Papers of John Adams, volume 18

To the Marquis of Carmarthen

From Isaac Stephens

150 To John Adams from Thomas Jefferson, 7 February 1786 Jefferson, Thomas Adams, John
From Thomas Jefferson
Dear Sir Paris Feb. 7. 1786.

I am honored with yours of Jan. 19. mine of Jan. 12. had not I suppose at that time got to your hands as the receipt of it is unacknoleged. I shall be anxious till I receive your answer to it.1

I was perfectly satisfied, before I received your letter, that your opinion had been misunderstood or misrepresented in the case of the Chevalier de Mezieres. your letter however will enable me to say so with authority. it is proper it should be known that you had not given the opinion imputed to you. tho’ as to the main question it is become useless, Monsieur de Reyneval having assured me that what I had written on that subject had perfectly satisfied the Ct. de Vergennes & himself that this case could never come under the treaty. to evince still further the impropriety of taking up subjects gravely on such imperfect information as this court had, I have this moment received a copy of an act of the Georgia assembly placing the subjects of France as to real estates on the footing of natural citizens & expressly recognizing the treaty.2 would you think any thing could be added after this to put this question still further out of doors? a gentleman of Georgia assures me General Oglethorpe did not own a foot of land in the state— I do not know whether there has been any American determination on the question whether American citizens & British subjects born before the revolution can be aliens to one another? I know there is an opinion of Ld Coke’s in Calvin’s case3 that if England & Scotland should in a course of descent pass to separate kings, those born under the same sovereign during the union would remain natural subjects & not aliens. common sense urges strong considerations against this. e. g. natural subjects owe allegiance. but we owe none.— Aliens are the subjects of a foreign power. we are subjects of a foreign power.— the king by the treaty acknoleges our independance; how then can we remain natural subjects.— the king’s power is by the constitution competent to the making peace, war & treaties. he had therefore authority to relinquish our allegiance by treaty.— but if an act of parliament had been necessary, the parliament passed an act to confirm the treaty. &c &c. so that it appears to me that in this question fictions of law alone are opposed to sound sense.

I am in hopes Congress will send a Minister to Lisbon. I know no 151 country with which we are likely to cultivate a more useful commerce. I have pressed this in my private letters.

It is difficult to learn any thing certain here about the French & English treaty. yet, in general, little is expected to be done between them. I am glad to hear that the Delegates of Virginia had made the vote relative to English commerce, tho they afterwards repealed it.4 I hope they will come to again. when my last letters came away they were engaged in passing the revisal of their laws, with some small alterations. the bearer of this, mr̃ Lyons, is a sensible worthy young physician, son of one of our Judges, and on his return to Virginia.5 remember me with affection to mr̃s & miss Adams, Colos. Smith & Humphreys and be assured of the esteem with which I am Dr. Sir / Your friend & servant

Th: Jefferson

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mr̃ Adams”; endorsed: “Mr. Jefferson. Feb. 7 / 1786.”; notation by CFA: “published in his Writings / Vol 1st. p 439.” That is, Jefferson, Correspondence, ed. Randolph, 1:439–440.


Jefferson received JA’s 28 Jan. reply, above, on 9 Feb. (Jefferson, Papers , 9:238).


On 22 Feb. 1785, the Georgia Assembly passed “An act to enable the subjects of his most christian majesty to transfer and settle such of their estates and property as is or shall happen to fall within this State” (Robert and George Watkins, A Digest of the Laws of the State of Georgia, Phila., 1800, p. 312).


Calvin’s Case, decided in 1608, ruled that Scottish citizens born after the 1603 union under King James VI and I were to be treated as English subjects under common law. JA made use of the case when framing the Massachusetts house of representatives’ 2 March 1773 reply to Thomas Hutchinson and again in the Novanglus letters of 23 Jan. through April 1775 (vols. 1:335–337, 345; 2:309, 326, 347–349, 354, 377–378, 384).


Jefferson refers to JA’s report from William Voss that on 14 Nov. 1785 the Va. house of delegates resolved to entrust the regulation of trade to Congress (to Jefferson, 19 Jan. 1786, note 4, above). The resolution addressed the “animosities, which cannot fail to arise among the several States from the interference of partial and separate regulations” and sought to raise public revenue, but victory was brief (Evans, No. 19352). On 30 Nov. the resolution was rescinded, prompting James Madison and others to call for the Annapolis Convention (from Charles Storer, 7 April 1786, and note 2, below).


Dr. James Lyons (ca. 1763–1830), College of William and Mary 1776, was returning to Richmond after earning medical degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Edinburgh. His father, Peter (1735–1809), served as judge of both the general and appeals courts of Virginia ( AFC , 7:42, 46; Jefferson, Papers, Retirement Series , 7:175; DAB ).