Papers of John Adams, volume 17

To Richard Henry Lee, 6 September 1785 Adams, John Lee, Richard Henry
To Richard Henry Lee
private. Dear Sir Grosvenor Square Westminster Septr. 6. 1785

I had Yesterday the Honour of receiving your Letter of the first of August, and I pray you to accept of my Thanks for your kind Attention and obliging Civilities to my son. It was the first News We had of him Since he Sail’d from L’Orient. I hope that, after remaining in N. York long enough to pay his Respects where they were due, he made haste to Boston. Your Reasoning, Sir, both upon the Powers of Congress and the Subject of the Debts is very just, and is Such as I have urged, upon all Occasions, both to Ministers and Creditors. Nevertheless, I expect that the Debts will be urged as a Breach of Treaty, and as the Justification, Excuse, or Pretence for withholding the Posts.

I can get no Answer from Ministers, neither in Writing nor in Conversation. They make me handsome Bows, look at me with Smiling Countenances, give me civil Words: but not one Word of explicit Answer, except in two or three Points Mr Pitt & Ld Carmarthen gave me their opinions, which I have repeated to Mr Jay.

I hope the States will not wait a Moment in hopes of any commercial Relief from this Court; but proceed to prohibit all Exports from the United States in British Vessells, untill We shall have an open Trade or a Treaty. A Navigation Act, in my Opinion, will extort Terms from Britain, if any Thing can. if not, our Freights will be a great Fund of Wealth, our Ships and Mariners will be Castles and Garrisons to Us, and the mutual Dependence of the States upon one another will be a Strong Cement of our Union in Interest and Affection.

The present Ministry may be the great Men they are represented to be. I will not affirm the contrary. It is problematical yet. Their Plans relative to the United States, relative to Ireland, relative to Holland, Germany, France, Spain, their own Finances, &c do not yet demonstrate them to be well inform’d and judicious, much less deep and great Statesmen. Their Schemes have been temporary and partial, as if adopted upon the Spur of the Occasion, to remove a present Pressure, or Silence a partial Clamour. if they had carried their Point in Ireland, I will not Say what I think would have been their Conduct towards America.


From the Hints which dropped from Mr Pitt, I am of Opinion they are determined to keep the Posts, at least untill something farther Shall be done about the Debts. As to taking off the Alien Duty upon Oil, and admitting our Ships to their Markett, the national Voice and publick Opinion are decidedly against it, and therefore you must furnish the Ministry, in your Navigation Acts an Excuse to the Nation, before they will venture upon it.

I have Sent your Letter to Mr Steptoe, but I dont believe I Shall be able to Serve him in his Views.1 if I can I will. The United States must establish a Factory of their own, among the French, English, Dutch, Danes, Sweeds &c. The Natives will be glad to See them; and the other European Factories too. if our Factory would treat them with Equity and Humanity, We Should be the most favoured Nation. Why Should We come to Europe for East India Goods? Why Should We purchase European Manufactures, if We can have India Manufactures equally good and for half the Price? Our Vessells may go a trading and carry any Thing to Sell to the European Factories, and get Money of them to buy a Cargo of the Natives in return.

This Letter will be delivered you by Mr Storer, a Gentleman who assisted me in Mr Thaxters sickness at the Hague, and afterwards in the Hurry of the Conferences for the Peace at Paris.

With great Respect and Esteem I have / the Honour to be, Sir, your most / obedient Servant

John Adams

RC (PPAmP); internal address: “His Excellency R. H. Lee Esq”; endorsed: “John Adams / Sep 6th 1785.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 111.


JA wrote a second letter to Lee on 7 Sept. (LbC, APM Reel 111). There he introduced John Wingrove, who “has been four Times in the East Indies. has been in China in Calcutta the principal Settlement of Bengal, and may probably be possessed of much Information respecting the Commerce of those Countries.” JA had inquired of Wingrove concerning Thomas Steptoe but presumably obtained no information. He, however, hoped “soon to hear of an American Factory there [in India], and that Mr Steptoe is employed in it.”

From John Jay, 6 September 1785 Jay, John Adams, John
From John Jay
Dear Sir Office for foreign Affairs 6th: September 1785

My last to you was of the 26th: Ultimo, in which I mentioned the Dates of the Letters with which you had honored me, and the Receipt of which then remained unacknowledged—none from you have since arrived.—1


I have now the Honor of transmitting to You herewith enclosed a Copy of an Act of Congress of the 18th: Ultimo— it contains a Correspondence between the Governor of Massachusetts and Capt. Stanhope the Commander of a british Frigate.—

The Stile of the Captain’s Letters being very reprehensible occasioned the Application to Congress which produced the Act in Question and I am persuaded that the Views of Congress in directing it to be communicated to the british Minister will be promoted by the Manner in which you will do it.—2

