Papers of John Adams, volume 18

From John Jay

From Mercy Otis Warren

To John Adams from Charles Storer, 7 April 1786 Storer, Charles Adams, John
From Charles Storer
Dear Sir, Boston. 7th. April. 1786.

To send a number of letters under cover to you1 without one line to yourself, were it only by way of apology, would, I think, have rather an unseemly appearance, & might be somewhat inexcusable— I know you do not like to be baulked in this manner—and to prevent this disappointment, I write a few lines, if it be only to assure you of my good will & to wish that I had wherewithal to afford you greater satisfaction.—

I wish, Sir, there was a little more of that enthusiastic, public spirit remaining, which has supported us thro’ a difficult and dangerous war— I think it would be better for us: we are getting too easy & indifferent to the general weal— Private Interest seems to have taken posession of every Individual; and that virtuous patriotism, which was once our boast seems now to be altogether dead—You will think me a melancholy bird to be thus croaking nothing but evil—but really, Sir, I would wish to sing a sprightlier note could I with justice— But while there is life there is hope: We are not yet past recovery— We have hitherto been acting but partially. Could it be effected that the thirteen States should act in union, unison & concert, we might yet do well—and this I hope will be the case e’er long— New-York is now the only non-compliant State to the requisitions of Congress, vesting that body with power to levy a general Impost & to regulate general Commerce—and it is yet doubtfull whether they will comply, tho’ a bill is now before their General Assembly for that purpose— Should Congress obtain this power, their efforts, in restricting foreign Trade, joined with the efforts of each particular State, which seems, or are about encouraging our own manufactures, fishery & navigation, will I am persuaded put us on a firmer footing, give us stability at home—make us respected abroad, and make us feel oursleves really independant— Our Legislature are about encourageing the growth of Sheep & Hemp—and the production of every necessary our Country will allow of— So are they doing in the other States— Our Society of Arts & Sciences, and that of Agriculture are proposing premiums to those who excell in any 237 usefull improvement— These things, if resolutely persisted in, will eventually be beneficial to us: that is if our foreign trade be so restricted as to proportion it to our superfluous produce & so prevent a heavy debt accumulating over our heads; which must necessarily cramp the activity, exertion, & even the genius of the People— At present we do not act in concert; but there is a Committee appointed from the several States to consider of the general Interest, Commerce & Productions of the Country and to make a report upon which Congress may found some general rule & regulation—2 I am impatient to see some general system adopted not only as I am persuaded our public affairs will be better conducted, but also that we may be able to disappoint the views & wishes of those European Powers, who build upon our disunion & poverty— I am still firm in the hope that all will be yet be well, Sir.—

The cause you were some years ago concerned in, between Mr: Doane & a number of Gentlemen at Portsmouth, has been lately retried here, and Mr: Doane has again lost his case.3 It was the most important cause tried during the last Sessions.

Electioneering is over here—Mr: Bowdoin rechosen Governor, Mr: Cushing Lt: Governor: that is, in this town— Who are appointed to other offices I cannot yet tell.—4 As to news we have none— We seem to be all in waiting to begin some general movement thro’ out the States—particularly since there is now but one State that has not come into the general System— When this great work begins, I imagine you will feel its first effect— Then you may assure yourself of the support from home that yo u have so long wished— I wish much to see you in motion again.— Trade will be the first object of Congress’ attention: they are averse to an extensive trade—& particularly with G: Britain.—

If I can collect any Newspapers will send them to you with this.—

With great esteem & respect, I am, Sir, / Yr: much oblig’d, humle: servt:

Chas: Storer.

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “John Adams Esqr:”; endorsed: “Storer ansd. May / 26. 1786.”


These letters have not been further identified, but along with Storer’s cover letter, they were presumably among those delivered by Rev. William Gordon and Capt. John Callahan of the Neptune in late May (to Storer, 26 May, and note 1; to Mercy Otis Warren, 8 April, note 3, both below).


On 20 March Gov. James Bowdoin presented to the Mass. General Court the Va. General Assembly’s 21 Jan. resolve, supported by James Madison, that in Bowdoin’s words proposed “a convention of Commissioners from the several States in the Union, for the purpose of framing and adopting an uniform system of commercial regulations throughout all the States.” The Mass. General Court 238 appointed as delegates Caleb Davis, Benjamin Goodhue, Tristram Dalton, and John Coffin Jones on 24 March. But neither these delegates nor their replacements—Samuel Breck, Thomas Cushing, and Francis Dana, followed by a third round of appointees including Stephen Higginson, John Lowell, Dana, Elbridge Gerry, Theophilus Parsons, George Cabot, James Sullivan, and Jones—managed to reach Annapolis, Md., in time to attend the convention. A mere dozen representatives from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia met from 11 to 14 Sept. to discuss overturning state restrictions on trade (Mass., Acts and Laws , 1784–1785, p. 876–877, 915, 947–948; Hall, Politics without Parties , p. 165, 260; Madison, Papers, Congressional Series , 8:470–471; 9:115–118; Louis Ottenberg, “A Fortunate Fiasco: The Annapolis Convention of 1786,” American Bar Association Journal [1959], p. 834–837, 877–883). For Higginson’s perspective on factionalism caused by the delegates’ political motivations and regional interests, see his undated July 1786 letter, below.

JA approved of the federalist goals of the Annapolis Convention, “whose system if they form one, will not be compleated adopted and begin to operate under Several years,” but he feared the potential delay of U.S. payment of foreign debt (to Thomas Jefferson, 31 July; to David Ramsay, 1 Aug., both below). On 2 Oct. Rufus King wrote to JA with news of the convention’s failure and enclosed its report, Proceedings of Commissioners to Remedy Defects of the Federal Government, 1786. King observed that “an adjustment of the commercial powers of the several States is intimately connected with the other Authorities of the Confederacy and of the respective states” (Smith, Letters of Delegates , 23:578–579).

The Annapolis Convention proved to be a useful defeat, for, as Samuel Osgood reported to JA on 14 Nov., below, the delegates’ proposal to hold a constitutional convention in Philadelphia the following May “seems to gain Ground,” since “without a proper federal Head, the Individual States must fall a Prey to themselves, or any Power that is disposed to injure them.”


This is Penhallow v. Lusanna, JA’s final case as a trial lawyer. In 1777 Isaiah Doane’s Lusanna was captured by a privateer owned by John Penhallow and other Portsmouth merchants and condemned for trading with the enemy. For the litigation, that ended in 1795, and the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision that Storer mentions, see JA, Legal Papers , 2:352–395.


Massachusetts voters reelected Gov. Bowdoin and Lt. Gov. Cushing on 3 April, following a late gubernatorial challenge from Samuel Adams and a slight show of support at the polls for James Warren. Richard Cranch and Cotton Tufts were reelected to the Mass. senate ( AFC , 7:112, 174; Charlestown, Mass., American Recorder, 7 April; Hall, Politics without Parties , p. 197).