Papers of John Adams, volume 18

To John Adams from Thomas Jefferson, 11 May 1786 Jefferson, Thomas Adams, John
From Thomas Jefferson
Dear Sir Paris May 11. 1786.

I do myself the honour of inclosing to you letters which came to hand last night from mr̃ Lamb, mr̃ Carmichael and mr̃ Barclay. by these you will perceive that our peace is not to be purchased at Algiers but at a price far beyond our powers. what that would be indeed mr̃ Lamb does not say, nor probably knows. but as he knew our ultimatum; we are to suppose from his letter that it would be a price infinitely beyond that. a reference to Congress seems hereon to be necessary. till that can be obtained mr̃ Lambe must be idle at Algiers, Carthagena or elsewhere. would he not be better employed in going to Congress? they would be able to draw from him & mr̃ Randall the information necessary to determine what they will do. and if they determine to negotiate, they can reappoint the same, or appoint a new negotiator, according to the opinion they shall form on their examination. I suggest this to you as my first thoughts; an ultimate opinion should not be formed till we see mr̃ Randall, who may be shortly expected. in the mean time, should an opportunity occur, favour me with your ideas hereon, that we may be maturing our opinions. I send copies of these three letters to mr̃ Jay by the packet which sails from l’Orient the 1st. day of the next month.1

On my return to Paris the Imperial ambassador informed me he had received full powers for treating with us. I repeated to him the information that ours would expire the 12th. of this month. he said he supposed Congress would have no objections to renew them, proposed that I should write to them on the subject, and in the mean time desired our project and observed that we might be proceeding to arrange the treaty, so as that it should be ready for 291 signature on the arrival of our powers.2 I gave him a copy of our project, in which, taking the Danish one for the ground work, I made the alterations noted on the within paper: being such as had occurred & met our approbation during the Prussian Tuscan & Portuguese negotiations. I write to Congress an information of what has passed, and in the mean time shall take no other step till you favor me with your opinion whether we should proceed to prepare terms according to Count Merci’s proposition.3

I inclose you a copy of the queries of which I had put an illegible one into your hands when in London.4

I beg to leave to present my most friendly respects to the ladies, and to yourself assurances of the esteem with which I have the honor to be Dear Sir your most obedient and most humble servant

Th: Jefferson

RC and enclosures (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mr. Adams.”; endorsed: “Mr Jefferson May 11 / ansd 23. 1786”; docketed by JQA: “T. Jefferson 11. May 1786. / 23. Ansd.”; notation by CFA: “published in his Writings / vol 2d. p 25.” That is, Jefferson, Correspondence, ed. Randolph, 2:25.


The enclosures with this letter, all FCPr’s, were John Lamb’s 29 March letter to Jefferson, for which see Paul R. Randall’s 4 May letter, note 1, above; and letters to the commissioners from Thomas Barclay of 10 April, above, and William Carmichael of 13 April (Jefferson, Papers , 9:385–386).


The commissioners’ instructions of 7 May 1784 indicated that their commissions to negotiate treaties with individual countries were to “be in force for a Term not exceeding two years.” Their commission to negotiate with Austria was dated 12 May 1784 (vol. 16:196, 590). Congress did not renew the authorization to negotiate.


For Jefferson’s model treaty that he drafted in the autumn of 1784 and initially intended to be proposed to Denmark, see Jefferson, Papers , 7:463–490. The enclosure, which is not with this letter in the Adams Papers, indicates the deviations from the model treaty and is similar to a 1785 list of changes to be included in the draft Anglo-American commercial treaty (same, 8:273–275, 9:507–509). Jefferson reported on the proposed negotiations with the Austrian ambassador to France, the Comte Mercy d’Argenteau, in his 12 May 1786 letter to John Jay (same, 9:514–516; 10:507), but see also JA’s 23 May reply, below.


Neither this enclosure nor the earlier “illegible” copy has been found. The editors of the Jefferson Papers have identified it conjecturally as “Queries Concerning Trade with the French Colonies,” [ca. Dec. 1785], but no mention of them by JA has been found (Jefferson, Papers , 9:134–135).