Papers of John Adams, volume 18

Descriptive List of Illustrations

Guide to Editorial Apparatus

xxi Introduction

On 24 January 1787, John Adams informed John Jay and Congress that upon the expiration of his commission as minister to Great Britain on 24 February 1788 it was his determination to return to America as soon as possible. He therefore resigned his commissions to Great Britain and the Netherlands, the joint commission to negotiate treaties with the nations of Europe and North Africa having lapsed on 12 May 1786, and requested formal letters of recall to present when he took leave at London and The Hague.1

It is fitting that Adams submitted his resignation at the end of volume 18 of the Papers of John Adams, the last wholly devoted to John Adams the diplomat. For in a sense this volume marks the end of his diplomatic career. On 8 December 1785, Adams presented to the Marquis of Carmarthen his 30 November memorial calling on the British to evacuate the American frontier posts. The British foreign minister replied negatively on 28 February 1786.2 There were no further substantive exchanges between Adams and the British government for the remainder of this volume, nor during the months remaining before Adams departed London at the end of March 1788. The British government refused to deal with the United States until the obstacles erected by the states preventing the recovery of prewar debts were removed. In the final analysis the problem was not with Adams or the nature of his representations but with Congress. Under the Articles of Confederation it had no independent revenue source, no power to regulate trade, and no ability to compel the states to observe treaty provisions. Congress could not, therefore, function effectively as a national government, thus confirming the British government’s doubts about its legitimacy and the need to xxii negotiate with its minister.3 Adams’ correspondence with Jay and others in America shows his increasing frustration with his situation and his sense that his presence as minister to the Court of St. James was superfluous, an exercise in “making brick without straw.”4

But the fourteen months chronicled in volume 18 are much more than simply a record of John Adams’ mission to London. Adams and Thomas Jefferson as joint commissioners obtained through their agent, Thomas Barclay, a treaty with Morocco, and there is much information concerning Barclay’s efforts and the concurrent, unsuccessful negotiations by John Lamb at Algiers. Jefferson was Adams’ most frequent European correspondent, and their letters covered a wide range of topics, from the progress of the Barbary negotiations to the nature of the Franco-American commercial and political relationship, and from political events in America to the convening of the Assembly of Notables at Paris, the first seemingly innocuous step toward what became the French Revolution. On European affairs the Jefferson correspondence was supplemented by that from France with the Marquis de Lafayette and Philip Mazzei, and from the Netherlands with his old friends C. W. F. Dumas, Antoine Marie Cerisier, and François Adriaan Van der Kemp. Notable among Adams’ English correspondents were the eccentric Matthew Robinson-Morris, 2d Baron Rokeby, and the antislavery advocate Granville Sharp. Adams’ American correspondents remained roughly the same as in previous volumes, although Elbridge Gerry’s retirement from Congress meant that Rufus King, and to some extent John Jay, became his principal sources for congressional news. Massachusetts correspondents, including Richard Cranch, Tristram Dalton, Benjamin Hichborn, Charles Storer, James Warren, and Mercy Otis Warren, kept him advised of the deterioration of the commonwealth’s economy that brought on Shays’ Rebellion. The lack of dialogue with the British government left time for Adams to tour the English countryside with Jefferson in April 1786 and to do the same later in the summer with Abigail, accompanied also by their daughter, Nabby, and her new husband, William Stephens Smith. Most significant, however, was John and Abigail’s visit to the Netherlands in August that led directly to the drafting of the first volume of Adams’ Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, a task that so occupied him from xxiii September through December 1786 that his letter writing declined precipitously. Through it all John Adams’ letters remain the most candid of any of the founding fathers, revealing much about the world in which he lived and leaving no doubt of where he stood regarding the people with whom he dealt and the issues of his day.


It was clear from John Adams’ warning to John Jay and Congress that all was not well as he began his seventh month as the first American minister to the Court of St. James.5 In fact, Adams’ position in December was little different than it had been since his arrival in London. Since then he had received from the British government the courtesies due him as minister from a foreign power, and he had achieved results through his representations on such matters as the 1785 confrontation at Boston between British captain Henry Edwin Stanhope and Massachusetts governor James Bowdoin, and the release of American sailors from Royal Navy ships—the Admiralty reprimanded Stanhope and released the sailors.6

But Adams’ representations on the major issues roiling Anglo-American relations had received no substantive response. As commissioner he had presented a draft Anglo-American commercial treaty, but he had heard nothing in return and British trade restrictions remained in place. The frontier posts remained in British hands. Compensation for the slaves and other property taken by British forces at their evacuation of America had not been received. Even the question of when the 1783 cessation of hostilities took effect remained undetermined.7 And there was little likelihood that new issues concerning the Canadian border and compensation for property seized by British forces at the evacuation of Boston in 1776 would be resolved in the new year.

