Papers of John Adams, volume 18

From Granville Sharp

From Tristram Dalton

From John Adams to Rufus King, 22 January 1786 Adams, John King, Rufus
To Rufus King
Sir Grosvenor Square Jan. 22. 1786

Yesterday I was honoured with your Letters of the 4. and 10. Decr.— The Act of Congress respecting the British Consul General, is wise, and well guarded: Nevertheless I think that We Should not be So inattentive to Ettiquette, as to omit a Proposition for Sending a Minister Plenipotentiary. We give up, a Point, by receiving a Consul in return for a Minister, which, although it may appear of little Consequence in America, is really of some Weight among our own People, and of much more in Europe. Republicks, have in all Ages been quite as attentive to the respect due to their Ambassadors as crowned Heads. Holland, Venice and Genoa, are at this day more Studious of this, than any Kings in Europe, whose Dominions are not larger.

The last publick Entry and Audience of Ambassadors in this Country was insisted on by the Republick of Genoa at the Accession of his present Majesty: and I conjecture that the true Reason why We have no Answer from Venice and Genoa is that they think Ettiquette required that We should have Sent Ministers to them or at least that Congress should have written a Letter to them, announcing their Independence and desire to live in Amity.1

I See with Pleasure that the States are advancing towards Unanimity, in Commercial Regulations. They may depend upon it they have no other Resource. They will be obliged to come into it, and the sooner the better. The Stocks are mounted up, and Mr Pitt is about adopting a Plan of Dr Price, for a sinking Fund.2 This will prove an Illusion, but its Brillancy will dazzle this People.

Your Picture of the Prosperity of our Country, its Agriculture and Fisheries is a charming one. The Acts of Mass. for encouraging the Whale Trade, and the Alterations of their navigation Act, I hope will have good Effects. inclosed are Some Letters from the Marquis De la Fayette and Mr Barrett which I pray you to send to some Friend in Boston as I have not time to copy them.—3 Surely We need not want a Markett for Oil.

Will you please to present my affectionate Respects to Mr Hancock and your other Colleagues. I am extreamly sorry that the 115 senate of Massachusetts had less Magnanimity than the House. What Reasons they could have against the Return of the Refugees I cannot comprehend.— at home they would be impotent, abroad they are mischievous. The News of the Vote of the House had apparently an happy Effect here. In the Vindication of the Principles of Right, and of great Interests We should be as decided as Fate: but angry Passions and especially personall Resentments We should Sacrifice like Men. great Questions should never be perplexed with unnecessary little ones.— a generous sailor would never puzzle himself to save a Keg of Rum, when he ought to exert himself to save the ship, altho a Hingham farmer is reported to have once done it—

Mr Pitt intends to pay the Tories their Losses and dismiss them. They will then be obliged to go to Canada or Nova scotia, unless they can return to the states, which many of them desire. Why We should continue them Spightful and troublesome, when they might be made quiet and harmless I dont know.

I have not received from Mr Jay, the Commission you or Mr Gerry mentioned, as Consul General.4 I wish that Congress had been pleased rather to have appointed Coll Smith.— However When my Authority arrives I shall do the best I can.— I promise myself much from your future Correspondence, as I have recd much Pleasure & Information from the past. With great / Esteem, yours

John Adams

RC (NHi:Rufus King Papers); internal address: “The Hon Rufus King. Esq.”; endorsed: “Mr. Adams Jan. 22. 86.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 113.


JA’s views reflect, to some degree, the Chevalier de Pinto’s reasoning for the Portuguese reluctance to send a minister to the United States without a treaty in place. Three years earlier, seeking to prevent such concerns, JA pressed Congress to send an official notification of American independence to the nations of Europe, but it never did (vols. 15:186–187; 17:572–573).


William Pitt, who served as chancellor of the exchequer throughout his tenure as prime minister, had received Richard Price’s proposal to establish a sinking fund in 1784. Pitt’s revised version, which he introduced in the House of Commons on 29 March 1786, promised a £1 million annual payment to redeem the national debt at a high compound interest rate, with funds to be supplied by the existing surplus, Britain’s post-Revolutionary trade boom, and new taxes on spirits and hair powder. Pitt recommended that independent commissioners supervise the sinking fund, which he predicted would eradicate the national debt in less than forty years. As JA suggested, Pitt’s bill easily passed Parliament, and it was accepted by George III on 26 May (Hague, Pitt , p. 194; Carl B. Cone, “Richard Price and Pitt’s Sinking Fund of 1786,” Economic History Review, 4:243–251 [1951]).


The RC’s enclosed by JA have not been found. For the first see the extract from the Marquis de Lafayette’s 9 Jan. letter, above. Nathaniel Barrett’s last extant letter to JA was of 10 Dec. 1785 (Adams Papers), for which see JA’s 24 Dec. letter to Barrett, note 1, above. Barrett’s next letter to JA is of 29 Jan. 1786, below. This suggests that Barrett sent another letter to JA, probably dated around 9 Jan., that has been lost, since RC’s of both of Barrett’s other letters are in the Adams Papers. In a 22 April letter to Jonathan 116 Jackson, King indicated that he was sending the enclosures he had received from JA to the Newburyport merchant Nathaniel Tracy (Smith, Letters of Delegates , 23:249–250).


On this day, JA also received Elbridge Gerry’s 8 Nov. 1785 letter with news of Congress’ 28 Oct. resolution empowering JA, along with Thomas Jefferson and William Carmichael, to act as consuls general (vol. 17:386, 574–577). A formal commission, however, never arrived. John Jay originally planned to send copies of the act to JA in early December, but presumably he delayed doing so in hope of receiving clarification from Congress regarding the powers and duties of the post. Specifically, Jay inquired if a consul general’s authority extended to appointing vice-consuls or agents; whether Thomas Barclay and Jefferson would enjoy “concurrent Jurisdiction” in France; and if formal commissions were needed. Jay’s queries apparently went unanswered by the congressional committee, which included King, as members debated instead the credentials of Britain’s consul general, John Temple ( JCC , 29:888, 896–897).