Papers of John Adams, volume 18

The Adams Papers


xi Descriptive List of Illustrations
Descriptive List of Illustrations
Matthew Robinson-Morris, 2d Baron Rokeby (1713–1800), served Canterbury as a member of Parliament from 1747 to 1761, and in his political writings opposed Lord Frederick North’s American policies. But he was noted as much for his eccentric modes of dress, diet, and exercise as he was for his whiggish politics.
There is no evidence that John Adams ever met Robinson-Morris in person, but in February, March, and April 1786 the two men corresponded regarding the Englishman’s publication An Address to the Landed, Trading and Funded Interests of England on the Present State of Public Affairs, London, 1786. Adams was impressed with Robinson-Morris’ work and sent copies of it to David Ramsay and Cotton Tufts, but he was not wholly new to Robinson-Morris’ political writings, having in 1775 received from London bookseller Edward Dilly copies of his Considerations on the Measures Carrying on with Respect to the British Colonies in North-America, London, 1774. On the title page of his personal copy, Adams wrote that the baron was “one of the warm Friends of American Liberty, in Great Britain” ( AFC , 1:xvi, 241).
Robinson-Morris’ Address focused on the Anglo-Irish political and commercial relationship and used the United States as an example of the measures Britain should avoid in Ireland, so as not to lose it as it had the thirteen American colonies. It was, according to Adams, the “first publication which in any sense may be called judicious,” and “which did not appear to me to be written with an express Intention to deceive the Nation by concealing Some real danger or holding out Some false hope” (to Ramsay, 9 Feb. 1786; to Robinson-Morris, 4 March, both below). Particularly impressive to Adams was Robinson-Morris’ advocacy of Anglo-American free trade, even joint citizenship, such as in the baron’s 18 March letter, below, where he wrote that “if I had the honor to be an American, I should be exceedingly desirous of a trade, an importation and exportation totally free to and from the whole world without Customs or Custom-House Officers and without any preference or difference between one nation and another.” According to Adams in his 23 March letter to Robinson-Morris, “your Plan of American Politicks is the ardent wish of every sensible Citizen of the United States” (below).
Robinson-Morris published his final political pamphlet in 1797 at the age of 84. An obituary called him “a man of very vigorous understanding; who thought upon all occasions for himself, and acted with unexampled consistency up to his own principles” (vol. 2:211–213; DNB ; Namier and Brooke, House of Commons; The Gentleman’s Magazine, 70:1219–1220 [Dec. 1800]).
Courtesy of © National Portrait Gallery, London.
The Massachusetts whale industry was of vital importance to the commonwealth’s economy. Severely damaged during the Revolutionary War, its recovery was dependent on the sale of whale oil to Britain. However, the British alien duty on American oil made it impossible for Massachusetts whalers to sell their product at a profit. Although John Adams tried to persuade William Pitt the younger, the British prime minister, that American whale oil was better and cheaper to light London streets, his efforts proved fruitless, and attention turned to France as an alternative market. Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and the Marquis de Lafayette did their best to promote the sale of American oil to illuminate Paris by recommending Nathaniel Barrett, who represented a group of Boston merchants. But Barrett’s effort ran afoul of the French practice of contracting for commodities at a fixed price without regard to the market price, making it impossible for the Americans to make a profit. The industry was further beset by the resettlement of Nantucket whaling families in Nova Scotia or England, to avoid the alien duty, or even at Dunkerque, to gain access to the French market. Moreover, Massachusetts whalers had to compete against British and French plans to expand their whaling fleets.
Despite these obstacles American whalers continued to put to sea. Engravings of this painting, “Attacking the Right Whale,” were widely reprinted in America and Europe throughout the nineteenth century. It captures the drama and danger of whaling on the high seas and celebrates the triumph of the hunters over the massive right whale that fills the foreground. The painting is referred to by Herman Melville in chapter 56 of Moby-Dick as one “of the Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales.” The artist depicts the whalers approaching a mortally wounded whale “that rolls his black weedy bulk in the sea like some mossy rock-slide,” as the harpooner prepares to deliver the killing blow. In the background, a carcass is butchered onboard the ship, and “the smoke of the torments of the boiling whale is going up like the smoke over a village of smithies.”