There was no mystery as to why this was so. The Marquis of Carmarthen and William Pitt informed Adams at meetings soon after his arrival that there could be no resolution of outstanding Anglo-American issues until obstacles to the settlement of prewar debts in violation of Article 4 of the Anglo-American peace treaty were xxiv removed.8 From America, Adams received acknowledgments of the seriousness of the problem and even requests for legal advice.9 On 28 February 1786 Carmarthen reiterated the British position when he responded negatively to Adams’ memorial calling for the British evacuation of the frontier posts, enclosing with it a detailed account of British grievances.10

John Adams’ growing frustration at the ineffectiveness of his diplomatic endeavor and the realization that his presence at the Court of St. James was effectively pointless are evident from the documents in this volume, as is also their effect on his conduct of business. He received instructions from Congress and was advised by James Bowdoin to make representations regarding the Massachusetts–Nova Scotia (New Brunswick) boundary dispute, compensation for goods seized from Boston merchants at the 1776 British evacuation of the city, Horatio Nelson’s seizure of an American ship in the West Indies, and Britain’s removal of slaves and other property at its evacuation of America. Adams’ representations were delayed, in some cases until just prior to his 1788 departure from England, or, he presented them only unofficially.11 But even under the best of circumstances Adams’ powers to resolve any of these issues, except possibly with regard to the Massachusetts–Nova Scotia (New Brunswick) border, in direct negotiations with the British government were extremely limited. And when Carmarthen did make inquiries concerning matters such as debts owed British merchants trading with South Carolina and Georgia or the stranding of Chinese seamen by an American ship fraudulently trading with the East Indies, Adams could only refer the matters to Congress, from which he could expect no timely advice or instruction.12

For Adams the hopelessness of his situation came down to the debt question, and he perhaps best expressed his frustration in a May 1786 letter to the Boston merchant Samuel Austin, who sought compensation for his property seized in 1776. Adams sympathized, but xxv he explained that “there is not the least chance for obtaining any thing for you or any of your fellow sufferers, while there is a law of one state upon the Continent in force against the recovery of British Debts— those laws in all probability have prevented the evacuation of the Posts upon the frontiers—the payment for the negroes & even a treaty of Commerce— I know the delicacy of the subject but untill those laws are repealed, in my own opinion, I shall labour in vain, & spend my strength for nought.”13

Adams’ principal concerns were Anglo-American relations and his role in London, but he was also minister to the Netherlands. C. W. F. Dumas, acting as chargé d’affaires in Adams’ absence from The Hague, kept him informed of the Dutch political situation. Fortunately Adams’ duties with regard to Dutch-American relations were not particularly onerous since there were no outstanding issues between the two countries, only a personal one involving protocol. This Adams resolved during his visit to the Netherlands in August and September 1786, when he soothed the sensibilities of members of the States General who had been offended by his assumption of the post as minister to Great Britain in 1785 without taking formal leave of the Dutch government.14

There were, however, the outstanding Dutch-American loans. John Adams’ principal responsibility as minister was to manage those loans, which, given the domestic political and financial situation of the United States, was a source of some anxiety. In this regard there is a substantial correspondence among Adams, the Dutch bankers forming the loan consortium,15 and the Board of Treasury. Letters from both the consortium and the board centered on Congress’ lack of an independent source of revenue, the consequences that had for the payment of loan interest, and the need to conserve the funds held by the bankers. This was complicated by Adams’ role as paymaster for the Thomas Barclay and John Lamb missions to Morocco and Algiers, respectively, for which Congress had appropriated $80,000 to be paid out of European funds.16 If that was not xxvi enough, the American legation at The Hague had fallen into disrepair, and a decision had to be made whether to sell it (favored by Adams) or pay for renovations.17 In the end the Barbary negotiations and the legation’s repair were funded, but those costs together with the deteriorating financial situation in the United States forced Adams to travel to the Netherlands in 1787 and 1788 to salvage American credit and ultimately to raise yet another loan.


