Adams Papers

To John Adams from the Marquis de Lafayette, 8 May 1785

From the Marquis de Lafayette

Paris May the 8th 1785

My dear friend

Inclosed you will find what I intended to Carry this Morning— but the duke de Choiseùil’s death which Happened About twèlve o’ clock prevented my going out of town—1 The Bargain Has Been altered over and over, and I Have at last Secured the following advantages— 1stly the Vessels may be Americans 2dly the More precious part of the oil, Called Spermicity May Be left out— 3dly By the Contract it Rests with the American Society to obtain a diminution of duties which all lay at their Charge— By the Passports not only foreign but also National duties are taken off, and all the Anchorage, pilotage and other plagues of the kind which Give the Undertakers an extraordinary profit over and above the Common profits of other people who are admitted to sell their oils.

if You think the Bargain is good, Your Son might Carry the proposition to our New England friends, and take charge of the Samples of oils that will Be Ready to Morrow—in which Case, I would propose His Meeting mr̃ jefferson where a man of the police will attend at Whatever Hour in the Morning You please to Appoint— when You Send Back the Papers, I will Show them to mr̃ jefferson and know from Him if it is Convenient we Should wait upon Him, Your Son, the police man and myself about ten in the Morning.2

God Bless You.


RC (DLC:Jefferson Papers).

1Until his dismissal in 1770, Étienne François, Duc de Choiseul, served Louis XV in various ministerial capacities, including that of foreign affairs (Hoefer, Nouv. biog. générale description begins Jean Chrétien Ferdinand Hoefer, ed., Nouvelle biographie générale depuis les temps les plus reculés jusqu’à nos jours, Paris, 1852–1866; 46 vols. description ends ).

2According to JA, the Marquis de Lafayette’s interest in promoting the French import of American whale oil stemmed from a dinner conversation where JA indicated that the Frenchman could advance Franco-American commerce by providing information on the French market for the “White sperma Caeti Oil of New England” (to Nathaniel Barrett, 2 Dec. 1785, LbC, APM Reel 111). Lafayette’s efforts led to the contract described in this letter, which Pierre Tourtille Sangrain signed on 7 May for the supply of approximately a thousand tons of American whale oil to light the streets of Paris. JQA carried the proposal and samples of the required oil to America and on 6 Sept. delivered them to Samuel Breck Sr., Boston merchant and French maritime agent (JQA, Diary description begins Diary of John Quincy Adams, ed. David Grayson Allen, Robert J. Taylor, and others, Cambridge, 1981–. description ends , 1:264, 313, 320; Jefferson, Papers description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 8:144). Sangrain’s proposal, as Lafayette indicates, was predicated on the formation of an American company that effectively would hold a monopoly for the export of American oil. Prevailing business practices, however, and the Americans’ belief that merchants acting individually were better suited to the undertaking led them to appoint Nathaniel Barrett to renegotiate the terms of the agreement. For the merchants’ reasoning on the matter, see Barrett’s [ante 29] Nov. letter; and also Stephen Higginson’s 8 Aug. letter at note 2, both below. On 9 May JQA went to Lafayette’s and Thomas Jefferson’s residences “upon the subject, of the Importation of our whale oil, into this Country,” but when Lafayette failed to appear JQA returned to Auteuil (JQA, Diary description begins Diary of John Quincy Adams, ed. David Grayson Allen, Robert J. Taylor, and others, Cambridge, 1981–. description ends , 1:264).

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