Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Elbridge Gerry, 25 February 1785

From Elbridge Gerry

New York 25th. Feby. 1785

My dear Sir

I am this Day favoured with yours of the 11th. of Novr., and am unhappy to hear that the Flames of War have burst again in the eastern World, and that there is too much Reason to apprehend they will rage, at an early period, in the western Hemisphere. Nevertheless, if Britain is so much under the Influence of a weak passion, as to indulge it in renewing Hostilities amongst us, we shall meet her with cheerful Hearts, well knowing We have Resources and being fully assured We shall by some effectual plan be able to draw them forth in sufficient quantities to humble her pride and correct her inimical Disposition.

Having given Mr. Adams Information of the proceedings of Congress since their meeting at Trenton, and desired it may be communicated to Yourself, I can only add on this Head that Mr. R. Morris, General Dickinson and General Schuyler are elected Commissioners to erect the fœderal Buildings on the Delewar, and that the two former have accepted the appointment.

Nothing further is done respecting a Land office, but I presume it will be soon taken up, as the Indian Commissioners have made considerable progress on their Negotiations.

A Report is made to raise 1500 Men, but what Number will be agreed on and in what Mode, Time must determine. The proposition is to raise them for three Years.

Another report is made for recommending to the States an alteration of the Confederation, so as to invest Congress with the power to regulate the Trade of the united States, as well with foreign powers as with each other and whilst I am on this Subject give me Leave to enquire whether it will not be better policy to form our Treaties on Terms of Reciprocity with each Nation rather than on the principles it has adopted with the most favored Nations? If we provide in our Treaty with each Nation that whatever may be the average of its Duties on Imports and Exports, we will lay similar Duties, they may impose what Duties they please, and we shall have power without embarrassment, to reciprocate this commercial Tax and thus avoid being what we otherwise inevitably must be, their Tributary. For if on the other Hand, we are to be on the same Footing as the most favoured Nation, and this on an average pays 15 per Ct. on Imports and Exports, whilst the most favoured Nation on our part pays but 5 per Ct., is it not evident that this Rule would operate to tax us 10 per Ct. as a Nation, on Imports and Exports from such a Treaty? This favoured Nation system appears to me a system of Cobwebbs to catch Flies. Attend to it as it respects Restrictions, prohibitions, and the carrying Trade, and it is equally distant from a Rule of Reciprocity, which is the only equitable and beneficial Rule for forming Commercial Treaties.

Mr. Adams is appointed to the Court of London, and a Report for accepting Doctor Franklin’s Resignation is before Congress, who will probably pass it, and appoint yourself to the Court of Versailles. You will certainly have all the N. England Interest in your Favour.

Doctor Lee having just arrived from the Indian Treaty, informs me that a Cession is obtained from the Savages of about thirty Million acres of land, bounded by the great Miami, Lake Erie &c.; and that another Treaty is to be held, in which a further Cession is expected more to the Southard. I am impatient for opening the Land office.

Nothing further occurring at present, give me Leave Sir to assure You that I remain with the highest Esteem your sincere Friend and very hum. Serv.,

E Gerry

RC (DLC); endorsed. Recorded in SJL as received 26 Apr. 1785.

Although TJ acknowledged this letter in his (missing) reply of 11 May 1785, John Adams informed Gerry that “Mr. Jefferson has received and answered your Letter and returned his regards to you. He is an excellent Hand” (Adams to Gerry, 25 [27?] Apr. 1785; MHi: AMT). At the same time Adams wrote to Richard Cranch: “Last evening Mr. Jefferson, my worthy Friend called upon me to show me a Letter from Mr. Gerry, which came by the March Packet, in which it is said that Mr. Adams is appointed to London … I shall part with Mr. Jefferson, with great Regret, but as he will no doubt be placed at Versailles, I shall be happy in a Correspondence of Friendship, Confidence, and Affection with the Minister at this Court, which is a very fortunate Circumstance, both for me and the public” (Adams to Cranch, 27 Apr. 1785; MHi: AMT). When TJ called on Adams on the evening of 26 Apr., he must have told Adams that he had or would soon reply to Gerry’s letter, but no response save that of 11 May is known to have been written. In still another letter of 27 Apr. Adams spoke of leaving TJ with regret and paid high tribute to him: “Mr. Jefferson is an excellent Citizen, Philosopher and Statesman, with whom I promise myself the most friendly and Cordial Correspondence, altho’ I shall leave him with regret” (Adams to William Gordon, 27 Apr. 1785; MHi: AMT).

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