« ZurückWeiter »
supplies; and to fit out armed vessels under the flag of the United States, provided the French court should not disapprove this measure. They were, moreover, authorized to ascertain the views of other European powers, through their ambassadors in France, and to endeavour to obtain from them a recognition of the independence and sovereignty of the United States; and to enter into treaties of amity and commerce with such powers, if opportunities should present themselves. It was expected, that remittances would be made to them from time to time, in American produce, to meet their expenses and pecuniary engagements.
The Count de Vergennes was the minister of foreign affairs in the French cabinet, and from first to last the principal mover in what related to the American war. On the 28th of December, he admitted the commissioners to an audience at Versailles. He received them with marked civility, and conversed with them freely. They laid before him their commission and the plan of a treaty. He assured them, that they might depend on the protection of the court while they were in France; that due attention would be given to what they had offered; and that all the facilities would be granted to American commerce and navigation in French ports, which were compatible with the treaties existing between France and Great Britain. He requested them to draw up a memoir, containing an account of the situation of affairs in the United States. This was presented a few days afterwards, with the part of their instructions relating to ships of war. No direct answer was returned, the French government not being yet prepared openly to espouse the cause of the Americans, which would necessarily bring on a war with England. By the advice of Count de Vergennes, they had an interview
with Count d'Aranda, the Spanish promised to forward copies of their court, which he said would act in of France.
memorials to his concert with that
Notwithstanding this reserve, the court of France had resolved to assist the Americans. A million of livres had already been secretly advanced to Beaumarchais for this purpose. Munitions of war to a large amount were purchased by him, in part with this money, and in part with such other means as he could command. By an arrangement with Mr. Deane, he shipped these articles to the United States, and Congress was to pay for them by remitting tobacco and other American produce. Before the commissioners arrived, Mr. Deane had procured, on these conditions, thirty thousand fusils, two hundred pieces of brass cannon, thirty mortars, four thousand tents, clothing for thirty thousand men, and two hundred tons of gunpowder. They were shipped in different vessels, the most of which arrived safely in the United States.
The French government did not grant the ships of war requested by Congress, but the commissioners were informed, through a private channel, that they would receive two millions of livres in quarterly payments, to be expended for the use of the United States. At first it was intimated to them, that this money was a loan from generous individuals, who wished well to the Americans in their struggle for freedom, and that it was not expected to be repaid till after the peace. In fact, however, it was drawn from the King's treasury, and the payments of half a million quarterly were promptly made. The commissioners likewise entered into a contract with the Farmers-General, by which it was agreed to furnish them with five thousand hogsheads of tobacco at a stipulated
price. One million of livres was advanced on this contract. Within a few months they were thus put in possession of three millions of livres.
With this money they continued to purchase arms, clothing for soldiers, all kinds of military equipments, and naval stores, which they sent to America. They built a frigate at Amsterdam, and another at Nantes. They also contributed the means for supplying American cruisers, that came into French ports. In these operations they were often embarrassed. Every thing was done with as much secrecy as possible; but Lord Stormont, the British ambassador, had spies in all the principal ports, and gained a knowledge of their proceedings. His remonstrances to the court were listened to, and were followed by orders for detaining the vessels which the commissioners had provided. Sometimes the goods would be taken out and put on shore, and at other times they would be stopped in their transportation from place to place. The American cruisers brought in prizes and effected sales. This drew fresh remonstrances from the British ambassador; and, on one occasion, Count de Vergennes wrote a letter to the commissioners censuring this conduct, and declaring that no transactions could be allowed, which infringed upon treaties. Knowing the actual disposition of the court, however, they were not deterred by these obstacles. They continued, by pursuing a prudent course, to ship to the United States all the articles they procured, which were of the utmost importance to the American army.
The business was chiefly managed by Dr. Franklin and Mr. Deane. The commissioners being authorized by their instructions to make application to any of the European powers and to solicit aids for prosecuting the war, Mr. Lee was accordingly deputed by them
to undertake this service, first in Spain and afterwards in Prussia. On these missions he was absent nearly all the spring and summer. Dr. Franklin disapproved the policy of seeking foreign alliances, and he had opposed this measure when it was under discussion in Congress. He thought the dignity of the United States would be better sustained by waiting for the advances of other governments. The majority, however, were of a different opinion, and commissioners or ministers to different courts in Europe were from time to time appointed. Very little success attended these applications.*
Dr. Franklin had been but a few weeks in France, when he received from Congress a commission to treat with the court of Spain, with the proper credentials and instructions; but, this affair being already in the hands of Mr. Lee, and there being no sufficient evidence that his Catholic Majesty was ready, either to enter into a treaty with the United States, or to contribute essential aid for carrying on the war, he declined acting under the commission, and gave such reasons as were satisfactory to Congress. He consulted Count d'Aranda, the Spanish ambassador, who discouraged any immediate attempt to negotiate with his court.
It was reported to the commissioners, that American prisoners, who had been captured at sea, were treated with unjustifiable severity in England; that some of them were compelled to enter the navy and fight against their friends, and that others were sent to the British settlements in Africa and Asia. They wrote to Lord Stormont, suggesting an exchange of seamen thus captured for an equal number of British prison
* See remarks on this subject in SPARKS's Life of Gouverneur Morris, Vol. I. p. 205.
ers, who had been brought into France by an American cruiser. His Lordship did not condescend to return an answer. They wrote again, and drew from him the following laconic reply. "The King's ambassador receives no applications from rebels, unless they come to implore his Majesty's mercy." The paper, containing this piece of insolence, was sent back. "In answer to a letter," say they, "which concerns some of the most material interests of humanity, and of the two nations, Great Britain and the United States, we received the enclosed indecent paper, which we return for your Lordship's more mature consideration." The British ministry, however, did not long uphold the arrogance of their ambassador. The number of captures made at sea by the American cruisers soon convinced them of the policy, if not of the humanity, of exchanging prisoners, according to the common usage of nations at war.
The multitude of foreign officers applying for letters of recommendation to Congress, or to General Washington, was so great, as to be a source of unceasing trouble and embarrassment. Scarcely had Dr. Franklin landed in France when applications began to throng upon him for employment in the American army. They continued to the end of the war, coming from every country, and written in almost every language, of Europe. Some of the writers told only the story of their own exploits; others enclosed the certificates of friends, or of generals under whom they had served; while others were backed by the interest of persons of high rank and influence, whom it was im
* After Dr. Franklin's arrival in France, a stove invented by him became fashionable and was much used. One of the ministers was asked whether he would have one. "By no means," said he; "Lord Stormont will then never warm himself at my fire."