Papers of John Adams, volume 17

To John Jay, 7 May 1785 Adams, John Jay, John
To John Jay
Sir Auteuil near Paris May 7. 1785

In a former Letter I expressed a Doubt whether I Should go directly to London, or first to the Hague in order to take Leave:1 but upon further Reflexion, as I have not received a regular Letter of Recall, and another Minister to their High Mightinesses is not yet arrived, it Seems best to avoid Occasion of too much Speculation among our Creditors in that Country for the present. The Minister who shall do me the Honour to Suceed me, will probably bring my Letter of Recall, and I hope the Permission of Congress for me to go over to Holland, to pay there my last Official Respects, provided the State of our Affairs in London will admit of my Absence for the Space of Time necessary, which may be three Weeks. But if Congress should think this Ceremony unnecessary, or I Should be engaged in Business for the Public which cannot conveniently be left, I may take Leave of their High Mightinesses, and of his most Serene Highness, by a respect full Letter, which perhaps may answer the End. I hope to be in London by the End of this Month.

As We have no Funds in England, or any other Part of Europe but in Holland, I must ask the favour of Congress to transmit me, their Authority by a Resolution, to draw upon their Bankers in Holland for the Amount of my Salary, and the Salary of Mr Smith, and Some little Disbursements which may be indispensable.2

My Friend and Colleague Mr Jefferson, brought with him an Order, to receive of Mr Grand a Sum of Money in Advance, to furnish his House, but Mr Grand having no Money in his Hands, but on the Contrary being much in Advance, made some difficulties which induced Mr Jefferson to apply to me. I accordingly drew upon your Bankers in Amsterdam a Bill in his Favour, for Six Thousand Guilders which he has received. as Mr Grand could only have advanced the Money by drawing on the Same Fund, one Commission has been Saved by this Means and I hope for the Approbation of Congress.

Coll Humphreys brought with him, an order upon Mr Grand for Money to pay for a Medal to be Struck for each of the Generals Washington Gates and Green and for some Swords adjudged by Congress to other Officers, and upon Mr Grands Inability to make the Advances He applied to me.3 As We Supposed it to be the 98Undoubted Intention of Congress that these Small Presents should be made in honour of those great Events and immortal Actions, I consented to draw for the Money upon the Same Bankers to the Amount of about a Thousand Pounds. this also I hope will meet the Approbation of Congress.4

If you will pardon Sir a Transisition to a subject not much connected with the foregoing I may fill the rest of my Paper with an Observation which may have its Uses. The extream Severity of cold and drouth which has continued through the Months of February March April and to this day, has brought upon this Country, and perhaps others a Serious Calamity. There is Such a Scarcity of Herbage and Pasturage, that the poor People in many Places have been obliged to kill their Cattle, to prevent them from starving. In many other Places, they have been necessitated to feed their Cattle with Grain and Bread and other Things necessary for the Support of their Families. The daily Processions which pass before my Door, in Prayers for Warmth and Rain, are afflicting to Humanity. These Circumstances however have contributed to silence the Clamours of various Provinces against the Commerce between Us and the french West India Islands more than all the Authority of the King and Influence of Government.—5 The whole Nation must see, and the English too will probably See the Impossibility of Supplying their Islands with What and Flour and even the Necessity of importing considerable Quantities of these Articles as well as Rice from the United states into Europe. it is generally agreed that the Crops of Grass will be So diminished, that even if the Wheat should not fail they shall be obliged to apply so much of the latter to the subsistence of their Cattle, that they must import from Us. I wish you a plentifull Season, and industrious Husbandmen, that you may be able to supply the Wants of all Europe as well as your own. With the greatest Respect and / Esteem, I have the Honour to be, Sir your most obedient / servant

John Adams

RC (PCC, No. 84, V, f. 397–400); internal address: “Mr Secretary Jay.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 107.


Of 4 May, above.


Despite JA’s plea, no authorization from Congress to draw on the Dutch bankers for salaries and expenses was forthcoming, but see also Elbridge Gerry’s 14 July letter, and note 2, below.


For a listing of the recipients of the medals and swords that were voted by Congress over the course of the war and that David Humphreys was to procure in France, see Jefferson, Papers , 16:54–55. That volume of the Papers also contains images of several of the medals, a long editorial note on Congress’ awards, as well as Thomas Jefferson’s description of the medals and his notes on their history (same, p. xxxv–xli, 53–66, 69–79).

99 4.

With regard to the ƒ6,000 advance on Jefferson’s salary and the £1,000 to pay for Humphreys’ purchase of awards to officers of the Continental Army, JA wrote to the loan consortium on 10 Oct. 1784. Replying on the 28th, the consortium indicated that it would honor Jefferson’s draft and that there were sufficient funds for the Paris banking firm of Van den Yver Frères & Co. to honor a draft for £1,000 to meet Humphreys’ needs (vol. 16:339–340, 359). However, JA did not authorize the payment to Humphreys until 19 May 1785 when he wrote to Jefferson (Jefferson, Papers , 8:157) and to Van den Yver Frères & Co. (private owner, 2008) that Humphreys’ draft would be honored. JA apparently never informed the consortium of this transaction, for the consequences of which see the consortium’s letter of [1]8 Nov., below.


