Writing home to his brother-in-law in 1786, John Adams expresses outrage over unfulfilled obligations under the Treaty of Paris: "The Morals of the People of America have been proved to be defective, by many Inattentions to public Faith"
ALS, signed "My Respects and Love to all, your Brother, John Adams," three pages on two adjoining sheets, 7.75 x 12.75, May 26, 1786. Handwritten letter to his brother-in-law, Richard Cranch, sent from London while serving as the first United States Minister to Great Britain. Adams is outraged that America has failed to fulfill its obligations under the Treaty of Paris, having failed to pay amounts due on debt to foreign creditors (including loans negotiated by him, although this is not said).
In full: "During Such great Changes as We have seen When the whole World is put out of its Course and all Men are called to Act in scænes that are new to them, great Irregularities must be expected. But can any Nation ever hope to have Commerce and a Circulation of Property and Industry where the Courts of Justice are not opened. where every Man is not conscious that he can compell others to do him Justice, and be compelled to do Justice to others.
The Morals of the People of America have been proved to be defective, by many Inattentions to public Faith, more than by any other Thing which has ever happened. They have suffered by it in their own Opinion more than in that of the World.
The Truth is that the Citizens of America have less confidence in one another, than the World has in them. What is the Reason of this? Breaches of public Faith.—
I hope they will soon restore themselves to their own Esteem as well as that of all Nations by repealing every Law against the Treaty & by making Provision for paying the Interest of all their Debts at home and abroad.
This is the first step, and it is essential. When this is done let them Act as decidedly towards Great Britain as they please. the more so the better.
My whole System is comprehended in two Words Faith and Retaliation. fulfill to a Tittle your Part of the Treaty, and then retaliate all their Prohibitions, Impositions and Restrictions.—in this Way We shall soon bring them as our Parsons pray 'to Reason or to ruin.'— Europe is tranquil in Appearance, but Works are going on Under Ground & in covered Ways.
Pray desire our Friend Goodhue to send me next Fall or sooner, another Account of the Fisheries.
We must I believe get into the Way of prohibiting the Export of Cash like other nations. We shall never have Industry and Employment, among our People till We do." In very good to fine condition, with fold splits, short edge tears, and seal-related paper loss to the integral address leaf.
This insightful letter reveals John Adams's place in the center of early American diplomacy. During the Revolutionary War, the Americans relied on loans from abroad to finance the rebellion. Benjamin Franklin had negotiated large sums from France—eventually totaling over two million dollars—and Adams secured a loan from Dutch bankers as the war began winding down in 1782. Both Adams and Franklin, along with John Jay, served as the negotiators for the American side of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the war with Great Britain in 1783. The terms of the treaty called for 'lawful contracted debts to be paid to creditors on either side.' Nevertheless, American states had been delinquent in paying debts owed to British merchants, and in response, the British refused to vacate forts in the northwest, as had been promised in the Treaty of Paris. Further, the United States struggled to repay its debts to all foreign creditors, defaulting on payments due to France in 1785 and 1787.
In spite of his best attempts to resolve these disputes, Adams grew frustrated with the lack of progress—a frustration evident in this letter, as he complains that the "Morals of the People of America have been proved to be defective." Unable to remedy the situation, and growing anxious from news of tumult at home (such as Shays' Rebellion), Adams asked to be relieved of his diplomatic duties, returning to the United States in 1788. The disputes between the United States and Great Britain over debts and the occupation of forts would go unresolved until the Jay Treaty of 1794.
Provenance: The archive of a direct descendant of Abigail Adams's only sister, Mary Cranch. Never before offered.