John Adams’ efforts as minister to the Court of St. James appeared destined to go nowhere, but his concurrent status, with Thomas Jefferson, as joint commissioner seemed to offer more hope. In October 1785 they had prepared the way for negotiations with the Barbary States.18 By December the missions to Morocco and Algiers, led by Thomas Barclay and John Lamb, respectively, were about to get under way. Much of the correspondence between Adams and Jefferson concerned those negotiations, and letters from Barclay, Lamb, and Lamb’s secretary, Paul R. Randall, to the commissioners and to Adams and Jefferson individually, are particularly informative, not only about the progress of the negotiations but also about the countries in which they took place. So too are those from William Carmichael, unofficial American chargé d’affaires at Madrid, who provided an overview of the negotiations and their progress. Barclay described in detail his successful negotiations with Mohammad III, emperor of Morocco, and the land itself. Lamb did the same for Algiers and his unsuccessful effort to negotiate with Mohammad ibn Uthman, dey of Algiers. Lamb’s letters are less informative but are supplemented by those from Randall. Taken together the letters from Barclay, Lamb, and Randall constitute the earliest, most detailed American guide to the land, people, and rulers of the Barbary States.19 In January 1787 the commissioners approved Barclay’s labors and sent the treaty off to Congress, which xxvii ratified it on 18 July, the final diplomatic achievement of the Confederation.20

In the course of the Barbary negotiations Adams supplied funds to Barclay and Lamb and, with Jefferson, forwarded a steady stream of letters received from Barclay and Lamb to Congress to keep it informed. But he and Jefferson also debated the best means to deal with the Barbary States, a discussion that proceeded at least in part from the funds available. Jefferson believed that the most effective way to deal with the depredations of the Barbary corsairs was through naval action either by the United States alone or in alliance with Portugal, thus anticipating the policy he adopted during his presidency. Adams, on the other hand, while not totally ruling out war, thought that paying subsidies or bribes to them would ultimately cost less and likely be at least as effective.21

Even as the Barbary negotiations began in earnest, London suddenly became central to achieving the commissioners’ objectives. The United States had long sought a treaty with Portugal, but those efforts had never advanced beyond submitting drafts to which no Portuguese response was forthcoming. But in December 1785 John Adams learned that responsibility for negotiations with the United States had been shifted from Portugal’s ambassador at Paris, Conde de Sousa Coutinho, to its minister at London, Luiz Pinto de Balsamão. Adams had previously discussed Portuguese-American relations with the minister, and he was soon at work on a treaty. By the end of February 1786 negotiations were far enough advanced for him to request that Jefferson come to London, the Virginian’s first and only visit to the city.22 Also contributing to the need for Jefferson’s presence were Adams’ meetings with Sidi Haji Abdrahaman, Tripoli’s minister to London, concerning a treaty,23 and the slim possibility that, with both commissioners available, Britain might finally respond to the draft Anglo-American treaty submitted by Adams the previous July.24 All of this took on more urgency with the approaching expiration of the joint commission on 12 May 1786.

Adams’ and Jefferson’s hopes were high, particularly regarding the Portuguese negotiations, but were ultimately disappointed. xxviii Discussions with Tripoli’s minister, at first promising, went nowhere. And when the two men waited on the Marquis of Carmarthen regarding the Anglo-American treaty they received only a request for a new, shorter draft centering on commerce. The commissioners immediately complied, but the result was the same as with the original draft: nothing further was heard of it.25 With regard to the Portuguese treaty, negotiations were completed, Jefferson signed the agreement the day before he left for Paris, but Pinto de Balsamão was never authorized by his Lisbon superiors to sign the treaty.26 Thus ended the joint commission first proposed by John Adams in a series of letters to Elbridge Gerry in August and September 1783,27 and which resulted in considerable negotiation but only two treaties, those with Prussia of 1785 and with Morocco of 1786.


