Our Collection

At the Institute’s core is the Gilder Lehrman Collection, one of the great archives in American history. More than 70,000 items cover five hundred years of American history, from Columbus’s 1493 letter describing the New World to soldiers’ letters from World War II and Vietnam. Explore primary sources, visit exhibitions in person or online, or bring your class on a field trip.

Adams, John (1735-1826) Instructions to John Lamb to treat with Algiers

High-resolution images are available to schools and libraries via subscription to American History, 1493-1943. Check to see if your school or library already has a subscription. Or click here for more information. You may also request a pdf of the image from us here.

Log in
to see this thumbnail image

Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC00345 Author/Creator: Adams, John (1735-1826) Place Written: London ; Paris Type: Document signed Date: 1 October 1785 Pagination: 4 p. ; 32 x 20 cm.

A high-resolution version of this object is available for registered users. LOG IN

Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC00345 Author/Creator: Adams, John (1735-1826) Place Written: London ; Paris Type: Document signed Date: 1 October 1785 Pagination: 4 p. ; 32 x 20 cm.

Summary of Content: Co-signed by Jefferson 11 October 1785 in Paris. Lamb was instructed to confer with Minister Carmichael in Spain, then proceed to Algiers. The Continental Congress sent John Lamb to negotiate with Dey Mohomet of Algiers for the release of 21 Americans held as prisoners and to secure safe passage of American vessels in the Mediterranean. The Dey demanded $3,000 ransom per man, twice as much as he asked of other nations. Lamb returned home in 1789 without securing a treaty.

Background Information: The problem of slavery received a new meaning when white American sailors were enslaved by the so-called Barbary pirates of North Africa. In 1785, the American schooner Maria, sailing off the ...coast of Portugal, was boarded by Algerian pirates. Its captain and five crew members were taken prisoner. Then a second American ship, the brig Dauphin, was captured, and its 15-member crew was taken to Algiers and enslaved. Several Americans were put to work as domestic servants; another was forced to care for the Dey of Algiers's lion. Much of the time the hostages were kept in leg irons, chained to pillars, or locked in a rat-infested prison. Six American captives died of bubonic plague. One went insane. During the late eighteenth century, three small North African states--Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis--preyed on merchant ships sailing in the Mediterranean, seizing their crews and cargoes and holding both for ransom. Many European countries paid tribute to the Barbary States to ensure that their ships would be unmolested. But America did not. Major powers like Britain and France tolerated the "Barbary pirates" because they raised the shipping costs of potential competitors, such as Denmark, Holland, Portugal, and the United States.
In a bid to free these white American "slaves," the Continental Congress decided to send John Lamb to negotiate with Dey Mohomet of Algiers for release of Americans prisoners and for safe passage of American ships in the Mediterranean. The Dey demanded $3,000 ransom per hostage, twice as much as he asked of other nations. Lamb returned home in 1789 without securing a treaty.
Over the next eight years, Algerian pirates seized more than 100 hostages from a dozen captured American ships. Finally, in 1795, the United States successfully negotiated for the hostages' release. To gain their freedom, the United States agreed to pay $800,000 plus annual tribute that amounted to about 20 percent of the yearly federal budget.
It was not until 1815 that the United States successfully ended North African piracy. In that year, a fleet of ten American ships under the command of Stephen Decatur threatened to bombard Algiers. The threat worked. The North African states agreed to release American prisoners without ransom and to cease all interference with American shipping.
See More

Full Transcript: Congress having been pleased to invest us with full Powers for entering into Treaty of Amity & Alliance with the Dey & Government of Algiers & it being impracticable for us to attend ...on them in Person & equally impracticable on account of our separate Stations to receive a Minister from them, We have concluded to effect our object by the intervention of a confidential Person. We concur in wishing to avail the United States of your Talents in the execution of of this Business, and therefore furnish you with a Letter to the Dey and Government of Algiers to give a due Credit to your transactions with them….
We advise you to proceed by the way of Madrid where you will have opportunities of deriving many lights from Mr. Carmichael & from the Minister from Algiers to the Court of Madrid & the Count D'Espilly lately arrived from Algiers who doubtless are persons of information & Credit with that Government. From thence you will proceed by such rout as you shall think best to Algiers.
You will present them our letter with the Copy of our full powers, with which you are furnished at such time or times, & in such Manner as you shall think best; As the negotiation & conclusion of a treaty may be a work of time, you will endeavor in the first place to procure an immediate Suspension of Hostilities. You will proceed to negotiate with their Minister the terms of a treaty of Amity & Commerce as nearly as possible conformed to the draught we give you. Where Alterations, which in your opinion shall not be of great importance shall be urged by the other Party, you are at Liberty to agree to them: where they shall be of great importance & such as you think should be rejected, you will reject them; but where they are of great importance, & you think they may be accepted, you will ask time to take our Advice & will advise with us accordingly, by Letter, or by Courier as you shall think best: When the Articles shall all be agreed you will sign them in a preliminary form & send them to us by some proper Person for definitive execution.
The whole expense of this treaty, including as well the Expenses of all Persons employed about it, as the presents to the Dey &c must not exceed 40.000 Dollars & we urge you to use your best endeavors to bring them as much below that Sum as you possibly can. And to this End we leave it to your discretion to represent to the Dey & Government of Algiers or their Ministers if it may be done with Safety, the particular circumstances of the United States, just emerging from a long & distressing war, with one of the most powerful nations of Europe; which we hope may be an apology if our presents should not be so splendid as those of older & abler Nations.
As Custom may have rendered some presents necessary in the beginning or progress of this Business, & before it is concluded or even in a way to be concluded, We authorize you to conform to the Custom: confiding in your discretion to hazard as little as possible before a certainty of the Event, & to provide that your engagements shall become binding only on the definitive execution of the Treaty. We trust to you also to procure the best information in what form & to what Persons these Presents should be made, & to make them accordingly. The difference between the Customs of that & other Courts, the difficulty of obtaining a knowledge of those Customs but on the Spot & our great Confidence in your discretion, induce us to leave to that, all other circumstances relative to the Object of your Mission. It will be necessary for you to take a Secretary well fluent in the French Language, to aid you in your Business & to take charge of your Papers in Case of any accident to yourself. We think you may allow him 150 [4] Guineas a year, besides his Expenses for traveling & Subsistence. We engage to furnish your own expenses according to the respectability of the Character with which you are invested, but as to the allowance for your trouble we wish to leave it to Congress.
We annex hereto sundry heads of enquiry which we wish you to make, & to give us thereon the best information you shall be able to obtain. We desire you to correspond with us by every opportunity which you think should be trusted, giving us from time to time an account of your proceedings & of Holland under cover to Mr. Dumas at the Hague, or Misses Willinks of Amsterdam by the way of England under cover to Uriah Forrish Esquire Crutches Fryers No 8 London & by way of France to Mr. Grand Paris & to Mr. Carmichael by the way of Spain.
We wish you a pleasant Journey & happy


London Octr. 1. 1785 John Adams
Paris Octr. 11. 1785 Thomas Jefferson
[Written sideways:]
Instructions
to
Mr John Lamb







See More

People: Adams, John, 1735-1826
Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826
Lamb, John, 1735-1800

Historical Era: The New Nation, 1783-1815

Subjects: PresidentGovernment and CivicsMilitary HistoryTreatyGlobal History and US Foreign PolicyGlobal History and US Foreign PolicyAfricaPrisoner of WarPiratesSlaveryMaritime

Sub Era: Creating a New Government

Order a Copy Citation Guidelines for Online Resources