Papers of John Adams, volume 17

To John Jay, 29 August 1785 Adams, John Jay, John
To John Jay
Sir Grosvenor Square Westminster August 29th. 1785

The United States began their Career upon the most liberal System of Policy Commerce: France met them with a liberal System too, or rather with an Artfull Appearance of it. Her Practice during 371the War was more liberal than the Treaty. Since the Peace She has contracted it a little, as She had a Right to do, by excluding Some of her Produce and Some of our Ships from her West India Islands; and indeed the Freedoms that the most favoured Nation enjoys in her Ports in Europe are by no means so ample as those which We have allowed to her in the Ports of the United States. The Words Monopoly, Prohibition, Exclusion, and Navigation Acts have acquired in the World a kind of Philosophical Unpopularity; but whether the Things Signified by them will be abolished so Soon as Some Speculators imagine, may be doubted. If there is any People upon Earth who have a Right to insist upon the abolition of them, in their own Commerce, they are the Americans: But We have Seen the Reluctance of France, and especially of England, to give them up. a Strong Disposition has appeared to make a greater Advantage of their Monopolies by our Liberality. A Short Sketch of the Commercial Conflict between France and England, during the Reigns of the Stewarts, may Serve to shew the Effects of Prohibitions, and the Probability that England will not easily renounce them. it will Shew also the Probable Effects of their Policy towards Us, if We should not counteract it by reciprocal Restrictions.

The House of Steuart and the Principal Leaders in their Parliaments were Pensioners of France, and So attentive to her Interests that she obtained the Supply of England Scotland and Ireland with the Manufactures of Linens Silks, Paper, Wines, and Brandies, to the Amount of 1,650,000£ Yearly—while She took from England in Return only 200,000£ Value, Yearly, of Lead, Tin, Leather, Allum, Coperas, Coals, horn Plates &c and Plantation Goods, which left a Ballance of 1,450,000£ to be yearly paid to France in Money. She possessed as great Advantages with Ireland & Scotland in Proportion to their Trade.

This Disproportion was owing to the protecting Duties that English Woollen Goods were Subject to in France from 24 to 40 Per Cent, on their Value; by the Tariff renewed in 1654, and by another Tariff in 1699, they were raised to 36 up to 55 per Cent on their Value; and Spanish Cloth made in England was prohibited by the Edict of 1701; and in the meantime French Silks were only Subject to a Duty of 13 up to 23 per Cent on the Value imported into the British Dominions, and Linens about 7 up to 15 per Cent, on the Value; whereby their Manufactures and Produce, imported into England alone, Yearly, Stood thus about the Year 1664, and up to 1678. viz

French Linens 600,000
Manufactured Silks 500,000
Wines 450,000
Brandies 70,000
Paper 30,000
Total. 1,650,000

They also imported into England Gold and Silver Lace and many other Articles of Luxury not here enumerated.

This exhausting drain excited murmers and aroused the landed Interest to unite with the trading Interest in 1678, in passing an Act prohibiting the French Trade, in opposition to the Court Interest.1 in the Preamble of the Act, they Say “That the Importation of the Product & Manufactures of France had exhausted the Treasure of the Nation; lessened the Value of Native Manufactures; and caused great Detriment to the Kingdom in general.”