John Adams’ diplomatic responsibilities as minister and commissioner involved considerable labor and much frustration but brought few tangible results. The documents in this volume, however, do not all concern diplomacy, at least not directly. John Jay and Richard Henry Lee asked Adams to intervene with the Church of England to facilitate the ordination of bishops for the American Episcopal Church. He did so, meeting with John Moore, archbishop of Canterbury, and in the end the American bishops were ordained and Adams received the thanks of the American Church.28 His political correspondence with Matthew Robinson-Morris to a degree mirrored that in the last volume with John Jebb,29 whose March 1786 funeral Adams attended. His attendance was noted in the newspapers, and he received the thanks of the Society for Constitutional Information.30 He also corresponded and met with Granville Sharp and, in the process, became involved in the settlement of the estate xxix of Gen. James Oglethorpe, founder of Georgia.31 American literary lights Timothy Dwight, John Trumbull, Joel Barlow, and David Ramsay sought Adams’ assistance in publishing their works in England and on the continent. Adams praised their efforts and interceded with his friend Charles Dilly, a London printer, to facilitate their ambitions.32 Adams also received a multitude of letters requesting his assistance on such matters as the settlement of estates, immigration to America, and relieving the situation of imprisoned debtors.33 In April he toured the English countryside with Thomas Jefferson. He did much the same in June with his wife, Abigail, in this case traveling with daughter Abigail 2d and William Stephens Smith, who had been married earlier in the month at the legation in Grosvenor Square. That romance had begun in earnest following Smith’s return in December 1785 from a European tour to resume his duties as secretary of the legation and, during Adams’ absences in the Netherlands and elsewhere, to serve as the de facto chargé d’affaires.34

John Adams’ most frequent correspondent on the continent was Jefferson, but he also exchanged letters with John Paul Jones, the Marquis de Lafayette, and Philip Mazzei in France, and Antoine Marie Cerisier, C. W. F. Dumas, and François Adriaan Van der Kemp in the Netherlands. Early in the volume there is much about the joint efforts of Adams, Jefferson, and Lafayette to assist Nathaniel Barrett and Thomas Boylston in selling whale oil in France. Later the correspondence turned to the efforts of Jefferson and Lafayette, through the so-called American Committee, to limit the power of or abolish the Farmers General and, in the process, abrogate Robert Morris’ contract to sell tobacco.35 Finally, letters from Jefferson and Lafayette described the first meeting of the Assembly of Notables as France approached the threshold of revolution. Letters from Jones sought to draw Adams into the quest for compensation from Denmark for the frigate Alliance’s prizes that it returned to the British xxx in 1779, a task Adams believed was more properly Jefferson’s as minister to France.36 Mazzei was at work on his four-volume Recherches historiques et politiques (Paris, 1788), intended to counteract the misleading information on America contained in the histories authored by the Abbés Guillaume Thomas François Raynal and Gabriel Bonnot de Mably. Mazzei sought advice and clarification from Adams on events in American history, which the American provided together with considerable commentary.37 Dumas, Cerisier, and Van der Kemp were all involved in the political unrest then shaking the Netherlands. Dumas, as acting chargé d’affaires at The Hague kept Adams informed on the progress of the Patriot Party’s efforts against the stadholderian party.38 Cerisier sought Adams’ guidance on constitutional matters that might be of use should the Patriot Party achieve a decisive victory.39 Van der Kemp’s letters commented on the unrest, but he also sought Adams’ advice on immigrating to the United States.40

John Adams was always interested in Massachusetts politics, and in this volume the outbreak of Shays’ Rebellion made the information he received particularly consequential. Samuel Adams, James Bowdoin, Tristram Dalton, Stephen Higginson, Charles Storer, James Warren, and Mercy Otis Warren remained Adams’ chief sources of information and were joined by Benjamin Hichborn. The information they provided Adams about economic conditions in the commonwealth and the growing resistance of farmers in western Massachusetts to the central government was particularly important. So too was the order in which he received the information and the person who was providing it. For example, Federalist Tristram Dalton had a far different take on the crisis facing Massachusetts than did James Warren, destined to be an ardent Antifederalist. Initially the reports Adams received on the economic difficulties facing the commonwealth in the wake of the Revolution led him to conclude that they were little different from those following the end of the Seven Years’ War and would ultimately resolve themselves as had happened before.41 Certainly he did not anticipate the xxxi economic crisis’ escalation into an insurrection. Even in late November 1786 when he received fragmentary reports on the Massachusetts disorders from John Jay and Rufus King, he reassured them, as well as Jefferson, that the disorders “will terminate in additional Strength to Government, and therefore they do not allarm me.”42 Not until January 1787, after he finally received a flurry of detailed reports on Shays’ Rebellion, did he fully realize the seriousness of the situation and comment thereon.

