Papers of John Adams, volume 17

From John Jay, 14 October 1785 Jay, John Adams, John
From John Jay
Dr: Sir New York 14th: October 1785

Since the Date of my last to you which was the 6th: September last, I have been honored with yours of the 10th: & 26th: June, and 19th: & 29th: July with the Papers mentioned to be enclosed.1 They are now before Congress, and I am persuaded that the strong Marks they bear of Industry and Attention will give them Pleasure.—

I perfectly concur with you in Sentiment respecting what ought to be the Conduct and Policy of the United States, and I am not without Hopes that they will gradually perceive and pursue their true Interests. There certainly is much Temper as well as Talents in Congress, and altho it is not in their Power to do all that should be done, yet they are willing and industrious to do whatever depends upon them. Your Letters I am sure are useful, they desseminate and inforce those fœderal Ideas which cannot be too forceably inculcated or two strongly impressed— Our fœderal Government is incompetent to its Objects, and as it is the Interest of our Country, so it is the Duty of her leading Characters to cooperate in Measures for enlarging and invigorating it. The Rage for Separations and new States is mischevious—it will unless checked scatter our Resources and in every View enfeeble the Union. Your Testimony against such licentious anarchical Proceedings would I am persuaded have great Weight.—2

Your Letters as yet are silent respecting the Evacuation of our frontier Posts— I do not mean to press you either to do or say any Thing unseasonably about it, for there are Times and Tides in human Affairs to be watched and observed— I know your Attention, and therefore rest satisfied that we shall hear from you on this interesting Subject as soon as you ought to write about it.3 During the ensuing Sessions of the Legislatures, I shall watch their Acts, and endeavour to send you such as may respect the Interests of the 511Union. I find it extremely difficult to collect them— when I first came into this Office I wrote a circular Letter to the Governors requesting them among other Things to send me from time to time printed Copies of their Acts— but whatever may have been the Cause, it has so happened that except in two or three Instances this Request has been entirely neglected.—4

With the Newspapers herewith sent, you will find the Requisition of Congress—what its Success will be cannot yet be determined.—5

The Algerines it seems have declared War against us—if we act properly I shall not be very sorry for it. In my Opinion it may lay the Foundation for a Navy, and tend to draw us more closely into a fœderal System. On that Ground only we want Strength, and could our People be brought to see it in that Light and act accordingly we should have little Reason to apprehend Danger from any Quarter.—

Mr. DeMarbois has left us and is gone to St: Domingo where he has an Intendancy— Mr. Otto succeeds him, and appears well disposed.—6

As yet your Place at the Hague is vacant—several Gentlemen are in Nomination, among whom I hear are Mr. Izard and Mr. Madison.—7

Doctr. Franklin is happy at Philadelphia—both Parties are assiduous in their Attentions to him, and it is thought more than probably that he will succeed Mr. Dickenson. I fear, in the Language of our Farmers, that a Day so remarkably fine for the Season may prove a Weather breeder—that is—that he will find it difficult to manage both Parties—for if he gives himself up to one, he must expect Hostility from the other— I wish he may be able to reconcile them, and thereby restore that State to the Degree of Strength and Respectability which from its Population, Fertility and Commerce it ought to possess.—

I congratulate you on the Issue of your Discussions with their High Mightinesses— Mr. Dumas gave us an Account of it, and we are all pleased to find that it terminated as it did.—8

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

John Jay

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “The Honorable / John Adams Esquire—”; endorsed: “Mr Jay. Oct. 14. 1785. / Ansd. Nov. 24. 1785.”


The “Papers,” enclosed with JA’s 29 July letter, were copies of his 14 and 27 July letters to the Marquis of Carmarthen, all above.


In the final portion of this paragraph concerning the powers of the government under the Confederation, Jay is responding to JA’s letter of 26 June, above, but see also his second letter to Jay of 24 Nov., below.

512 3.

See JA’s first letter to Jay of 24 Nov., below.


Jay’s circular letter, dated 29 Jan., announced his appointment as secretary for foreign affairs, indicated the functions of his office, and requested that he be sent “a copy of the Laws of your State now in force, and also copies of such as may from time to time be passed.” For the copy sent to Pennsylvania, see Penna. Archives , 1st ser., 10:401–402 (1854).


The enclosure has not been found, but Jay presumably refers to Congress’ “requisition for 1785,” which was approved on 27 Sept. and totaled $3 million, of which Massachusetts’ quota was $448,854 ( JCC , 29:765–771). For Tristram Dalton’s characterization of it and past requisitions as “waste paper,” see his letter of 18 Oct., below.


On 30 Aug., François de Barbé-Marbois, French chargé d’affaires, notified Jay and Congress of his appointment as intendant at St. Domingue and his replacement as chargé by Louis Guillaume Otto, former secretary to the Chevalier de La Luzerne. Barbé-Marbois left the United States on 28 Sept. and served as intendant until 1790 when he returned to France to resume his diplomatic career. Otto served as chargé through 1788 and again from Oct. 1789 until July 1791 ( JCC , 29:675–676; Repertorium , 3:144; Hoefer, Nouv. biog. générale ; Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789 , 1:181–182).


Ralph Izard was nominated to be minister to the Netherlands on 24 Aug. 1785, but no vote on his candidacy was apparently ever taken ( JCC , 29:655). No mention of James Madison’s candidacy has been found.


C. W. F. Dumas’ account of JA’s “Discussions” with the States General over his failure to take leave from the States before taking up his post in London apparently consisted of the June letters exchanged by Dumas and JA on the subject, above. Dumas enclosed them with his 26 June letter to the president of Congress, which was received on 3 Oct. (PCC, No. 185, III, f. 141). For a copy of that letter, the original of which, with its enclosures, has been lost, see Dumas’ letterbook, Nationaal Archief:Dumas Papers, Microfilm, Reel 2, f. 724.

