Papers of John Adams, volume 17

247 From Elbridge Gerry, 14 July 1785 Gerry, Elbridge Adams, John
From Elbridge Gerry
My dear sir New York 14th July 1785

I have lately returned to this City after four Months Absence, & am favoured with your several Letters of the 31st Jany 9th of March & 13th of April, in neither of which is any Mention of several Letters I wrote to You in Jany Feby & March last— You wish to be informed when “You are to be one of Us”? the Answer is easy, when You please.1

I have enquired of my Friend King whether any Order is taken for enabling your Colleagues to draft Money, & he informs me, that while I was absent the matter was committed to the Board of Treasury, & he thinks they have made the proper Arrangements—2 With Respect to the Money which You have borrowed—& applied to discharge Mr Morris’s Drafts three Commissioners are to be appointed to examine his Accounts & if You can transmit to the Board of Treasury a State of the Payments to Mr Morris, they will deliver it to the Commissioners.3

The States begin to act with Spirit respecting Commerce. N Hamshire & Massachusetts have by legislative Acts prohibited the Exportation in british Bottoms of any kind of American produce, & laid heavy Imposts on british Manufactures especially such as can be carried on in those States.4 Congress are considering of the best Mode of obtaining additional Commercial powers for the Regulation of internal & external Trade, but the Measure is embarrassed & they have come to no Conclusion at present.

The Department of foreign Affairs under Mr Jay, of the War 248office, under General Knox, of the Treasury under Mr Walter Livingston & Mr Osgood, with a third Commissioner to be elected who will probably be Mr Eveleigh of So Carolina are well administered.5 Mr Gardoqui has had an Audience & Mr Jay will probably be appointed to negotiate with him— Governer Rutledge is appointed Minister to the Hague.6

Congress have passed a land ordnance which having been printed in all the papers You have undoubtedly seen.7 I think the price at a Dollar an Acre too high, but the Lands properly managed may be a good Fund for sinking the greatest part of the national domestic Debt.

Mr Jay has made an excellent Report respecting the Consular Convention signed at paris, which You may be assured (I think) will not be ratified.8

Our Finances are a little embarrassed but I conceive the Way is clear for retreiving of publick Credit. the Debt of the public as I mentioned before may be greatly lessened by the Sale of Lands, if properly managed. a short Time will I conceive increase our Staples, which have been greatly lessened by the War, so as to exceed our Imports, which happily for Us are daily decreasing. a Ballance of Trade must then ensue, which will supply Us with Bullion, & facilitate the payment of Taxes, to which We are now competent, if We had but a Medium.— to be very honest with You, I think America will by being pressed by public & private Creditors, be brot to her proper Reflexion, & discover that she has acted like a foolish young Heir who with a great Fortune has embarrassed himself by Imprudence & Extravagance; & after this Discovery she will retrench her Expences, adopt a System of œconomy, discharge her Debts, & then subsist independently & with Dignity on her own Means— You know I am no Friend to gloomy Philosophy, the brightest suits me best— adeiu My Friend & be assured I am yours sincerely on / every Occasion

E Gerry

We have a Report before Congress for establishing a Mint.9

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Honble Mr Adams.”


For JA’s letters of 31 Jan. and 9 March, and Gerry’s letters of 14 and 24 Feb., and 5 March, see vol. 16:505, 520, 526, 544, 551. For JA’s of 13 April, see above. The quotation is from JA’s 31 Jan. letter.


In his 10 Jan. letter to Richard Henry Lee and his 31 Jan. letter to Gerry, JA pressed Congress to authorize him to draw on funds from the Dutch loans to pay his salary as well as the salaries of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, David Humphreys, William Carmichael, and C. W. F. Dumas. On 4 April, in Gerry’s absence, Congress appointed a committee to “report arrangements 249for the regular payment of the salaries of the Officers of the United States at foreign Courts.” The matter was referred to John Jay, who supported JA’s position in his report but thought the issue properly belonged to the Board of Treasury. In any event, no authorization for JA to draw on the Dutch funds was forthcoming (vol. 16:486–487, 506; JCC , 28:227).


