Papers of John Adams, volume 17

To John Jay, 5 November 1785 Adams, John Jay, John
To John Jay
Dear Sir Grosvenor Square Westminster Nov. 5. 1785 1

The Chevalier De Pinto, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, from Portugal,2 after a long Absence by Leave of his Court, is lately arrived here from Lisbon: Upon Several Occasions, when I met him, at Court and upon Visits, he told me, that he had orders from his Court to confer with me, upon the Project of a 569Treaty between the United States and Portugal, but he never descended to Particulars till Yesterday, When he called upon me, and said, that before he left Lisbon, his Court had learn’d that I was in England, and had charged him to enter into Conference with me, concerning that Project of a Treaty, which had been transmitted to his Court by the Comte De Suzi.3 That the Portugueze Ministry, notwithstanding their high Esteem for their Ambassador in France, knowing that he lived in the Country, and was in distress, did not choose that the negotiation Should be any longer conducted by him, but had committed the Project, to their Envoy at the Court of England, and had instructed him to assure me that the Court of Lisbon was Sincerely desirous of entering into a Treaty of Commerce with the United States of America a Power with which it was more convenient for Portugal to trade with than any other. But there were some Things in the Plan proposed, which were inadmissible, particularly the Americans could never be admitted into the Brazils. it was impossible. it was the invariable Maxim of their Court to exclude all Nations from those Territories, and having himself Served for Some Years as Governor General of one of the Brazils he knew it was a Policy, from which his Court, could never on any Consideration depart. That it was a great Compliment to him to be preferred to the Comte De Luzi for the Conduct of Such a Negotiation. That he made no Pretensions to Such Merit, but readily acknowledged the Superiority of the Ambassador: but it was the Pleasure of his Court, and he had no right to dispute it.

I answered, that I had no Authority to treat, but in Conjunction with Mr Jefferson, the Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States at the Court of Versailles. That the Full Power to treat with Portugal, was to Mr Jefferson and me jointly: so that I could conclude nothing without his Concurrence, nor carry on any Conferences, without communicating them to him. to this I Supposed he could have no Objection. He said none at all.—

His first Instruction was he Said, to confer with me concerning the mutual Wants and Several Productions of our Countries which might be the Objects of Commerce. His Countrymen wanted he Said, Grain.— I asked, if they did not want Flour? He said he was not precisely instructed concerning Flour, but they had Mills in Portugal which they wished to employ.— I replied that in every negotiation, I thought there ought to be a mutual Consideration of each others Profits, and Losses, Advantages and Disadvantages, So that the Result might be equitable and give Satisfaction on both Sides. 570That a Commerce founded upon Compacts made upon this Principle would ever be carried on with more Pleasure, and to better Effect. That We had Mills, which We wished to employ, as well as Portugal, and Mills as costly and as good as those of any nation. in this respect then our Pretensions were mutual and equal. but there were other Particulars, in which without any Benefit to Portugal the Loss to the United States would be very great. The Commodity was more difficult to preserve in Grain than in Flour. it was more exposed to the Insect, and to heat both at home and upon the Passage, by which means the Loss upon Wheat was much greater than that upon Flour. That it would not be equitable then for Portugal to receive Wheat to the Exclusion of Flour. That this was a point of so much Importance that would facilitate the Treaty, and encourage the Commerce, if his Court Should think fit to agree to receive our Flour.

He Said he had not precise Instructions, but he would write to his Court, particularly upon this Point.— The next Article, wanted by the Portuguese was Lumber, of various sorts particularly Staves for Pipes, in large Quantities. They wanted also ship timber, Pitch Tar and Turpentine, Potash for their Manufactures of Glass, Iron, Masts Yards and Beausprits, Furrs, Ginzeng, and above all Salt Fish. The Consumption of this Article in Portugal he Said was immense and he would avow to me, that the American Salt Fish was preferred to any other, on Account of its Quality. here you, See, Says the Chevalier De Pinto is a Catalogue of Articles, which the Portuguese will want in larger or Smaller Quantities: now what are the Articles You can take in America in Exchange? it behoves my Nation, to enquire, what they can Supply yours with, otherwise the Ballance in your favour may be too ruinous to Us. it happens unluckily for Portugal, that the Americans have no Occasion for our Principal Commodities which are Tobacco, Rice Indigo &c the Produce of the Brazils.

