Papers of John Adams, volume 17

From James Sullivan, 23 October 1785 Sullivan, James Adams, John
From James Sullivan
Dear Sir Boston 23d October 1785

I had your favour of the 16th. of August Yesterday, and am exceeding glad that it came at this time because I am frequently applied to for my Sentiments upon the propriety of the Navagation act of this State and being clear in my own opinion that it ought not to be repealed I can Say it with more confidence when my sentiments so exactly coincide with yours. but as the People here are much divided in their ideas of the Subject I can by no means expose your Letter without your licence which will not be obtained untill the matter is decided at least for the present.

Britian has yet a warm party in America who conceive that we had better be Governed by her policy than our own. our Merchants have a supreme regard to her Commerce perhaps the large Sums they owe there keeps them in Awe. those who were averse to the revolution are uniformly so against every regulation of trade, I rather Suspect from the influence this Sort of people have gained that the Act will be repealed. yesterday Toscan the Vice Consul of France prefered his memorial to the legislature agt. the Act.1 that this menœvre did not originate with him I am very clear but it will have a great Effect on the Minds of the Country members. our People have foolishly Spent all the Money borrowed by the union, and introduced by foreign Armies, for the luxuries of Europe and being distressed know not where to find a remedy. and Such is our appetite for foreign gewgaws that nothing less than placing them beyond our reach by Imposts can check our Voracious inclination. but I fear there is not firmness enough to accomplish it.

I know not your Sentiments regarding a federal Judcial power and 536the changing of our Confederation into one like a consolidated Government of the whole but I am at present against it. however the circle in favour of it grows larger and larger, Vainly Supposing that our happiness depends more on the form of a union than in frugality, the love of our Country, and attention to the Social Virtues—

I have the honor to be / with great regard and / Friendship Your Most / Obedient Humble Servt

James Sullivan

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “The Honble. Mr Adams.”


Jean Joseph Marie Toscan was French vice-consul for both Boston and Portsmouth, N.H., having been appointed to the first in 1779 and the second in 1783 (Abraham P. Nasatir and Gary Elwyn Monell, French Consuls in the United States, Washington, D.C., 1967, p. 567–568). Toscan’s 22 Oct. 1785 petition to the Mass. General Court has not been found, but it concerned the portion of the navigation act adopted on 23 June that imposed a duty on foreign ships twice that paid by American ships. That provision violated Arts. 3 and 4 of the 1778 Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce. The offending section was repealed on 29 Nov. 1785 (Mass., Acts and Laws , 1784–1785, p. 439–443, 489, 731; Miller, Treaties , 2:5–6; The Emerging Nation, ed. Mary A. Giunta, 3 vols., Washington, D.C., 1996, 2:958).

To Thomas Jefferson, 24 October 1785 Adams, John Jefferson, Thomas
To Thomas Jefferson
Dear Sir Grosvenor Square Octr. 24. 1785

Mr Preston arrived here, two days ago, but had lost his Letters, I hope he had none of Consequence.1 he dont remember he had any for me. He tells me from you, that the Dr is arrived at Philadelphia which I am glad to hear, and those Oracles of Truth the English Newspapers tell Us, he had an honourable Reception, which I Should not however have doubted, if I had not any Such respectable Authority for it.

The Insurance is made upon Houdons Life for Six Months from the 12 of October. I have paid Thirty two Pounds Eleven Shillings Præmium and Charges, which you will please to give me Credit for. I could not persuade them to look back, as they Say, they never ensure but for the future and from the date of the Policy. I Suppose it will be Safest to keep the Receipt and Policy here, for fear of Accidents.

I begin to be uneasy about our Funds. the Draughts upon Willinks & Co and the Expences of the Negotiations in Barbary, will exhaust the little that remains, and unless We have fresh Supplies, We shall all be obliged to embark, in the first ships We can find before 537next March, for Want of bread. I hope you will press this subject in your Letters to America. Rutledge declines, and you will not wonder at it.— I dont believe Congress will find any other Man, who will venture abroad upon the present Plan. The Dr was lucky to get out of the Scrape, in Season. You and I Shall Soon wish ourselves at home too.—

I have a Letter from Thulemeier, that he has received from the King a Ratification of the Treaty, and is ready to exchange it. I hope you will request of Congress a prompt Ratification on their Part, that one Affair at least may be finished.2 I See no comfortable hopes here.— We hold Conferences upon Conferences, but the Ministers either have no Plan or they button it up, closer than their Waistcoats.— The thirteen States much each pass a Navigation Act, and heavy Duties upon all British Merchandizes, so as to give a clear Advantage to their own and the Manufactures of France & Germany Prussia & Russia, or We shall be a long time weak and poor.

This will be delivered you by Dr Rodgers a Son of Dr Rodgers of New York a young Gentleman of Merit.

I am Sir with the greatest Esteem your / Friend & sert.

John Adams

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


The courier was Sir Robert Preston (1740–1834), Scottish-born merchant and M.P. for Dover since 1784 (Namier and Brooke, House of Commons , 3:326). Preston carried Jefferson’s 11 Oct. 1785 letters to JA , above, and to AA ( AFC , 6:422–423), both of which he initially reported as lost but later found and delivered on or about 4 Nov. (to Jefferson, 4 Nov., below; AFC , 6:442, 466).


Jefferson wrote to John Jay on 2 Jan. 1786 regarding the ratification of the Prussian-American treaty and enclosed copies of the Baron von Thulemeier’s 11 Oct. 1785 letter to him and his reply of the 16th (Jefferson, Papers , 8:625, 639; 9:136). But there apparently is no letter from JA to Jay on the subject, perhaps because he thought the commissioners’ 11 Oct. letter, above, was sufficient.