Melville surmised that the artist, Ambroise Louis Garneray (1783–1857), who produced “by far the finest” depictions of whales, must have been “either practically conversant with his subject, or else marvelously tutored by some experienced whaleman.” The French-born Garneray did indeed begin his career at sea as an apprentice and adventurer. Captured by the British in 1806, he earned a living by painting portraits during his confinement. After xiii returning to France in 1814, he trained as a painter and engraver (to Barrett, 2 Dec. 1785; from Stephen Higginson, July 1786, both below; Dolin, Leviathan , p. 176–179; Oxford Art Online; Stuart M. Frank, “Moby-Dick: The Two ‘Missing’ Prints by ‘H. Durand,’” American Neptune, 46:252, 253 [1986]).
Courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum. Photograph by Mark Sexton.
3. SYON HOUSE, BY CANALETTO, 1749 251[unavailable]
Once the initial press of diplomatic duty eased, John Adams embarked on a round of London-area sightseeing, often with wife Abigail, daughter Abigail 2d, and secretary William Stephens Smith. On 20 April 1786, they ventured seven miles west of London to view the grand country seat of Hugh Smithson Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland (ca. 1712–1786). Northumberland had served as lord lieutenant of Ireland from 1763 to 1765, fallen out of political favor in the 1770s, and died on 6 June 1786. The peerage passed to his eldest son, Maj. Gen. Lord Hugh Percy (1742–1817), who commanded the British camp at Boston and covered the retreat from Lexington and Concord, and who then resided a “few doors from” the Adamses in Grosvenor Square ( AFC , 7:266). The Northumberland and Adams families would again intersect in the early nineteenth century, when JQA led congressional efforts to steer the $500,000 bequest of the first duke’s illegitimate son, the mineralogist James Smithson, toward the creation of the Smithsonian Institution.
Shortly after the Venetian painter Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal; 1697–1768) arrived in England in 1746, the Northumberland family commissioned him to create views of Westminster Bridge and Syon House. This view of the estate, depicting the south and east façades in oil on canvas, depicts the property before its major renovations of the 1760s.
The 1st Duke of Northumberland transformed the site, now Syon Park, from a medieval convent into a stylish showcase of British design. Between 1762 and 1769, he commissioned the Scottish architect Robert Adam (1728–1792) and the landscape gardener Lancelot “Capability” Brown (ca. 1716–1783) to improve the estate. Adam’s neoclassical style, evident in ornate plasterwork and painted paneling meant to frame the duke’s collection of Greco-Roman antiquities, complemented Brown’s plan of ornamental walks that wrapped around working fields.
In his Diary John Adams noted that an “artificial Canal” from the Thames River, shown here, watered the fields. “A Repetition of winding Walks, gloomy Evergreens, Sheets of Water, Clumps of Trees, Green Houses, Hot Houses &c,” John wrote. “The Gate, which lets you into this Farm from the Brentford Road, is a beautifull Thing, and lays open to the View of the Traveller, a very beautifull green Lawn interspersed with Clumps and scattered Trees.” Abigail was enchanted by the estate’s innovative landscaping and picturesque architecture, marveling that fifteen farmhands maintained the entire 200-acre estate. “Woods grottos meandering xiv waters templs Statues are the ornaments of these places—one would almost think themselves in Fairy land,” Abigail wrote to her sister Elizabeth Smith Shaw on 24 April 1786 (vol. 4:56; JA, D&A , 3:54, 190; AFC , 7:149, 150, 266, 267, 269; DNB ; Charles Beddington, Canaletto in England: A Venetian Artist Abroad, 1746–1755, New Haven, 2006, p. 114, 126–127; Oxford Art Online; James Lees-Milne, The Age of Adam, London, 1947, p. 107–111).
