Adams Papers

John Jay to the American Commissioners, 11 March 1785

John Jay to the American Commissioners

Office of foreign Affairs March 11th. 17851


On the 7th of May 1784 Congress were pleased to resolve “that Treaties of Amity and Commerce be entered into with Morocco, and the Regencies of Tunis, Algiers and Tripoli, to continue for the term of ten years or for a term as much longer as can be procured”

They also resolved “that their Ministers to be commissioned for treating with foreign nations, make known to the Emperor of Morocco the great satisfaction which Congress feel from the amicable disposition he has shewn for these States, and his readiness to enter into alliance with them: that the occupations of the War and the distance of our situation have prevented their meeting his friendship so early as they wished. But that powers are now delegated to them for entering into Treaty with him; in the execution of which they are ready to proceed. That as to the expences of his Minister they do therein what is for the honor of the United States”

They farther resolved that a Commission be issued to “Mr J. Adams, Mr B. Franklin, and Mr T. Jefferson giving power to them or the greater part of them to make & receive propositions for such Treaties of Amity & Commerce, and to negotiate & sign the same, transmitting them to Congress for their final ratification. And that such Commission be in force for a term not exceeding two years”

I presume, Gentlemen, that you have received copies of the above Resolutions as well as of a number of others respecting your Department before my coming into this Office; and that you have taken such measures in pursuance of them as were best calculated to promote the design & objects of them.2

On the 14th Febry Ulto. Congress resolved “that the Ministers of the United States who are directed to form Treaties with the Emperor of Morocco, and the Regencies of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli, be empowered to apply so much of the Money borrowed in Holland, or any other Money in Europe belonging to the United States, to that use as they may deem necessary, not exceeding eighty thousand Dollars.”

“That they be further empowered, if the situation of Affairs should render it inexpedient for either of them to proceed to the above court, to appoint such persons as they may deem qualified to execute this trust.”

“That the Secretary of foreign Affairs be directed to write to the above Ministers, pressing upon them the necessity of prosecuting this important business, and forwarding to them Commissions & Letters of Credence, with a blank for the name of such person as may be directed to conclude the said Treaties”3

The Secretary of Congress informs me that you have already been furnished with Commisisons to treat with these African Powers, so that nothing now remains to be done to enable you to commence your negotiations with them, for Letters of Credence and a Commission to enable you to appoint an Agent or Substitute in the business are herewith transmitted to you.—4

It also appears to me expedient to send you copies of such papers in this Office on this subject as may be necessary to give you accurate information of what has heretofore been done respecting it—a list of which will be sbjoined to this letter.5

You will probably meet with difficulties and embarrassments of various kinds in the prosecution of this business, but difficulies & embarrassments are not new to you, and experience has taught us that there are very few which talents, assiduity & perseverance cannot overcome.

It is the desire and expectation of Congress, and of the People at large that this business be immediately, earnestly & vigorously undertaken and pursued; and considering to whom the execution of it is committed the most sanguine expectations of its being speedily & properly accomplished are entertained. Peace with those States is a most desirable object, as well on account of its importance to our commerce, as because the continuance of their hostilities must constantly expose our free Citizens to captivity & slavery. The interests therefore of humanity as well as commerce urge Congress & the Public to provide and to desire that no time or pains may be spared to bring this matter to an advantageous and happy conclusion.

The readiness which the court of France has expressed to aid our negotiations in this affair, will render it proper that these transactions be communicated to them, and (if circumstances should render it necessary) that their assistance be requested; for although the trouble they have already had with our affairs should render us delicate & modest in our applications, yet reserve should not be carried so far as to be imputable either to pride or want of confidence.6

On the 4th. inst. Congress received a letter dated at Cadiz the 16th day of Novr 1784 from Giacomo Francisco Crocco, whom the Emperor of Morocco had sent to Spain to treat on the subject of propositions which Mr Robert Montgomery had it seems taken the unwarrantable liberty of making to His Majesty on the part of the United States. This letter enclosed copies of two others which he had written on the 15th day of July & the 25 day of Novr last to the Honble Doctr. Franklin. A Copy of this letter and of the answer I am directed to return to it, are herewith enclosed for your information.7

