Papers of John Adams, volume 18

Thomas Barclay to the American Commissioners

From Richard Cranch

From John Adams to John Jay, 3 October 1786 Adams, John Jay, John
To John Jay
Dear Sir London October 3. 1786

An Event has taken Place, of too much Importance to the United States, to be omitted, in Dispatches to Congress. A Messenger arrived at the Secretary of States Office, last night, with a Treaty of Commerce between France and England, Signed by the Comte De Vergennes and Mr Eden.1 it cannot be Supposed that the Contents can be fully known: but it is Suggested that England has Stipulated, to reduce the Duties upon French Wines, to the Sum which is now paid upon Portugal Wines, reserving at the Same time a Power of reducing those upon the latter, one third lower than they are if necessary. A Minister Mr Faulner, is in the mean time Sent off to 471 Lisbon, to negotiate there, both this Point and another in dispute with Ireland.2

England has Stipulated that France shall enjoy, all the Priviledges in Trade of the most favoured Nation in Europe, So that a Reservation is made of a Right to allow the United States of America, Some Superiour Advantages.

It is Supposed that France is to admit, British Manufactures, and that all the Commerce is to be carried on in British Bottoms.

The Treaty is probably Subject to the Ratification, or Consent of Parliament, and will be kept as Secret as possible till the Meeting of that assembly.

The Consequences of this Treaty, cannot be indifferent and Time alone can reveal who is the gainer. but this is clear that if either obtains any considerable Advantage a War must eer long be the Consequence of it, for neither of these nations can bear to be outwitted by the other in commercial affairs.

The Negotiation between England and Russia is at a Stand3 and the foreign Ministers here are anxious to learn whether there is to be a better Understanding, between London and Berlin, during the present Reign in Prussia, than there was in the last.— It is certain that England, more or less, underhand, Supports the Prince of Orange, who is more openly encouraged by his Brother in Law the present King of Prussia. France on the other hand has Connections with the Republicans, who seem determined that no foreign Power shall interfere in their internal Policy.4 The Emperor would not be Sorry to see, France and Prussia, at variance, concerning Dutch affairs. For all these Reasons together I hope the Patriots in Holland, will have a peaceable Opportunity to go through their projected Restoration and Improvements of their Constitution.

The Designs they entertain are interesting to Mankind in general as well as to their particular Country, Since the Principles of Liberty and the Theory of good Government, may be propagated by them.

A Writer of great Abilities and Reputation, has been employd to draw up a Plan for the Settlement of the Republick, to which many of the ablest Men in the several Provinces have contributed their assistance. it has been published in three Volumes under the Title of Grondewellige Herstelling, and near five Thousand Copies of it have been sold, which shews the Zeal with which it has been generally approved. The Author of it is Mr Cerisier, who has been constant to his Principles and has professedly recommended the Constitutions of our United States as Models, as far as the Circumstances will 472 admit. Several Cities have reformed their Regencies according to his Ideas, and many more, perhaps all, will follow their Example if no foreign Power should interfere. In a late Excursion to the Low Countries, I happened to be at Utrecht on the Day of the Ceremony of Administering the Oaths to the new Magistrates elected by the free suffrages of the People. it was conducted with perfect order, and Striking Dignity, in the Presence of the whole City, well armed and well cloathed in Uniform and apparently well disciplined, besides a vast Concourse of Spectators from other Cities. a Revolution conducted in this decisive manner and with Such Decorum, Shows that the Principles upon which it was founded, must have taken a very deep root.5

If neighbouring Monarchies Should not from Jealousies, that democratical Principles may Spread too far, and in time affect their own Subjects, interfere and disturb this free People they will exhibit to the World something worthy of its Attention. When I mention democratical Principles, I dont mean that it is their Intention to establish a Government merely democratical. but a well regulated Commonwealth, consisting in a Composition of Democratical Aristocratical, and monarchical Powers without which they are too enlightened to suppose, that Peace and Liberty can ever be long preserved among Men.—

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

John Adams

RC (PCC, No. 84, VI, f. 351–354); internal address: “His Excellency John Jay / Secretary of state for the / Department of foreign affairs.” LbC (Adams Papers); APM Reel 112.