I replied, that the United States had been used to take considerable Quantities of Madeira, Lisbon and Port Wines, Fruits, Olive Oil Salt &c.— He asked why We could not take Tea, from Lisbon? They imported from the East, large Quantities, and very good. The English East India Company had purchased of them this Year Teas to the amount of forty Thousand Pounds, and he thought they could Sell it to Us cheaper than We bought it elsewhere. They could Supply Us, likewise with all other East India Goods. perhaps We intended to Supply ourselves by a direct Trade to India: he was glad 571to hear that our first Enterprizes had Succeeded: but if We continued to take any Part of our Consumption from Europe they could Supply Us as cheaply as any other Nation. Sugar too the Produce of the Brazils, they could furnish to Us, of as good quality as English or French and much cheaper. if We should think of Manufactures among ourselves, they could let Us have Wool of the Same quality with the Spanish, and Coton in any quantities We might Want. if We made Chocolate, they could Sell Us Cocoa. indeed they had Woolen Manufactures and could afford Us Cloth as good and cheap as other Nations.

These were Things I replied in which the Merchants on both Sides Should Speculate. if the United States Should proceed in the Plan already begun of encouraging their own Manufactures, the raw Materials of Wool and Coton would be in demand. and if they persevered in their Measures for encouraging their own Navigation, they would want large Quantities of Hemp, Sailcloth &c from the Baltick. and for what I knew they might find their Account in taking Sugars, Coton, Cocoa &c at Lisbon to carry as Remittances to Petersbourg & stockholm. They might even, upon some occasions purchase Tobacco, Rice & Indigo, for the same Markett as well as the Mediterranean, if that Scæne Should be open to our ships. But all these Things would depend upon the Facilities given to our Commodities by the Treaty. nothing would contribute so much to promote the Trade as their receiving our Flour, without Duties or Discouragements. our ready built Ships too, were an Article of Importance to Us.— He Said he did not know that our ready built ships were prohibited.— I asked if they could not take our White Sperma Cæti Oil, to burn in their Lamps or for any other Uses. He Said no. They had Such an Abundance of Oil, made in the Country of Olives which grow there, that they had no Occasion for their own Sperma Cæti Oil, which they sold to Spain. They had now a very pretty Sperma Cæti Whale Fishery, which they had learned of the New Englanders, and carried on, upon the Coast of Brazil.— I asked if they could not take our Sperma Cæti Candles, and burn them in their Churches? He Said they made Some Wax in Portugal and some in the Brazils, but he would own it was not enough for their Consumption. The surplus they bought in Italy and Barbary at a dear rate.— At length, I observed to the Chevalier, that Portugal abounded in two Articles, which would be extreamly convenient to my fellow Citizens, in which she might always ballance Accounts with Us to our entire satisfaction whether We should take more or 572less of their other Commodities. these were silver and Gold, than which no kind of Merchandize was in greater demand or had a higher Reputation. The Chevalier thought the Taste of his Countrymen so much like ours that they had rather pay Us in any thing else.

I added, if the Conduct of the Court of St. James’s Should oblige the United States to make a navigation Act, their Commerce must increase with Portugal.— a navigation Act? Says he, why there is not a Nation in Europe that would Suffer a navigation Act to be made in any other, at this day. The English Navigation Act was made, in times of Ignorance when few Nations cultivated Commerce, and no Court but this understood or cared any Thing about it: but at present all Courts were attentive to it. for his Part if he were Minister in Portugal, he would not hesitate to exclude from her Ports the ships of any Nation that should make Such an Act.— I replied that I did not mean, a Navigation Act against any Nation but this: but if the English persevered in enforcing their Act against Us, We could do no other than make one against them.— The Chevalier said We Should be perfectly in the right. The Courts of Europe had a long time cried out, against this Act of the English. if it were now to begin, it would not be Submitted to.

