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TO SECRETARY JAY. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 8 (Letters and State Papers 1782-1799) 
The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 8.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
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TO SECRETARY JAY.
Grosvenor Square, 21 October, 1785.
Yesterday, at eleven o’clock, I went, by appointment, to Lord Carmarthen’s office, and was admitted to his Lordship as soon as he arrived from his house. As this was an hour earlier than the usual appearance of the foreign ministers at the secretary of state’s levee, I had time for a long conversation with his Lordship.
At first I presented him a memorial, containing a requisition of immediate orders for the discharge of our citizens, particularly of Low; secondly, the correspondence between Governor Bowdoin and Captain Stanhope, with the act of congress upon it; and, thirdly, a letter concerning the questions some time ago communicated to your ministers at Paris, relative to their full powers, by the Duke of Dorset. These papers were left with his Lordship for his perusal, at his leisure; but, I conjecture, he laid them before the King in a conference after the drawing-room. After the communication of those papers, I had the honor to observe to his Lordship, that, although they contained matters of some importance, I most sincerely wished there were nothing of greater difficulty and more danger between the two countries. His Lordship wished so too. I added, that, as it was wished on both sides, it was remarkable that the business was not done, as it seemed to be very easy to do; that it was much to be lamented, when the war was ended, and every thing essential which had been in contest was decided, that such circumstances as remained should impede the return of confidence between the two nations. I paused here, in hopes his Lordship would have made some reflection, or dropped some hint, from whence I could have drawn some conclusion, excited some hope, or started some fresh topic; but not a word escaped him. After a long silence, I told him that I hoped for an answer from his Lordship, concerning the posts upon the frontiers; not a word of reply. I said I was extremely uneasy concerning those posts; that, by the last accounts from America, there seemed to be danger of our being involved in an Indian war, merely from the circumstance of their being withheld; that his Lordship could not be unacquainted with the cruelty and barbarity with which those savages made war upon people the most innocent, peaceable, and defenceless; that an Indian war, by filling the gazettes and conversation with relations of horrors, naturally spread a greater alarm, and excited keener passions, than other wars which might be much more destructive and impoverishing; that, if such a war should happen in consequence of withholding the posts, it would enkindle a flame in America which might spread wider, and last longer, than any man could foresee; that I sincerely hoped the King’s ministers would think seriously of it, and give orders for the evacuation; that I must insist on an answer.
Here, his Lordship, in broken sentences, expressed a wish that the ministry would answer everybody, and conveyed a hint that it did not depend upon him. I proceeded, upon this, to say, that, in a conference with Mr. Pitt, when I pressed him for an answer concerning the posts, although he was not explicit with me, I understood him to insinuate to me, that the surrender of the posts would be made conditional upon something respecting the debts. Here, I got something out. His Lordship said,—“To be sure, nothing could be done until the debts were paid.” Paid! my Lord! that is more than ever was stipulated. No government ever undertook to pay the private debts of its subjects; and, in this case, nobody ever had such a thought. The treaty only stipulated that creditors should meet with no lawful impediment to the recovery of their debts. But, said his Lordship, if lawful impediments have been thrown in the way—and this was all he could or would let out. I understood him to mean, that government, by putting an impediment in the way, had made itself answerable for the debts themselves. This was the first suggestion to me of such a thought; but it was so fully communicated, that I should not be surprised, if a requisition should be made to that effect. I proceeded with his Lordship, that the people in America saw the treaty violated in two important points, relative to striking objects. The negroes were carried off, and the posts were withheld. The last looked like a continuance of war. It was continuing a foreign army in their territory. These were the first breaches of the treaty; and, without them, I did believe that the debtors would not have had influence enough in any assembly to have procured an act or vote to impede the course of law; and, if the posts were now evacuated, and the negroes paid for, I did not believe the impediment would be continued longer than to the meeting of the assemblies. But, if the removal of these impediments should be made a condition precedent to the evacuation of the posts and payment for the negroes, I very much apprehended it would not be done. As the English had been first in the wrong, it was natural and reasonable to expect that they should be first to get right.