For William Eden’s reconciliation with William Pitt and subsequent appointment in late December to negotiate an Anglo-French treaty, see John Jebb’s 20 Dec. 1785 letter, and note 3, above. Eden left London for Paris on 21 March 1786, replacing George Craufurd, who had been negotiating unsuccessfully with the French since late 1784. Signed at Versailles on 26 Sept. 1786, the treaty awarded most favored nation status to France and recalibrated duties in favor of British imports. Although the treaty was short-lived, collapsing only six years later, it provided a much-needed victory to Pitt and other supporters of British free trade while exposing the vulnerability of the French economy on the eve of revolution (vols. 15:196; 16:287–288; Black, British Foreign Policy , p. 107–111; DNB ). For more on Pitt, see Descriptive List of Illustrations, No. 7, above.


JA refers here to the reduction in the duties on French wines under the Anglo-French treaty that automatically invoked the provision in the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of Commerce, or Methuen Treaty, of 1703 requiring duties on Portuguese wines to be lower than those on French wines. While that issue was resolved under the terms of the 1703 treaty, the disruption caused by the Anglo-French agreement came as Britain was actively pursuing its longstanding desire for a new, comprehensive Anglo-Portuguese commercial treaty. As a result, two days after JA wrote this letter, the Marquis of Carmarthen appointed William Fawkener, senior clerk of the Privy Council, to assist Robert Walpole, 473 474 British minister to Portugal, in negotiations for a new treaty as well as in resolving a conflict over Irish imports of Portuguese wines and Portuguese imports of Irish woolens. Fawkener reached Lisbon on 25 Oct. 1786, but in negotiations lasting through the end of the year, he was able to achieve only an agreement on the “dispute with Ireland,” with no progress being made on a new treaty, which would not be concluded until Sept. 1793 (vol. 15:196; John Ehrman, The British Government and Commercial Negotiations with Europe, 1783–1793, Cambridge, Eng., 1962, p. 70–75, 173–174).


Alleyne Fitzherbert (1753–1839), later Baron St. Helens, served as the British envoy extraordinary and plenipotentiary at St. Petersburg from late 1783 to mid-1787. Two objects occupied him during his tenure: the conclusion of an alliance and the renewal of the 1766 Anglo-Russian commercial treaty due to lapse in 1786. The first initiative came to nothing because Catherine II had no interest in such a relationship. The second undertaking had more promise because Catherine, following the 1783 general peace, undertook to negotiate commercial agreements with European powers incorporating the principles of the Armed Neutrality that she had declared in 1780. Britain, however, was unwilling to countenance a new treaty containing principles it had resoundingly rejected in 1780, when it justified war with the Netherlands over Dutch acceptance of them. The negotiations failed and the 1766 treaty expired, leaving Anglo-Russian relations as unsettled as they had been before Fitzherbert’s arrival (Black, British Foreign Policy , p. 74–76; Ehrman, The British Government and Commercial Negotiations with Europe, p. 92–111; DNB ).


William V’s wife, Wilhelmina, princess of Orange, was the niece of Frederick II and sister of the new Prussian king Frederick William II. In Sept. 1787, disturbed at his sister’s arrest and the ouster of the stadholder, Frederick William ordered the invasion of the Netherlands ( AFC , 7:325).


JA’s comments regarding Dutch constitutional reform and the importance of Grondwettige Herstelling, van Nederlands staatswezen: zo voor het algemeen Bondgenootschap, als voor het bestuur van elke byzondere Provincie, 2 vols., Amsterdam, 1784–1786, in that endeavor is significant. When he wrote this letter JA was drafting the first volume of his Defence. It should also be noted that while JA here indicates that Grondwettige Herstelling was the work of Antoine Marie Cerisier, and Cerisier implies such in his 10 Aug. 1786 letter, above, the work is in fact by Johan Hendrik Swildens (1745–1809), Dutch educator and adherent to the Patriot cause, who in 1784 also published Almanack en Politiek zakboekje voor de Vereenigde Nederlanders. Also, in referring to Grondwettige Herstelling as a three-volume work, JA apparently refers to a second edition of the first volume published in 1785 ( Nieuw Ned. Biog. Woordenboek , 3:1226–1228; Willem Pieter Cornelis Knuttel, Catalogus van de pamfletten-verzameling berustende in de Koninklijke Bibliotheek, 9 vols., The Hague, 1889–1920, 5:237). For his attendance at the Utrecht ceremonies, see John Adams Visits the Netherlands, 3 Aug. – 6 Sept. 1786, Editorial Note, above.