To John Jay, 15 October 1785 Adams, John Jay, John
To John Jay
Dear Sir Grosvenor Square October 15. 1785

I have received the Letter you did me the Honour to write me the 6. Septr.

The Act of Congress of the 18 of August, which you inclose, Shall be communicated as directed.1

I have the Honour to agree, fully with you in your Opinion, that “it is manifestly as much the Interest of this Country, to be well with Us, as for Us to be well with them” But this is not the Judgment of the English Nation: it is not the Judgment of Lord North and his Party: it is not the Judgment of the Duke of Portland and his Friends: and it does not appear to be the Judgment of Mr Pitt and the present Sett. in Short it does not at present appear to be the Sentiment of any Body. And I am much inclined to believe they will try the Issue of Importance with Us.

I have insisted upon the Surrender of the Posts, with as much Earnestness as Prudence would warrant, but can obtain no other Answer than certain Hints concerning the Debts and Some other Points, which are Sufficient to convince me that the Restoration of the Posts will have certain Conditions tack’d to it. I have insisted in 513Conversation, and have enquired, in Writing, but have not yet made a formal Requisition, by a Memorial in the Name and by Order of the United States.— If I had done it, I Should have compromised my Sovereign, and Should certainly have had no Answer. Whenever this is done, it Should be followed up. I Shall certainly do it, if I Should See a Moment when it can possibly prevail. If it is the Judgment of Congress that it Should be done immediately, I Should be glad of their orders, which Shall be exactly obeyed. I Should even wish they would prescribe to me, the Form of the Memorial.2

It is indeed, as you observe, in the Power of Congress to take a certain Step, which would be longer and more Sensibly felt by Britain, than the Independence of the United States. You have not hinted at the Nature of this Measure: I can conceive of more than one. Exclusion of British Ships from all our Exports, and a heavy Duty upon British Manufactures, is one: a defensive Alliance with France, Spain and Holland is another. a Case may happen in which this last might be justifiable: but I presume it will not be hastily adopted, nor ever without Canada and Nova scotia, to be admitted into our Confederation, and one half at least of the best of the English West India Islands, besides Stipulations for the Admission of our Produce freely to the French West India Islands and Some Articles into France Duty free, with similar Stipulations with Spain and Holland. I hope however the first Measure will be adopted forthwith, and not the Smallest Article of our Produce be permitted to be exported in Brittish Bottoms.

Mr Barclay is appointed to go to Morocco, and Coll Franks goes with him. Mr Lamb to Algiers and Paul R Randal Esqr with him. There will be captives to redeem as well as Treaties to form.

I can obtain no Answer from the Ministry, to any one demand, Proposal or Inquiry. in this I am not alone. It is the Complaint of all the other foreign Ministers. The Dutch Envoy particularly told me yesterday, that he could obtain no Answer, to any of his Memorials, Some of which were presented as long ago as last April. The Ministry, Since the ill fortune of their Studies in Ireland, have been in a Lethargy. But they must Soon awake. Mr Pitt has long had with him in the Country Our Project of a Treaty, and, it cannot be long before he comes to some determination.3 They have had lately Evidence enough of the Utility to them of the public hope of a commercial Agreement with America. holding up the Idea of a Treaty, has rapidly raised the Stocks. But I cannot entertain any Sanguine hopes, 514for all Experience all Evidence, Seems to be lost upon this nation and its Rulers. According to most Appearances, a nation so entirely given up the Government of its Passions, must precipitate itself into Calamities greater than it has yet felt. I still think however, that a decided Opinion, concerning the system it will pursue, cannot be formed, before the Opening of the next Budget. With great Esteem and Regard I / have the Honour to be, Sir your most obedient / and most humble servant

John Adams

RC (PCC, No. 84, V, f. 661–664); internal address: “Mr Secretary Jay.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 111.


For the content of the resolution concerning the Stanhope Affair, which JA presented to the Marquis of Carmarthen at their meeting on 20 Oct., under a covering letter dated 17 Oct. (PRO:FO 4, State Papers, vol. 3, f. 659–676), see James Bowdoin’s 10 Aug. letter, note 2, and Jay’s of 6 Sept., note 2, both above. For the presentation of the resolution, see JA’s 21 Oct. letter to Jay, and note 3, below.


JA presented a memorial concerning the frontier posts, dated [30 Nov.], to Carmarthen at a meeting on 8 Dec., for which see the memorial, and note 1, below; and JA’s 9 Dec. letter to Jay, Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789 , 2:543–544. He first took up the matter with Carmarthen in June (to Jay, 17 June; to Carmarthen, 20 June, both above), and did so again at his meeting with Carmarthen on 20 Oct. (Carmarthen’s Memorandum of a Conversation with JA, 20 Oct.; to Jay, 21 Oct., both below).


Not until April 1786, following the arrival of Thomas Jefferson on a visit, did the Pitt ministry through Carmarthen respond to the draft Anglo-American commercial treaty submitted by JA to Carmarthen with the letter of 29 July 1785, above. In a letter of 3 April 1786, William Fraser, Carmarthen’s undersecretary, informed JA that the draft had not been “confined to Commercial Matters only” and that the marquis wished the commissioners to submit a new draft of a commercial treaty “containing only such Points as are necessary for that Purpose” (Adams Papers). Agreeable to Fraser’s request, JA and Jefferson wrote to Carmarthen the next day, enclosing a new, much shorter version of the original draft ( Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789 , 1:603–604), but the new draft fared no better than the original.