Papers of John Adams, volume 18

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson Tour the English Countryside
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson Tour the English Countryside
4–10 April 1786
Editorial Note

By 4 April, the commissioners faced a stalemate on several diplomatic fronts, including negotiations with the Marquis of Carmarthen, the Chevalier Pinto de Balsamão, and the Tripoline envoy, Sidi Haji Abdrahaman. With little official business remaining on the docket, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson embarked on a week-long tour of English country seats and historic sites (JA, D&A , 3:184–187; Jefferson, Papers , 9:369–375). As Abigail Adams wrote to Cotton Tufts, John had “gone a little, journey into the Country,” marking their first separation since her July 1784 arrival in London and his first real reprieve from “publick business’ since he assumed diplomatic duties in Europe ( AFC , 7:134, 137). A day into the excursion, John Adams reported to her, “Magnificence, Elegance and Taste enough to excite an Inclination to see more,” and he promised to return on 9 or 10 April 1786 ( AFC , 7:132–133).


Adams and Jefferson visited estates in the English counties of Surrey, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Warwickshire, the Leasowes in Shropshire, Worcestershire, and Oxfordshire. For a guidebook, each commissioner carried—and annotated—a copy of Thomas Whately’s Observations on Modern Gardening, 4th edn., London, 1777 ( Catalogue of JA’s Books Library ; Jefferson, Papers , 9:369). In his Diary and his letters to Abigail, John focused on historic sites, exploring the history of the English Civil War with visits to the battle sites of Edgehill and Worcester. At the latter venue, Adams felt “provoked” to remind residents that “this is holy Ground, much holier than that on which your Churches stand” (JA, D&A , 3:185). Jefferson used his travel account, by contrast, to document the agricultural improvements and architectural details that he planned to replicate in his extensive Virginia plantation holdings (Andrea Wulf, Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation, N.Y., 2011, p. 35–57).

The American commissioners were inquisitive and ambitious tourists. They viewed the mass production of paintings in a Birmingham factory, followed the custom of carving a wood chip from Shakespeare’s chair in Stratford-upon-Avon, and admired the statuary of British worthies lining the landscaped paths of various private gentlemen’s retreats. At Stowe House, the home of Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham, they ascended the “120 feet” garden pillar, which offered a view of five counties from its peak. At Kew, Jefferson sketched new patent machinery used to raise water. Both commissioners enjoyed the brief interlude from diplomatic business, returning to London by 10 April. The “Variety of Beauties” on display in rural England prompted Adams to reflect on the “rugged Grandeur of Pens Hill” in his native Braintree, where “Nature has done greater Things and furnished nobler Materials” (JA, D&A , 3:186).

William Carmichael to the American Commissioners, 5 April 1786 Carmichael, William American Commissioners
William Carmichael to the American Commissioners
Gentlemen Madrid 5th. April 1786

I this day recd. from the Secretary of States Department a letter from the Count D Expilly inclosin one from Mr Lamb, copies of which I have the honor to transmit for Your Excellencies Information.1 Messrs. Lamb and Randall left Barcelona the 11th. Ulto. After their Departure I procured a letter in their favor from his Excy. the Ct. de Florida Blanca to the Ct. D Expilly which I forwarded under cover of the Latter to Mr Lamb.

Until I can have an opportunity of conversing with the Secretary mentioned in the Cts. Letter I cannot particularly ascertain the cause which has retarded the conclusion of the Treaty between Spain & the Regency. The articles were long since adjusted & the 233 Money was some time ago landed at Algiers destined for presents &c &. I presume however that new difficulties have arisen on acct. of the desire of this court to obtain a peace for Naples & Portugal; As Letters by the last Post from Carthagena mention that the Envoys from these Courts for that Object were waiting there to receive Intelligence from Algiers before they chose to embark for that Place. The Secretary from thence with dispatches to the Ministry here may possibly remove these Obstacles, or at least give some insight with respect to the Extraordinary delay which the Ct D Expilly has experienced in his Negotiation. The only obstacle to prevent its termination after the one before mentioned must arise from the Quantum of money to be paid by Spain to the Algerines. This court wishes to diminish, the Regency to augment the amount of the sum appropriated to this use.

I am very apprehensive that a truce for a short period will be the Utmost that we shall be able to Obtain. I am persuaded that the Ct. D Expilly will employ all the influence & experience he hath acquired by his residence there to render us service, in which he will perfectly second the views of his Court.

It is unnecessary for me to enter into any details respecting the Mission of Mr Barclay. I flatter myself that he is convinced that I have done every which depended on me to fulfill your Excys intentions in sending that Gentleman to Madrid: I cannot however refrain from mentioning the exceeding Liberal & friendly conduct of his Excy. the Ct. de Florida Blanca on this Occasion. The Manner of conferring adds greatly to the Obligation conferred.

I have the honor to be / with the highest respect / your Excellencies / Most Obedt. & Humble Sert.

Wm. Carmichael

RC and enclosures (Adams Papers); internal address: “Their Excellencies John Adams / & Ths. Jefferson Esqres.”; endorsed by JA: “Mr Carmichael / 5. April 1786.” For the enclosures see note 1.


Carmichael enclosed copies of letters of 26 March to him from the Conde d’Expilly and John Lamb that are at that date in the Adams Papers. According to Lamb, he and Paul R. Randall arrived in Algiers on 25 March, but only through d’Expilly’s intervention did they obtain “liberty to land,” and then only after their trunks were searched. Lamb, who had not yet reported to either commissioner, asked Carmichael to relay news of his progress, adding, “Do not leave me in this Country & not write me.”

Thomas Barclay also wrote to JA on 5 April (Adams Papers). In Barclay’s very similar letter to Thomas Jefferson of the same day, he provided a report on the Algerian mission similar to Carmichael’s, but he also noted that the American captives had “behaved with the utmost decorum [and] were made extreamly happy” by Lamb’s arrival (Jefferson, Papers , 9:376–377). With his letter to JA, Barclay included a copy of his letter to Jefferson, referring JA to it for news of Lamb’s mission. In addition Barclay wrote that Spain was close 234 to joining a defensive compact with France, Sweden, and the Netherlands and thought that Britain would form a counter-treaty with “some of the Northern powers.” He indicated that he would keep JA informed concerning his mission to Morocco. In a 15 April letter he informed JA that he was about to leave Madrid and had drawn a bill of £250 (both Adams Papers).

The letter from Carmichael to the commissioners and Barclay’s 5 April letter to JA were received while Jefferson was in London and probably arrived in the same packet, for Barclay’s letter to JA is endorsed “Mr Barclay & Mr Carmichael.” Jefferson replied to Carmichael’s letter on 5 May, following his return to Paris (Jefferson, Papers , 9:448–449).