Finding it impossible to learn any thing from his Lordship of his own sentiments or those of his colleagues upon these points, after a pause of some time, I proceeded to some others, and said,—
Your Lordship alone was present, when the King was pleased to say to me, that when he should see a disposition in the United States to give this country the preference, he would be foremost in friendship to them. Yes, I was, said his Lordship. What greater preference, my Lord, can be expected or reasonably desired than has been given? It is not possible for one country to give another stronger proofs than America has given this, of a commercial preference. They have, with an imprudent ardor, discovered too early, and too immoderate a predilection to the commerce of this country, by voluntarily reviving, at the peace, almost the very monopoly which had been established before the war by the acts of parliament. Can any other preference than a commercial one be thought of? No answer. Is it not receiving this disposition too coldly, my Lord, to meet it with obstructions to so many of our remittances? Is there not danger that the conduct of this country will change that disposition? Is it not easily changed? Does it not consist chiefly in mode and taste, setting aside what there is remaining of good will between the people? And, if credit is the lure, is it not easily counteracted? We have been used to buy Russian hemp and duck in London. Say we paid ten per cent. more than it would have cost us in Petersburgh, and that the advantage of having it upon credit was worth to the American merchant twenty per cent, by laying on a duty of ten per cent. on these articles imported from London more than when imported directly from Russia, would not the advantage of credit be wholly counteracted? By laying on fifteen per cent. more, would there not be an end forever to American importations of these articles by the way of London? Silesia linens are another article which we bought in London. May not this commerce be diverted entirely to Stetin and Embden by a similar duty? May not all sorts of manufactures in iron be bought in Germany, and all other manufactures in cotton, linen, metals, silk, velvet, wool, be in the same manner diverted from this to other countries in Europe, only by thus laying a bounty on the importation of them into America, to be paid by those who choose to purchase in England?
It has become fashionable here for gentlemen to speak diminutively of American trade, even among some who had magnified it while in opposition to Lord North. These could not certainly be sincere; but be the value of it what it may, can it be good policy in this country to divert it from herself and send it to her rivals? For example, could it be wise in the English to throw their own Newfoundland fishery into the hands of the French, merely to prevent Americans from supplying it with provisions and necessaries in their own bottoms? I was very much afraid the ministry had not yet duly considered upon what a delicate circumstance their fishery depended; how easily it might be lost, and how hardly recovered. Though the fishery was very beneficial to the public as a nursery of seamen, and a source of wealth, as it stood connected with various other branches of business, yet, to the generality of individuals, it was not very profitable. With their utmost art, industry, and economy, they could but barely live. The Jamaica fish, as some call it, or the West India fish, as others named it, was one third part of the whole; and the preservation and sale of it was essential to the life of the fishery. Unfit for the European market, it had never found any other consumers than the negroes; and the English depended upon selling theirs to the French in their West India Islands. They have been able to undersell the French in their own islands. Why? Because their fishery at Newfoundland being supplied from the United States at a cheaper rate than the French could be from Europe, they could afford to sell their fish cheaper; but now the tables were turned. The French are supplied from the United States, and the English must be from Europe; the consequence of which must be, that the French will very soon be able to supply their own islands cheaper than the English can; and, when this happens, it will be very natural for them to prohibit all foreign fish, American as well as English. I left his Lordship to judge, if this was a probable means of increasing British seamen and navigation, and whether it was not probable, that, if the Americans saw the English, like rash gamesters, playing away their own fisheries into foreign hands, they would look out for themselves, and purchase of the French the admission of their fish into the islands, by stipulating some equivalent for it. Here his Lordship said he wished the council could be brought to take into consideration the relative situation of the two countries and their commerce. I was in hopes he would have said more, and waited long to hear; but, as it appeared he did not intend to be more particular, I said, it was surely necessary that something should be thought of and done with regard to the West India trade. It would be well to consider, whether the United States, if they found themselves excluded from the English islands, would not think it necessary to purchase a free admission of their flour and ships, as well as fish and other things, to perpetuity, by stipulating with the French Court some perpetual advantage, in some particulars, over the English commerce. Hitherto, it had been the policy of the States to be impartial; but, if they were once driven from this principle, I left his Lordship to judge how far they might go, and ought to go. I asked his Lordship, whether it would not be just and wise in France to stipulate with us a perpetual admission of our oil to illuminate their cities; of our potash, duty free; of our tobacco, upon easier duties and better terms; in short, of all the produce of our country, upon better conditions, of our flour, fish, and ships into their islands, and of our ready built ships for sale, into all her dominions, if congress would stipulate with them a perpetual preference of French ships and manufactures over the English in America. If we would stipulate to lay on duties one third or one half heavier upon English than French navigation and merchandize, might we not make a profitable bargain? might we not do the same with any and every other trading nation in Europe? Necessity would force us to carry our trade where we could find a market for our produce; and, if England would not receive it upon living terms, we must carry it to Germany or the Baltic, to Holland or the Mediterranean, to Portugal or France, to Spain or even to the East Indies. All this was very patiently and civilly heard, but not a word of answer. I then asked, what could be the reason that the commerce between the United States and the remaining British Colonies, Canada and Nova Scotia, should not be encouraged; it had been found mutually beneficial heretofore, and our share of the profit of it had been a source of remittance to England, and would be again. Those colonies, especially Nova Scotia, would find it difficult to subsist without it for a long time. Finding, however, that his Lordship was determined to deliver no opinions, nor give the smallest hint from whence any conclusions or conjectures could be formed, I asked him for his advice, whether it would answer any good end for me to wait on any other of the ministers, as my Lord Camden and the Duke of Richmond, for example, and enter into more particular conversation with them upon these subjects. His Lordship said, Lord Camden was gone into the country, and the Duke of Richmond to the distant seaports, and would not be here for many weeks; but Mr. Pitt was here. I replied, that I had found Mr. Pitt, in the conversations I had had with him, candid and intelligent; and that, for any thing I knew, the affairs of the nation could not be in better hands; but he was in a critical situation; and, if a foundation should be laid of a final alienation between England and America, it would be a deeper stain, a blacker blot upon his administration, than the indepenence of the United States had been upon that of Lord North.
