Papers of John Adams, volume 17

To Elbridge Gerry, 26 August 1785 Adams, John Gerry, Elbridge
To Elbridge Gerry
Dear Sir Grosvenor Square, August 26. 1785

You will have Seen by my Public Dispatches what Prospects We have of any Sudden Arrangement with this Country.

I may be more free, in a Letter to you, than I have been, in the Public Letters to Mr Jay.— There is a mysterious Reserve among the Ministers which indicates either a Want of Unanimity among them, or a Dissatisfaction towards Us, or a Timidity arising from the Prejudices and Passions of the Nation.

I am really at a Loss to conjecture whether I Shall get any Answer from them at all, or whether I shall have an Answer full of Complaints of Departures from the Treaty on our Side, and insisting on a full Complyance on our Part as a Condition preceedent to any further Measures on theirs. There is nothing for me to do but to exercise Patience, reminding them however from time to time that I expect an Answer. if the Answer comes loaded with Complaints, I Shall answer them provisionally, as far as I am clear: but if there is any matter in which I am not fully informed, or of too grave a Nature for me to take upon myself I Shall take time to obtain the Instructions of Congress.

I have no hopes of their agreeing to a Treaty of Commerce, or of their proposing one Such as I can agree to.— Every Treaty of Commerce proposed by them will be proposed only Subject to the Approbation of Parliament, and I am afraid that all other Parties would Unite to defeat the present Ministers in any Treaty of Commerce, in order to obtain another Tryumph, like the Vote against the Peace in shelburnes time, and like the late Rejection in Ireland of the Twenty Resolutions.1 Mr Pitt indeed declares to me that he does not wish merely to lessen our Navigation; but the Nation is not of his Mind in my opinion. There is a national Duplicity that is astonishing. in their Publications and Speeches they affect to think lightly of America: but they betray, in many Ways, a dread of Us: An Opinion that a great Rival Nation has risen up, like a Mushroom on the other Side the Atlantic, against them. I dont believe that an equal Treaty of Commerce could be carried through Parliament. I may be mistaken. But in all Events it is Safest for the United States to persevere in their Plans to do themselves Justice. The Massachusetts never Struck a deeper Stroke than by their late Navigation Act. I hope it will be followed by all the other States; but, if it Should not be 364followed by any one, I hope they will persist in it. They would become, by means of it, both Manufacturers and carryers for others.

I may be out in all my Conjectures, but I am not without suspicions that the Ministry will make me some Propositions, or give, as of their own Motion, some Facilities in Trade upon the old Principle of Divide et impera. They may flatter themselves as their Predecessors have so often done that by giving Way a little they can divide Us, and prevent the other States from making Acts of Navigation, or agreeing in any other Plan. I hope the Massachusetts, with all those who will join her, in her present system will Stand firm.

What do you think of granting a Bounty by the Massachusetts upon Oil, equal to the British Alien Duty, and laying on Imposts on British Manufactures for the express purpose of paying it?

My Duty here will oblige me, most probably, to counteract as far as I can, the Prejudices of the Nation, and the Views of the Ministers So constantly, that I shall neither have their Trumpeters to Support my Reputation, nor their Candour to forgive my Errors. They will never get any just Ground of Complaint against me. I will behave towards them in Character; but I will do my Duty to young Sampson, and constantly Advise him to preserve his Locks. There will Still be insinuations in Congress I doubt not. Let me beg of you, and your Friend Mr King, to inform me that I may not be so ignorant of every Thing that passes relative to myself as I have been heretofore for many Years together. if they continue to persecute me without Cause, I must get myself out of their Way. There can be no Reason that I should be a slave forever and go through the most cursed service, to which ever Mortal was destined, merely for the Pleasure of being abused in Congress.

Mr Jefferson and I are half distracted on Account of Mr Lambe, of whom We hear nothing. We have thoughts of Sending Mr Barclay to Barbary, but must wait a little longer for Lambe. Congress Should Send a Commission to Mr Barclay if he goes.

I am my dear sir, ever yours

John Adams

I hear of Gallicans and Antigallicans, of British and Antibritish Influence, in America. I hope there are no Such Interests there.— I think We Should be impartial, as far as our Treaty with France will allow Us, and no farther. But it would be very unwise to have any Antigallican or Antibritish Parties or Partisans. We certainly Should have most Commerce with England, if She, by impolitick 365Restrictions, does not prevent it. But if She will be contracted, I am for going any where to find Liberality.

