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 Quincy (1767-1848) to Robert Fulton

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 order a pdf of the image from us here.

Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC04334 Author/Creator: Adams, John Quincy (1767-1848) Place Written: Ghent, Belgium Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 25 December 1814 Pagination: 1 p. ; 25.1 x 20 cm.

Adams states that Levett Harris, then handling U.S. affairs in Russia, has learned from the Russian Minister of the Interior that Fulton is in danger of losing his "patent of exclusive privilege for his Steam-Boat invention" in Russia because he has failed to provide the required drawing and description. Adams reports that he has asked Harris to assure the Russian Minister of the Interior that Fulton was not guilty of neglect, but most likely never received Adams's letters on the subject due to "the extreme difficulty of the communications" in the war-torn winter of 1813-1814. He urges Fulton to submit a model and specifications by the coming summer to ward off "any rival application for a similar patent."

The Russian government had issued an "Ukaze" or imperial edict in response to Adams's 1812 request, on Fulton's behalf, for the grant of an exclusive privilege for the construction and use of steamboats either on all of Russia's rivers or at least on the river between St. Petersburg and Cronstadt. Adams had signed the Treaty of Ghent to end the War of 1812 the day before writing this letter. As the first U.S. Minister to Russia, Adams had extolled the success of Fulton's steamboats in the U.S. and their potential commercial benefits to Russia. Fulton's desire to expand the international reach of his steamship monopoly to Russia never became a reality, perhaps because of the upheaval of the War of 1812.

Partial Transcript:
"I requested [Mr. Harris]... to assure the Minister of the Interior that I was perfectly convinced no neglect was imputable to you; that I had sent you in January and February last, duplicate copies of the Imperial order for the patent, and of the notice from the Minister, requiring the model and specification, but that I was not certain you had received my Letters... I promised also to give you by the earliest opportunities information of the Minister's observations to Mr Harris, and it is for the fulfilment of this promise that I now write...."

Order a CopyCitation Guidelines for Online Resources