for him for my Taste, in Characters in whose Friendship for America I have no Confidence. The greatest Danger to our foreign affairs has ever arisen from this, and ever will. from an Endeavour to obtain a Reputation in America, by gaining the Friendship of Courtiers and obtaining their Recommendations in their private Letters for themselves And their Connections. These favours are never obtained but by Sacrifices.— it is remarkable that Native Americans are rather avoided and there is a constant Endeavour to throw American Employment in Europe into the Hands of Persons born or educated in Europe, or at least Such as have lived long enough in Europe to become assimilated.

There is nothing more dreadfull to America, than to have the Honour, the Reputation and the Bread of their Ministers abroad depend upon their adopting Sentiments in American affairs conformable to those which may be entertained and endeavored to be propagated by the Ministers with whom they treat.— You had infinitely better choose the Comte de Florida Blanca & the Comte de Vergennes at once for your foreign Ambassadors. I have seen and felt so much of it, that I dread it, like Death and Mr Jay does not dread it less.—

And you have not a lesse important Thing to attend to in the Choice of a Minister for St. James’s.— Whoever he is, he will be in more danger there than any where, of too much complaisance to Ministers Courtiers, Princes & King. indeed, it is probable to me that whoever goes there, first if he is honest will have his Reputation ruined in America, by the Insinuations which will go against him, both in public Papers and private Letters. Lyars and Slanderers are more impudent there than any where, and they have more old Connections in America among whom to circulate them.

With much Affection your old Fred & very humble / servant.

John Adams

My Regards to your Colleagues. if Temple comes to N. York and is received as Consull I hope you will continue some way to make 16Peace or Truce between him and Sullivan.— I hope Temple will be prudent and cautious if not he may do Mischief. But you have Weight with him, I know.4

RC (ICHi:John Adams Papers); internal address: “Hon. Mr Gerry.”; endorsed: “Auteiul Lettr / His Excelly Mr / Adams April / 13 1785 / ansd July 14.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 107.


In a note to Benjamin Franklin of 13 April, JA expressed his gratitude “for the Information that the Packet is arrived, which he had not heard of before” (PPAmP:Franklin Papers). The French packet Courier de L’Orient sailed from New York for Lorient on 19 March (Pennsylvania Packet).


William Carmichael, John Jay’s former secretary, was currently serving as the unofficial U.S. chargé d’affaires at Madrid. He remained in that capacity until 1790, when he finally received a formal appointment as such. Never appointed minister, he was replaced by William Short, who was appointed minister, in 1793 ( ANB ; Repertorium , 3:469).


Paul François de Quélen de Stuer de Causade, Duc de La Vauguyon, served as French ambassador to the Netherlands from 1776 to 1784. JA counted him as a friend despite the French diplomat’s opposition, on orders from Versailles, to JA’s efforts to obtain Dutch recognition of the United States (vol. 16:567, 568). La Vauguyon took up his new post as ambassador to Spain in May 1785 and served until June 1790 ( Repertorium , 3:125–126, 140).


John Temple, a native Bostonian, former customs official, and one of the numerous Temple family in England, was appointed the first British consul general to the United States in Feb. 1785. Temple was well known to JA, and in July Temple and his wife, Elizabeth Bowdoin Temple, were guests at the Adamses’ first formal dinner after their arrival in London ( AFC , 6:81, 214).

JA’s reference to James Sullivan alludes to the newspaper war that broke out between Sullivan and Temple in 1781 during Temple’s visit to America to seek an Anglo-American peace through reconciliation. For the controversy, which turned on where Temple’s loyalties really lay, see vol. 11:xiv, 452; and for JA’s view of Temple and the likelihood that he would be effective as the British consul, see JA’s 11 Sept. letter to Gerry, below.