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The Founding Era Collection > Founders Early Access > Adams Papers: Early Access > Documents 1785–1798 and 1813 [1654 documents] > Documents > Thomas Jefferson (as deciphered by CFA) to John Adams, 31 Jul. 1785
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Thomas Jefferson (as deciphered by CFA) to John Adams

31 Jul. 1785

Dear Sir. Paris. July 31. 1785

I was honoured yesterday with your’s of the 24th inst when the first article of our instructions of May 7. 1784 was under debate in Congress it was proposed that neither party should make the other pay in their ports greater duty than they paid in the ports of the other. One objection to this was, its impracticableness—another, that it would put it out of our power to lay such duties on alien importation as might encourage importation by natives—some members much attached to English policy thought such a distinction should actually be established—some thought the power to do it should be reserved in case any peculiar circumstances should call for it, tho under the present or perhaps any probable circumstances they did not think it would be good policy ever to exercise it—the footing gentis amicissioni was therefore adopted as you see in the instruction—as far as my enquiries enable me to judge. France and Holland make no distinction of duties between aliens and natives—I also rather believe that the other States of Europe make none, England excepted to whom this policy as that of her Navigation act seems peculiar. The question then is, should we disarm ourselves of the power to make this distinction against all nations in order to purchase an exemption from the alien duty in England only; for if we put her importations on the footing of natives all other nations with whom we treat will have a right to claim the same—I think we should, because against other nations who make no distinctions in their ports between us and their own subjects we ought not to make a distinction in ours and if the English will agree in like manner to make none we should with equal reason abandon the right as against them—I think all the world would gain by setting commerce at perfect liberty—I remember that when we were digesting the general form of our treaty, this proposition to put foreigners and natives on the same footing was considered—and we were all three (Dr Franklin) as well as you and myself in favor of it. We finally however did not admit it, partly from the objection you mentioned but more still on account of our instructions—but tho the English proclamation had appeared in America at the time of framing these instructions I think its offset as to alien duties had not yet been experienced and therefore was not attended to. If it had been noted in the debate I am sure that the annihilation of our whole trade would have been thought too great a price to pay for the reservation of a barren power which a majority of the members did not propose ever to exercise tho they were willing to retain it—Stipulating equal rights for foreigners and natives we obtain more in foreign ports than our instructions require and we only [ ] within our own ports a power of which sound policy would probably forever forbid the exercise—Add to this that our treaty will be for a very short term and if any evil be experienced under it, a reformation will soon be in our power. I am therefore for putting this amongst our original propositions to the Court of London—if it should prove an insuperable obstacle with them or if it should stand in the way of a greater advantage, we can but abandon it in the course of the negotiation—In my copy of the Cypher on the alphabetical side numbers are wanting from the word Denmark to disc inclusive and from gone to Governor inclusive—I suppose them to have been omitted in copying—Will you be so good as to send them to me from your’s by the first opportunity—compliments to the ladies <&ca>.

(MHi: Adams Papers).
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