Papers of John Adams, volume 17

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.

To John Jay, 13 April 1785 Adams, John Jay, John
To John Jay
Sir Auteuil near Paris. April 13. 1785

I have written, by the late Packetts, for the Orders of Congress concerning near a Million of Guilders in the Hands of Messs. Willinks &c in Amsterdam, and requesting the Ratification of my last Loan, and other Subjects. by the February Packet, hourly expected I hope to have the Honour of Letters from you, with the Pleasure of Congress relative to those Matters.1

Our joint Dispatches will Shew, all the Information We have yet obtained concerning the Power of the Barbary States and the Costliness of their Friendship.2 We must proceed Slowly and cautiously.— I often hear the Trade of the Mediterranean and of the Levant Slightly Spoken of, and represented as of Small Value to the United States. I think very differently, with an absolute Certainty that time will demonstrate me in the right. But the rise of Insurance on all our Trade, is to be added to the full Value of the Trade We may 17have, in the Mediterranean and the Levant. and what is worse, We have the Cries of our Countrymen, in Captivity, in Chains, and exposed to many Cruelties to consider. it is not the Loss of Property which has induced any Nation to become tributary to them but this inhuman Practice of enslaving Captives. France England and Holland, have avoided Stipulating in Treaties to pay a Tribute: but Sweeden & Denmark have not, I hope we shall not imitate the Example of these last. if We are directed to negotiate, We shall probably negotiate through the French Consul, but it will be necessary finally for Congress to Send Consuls to Sign the Treaties, and to make the Presents.— We have collected Some Information which will be usefull to our Country, respecting these Powers: I wish We Were able to do as much, under our Commission to Spain. That Court will not treat here, and for Us to go to Madrid is a dangerous Measure. We know not how much time, the Negotiation there may require, and if We go, and return without Success, it will be industrously Spread by all the Diplomatick Corps, and will hurt the Reputation of our Country in Europe, and elate the English beyond Measure, inconveniences which may be avoided, by your conducting the Negotiation with Mr Guardoqui at New York, or by Congress Sending a Minister to Madrid.3 this I know is much desired by the Spanish Court, and by this Court, as many Simptoms have indicated, particularly a Conversation between the Duke de la Vauguion and me, a few days before his Departure for Madrid. a Minister at Madrid would be usefull to Us in conducting this Business with the Barbary Powers and is in all respects as far as I can see a desirable Measure.— The Expence, of maintaining three Ministers, is the same whether they reside at Auteuil, Passy and Paris, or at Madrid, Versailles and the Hague, and I am Sure We could not do less Seperately than We are likely to do together.

You remember, Sir, that one of the first Things Mr Hartly Said to Us, was to propose in the Name of the King his Master and his Minister Mr Fox that Ministers should be exchanged immediately between Congress and st James’s.— You have recd before now, the formal Proposition from the Marquis of Carmaerthen, transmitted to Us, through the Duke of Dorsett to the same Effect.4 The Appointment of Mr Temple, as Consull General is a Still Stronger Indication of a real Wish in the Ministry, that this Measure may be pursued, and of a Secret Consciousness that they shall be obliged to treat. in their Refusal to treat here they would be justified by all the Courts and diplomatick Bodies in the World. I make no Scruple nor 18Hesitation to advise that a Minister may be sent nor will I be intimidated from giving this Advice by any Apprehension that I shall be suspected of a Design or Desire of going to England myself. Whoever goes will neither find it a lucrative or a pleasant Employment, nor will he be envied by me. I know that for years if he does his Duty, he will find no personal Pleasure or Advantage. But the Measure, of Sending a Minister to England appears to me, the Corner Stone of the true American system of Politicks in Europe and if it is not done We shall have Cause to repent it for a long time when it will be too late. Every Thing is callculating as it appears to me, to involve Us in a War with England. Cries and Prejudices are fomented in England and America, which have no other Tendency but to involve Us in a War, long before We shall be ready. Ten or fifteen Years hence, We Should have nothing to fear from a War with England, if they should be mad enough to force Us upon it. at present it would distress Us extreamly, altho it would ruin England. My System is a very Simple one.— Let Us preserve the Friedship of France and Holland, and Spain if We can and in Case of a War between France and England, let Us preserve our Neutrality, if possible. in order to preserve our Friendship with France and Holland, and Spain it will be usefull to Us to avoid a War with England. to avoid a War with England We should take the regular Diplomatick Steps to negotiate, to settle disputes as they rise, and to place the Intercourse between the two Nations upon a certain footing. Then We may understand one another, avoid Deceits and Misrepresentations. it is so much the Interest of England that We should be Neutral in a future War, that I am perswaded that cool and candid Reasoning with their Ministers upon the subject would convince them of it. The Force of Truth is greater, even upon the Minds of Politicians than the World in general is aware of. England is now mad with the hope of our having a War with Spain & even France in consequence of the Family Compact, and of our courting them to become our Allies and Undertake our Defence. Surely it would not be difficult for an American Minister to convince a British one that this is Chimerical, and that the only Thing they ought to expect from America is neutrality. The real Thing the English have to fear is our joining their Ennemies against them in a future War. She has no Alliance to hope from Us, unless Spain Should force Us into a War, and even then We ought not to ask or accept Aid from England, if We could avoid it, unless France from the Family Compact Should join Spain.

