Papers of John Adams, volume 18

To Richard Henry Lee

To Philip Mazzei

70 To John Adams from Thomas Jefferson, 27 December 1785 Jefferson, Thomas Adams, John
From Thomas Jefferson
Dear Sir Paris Dec: 27. 1785.

Your favors of the 13th. & 20th. were put into my hands today. this will be delivered you by mr̃ Dalrymple, secretary to the legation of mr̃ Craufurd. I do not know whether you were acquainted with him here. he is a young man of learning & candor, and exhibits a phaenomenon I never before met with, that is, a republican born on the North side of the Tweed.

You have been consulted in the case of the Chevalr. de Mezieres nephew to Genl. Oglethorpe, and are understood to have given an opinion derogatory of our treaty with France.1 I was also consulted, and understood in the same way. I was of opinion the Chevalier had no right to the estate, & as he had determined the treaty gave him a right, I suppose he made the inference for me that the treaty was of no weight. the Count de Vergennes mentioned it to me in such a manner that I found it was necessary to explain the case to him, & shew him that the treaty had nothing to do with it. I inclose you a copy of the explanation I delivered him.2

Mr. Boylston sold his cargo to an Agent of Monsieur Sangrain. he got for it 55. livres the hundred weight. I do not think that his being joined to a company here would contribute to it’s success. his capital is not wanting. Le Couteux has agreed that the Merchants of Boston sending whale oil here, may draw on him for a certain proportion of money, only giving such a time in their draughts as will admit the actual arrival of the oil into a port of France for his security. upon these draughts mr̃ Barrett is satisfied they will be able to raise money to make their purchases in America.— the duty is 7–10 on the barrel of 520lb French, and 10. sous on every livre, which raises it to 11–5, the sum I mentioned to you.3 France uses between 5. & 6. millions of pounds weight French, which is between 3. & 4000 tons English. their own fisheries do not furnish one million & there is no probability of their improving. Sangrain purchases himself upwards of a million. he tells me our oil is better than the Dutch or English, because we make it fresh, whereas they cut up the whale & bring it home to be made, so that it is by that time entered into fermentation. mr̃ Barrett says that 50. livres the hundred weight will pay the prime cost & duties & leave a profit of 16. per cent to the merchant. I hope that England will within a year or two be obliged to come here to buy whale oil for her lamps.


I like as little as you do to have the gift of appointments. I hope Congress will not transfer the appointment of their Consuls to their ministers. but if they do, Portugal is more naturally under the superintendance of the minister at Madrid, & still more naturally under the minister at Lisbon, where it is clear they ought to have one. if all my hopes fail, the letters of Govr. Bowdoin & Cushing, in favor of young mr̃ Warren, & your more detailed testimony in his favor, are not likely to be opposed by evidence of equal weight in favor of any other.4 I think with you too that it is for the public interest to encourage sacrifices & services by rewarding them, and that they should weigh to a certain point in the decision between candidates.

I am sorry for the illness of the Chevalr. Pinto. I think that treaty important: & the moment to urge it is that of a treaty between France & England.

Lamb, who left this place the 6th. of Nov. was at Madrid the 10th. of this month. since his departure mr̃ Barclay has discovered that no copies of the full powers were furnished to himself, nor of course to Lamb. Colo. Franks has prepared copies which I will endeavor to get to send by this conveiance for your attestation: which you will be so good as to send back by the first safe conveiance & I will forward them.5 mr̃ Barclay & Franks being at this moment at St. Germain’s, I am not sure of getting the papers in time to go by mr̃ Dalrymple. in that case I will send them by mr̃ Bingham.

Be so good as to present me affectionately to mrs̃ & miss Adams, to Colos. Smith & Humphries & accept assurances of the esteem with which I am Dear Sir / Your friend & servt.