Courtesy of Collection of the Duke of Northumberland, Alnwick Castle.
William Stephens Smith (1755–1816), Princeton 1774, was appointed secretary to the American legation in London on 1 March 1785 and in many respects seemed an ideal choice. The son of a wealthy New York merchant, Smith had served with distinction during the Revolutionary War, becoming a lieutenant colonel and aide-de-camp to George Washington by the end of the conflict. But his appointment was not without controversy. Smith had associated himself with those southerners who had “cried out violently” against John Adams’ appointment as minister to Great Britain and who, in compensation, wanted Smith as legation secretary to counterbalance Adams’ New England support. Rufus King and Elbridge Gerry had doubts about where his loyalties lay and conferred with Smith, telling him that their support depended on his avoidance of any “Intrigue” against Adams (vols. 16:544, 545; 17:596). There is no evidence that Smith was disloyal to Adams, but he corresponded with John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, and others in a way that may have been intended to set himself up as an alternative source of information. Smith himself was not wholly positive about his appointment. He found his salary and accommodations unsatisfactory, but at least the Adamses were prepared to “place a spare plate for me at their table” (WSS to Richard Henry Lee, 12 July, ViU:Lee Coll.).
Smith arrived at London on 25 May, the day before the Adamses reached the city. The swirl of meetings attending the appearance of an American minister on the London diplomatic scene plunged him immediately into his secretarial duties. These included acting as unofficial chargé d’affaires in Adams’ absence and, in the spring of 1787, being sent to Portugal on a goodwill mission.
But another matter occupied Smith’s attention, his courtship of the Adamses’ twenty-year-old daughter, Abigail 2d. To avoid involvement in the breakup of Abigail 2d’s engagement to Royall Tyler, Smith undertook a four-month tour to visit Prussian military maneuvers, and upon his return in December 1785 he asked the Adamses’ blessing to court their daughter. The two were married on 11 June 1786 at the legation in Grosvenor Square by the bishop of St. Asaph. John Adams was pleased, writing to Jay on 16 June that “Colonel Smith did me so much honour in becoming my aid De Camp, after having been General Washington’s, has behaived so Well since he has been here & has so many scars & tokens of a xv gallant service to his Country in the War, that to reward him as far as lay in my power, I have given him a Girl who is worthy of him” (LbC, APM Reel 113).
Smith’s family responsibilities, which included the birth of a son in April 1787, made it crucial for him to secure his future. Adams recommended to Jay that Smith be appointed chargé d’affaires to Great Britain because it was hard for a “Gentleman who has commanded in an Army” to be reconciled to being “little more regarded than the Maitre D’hotel of a Minister of State.” Jay brought the matter before Congress in July, but his recommendation was equivocal and Congress never acted (to Jay, 24 Jan. 1787, and note 4, below). Thus when Smith returned to the United States in June 1788 he had no immediate prospects for employment. Ultimately Smith’s questionable judgment, uncertain finances, and erratic politics wreaked havoc on his marriage and eventually estranged him from John and Abigail.
Smith’s portrait, painted by Gilbert Stuart at New York in 1794, should be compared with his 1786 London portrait by Mather Brown ( DAB ; AFC , 7:xii, 219; 8:250, 462).
Courtesy of Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts.
Thomas Barclay, the agent of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to negotiate a Moroccan-American treaty, arrived in Mogador (now Essaouira), Morocco in early June 1786. He did not know what to expect, for western diplomatic protocol did not necessarily apply in dealings with the “pyratical states” of Muslim North Africa. Moreover, Barclay’s objectives—the normalization of commercial relations with Morocco, the prevention of further depredations against American ships in the Mediterranean, and an end to the capture and enslavement of American sailors—were ambitious. His budget for the negotiations was limited, meaning that he could present Emperor Mohammad III and his courtiers with only modest gifts, and was unable to promise the annual tributes that were often part of European treaties with Morocco.