As Adams plied his diplomatic trade in London, the United States in general and Massachusetts in particular were on the cusp of change. But time and distance made London an unsatisfactory vantage point from which to observe events in America or comprehend their full significance. Contributing to Adams’ problem in this regard were the relatively few letters received from American correspondents describing what was happening and the dates on which they were written and received. A large portion of Adams’ letters from the United States, notably those from his most frequent American correspondent Jay, but also from Bowdoin, the Board of Treasury, and others, such as the Boston merchants who had lost property in 1776, concerned official business that Adams was expected to deal with in his ministerial capacity. Jay’s letters commented occasionally on the difficulties faced by Congress, but the information he provided largely confirmed what Adams already knew. King replaced Elbridge Gerry as Adams’ chief source of news about congressional deliberations, but although his information was more detailed than Jay’s, it did not reveal any new congressional crisis calculated to raise an alarm. King, Storer, and Higginson informed Adams of the Annapolis Convention, but his only comment was to express his sorrow “that a Convention is to take Place because Congress would have done as well, at a less Expence & in a shorter time.”43 Only Samuel Osgood made any substantive remarks on the pending Constitutional Convention, its possible consequences, and the urgency that Shays’ Rebellion brought to resolving the problems posed by the Articles of Confederation.44 Indeed, it is clear that for virtually the entire period chronicled by volume 18, Adams failed to fully understand the magnitude of the constitutional crisis developing in xxxii America, continuing to believe that modifying the Articles to enable Congress to enforce treaty terms and regulate trade would resolve most of the difficulties. Only in January 1787, after receiving detailed accounts of Shays’ Rebellion, did he change his focus to the creation of a strong executive.45

The question of what John Adams knew about Shays’ Rebellion and when he received his information are interesting in themselves, but they are of particular significance with regard to the January 1787 publication of the first volume of his three-volume Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America. 46 Among Adams’ political writings the Defence is perhaps the most controversial and, in its origins the least understood. Although many of its early readers praised Adams’ strictures on constitutionalism, its content forever stamped him in many minds as an oligarch or even a monarchist. Adams later said that Shays’ Rebellion motivated him to undertake the project, a contention accepted by many historians, but the reality was more complex.

In August 1786, Adams journeyed to the Netherlands.47 His official reason for doing so was to exchange ratified copies of the Prussian-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the Baron von Thulemeier, the Prussian minister at The Hague. The Netherlands that Adams returned to after an absence of two years was riven with political unrest. The pro-American Patriot Party, which had supported his efforts to obtain Dutch recognition of the United States, was in the ascendancy, with the real possibility of its taking power. John Adams and his wife, Abigail, were moved on 28 August at Utrecht when they witnessed the installation of an elected panel of magistrates that had replaced the city’s pro-Orangist Regency Council. Adams reported 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. their desire falling in with the Seditious Meetings in the Massachusetts determined me to write.”48

With respect to the first volume of the Defence, however, the first portion of Adams’ statement is more valid than the second because xxxiii when he returned to London in early September to begin the Defence, he knew nothing more about the situation in Massachusetts other than that there was some economic unrest. Indeed, his first undertaking was the October 1786 publication of his 1780 letters to Hendrik Calkoen, which in a sense can be considered a fourth volume of the Defence. 49 The remainder of his time, from September through December, was devoted to the first volume of the Defence, as is evident from the sharp decline in his letter writing: only eleven of his letters being printed for those four months. The draft was apparently finished by December, when John Brown Cutting read it with approval, but by then Adams had still not received detailed reports on the progress of Shays’ rebellion.50 Only in January 1787, at approximately the time that the Defence was published, did he receive, and comment on, accounts of the actual insurrection and the efforts to put it down.51

One of the principal criticisms of John Adams as the author of the Defence was that it showed him to favor an oligarchical form of government. However, his “Friends in Holland” lived in an oligarchy, as Adams well knew from having lived for several years in the Netherlands, and it was likely that any government that they would create in the wake of a victory over the Orangists would be, to at least some degree, oligarchical. Thus, when Adams was asked to put down on paper his thoughts on a new government for the Dutch state, it seems likely that he would tailor them to the experience of his Dutch audience. It could be argued, therefore, that the Defence might have been quite different if its major impetus had come from events in Massachusetts rather than from those in the Netherlands.

But January 1787 was important for more than just the publication of the Defence. By then almost ten years had passed since John and his eldest son, John Quincy, had sailed from the harbor at Quincy, Massachusetts, on his first mission to Europe.52 Since then he had served the United States in a variety of diplomatic posts, including the last year and eight months as the nation’s first minister to Great Britain. That commission would expire on 24 February 1788, and on 24 January 1787, Adams wrote to inform Jay and Congress that it was his intention to return to America as soon as possible xxxiv thereafter.53 The Revolution was won, and he had attained his goal of being minister to the Court of St. James. But now diplomacy no longer had any allure, and he had been too long away from America and was finally ready to return to face whatever new challenges the future might hold.


