Papers of John Adams, volume 17

To Thomas Jefferson, 4 August 1785 Adams, John Jefferson, Thomas
To Thomas Jefferson
My dear Sir Grosvenor Square Augt. 4. 1785

Yesterday our Friend Mr Short arrived. Mr Dumas had never any Commission from Congress, and therefore can have no Title under the United States. He never had any other Authorization than a Letter from Dr Franklin and another from the Committee of Secret Correspondence, in the year 1775.1 I wish he had a regular Commission. I direct my Letters to Monsieur C. W. F. Dumas a la Haye, only. I Should advise you to allow Mr Short a Guinea a day except Sundays, which will amount to Something near your Ideas.

Houdons Life may be insured for five Per Cent. two for the Life and three for the Voyage. I mentioned it at Table with Several Merchants; they all agreed that it would not be done for less. But Dr Price, who was present undertook to enquire and inform me. His answer is, that it may be done at an Office in Hackney for five Per Cent. He cannot yet Say for less, but will endeavour to reduce it a little. You may write to the Dr to get it done, and he will reduce it, if possible. I will let you know by Mr Short, how far I have ventured in conformity to the Propositions you inclose, knowing your sentiments before, but I think We had better wait sometime before We propose them any where else.

Mr Samuel Watson a Citizen of the U. States, & settled at Charlestown S. C. as a Merchant, Sailed from thence about two Years ago, for the Havannah, and has not been heard of Since till lately a Gentleman from the Havannah has reported that a Mr Watson from Charlestown was taken in the Bay of Mexico & carried into Carthagena, from thence Sent to the Castle of St Juan, de Ullua la Vera Cruz and afterwards Sent to Trascala, where it is Supposed he is at present. His Father and numerous Relations are very anxious for his Fate, and earnestly beg that you would interest yourself with the Comte D’Aranda and Mr Charmichael for his Release, but if that cannot be had in full that you would endeavour to procure his removal to Old Spain, that his Friends may hear from him, and gain Intelligence respecting the Property he may have left in Carolina. I have written to Charmichael,2 and intend to Speak to Don Del Campo.

Pray Send me the Arrêt against English Manufactures and every other new Arrêt, which may any Way affect the United States. it is confidently given out here that our Vessells are not admitted into 299the French W. Indias. has there been any new Arret, Since that of August 1784?3 Can you discover the Cause, of the great Ballance of Exchange in favour of England, from France, Spain, Holland, &c as well as America? and whether this Appearance of Prosperity will continue? I think that at the Peace, the British Merchants sent their Factors abroad with immense quantities of their Manufactures, the whole Stock they had on hand. These Factors have sold as they could, and bought Remittances especially Bills of Exchange as they could, i.e very dear. So that the loss, on the Exchange is that of the British Merchant. and consequently that this appearance is not so much in favour of England.— Spain I expect will follow the Example of France in prohibiting Brit. Manufactures, at least if Del Campo does not make a commercial Treaty with Woodward who is appointed to treat with him. But the Diplomaticks are of opinion nothing will be done with him, nor with Crawford. The two Years expire in January.— if Crawford is likely to do any Thing be so good as to let me know, it.

The Words “Ship and Sailor,” Still turn the Heads of this People. They grudge to every other People, a Single Ship and a Single Seaman.— The Consequence of this Envy, in the End, will be the loss of all their own.— They Seem at present to dread American Ships and Seamen more than any other. Their Jealousy of our Navigation is so Strong, that it is odds if it does not Stimulate them to hazard their own Revenue.

I am, my dear sir, with Sincere Esteem / your Freind

John Adams

RC (DLC:Jefferson Papers); internal address: “His Excellency Mr Jefferson.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 111.


In JA’s absence, since mid-1784, C. W. F. Dumas had acted as the American chargé d’affaires at The Hague. But without a commission from Congress, he lacked official status; hence Jefferson’s exchange with Dumas over how to address correspondence to him (from Jefferson, 28 July 1785, note 3, above). The 1775 letter referred to by JA was Benjamin Franklin’s of 9 Dec. 1775, wherein he requested that Dumas use his presence at The Hague to discover “the disposition of the several courts with respect to such assistance or alliance, if we should apply for the one, or propose the other.” Dumas was authorized to use the letter, written at the request of the committee of secret correspond ence, as his credentials in any discussions with foreign diplomats. John Dickinson and John Jay signed the letter, below Franklin’s signature, on behalf of the committee. Although never formally commissioned, Dumas acceded to Franklin’s request and provided Congress, the several joint commissions, and particularly JA with important services and intelligence (Franklin, Papers , 22:287–291; JA, D&A , 3:9–10).


JA’s letter to William Carmichael was of 29 July 1785, above. For Carmichael’s brief reply of 18 Aug. (Adams Papers), see note 2 to the 29 July letter; for a more detailed reply, see Carmichael’s 2 Sept. letter, below.


