Papers of John Adams, volume 18

From Charles Storer

To the Comte de Sarsfield

137 To John Adams from John Jay, 2 February 1786 Jay, John Adams, John
From John Jay
private Dear Sir New York 2 Feb. 1786

I lately wrote you a few hasty Lines just as the vessel which carried them was departing; and enclosed a Pamphlet containing my Correspondence with a Mr Littlepage, who was formerly in my Family.1 The attack which produced that Pamphlet, was not only countenanced but stimulated by some of the Subjects of our good allies here. It is no Secret either to You or me that I am no favorite with them: nor have I any Reason to apprehend that they are pleased to see me in the Place I now fill. a minister whose Eye is single & steadily fixed on the Interest of america, must expect to be opposed by the unfriendly Influence of those whose wishes & measures he does not promote—

I should have treated this attack with silent Contempt, had not false Facts been urged, propagated and impress with Industry & art, and which if not exposed and refuted, might have appeared after my Death in the Memoirs of some of these People.

This Edition of that Pamphlet is so inaccurately printed, that I have directed another to be published, which when compleated Shall be sent to You, and Mr Jefferson—

with great & sincere Esteem & Regard / I am Dear Sir / Your Friend & Servt

John Jay—

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Honb’le John Adams Esqr.—


Jay’s letter enclosing copies of the pamphlet concerning his dispute with Lewis Littlepage has not been found, but see JA’s 14 Feb. letter to Jay, below. Littlepage (1762–1802), a Hanover County, Va., soldier of fortune who enjoyed Jay’s patronage at Madrid from 1780 to 1781, was indebted to Jay for over $1,000. He sent Jay several incendiary letters during that period, contesting the debt and lambasting William Carmichael, Jay’s secretary at Madrid, for “perfidious and cruel” behavior. Upon his acrimonious 1781 departure from Jay’s household, Littlepage embarked on a military career, joining the French forces at the sieges of Port Mahon and Gibraltar. He resurfaced a year later at Paris, where he intrigued among the American peace commissioners in a vain effort to replace John Thaxter as courier of the Anglo-American peace treaty to Congress. Following the commissioners’ failure to replace Thaxter, JA was present for Littlepage’s Sept. 1783 confrontation with Jay over the perceived slight—the “Scæne” that JA alludes to in his 14 Feb. 1786 letter—and subsequent plea for reconciliation.

En route from Virginia to France, Littlepage reached New York City in Nov. 1785 and he asked Jay for a congressional recommendation of military service to King Stanislaus of Poland. Sensitive to the precedent that furnishing such a recommendation might create, Jay delayed Littlepage’s petition, and Congress adjourned without granting the request. In an attempt to collect the long-overdue debt, Jay then filed suit against Littlepage and had him arrested. Posting bail with the aid of Jay’s brother-in-law, 138 Brockholst Livingston, Jay’s former protégé launched a series of personal attacks against him in the New York Daily Advertiser on 6, 7, and 10 December. Brushing aside Littlepage’s request for a duel, Jay responded by compiling and circulating the pamphlet mentioned here, Letters, Being the Whole of the Correspondence between the Hon. John Jay, Esquire, and Mr. Lewis Littlepage, N.Y., 1786 (Evans, No. 19735). For the revised edition, see Evans, No. 19736.

Littlepage’s public display of animus troubled Jay, who thought it might be rooted in foreign factions seeking to divide or distract an already enfeebled Congress. Jay and others, therefore, sent the pamphlet to JA, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington; all replied in strong support of Jay. Jefferson, noting Littlepage’s arrival in Paris on 19 Jan. 1786, lamented to Jay that public service attracted ugly controversies like the one brought on by Littlepage: “Your quiet may have suffered for a moment on this occasion, but you have the strongest of all supports that of the public esteem.” From Warsaw, Littlepage renewed the argument in 1787 with his Answer to a Pamphlet. He spent the next fifteen years occupied in various European court intrigues, until his death at the age of 39 (Stahr, John Jay , p. 228–232; Smith, Letters of Delegates , 23:62, 118, 172, 1999; Franklin, Papers , 40:564–565; Jefferson, Papers , 9:215; Evans, No. 20462; DAB ; Jay, Letters, Being the Whole of the Correspondence, 1st edn., p. 12).