This Observation is just, and it may be carried farther. I dont believe the British Navigation Act, can last long. at least I am persuaded, if America has Spirit enough Umbone repellere Umbonem,4 that all the other Nations will Soon follow her Example. and the Apprehension of this would be alone Sufficient, if thinking Beings governed this Island, to induce them to Silence America, by giving her Satisfaction.— But they rely upon our Disunion, and think it will be time enough, when We Shall have shewn that We can agree.—

The Chevalier, concluded the Conference, by Saying that he would write to his Court for farther Information and Instructions, and as I understood him for full Powers. but before he went away he said, he had orders from his Court to enquire of me, what were the sentiments of Congress upon the Head of Ministers and Consuls. whether they would Send a Minister and Consul to Lisbon. His Court had a mind to Send Somebody to the United States: but Ettiquette required, that Congress should send in return to Portugal. I answered that in the Project of a Treaty which was in his Possession, there was an Article, that each Party should have a right to send Consuls. so that when the Treaty was concluded, Portugal would be a Liberty to send when she would. As to Ministers I had no Instructions, but there could be no Doubt, that if their Majesties 573of Portugal thought proper to send an Ambassador of any denomination, he would be received by Congress, with all the respect due to his Character and his sovereign. He said, if there was a Treaty, there ought to be Ministers. I could not answer to this particularly for Want of Instructions: but Congress had as yet but few Ministers abroad, and indeed they had not found many Gentlemen disposed to quit the delights of their own families and Connections, and the Esteem of their Fellow Citizens, for the sake of Serving in Europe. and here ended the Conversation.

With great Esteem I have the Honour to be / dear sir your most obedient and most / humble servant

John Adams

P.S. I forgot to Mention in its Place, that I asked the Chevalier about our ships being admitted to the Portuguese Island of Macao in the East Indies. He Said that would be of Importance to Us, for he did not see how the Commerce with China could be carried on without the Use of that Island as there were certain seasons of the Year when European ships and American too he supposed could not be admitted into Canton. But our ships Should enjoy the Benefit of their Island as fully as any Nation in Europe.

You will perceive, Sir by this Conference, what is more and more manifest every day. That there is, and will continue a general Scramble for navigation.— Carrying Trade! Ship Building! Fisheries! are the Cry of every Nation: and it will require all the Skill and Firmness of the United States to preserve, a reasonable share even of their own.— They have brought Treaties of Commerce so much into Fashion, that more have been made Since the American War and are now in Negotiation, than had been made for a Century before. Courts which never made one before, are now proposing them to Several others. Portugal is Supposed to be pushing for one with Russia: and if We have heretofore been discouraged and thwarted in any Attempts, it was by those, who meant to be beforehand with Us, in Proposals, which they taught Us to believe it unnecessary and beneath our Dignity make. France does not now think it, beneath her Dignity to propose a Treaty with Russia, nor do French or English Newspapers under the direction of their Courts think it beneath them to fill all Europe with Reports of our Disunion, and of the Want of Power in Congress to make Treaties in order to keep Us back.

The fatal Policy of obstructing and delaying our Treaties of Commerce, especially with England, has thrown American Merchants 574into their present Distress, and not only prevented our acquiring fresh Advantages in Trade by the Revolution, but taken from Us many Sources which We enjoyed before.— Our Countrymen, partly from Penury and partly from Fondness, have been too easily drawn into the snare. J. A.

RC (PCC, No. 84, V, f. 717–728); internal address: “His Excellency John Jay Esq / Secretary of State for the / Department of foreign Affairs”; endorsed: “Mr. Adams Letters of / 4 & 5 Novr. 1785.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 111.


JA sent Thomas Jefferson a virtually identical letter of this date (Jefferson, Papers , 9:18–22), to which Jefferson replied on 27 Nov., below. Congress received the letter on 17 April 1786 under cover of Jay’s letter of 13 April, and see Jay’s reference to it in his 11 May report on a treaty with Portugal, PCC, No. 185, III, f. 155; JCC , 30:260–261.


Luiz Pinto de Balsamão served as Portugal’s envoy extraordinary and minister to Great Britain from 1774 to 1789 ( Repertorium , 3:317).


This is JA’s rendition of the name of Portugal’s ambassador to France, Vicente, Conde de Sousa Coutinho. In both the letter to Jefferson and the LbC, the word is “Luzi,” but in this one to Jay the “L” has been overwritten with an “S.” The commissioners sent their draft Portuguese-American treaty to Sousa Coutinho on 30 Nov. 1784 (vol. 16:437–438). No official response to the American proposal was received until 9 Oct. 1785, and then it was negative, for which see Jefferson’s 11 Oct. letter, above.


