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Mr. Lee and Mr. Deane were in Europe at the time of their appointment. In December 76, Dr. Franklin, the third Commissioner, arrived in France. Ile was received with uncommon attention ; known already as a philosopher, the cause he represented was undoubtedly popular in that country. Indeed, the subject of liberty itself was, already, popular. It might have been only a fashion, as so many other things have been in France—it might have arisen from the metaphysical, or rather philosophical discussions, in which the French were then so much engaged, without at all apprehending the practical effects of them. Or, perhaps, we may, with most truth, call the cause of the colonies popular, because it was one that was likely to do vast mischief to England. The novelty of the undertaking itself, produced an enthusiasm in France; a war was commenced on a new continent ;—the scene of action and of interest was transferred from the old world. This had, already, happened in the former French wars, when Quebec and their other possessions fell. But, then, the European had only left his customary battle-grounds to meet on a new continent with the same armies, the same animosity, and the same ambition. Europe was a party to those wars. To this she was a spectator. America was viewed with that deep interest and sympathy with which the weak are regarded in all contests, and those, who were not inspired with the holy spirit of emancipation, doubtless wished well to a cause, that was fought at such fearful odds.
But the government manifested an evident reluctance to form an open alliance at this time. It naturally and prudently sought for delay. The Commissioners were not publicly received; for the fate and condition of the Americans were in an unconfirmed state ;-and it might well be doubted, whether they could long resist the mother country, of whose power France, herself, had very recently had melancholy experience But assistance continued to be secretly furnished ;-privateers were allowed to equip and bring their prizes into French ports, commissions were issued by the American envoys; and the cause of the Revolution still continued exceedingly popular with the people. Franklin, in one of his letters, in May, 977, has these remarks:
“ All Europe is on our side of the question, as far as applause and good wishes can carry them. Those, who live under arbitrary power, do nevertheless approve of liberty, and wish for it; they almost despair of recovering it in Europe; they read the translations of our separate colony institutions with rapture, and there are such numbers every where, who talk of removing to America with their families and fortunes as soon as peace and our independence shall be established, that it is generally believed, we shall have a prodigious addition of strength, wealth, and arts from the emigrations of Europe, and it is thought that to lessen or prevent such emigrations, the tyrannies established there must relax and allow more liberty to their people. Hence it is a common observation here, that our cause is the cause of all mankind, and that we are fighting for their l.berty in defending our own.”
But he could obtain no recognition of the independence, nor public declaration of assistance from the French court. Franklin, who knew the world, was obliged for the moment to console himself with the barren but polite phrase of the French Minister, that while he was in Paris, he should have "toute la sureté et tous les agrémens que nous y faisons eprouver aux etrangers.” At one time, M. de Vergennes gave the American Commissioners hopes that they should be received as Ministers Plenipotentiary, though he exacted from them, as a preliminary step, that an authentic copy of the Declaration of Independence should be procured, which they had omitted to bring. Dr. Franklin had now been at the court more than six months; he was, as he said himself, “ treated with great civi
' lity and respect by all orders of people, and it afforded him great satisfaction to find that he was of some use to his country.” A French writer of that period, speaking of Franklin, says, that he was an “old man of a superb appearance, of a
simple air and great affability, full of courage and confidence in his fellow-citizens and in the future."*
In the middle of the summer of '97, affairs took a very unfavourable turn. News of the deplorable campaigns in the Jerseys had just then arrived in France ;—the business appeared to be at an end ;—the British believed it themselves, and Dr. Franklin's friends wroté to him from England, that neither France nor Spain would afford the Americans any more than a kind of “paralytic” aid :-just sufficient to prolong their existence a few months. The English were, all along, well satisfied that France aided the Americans, nor were they ignorant of the manner in which privateers and their prizes were treated. These acts had been the subject of frequent remonstrances from Lord Stormont, the English Minister at Paris. Hitherto they had either been evaded or neglected, but upon the present very discouraging appearance of American affairs, those representations were renewed in a more decided and categorical manner. An immediate rupture was apprehended, for an order was secretly dispatched to recall the French fishermen from the Banks of Newfoundland. America appeared at this time but a feeble ally. It was even in some respects difficult in Europe to ascertain, whether the majority of the people were in favour of the Revolution ; for it
* We have met, in La Harpe's Correspondence with an anecdote, relating to America, that does not appear to have been much circulated. It took place at the time of the celebrated last visit of Voltaire to Paris. It does not belong to the precise year of which we are now treating, but our apology for extracting it, is its application to the subject. “ Nothing appears more worthy of being mentioned than Voltaire's interview with Franklin. M. de Voltaire spoke to him in English; his niece, Mme. Denis, who was present with some other friends, observed, they should be glad to hear what was said, and begged him to speak French. 'I beg your pardon,' replied Voltaire, 'I have for a moment yielded to the vanity of speaking the same language as Dr. Franklin.' Franklin presented his grandson to the philosopher, and craved his blessing for him. Voltaire extended his arms over him, and said to him, “My child, God and Liberty! Recollect those two words.?"
