Papers of John Adams, volume 17

606 From John Jay, 26 November 1785 Jay, John Adams, John
From John Jay
Dr: Sir New York 26th: Novemr. 1785

Congress on Wednesday last made a House and chose Mr. Hancock President but he being absent they appointed Mr. Ramsay of South Carolina to fill the Chair for the present.—1

A considerable Time had elapsed during which a sufficient Number of States to proceed on Business were not represented— In this Interval I had the Pleasure of receiving your Letters of 25th: 28th: 29th: 30th: & 31st: August and 2d: 3rd: 6th: & 15th: September last together with the Ratifications of the Treaty and Convention between the United States and the United Netherlands with the Seals to each enclosed in a silver Box.—

I have laid them all before Congress, and am persuaded that the Testimony they bear to your unremitted Attention to the Interest of our Country will make as strong an Impression on them as it does upon me.—

There is Reason to hope and expect that Congress will soon find leisure to attend more assiduously to their foreign Affairs, and enable me to write more precisely on various Subjects than I have yet been able to do.—

My last Letters to you were of the 1st: Novemr: by Mr. Chollet, and of the 2d: by Mr. Houdon.—

I now transmit a Copy of the Proceedings of the Commissioners respecting the Negroes carried from hence at the Time of the Evacuation together with a List of them— It will enable you to negociate a Settlement of that Business with less Difficulty. It is to be observed that great Numbers were carried from other Places as well as from New York, and for whom the british Government ought in Justice to make Compensation— I shall endeavour to furnish You with such Evidence of their Numbers &c: as I may be able to collect.—2

Mr. Temple is here, and his Commission is now before Congress— I shall take the earliest Opportunity of communicating to you their Decision respecting it.

I herewith enclose a Copy of an Act of Rhode Island for vesting Congress with the Power of regulating foreign Trade. In one of the Newspapers also sent, you will find another Act of that State respecting Navigation.—3

However discordant the various Acts of the States on these Subjects may be, they nevertheless manifest Sentiments and Opinions 607which daily gain ground, and which will probably produce a proper and general System for regulating the Trade and Navigation of the United States both foreign and domestic.—

The fœderal Government alone is equal to the Task of forming such a System, and it is much to be wished that partial and local Politics would cease to oppose vesting Congress with Powers adequate to that great and important Object.—

I intended to have devoted this Day entirely to writing to you; but I was unexpectedly called upon to attend a Committee of Congress this Morning, and the Business before them makes it necessary for me immediately to report on another Matter connected with it.—

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

John Jay—

RC and enclosures (Adams Papers); internal address: “His Excellency John Adams Esquire / Minister Plenipoy: of the United States at the Court of London”; endorsed: “Mr Jay. 26. Nov. 1785.”


John Hancock was elected president of Congress on 23 Nov., and David Ramsay of South Carolina was elected to serve until his arrival. Hancock accepted the presidency in a 30 Nov. letter to Charles Thomson, indicating there that he would proceed to New York as soon as he had arranged his affairs in Boston (PCC, No. 58, f. 43–46). Hancock, however, never served. Congress received his resignation on 5 June and on the following day elected Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts in his place ( JCC , 30:328, 330).


Docketed “Correspondence between G. Washington & Sir G. Carleton. respecting the Negroes &c.,” this 36-page enclosure provided documentation for JA to use in representations to the British government concerning the American position that the British in evacuating New York City and other bases in America had violated Art. 7 of the Anglo-American definitive peace treaty by taking with them “Negroes or other Property of the American Inhabitants” (vol. 15:249). For additional documents received by JA regarding the issue, see Jay’s 13 April letter, and note 5; and for his representations to the Marquis of Carmarthen and William Pitt, see his 17 June and 25 Aug. letters to Jay, all above.