John Adams’ decision in May 1776 to keep a Letterbook and his continuance of that practice through the current volume has enabled the editors of the Papers of John Adams to present as complete a record of his correspondence as is possible. Letterbook copies permit the publication of letters for which the recipient’s copy has been lost and, in cases where the Letterbook copy is a draft, to trace the evolution of Adams’ intentions. During the fourteen months covered by this volume, Adams used Letterbooks 23, 24, and 25, which correspond to reels 111, 112, and 113 of the Adams Papers Microfilms. The first has been fully described in a previous volume.54 The second is described on its cover as follows by William Stephens Smith: “No. 28 / Public Letter Book / to their Excellencies / The President of Congress / The secretary for the Dept. / of foreign affairs — America and / Great Britain & To — / The Minister Plenipotentiary / at the Court of Versaills / Decr. 15th. 1785,” followed by two illegible lines; and on its spine, also by Smith: “England / Decr. 15 / 1785 / to / Feb. 28 1788.” The main body of entries, p. 1–107, begins with Adams’ circular letter to the states, dated “Decr. 1785” in the Letterbook but of 18 December 1785, introducing John Anstey and requesting their assistance in Anstey’s mission to investigate loyalist claims.55 The last is a letter of 28 February 1788 to the Earl of Ailesbury, chamberlain to the queen, in which Adams apologized for being unable to take formal leave of Queen Charlotte because of his need to visit the Netherlands before leaving for America.56 Most of these letters are in Smith’s hand, but others are by John Adams, Abigail Adams, Abigail Adams 2d, and unknown hands. Then, separated by 147 blank pages and upside-down relative to the previous entries, there are three letters to John Jay dated 3 December 1785, xxxv and 20 and 22 February 1786.57 The first is in Smith’s hand, the other two are by Abigail Adams 2d.

The third Letterbook is described on its front cover in Smith’s hand as “No. 29 / Public and / Private Letter / Book / Decr. 12th / 1785”; and on its spine, also by Smith: “1785.” The first entry is John Adams’ 12 December 1785 letter to Richard Cranch.58 The last, dated 2 February 1788, is to Charles Pinckney, governor of South Carolina, with which Adams forwarded, as a favor to the French ambassador, a petition from a Mary Collet. As with the previous Letterbook, most of the copies are in Smith’s hand, with the remainder by John Adams, Abigail Adams, and Abigail Adams 2d.


There have been no substantive changes made in the editorial method since 2007, when the editors made changes following a comprehensive review of the project’s editorial practices. For a statement of the policy as then determined, see the Papers of John Adams, 14:xxix–xxxvii. Those interested in following the evolution of the editorial method from the beginnings of the editorial project should consult the Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, 1:lii–lxii, and the Papers of John Adams, 1:xxxi–xxxv; 9:xx–xxiii; 11:xx–xxi.


The Massachusetts Historical Society continues its efforts to make Adams family materials available to scholars and the public online. The Packard Humanities Institute contributes significantly to all Adams Papers’ digital projects. Four digital resources of particular interest to those who use the Papers of John Adams volumes are the Adams Papers Digital Edition; The Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive; The Diaries of John Quincy Adams: A Digital Collection; and the Online Adams Catalog. All are available through the Historical Society’s website at

The Adams Papers Digital Edition, cosponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Harvard University Press, and the Massachusetts Historical Society, provides searchable text files of the 36 Adams Papers volumes published prior to 2011 (excluding the xxxvi portraits volumes). The Adams Papers volumes are supplemented by a comprehensive index prepared by the Adams Papers editors. The digital edition is intended not to replace the letterpress edition but rather to supplement it by widening the access of scholars and the public to the wealth of Adams material included therein.

The Adams Family Papers Electronic Archive contains images and text files of all of the correspondence between John and Abigail Adams owned by the Massachusetts Historical Society as well as John Adams’ diaries and autobiography. The files are completely searchable and can also be browsed by date.

The Diaries of John Quincy Adams: A Digital Collection provides images of John Quincy Adams’ entire 51-volume Diary, which he kept for nearly seventy years. The images can be searched by date or browsed by diary volume.

The Online Adams Catalog represents a fully searchable electronic database of all known Adams documents at the Massachusetts Historical Society and other public and private repositories. This digital conversion of the Adams Papers control file was supported by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the Massachusetts Historical Society, and was initiated by Packard Humanities Institute funds in 2009. The Online Adams Catalog allows the public online access to a database of over 110,000 records of documents related to the Adams family. Cross-reference links are supplied for at least 30 percent of the records in the catalog to the online, printed, and microfilm editions, or websites of the appropriate repository, including the Adams Papers Digital Edition, the Adams Family Papers Electronic Archive, and the 608 reels of the Adams Papers Microfilms. Each record contains information on the author, recipient, date of the document, and the location of the original, if known.

