Papers of John Adams, volume 18

From Edward Church

To John Jay

From John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 19 January 1786 Adams, John Jefferson, Thomas
To Thomas Jefferson
Dear Sir Grosvenor Square Jan. 19. 1786

I am favoured with yours of 27. Decr. and am obliged to you for what you Said to the Count De Vergennes in the Case of the Chevalier De Mezieres.— You may always very Safely depend upon it, that 104 I never have given and never shall give any Opinion against the Letter or Spirit of the Treaty with France. In this Case I have never given any Opinion at all. indeed I have never been consulted. The Marquis De Belgarde, with whom I had a Slight Acquaintance at the Hague, called upon me here after the Death of Gen. Oglethorpe, and desired that Mr Granville Sharp might call upon me and Shew me some Papers relative to the Generals Lands in Georgia. and S. Carolina. Mr Sharpe called accordingly, but shewed me no Papers.— I never looked nor enquired into the Case, but advised both to write and Send a Power of Attorney to our old Friend Edward Rutledge, who was able to give them the best Advice and Information and all the Assistance which the Law allows in their Claim. The Treaty with France never occurred to me, nor was suggested to me in the Conference, nor did I ever give any Opinion on any Question concerning it. I have never written a Line to America about it, nor put pen to Paper. The Supposition that any opinion of yours in private Conversation, or of mine if any such had been given which never was, Should influence Courts and Juries in Georgia or Carolina, is ridiculous. The Case as you State it, indeed appears to be unconnected with the Treaty entirely, and if Sound Sense can remove a Prejudice, what you have said upon it, will put an End to the Jealousy.1

Does the Count de Vergennes pretend that the United States of America, are bound by their Treaty with France never to lay a Duty on French Vessells? The Mass. & N. Ham. Navigation Laws, leave French ships, Subjects & Merchandizes upon the Footing Gentis Amicissimæ. And does the Treaty require more?2

I have been informed by Richard Jackson Esqr,3 whose Fame is known in America, that a Question has been referred to a Number of the first Lawyers common and civil, among whom he was one, “Whether the Citizens of the United States born before the Revolution, were still entituled in the British Dominions to the Rights of British Subjects.” Their unanimous Determination was that Such as were born before, the Signature of the Definitive Treaty of Peace, are Still to be considered as British subjects, if they claim the rights, in the British Dominions.— This Decision was I believe more upon Analogy, and Speculation, than upon any Established Principle or Precedent, Since Ours, is I believe a new Case. how it has been determined in America I know not.— But I believe not the Same Way.— however the Lawyers and Judges may determine it, I wish the 105 Assemblies may adopt it as a Rule, respecting Estates held before the Seperation Since a Generosity of this Kind, will be more for their Honour and their Interest, as I conceive than a rigorous Claim of an Escheat however clear in Law.

The Chevalier De Pinto informs me, that he has written to his Court for Explanations upon Some Points, and expects an Answer in a few Days. When it arrives he will call upon me. in the mean time, he Says his [“]Court is solicitous to Send a Minister to America: but that Ettiquette forbids it, unless Congress will agree to Send one to Lisbon. They would Send a Minister to N. York if Congress would return the Compliment. but if Congress will not Send a Min. Plen. they wish to send a Resident, or even a Chargé des Affaires,” but Ettiquette will not permit this Unless Congress will Send a Resident or Chargé D’Affaires to Portugal.

Is it really expected or intended that Eden Shall do more than Crawford did? Pray let me know, if there is any Probability of a Treaty, in Earnest, between France and England.?

Mr Barrett has it Seems Succeeded very well. and Boylston too.— if this last has made thirty Per Cent Profit, I will answer for it, that he alone will prevent the Expiration of Our Whale Trade and the Depopulation of Nantuckett. He is an admirable Patriot when thirty per Cent, can be made by Serving his Country.— Our Nantuckett & Cape Codd Men and our Boston Merchants are much to blame for having neglected so long the French Markett for their Oil and Fins,—and for remaining so long in Ignorance of it.—

Perhaps the Difference between our White Sperma Cæti Oil and the ordinary Train Oil of the Dutch and English is not yet Sufficiently known to Mr Sangrain. The Dutch I believe take no Sperma Cæti Whales, and it is but lately that the English have taken any, and they are able to take them now, only with our Skippers, Oarsmen and Endsmen. These We shall Soon get back from them if our States are cunning enough to repeal the Refugee Laws, and if France is wise enough to encourage the Exportation of her own Produce & Manufactures by receiving ours in Payment.

Mr Voss from Virginia has just now called upon me and Shewn me a State of the Debt of that Commonwealth which is very consolatory. it is dated 12. Nov. 1785. and signed B. Stark, H. Randolph and J. Pendleton.—4 The whole Debt at that Period was only 928,031£: 9s: od the annual Interest 55.649.£ 15s: 3d. Pension List annually 6,000.£ officers of Government Ditto 29,729.£ Criminal 106 Prosecution ditto 5,509. Thus it appears that 96,878£: 15s. 3d annually will pay the whole Interest of their Debt and all the Charges of Government.