Shields will drive back a shield.

From Elbridge Gerry, 8 November 1785 Gerry, Elbridge Adams, John
From Elbridge Gerry
My dear sir New York 8th Novr 1785

Since my last of the 3d of August I am favoured with yours of the 26th of June, 6th of July, 26th of August & 11th of September, & am much obliged to You for the papers inclosed in the July Letter,1 as well as for the useful Information contained in all of them.

The Conduct of the Court of London, clearly indicates, & convinces Us on this Side the Atlantic that they have an unfriendly Disposition towards Us. if the professions of the King are real, he discovers great Wisdom; for this will ever direct Men to make the best of Circumstances, & not to afflict themselves with repining or Resentment, because unfavorable Events have taken place. but in political affairs, & indeed in private Concerns, We are to ground our Conduct, on the part which those We have to deal with act, not on that, which they profess. but let the King’s Disposition, be what it may, the Ministry’s & Nation’s appears inimical—their true line of Conduct, is to rival in our Commerce the other Europeans, as they can, if they would conquer their vindictive Disposition & renew Friendship; but they are too degenerate for this, & the Consequence will be, such an implacable Hatred between the two Nations as will terminate all Commerce, & divert that of the U States into 575Channels from whence it will never return to G Britain. if they wish for Hostilities, We mean to be prepared for them by having a well armed & disciplined Militia, but with forty Millions sterg unfunded & with a people so burdened, as to be clamorous upon every Attempt to fund this Debt or any part of it, so loaded with Taxes for supporting Government & for paying the Interest of the funded Debt as to be hardly able to subsist, I think they cannot be so distracted as to wish for another hundred Millions on their shoulders by again waging War with the U. S— if they are, in the Name of God let them come on, & sink into the pit they had provided for Us; for such an addition to their Debt, or a less Sum, would produce a Convulsion that must subjugate them to some of the Other European powers; An Event I wish not to see, if they will cease to disturb & destroy the Happiness of Mankind.

As to an Allowance of Interest to the british Merchants for Debts contracted before the War, I do not conceive the Demand to be just, or that a Jury in the Union will ever be found to admit it. Interest is a Consideration for the Improvement of property, & the Fact is, that the American Debtors had not an Opportunity during the War to make such Improvement. they were obliged to sell their british Imports on Credit & to receive paper, which on an Average is depretiated to an half or one third of its nominal Sum. shall then the british Creditor recover Interest on a Book Debt, when the Debtor could only recover the principal, because such a privilege was admitted by Us under the british Government? if this Indulgence was just then, is it, for the same Reason just now? I think not, & beleive them, whatever they may say, to be of the same opinion: or at least, that they must feel in some Degree, the Injustice of a Demand, so apparent to those who are personally disinterested. I allude to the most cool & judicious Men in this quarter—

If a proposition should be made by partial Favours to divide the States, it will as formerly have a most happy Effect. it will tend to unite Us, more than any propositions of our own. but I think it impossible that the British Court, can be so lost to common Sense, as to betray their Enmity by such weak propositions as Facilities in Trade.

Your plan of granting a Bounty on Oyl to be paid by an Impost on british Manufactures strikes me very agreably. the operation would be twofold, & I should hope the Effect would be powerful.

I think You may make Yourself easy at present, respecting 576Congress— most of your Opponents are out by Rotation, & the Members appear in general to have great Confidence in your abilities & Integrity. Should You be attacked, You may rely on Mr King for a friendly & firm Support. Those who wished to supplant You, have quoted in private Circles, such Details & familiar Expressions in your Letters as they conceived were below the Dignity of your Station. their objections have had little or no Effect on liberal & judicious Minds, more especially, as all allow, You write with great Abilities on great Subjects. but to quiet these competitors, or Creatures of Competitors, it may be best to avoid Details, & gratify in some Measure their Taste for Sublimity of Style, & Rotundity of periods—

The Tales which You have heard of Gallicans & Antigallicans, british & Antibritish, are without Foundation. Congress can not be more free from foreign & domestic Influence, than they now are; & there are no parties in America, but such as are produced by clashing Interests, which there is a general Disposition to reconcile— The Cincinnati indeed may be considered as an Exception; but their Institution will be soon attacked in Congress, & I hope abolished—

