The Jay Papers Ii: The Forging Of The Nation


The King, I really think, is the most accomplished courtier in his dominions. With all the affability of Charles II., he has all the domestic virtues and regularity of conduct of Charles I. He is the greatest talker in the world, and has a tenacious memory, stored with resources of small talk concerning all the little things of life, which are inexhaustible. But so much of his time is, and has been consumed in this, that he is, in all the great affairs of society and government, as weak, as far as I can judge, as we ever understood him to be in America. He is also as obstinate. The unbounded popularity, acquired by his temperance and facetiousness, added to the splendor of his dignity, gives him such a continual feast of flattery, that he thinks all he does is right; and he pursues his own ideas with a firmness which would become the best system of action.…

[Prime Minister William Pitt] is very young. He has discovered abilities and firmness upon some occasions; but I have never seen in him any evidence of greater talents than I have seen in members of congress, and in other scenes of life in America, at his age. I have not yet seen any decided proofs of principle, or patriotism, or virtue; on the contrary, there are many symptoms of the want of these qualities, without which, no statesman ever yet appeared uniformly great, or wrought out any memorable salvation for any country. In American affairs he has oscillated like a pendulum, and no one can yet guess when he will be fixed. His attention appears to have been chiefly given to two objects,—preserving tranquillity and raising the stocks.… the stocks are at a great height, and the nation consequently in high spirits. As they have now evidence, as they think, that their commerce flourishes, and their credit is established, without a treaty with the United States, and without opening the West Indies or Canada, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland to us, without taking off the alien duty upon oil, or admitting our ready built ships for sale, they will not now think it necessary to do any of these things.…

The posts upon our frontier give me great uneasiness. The ministers and people are so assured of peace with all their neighbors in Europe, that they hold all we can do in indifference.… They rely upon it, that we shall not raise an army to take the posts. The expense and difficulty they know will be great, and, therefore, they think they may play with us as long as they please. … The resolutions of some of the United Slates, staying proceedings at law for old debts, and some other resolutions concerning the tories, represented to have been in some instances contrary to the treaty, will be the pretence.

In short, sir, I am like to be as insignificant here as you can imagine. I shall be treated, as I have been, with all the civility that is shown to other foreign ministers, but shall do nothing. I shall not even be answered.

…I find myself at the end of my tether; no step that I can take, no language I can hold, will do any good, or, indeed, much harm. It is congress and the legislatures of the States, who must deliberate and act at present. …

With great regard, &c. J OHN A DAMS .

For its part, Britain refused even to appoint a minister to the United States, but used consuls and unofficial observers to keep informed about what was going on across the Atlantic. Discouraged, Adams early in 1788 closed up shop and came home. The matter of the frontier posts was settled by Jay’s Treaty of 1794, but the other issues smouldered for two more generations; it took another Anglo-American war and some years after that before they were settled.

Meanwhile, as they no longer enjoyed the protection of the British Navy, American merchant ships in Mediterranean waters were constantly victimized by the various deys, emperors, beys, or pashas who governed the Barbary States of North Africa. Most bothersome of the piratical states was Algiers, whose ruler, an absolute monarch, based his power on a formidable Turkish military corps. With some discrimination Algerian corsairs staged piratical raids, seizing ships and cargo, and selling officers and crews into captivity. In seeking to put down this piracy the United States learned quickly that it could not count on aid from any European nation. It was a maxim among the English merchants that “if there were no Algiers, it would be worth England’s while to build one.” The English would make no move to give the United States a toehold in the lucrative Mediterranean carrying trade. Matters became critical when, as a result of a treaty concluded in June of 1785 between Spain and Algiers, the Algerians had access to the Atlantic. Within a few weeks their privateers captured two American vessels, taking the crews captive. Jay looked upon this turn of affairs as providential, a view which he expressed to the president of Congress, Richard Henry Lee.

Office for foreign Affairs 13th October 1785