Virginia by this may Sing O be joy full.

on the 19. Nov. The Lower House resolved to invest Congress with full Power to regulate Trade, and in the mean time that all Commerce should cease with the British Colonies in the West Indies and North America, and that all ships of foreign Nations with whom We have not Treaties of Commerce Should be prohibited from importing any Thing but the Productions of their own Country.— it Seems they revoked these Resolutions again, because the House was thin, but with design to take them up in another day. This perhaps may not be done till next year. but it a strong Symptom of what is coming. Mr Voss gives a comfortable Account of the Trade in Peltries as well as Grain & Tobacco.— Every Vessell that arrives brings fresh Comfort. and I fancy our Commerce with the East Indies will be effectually secured by the Reception of Mr Pitts Bill. Mr Voss tells me, that the British Debts will not be permitted to be Sued for untill the Treaty is complied with, by the English by the Evacuation of the Posts and Payment for the Negroes. Ld Carmarthen told me yesterday, that he was labouring at an Answer to my Memorial concerning the Posts and that he should compleat it, as soon as he could get all the Information he was looking for concerning the British Debts, for that Complaints had been made by the Creditors here to Ministry. I am glad that I am to have an Answer.—5 for whatever Conditions they may tack to the Surrender of the Posts, We shall find out what is broiling in their Hearts, and by degrees come together. An Answer, though it might be a rough one, would be better than none. But it will not be rough. They will Smooth it as much as they can and I shall transmit it to Congress who may again pass the smoothing plain over it.— I expect it will end in an Accomodation, but it will take Eighteen months more time to finish it.

With great Esteem yours

John Adams

RC (DLC:Jefferson Papers); internal address: “Mr Jefferson.”; endorsed: “Adams John.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 112.


For the Chevalier de Mézières’ claim to Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe’s property in Georgia and South Carolina as Oglethorpe’s heir, the Comte de Vergennes’ complaint about the chevalier’s treatment under the American legal system, and Jefferson’s response, see Jefferson’s 27 Dec. 1785 letter, and note 2, above.

While responsibility for dealing with Mézières and the issues arising from his claims 107 fell to Jefferson as minister to France, JA’s role may not have been as tangential as he indicates in this letter. François Eugène Robert, Marquis de Bellegarde, was the grandson of Oglethorpe’s younger sister and ultimately received the greater part of the Oglethorpe property in England (Jefferson, Papers , 9:114). For Granville Sharp, Oglethorpe’s associate in the general’s crusade against the impressment of sailors, see Sharp’s 21 Jan. 1786 letter, note 1, below. JA is remarkably reticent about Oglethorpe and his heirs. This is his only reference to the meetings with Bellegarde and Sharp, and he makes no mention of his exchange of visits with Oglethorpe himself in June 1785, shortly before Oglethorpe’s death ( AFC , 6:206).

More significant, perhaps, is JA’s failure to mention a conversation with Francis Plowden, Mézières’ British counsel, sometime prior to 31 Oct. 1785, during which the two men discussed Mézières’ case in considerable detail. Plowden described the meeting in a 31 Oct. letter to Mézières. Jefferson obtained and copied that letter, and JA’s remarks recorded therein may have influenced the arguments Jefferson presented to Vergennes and recorded in his memorandum of [ca. 20 December]. Plowden indicates that JA discussed American law as it applied to inheritance, particularly by aliens, and suggested that Mézières’ best hope was probably to be naturalized and pursue his case as an American citizen (Jefferson, Papers , 9:107–112, 113–114).


JA refers to comments Jefferson made in the portion of his [ca. 20 Dec.] memorandum that he enclosed with his 27 Dec. letter, above. The duties imposed by the Massachusetts and New Hampshire navigation acts did not discriminate among foreign ships and to that degree preserved the most favored nation principle, but the duty imposed on foreign ships was twice that paid by American ships (Jefferson, Papers , 9:110–111). In Oct. 1785 the French vice-consul at Boston, Jean Joseph Marie Toscan, protested to the Mass. General Court that such a provision violated Arts. 3 and 4 of the 1778 Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce. That section of the law was repealed on 29 Nov. 1785 (vol. 17:536).


Richard Jackson (1721?–1787) had been Massachusetts’ provincial agent in London during the 1760s (JA, D&A , 1:261).


This may be William Voss, son of Edward Voss of Culpeper, Va., who was described by Lucy Ludwell Paradise as an “amiable honest and good young gentleman and a native of Virginia” (Jefferson, Papers , 10:256; Culpeper County, Virginia, Will Book E, 1803–1809). Voss presumably showed JA a copy of the public auditors’ 12 Nov. 1785 report, which was laid before the Va. house of delegates on 15 November. In the second paragraph below, although under the date of 19 Nov., Voss correctly summarized the content of the house of delegates’ 14 Nov. resolution authorizing Congress to regulate the commonwealth’s trade, which was revoked on 30 Nov. (Va. House of Delegates, Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Richmond, 1828, p. 36, 37, 66).


The Marquis of Carmarthen replied to JA’s [30 Nov.] memorial (vol. 17:624–625) on 28 Feb. 1786, below.