Papers of John Adams, volume 17

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.

To Thomas Jefferson, 4 November 1785 Adams, John Jefferson, Thomas
To Thomas Jefferson
Dear sir Grosvenor Square Nov. 4. 1785

Mr Preston has at last found and Sent me, your Letter.1 Dr Bancroft Spoke to me, about Commodore Jones’s Demand upon Denmark: but upon looking into the Papers We found that the Commodore is recommended by Congress wholly to the Minister at the 567Court of Versailles, so that We were apprehensive our Powers would be disputed. The Danish Minister however was not here; I offered to go with Dr Bancroft to the Charge D’Affairs, and Speak to him upon the Subject, but the Dr thought it would be Safest to follow the Intentions of Congress, and write to Jones to request you to Speak to the Chargé D’Affairs of Denmark at Paris. I know nothing of the Subject more than you. The offer of 10,000£ was made to Dr Franklin alone.— all that you or I can do is to Speak or write to the Minister or Chargé D’affairs and receive his Answer. The Surrender of the Prizes to the English was an Injury to Jones and his People and to the U. States and ought to be repaired.—2

Will you be so good as to Send me the Ordonnance du Roi of 18 sept, establishing Bounties upon Salt Fish of the French Fisheries and Imposts upon foreign Fish in the Marketts of the French Islands and in Spain Portugal and Italy?—

The Portuguese Minister told me Yesterday that his Court did not choose to treat in France, but I have learned from another Quarter that he had written for and expects full Power to treat here. this you will keep to yourself. as soon as any Proposals are made to me, I will send them to you. But I am every day more and more sensible, We must confine our Exports to our own ships, and therefore Shall be afraid to let any more foreign ships into our Ports, without a rich equivalent for it.— We must encourage Our Manufactures too. All foreign nations are taking an ungenerous Advantage of our Symplicity and philosophical Liberality. We must take heed.—

I dont doubt that all the Courts of Europe would join my Friends the Abbes, in their Prayer that We may be perpetually poor, not indeed like them with a desire that We may be perpetually virtuous, but that Europeans may have all the Profit of American Labour.— Our Country[men] I fancy, have more Wit, if they have not so much Wisdom as Philosophers wish them or so much [Patience] under insidious Policy, as Courtiers would be glad to find in them.

With the most cordial Esteem, your / Friend & sert

John Adams

RC (DLC:Jefferson Papers); addressed: “His Excellency / Thomas Jefferson Esqr / Ambassador of the United States / of America at the Court of / Versailles / Paris”; internal address: “Mr Jefferson.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 111. Text lost where the seal was removed has been supplied from the LbC.


This is Jefferson’s letter of 11 Oct., above. For Sir Robert Preston and his delay in delivering Jefferson’s letters to JA and AA, see JA’s 24 Oct. letter to Jefferson, and note 1, above.


For the Danish-American dispute over prizes taken during the 1779 Bonhomme Richard expedition, see Jefferson’s 11 Oct. 1785 568 letter and note 3, above. JA’s reluctance to become involved—even at Jefferson’s behest— was that, irrespective of the 29 Oct. 1783 instruction to the peace commissioners on the matter (vol. 15:331–332), it had been Benjamin Franklin, acting in his role as minister to France, who had worked to resolve the issue. Thus, at least in JA’s mind, responsibility for any new initiatives devolved onto Jefferson as Franklin’s replacement as minister, but see Jefferson’s response in his 19 Nov. 1785 letter, below.