John Adams to Cotton Tufts
Paris Septr. 10. 1783
I thank you for your Favours of [June] 26 and July 51 and for your obliging Congratulations, on the Peace. The Articles respecting Refugees had [better] have been [omitted], but [we could not] have Peace without them and the Peace as it is, is better than none. The[se] Articles must be [explained] by a Consideration of the [words] of them and the whole Treaty, [and] I do not consider myself at Liberty to Say any Thing about their Meaning any more than if I had [drawn] a Will, I could explain the [Intention] of the Testator. Give it as generous a Construction as you can, and call in Christian Charity as well as public Faith and human Policy to your [Aid].
I am more anxious about the Settlement of the Question between Congress and the States. The Public Debts must be paid, Yet you must take Care who raises the Money. At this distance, not hearing the Arguments I am not competent to decide for myself. But who shall govern foreign Commerce? Who shall preserve an Uniformity of Duties and Prohibitions? Can We preserve our Union without Such Uniformity? Can We defend our Sea Coast? Can We preserve the Respect of foreign Nations? But there is so much Sense among you and you have Such Resources that you will soon get over these difficulties, I hope.2
I was lately in hopes of joining and assisting in the discussion of these Matters, but Congress have sent me a new Business or a Revival of an old one,3 which will detain me this Winter at least. Pray Advise Mrs. Adams, whether to come to me or not. I have written to her to come, but it will be so late, before she receives the Letters, and Things are so unsettled in Congress respecting foreign affairs, that I am full of Doubt and Fears, whether it would not be more prudent to postpone it untill next Spring. If Things should not be arranged by my Masters so [that] I come home [then], I must insist on her coming to me, if it is even to live at the Hague. My John is a cordial to me, and if I had my two Nabbys I should be as happy as any Lord with my two Boys at Mr. Shaws and my little Farm under your Eye.
My affectionate and dutifull Respects to Father Smith, Your Lady and son.
RC (NPV); docketed: “Letter fm. Hon John Adams dated Sept. 10 at Paris.” LbC in JQA’s hand (Adams Papers). Extensive bleeding of the ink has obscured several words in the RC; they have been supplied from the LbC.
1. Both Adams Papers.
2. This paragraph, like the one preceding it, is in response to Tufts’ letter of 26 June (Adams Papers). As JA well understands here, the manner in which Congress raised money to pay off its debts would determine whether the United States would develop a strong central government or remain a collection of sovereign states. Those who favored the first course wanted Congress to have the power to levy taxes and to appoint and control its own tax collectors. Their opponents preferred either to divide the national debt among the states or to have the states collect the money and turn it over to Congress as payment of their share of the cost of government. In April Congress offered the states a number of proposals, packaged as one, that would give Congress power to levy duties on foreign imports for twenty-five years in order to pay the interest and principal of the national debt, and to levy an additional tax of $1,500,000 annually, apportioned among the states, also for twenty-five years; that would have all states cede their western land claims in accordance with the congressional resolutions of 1780; and that would offer the states an amendment to the Articles of Confederation changing the proportion of assessments on the states from one based on land values to one based on population, with three-fifths of the slaves being counted. Aside from their dislike of the different effects that duties and taxes would have in different regions, opponents of the package of proposals feared that the new duties and taxes would create too powerful a central government, one dangerous to liberty. JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 24:170–174, 223–224, 256–262; Jensen, The New Nation description begins Merrill Jensen, The New Nation: A History of the United States During the Confederation, 1781–1789, New York, 1950. description ends , p. 400, 407–419.
3. Negotiating a commercial treaty with Great Britain.