Papers of John Adams, volume 18

From Benjamin Goodhue

From Cotton Tufts

To John Adams from John Jebb, 20 December 1785 Jebb, John Adams, John
From John Jebb
Dr. Sir Parlt. Street 20t Dec— 85.

I have been prevented from paying my respects to you hitherto by the feeble State I have been in for some time— I am now still further prevented by an operation on my leg.—1 but I cannot help referring you to a publication intitled observations on a late publication intituled Thoughts on executive Justice printed for Cadell in the 56 Strand & Faulder in New-Bond street—which must please you— if The work fails, the letter at the End will gratify—2 but both are admirable— Eden has made a poor piece of work of it— & if he continues to go on, as he began—I shall not repine— Mr. Pitt, & he alone of all the Cabinet negotiated the dark transaction—3

Mrs Jebb Joins me in every expression of respect & good will to Mrs Adams & Miss Adams & I remain truly yrs

John Jebb

I beg respects to Col. Smith— I shuld wish to see yr Servt. agn. if convenient at the same Hour as before—

RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Dr Jebb. 20. Decr / 1785.”


This is JA’s last letter from Jebb, who died on 2 March 1786, at the age of fifty. According to the London General Evening Post of 2–4 March, Jebb “fell a sacrifice to unremitting exertions for the best interests of mankind.” JA’s attendance at Jebb’s funeral was reported in the newspapers, including the London Chronicle of 9–11 March, and in a resolution of 10 March (Adams Papers), the Society for Constitutional Information thanked JA for the “mark of respect shewn by him to the Memory of their late Member, that real patriot and distinguished Assertor of the rights of Mankind, Doctor John Jebb, by Attending the voluntary Procession at his Funeral.”


Jebb enclosed Samuel Romilly’s anonymous Observations on a Late Publication, Intituled, Thoughts on Executive Justice: To Which is Added, a Letter Containing Remarks on the Same Work, London, 1786 (not found). It was a reply to Martin Madan’s anonymous Thoughts on Executive Justice, with Respect to Our Criminal Laws, Particularly on the Circuits, London, 1785. Madan argued for the strict enforcement of criminal laws, even those requiring the death penalty for minor thievery. Romilly believed, however, that the punishment should fit the magnitude of the crime. To support his argument he included “A Letter from a Gentleman Abroad to His Friend in England” (p. 137–162), which was in fact a 14 March 1785 letter from Benjamin Franklin to Benjamin Vaughan.


William Eden, M.P. for Heytesbury and later 1st Baron Auckland, accepted an appointment in early December to negotiate a commercial treaty with France, a task he completed in Sept. 1786. By accepting the appointment, Eden removed himself from the parliamentary opposition to the Pitt ministry, of which he had been a major figure since the fall of the Fox-North coalition. This may have been the “dark transaction” referred to by Jebb (Namier and Brooke, House of Commons ).