The Advance of Woolen Manufactures for home Consumption and Exportation, in Consequence of the Prohibition of the French Trade in 1678, raised the Price of Wool, and all dying Stuffs dependent on it, from 40 to 50 per Cent, and gave Such general Employment to the People, and Such a rise to Land, as was Scarcely conceivable in the Space of two or three Years: This happy Change in the Circumstances of England was but of Short duration; for on James the Second’s Accession to the Throne in 1684 he called a new Parliament, who, in complyance with his Wishes and to gratify his Allies the French, repealed the prohibitory Act of 1678.2 The Parliament of England however, to Sooth and temporize with the People, when they had restored the French Trade, resolved that all Persons Should wear the woolen Manufactures of England Six months in the Year: but the French, notwithstanding this Parliamentary non importation Resolution, poured into England upwards of four Millions Value of their Manufactures and put a general Stop to all the English Manufactures, and with them to the Payment of Rents. The Scene that followed will be a Warning to Ministers. before three Years expired, from the Repeal of the Law prohibiting the French Trade, England was roused from her Lethargy; banished forever the Promoters of Such Measures; and called in and crowned the Prince of Orange. one of the first Acts of King Williams first Parliament was to prohibit the French Trade “as a Nuisance to the Kingdom,”3 and at that day, on Stating the Trade between England and France, 373it appears that England gained by the Prohibition of the French Trade no less than 1,450,000£ Yearly. At the Treaty of Utrecht, the French, with the Assistance of the Administration of the last Years of Queen Anne’s Reign, attempted to have their Trade with Britain restored. The Earl of Strafford and the Bishop of Bristol conducted the Interests of Britain: The Marshall Marquis D’Huxelles and Nicholas Mesnager, Louis the fourteenth’s private Secretary a well informed Statesman, those of France. They Signed a Treaty of Commerce the 31. March 1713, Subject to the Approbation of the Parliament of Great Britain. The Bishop was no Match for Mesnager who bound the British Manufacturers to pay by a Tariff made in France so far back as the 18 Septr. 1664, whereby English Woolen Cloths (the only Article of Consequence they had at that day to export to them) were Subject from 30 to 40 per Cent duty on the Value and on the lowest rated British Articles 24 1/2 per cent. and the Duties to be paid in Britain on French wrought Silks did not exceed 17 1/2 per Cent, and those of Lockrams, Dowless, and all Sorts of Linens not above 10 per Cent of their Value at a Medium; and before the Revolution, France Supplied all the better Sort of Linens used in Britain and Ireland of every Denomination, as the Trade for Dutch and German Linens was introduced in Consequence of the Prohibitions laid on the French Trade in 1678, and reenacted the first Year of William and Mary. Mesnagers Treaty of Commerce was opposed by all the trading Interests of Britain and rejected by the House of Commons. in 1714 The Queen died and with her all Sincere Disposition for Treaties of Commerce with France.4

France, however, Still wishes for some Treaty of Commerce and proposes it at every Peace.— She got it Stipulated as an Article in the last and Mr Crawford has been appointed: but I Suppose the Improbability of his being authorized to do any Thing has occasioned the late Edicts of the French Court against English Manufactures.

Most of the foregoing Anecdotes of Commercial History I have taken from an Irish Publication, which compares the Conduct of the present Administration towards Ireland to that of the Steuarts. it is well worthy the Attention of America. We may learn from it what Probability there is of Mr Crawfords Success. or rather We may infer from it that that Commissioner was probably appointed; because it was not intended there Should be any Thing for him to do.5

We may also conclude from it that the English are now pursuing 374towards the United States of America the Same Policy which the French practiced towards them in the Reigns of the Stewards.— if We Suffer Such enormous Duties to be laid by them as are now paid upon our Tobacco and Oyl and other Articles and do not pursue Some Measures to prevent the Operation of them, the Ballance against Us will be enormous and the drain too exhausting.

The Law prohibiting the Export of Tools and the Emigration of Workmen is to prevent Us from Setting up Manufactures in America and to prevent any other Nation from setting them up in order to Supply Us. When We see them thus in every Way attack our Manufactures of all sorts, especially of ships, our Nurseries of Seamen, our Merchants and every Thing within their reach, and Seem to be determined to force their Goods upon Us at their own Prices, We have no Choice left but to counteract them by Navigation Acts, Prohibitions, Protecting Duties, and Bounties

With great and sincere Esteem I have the / Honour to be, sir your most obedient and / most humble servant

John Adams.

RC (PCC, No. 84, V, f. 625–632); addressed by Charles Storer: “His Excellency / John Jay Esqr: / &c: &c: &c.”; internal address: “Mr Secretary Jay.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 111.


29 and 30 Car. 2, ch. 1.


1 Jac. 2, ch. 6.


1 G. & M., ch. 34.


The Anglo-French Treaty of Navigation and Commerce was concluded at Utrecht on 31 March 1713, the same day on which the Anglo-French Treaty of Peace and Friendship was signed (Jenkinson, Treaties , 2:5–65). The British negotiators were Thomas Wentworth, 3d Earl of Strafford (1672–1739), and John Robinson (1654–1723), then bishop of Bristol; those acting for the French were Nicolas du Blé, Marquis d’Huxelles (1652–1730), and Nicolas Mesnager (1658–1714), an experienced trade negotiator (Linda Frey and Marsha Frey, eds., The Treaties of the War of the Spanish Succession: An Historical and Critical Dictionary, Westport, Conn., 1995). However, Arts. 8 and 9 of the treaty, which were based on reciprocity and are summarized by JA, aroused such opposition among merchants and in the House of Commons that they were not approved by Parliament but rather referred back to Queen Anne for further negotiation. Her death in the summer of 1714 meant that no further negotiations took place, and the conduct of Anglo-French trade in 1785 remained essentially as it had been prior to the 1713 treaty ( Parliamentary Hist. , 6:1210–1214, 1220–1226; DNB ).