At courts where favoritism as well as corruption prevails, it is necessary that attention be paid even to men who may have no other recommendation than their influence with their superiors; what the real character of Mr Crocco or Mr Caille may be, I am not informed; but I think you will find it expedient to purchase the influence of those whom you may find so circumstanced, as to be able to impede or forward your views;—perhaps gratuities before the work is done, might tempt them to delay it, in hopes of exacting dispatch money. Would it not therefore be prudent to promise payment on the completion of the Treaties? These are delicate subjects which your greater experience well enables you to manage, and on which I should not venture any hints, if this letter was not to be delivered to you by a private and I believe a careful & confidential hand, viz, by Captn. Lamb of Connecticut. This gentleman was recommended by the Governor of Connecticut as a proper person to be employed in this business. The testimonials he has from that State contain the only information I possess respecting his character—they are certainly greatly in his favour. In this matter Congress have not thought proper to interfere, and Captn. Lamb has no encouragement either from them or from me to expect that he will be employed, it being intended to leave you in the full and uninfluenced exercise of your discretion in appointing the Agent in question. But as Capn Lamb informs me that he means to go to Paris, I have concluded to commit this letter to his care, because I am persuaded he will be as faithful a bearer of it as any other person.8

I have the honor to be / With great respect & esteem / Gentlemen / Your Most obdt. and / Very hble. Servant

John Jay

RC and enclosures (Adams Papers); internal address: “To the Honble. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin & / Thomas Jefferson Esquires”; endorsed: “Mr Jay. to A. F. & J. 11. March / 1785” and “relative to the Barbary Powers.” Dupl (Adams Papers).

1Congress agreed to the dispatch of this letter and its supporting documents on 11 March. Also approved for transmission to the commissioners were the commissions and letters of credence for the negotiation of treaties with the Barbary States, and letters from Congress to the emperor of Morocco dated Dec. 1780 and 11 March 1785 (JCC, description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Worthington Chauncey Ford, Gaillard Hunt, John C. Fitzpatrick, Roscoe R. Hill, and others, Washington, D.C., 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends 28:139–148). Of these additional documents, only Dupls of the letters of credence are with this letter in the Adams Papers, but see note 4.

2For these resolutions, see the commissioners’ instructions of 7 May 1784, and note 1, above, which they received in early August.

3For the 14 Feb. 1785 resolution, see JCC, description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Worthington Chauncey Ford, Gaillard Hunt, John C. Fitzpatrick, Roscoe R. Hill, and others, Washington, D.C., 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends 28:65–66.

4For the form of the [12 May 1784] joint commissions to negotiate treaties with the Barbary States, see the joint commission to negotiate a treaty of amity and commerce with Great Britain at that date, and note 1, above. For the form of the letters of credence, Dupls of which are with this letter in the Adams Papers, and the joint commissions for negotiations with the Barbary States, see the joint commission and letter of credence of 11 March 1785 intended for the emperor of Morocco, both below.

5The list of the documents enclosed is as follows: “No. 1. Copy of Giacomo Francisco Crocco’s letter to Congress— No. 2. Answer thereto by Mr. Jay— No. 3. Copy of a Letter of 7th. November 1778 from Messrs. Franklin, Lee and Adams, and one of the 26 May 1779 from Doctor Franklin No. 4. Copy and Translation of a Letter of 21 April 1780 from D’Audibert Caille to Mr. Jay—and Mr. Jay’s Answer.— No. 5. Copy and Translation of a Letter of 6th. Septr. 1779 from D’Audibert Caille to Congress and their answr of Decemr. 1780 No. 6. Copy and Translation of the Appointment November 1st. 1779 of D’Audibert Caille by the Emperor of Morocco to act as Consul for such foreign Nations as had none in his Dominions— No. 7 Copy and Translation of the Emperor of Morocco’s Declaration of 20 February 1778 No. 8 one of D’Audibert Caille’s printed Certificates—”