Also of value to users of the Papers of John Adams is the online catalog of the John Adams Library at the Boston Public Library. The catalog includes a record of the marginalia entered by Adams in his books as well as a growing number of digitized volumes. For additional information, see

The letters and documents printed in this volume chronicle fourteen months of John Adams’ labors as minister to Great Britain and the Netherlands, and as joint commissioner to negotiate commercial treaties with the nations of Europe and North Africa. It is not, however, the only documentary source for his life and times. The xxxvii 301 documents printed and the 212 documents omitted should be used in conjunction with the documents for the period appearing in Adams Family Correspondence, 6:478–511; 7:1–457, wherein an additional 34 letters to or from John Adams appear. Abigail Adams’ letters are replete with observations on life in London and descriptions of events such as the marriage of her daughter, Nabby, to William Stephens Smith and her visit to the Netherlands in August and September 1786. Her comments on public affairs are of particular interest because she read her husband’s mail, sometimes acted as his secretary, and had her own sources of information on events in the United States. Nabby’s letters to her brother John Quincy Adams comment on her social life in London, her marriage to Smith, and her removal from Grosvenor Square to Wimpole Street. John Quincy Adams’ letters, fewer than in the past, center on his life at Harvard, as does his Diary for the same period although in far more detail. John Adams’ Diary and Autobiography, 3:181–200, kept irregularly from 27 March to 29 July 1786, describes various social occasions in London, his visit to the English countryside with Thomas Jefferson, and sightseeing trips with Abigail, including one in July to visit Thomas Brand Hollis at The Hyde in Essex.

Gregg L. Lint June 2015

To John Jay, 24 Jan. 1787, below.


Vol. 17:624–625; to John Jay, 9 Dec. 1785; from the Marquis of Carmarthen, 28 Feb. 1786, both below.


Vols. 16:577–578; 17:100–103, 473–476.


To Elbridge Gerry, 24 May 1786, below.


To John Jay, 3 Dec. 1785, first letter, below.


To John Jay, 9 Dec. 1785, below.


Vol. 17:245–247, 270–274.


Vol. 17:184–189, 354–362.


From Rufus King, 2 May 1786; from Roger Sherman, 8 May, both below.


Vol. 17:624–625; to John Jay, 9 Dec. 1785; from the Marquis of Carmarthen, 28 Feb. 1786, both below. For Jay’s recommendations to Congress regarding the removal of the offending regulations and Congress’ 1787 response, see Jay’s first letter of 1 Nov. 1786, and note 2, below.


Vol. 17:559–561; from Samuel Austin, 23 Dec. 1785, and notes; from James Bowdoin, 10 April, 11 July 1786; to Bowdoin, 2 June; from John Jay, 18 Aug., all below; to the Marquis of Carmarthen, 24 Sept. 1787 (PRO:FO 4, State Papers, vol. 5, f. 525–531).


From the Marquis of Carmarthen, 11 Dec. 1786, and note 1; to Carmarthen, 24, 27 Jan. 1787, and note 1, all below.


To Samuel Austin, 25 May 1786, but see also JA’s letters of 25 May to John Jay, and of 26 May to Richard Cranch, Tristram Dalton, and Charles Storer, all below.


John Adams Visits the Netherlands, 3 Aug. – 6 Sept. 1786, Editorial Note, below.


The consortium was reduced to the firms of Wilhem & Jan Willink and Nicolaas & Jacob van Staphorst following the 1785 bankruptcy of De la Lande & Fynje, for which see vol. 17:index, Loan consortium.


To Wilhem & Jan Willink and Nicolaas & Jacob van Staphorst, 13 Dec. 1785, 10 Jan. 1786, 11, 19 May, 18 Dec.; from the Willinks and Staphorsts, 23 Dec. 1785, 5, 23 May 1786, 27 Oct., 12 Dec., 5 Jan. 1787; to the Board of Treasury, 19 May 1786, 26 Jan. 1787; from the Board of Treasury, 7 March 1786, 6 April, 31 Oct., all below.


From Wilhem & Jan Willink and Nicolaas & Jacob van Staphorst, 5 Jan. 1787; to John Jay, 9 Jan., both below.


Vol. 17:431–452.