On 7 June, the Board of Treasury issued a report on the “Serious, and most alarming Situation” of national finances, which was laid before Congress on the 9th. There the board noted the ballooning foreign debt and sharply criticized state governments for collecting taxes “with so much Languor;” both were problems that had festered during the superintendency of Robert Morris, who resigned on 1 Nov. 1784. Congress responded on 20 June 1785, resolving to appoint commissioners to “inquire into the receipts and expenditures of public Monies, during the Administration of the late Superintendant of finance.” Three weeks later, Congress was still struggling to find suitable commissioners for the task because, as Pennsylvania delegate David Jackson wrote, “the influence of the great man is so extensive in Philada, that few probably of the citizens there properly qualified could be found perfectly free from bias.” In his reply of 13 Dec., JA advised Gerry that the Dutch bankers had already relayed the requested details of accounts to the Board of Treasury ( JCC , 28:443–452, 468; vol. 16:239; Smith, Letters of Delegates , 22:506–507; MHi:Elbridge Gerry Papers).


On 23 June, the same day that the Mass. General Court passed “An Act for the Regulation of Navigation and Commerce,” New Hampshire legislators also passed an identically named law (Laws of New Hampshire, ed. Henry Harrison Metcalf, Concord, N.H., 1916, 5:78–81). The law’s provisions were drawn directly from the Massachusetts legislation described in William Smith’s letter of 2 May, and note 2, above.


Nicholas Eveleigh (ca. 1748–1791), former delegate from South Carolina, was nominated twice, on 4 April and 14 July, to the Board of Treasury in place of John Lewis Gervais, but he never served. Four years later, Eveleigh became the first comptroller of the U.S. Treasury ( JCC , 28:232, 29:535; Biog. Dir. Cong. ).


On 5 July, Congress appointed John Rutledge of South Carolina to replace JA at The Hague, but on 24 Aug. Rutledge declined the post, and JA remained as American minister to the Netherlands until he presented his recall on 30 March 1788 (vol. 16:566).


JA received a copy of this ordinance as an enclosure to Lee’s 28 May 1785 letter. For the substance of the ordinance, see note 2 to that letter, above.


For the controversial Franco-American consular convention signed by Franklin and the Comte de Vergennes on 29 July 1784, and Jay’s recommendation that it not be ratified, see vol. 16:505.


The postscript was written vertically in the left margin. On 6 July 1785 Congress adopted three key recommendations of the grand committee’s 13 May report on coinage. The dollar was to be the “money unit of the United States,” the smallest copper coin was to be 200 to the dollar, and the several other coins were to increase at a decimal ratio. The ordinance establishing the United States Mint, however, was not adopted until 16 Oct. 1786 ( JCC , 28:354–358; 29:499–500; 31:876–878).

To Richard Henry Lee, 15 July 1785 Adams, John Lee, Richard Henry
To Richard Henry Lee
Dear Sir Grosvenor Square Westminster July 15. 1785

I have received the Letter you did me the Honour to write me on the 28 May, and am fully of your Opinion of the Importance of Concord between our Country and this and of the Causes which obstruct it. The Malignity of disappointed Men is astonishing; but the Change of Language, if not of Sentiment, of Some who have not been disappointed is more so. in Truth Sir, some, who foresaw 250the Success of the American Cause, attach’d themselves to it, as a Scaffold, on which to mount into Power; but having arrived at the Summit, they neglect the Ladder, and have adopted the very Passions and Principles of those whom We, not they, have driven off the Stage. I dont apply this Censure to all: on the contrary, the Majority of the Present Ministry, I believe, think pretty justly and would do right if they could; but Government, altho’ at present possessed of decided Majorities in both Houses of Parliament, is very weak. There is great Impatience and discontent in the Nation, and great Parties are watching the present Minister. if there Should be any Change it is problematical, whether the Coalition, would come in, or the Marquis of Lansdown, the Marquis of Buckingham &c the latter Party possess Sentiments of the Relations of Commerce between America and great Britain the most just of the two. But it is my Duty to be explicit. Conviction in Administration is not enough. They cannot follow their own Lights, and the Nation must be made to feel. This is a Work of Time, and it is dangerous Work, because it may in Such inflammable Circumstances provoke War. I hope that Persons and Property in America will be held Sacred. That nothing will be done by the People but in the legal Way of Petition and peaceable Association; but I hope they will never have done petitioning and associating untill the States unite in giving Congress Full Power to make Treaties of Commerce, and untill they all Unite in insisting on a perfect Equality in Commerce and Navigation with great Britain, either by a perfect Freedom of Trade on both Sides, or equal and reciporcal Prohibitions or Discouragements.