The French arrêts of 10 and 17 July 300severely restricted the import of foreign manufactures, effectively banning those from Britain, the largest source of such goods. Most British textiles, as well as polished steel, crystal, and glass were affected, with French merchants forced to pay prohibitive duties. When news of the arrêts reached London in late July, it occasioned a “very general alarm” among those involved in the trade and they appealed to the Marquis of Carmarthen for help. Carmarthen reportedly described the French action as unprovoked, and he promised to pursue every avenue open to the government to obtain relief (Jefferson, Papers , 8:362; Recueil général des anciennes lois françaises, depuis l’an 420 jusqu’à la révolution de 1789, ed. A. J. L. Jourdan and others, 29 vols., Paris, 1827, 28:67; J. Holland Rose, “The Franco-British Commercial Treaty of 1786,” English Historical Review, 23:712 [Oct. 1908]; The Scots Magazine, 47:351–352 [July 1785]). Jefferson enclosed copies of the ordinances, not found, with his 10 Aug. reply, below. For the French motives in issuing the arrêts and JA’s opinion of them, see his 10 Aug. letter to Jay, below. For the 30 Aug. 1784 arrêt dealing with American trade with the French West Indies, see vol. 16:552–553.

From William Stephens Smith, 4 August 1785 Smith, William Stephens Adams, John
From William Stephens Smith
Dr: Sir. Leicester fields August 4th. 1785.

The request I am going to make, will perhaps at the first blush appear singular—this you’ll excuse—If improper—I shall ever acknowledge myself obliged by being candidly told so—and in this, as well as in every other matter, I will chearfully give way to your superior judgement, and regulate my conduct by your advice, as far as you think proper to honour me with it.

If there is a probability of your Excellency’s not having an occasion for me for some time, either for your private concerns or the business of your mission—I would request your permission to take a small tour on the Continent— a general Review of the Prussian Army takes place the latter end of this or the beginning of the next month, I should like to see it— and if you approve of it, I will sett off in the course of the next week—and if not—I shall be happy in the oppertunity of convincing you with what chearfulness, I shall submit to you decision—1 with the highest respect / I am / your Excellency’s / most Obedient / Humble Servt.

W. S. Smith

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “His Excellency / John Adams / &c &c &c—”


JA agreed to WSS’s request in his reply of 5 Aug., below. At some point, however, he must have regretted letting his secretary go, for WSS’s “small tour” lasted four months, until his return on 5 December. This caused problems for JA, given the volume of his correspondence, particularly from mid-September through early October with that relating to negotiations with the Barbary States (Barbary Negotiations, 12 Sept. – 11 Oct., Editorial Note; to WSS, 19 Sept., both below; AFC , 6:478).

WSS’s Prussian interlude, however, did resolve a dilemma for the Adams family. WSS had courted AA2 since the Adamses’ arrival in London, despite AA’s warning that her daughter was still “under engagements” to Royall Tyler. But just two days after WSS departed for Prussia on a “quiet Journey of the heart in pursuit of those affections,” AA2 broke off her involvement with Tyler. AA notified WSS of AA2’s preference for him in a letter of mid-September but cautioned prudence in his further pursuit of AA2. WSS 301replied on 6 Dec. that he would be cautious and that he was “a little surprized at myself for seeking it at such a distance” ( AFC , 5:xxxix, lx; 6:262, 267, 280, 340, 366, 369, 483).

WSS left London on 9 Aug., bound for Harwich to take passage to Hellevoetsluis, where he arrived on the 11th. He traveled in company with Francisco de Miranda (1750–1816), a Venezuelan soldier and partisan of Latin-American independence whom WSS met during the Revolution ( AFC , 6:267; DNB ). WSS’s travel diary, which AA advised him to keep, appears in English in Archivo del general Miranda, ed. Vicente Dávila and others, 24 vols., Caracas, 1929–1950, 1:354–434. By early September, WSS and Miranda were at Berlin and settled into a daily routine of watching Prussian troop maneuvers in the morning, then exploring the country’s cultural offerings or carousing with other sol diers. WSS wrote that the precision of the troops executing the drills was “superior to panegeric,” but he thought the Prussians did not always deploy their cavalry effectively (same, p. 380, 382–383). He was impressed with Frederick II as a patron of the arts but deemed him an “inconsistent” ruler when he compared “the poverty of his soldier to the luxury of the prince and the sentiments and accomplishments of a philosopher with the actions of a tyrant” (same, p. 377). In late October WSS and Miranda parted, the latter going off to Hungary. WSS returned to London by way of Paris, spending most of November with Thomas Jefferson, who wrote to AA of the “extreme worth” of WSS’s character (from Jefferson, 27 Nov., below; Archivo del general Miranda, p. 433; AFC , 6:463). Upon his arrival in London, WSS resumed his duties as secretary and renewed his courtship of AA2 in earnest ( AFC , 6:478).