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TREATIES OF AMITY AND COMMERCE, AND OF ALLIANCE OF 1778, WITH FRANCE.
Confederation little hopes, or means, of obtaining foreign assistanceDeane sent to France in '76 to obtain supplies—Remarkable letter of Vergennes-Franklin, Deane, and Jefferson elected Commissioners in '76—Jefferson excused from going-Lee chosen in his place— Not officially received-Alarming situation-France disposed to withdraw all succour-News of Burgoyne's Surrender—Treaties signed-Commissioners presented at Court-Great attention to Franklin-Anecdotes of him-Gerard appointed Minister to America-Sails in d'Estaing's Flag Ship-Presented to CongressCeremonial-Franklin elected to Versailles-Returns to America-Succeeded by Jefferson-De la Luzerne succeeds Gerard.
THE means of intercourse, possessed by the confederation with foreign nations, were exceedingly limited; of the States in Europe, most able to assist them, they had known but little except as enemies. They had, in various wars, taken an active part with the mother country against France, and had powerfully, and very cheerfully, contributed to the conquest of the French possessions in North America. Indeed, one of the principal motives of the Convention at Albany, held in 1754, and consisting of commissioners from eight of the colonies, was to agree on a scheme of mutual protection against the encroachments of the French and Indians, at that time
always allies. Their trade had also been constantly subject to the severities and restrictions of the colonial system; and at the period of the Revolution was confined to Great Britain, the West Indies, Africa and Europe, south of Cape Finisterre. It is not, therefore, to be expected that they could look abroad with much confidence, or hope of relief. The principal European states possessed colonies. America laboured, on that account, under the peculiar disadvantage of seeking aid and encouragement from governments, whose policy it would always be, to resist the principles the confederation asserted. Revolutions were at that time, not so common as they have since become. The act of the Americans was, with the exception of two very slight affairs of the Pretender in Great Britain, the only instance of rebellion, that had occurred among civilized nations in that century. The governments of Europe appeared, moreover, at this crisis, to be strong and prosperous. Monarchy was never, in appearance, more firmly established, or colonies of all descriptions, in more complete subjection.
It is not likely that the American colonies, in the outset, expected assistance from abroad. The Revolution war, though events had been setting with a silent, but most unerring course, to that extremity since '66, was little anticipated in "74, the year of the first meeting of the Delegates in Philadelphia. This war finally broke out in a very unexpected manner, and spread with a rapidity equally astonishing. It is the first illustration, we have in history, of the effects of strong excitement on a people well educated and perfectly free. No one was then aware, till the moment of action, of the deep and universal sympathy, awakened throughout America, by the operation of a free press, and a free spirit of inquiry. The great mass of the people was certainly deceived as to the state of the public mind. They knew what their neighbours thought, but they probably had little conception, that men living hundreds of miles apart from them, on the opposite frontiers of the continent, thought as they did, and were quite as prepared to act. There were a few persons, endowed with
a prophetic spirit, who doubtless foresaw the separation; but whether the Delegates themselves to the first Congress anticipated that event, whether they considered the Convention as an act of self-defence only, whether the Petition presented to the King in September 75, even after the commencement of hostilities, was done, under the expectation that harmony would be restored, it is most certain they took no steps to form foreign alliances before the Declaration of Independence. We do not mean to be understood as saying that America had not received, as early as 1776, much foreign assistance. It was obtained, both from individuals in France, and from the French government. Private merchants, in several of the seaports, sent, secretly, cargoes of military stores to this country, under the expectation of getting a great profit; precisely as we have seen, in our times, adventures of similar description dispatched to the South American states. To this period, we trace the claim, since become exceedingly intricate, of Caron Beaumarchais. Silas Deane, of Connecticut was, also, sent. privately to France, where he arrived in June '76, to obtain supplies for Congress, and to ascertain the dispositions of the government. No doubt can now remain of the part the French secretly took in the affairs of the Americans, even before the Declaration of their Independence. A letter of M. de Vergennes has been preserved in the Archives du Corps Legislatif, addressed to the King. This letter is dated May 2d, 1776, and affords all the proof necessary of the doings and dispositions of the French court. Never having seen a translation of it, we shall quote the whole :