Jay enclosed a copy of “An Act vesting Congress with the Power of regulating foreign Trade” passed by the Rhode Island legislature at its February session and “An Act in addition to an Act intitled ‘An Act vesting Congress with the Power of regulating foreign Trade’” passed at its October session. Both were premised on the adoption of essentially the same legislation by all of the other states and were to be in force for 25 years. The first, as is evident from its title, concerned the regulation of foreign trade. The second allowed Congress to regulate American trade and prohibit the import or export of foreign goods in American ships. The enclosed newspapers have not been found.

From William White, 26 November 1785 White, William Adams, John
From William White
Sir Philadelphia Novr 26. 1785.

I presume on the Circumstance of being not intirely unknown to your Excellency, to offer to you the inclosed Papers: knowing, that the President of Congress has already written to you on the Subject of them.1


As you formerly, Sir, communicated to Congress Information of the friendly Disposition of the Danish Government & Clergy towards the Episcopal Church in these States,2 it may be proper for me to state to you the Reason of the Non-Acceptance of their kind Offer of ordaining for us: however gratefully we acknowledge the Favor, as well as your Excellency’s liberal Intention to serve us on that Occasion.

I believe I might mention, that there are Objections against the Succession of the Danish Bishops; but have not sufficiently informed myself of the Constitution of that Church, to say any Thing more on this Head.

I might also mention, that before the Information reached us of a Door being opened in that Quarter, an Act had passed the British Parliament, allowing the Bp: of London to admit to the Orders of Priest & Deacon, Persons out of Allegiance to the King; without administering the Oaths.3

But, Sir, it is the Wish of all the well informed Members of our Church, to be independent & self-governed; principally from a Conviction of the unhappy Influence which a foreign spiritual Jurisdiction has always maintained in civil Matters, wherever it has been acknowleged. This we have severely felt in the late War; and, if persevered in, must at last be fatal, either to our Church or to the Commonwealth: in those States at least, where the Members of our Communion are a Majority of the People. There is Nothing wanting to the establishing of our Constitution, but the obtaining the Episcopal Succession in the first Instance from the English Bishops; which we trust will fix our Church on such a Footing, as must be desired by all who wish well to the present civil System of Confederate America. Should any political Objection arise from the British Ministry on the Point of Delicacy as to intermeddling with the Concerns of this Country, I cannot doubt of your Excellency’s Endeavours to remove it.

With my best Wishes, Sir, for your Health & Happiness, I have the Honour to subscribe myself, / Your Excellency’s most obedient / & very humble Servant,

Wm. White.4

PS. The Specimans of the Prayer Book herewith enclosed go as far as the Press has yet furnished.

RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “His Excellency John Adams / Esqre. / Minister Plenipotentiary of / the United States of America, / at the Court of / Great 609Britain.”; internal address: “His Excelly. John Adams Esqre.”; endorsed: “Revd. William [White] / 26. Nov. 1785. / ansd. 28. Feb. 1786.” Some loss of text due to a cut manuscript.


The enclosed papers have not been found, but Richard Henry Lee’s letter was of 24 Oct., above.


This was JA’s 22 April 1784 letter to the president of Congress, vol. 16:173–174.


Adopted in Aug. 1784, this was 24 Geo. 3, ch. 35, “An Act to impower the Bishop of London for the Time being, or any other Bishop to be by him appointed, to Admit to the Order of Deacon or Priest, Persons being Subjects or Citizens of Countries out of His Majesty’s Dominions, without requiring them to take the Oath of Allegiance as appointed by Law.”


William White (1748–1836) graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1765 and was ordained in Britain in 1772. Returning to Philadelphia he became rector of the joint parish of St. Peter’s and Christ Church in 1779 and served as chaplain to Congress. After his consecration as bishop by Scottish non-juring bishops in 1785, he presided over the first general convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church and helped in drafting its constitution, for which see Lee’s 24 Oct. letter, and note 1, above. White would serve as the presiding bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church from 1795 to 1836 ( ANB ).