Papers of John Adams, volume 18


From John Jay

To John Adams from John Jay, 1 November 1786 Jay, John Adams, John
From John Jay
Dr Sir New York 1st: November 1786

My last to you was dated 4th: Ult:1 since which I have been honored with yours of the 15th. July last, which was immediately communicated to Congress.—

My Report on the Answer of the british Minister to your Memorial respecting our frontier Posts is under the Consideration of Congress.2 Your Ideas and mine on those Subjects very nearly correspond, and I sincerely wish that you may be enabled to accommodate every Difference between us and Britain, on the most liberal Principles of Justice and Candor. The Result of my Enquiries into the Conduct of the States relative to the Treaty is that there has not been a single Day since it took Effect on which it has not been violated in America by one or other of the States—and this Observation is equally just whether the Treaty be supposed to have taken Effect either at the Date or Exchange of the provisional Articles, or on the Day of the Date of the definitive Treaty, or of the Ratification of it.—


Our Affairs are in a very unpleasant Situation and Changes become necessary and in some little Degree probable. When Government either from Defects in its Construction or Administration, ceases to assert its Rights, or is too feeble to afford Security, inspire Confidence and overawe the ambitious and licentious, the best Citizens naturally grow uneasy and look to other Systems.—

How far the Disorders of Massachusetts may extend or how they will terminate is problematical; nor is it possible to decide whether the People of Rhode Island will remain much longer obedient to the very extraordinary and exceptionable Laws passed for compelling them to embrace the Doctrine of the political Transubstantiation of Paper into Gold and Silver.—3

I suspect that our Posterity will read the History of our last four Years with much Regret.—

I enclose for your Information a Pamphlet containing the Acts of the different States granting an Impost to Congress.—4

You will also find enclosed a Copy of an Act of Congress of 20th. and 21st. Ult. for raising an additional Number of Troops.5 This Measure was doubtless necessary, although the Difficulty of providing for the Expence of it, is a serious one. I flatter myself you will be able to obviate any improper Suspicions which the Minister may be led to entertain respecting the Object of this Force. I have pressed the Policy of deciding on my Report on the Infractions of the Treaty without Delay, that you may thence be furnished with conclusive Arguments against the Insinuations of those who may wish to infuse and support Opinions unfavorable to us on those Points.—

The Newspapers herewith sent will give you Information in Detail of Indian Affairs, but they will not tell you what however is the Fact that our People have committed several unprovoked Acts of Violence against them.6 These Acts ought to have excited the Notice of Government and been punished in an exemplary Manner.—

There is Reason to believe that the People of Vermont are in Correspondence with Canada. This Hint by calling your Attention to that Subject may possibly suggest Modes of Inquiry and further Discoveries on your Side of the Water. Some suppose that the eastern Insurgents are encouraged if not moved by Expectations from the same Quarter—but this is as yet mere Suspicion.—

I have left my Dispatches for Mr. Jefferson (which you will find under the same Cover with this) open for your Inspection. You will perceive that the Nature of them is such, as to render it expedient 503 that they should be conveyed to him without Risque of Inspection. That Consideration induced me to decline sending them by the french Packet.—7

With great and sincere Esteem and Regard / I have the Honor to be / Dr Sir / Your most obt. & very hble: Servt.

John Jay—

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “The Honorable John Adams Esqr. / Minister Plenipoy. of the United / States at the Court of London —”; endorsed by AA2: “Mr Jay Nov 1st 1786—”


With his 4 Oct. letter (Adams Papers), Jay enclosed an order to John Lamb to return immediately to America, for which see JA’s 30 Nov. letter to Thomas Jefferson, and note 2, below. Jay noted a report that Thomas Barclay had concluded a “Truce” with Morocco, and he commented on New Hampshire’s actions regarding a Shaysite insurrection. Concerning the unrest he wrote that “a Rage for paper Money and too little Decision or perhaps Capacity of Decision in the Construction of our Governments expose us to Inconveniences, for which it is Time to provide Remedies.”


