Adams Papers
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From John Adams to Isaac Smith Sr., 12 March 1786

To Isaac Smith Sr.

Grosvenor Square March 12. 1786

Sir

The Terror in the Minds of our Sailors, of the Barbary Rovers, is an immense Loss to our Country, in Insurance, and in Trade with Italy, Spain, Portugal France England Holland: indeed with all Parts of the World. The Question is whether it is better Policy to fight them or treat with them. To fight, with a possibility of any effectual Success will cost us a Million sterling a Year. To treat will cost Us two hundred Thousand Pounds, the Interest of which is Twelve Thousands a Year. Any moderate Arithmetician may decide the Question. But where can We get the Money? in Holland, if you will make Provision for paying the Interest. But while We are limited to a twelfth Part of the Sum which will probably be necessary, We can have no hopes of Success.—1

Agents are gone to Algiers and Morocco, but as they are limited to so small a sum, there is no Prospect of Success.

My best Respects to Mrs Smith and the / Family. With great Regard / I am your, most obedient

John Adams

RC (MHi:Smith-Carter Family Papers); addressed: “Isaac Smith Esqr / Boston”; internal address: “Isaac Smith Esqr”; endorsed: “London March 86 / J Adams.”

1That is, there was no hope for success if the commissioners were limited to the congressional appropriation for Barbary negotiations of $80,000, which at current exchange rates was one twelfth of £200,000. JA also wrote to Richard Cranch, on 11 March, concerning the Barbary negotiations (AFC description begins Adams Family Correspondence, ed. L. H. Butterfield, Marc Friedlaender, Richard Alan Ryerson, Margaret A. Hogan, and others, Cambridge, 1963– . description ends , 7:85–86). Both letters mark JA’s initial differentiation between the cost of a war with the Barbary States and the cost of paying them annual subsidies and indicated his preference for the latter. For JA’s return to the subject in June, see his letters to Thomas Jefferson, the Marquis de Lafayette, and John Jay of 6, 26, and 27 June (first), respectively, all below.

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