This Reasoning and this System you see, goes upon the 19Supposition that We are independent of France in Point of Moral and Political Obligation. But if the sentiments of America are otherwise and those Principles are general which you and I once heard delivered with great Formality and Ennergy “viz That America ought to join France, against England in two future Wars, one to pay the Debt of Gratitude already contracted, and the other to Shew ourselves as generous as France had been”5 I confess myself all wrong, and to be so totally ignorant of the Rights Duties and Interests of my Country as to be altogether unfit for any Share in their publick Affairs foreign or Domestic.

At any rate, our Negotiations in this Place, have not answered the Ends proposed by Congress, and expected by the People of America, nor is there now Scarcely a possibility that they should. I am very happy in my Friend Mr Jefferson, and have nothing, but my Inutility to disgust me, with a Residence here. But I presume Congress Will not think it expedient to renew the Commissions, or attempt any longer to carry on Negotiations with the rest of the World in this Place. if they Should however, I hope they will think of some other Gentleman in my Place, as it is my desire to return home, at the Expiration of the Term of the present Commissions.

With great and Sincere Esteem and Respect / I have the Honour to be, Sir your most / obedient and most humble sert

John Adams

RC (PCC, No. 84, V, f. 421–428); internal address: “His Excellency John Jay Esqr / Secretary of State for the Department / of foreign Affairs.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 107.


See JA’s letters to Jay of 31 Jan. and 9 March, and Jay’s 11 Feb. letter enclosing the ratified contract for JA’s 1784 loan (vol. 16:508–509, 518–520, 553–555). For the arrival of the 11 Feb. 1785 letter, see JA’s of 24 April to Jay, below.


Of 13 April [(1), (2)], below.


Diego de Gardoqui reached the United States in May and on 2 July presented his credentials to Congress as the Spanish chargé d’affaires, vested with plenipotentiary powers to negotiate a commercial treaty with the United States. On 21 July Congress issued a commission to John Jay for negotiations with Gardoqui. This resulted in two years of intense negotiations between Jay and Gardoqui. They found it relatively easy to agree on provisions concerning commercial relations and the treatment of each other’s citizens. But the treaty had to deal also with the southern and western borders of the United States and its right to free navigation of the Mississippi River as established in the 1783 Anglo-American peace treaty. Ultimately it was the inability of either party to agree to language on those latter issues that was acceptable to Congress, as well as Congress’ own increasing irrelevancy, that brought the negotiations to an end in the spring of 1787 ( JCC , 28:402; 29:494–496, 567–569; Samuel Flagg Bemis, Pinckney’s Treaty, New Haven, 1960, p. 60–108). There would be no Spanish-American agreement until 27 Oct. 1795, with the conclusion of Pinckney’s Treaty or, as it was formally designated, a “Treaty of Friendship, Limits, and Navigation” (Miller, Treaties , 2:318–345).


For David Hartley’s proposal concerning the exchange of ministers, see JA’s 24 May 20 1783 letter to Robert R. Livingston; and for the Duke of Dorset’s “formal Proposition,” see his letter to the commissioners of 24 Nov. 1784 (vols. 14:491; 16:435–436).


JA first quoted, and commented on, this assertion by Benjamin Franklin in his second unsent letter to Samuel Osgood of 9 April 1784, but see also his later view contained in a 26 June 1811 letter to the Boston Patriot (vols. 13:436; 16:128).