On 13 Oct., Jay reported to Congress on JA’s [30 Nov. 1785] memorial to the Marquis of Carmarthen on the frontier posts (vol. 17:624–625), and Carmarthen’s 28 Feb. 1786 reply, above, with which was enclosed a “State of the Grievances” regarding state laws that prevented British creditors from collecting money owed them by American debtors. In his report, Jay reviewed the British complaints and included the texts of the offending state laws, proclamations, and acts. Jay concluded that the Revolutionary War left “unextinguished” debt that must be paid to uphold the Anglo-American peace treaty. The state legislatures, according to Jay, retained “perfect though limited sovereignty” under the Articles of Confederation, and therefore lawmakers should repeal any acts that blocked the settlement of outstanding debts, so as not to endanger compliance with the terms of an international agreement ratified by Congress. He recommended that JA be “instructed candidly to admit that the 4th and 6th Articles of the treaty have been violated in America, as well as the 7th has on the part of Great Britain.” With regard to the British violation, Jay proposed that JA should estimate and request compensation for the removal of American property and slaves by British forces upon their evacuation from the United States. Jay’s proposal for an Anglo-American convention to recover those losses included an article for the remission of interest, but Jay suspected that “from the general and great impropriety of such interference with private Contracts,” any effort to obtain such a provision by JA would prove “fruitless.” On 16 Oct., Congress appointed a committee to consider Jay’s report and renewed it on 12 Feb. 1787 upon the opening of its new session ( JCC , 31:781–874, 881; 32:42).

It took several months for Congress to fully respond to Jay’s report and issue instructions to JA. On 21 March 1787 it adopted three resolutions. The first stated that the state legislatures could not “of right pass any act or acts for interpreting, explaining or construing a national treaty or any part or clause of it.” The second and third called for the repeal of all such acts and recommended that it be done with a general act stating that all “such acts and parts of acts repugnant” to the Anglo-American peace treaty were repealed (same, 32:124–125). Jay enclosed a copy of the resolutions with his 2 April 1787 letter to JA and recommended that “it might be well to communicate it informally to the Minister. I think it would have a good Effect, and tend to abate the Irritation which long Delays & Silence may have occasioned.” In his reply of 14 May, JA reported that he had followed Jay’s advice and that Carmarthen “appeared to be sincerely and highly pleased, and said that those resolutions did the highest honor to Congress” ( Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789 , 2:684–685, 751). Congress’ next action came on 13 April 1787 when it approved a circular letter from Congress to the states to accompany the 21 March resolutions, but it was not until 20 July that it approved JA’s related instructions, although they had first been proposed by Jay on 23 April ( JCC , 32:176–184, 229–230, 378–379). Jay enclosed the instructions with his 31 July 1787 letter 504 ( Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789 , 2:756–787), which JA acknowledged in his first letter to Jay of 22 Sept. (LbC, APM Reel 112). On 24 Sept. he executed the instructions by presenting Carmarthen with a memorial detailing the actions taken by the states to alleviate British grievances and proposing a that a convention to establish the value of the “Slaves and other American Property” by British forces at their evacuation of the United States and providing compensation for prizes taken after the 1783 armistice (PRO:FO 4, State Papers, vol. 5, f. 525–531).


This led William Ellery, commissioner of the loan office in Rhode Island, to cease issuing indents of interest in Sept. 1786. The Board of Treasury approved Ellery’s decision because Rhode Island’s action entirely defeated the purpose of Congress’ requisitions for funds from the states, and on 30 Oct. Congress adopted a resolution approving of Ellery’s action (Ferguson, Power of the Purse , p. 243–244; JCC , 31:658, 663, 885, 916)


Not found. For the final act in Congress’ long-running effort to obtain adequate financing by convincing the states to grant it the proceeds from an impost, see Jay’s first letter of 4 May, and note 4, above.


On 20 Oct., Congress resolved to enlist 1,340 noncommissioned officers and privates for a term of three years, to be drawn from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, and Virginia. Ordered to enlist 660 men, Massachusetts had the greatest charge to fill out the “legionary corps” that, with troops already raised, would total 2,040 ( JCC , 31:892–893).


The newspapers have not been found, but in 1786 relations between American settlers and Native Americans were in a state of flux all along the western border of the United States. Jay likely refers to the ill-fated expedition led by George Rogers Clark, launched in September from Kentucky. Intended to protect the settlers at Vincennes and along the Wabash River, it destroyed several Shawnee villages and seized property from French and Spanish merchants. By the date of this letter the expedition had been ended ignominiously by mutinous troops and without achieving its objectives (Thomas P. Abernethy, Western Lands and the American Revolution, N.Y., 1932, p. 317–318; L. C. Helderman, “The Northwest Expedition of George Rogers Clark, 1786–1787,” MVHR , 25:317–334 [Dec. 1938]).


For Jay’s 27 Oct. letter to Jefferson and its enclosures, see Jefferson, Papers , 10:488–490. The letter to Jefferson, like this one to JA, was carried by Rev. Samuel Provoost rather than going by the French packet because two of the enclosures concerned the Franco-American consular convention. JA forwarded Jay’s letter to Jefferson with his of 30 Nov., below.