Adams Papers

From John Adams to Edmund Jenings, 21 April 1783

To Edmund Jenings

Paris. 21st. April. 1783—1


Englishmen surely are possessed too much of the Spirit of Commerce, & are too perfect Masters of its maxims, to be informed that it goes all over the world, by land & Sea, in quest of proffit.— Every Cask of Rice or Indigo, of Tobacco or Flax-seed, of Wheat or Flour & every Cargo of naval Stores, which goes to Europe fm. America, will have written on it, “Detur digniori,”2 i:e: This Cask or Cargo is consigned to him who will give the best price & pay me in such things as will suit me best. And every American Merchant who comes to Europe will go to that nation, of whatever language or religion, wh: can furnish him with the Goods he likes best—at the cheapest rate—on the largest Credit, and will receive the pay in such things as he has or can acquire. Every lad of 19. in America knows this, tho’ Mr: Burke may be ignorant of it—

The English must submit, to become Rivals to the rest of Europe for American Commerce. I believe they have it in their power to draw the greatest part of our Commerce to themselves; but they must embrace the oppo: & use the means. The quality of Goods will not depend upon an Act of Parliament, tho’ the price may: But the facility of making Remitts: will greatly depend on the bill or Treaty. The principal point of British Policy is, as I conceive, to facilitate to the Americans the means of making Remitts: to British Merchants. America will, for a Century, be always in debt to Europe. They will never be able to get to Europe Produce, Cash, or Commodities of any kind, fast eno: to pay for the European produce & manufactures they will have occasion to consume. Yet their Trade will be advantageous too: But the advantage will lie in fresh improvements in Land, Houses & Stock at home.

If therefore America has a Manufacture that will sell in Europe, such as Hatts for example, it is prudent in England to let them be imported, because it facilitate to the American the means of paying his debt in England, & it draws the American Hats to England, to be there exchanged for British Manufactures, instead of being carried to other nations of Europe, who will be glad to receive & pay for them in their manufactures.— For the same reason it is policy in England to allow Americans to bring any kind of Commodities fm. any part of the Earth to Great Britain, because whatever is bro’t there will be laid out there—and if we are restrained fm. carrying any thing we have—(no matter where we got it) to G: B:, we shall carry it to some other rival Nation.—3

Tell me wherein I am mistaken. I beleive it is not prudent to say much abt: this matter at present; because these Questions will all be discussed, betwn: Mr: Hartley & the American Ministers in a few days, & be decided— If not they will be left untill an American Minister, in London, or a British one in Philadelphia, shall be authorised to finish the business—


LbC in Charles Storer’s hand (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mr: Jennings—”; APM Reel 108.

1This letter responds to Edmund Burke’s position on Anglo-American trade as related by Jenings in his letter of 11 April, above. It is also JA’s second communication to Jenings of this date. For the first, see the postscript to his letter of the 18 April, above.

2Literally, let it be given to the more worthy, but JA provides his own appreciation of the expression.

3This letter reads as if JA had Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations at his side while he wrote his rebuttal of Edmund Burke and all those in Parliament and the Fox-North coalition who shared his views on Anglo-American trade. However, while there is a copy of the 1778 second edition of Smith’s work in JA’s library at MB, there is no indication that he had yet read The Wealth of Nations, and there is no reference to it in any of his extant letters to date (Catalogue of JA’s Library description begins Catalogue of the John Adams Library in the Public Library of the City of Boston, Boston, 1917. description ends ). JA’s familiarity with Smith’s concepts likely came from his reading of Thomas Pownall’s A Memorial, Most Humbly Addressed to the Sovereigns of Europe, on the Present State of Affairs, Between the Old and New World, London, 1780. It is difficult to overstate the pervasive influence of The Wealth of Nations on Pownall’s work. But JA did more than simply read Pownall’s Memorial; he revised and published it as A Translation of the Memorial to the Sovereigns of Europe upon the Present State of Affairs Between the Old and New World into Common Sense and Intelligible English, London, 1781. For the importance of Pownall’s Memorial and JA’s Translation in understanding JA’s views of trade, foreign policy, and the place of the United States in the world, see vol. 9:157–220.

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