Your Letter to Mr Steptoe I have delivered to a Gentleman, Mr Stocdale, much acquainted with Persons connected in India, who will be so good as to forward it, and if I can be of any service to Mr Steptoes Views I will.1 But America and India are two Ideas in the Mind of a Britain, which produce an Explosion. if an American Should be known to Sollicit an Employment in India for an American, the East Indies would instantly be Seen, in Imagination, independent of Britain and in Alliance with the United States and France.

This Nation, Sir, Sees that their Sciences, Arts, Trades, Commerce Navigation and Wealth and Power are all hurrying over to America, and the Prospect is So humiliating to their Pride, So mortifying to their Vanity, that they loose their Patience, and their final Exclamation is, “I had rather America had been annihilated, than 251that She Should have carried her Point.” nor is this Sentiment peculiar to Englishmen. a great Spanish Minister has very lately Said at Madrid, that “he wished all America, north and South under Water.”— European Ministers expect a great deal of trouble from America, and they all know that She will always prevail. We know too that We shall have a great deal of Trouble from Europe; but I hope We are neither So impious, So inhuman or So Silly as to wish her annihilated or under Water. The Jealousies of old Physicians, and Lawyers of young and rising Genius’s in their Professions often Stimulate them to acts of Ingenerosity and Injustice, which, however, instead of crushing the Youth, only Sharpen his Ingenuity and increase his Caution and Industry. Nations are like Individuals. and Europe must allow America fair Play. That is all she wants; and She will always have one half of Europe to see that she has fair Play from the other half. The European Powers can never agree. There are now on Foot, three Attempts, which will all prove abortive. Mr Crawford has been a Year at Paris to negotiate a Treaty of Commerce with France, and Mr Woodford, lately British Minister in Denmark, is now appointed to treat here with Del Campo the Spanish Minister, and a Mr Bordieu told me, Yesterday, that he is just appointed to negotiate Some Convention between the French and English East India Companies.2 But these Attempts, if ever Sincere, will produce nothing.

With great and Sincere Esteem I have the Honour / to be, Sir your obliged Friend and / very humble servant

John Adams

RC (PPAmP); internal address: “His Excellency / R. H. Lee Esqr.”; endorsed: “July 15. 1785. / J Adams.” LbC’s (Adams Papers); APM Reels 107, 111.


For Thomas Steptoe’s mercantile aspirations in India, see the 28 May letter from Lee, and note 4, above. JA apparently forwarded Lee’s inquiry to his friend, the London bookseller John Stockdale.


George Craufurd’s replacement, William Eden, secured a commercial treaty with France in 1786, but his diplomatic colleagues met with less success (vol. 16:287–288). In Jan. 1785, George III appointed Ralph Woodford (d. 1810), former envoy to Denmark, to negotiate a commercial treaty with Spain, but Woodford’s efforts were continually hampered by Spanish claims that the Anglo-American peace treaty of 1783 nullified the terms of trade outlined in former treaties. Two subsequent attempts, made by Woodford and Eden over the next three years, were vetoed by the British cabinet, although Anglo-Spanish commerce continued to flourish. James Bourdieu (1715–1804) was a partner in Bourdieu, Chollet & Bourdieu, which frequently served as the London agent for the French East India Company and also imported American wheat and flour into France. Bourdieu, who had recently called on JA, was similarly empowered to negotiate a commercial agreement between the British and French East India Companies as a first step in repairing Anglo-French trade relations. Nothing came of Bourdieu’s efforts, and he soon returned his attention to battling for the London agency of the French tobacco trade (Holden Furber, “An Abortive Attempt 252at Anglo-Spanish Commercial Coöperation in the Far East in 1793,” The Hispanic American Historical Review, 15:448–449 [Nov. 1935]; Laurens, Papers , 15:406, 16:104; JA, D&A , 3:179; Jacob M. Price, France and the Chesapeake: A History of the French Tobacco Monopoly, 1674–1791, and of Its Relationship to the British and American Tobacco Trades, 2 vols., Ann Arbor, Mich., 1973, 2:738–741).