Numerous reports on Irish trade, often featuring similar “Anecdotes of Commercial History,” appeared throughout 1785. Although the source for JA’s summary cannot be fully identified, it is worth noting that most printed accounts used the same statistics that JA cites here.

To John Jay, 30 August 1785 Adams, John Jay, John
To John Jay
Sir Grosvenor Square Westminster August 30. 1785

The more I consider what I See and hear every day the more I am inclined to think We Shall be obliged to imitate the Utopians who 375as Sir Thomas More informs “As to their Exportation, thought it better to manage that themselves, than to let Foreigners come and deal in it; for, by this means, as they understand the State of the Neighbouring Countries better, So they keep up the Art of Navigation, which cannot be maintained, but by much practice in it.”1

I would not be understood however to wish that the United States Should at present proceed farther than to exclude British Ships from “coming and dealing” in our Exportations. Other Nations may be permitted, for any Thing that I know, without Inconvenience. at least the Experiment may be tryed. other Foreign Nations will probably have few Ships employed in this Way. England Scotland and Ireland would have many. But if it should be found that British Ships are frenchified, dutchified or otherwise metamorphosed, in order to manage any Part of our Exportations, I hope the States will not hesitate to make the Prohibition universal to the Ships of all Nations and confine their Exports to their own. There is no other Way that I know of in which We can compensate ourselves for that rigorous Exclusion of American built Ships from the British Dominions, upon which all Parties here I fear are determined. The popular Cry has been universal, as I am informed, “What! Shall the United States be our Ship Carpenters? Shall We depend on a foreign Nation for our Navigation? in Case of a War with them Shall We be without Ships? or obliged to our Ennemies for them?”

With Regard to Duties, will our Countrymen be long contented to pay four or five hundred Per Cent upon their Tobacco and Fifty Per Cent upon other Articles of their Produce in the Ports of Great Britain; while British Subjects pay but ten Per Cent upon the Importation of any of their Commodities in our Ports? I dont believe they will. They will rather lay Duties upon British Luxuries to repay their own Citizens the Duties they pay in British Ports. it is indeed impossible to foresee where this Conflict of Prohibitions and Duties will end. it is impossible to conjecture what the English will attempt. I am not easy about the Negotiations now on Foot with France and Spain. I have not yet sufficiently explained myself to you Upon this subject.

By the 18th. Article of the definitive Treaty of Peace, between France and England, Signed at Versailles the third of September 1783, it is Stipulated that “immediately after the Exchange of the Ratifications, the two high contracting Parties Shall name Commissaries to treat concerning new Arrangements of Commerce, 376between the two Nations, on the Basis of Reciprocity and mutual convenience; which Arrangements Shall be Settled and concluded within the Space of two Years, to be computed from the first of January, in the Year 1784.”

In the 9th. Article of the definitive Treaty, between Great Britain and Spain, there is a Stipulation in the Same Words. and the Duke of Manchester made a Declaration to each of those Powers at the Same time; “that the new State, in which Commerce may perhaps be found in all Parts of the World, will demand revisions and Explanations of the Subsisting Treaties.”

In Complyance with these Stipulations and Declarations, Mr Crawford was long ago Sent to Paris to treat with the Court of Versailles, and Mr Woodward is lately appointed here to treat with Mr Del Campo, on the Part of Spain.—2 Mr Crawford transmitted to his Court, a Year ago, a Plan which he recd from the French Minister; but I know from the Duke of Dorsett, who told me himself, that Mr Crawford had no Answer from England for Six Months, and indeed I conjecture that he had none till Since the Edict of the French King prohibiting British Manufactures.— if these Arrangements are not made before the first of January the two Years will be expired, and nothing more will be Said of them untill another War and Peace. But I confess I shall be anxious till New Years day. The Conduct of this Court in th[ese] Discussions with France and Spain is very interesting to Us, as it will throw much light upon their Intentions towards Us.— There are great Appearances of a fixed Intention to keep the Peace with France and Spain for a long Period. The late Advice of the Ministers of the King of Great Britain to the Elector of Hanover to join the League of the King of Prussia, against the Views of the Emperor and Empress, can be accounted for upon no Supposition but that of a determination in all Events to preserve their Peace with France and Spain. Whence this Love of France or of Peace? Neither is a natural Passion in an English Breast. Let my Country answer “it is not love of me.” on the Contrary, although I wish not to allarm my Fellow Citizens, it appears to me that the Plan of this Country towards it is nearly settled.— it is not fully, and will not be untill the next Budget is opened.— The next Budget will decide the Fate of this Country, and especially her System towards the United States.

