John Adams

Special Message

January 21, 1801

Gentlemen of the Senate:

In compliance with your request, signified in your resolution of the 20th day of this month, I transmit you a report made to me by the Secretary of State on the same day, a letter of our late envoys to him of the 4th of October last, an extract of a letter from our minister plenipotentiary in London to him of the 22d of November last, and an extract of another letter from the minister to the Secretary of the 31st of October last.

The reasoning in the letter of our late envoys to France is so fully supported by the writers on the law of nations, particularly by Vattel, as well as by his great masters, Grotius and Puffendorf, that nothing is left to be desired to settle the point that if there be a collision between two treaties made with two different powers the more ancient has the advantage, for no engagement contrary to it can be entered into in the treaty afterwards made; and if this last be found in any case incompatible with the more ancient one its execution is considered as impossible, because the person promising had not the power of acting contrary to his antecedent engagement. Although our fight is very clear to negotiate treaties according to our own ideas of right and justice, honor and good faith, yet it must always be a satisfaction to know that the judgment of other nations with whom we have connection coincides with ours, and that we have no reason to apprehend that any disagreeable questions and discussions are likely to arise. The letters from Mr. King will therefore be read by the Senate with particular satisfaction.

The inconveniences to public officers and the mischiefs to the public arising from the publication of the dispatches of ministers abroad are so numerous and so obvious that I request of the Senate that these papers, especially the letters from Mr. King, be considered in close confidence.


John Adams, Special Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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