It is not worth your while nor mine to endeavor to recollect more particularly this useless conversation, in which the reciprocity, as Lord North said on another occasion, was all on one side. I did not think it prudent to urge to his Lordship the possibility of any other new connections between the United States and other European nations, than commercial ones. The possibility and the probability of a more permanent, indeed of a perpetual, defensive alliance between France, Spain, Holland, and the United States, with even Ireland soliciting to be the fifth power, is so obvious to common sense, that one would think it could not escape the contemplation of the ministry.
There are persons in this kingdom sufficiently insane to say, that they will bring America to petition to come again under the government of this country; they will distress them till they break their faith with France, and then they say “we will spurn them.” If the King and ministry entertain such thoughts, they are weaker than I ever thought them, and wickeder than anybody ever represented them. But, although insidious policy is not a novelty in this country, I do not believe them capable of such an excess of it at this time.
The true secret I conceive to be, a real ignorance and indecision what to do. They have discovered, by their Newfoundland bill and Irish propositions, a desire to preserve the principle of the navigation act against the United States. Both these experiments have been unfortunate. The first produced the Massachusetts and New Hampshire navigation acts; and the last procured a defeat in the parliament of Ireland. They are now confounded, and know not whether to persevere or to retreat; and, I am convinced, they have agreed together to observe a total silence with me until they shall come to a resolution. This reserve they maintain to all others, as well as to me, lest any hints might escape them, by which the various parties who are led by Shelburne, Buckingham, North, and Fox, should know how to begin the foundation of their opposition. They are really embarrassed; for, whatever treaty they make with us must be submitted to parliament, either before it is signed, or it must be made and signed, expressly subject to the approbation or disapprobation of parliament; and they are at a loss to guess what they can carry through parliament, knowing the talents of the opposition, and the force of national prejudice and passion in favor of the navigation laws. They are afraid to attempt what they know they ought to do.
This being the state of things, you may depend upon it, the commerce of America will have no relief at present, nor, in my opinion, ever, until the United States shall have generally passed navigation acts. If this measure is not adopted, we shall be derided; and the more we suffer, the more will our calamities be laughed at. My most earnest exhortations to the States, then, are, and ought to be, to lose no time in passing such acts; they will raise our reputation all over the world, and will avail us in treating with France and Holland, as well as England; for, when these nations once see us in the right way, and united in such measures, they will estimate more highly our commerce, our credit, and our alliances. The question has been asked in France as often as in England, What have you to give in exchange for this and that? particularly, it was a constant question of the Marechal de Castries, What have you to give as a reciprocity for the benefit of going to our islands? When we have once made a navigation act, or shown that we can unite in making one, we may answer, we can repeal our act or our imposts in return for your repealing yours.
With regard to this country, I confess to you, I never should have believed, nor could have imagined the real situation of it, if I had not been here and resided here some time. I never could have conceived such an union of all parliamentary factions against us, which is a demonstration of the unpopularity of our cause. If the States do not make haste to confine their exports to their own ships, and lay on duties upon British merchandise which shall give a decided advantage to our own manufactures and those of Germany, France, and other nations, it will be to no purpose to continue a minister here; and I am sure I shall wish myself anywhere else rather than here. These are remedies which congress and the States can apply. I should hope they will not proceed farther at present; but, if these are found insufficient, I hope they will think of proceeding farther in commercial treaties with other nations, and reserve the resource of further alliances as a last resort.
The drafts already made, and the negotiations in Barbary, will exhaust your little fund in Amsterdam; and, before next March, all your servants in Europe must return home for want of means, even of subsistence, unless something is done; our countrymen should not expect that miracles will be wrought for their relief; if their affairs are not conducted with wisdom and activity, they will reap, most certainly, the fruits of folly and supineness.
Before I conclude, I will mention one more extravagance that I know is lurking in some hearts here. They would willingly embarrass Mr. Pitt in any rational plan of agreement with me, and cheerfully precipitate him into a war with the United States, if they could, well knowing that it would be his ruin. They think, and, I can add, they say, “that Canada and Nova Scotia must soon be ours; there must be a war for it; they know how it will end, but the sooner the better; this done, we shall be forever at peace; till then, never.” But these people do not consider that this will involve us in unchangeable connections with France, and prove the final ruin of this country.
The stocks have lately risen to sixty-five and sixty-six. Whether this is owing to ministerial tricks, or the real affluence of money, it will raise the fund of pride and vanity in the nation in a much greater proportion, and make it more difficult for the minister to do what even he may think right with America. I must conclude, by repeating that my only hopes are in the virtue, resolution, and unanimity of my fellow-citizens.
With great respect, &c.