Once at Mohammad III’s court in Marrakesh, Barclay went to work. Swiftly, the American agent secured two audiences with the emperor. On 26 June he reported to the commissioners that he had a “last draught” of the treaty in hand, awaiting one final revision and the signature, adding, “I believe you will be satisfied on the whole,” below. The Moroccan-American Treaty of Peace and Friendship, below, was signed two days later.
The speed with which the negotiations were concluded owed much to Mohammad III’s experience in negotiating commercial contracts over the past decade with various European nations. It also reflected the efforts of his lead minister, Sidi Haj Tahar Ben Abdulhaq Fennish, an experienced ambassador who represented xvi the Moroccan interest. The highborn, well-traveled Fennish had, in 1778, settled issues arising from the capture of seventeen French sailors. Fennish was dubbed “el anglofilo” by a Spanish consul who mocked his fondness for English culture, and his diplomatic career included missions in England, France, Italy, and Turkey. In June 1786, acting in his dual role as representative of Morocco and governor of Tangier, Fennish welcomed Barclay on his arrival.
This letter from Fennish to the American commissioners is an example of eighteenth-century Muslim diplomatic etiquette and is one of two Arabic language documents held in the Adams Papers. The English translation, printed at 28 June, below, appears on the reverse side of the manuscript and was made by Isaac Cardozo Nuñez, who also translated the treaty. Little is known of Nuñez, but soon after completing the translations he was executed on the emperor’s orders, a victim of intrigue at the Marrakesh court. In his letter, Fennish praised Barclay for having “behaved himself with integrity and honor Since his arrival in our Country appearing to be á Person of good understanding” (below). In his letters to the commissioners, Barclay was equally respectful in portraying Fennish’s professionalism throughout the negotiations (vol. 17:431–439, 441–446; Priscilla H. Roberts and James N. Tull, “Moroccan Sultan Sidi Muhammad Ibn Abdallah’s Diplomatic Initiatives toward the United States, 1777–1786,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 143:233–265 [June 1999]; JA, D&A , 3:120; Jacques Caillé, Les accords internationaux du Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah, 1757–1790, Paris, 1960, p. 13–54; Roberts and Roberts, Thomas Barclay , p. 199, 210–213, 216).
From the original in the Adams Family Papers. Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
6. DETAIL FROM “MAP OF THE EMPIRE OF MOROCCO,” 1788 434[unavailable]
In June 1786 Thomas Barclay successfully negotiated the Moroccan-American Treaty of Peace and Friendship. In the course of his mission, he responded to the American commissioners’ request for detailed information about the economic, cultural, and political climate of Morocco. In his lengthy report to John Adams and Thomas Jefferson of 10 September, below, Barclay described the towns “of any consequence” that he visited along the coast, outlining the conditions of Moroccan housing, ports, and fortifications. None of the ports, in his view, were satisfactory, but Laracha (now Larache) was “the best” and Tangier might “be made a most Valuable Seaport.” He noted that Laracha was a hilltop town with a harbor deep enough for any vessel during the spring tides. Three forts and a number of batteries defended the town, but the imposing citadel, which “once commanded the Harbour,” had fallen into ruin. Similarly, much of Tangier, “once a place of Splendor and commerce,” had been destroyed during numerous incursions by the Portuguese and the British.
Louis de Chénier served as French consul general and chargé xvii d’affaires in Morocco from 1767 to 1782. When he returned to France, Chénier published his three-volume Recherches historiques sur Maures: et historie de l’empire de Maroc (Paris, 1787). In 1788, at London, the third volume was translated into English and published as a two-volume guidebook, The Present State of the Empire of Morocco. Like Barclay, Chénier offered commentary on the maritime towns of Morocco. While both agreed on the ruin of Tangier, Chénier added that Tangier should not be considered as a commercial port since it was “favourable to Moorish piracy,” and the wind patterns off the bay made it unsafe. By comparison, Chénier found the woods, marshes, and gardens surrounding Laracha “exceedingly pleasant,” describing it as “very proper for trade,” with a deep, navigable river and convenient access to trade goods.