had always been said, and was for a long time believed, that its partizans were a bold, unprincipled faction, who could have no permanent support either from their numbers or respectability. The situation of the country in the winter of '76 and "77, certainly gave great countenance to this opinion. The authority of Congress seemed to be reduced to a shadowtroops deserted by states-officers were discontented, if not disa lected, and neither levies nor supplies could be obtained. Pradelphia was in possession of the English-Congress had been ompelled to retire to Baltimore, and General Burgoyne's expedition from Canada had commenced with alarming succes The country was surrounded ;-Howe was at Philade plalinton at New-York, and Burgoyne in the North.
extraordinary measures were immediately adopted to remove the suspicions of the British Minister and to satisfy his complaints. Several American privateers were detained; and Mr. Hodge,* an American merchant, concerned in fitting out these vessels, and in sending military stores to America, with the captain of one of them (the Amphitrite) in which part of the stores had been sent, was thrown into the Bastille. Caron Beaumarchais, since known in such a variety of ways to the public, was alarmed for his own safety. Though avowedly employed by the Government, he believed he should be made a victim to pacify the English Minister. He said to Dr. Franklin, on this occasion, “My Government will cut my throat as if I were a sheep.” M. de Vergennes, also, addressed a letter to Lord Stormont in July '77, from which the following extracts are made :
“ His Christian Majesty, in the faithful observance of the treaties, that exist with his Britannic Majesty, will permit no act in his own dominions that can derogate from them. Properly affected by the complaints you bave been instructed to make in relation to the
* Some account will be found of this person in a statement respecting the commercial proceedings of the American Commissioners in France, made to Congress by Arthur Lee. Philad. 1780. Printed by F. Bailey, &c.
three American privateers, the Reprisal, Lexington, and Dolphin, directed to leave our ports, and notwithstanding the orders of this government, already returned to them, his Majesty, so far from approving this conduct, has commanded that these privateers should be held in sequestration in the ports where they may now happen to be, till they can furnish satisfactory security that they will return in a straight course to their own country, and will no longer infest the European seas. As to the prizes these privateers or others may have made, orders have been sent that they should not be sold in our ports, and they have been directed to depart, as soon as the wind and other circumstances will permit. Care will be taken that no other commerce is allowed to the Americans than the laws of nations and treaties authorize."*
The French thus appeared determined to abandon the cause of the Americans ; and the supplies and the countenance of the court were withdrawn. Dr. Franklin, dining about this time in a party of French gentlemen at Paris, one of them observed to him, that his country at that moment presented a sublime spectacle, _“Yes,” said the doctor, “but the spectators do not pay.”
The French court could never have submitted to this course with the least good will. They were disappointed in not securing the trade of the Americans in exchange for an acknowledgment of their independence, and in not depriving England of one of the principal sources of her wealth and power; they appeared about to lose a most favourable opportunity of revenging on that country the disgraces and disasters, that preceded the peace of ’63;—of restoring the maritime equilibrium, and of enriching their own commerce by the losses of their great rival. France, without perhaps thinking very profoundly upon the independence of the colonies, or the effects which would result from that act, considered the occasion as one by which she might profit. She had assisted America very actively and importantly for two years under the very
beard of the British Minister, and had given every
* Flassan, vol. vii.