Papers of John Adams, volume 18

From John Jay

From John Jay

276 To John Adams from Rufus King, 2 May 1786 King, Rufus Adams, John
From Rufus King
Dear Sir New York 2d. May 1786

Mr. Alsop of this city, whom you must recollect as a delegate from this State to congress in 1775 & 1776, and whose daughter I have lately married,1 requests me to ask your Opinion, “whether a Refugee, whose Estate has been confiscated here, and to an amount exceeding that of his Debts, can by the British laws, or the Treaty of peace between G. Britain & the united States of america, be compelled by Process in the British courts to pay a Debt due to an american Citizen, anticedent to the late war?[”] the Determination of this question is of Some importance to Mr. Alsop, and indeed to many Others of our Countrymen—

It has been objected against such recovery that the confiscated Estates of the Refugees being by the act of confiscation liable to, or by subsequent laws charged with, the payment of their Debts, in all cases where the confiscated Estate equalled the amount of the Debts of any Refugee, that there the State to whose use the Estates confiscated inured, took upon itself to pay the Debts, and the Refugee was discharged—and being discharged by an american law, the treaty could not affect them, for no Debt was due from them— How far these objections are founded, is submitted to your good Judgment— If the Estate of a Refugee escaped confiscation, his american Debts must be paid under the Treaty— So if the confiscated Estate is insufficient to pay the whole of his Debts, the Deficiency is in like manner recoverable— How then is it in the principal case?

Will you have the Goodness to examine this question, and oblige Mr. Alsop, & myself with your Opinion—2

With the highest Respect, I have the Honor to be D. Sir your obt / & very Hb̃le Servt.

Rufus King

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “His Exy. J. Adams Esqr. &ca &ca”; endorsed: “Mr King. 2. May. / ansd. 14. June. 1786.”


Rufus King married Mary Alsop on 30 March. She was the daughter of John Alsop (1724–1794), a prominent New York merchant and current president of the New York Chamber of Commerce. JA knew Alsop from his service with him in the Continental Congress from 1774 until the New Yorker’s resignation from that body over its decision to declare independence. JA characterized Alsop in Aug. 1774 as being “of a good Heart, but unequal to the Trust in Point of Abilities” (Robert Ernst, Rufus King: American Federalist, Chapel Hill, N.C., 1968, p. 65–66; Biog. Dir. Cong. ; JA, D&A , 2:106).


For JA’s legal opinion, see his second letter to King of 14 June 1786, below.