Congress have taken much pains to obtain a full Representation of the States; from the Want of Which We have not done half the Business which We otherwise might have done the past Year. We have however put on a good Footing the Departments of the Treasury, War Office & foreign Affairs, the Business of which is very regularly & expeditiously conducted. We have also by adjourning to this place, quieted the Uneasinesses which resulted from the Want of Accomodations in princetown Trenton & Annapolis. We have obtained a good Requisition, & regulated the Loan offices so as reduce the thirteen Receivers of Taxes, & unite both Offices into One:2 passed the Land ordnance, in which however I think there must be an Alteration so far as to reduce the price of the fœderal Lands offered for Sale— We have also given You powers to adjust with the Court of London the eastern Boundary Line of Massachusetts. & have made You, Mr Jefferson & Mr Carmichael Consuls general, in the Kingdoms wherein You respectively reside. The fœderal Court between Massachusetts & New York is postponed, as two out of nine Judges have not yet accepted. We urged the Expediency of submitting the Cause to the seven who have accepted but N York declined.3

The new Congress is not yet formed & probably will not be within ten Days; they will have nothing to take off their attention from the 577great objects of laying plans for impowering Congress to collect the Taxes levied in pursuance of their Requisitions; to regulate Trade, so as to retaliate on Foreigners & carry commercial Treaties into full Effect; & to obtain an Adjustment of the State Accounts & a fœderal Valuation for assessing the States or rather a Rule for forming the latter. indeed the Algerine War, if it has taken Place, will require an Exertion, as We must have peace at all Events with these Barbarians, who are probably encouraged to commence Hostilities, by our british, or some other European Friends—

I wish You would attend to the Resolution of Congress making You Consul General: & if it will admit of the Measure, appoint General Warren’s Son Mr Winslow Warren Consul untill the Sense of Congress can be known, provided he can remove from Lisbon. this would give such satisfaction to our Milton Friends, that I sincerely wish the Measure may be adopted: & there is no Doubt in my Mind the Appointment would be confirmed by Congress.4

I am no longer elegible to Congress,5 & feel such a Relief from Anxiety & Care already, As induces me to think I shall relish private Life too well to quite it Again for any public office whatever. possibly I may alter my Mind after resting awhile, but I sincerely declare, that I always supposed & ever found publick Life inconsistent with my Happiness. the obligations Solicitudes, & Confinements thereof, are utterly irreconcileable to my Disposition— however I can never divest myself of a Desire to see the U States happy in their Government, prosperous, & respected— these objects an Individual may as well promote in his Study, & often times better, than by appearing as an Actor in the political Theatre. You have much more Philosophy than most Statesmen can boast; & yet I am sometimes diverted to see it put to the Test. pray give my Compliments to the Ladies of your Family, & Colo Smith & be assured / I am ever your most / sincerely

E Gerry

PS Mr King has lately written to you,6 but request his respectful Compliments—

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “His Excellency Mr Adams.”; endorsed: “Mr Gerry / 8 Nov. 1785 / ansd. 22. Jan. 1786.”


These were JA’s accounts of his audiences with George III and Queen Charlotte on 1 and 9 June, for which see his letters to John Jay of 2 June, and notes; and 10 June, note 2, both above.


For Tristram Dalton’s contrasting view of the requisition, see his 18 Oct. letter, above. The consolidation of the offices for loans and tax collection was accomplished in a resolution of 30 Sept. that directed that “it shall 578be the duty of the Commissioners of the continental loan Offices in the respective states, to receive and keep the moneys arising from continental taxes in the different states, and to pay the interest due from the United States, in the said states respectively” ( JCC , 29:792–794).


Gerry was one of Massachusetts’ agents for settling that state’s boundary dispute with New York. For the origins of the court and the delays in convening it, see Dalton’s 11 April letter, and note 5, above.


JA recommended Winslow Warren as consul to Portugal in his second letter of 3 Dec. to Jay (NHi:Gilder Lehrman Coll., on deposit).


Art. 5 of the Articles of Confederation provided that “no person shall be capable of being a delegate for more than three years, in any term of six years.”


On 2 Nov., above.