The “Map of the Empire of Morocco” is inset at the beginning of the first volume of Chénier’s guidebook. The coastline is presented in the greatest detail because most Europeans were restricted from visiting the inland provinces. Chénier wrote that the Moroccans “scarcely know themselves the extent of their provinces,” and the uncharted interior lands are largely rendered with only the rivers and tributaries meandering into the blank portions of the map. The “lofty eminences” of the Greater Atlas Mountains line up single file across the map, forming a seemingly impenetrable barrier to the interior. As a reference point to Europe, the southernmost tip of Spain grounds the upper edge of the map (vol. 17:437–438; Barclay to the American Commissioners, 13 Sept. 1786, note 1, below; Chénier, Recherches historiques sur Maures, 1:5, 13, 20–24).
Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.
When John Adams bluntly and colorfully described the British ministry’s key players in his first 3 December 1785 letter to John Jay, below, he did not bother encoding his critical view of its embattled leader, the twenty-six-year-old prime minister and political prodigy, William Pitt the younger (1759–1806). “He has discovered Abilities, and Firmness upon some Occasions,” Adams wrote. “But I have never Seen in him any Evidence of greater Talents than I have Seen in Members of Congress and in other Scænes of Life in America, at his Age.— I have not yet Seen any decided Proofs of Principle, or Patriotism, or Virtue, on the contrary there are many Symptoms of the Want of these Qualities, without which no statesman ever yet appeared uniformly great, or wrought out any memorable Salvation for any Country.” Adams, who first met Pitt on 24 August, admired the younger man’s exceptional gift for oratory and his keen enthusiasm for introducing parliamentary reforms. But the now-seasoned American minister worried that Pitt’s multiple political roles—chancellor of the exchequer and de facto Tory Party leader—made him particularly susceptible to manipulation and ruin. As sharp-eyed observers like Abigail Adams noticed, xviii the reform-minded Pitt openly struggled “under the weight of Irish resentment and British Bilingsgate” (vol. 17:xiv–xv; AFC , 6:298).
The fledgling prime minister, stung by an initial set of legislative defeats—including his effort to reform the East India Company in 1784 and, the following year, to propose a new Anglo-Irish economic union—rebounded impressively between 1785 and 1788. This short period brought Pitt several critical “wins” in the foreign and domestic arenas, effectively consolidating his power, if not his popularity. Moving to crush illicit trade and to boost revenue after the Revolutionary War, Pitt lowered duties on tea, wine, spirits, and tobacco. Guided by Richard Price, he implemented a sinking fund to accommodate the longstanding problem of the national debt. Pitt set up a commission to supervise British affairs in India, noticeably separated himself from the scandal of Warren Hastings’ impeachment trial, and fought to soothe troubled relations with Ireland. At home, Pitt weathered criticism for imposing a shop tax, and he survived a street assault outside a London political club.
William Pitt, as John Adams learned from his dealings with the British foreign ministry, did not plan to resolve the mass of issues that Adams laid out in his [30 November 1785] memorial—namely, the settlement of prewar debts, the compensation of property and goods seized by the British Army, the evacuation of the frontier posts, and the renegotiation of Anglo-American commerce (vol. 17:624–625). Pitt acknowledged that the concerns, all arising from the definitive Anglo-American peace treaty, were legitimate. But, as Pitt instructed his own foreign minister, “there are Articles to be performed on their Part which we must equally insist upon” (to Jay, 9 Dec. 1785, note 2, below).
