Papers of John Adams, volume 17

From Rufus King, 2 November 1785 King, Rufus Adams, John
From Rufus King
Sir, New York 2d Nov: 1785

A confidential intimacy with our common friend Mr. Gerry, with whom I have served during the last year has given me full information of the correspondence which has lately passed between you and him: and it is in consequence of a Sentence in your last letter 563to Mr. Gerry, that I take the Liberty of addressing this to you— if Mr. Gerry remained in Congress, I should suppose that the communications which I might make, would not be worth the Trouble of your perusal—but in his absence from Congress, it may be convenient that you should know the Opinions entertained by this body, relative to the Object of your Legation, and other Subjects important to America—1

If in communicating this information, I Shall have not only the honor of corresponding with a great minister, but also the satisfaction of serving my country, I cannot want motives to proceed.

The Sentiments uniformly expressed in your official Letters to the Secretary of foreign affairs, since your Residence at London, meet correspondent Opinions in all the States Eastward of Maryland— You very well understand the false commercial reasonings, and ill founded policy, of the other States: their present conduct, will hereafter be the cause of bitter regret— The navigation Act of Massachusetts you undoubtedly will have seen before this reaches You. New Hampshire has passed a similar Law, & other States probably may follow their example; yet granting that the measure will not become general still the confederation has put it in the choice of the Seven or Eight eastern States to become great commercial powers— Even admitting what is affirmed in England, that the Southern and Eastern States cannot agree in any System of commerce which will oppose to G. Britain commercial Disadvantages similar to those which she imposes upon our commerce and navigation, yet the Eight Eastern States can agree; they have common objects, are under similar embarrassments, would rest adequate powers in Congress to regulate external and internal commerce; and in case the Southern States decline, to rest similar powers in Congress, or to agree in some uniform system, the former by the Confederation are competent to form, and in the Event must form, a sub confederation remedial of all their present Embarrassments—

This is a matter that will be touched with great delicacy; the Subject is better and better understood every day in America, for it is the general conversation and examination— You sir, know your countrymen, you have witnessed their enterprize and Resolution under superior Difficulties. Will they suffer their commerce to languish and expire? will not the Spirit which dictated the nonimportation Agreement, & which once pervaded these States again appear? it still exists, and though it may have slept for a Time, it can again be roused; and if once more it becomes vigilant, and can be made 564active by the Pride of independence and the idea of national honor and Glory, the present embarrassments of Trade, and the vain Sophisms of Europeans relative thereto, will not only direct, but drive America into a System more advantageous than Treaties and alliances with all the world— A System which shall cause her to rely upon her own Ships, and her own mariners, and to exclude those of all other Nations— I will not add—be pleased to esteem this as introductory to such opinions prevailing here, as future safe opportunities may authorise me to communicate— If a Stranger can without impropriety offer his homage to a Lady of distinguished merit, I pray that you will please to make mine acceptable to Mrs. Adams; for whose happiness, together with that of Miss Adams her Companion & daughter, I entertain the warmest wishes—and have the honor to be with perfect respect, & consideration, Sir your most / obed. Servt.

Rufus King—

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “His Exy: John Adams Esq:”; endorsed: “Mr King. 2. Nov. / ansd. 23. Decr. 1785.”


This letter marks the beginning of a substantial correspondence between King and JA that stemmed from JA’s invitation in his 26 June letter to Elbridge Gerry, for which see JA’s 6 July letter to Gerry, note 1, above.

To John Jay, 4 November 1785 Adams, John Jay, John
To John Jay
Dear Sir Grosvenor Square Westminster Nov. 4. 1785

Yesterday at the Ministers Levee, one of the foreign Ministers put into my hand a Leyden Gazette, in which I found announced to the Public, an Arret of the King of France of the 18th. of September, in which a Bounty of Ten Livres per Quintal is promised to any French Merchants who shall import into the Markett of the French West India Islands, or of Spain Portugal or Italy any Fish, of the French Fisheries.— and in which the Impost upon all foreign Fish, is raised to, five Livres a Quintal.1 This amounts to an encouragement of Fifteen Livres a Quintal upon French Fish in the West Indies.