Th: Jefferson

P. S. be pleased to forward the inclosed, sealing that to Congress after you have read it.6

RC and enclosure (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mr̃ Adams”; docketed by JQA: “T. Jefferson. 27. Decr: 1785.”; notation by CFA: “T. Jefferson. / Decr 27th 1785. / published in his Writings / Vol 1. p 376.”; enclosure endorsed: “[Mr] Jefferson / Decr. 27. ansd. Jan. / 19. 1786.” CFA refers to Jefferson, Correspondence, ed. Randolph, 1:376–377. For the enclosure, see note 2.


This came as a surprise to JA, for which see his 19 Jan. 1786 reply, below.


Jefferson enclosed a press copy of the first half of his [ca. 20 Dec. 1785] memorandum that he gave to the Comte de Vergennes’ secretary, Gérard de Rayneval, when he met with the foreign minister on 20 Dec. (Jefferson, Papers , 9:112–113). For the full memorandum, see same, 9:107–112. On 9 Dec. Vergennes had apparently complained to Jefferson about the Chevalier de Mézières’ treatment by the American legal system. Mézières was a French subject and nephew of Georgia founder Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe, who died on 1 July. The chevalier claimed Oglethorpe’s Georgia and South Carolina properties as his heir but faced obstacles in pressing his claim. Vergennes asserted that the difficulties encountered by Mézières were violations of Art. 11 (13 as originally 72 numbered) of the 1778 Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce, which prohibited either country from interfering with the right of citizens or subjects of either nation to dispose of property by testament or to receive property by inheritance (Miller, Treaties , 2:11–12).

In the portion of the memorandum sent to JA, Jefferson argued first that since neither Oglethorpe nor his wife were French subjects, Art. 11 did not apply. He then launched into a legal analysis of the issue, assuring Vergennes that the American legal system could be depended on to settle the matter in an equitable manner. Jefferson returned to the issue in a report on his meetings with Vergennes that he enclosed with his 2 Jan. 1786 letter to John Jay. There he stated only that he and JA had advised Mézières that, notwithstanding Art. 11, his “Right of Succession to the General’s Estate in Georgia was doubtful.” Responding to Vergennes’ complaints about the tardiness of justice in the United States, specifically in Georgia, Jefferson stated that the issue was whether the Declaration of Independence made Oglethorpe an alien, and then to forestall further discussion he presented Rayneval with the memorandum of [ca. 20 Dec. 1785] (Jefferson, Papers , 9:136, 143–144).


That is, France imposed a surcharge on the base duty on whale oil, which was not indicated when the Marquis de Lafayette informed JA of the reduction in duty, for which see JA’s 12 Dec. letter to Richard Cranch, and note 3, above.


For James Bowdoin’s 10 Oct. letter to Jefferson recommending Winslow Warren to be the U.S. consul at Lisbon, see Jefferson, Papers , 8:601. Thomas Cushing’s letter has not been found, but Jefferson also received a 9 Oct. letter from James Warren recommending his son that was similar to Warren’s to JA of 6 Oct. (vol. 17:499–500; Jefferson, Papers , 8:599–600).


Jefferson presumably refers to Thomas Barclay’s commission to negotiate with Morocco and John Lamb’s commissions for negotiations with Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis that JA drafted in late September or early October. He signed fair copies of the commissions on 5 Oct. and sent them to Jefferson, who signed them on the 11th (vol. 17:449–451). On 27 Dec., David Franks wrote to William Short that he was sending him “the four Copies of the full Powers which His Excelley. desired me to make out” (DLC:Jefferson Papers). This seems to indicate that Franks copied the commissions to Algiers, Morocco, Tripoli, an Tunis, but JA did not mention either receiving or signing them in his 19 Jan. 1786 reply (below), nor does Jefferson mention them again in any of his letters to JA.


Jefferson most likely refers here to the account of his conversations with Vergennes, but he sent an expanded version of that to Jay with his 2 Jan. letter (Jefferson, Papers , 9:136–146).