For the 16 Nov. 1784 letter from Crocco to Jay and Jay’s response, see note 7. Jay enclosed extracts from the commissioners’ letter of 7 Nov. 1778 and from Benjamin Franklin’s of 26 May 1779, for which see vol. 7:196; Franklin, Papers, description begins The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Leonard W. Labaree, William B. Willcox, Claude A. Lopez, Barbara B. Oberg, Ellen R. Cohn, and others, New Haven, 1959–. description ends 29:558. For Étienne D’Audibert Caille’s 21 April 1780 letter to Jay and Jay’s undated response; D’Audibert Caille’s 6 Sept. 1779 letter to Congress; his 1 Nov. appointment as consul; and the emperor of Morocco’s 20 Feb. 1778 declaration, see Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev., description begins The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, ed. Francis Wharton, Washington, D.C., 1889; 6 vols. description ends 4:170–174. For Congress’ letter to D’Audibert Caille of Dec. 1780, see Smith, Letters of Delegates, description begins Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Paul H. Smith and others, Washington, D.C., 1976–2000; 26 vols. description ends 16:519. A second set of the enclosures indicated on Jay’s list of documents, including a manuscript copy of the printed certificate, is with this letter in the Adams Papers.

6Under Art. 8 of the 1778 Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce, France was obligated to use its good offices on behalf of the United States in dealings with the Barbary States (Miller, Treaties, description begins Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America, ed. Hunter Miller, Washington, D.C., 1931–1948; 8 vols. description ends 2:8–9).

7In early 1783 Robert Montgomery, a merchant at Alicante, Spain, opened a correspondence with the sultan of Morocco, Sidi Muhammad ibn Abdallah, in which he claimed to be authorized to negotiate a Moroccan-American commercial treaty. For the reaction of JA, Franklin, and Congress to Montgomery’s unauthorized initiative, see vol. 14:501–502; 15:41–42, 105–106, 199–200. Crocco’s 16 Nov. 1784 letter noted that Montgomery’s proposals for negotiations led to Crocco’s appointment by the emperor for that purpose, which he had informed Franklin of in letters of 15 July and 25 Nov. 1783 (PCC, No. 59, II, f. 255–258; Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev., description begins The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, ed. Francis Wharton, Washington, D.C., 1889; 6 vols. description ends 6:549–550, 734). The absence of any reply led the emperor to lose patience and order the seizure of American ships, the result of which was capture of the brig Betsy in Oct. 1784. Crocco indicated his belief that America’s inaction was owing to other matters occupying its attention rather than any lack of interest in a Moroccan-American treaty, and thus he would remain ready to negotiate and in the meantime would seek an amelioration of the emperor’s orders regarding American ships. In his 11 March 1785 reply, Jay declared Montgomery’s overtures to be wholly unauthorized and regretted that they had “been the means of rendering his Majesty dissatisfied with the United States.” But now those affairs that had distracted Congress for so long had been resolved and a commission had been issued for the negotiation of a treaty with Morocco. Jay hoped that this evidence of Congress’ desire for good relations with the emperor would lead him to release any American vessels taken as the result of the previous misunderstanding (PCC, No. 81, I, f. 132).

8In early February, Capt. John Lamb of Norwich, Conn., petitioned Congress, offering his services to negotiate treaties with the Barbary States. His application was supported by recommendations from Matthew Griswold, governor of Connecticut, and Samuel Huntington, former president of Congress and fellow resident of Norwich, but Jay’s endorsement of Lamb seems somewhat restrained, and his restraint seems justified by Lamb’s disreputable appearance upon his arrival at Paris on 18 September. If Lamb had hoped to be sent to Morocco, he was disappointed, for the long delay in his arrival had led the commissioners to decide on Thomas Barclay as their agent for the Moroccan negotiations. Instead, Lamb was appointed to negotiate with Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis, but his mission proved unsuccessful, and treaties were not negotiated with those states until 1795, 1796, and 1797, respectively (JCC, description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Worthington Chauncey Ford, Gaillard Hunt, John C. Fitzpatrick, Roscoe R. Hill, and others, Washington, D.C., 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends 28:54; Burnett, Letters of Members, description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress, Washington, D.C., 1921–1936; 8 vols. description ends 8:72–73; Roberts and Roberts, Thomas Barclay, description begins Priscilla H. Roberts and Richard S. Roberts, Thomas Barclay (1728–1793): Consul in France, Diplomat in Barbary, Bethlehem, Penn., 2008. description ends p. 26–27; Jefferson, Papers, description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, Princeton, 1950–. description ends 8:526, 542–544, 571–573; Miller, Treaties, description begins Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America, ed. Hunter Miller, Washington, D.C., 1931–1948; 8 vols. description ends 2:ix).

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