As the Supply of the French Islands with Fish is so material, perhaps so essential to our Fishery, this Ordonnance deserves the earliest and most serious Attention, of every Man in America who has any regard to our Fisheries. As the Supply of the French Islands, with Fish is of so much Consequence, to the British Fishery, I took occasion in a conference with the Marquis of Carmarthen to mention it to him, and to observe to him, that, I left it to his Lordship to 565consider, whether the British Fisheries could be Supported against the Influence of this ordinance, without the freeest Communication of Supplies from the United States.—2 His Lordship thought it deserved Consideration, and that was all the Oracle would deliver. I afterwards mentioned it to Mr Frazer his Lordships Under Secretary of State.

The Marquis of Carmarthen, that I may let you into enough of his Character to account for his Conduct, is a modest amiable Man: treats all Men with Civility, and is much esteemed, by the foreign Ministers as well as the Nation: But is not an enterprizing Minister: is never assuming, and I believe never takes upon himself to decide any Point of Importance, without consulting the Cabinet. he never gives his private Opinion but in all Things which respect America, I dont believe that he or any other of the Ministry have yet formed any. We shall I think learn nothing of their Designs till they are brought forth in Parliament in the Course of the Winter and Spring.

Mr Pitt commenced his Career, with Sentiments, rather liberal towards the U. States: but Since he has been Prime Minister he has appeared to have given Ear, to the Chancellor & Lord Gower Mr Dundas and Mr Jenkinson, with their Instruments Irvin, Chalmers, Smith and others So much as to have departed from his first Principle. He has tryed the Experiments of the Newfoundland Bill and fourth Irish Proposition: but finding the fatal Success of both, he may be brought back to the System with which he set out. But I doubt it. or rather I am convinced he never will untill he is obliged to it, by our States adopting Navigation Acts.— There is published this Morning, in the Chronicle The Proceedings at Charlestown on the 16. of August, which look very encouraging.3 if the Legislature of South Carolina, lay partial Restrictions, on the Ships of Such Nations as have no Treaty of Commerce with the United States, I think it cannot be doubted that all the other States will come into the Measure, because there is none which will Suffer a greater temporary Inconvenience by it. These measures have a tendency to encourage the naval Stores of North Carolina so much, that She will be a gainer.

But the principal Danger is, that these Restrictions may not be Sufficiently high to give a clear Advantage to the Ships of the United States.

I cannot repeat to you, too often, Sir, that all my Hopes are founded upon Such Exertions in America. The Trade with America, must come under consideration of Parliament, in the renovation of 566 the Intercourse Act, if not of the Newfounland Act: and their Deliberations will be influenced by Nothing, but American Navigation Acts. I fear there are not enough of these Yet made, nor likely to be made this Year to have much Effect.

This nation is Strangely blinded by Prejudice and Passion. They are ignorant of the Subject, beyond Conception. There is a Prohibition of the Truth, arising from popular Anger. Printers will print nothing which is true without pay, because it displeases their Readers, while their Gazettes are open to lies because they are eagerly read, and make the Papers Sell.— Scribblers for Bread, are wholly occupied in abusing the United States: and Writers for Fame, if there are any Such left in this Country, find the public applause wholly against Us. The Rise of the Stocks, has established Mr Pitt, and if he were willing he would Scarcely be able, to do right untill America Shall enable him & oblige him. I am / sir your most obt. sert.

John Adams

RC (PCC, No. 84, V, f. 713–716); internal address: “Mr Secretary Jay.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel No. 111.


JA here gives the substance of the Council of State’s 18 Sept. decree as reported in the Leyden Gazette of 28 October. For the decree itself, which was to be in force for five years, together with an English translation, see PCC, No. 80, II, f. 275–288, 295–304. In his letter to Thomas Jefferson of this date, below, JA requested a copy of the arrêt, and in his reply of 19 Nov., below, Jefferson sent copies of both it and another decree dated 25 Sept., neither of which has been found, probably because JA enclosed them with his 23 Dec. letter to Rufus King (NHi: Rufus King Papers).


News of the French arrêt received by JA at the 3 Nov. levee confirmed for him the validity of his representations regarding France and the fisheries made at his conference with Carmarthen on 20 Oct., for which see JA’s 21 Oct. letter to Jay, above.


The 4 Nov. Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser reprinted an account from the 15 Aug. Charleston Evening Gazette of that day’s meeting of citizens at the City Exchange. There they received a committee report on a memorial to the state legislature representing the misfortune that South Carolina and other states suffered from British restrictions on American navigation. In the resulting memorial, they proposed that Congress be invested with “more ample powers” to regulate trade and that, in the meantime, temporary and partial restrictions be laid on the vessels of nations lacking a commercial treaty with the United States.