If Mr Pitt Shall be then in 1786 able to justify his Hypothesis at the opening of the Budget in 1785 and Shall be able to Shew that 377the Taxes have increased in the Proportion with the Hope of which he flattered himself and the Nation, This Government will then preserve the Peace with France and Spain, at almost any rate; persevere in their System of Commerce and Navigation respecting the United States of America, in Spight of all your Arguments and Remonstrances, Prohibitions and Retaliations, and ultimately attack you with a new War. In my private opinion, in the meantime, it is their fixed design to keep Possession of the Posts upon the Frontier. Sir John Johnson is certainly going out.— and it is given out that fifteen hundred Men are going to Quebec: and Materials Ingineers & Workmen for large Fortifications in Nova Scotia.

In Short, Sir, America has no Party at present in her Favour. All Parties, on the Contrary, have committed themselves against Us; except shelbourne and Buckingham and the last of these is against a Treaty of Commerce with Us; so is even Mr Temple who is gone out to New York, appointed, as I suppose, in Compliment to his Namesake the Marquis of Buckingham.3 I had almost Said the Friends of America are reduced to Dr Price and Dr Jebb.

Patience under all the unequal Burthens they impose upon our Commerce will do Us no good: it will contribute in no degree to preserve the Peace with this Country. On the Contrary, nothing but Retaliation, reciprocal Prohibitions, and Imposts and putting ourselves in a Posture of defence will have any Effect.

This Country can furnish their West India Islands and Continental Colonies and Newfoundland, so that We cannot suddenly make them feel— We cannot prevent the Introduction of their Manufactures among Us so effectually as to make them feel very soon. They may lessen the Duties upon Spanish Tobacco, so as to make the spaniards our Rivals and hurt our Tobacco States. There are many Ways in which they may hurt Us, of which We should be apprized beforehand. Ships and Oil, all Men Say, will never be received of Us.

I hope the States will be cool and do nothing precipitately; but I hope they will be firm and Wise. confining our Exports to our own ships, and laying on heavy Duties upon all foreign Luxuries, and Encouraging our own Manufactures appear to me to be our only Resource; although I am very sensible of the many Difficulties in the Way, and of the danger of their bringing on, in the Course of a few Years, another War.

Nothing but our Strength and their Weakness will in my Opinion protect Us from Such a Calamity. They will never again pour large 378Armies into the United States: but they think they can distress Us more by cutting off all our Trade by their shipping, and they mean that We shall have no ships nor Sailors to annoy their Trade.

I would, however, Advise the states to suspend their Judgments as much as they can without Suspending their Navigation Acts untill another Spring and summer Shall have fully developped the British System of Politicks in Germany; their Plans with France and Spain, and above all, the State of their Debts and Taxes and their publick Credit.

I dont believe the Ministers have yet digested their own System: it will depend still in some measure upon Contingencies. There is a Taciturnity among them that is very uncommon. They have Spies in every Corner who carry them every Whisper as punctually as the Police of Paris. I wish I had better means of obtaining Intelligence from them, and watching their Words and Actions. But Information of this Kind is costly beyond my Revenues.

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. 633–640); addressed by Charles Storer: “His Excellency / John Jay Esqr: / &c: &c: &c.”; internal address: “John Jay Esqr Secretary of State / for foreign Affairs.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 111. Text lost due to a tight binding has been supplied from the LbC.


JA quotes from Sir Thomas More, Utopia, Book II.


JA meant Ralph Woodford, then negotiating an Anglo-Spanish commercial agreement, for which see JA’s 15 July letter to Richard Henry Lee, and note 2, above.


For the source of the Marquis of Buckingham’s influence and his relationship to John Temple, see JA’s 11 Sept. letter to Elbridge Gerry, and note 1, below.