Thomas Barclay to the commissioners, 26 June 1786, 16 July, 10, 13, 18 Sept., 2 Oct.; William Carmichael to the commissioners, 3 Feb.; John Lamb to the commissioners, 20 May; Paul R. Randall to the commissioners, 14 May, all below.


Moroccan-American Treaty of Peace and Friendship, [28 June 1786]; Commissioners’ Provisional Ratification of the Moroccan-American Treaty, [1–25 Jan. 1787], both below.


To Thomas Jefferson, 3 July 1786; from Jefferson, 11 July, but see also JA’s 26 June letter to the Marquis de Lafayette, all below.


To Thomas Jefferson, 21 Feb. 1786, below.


To John Jay, 16, 20 Feb. 1786; to Thomas Jefferson, 17 Feb., all below.


Vol. 17:280–282.


To the Marquis of Carmarthen, 13 March 1786; commissioners to Carmarthen, 4 April, both below.


Proposed Portuguese-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce, [25 April 1786], Editorial Note, below.


Vol. 15:228–230, 242–244, 257–259, 261–263, 268–271, 276–277.


To John Jay, 4 Jan. 1786; to William White 28 Feb.; from David Griffith, 26 June, all below; vol. 17:538–540, 561–562.


To Matthew Robinson-Morris, 21 Feb. 1786, 2, 4, 23 March; from Robinson-Morris, 27 Feb., 18 March, 25 April, all below.


From John Jebb, 20 Dec. 1785, and note 1, below.


To Thomas Jefferson, 19 Jan. 1786, and note 1; from Granville Sharp, 21 Jan.; to Sharp, 8 March, all below.


From Timothy Dwight, [ca. 8–12 Dec. 1785]; from John Trumbull, 8 Dec.; from Joel Barlow, 12 Dec.; to David Ramsay, 9 Feb. 1786; to Barlow, 4 April; to Dwight, 4 April, all below.


To Elizabeth Otis Brown, 10 Dec. 1785; to John Woddrop, 3 Feb. 1786, both below; from Walter Brown, 31 Jan.; from Robert Delap, 24 Feb.; from James Burrow, 9 June, all Adams Papers.


See Descriptive List of Illustrations, No. 4, above.


Of particular interest in this regard is Stephen Higginson’s July 1786 letter to JA , below. There, in commenting on Nathaniel Barrett’s contract to sell whale oil to France, he indicated it was impossible for any American merchant to make a profit on any commodity sold to France under contract at a fixed price unrelated to the actual market price.


From John Paul Jones, 7 Jan. 1786, and notes 1 and 2; from Jones, 10 July; to Jones, 17 July, all below.


To Philip Mazzei, 15, 29 Dec. 1785; 20 May 1786, 26 June; from Mazzei, 23 Jan., 5 March, 17 June, all below.


From C. W. F. Dumas, 31 Jan. 1786, 12 Oct., both below.


From Antoine Marie Cerisier, 10 Aug. 1786, below.


From François Adriaan Van der Kemp, 31 Oct. 1786; to Van der Kemp, 1 Dec., both below.


Vol. 17:505–510; to Richard Cranch, 12 Dec. 1785; from James Warren, 30 April 1786; to Warren 4 July, all below.


From Rufus King, 3 Oct. 1786; to King, 29 Nov.; to John Jay, 30 Nov.; to Thomas Jefferson, 30 Nov., all below.


From Charles Storer, 7 April 1786; from Rufus King, 5 May; from Stephen Higginson, July; to the Marquis de Lafayette, 26 June, all below.


From Samuel Osgood, 14 Nov. 1786, below.


To James Warren, 9 Jan. 1787, below.


Volume 1 of John Adams’ A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, [ca. 15 Jan. 1787], Editorial Note, below.


John Adams Visits the Netherlands, 3 Aug. – 6 Sept. 1786, Editorial Note, below.


To Richard Cranch, 15 Jan. 1787, below.


Twenty-six Letters, Upon Interesting Subjects, Respecting the Revolution in America, London, [1786].


From John Brown Cutting, 13 Dec. 1786, below.


To James Warren, 9 Jan. 1787; to Richard Cranch, 15 Jan.; to Benjamin Hichborn, 27 Jan., all below.


JA, D&A , 2:269–271.


To John Jay, 24 Jan. 1787, below.


Vol. 17:xxxi.


To the Marquis of Carmarthen, 2 Dec. 1785, and note 4, below.


JA, Works , 8:481–482.


All below.