John Quincy Adams to John Adams
New York August 3d. 1785
Mr. Church proposes to embark on board the british Packet, which is to sail to-morrow. He has offered to take my Letters, and I suppose, he will be the bearer of dispatches from Congress.—Our Passage, though it was not a stormy one, was very tedious. Of eight weeks, that we were at Sea, we had at least four of such calm weather as not to proceed more than 8 or 10 leagues a day. As we were coming up the River, we met the other Packet, which was sailing for France. I had only time to write a Line, and inform you of my arrival:1 I hope she has by this time performed a large part of her voyage, and that three weeks hence, you will receive my Letter. I shall remain here some days longer than I expected, when I left you; as it was too late when I arrived here, for me to be at Boston before Commencement, I thought there was less necessity of my being in haste to go. The President has been polite to me, even beyond what I could have expected; he has given me an apartment in his House, where I have been these ten days. Mr. Jay was so kind before I came here to make me the same offer.
The Politicians here, wait with great impatience to hear from you. Matters seem to be at a Crisis. The British instead of delivering up the Posts, have lately sent there a reinforcement of troops. I have heard from merchants here, that the fur trade from which we are thus precluded, by an open breach of the Treaty of Peace, is worth annually 50,000 pounds Sterling.2 This may be overrated; but the reluctance the British <
shew> to leave the Posts, is sufficient proof that it is an important object. It is supposed that your next Letters, will give information on the Subject, and let us know what is to be depended upon.
The Duties laid on imported goods, by many of the States, and the prohibition of all English vessels in Massachusetts, are another subject of much Conversation. Merchants, who often adopt the proverb, that Charity begins at home, endeavour to demonstrate that the Country will suffer very much, by these regulations. They say that all foreign nations, will be discouraged from bringing us any goods while, they are encumbered with such heavy imposts; and if we go for them ourselves, they will sell them only for money, which we have not. Many of them are still very much afraid of Great Britain: they dread a war; and in case she be not able to carry one on, they tremble lest she should shut her ports upon us and stop our trade with her West India Islands. They <
say> own that those Islands cannot subsist without us, but they think we could not hold out, if we had no market to carry our productions to, so long as they could without them. You will easily see that this is the reasoning of a merchant who fears present Losses, and does not consider future advantages. Fortunately the Spirit of the People is different, and I doubt not, in Case Great Britain should persist in her present Conduct, sufficient firmness will be shown, on this side the water. The State of Massachusetts have already prohibited all british vessels to come in their Ports. A frigate appeared since the act was pass’d, but was not suffered to enter.3—The States have not yet given to Congress the power of regulating their trade: but it is almost universally considered here, a necessary measure. The President of Congress is however much against it. He has written you by this opportunity, and perhaps he has given you his opinion upon the subject.4
You doubtless know before this, that Mr. Bowdoin, was elected governor of Massachusetts, at the last election, in the place of Mr. Hancock, who was chosen Member of Congress for the next Session. The parties shew some rancour and acrimony at the Time, but since the Election, every thing has subsided, and the present governor is very popular. It is generally supposed here; that Mr. Hancock, will next year be seated in the chair of Congress. I don’t know however, whether he has accepted the appointment.5
Mr. Osgood, Mr. Walter Livingston, and Mr. Arthur Lee, are the Commissioners of the Treasury. Mr. Lee was chosen a few days since: and has accepted. The board could not be composed of persons more universally respected.
Mr. de Marbois it is said will in a short time leave America; and Mr. Otto, formerly, a secretary to the Chevalier de la Luzerne, is to succeed him: I believe he will not regret this Country: nor do I think he will be much regretted himself. The Chevalier is supposed to be much more friendly to the Country, and is much more respected here. Many persons wonder why a Minister is not sent from the Court of France.6
After reading this Letter, you will perhaps think I had better be at my Studies, and give you an account of their progress, than say so much upon politics. But while I am in this place I hear of nothing but politics. When I get home I shall trouble my head very little about them. I propose leaving this next monday the 8th. instant and shall certainly be in Boston by the 20th.
I am your dutiful Son.
J. Q. Adams
P.S. Please to present my duty to my dear Mamma: I will write if I can find time.7
RC (Adams Papers); docketed by AA2: “JQA August 3d 1785.”
2. The British were obligated to surrender several military posts in the northwest, on and near the Great Lakes, under arts. 2 and 7 of the Definitive Treaty of 3 Sept. 1783, but they continued to occupy them while controversies over the claims of British subjects in American courts (arts. 4 and 5) remained unresolved.
3. “An Act for the Regulation of Navigation and Commerce,” passed on 23 June, provided that as of 1 Aug., all exportation from Massachusetts in British vessels would be prohibited, and all importation in British vessels would be restricted to three ports—Boston, Falmouth (later Portland, Maine), and Dartmouth (including the port of New Bedford)—where such imports would pay higher duties than those on American ships. The ban on exporting on British ships could be lifted by the governor and council if they learned that the British government had rescinded its recent prohibition of American ships from several ports in the British Empire. Mass., Acts and Laws description begins Acts and Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts [1780–1805], Boston, 1890–1898; 13 vols. description ends , 1784–1785, p. 439–443.
JQA may refer to the British frigate Mercury, Capt. Henry Stanhope, which conducted several transport ships from Nova Scotia to Boston to bring live stock back to the large Loyalist refugee populations at Shelburne and Halifax. Both the Mercury and the transports did enter the port of Boston in mid-July, but local newspapers sternly warned their readers to reject the British appeal for cargoes as long as they were to be carried away in British vessels. These warnings apparently prevented the loading of the transports. They may also have contributed to a bitter exchange of letters between Capt. Stanhope and Gov. James Bowdoin between 1 and 4 August. See the Boston Gazette, 11 and 18 July; the Independent Ledger, 11 July; and AA to Thomas Jefferson, 19 Oct., below.
4. Richard Henry Lee to JA, 1 Aug. (Adams Papers); printed in The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, ed. James Curtis Ballagh, N.Y., 1911, 1914, 2:378–381.
5. Hancock, elected to Congress in June, did accept his election, and he was chosen president of that body in Nov. 1785, but ill health kept him in Boston. In May 1786 he resigned the presidency and his seat in Congress. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress, Washington, 1921–1936; 8 vols. description ends , 8:lxxxviii; Biog. Dir. Cong. description begins Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1774–1949, Washington, 1950. description ends
6. JQA had met François Barbé-Marbois, then the official secretary to Chevalier Anne César de La Luzerne; Louis Guillaume Otto, La Luzerne’s private secretary; and La Luzerne himself in June 1779, when he and JA accompanied the Frenchmen to America on La Sensible. La Luzerne served as French minister to the United States until 1783, when he returned to France. Barbé-Marbois continued, as charge d’affaires, until 1785, when he was appointed intendant of Saint Domingue. JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 2:380–400; Hoefer, Nouv. biog. générale description begins J. C. F. Hoefer, ed., Nouvelle biographie générale depuis les temps les plus reculés jusqu’à nos jours, Paris, 1852–1866; 46 vols. description ends .