The frequent Solecisms observable for some Years past in the Politics of the Court of London, render it exceedingly difficult to divine how they will think and act under almost any given Circumstances.—

It is manifestly as much their Interest to be well with us, as for us to be well with them and yet the Gratification of Resentments occasioned by Disappointment, seems to take the Lead of more elevated and useful principles of Action.—

They expect much from the Trade of America, and yet they take Pains to cut off every Source within their Reach by which we may make Remittances. It is strange that they should wish us to buy, and yet be so industrious to put it out of our Power to pay. Such a System must cause Loss of Money to their Merchants and Loss of Reputation to ours. I wish most sincerely that Credit was at an End, and that we could purchase Nothing abroad but for ready Money. Our Exportations would then be equally profitable, and as our Importations would be diminished, we should have less to pay— domestic Manufactures would then be more encouraged, and Frugality and Œconomy become more prevalent.—

What Impression the Conduct of Capt. Stanhop[e may] make on the Minister to me appears uncertain—certain however it is, that mutual Civility and Respect must in the Nature of Things precede mutual Benevolence and Kindness. The manner of your Reception and Treatment indicates their Attention to this Consideration and yet the Detention of the Posts, the strengthening their Garrisons in our Neighbourhood, the Encouragement said to be given to Settlers in those Parts and various other Circumstances speak a Language very different from that of Kindness and good Will.—

They may hold the Posts, but they will hold them as Pledges of Enmity; and the Time must and will come when the Seeds of Discontent, Resentment and Hatred which such Measures always sow, will produce very bitter Fruit.—


I am well informed that some of the Loyalists advise and warmly press the Detention of the Posts. It is strange that Men who for ten Years have done nothing but decieve, should still retain any Credit. I speak of them collectively among them there are Men of Merit; but to my Knowledge some of the most violent, the most bitter and implacable and yet most in Credit are Men who endeavoured to play between both Parties, and vibrated from Side to Side as the Appearance of Success attracted them. Nay the very Accounts of Losses which many of them have presented, afford conclusive Evidence of their Inattention to Truth and common Decency. Such however has been the Infatuation of british Counsels, that what was manifest to others was problematical if not entirely dark to them.—

As to their present Minister—he has neither been long enough in Administration, nor perhaps in the World, for a decided Judgement to be formed either of his private or public Character. He seems to possess Firmness as well as Abilities and if to these be added Information and comprehensive as well as patriotic Views, he may be worthy of his Father— England will problably be either much the better or much the worse for him

We are anxious to receive Letters from you on the Subject of the Posts, that in either Event we may be prepared. In the one Case I should think it very justifiable in Congress to take a certain Step that would be longer and more sensibly felt by Britain than the Independence of these States.—

Mr. Arthur Lee has been elected to the vacant Place at the Board of Treasury.—

Governor Rutledge declines going to Holland.— The Affair of Longchamps is adjusted—he stays where he is.—

With great Esteem and Regard I am / Dear Sir / Your most obt. & very hble: Servt.

John Jay

RC (Adams Papers) and enclosure (PRO:FO 4, State Papers, vol. 3, f. 663–676); internal address: “The Honorable John Adams Esqr: / Minister Plenipotentiary of the / United States at the Court of / Great Britain—” Some loss of text due to a torn manuscript. The enclosure was sent to the Marquis of Carmarthen under a covering letter of 17 Oct. (PRO:FO 4, State Papers, vol. 3, f. 659).


In his 26 Aug. letter (Adams Papers), Jay acknowledged receiving JA’s letters of 2, 6, and 17 June, all above.


The congressional resolution of 18 Aug. consisted of Jay’s report on the Stanhope Affair ( JCC , 29:637–647). Included in that report, as documentation of the American claim, were James Bowdoin’s 8 Aug. letter to the members of the Massachusetts delegation; Capt. Henry Stanhope’s letters to Bowdoin of 1, 2, and 4 Aug.; and Bowdoin’s letters to Stanhope of 1 and 3 Aug., for which see Bowdoin’s 10 Aug. letter to JA , notes 2 and 3, above. In his report Jay indicated that he thought it “proper to transmit these papers to the Minister of the United States at 416the Court of London, and to instruct him to communicate them to the British Minister.” In Jay’s view, despite the magnitude of Stanhope’s offense, which “must give no less Displeasure” to George III than to Congress, Bowdoin had been remarkably restrained in an effort “to avoid increasing the irritation which the late war may have produced in the two Nations,” and Bowdoin’s response “will be ascribed to its proper motives, and be considered as evincive of a desire to prevent animosity and promote mutual goodwill.” For JA’s representations to the Marquis of Carmarthen on the subject and its ultimate resolution, see his letters to Jay of 15, 21, and 27 Oct., all below.