From Adams’ point of view, Pitt’s most noteworthy diplomatic achievement was the 1786 Anglo-French commercial treaty, the first such agreement forged between the two nations in a century. In December 1785, after wooing him away from the parliamentary opposition, Pitt dispatched William Eden, M.P. for Heytesbury and later 1st Baron Auckland, to bring to a conclusion the negotiations that had been proceeding in a desultory manner since late 1784. Eden completed his work on 26 September 1786, when the treaty was signed at Versailles. Adams soon learned of the treaty, and on 3 October he wrote to Jay, below, that the “Consequences of this Treaty, cannot be indifferent and Time alone can reveal who is the gainer. but this is clear that if either obtains any considerable Advantage a War must eer long be the Consequence of it, for neither of these nations can bear to be outwitted by the other in commercial affairs.” The treaty lasted six years, exposing the French economy’s decay, and enhancing Pitt’s reputation as an advocate of British free trade.
This portrait of William Pitt, done in oil on canvas, was begun by Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788) and completed by his protégé Gainsborough Dupont (ca. 1754–1797). Pitt reposes in his study, formal chancellor’s robes draped over a chair. Reinforcing his political preeminence, he holds a letter addressed to “To the Rt. xix Honble. Wm Pitt, First Lord Commissioner of the Treasury” (vol. 16:287–288; Hague, Pitt , p. 159–231; DNB ; from John Jebb, 20 Dec. 1785, note 3, below; Black, British Foreign Policy , p. 107–111; Julius Bryant, Kenwood: Paintings in the Iveagh Bequest, New Haven, 2003, p. 232–237; Oxford Art Online).
Courtesy of English Heritage, © English Heritage.
Volume 1 of the Defence was published by John Adams’ friend Charles Dilly in mid-January 1787. It was followed in August 1787 and January 1788 by two additional volumes. Taken together they form Adams’ most controversial and least understood literary production. Ostensibly it was a response to the criticism of American government leveled by Anne Robert Jacques, Baron de Turgot, in a 1778 letter to Richard Price, and Adams adopted the literary device of a series of letters to William Stephens Smith, his son-in-law and the secretary to the American legation. When first published, the Defence received considerable praise, but later critics charged that it showed Adams to favor at best an aristocracy and at worst an oligarchy or monarchy. But what were his motives when he sat down at his desk in Grosvenor Square to draft volume 1, an effort that so occupied his attention that for months he virtually abandoned letter writing?
With respect to his motives, Adams’ comments in a 9 January 1787 letter to James Warren, below, have been taken at face value. There, referring to the events of Shays’ Rebellion, he wrote that “the appearance of County Conventions and their Resolutions, sett me upon throwing together, Some Disquisitions” concerning government. “I deliver the Book up, to the Mercy of a World, that will never show me much Mercy, as my Confession of political Faith.— Unpopular as it may be at present, the time will come, after I am dead, when the System of it in general must be adopted, with bitter Repentance that it was not heeded sooner.”
John Adams began drafting the first volume either at the end of September or in early October 1786, before he received any detailed accounts of the events occurring in Massachusetts, and less than a month after he returned from visiting the Netherlands. Thus, on 15 January 1787, he wrote to Richard Cranch that “my Friends in Holland were much employed, in Revolutions. in Several Conversations there, I had occasion to mention some Things respecting Government, which some of those Gentlemen wished to see upon Paper” (below). It seems likely, at least when Adams began drafting the Defence, that the wishes of his Dutch Patriot friends were of more consequence than events in New England about which he knew little. But whatever Adams’ original intention was, he succinctly summed up his thesis with his choice for the title page epigram, a line from Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man: “All nature’s difference xx keeps all nature’s peace” (Epistle IV, line 56). For additional information on Adams’ motives in undertaking the Defence and his drafting of it, see John Adams Visits the Netherlands, 3 Aug. – 6 Sept. 1786, Editorial Note, and Volume 1 of John Adams’ A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, [ca. 15 Jan. 1787], Editorial Note, both below.
Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.