The cold weather and drought afflicting France and the other nations of Europe resulted from the June 1783 eruption of Iceland’s Laki volcano. The eruption expelled an enormous amount of ash, and in 1783 caused a blue haze over much of Europe and a very hot summer. The next three winters, however, were the coldest in 250 years, with that of 1784–1785 lasting in the Paris region until April and bringing with it a spring drought (Alwyn Scarth, Vulcan’s Fury: Man Against the Volcano, New Haven, 1999, p. 107–111, 113–114,117–119). For JA’s comments on the conditions he observed during his journey to London in late May, see his letters to Jefferson of 22 and 23 May, both below. AA read this letter with its reference to the drought, for in her 8 May letter to Isaac Smith Sr., she wrote, “there has been no rain worth mentioning for more than 3 Months, which has brought upon this County a serious calamity and such a scarcity of Herbage that the poor people in many places have been obliged to kill their cattle to prevent them starving. But as it must be an ill wind which blows no good to any one, the drought will contribute to silence the provinces and the Clamours which they are making against the commerce of America with the French West India Islands” ( AFC , 6:135–136).

To John Jay, 8 May 1785 Adams, John Jay, John
To John Jay
Sir Auteuil near Paris May 8. 1785

In executing the Instructions of Congress, of the Seventh of March last, as well as all former Orders, which concern the Court of Great Britain, the Ministry will no doubt find my Commission and Letter of Credence Sufficient Authority. But you will See by a Letter from the Duke of Dorsett, which your Ministers here Sometime Since transmitted, that the British Cabinet have conceived doubts, whether Congress have Power to treat of commercial Matters, and whether Our States Should not Seperately grant their Full Powers to a Minister.1 I think it may be taken for granted that the States will never think of Sending Seperate Ambassadors, or of authorising directly those appointed by Congress. the Idea of thirteen Plenipotentiaries meeting together in a Congress at every Court in Europe, each with a Full Power and distinct Instructions from his State, presents to view Such a Picture of Confusion, Altercation, Expence and endless delay, as must convince every Man of its Impracticability. neither is there less absurdity in Supposing, that all the States Should unite in the Seperate Election of the Same Man, Since there is not, never was and never will be, a Citizen whom 100each State would Seperately prefer, for conducting the Negotiation. it is equally inconceivable that each State Should Seperately Send a Full Power and Seperate Instructions, to the Ministers Appointed by Congress. What an heterogeneous Mass of Papers full of different Objects, various Views, and inconsistent and contradictory Orders, must Such a Man pull out of his Porte Feuille, from time to time to regulate his Judgment and his Conduct? He must be accountable too to thirteen different Tribunals for his Conduct: a Situation in which no Man would ever consent to Stand, if it is possible which I dont believe that any State Should ever wish for Such a System. I Suppose too, that the Confederation has already Settled all these Points, and that Congress alone have authority, to treat with foreign Powers and to appoint Ambassadors and foreign Ministers, and that the States have Seperately no Power to do either. Yet it is plain from the Duke of Dorsetts Letter that the British Cabinet have conceived a different Opinion. this is to be accounted for only by conjecturing that they have put an erroneous Construction on the Limitation, Restriction or Exception, in the Article of our Confederation, which gives to Congress the Power of Appointing Ambassadors and making Treaties.2 This Limitation is confined to Treaties of Commerce all others Congress have full Power to make. from this Limitation, however, will probably arise a great deal of Difficulty, and delay to me. if the British Ministry wish and Seek for delays this will be their pretext, but even if they Should wish for dispatch which is not likely they may have Propositions to make which will fall within the Limitation, and in Such Case it will not be in my Power to agree with them. I can only transmit the Propositions to Congress, who will perhaps transmit them to the States, and no Man can foresee when the Answers will be received So that the Business can be brought to a Conclusion.

It is a long time that Congress have appeared to be aware of these Obstructions in the Way of our Prosperity but it does not yet appear that the States have been Sufficiently attentive to them to remove them. it is not to be Supposed that Congress will ever frame any Treaty of Commerce with any foreign Power, which shall be unequal, & partial among the States, or oppressive upon any one of them. and it is very clear, from the Situation and Circumstances of the Country, that no Such Treaty can ever be carried into Execution or last long. if the States Should be unwilling to confer upon Congress a Power to make Treaties of Commerce unlimited in Point of 101Time, it Should Seem that time alone might be a Sufficient Restriction, or the Limitation might be to a particular Nation, as the English for Example, for a certain time, although it must be always remembered, that We cannot favour the English with any Thing, which will not become common to other Nations the French, the Dutch & Sweeds at least.

