Adams Papers

John Adams to Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, 20 March 1785

To Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson

Auteuil March 20. 1785.1


According to your desire, I went early this Morning to Versailles, and finding the Count de Vergennes unembarassed with Company, and only attended by his private Secretaries, I soon obtained the Honour of a Conference, in which I told him that my Colleagues were very sorry, that Indisposition necessarily prevented their paying their respects to him in Person, & obliged them to request me alone to wait on him, and ask his Advice upon a thorny Question, we had with the Barbary Powers. He asked what it was, and I put into his Hand, all the Letters upon the Subject, in French, Spanish, Italian & English, all of which he read very attentively, and observed that it was obvious what was wanted, and what had piqued the Emperor of Morocco, viz that Congress had not written to him, nor sent him a Consul, with the Customary Presents, for that he was the most interested Man in the World, and the most greedy of Money. He asked whether we had written to Congress and obtained their Instructions. I answered that we had full Powers, to treat with Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli and the rest, but that it was impossible for us to go there, and that we had not a Power of Substitution. He said then we should write to the Emperor. I asked if he would do us the favour to convey a Letter for us, through the french Consul? he said he could not do this himself, because it was not in his Department, but if we would make an office of it, he would communicate it to the Marquis de Castries and return us his answer.

I told him, that in looking over the Treaties between the several Christian Powers and the Barbary States, we found that the Treaty between the Crown of France, and Algiers of the 25. April 1684, was expired, or near expiring, and we were desirous of knowing, if the Question were not indiscreet, whether it had been renewed. He smiled upon this, and said, it was true that their Treaty was upon the point of expiring, but he could not tell me, whether it were renewed, as it was not in his Department, but if we would insert this Inquiry in our office, he would endeavour to obtain the Marshall de Castries’s Answer.

I told him, that in order to lay before Congress, all the Information we could, and to enable them to judge the better what orders to give us, or what other Course to take we had obtained authentic Information from Mr: Bisdom and Mr: Van der hope, concerning the Presents, annually given by their High Mightinesses2 and that we should be very glad to know, if it was not improper, what was the annual Amount of the Presents made by his Majesty to each of those States, and in what Articles they consisted. He said the King never sent them any naval or military Stores, but he sent them glasses and other Things of Value: but that as it was not in his Department, he could not give me particular Information but that we might put this into our office, with the other Things.

I asked if there was not a considerable Trade, and frequent Intercourse, between some Ports of this Kingdom, and the Coast of Barbary. He said there was, from Marseilles and the other Ports upon the Mediterranean: but he thought if we had Presents to send it would be more convenient to send them from Cadiz.

I then asked the favour of his Advice, whether in our Letter to the Emperor of Morocco, we should leave it to his option to send a Minister here to treat with us, or to wait untill we could write to Congress and recommend it to them, to send a Consul. He said he would by no means advise us to invite the Emperor to send a Minister here to treat with us, because we must maintain him here and bear all the Expences of his Voyages and Journeys which would be much more costly than for Congress to send a consul.

But the Comte concluded the whole Conference by observing that every Thing relative to this Business was out of his Department, and that we must state to him in writing all we desired to know, or to have done, and he would convey it to the Minister of the Marine, and communicate to us, his answer, and that we might depend upon it, that whenever we thought proper to make any office to him, it should be carefully attended to.3

He added very particular Inquiries concerning the Health of Dr: Franklin and Mr: Jefferson, which I answered to the best of my Knowledge. & took my Leave.

With great Respect, I have the Honour to be &c

LbC in JQA’s hand (Adams Papers); internal address: “Their Excellencies. / Messrs: Franklin & Jefferson”; APM Reel 107.

1Immediately following his FC of the commissioners’ 18 March letter to John Jay, David Humphreys wrote, “at the moment of closing the preceding letter, the following addressed by Mr Carmichael to Dr Franklin, was put into the hands of the American Ministers” (PCC, No. 116, f. 260). William Carmichael’s letter, dated 27 Feb. [1785], concerned among other matters his efforts to obtain the release of the brig Betsy taken “by a corsair of the Emperor of Morocco” (Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789, description begins The Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States of America, from … 1783, to … 1789, [ed. William A. Weaver], repr., Washington, D.C., 1837 [actually 1855]; 3 vols. description ends 1:564–566). Carmichael included with his letter several enclosures regarding the matter, which the commissioners in turn enclosed with their 13 April letter to Jay but which have not been found (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 8:80–83). See also the 17 Jan. letter to JA from the Betsy’s captain, James Erwin, and Jay’s 11 March letter to the commissioners, and note 7, both above. Following his FC of Carmichael’s letter, Humphreys wrote that “upon receiving the Dispatch from Mr Carmichael the Ministers plenipotentiary convened at Passy March 19. 1785. and wishing to take the advice of the Court of Verssailles in all their transactions with the Barbary Powers, Mr Adams was requested to have a conferrence with the Cte. de Vergennes on the Subject—Dr Franklin & Mr Jefferson being too unwell to go to Versailles on that occasion” (PCC, No. 116, f. 267).

JA’s Diary entry for 19 March describes the meeting at Passy. There he read Carmichael’s letter and its enclosures and “asked for Books and Collections of Treaties” where he found and examined “a Multitude of Treaties between Algiers and Morroco and the Christian States as France, Holland, England, &c.” “We came to no Resolution, but that I should go, Tomorrow to Versailles and ask the Advice of the C de V.—Dr. F. being confined by his Stone, could not go, and Mr. Jefferson being worse with his Disorder cannot go. I was for writing a Letter to the C.—but my Colleagues were not.” In his Diary entry for the 20th, JA describes his meeting with the Comte de Vergennes in substantially the same terms as in this letter (JA, D&A, description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 3:173–175). See also JQA’s account of his father’s visit to Vergennes on the 20th, JQA, Diary, description begins Diary of John Quincy Adams, ed. David Grayson Allen, Robert J. Taylor, and others, Cambridge, 1981–. description ends , 1:237, and AA’s comments on the Moroccan capture in her 20 March letter to John Thaxter, AFC, description begins Adams Family Correspondence, ed. L. H. Butterfield, Marc Friedlaender, Richard Alan Ryerson, Margaret A. Hogan, and others, Cambridge, 1963–. description ends , 6:80.

2See the enclosure to C. W. F. Dumas’ letter of 25 Feb., above.

3See the commissioners’ 28 March letter to Vergennes, and note 1, below.

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