Papers of John Adams, volume 18

To John Adams from Thomas Jefferson, 27 October 1786 Jefferson, Thomas Adams, John
From Thomas Jefferson
Dear Sir Paris Oct. 27. 1786.

I formerly had the honour of mentioning to you the measures I had taken to have our commerce with this country put on a better footing; & you know the circumstances which had occasioned the articles of whale oil & tobacco to be first brought forward. latterly 494 we got the committee, which had been established for this purpose, to take up the other articles, & on their report the king & council have come to the decisions explained in the inclosed letter from M. de Calonnes to me. the abandonment of revenue raised on articles of importation shews a friendly disposition.1 I have had thro this business a most zealous, & powerful auxiliary in the M. de la fayette, by whose activity it has been sooner & better done than I could otherwise possibly have expected. tho you are free to shew the inclosed letter as you please, I would wish it to be kept out of the public papers two or three months. I am Dear Sir your affectionate friend & servant

Th: Jefferson

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “H. E. J. Adams.”; endorsed by WSS: “23d. octr. 86 / T Jefferson”; notation by CFA: “not published.” CFA presumably meant that the letter was not published in Jefferson, Correspondence, ed. Randolph.


For the origins of Jefferson’s joint effort with the Marquis de Lafayette to persuade the French ministry to reduce duties on American whale oil, see his 10 Dec. 1785 letter, and note 1, above.

The enclosure has not been found, but it was a copy of Charles Alexandre de Calonne’s 22 Oct. 1786 letter to Jefferson. In fact, the letter was a memorandum detailing and confirming French regulatory measures specific to trade with the United States dating back to Calonne’s 9 Jan. 1784 letter to Lafayette granting four free ports rather than the two required by the 1778 Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce. It was a nearly verbatim rendition of the draft prepared by Lafayette, with significant input by Jefferson, for Calonne to sign and present as a summation of the work of the American Committee. Among the points dealt with were the reduction or elimination of duties on brandy, potash, fur, and naval stores, and the status of contracts for the purchase of American tobacco and whale oil. There was, however, no explicit mention of trade with the West Indies. For Jefferson’s detailed commentary on Calonne’s letter and its importance for Franco-American trade, see his 23 Oct. 1786 letter to John Jay (vol. 16:76, 77; Jefferson, Papers , 10:474–478, 484–486; Louis Gottschalk, Lafayette: Between the American and the French Revolution, 1783–1789, Chicago, 1950, p. 249, 255–256).