Papers of John Adams, volume 18

From Jonathan Jackson

To Thomas Jefferson

From John Adams to John Jay, 16 February 1786 Adams, John Jay, John
To John Jay
Sir Grosvenor Square Feb. 16. 1786.

The Expences of Insurance on American Vessells; the Obstructions of their Commerce with Spain Portugal and Italy: and Compassion for our Fellow Citizens in Captivity: all occasioned by Apprehensions of the Barbary Corsairs, must excite Solicitude in every Man capable of thinking or Feeling. it is nevertheless certain that too great an Alarm has been Spread, Since no more than two Vessells have been taken by the Algerines, and one by Morocco. Artificial Allarms might be diminished, by discontinuing the Practice of insuring in England. Loyds Coffeehouse has made a great and clear Profit, because no Vessell has yet been taken, which has been there insured. if the American Merchants would open offices at home the Præmium would be saved to the Country, and they would find a large Ballance in their favour.1 The Ballance of Trade with the English is so much against Us, that We ought not unnecessarily, to make ourselves tributary to them.

Mr Lamb drew upon me Bills for 2000£, at Madrid the 24th of January, and assures me in his Letter of Advice that I shall hear from him soon at Barcelona. This Gentlemans Motions are Slow: what can have detained him So long, I know not.— an entire Stranger to him as I am having never Seen him, nor heard of him 163 untill he was announced in your Letter, I can Say nothing of his Character or Conduct. Mr Jefferson understood him to be recommended by Congress and he was certainly the Bearer of their Orders, and I could not but concur in the Sentiment of my excellent Colleague, and in his Construction of the Intentions of Congress. —Since the Appointment was made and became irrevocable, I have heard Such Opinions and Reports of him, as have astonished me.2 he has with him in Mr Randall an ingenious worthy Man, who, may Supply any deficiencies, as We hope, and We must now wait with Patience, untill they inform Us of their Proceedings.

Mr Barclay, and Mr Franks are at length departed from Paris. Their Delay was occasioned by Mr Beaumarchais.—3 It will be so late before these Gentlemen can arrive at Morocco, that the Emperor may be out of Patience and Send out his Frigates.

If the Agents were arrived, there would be little reason for Confidence in their Success. The Sum of Eighty Thousand Dollars, it is much to be feared will not be Sufficient to procure Treaties of Peace. We may find the whole Sum consumed, and the Difficulty of making Peace augmented. Congress will take all these Things into Consideration, and transmit their Orders both respecting the Sums to be given as Presents, and the Funds from whence they are to be drawn. without a fresh Loan in Holland, the Treasury of the United States in Europe will Soon be exhausted.

The American Commerce can be protected from these Affricans, only by Negotiation or by War. if Presents should be exacted from Us, as ample as those which are given by England, the expence may amount to Sixty Thousand Pounds sterling a Year, an enormous Sum to be Sure, but infinitely less than the Expence of fighting. two Frigates of 30 Guns each would cost as much, to fitt them for the Sea besides the accumulating Charges of Stores, Provisions, Pay And Cloathing. The Powers of Europe generally Send a Squadron of Men of War, with their Ministers, and offer Battle at the Same time tat they propose Treaties and promise Presents. Mr Barclay and Mr Lamb are armed only with Innocence and the Olive Branch: and there is some reason to expect, that the Emperor, and Dey will feel their Dignity hurt by the Appearance of Deputies not immediately appointed by Congress. Time will clear up all doubts, and Subsequent Arrangements may be taken accordingly.

an Envoy from Tripoli is here at present.4 I Saw him at Court but have not made him a Visit. He wishes to See me, as is Supposed 164 from what he Said Yesterday to a Gentleman. He Said “that most of the foreign Ministers, had left their Cards, but the American had not. We are at War with his Nation, it is true, and that may be the Reason of his not calling. We will make Peace with them however for a tribute of an hundred Thousand Dollars a Year. Not less.”

He Speaks no European Language, except a little of the Lingua Franca, and perhaps a little Italian. to go with an Interpreter would occasion Speculation, and Suggest to him Schemes which he might not otherwise think of. to treat with him before any Measures are taken with Morocco and Algiers might offend them.

With great Respect, I have the Honour / to be, Sir your most obedient and / most humble servant

John Adams.

RC (PCC, No. 84, VI, f. 95–100); internal address: “His Excellency John Jay / Secretary of State for the / Department of foreign Affairs.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 112.


The depredations of Barbary corsairs, both real and imagined, led the underwriters at Lloyd’s to charge American ships double the insurance rate charged British ships (William M. Fowler Jr., Jack Tars and Commodores: The American Navy, 1783–1815, Boston, 1984, p. 5). As early as 1752, American marine insurance houses existed in Philadelphia, but the industry did not begin to flourish in other U.S. ports until 1787 (Edwin J. Perkins, American Public Finance and Financial Services, 1700–1815, Columbus, Ohio, 1994, p. 289, 291, 300–301, 303–304). For additional comments by JA regarding the cost of insurance, see vol. 17:16–17, 201, 486, and JA’s 18 Feb. 1786 letter to Stephen Higginson, below.


John Lamb, whom JA had first heard of in Jay’s 11 March 1785 letter to the commissioners reporting Congress’ revised plans for Barbary negotiations, left Paris on 6 Nov. and arrived in Madrid by 10 Dec. 1785 (vols. 16:559–563; 17:586). For Lamb’s expenditures at Madrid and Barcelona on his way to Algiers, see his letters of 24 Jan., 16 Feb., and 7 and 8 March 1786 (all Adams Papers). For a full account of Lamb’s movements, see his secretary Paul R. Randall’s 17 Feb. report to JA , below.


Thomas Barclay and his secretary, Lt. Col. David S. Franks, left Paris on 15 Jan. and, after stops in Lorient, Bordeaux, and Bayonne, France, arrived in Madrid on 10 March (from Barclay, 24 Feb., Adams Papers; 27 March, below; Jefferson, Papers , 9:234).


The appearance of Sidi Haji Abdrahaman, Tripoli’s ambassador, at the Court of St. James stirred talk among the ministers and comment in the British press. Describing Abdrahaman, who presented his credentials on 27 Jan., AA wrote that he was a man “of a copper coulour and was drest in the stile of his own Country, with a Turban upon his Head sandles upon his feet and a Mantle with a Beard of no small length. … He was attended by two secretaries, who were permitted to wear only whiskers. By his interpretor he appears a sensible candid well disposed Man. I am not at liberty to say more respecting him at present. Tripoli is one of the largest of the Barbery states, and has great influence with the rest, but the Money, the Money, where can it be had” ( Repertorium , 3:457; AFC , 7:34, 72, 136).

To JA, Abdrahaman’s arrival in London signaled a new route to liberating the American sailors held in Algiers, and a new opportunity to open commercial negotiations with the Barbary States. For meetings between JA and Abdrahaman, see JA’s letters of 17 Feb. to Thomas Jefferson and of 20 and 22 Feb. to Jay, all below.