"Sir, I have the honour of laying at the feet of your Majesty the writing, authorizing me to furnish a million of livres for the service of the English colonies. I add also, the plan of an answer I propose to make to the Sieur Beaumarchais. I solicit your appro bation to the two propositions. The answer to Mr. de Beaumarchais will not be written in my hand, nor even that of either the clerks or secretaries of my office. I shall employ for that purpose my son, w hose hand-writing cannot be known. He is only fifteen
years old, but I can answer in the most positive manner for his discretion. As it is important that this operation should not be suspected, or at least imputed to the government, I entreat your Majesty to allow me to direct the return of the Sieur Montaudoin to Paris. The apparent pretext for that proceeding will be, to obtain from him an account of his correspondence with the Americans, though, in reality, it will be for the purpose of employing him to transmit to them such funds as your Majesty chooses to appropriate to their benefit, directing him, at the same time, to take all necessary precaution, as if, indeed, the Sieur Montaudoin, made the advance on their own account. On this head, I take the liberty of requesting the orders of your Majesty. Having obtained them, I shall write to the Marquis de Grinaldi,* inform him in detail of our proceedings, and request his co-operation, to the same extent."†
The Declaration of Independence rendered a return to the connexion with the mother country utterly impracticable. The confederation hesitated till that period, to increase the difficulties of a restoration of peace, by entering into engagements with other nations, even if governments could be found, who would assume the responsibility of becoming their allies while they were colonies. Still, just before this time, America had received no certain intelligence of the intentions of France, for we find in the month of May '76, that the assembling a large fleet by the French in the West Indies, excited great alarm, and measures were immediately adopted by Congress, in order to ascertain whether it was their design. to act against the United States. But in the autumn of this year the disposition of some of the European powers, particularly France, having been fully disclosed, the attention of Congress was first turned to the consideration of treaties to be proposed to foreign states. And in September, a plan of one was agreed on. The terms do not differ materially from
* Minister and Secretary of State of Despatches in Spain. Flassan, vol. vii.
Foreign Relations. (Secret Journal,) vol. ii. p. 27.
the provisions of the treaty afterwards made. On the 26th. of September '76, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Silas Deane of Connecticut, and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, were elected, in a ballot of Congress, Commissioners to the Court of France. Mr. Jefferson, having been excused from going, on account of the state of his family, Mr. Arthur Lee of Virginia was appointed on a subsequent day. They were furnished with a letter of credence, which, as it was the first given by an American Congress, we shall insert at length.
"The Delegates of the United States, of New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to all who shall see these presents, send Greeting;—Whereas a trade, upon equal terms, between the subjects of his most christian Majesty, the King of France and the people of these States, will be beneficial to both nations;-Know ye, therefore, that we, confiding in the prudence and integrity of Benjamin Franklin, one of the Delegates in Congress, from the State of Pennsylvania, and President of the Convention of the said State, &c., Silas Deane, now in France, late a Delegate from the State of Connecticut; and Arthur Lee, barrister at law, have appointed and deputed, and by these presents do appoint and depute them, the said Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane, and Arthur Lee, our Commissioners, giving and granting to them, the said Franklin, Deane, and Lee, or any two of them, and in case of the death, absence, or disability of any two, or any one of them, full power to communicate, treat, agree, and conclude with his most christian-Majesty, the King of France, or with such person or persons, as shall by him be for that purpose authorized, of and upon a true and sincere friendship, and a firm, inviolable and universal peace for the defence, protection, and safety of the navigation and mutual commerce of the subjects of his most christian Majesty, and the people of the United States, and to do all other things, which may conduce to those desirable ends, and promising in good faith to ratify whatsoever our said Commissioners shall transact in the premises. Done in Congress, in Philadelphia, the thirtieth day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-six."