It is very possible that the Cabinet of St James’s may decline, even entering into any conferences at all, upon the Subject of a Treaty of Commerce, untill the Powers of Congress are enlarged. if they Should the People of America cannot be too Soon informed of it, and turn the deliberations in their Assemblies to this Object. in this Case the only present hope of your Minister will be, in obedience to his orders to convince the British Ministry, of the necessary Tendency of their restrictions on our Trade to incapacitate our Merchants in a certain degree to make Remittances to theirs, to urge the Surrender of the Posts, the Restitution of the Negroes, the Explanation respecting the Debts, and those other matters pointed out in his Instructions, in which the Right, & Power and Equity are too clear, to leave any plausible Pretences for delay, and to transmit by the earliest Opportunities to Congress full & true Accounts of his Proceedings.

On the 30. of April 1784 Congress [“]recommended to the Legislatures of the States to vest them for 15 Years with the Power to prohibit any Merchandises from being imported or exported, in Vessells belonging to or navigated by the Subjects of any Power with whom, We Shall have no Treaty of Commerce: and to prohibit the Subjects of any foreign State, unless authorised by Treaty from importing into the United States any Merchandizes, which are not the Produce or Manufacture of the dominions of the Sovereign whose Subjects they are.” provided that the Assent of nine States be necessary.3

To Suppose that the British Cabinet, intended by the doubts of our Powers, expressed in the Duke of Dorsetts Letter, to assist Congress in obtaining from the Legislatures, a complyance with those Recommendations, would be more charitable than their Conduct in any other Instance would justify. I rather think it was a mere Excuse for delay. But it ought to opperate upon the Minds of the People of the States and their Assemblies, as a powerfull Incentive to Compliance. But it may be Still a question whether a Compliance of all the States, will Still Satisfy the British Cabinet, and they may require 102an express Vote of unlimited Authority to Congress for a certain Term at least from each State to enter into a Treaty of Commerce with them.

I have not yet been able to learn with certainty how many and which of the States have agreed to those Recommendations of Congress. it will now be necessary for me to be very attentive to this and to request of you, Sir the earliest and most minute Intelligence of every Proceeding of Congress and the States relative to it.

The last Year, must have been a prosperous Period in the United States: the high Prices of their Produce, and the low Prices of foreign Merchandizes are a demonstration of it. Yet our Shipping, our Seamen, our carrying Trade have been discouraged. present Ease and even Wealth Should not be our only Object. We ought to attend to Considerations of Strength and Defence. our Situation is different from Some of the Powers of Europe who have neglected their own Defence. Switzerland is Situated So, that if she Should be attacked by one Neighbour She would infallibly be defended by two others. if attacked by Sardinia She would be defended by France and the Emperor, if by the Emperor France & Sardinia would Support her if by France the Emperor and Sardinia would unite to protect her. This is so fully known to her and all her Neighbours, that She fears nothing, and is at no Expence. Holland if Attacked by France found a Friend in England When Attacked by England France Supported her, When the Emperor threatned her she found a Friend in France too. and She will forever be Sure, that neither of these three great Powers can ever Suffer her to fall a prey to any of the others.— She has relied so much upon this as to neglect her Defence, to her great regret at present But what are Switzerland and Holland, Small Powers limited by Nature, so that they never can be great to the United States of America, destined beyond a doubt to be the greatest Power on Earth, and that within the Life of Man. This is so well known, that instead of being overlooked among the Powers like Holland and Switzerland, We shall be more an Object of Jealousy than any other Power Upon Earth. all the Powers knew that it is impossible for any the proudest of them to Conquer Us, and therefore if We Should be attacked by any one, the others will not be fond of undertaking our defence. knowing We can defend ourselves, they will leave Us to do it, and if they assist Us at all it will not be untill We have done the Work and then it will be feebly and only with a View of deriving more Benefit and Reputation from 103it, than they do Us good. They will be pleased to see Us weakned and our Grouth a little retarded. it behoves the United States then to knit themselves together in the Bands of Affection and mutual Confidence, Search their own Resources to the Bottom, form their foreign Commerce into a System, and encourage their own Navigation and Seamen, and to these Ends their carrying Trade and I am much afraid We shall never be able to do this, unless Congress are vested with full Power, under the Limitations prescribed of 15 Years and the Concurrence of Nine states, of forming Treaties of Commerce with foreign Powers.

With great Esteem, and Respect / I have the Honour to be, Sir Your / most Obedient and most humble / servant

John Adams

RC (PCC, No. 84, V, f. 401–409); internal address: “The Honourable John Jay Esqr / Secretary of State for the Department / of foreign Affairs.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 107.


The Duke of Dorset’s letter to the commissioners was of 26 March (vol. 16:577–578) and was enclosed with the commissioners’ 13 April letter to Jay, above.


JA refers to Art. 9 of the Articles of Confederation, for which see Charles Storer’s 13 April letter, and note 3, above. JA had commented previously, in general terms, on efforts to strengthen the Articles (vol. 16:122, 181, 366). This, however, is his first official letter, following his appointment as minister to Britain, in which he recommended that Congress change a specific provision so as to facilitate the conduct of foreign relations; but see also his 26 April letter to Tristram Dalton, above.


For these resolutions, which JA quotes accurately and which would have effectively removed the limitation in Art. 9, see JCC , 26:322. Despite legislation by numerous states to comply with the resolutions, neither was adopted.