RC (MHi:Elbridge Gerry Papers); internal address: “Hon. Mr Gerry.”; endorsed: “London Letter / Mr Adams Minister of the US / Aug 26 / 1785 / Ansd / Nov 8th.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 111.


For parliamentary wrangling over the terms of the Anglo-American preliminary peace treaty of 30 Nov. 1782, and the concurrent collapse of the Shelburne ministry, see vol. 14:127, 229, 292–293.

To Richard Henry Lee, 26 August 1785 Adams, John Lee, Richard Henry
To Richard Henry Lee
Private Sir, Grosvenor-Square. Augst: 26th. 85.

This letter will be delivered you by Mr: C. S. of Boston, who has lived much in my family & done me much service as a private Seretary, and that without any other reward than the opinion that he was doing service to his Country.—

The time was approaching when the K. of Prussia was to make the annual review of his Army, & the month of August is so disagreable & unwholesome in London that all the world flies from it, as fm. infection. At that time I was surprised by a letter fm. Colo: Smith, requesting my Consent to make a tour to the review. I was surprised, because I had not suspected any such design; but when I reflected upon the thing I was not surprised any longer.— As the Ministers wd. probably be much out of town, & all good Company in the Country—as Colo: Smith had been attacked with a slight fever, wh: I know by horrid experience to be a dangerous thing in these great Cities in Summer—and as the object he had in view was one of the greatest that a Soldier can see, & the most worthy his ambition, I readily consented to his projected excursion; desiring him, howr:, not to forget to make all the enquiries he could concerning the resources wh: the Commerce of his Country might find, in the Countries he shd. pass thro’, in case it shd. be too much obstructed in England; particularly what markets might there be found for all the articles of our produce—more especially Rice, Tobacco & Oyl— Colo: Smith has been very active & attentive to business, & is much respected. He has as much honor & spirit as any man I ever knew. I suspect, howr:, that a dull diplomatic life, especially in a department so subordinate, will not long fulfill all the wishes of his 366generous heart— His principles are those of his Country, & his abilities are worthy of them. He has not the poetical genius of Humphreys; but has much superior talents & a more independant temper, as a Politician. In short, you could not have given me a man more to my taste.—

This Country, Sir, I fear will put us on a severe Commercial struggle with them— If we unite & are firm, it will end in the grandeur & glory of our Country. I hope the Massa: Act of navigation speaks the sense of every one of the 13. States— I suspect that this Country will not be soon moved by it: that she may do some rash thing: that she may attempt Retaliations &c: &c To be explicit, I believe she will try the experiment & fully determine the question, whether we can encrease our manufactures at home—whether we can find markets & supplies in other European nations—whether we can encrease our shipping in a short time to any great degree— She is unwise in this; because when we shall have determined these questions against her prejudices we shall find advantages, wh: we shall not be willing to give up: But this Country has long been troubled with After-wit—“Je suis convaincu, said the K. the other day to the Spanish Minister & me, as we stood together at the Levee, que le plus grand ennemi du Bien et le mieux—” & then cast his eye into mine as if he felt that I shd. apply it.1 I did apply it you may easily suppose; but I did not tell him so, nor betray to him that I did by my eye. This Country has not yet lost its appetite for the “Mieux,” and is as far as ever fm. being contented with the “Bien”—

You may well suppose that I shall not become a favorite in this Country. An American Minister here must be constantly employed in combating prejudices. He will not be very talkative at all and what he says will be decent & well thought; but wn: questions of fact are asked him he must answer, & his answers will be constantly contradictory to the prejudices & wishes of those who ask Questions— There is a strong propensity in this people to beleive that America is weary of her Independance: that she wishes to come back: that the States are in Confusion: Congress has lost its authority: the Governments of the States have no influence: no laws: no order: poverty, distress: ruin & wretchedness: that no navigation acts we can make will be obeyed: no duties we can lay on can be collected: smugglers by nature & habit: that smuggling will defeat all our prohibitions, imposts & revenues: that we have so many harbors, rivers & inletts that no laws can prevent smuggling— This they love to believe now, tho’ they wd. not hear a word of it before the 367revolution— When an American is asked, he is obliged to contradict all these fond flatteries of their self-love, wh: is not the way you know to gain the Complaisance of mankind.—

My paper is ended & I am your friend / &c: &c.

LbC in Charles Storer’s hand (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mr: President Lee.”; APM Reel 111.


I am convinced that the greatest enemy of the good is the perfect.