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been taken up by the English, whom they have met in Paris. If we may judge of the future from what has passed here under our eyes, we shall be but poorly paid for all that we have done for the United States, and for securing to them a national existence.
"I will add nothing, in respect to the demand for money, which has been made upon us. You may well judge, if conduct like this encourages us to make demonstrations of our liberality."
There is no disguise in this letter; and we learn from it the precise sentiments of the French court in relation both to the treaty and to the conduct of the commissioners. On this latter head, it manifests no want of sensibility; and, on the former, not even a hint is thrown out, that the treaty included privileges with which the French were displeased, or which they had intended to claim in their treaty with England. On the contrary, the minister expresses his gratification, that the Americans had gained such very extensive advantages. And it may be added, that, notwithstanding the intimation at the close of the above extract, the King of France had already resolved to grant to the United States a new loan of six millions of livres for the coming year, and his purpose was not changed.
After all these facts, it may be asked what motive could induce the commissioners to act in a manner apparently so unjustifiable. This question may be answered by a single word, suspicion; excited in the first instance by circumstances, which seemed to indicate some interested designs of the French; and fomented, from the beginning to the end of the negotiation, by the British envoys. Count de Vergennes and the French minister in Philadelphia had uniformly urged moderation on the Americans, with respect to
their claims to the boundaries and the fisheries; and they recommended compensation to the loyalists. The reason is obvious. The French had bound themselves to carry on the war, till a peace should be concluded, satisfactory to the Americans; and they feared, that, if extravagant demands were put forth in negotiating a treaty, the pride of England would not yield to them, and that the war would be protracted on this account, after all the other powers had gained their ends and were desirous of peace. But it was suspected, that France could have no other aim, than to secure certain advantages to herself at the expense of the Americans. If such a scheme had been formed, would not the French ministers have been silent till the time of action, instead of making their sentiments known, as they did, openly and on many occasions during the war, both in America and in France.
While the negotiation was pending, an incident occurred, which raised new suspicions, and tended to strengthen the old ones. M. de Rayneval, the principal secretary under Count de Vergennes, went twice to London. It was immediately surmised by Mr. Jay, that these visits were inauspicious to the American treaty; and, in short, that M. de Rayneval was instructed to enter into an agreement with Lord Shelburne to divide the fisheries between England and France, and to curtail the boundaries of the United States, before the American treaty should be finished. There is a long despatch from Mr. Jay to Congress, in which he endeavours to establish these points by an accumulation of circumstances and conjectural evidence. But whatever his imagination may have suggested, which could render such a suspicion plausible, it had no just foundation in fact. M. de Rayneval's instructions, his correspondence with Count de Vergennes
while he was in London, and notes of his conversations with Lord Shelburne, have been perused by the author of these pages; and there is not one word in them relating to the American boundaries and fisheries, except in two instances, in which Lord Shelburne of his own accord mentioned the subject, and said he hoped the King of France would not sustain the unreasonable demands of the Americans. On both these occasions M. de Rayneval declined holding any discussion. Indeed, he was expressly instructed, in case Lord Shelburne should speak to him on American affairs, to declare, "that he had no authority to treat on these topics."
It was the main object of M. de Rayneval's mission to settle the difficulties in the Spanish treaty. Before Spain declared war against England, a secret convention was formed between France and Spain, in which the former engaged to prosecute the war jointly with the latter, till certain advantages should be gained, particularly the restoration of Gibraltar. But the time of peace had come, and Gibraltar was still in the hands of the English. This subject caused a great deal of trouble in adjusting the Spanish treaty.
Again, the British envoys, perceiving these suspicions, took care to make the most of them, and to effect as wide a separation as they could between the Americans and the French. They produced an intercepted letter, written by M. de Marbois, secretary of the French legation in Philadelphia, whilst the minister himself was absent on a visit to the American army. This letter contained heretical doctrines about the fisheries, and it was assumed to be a ministerial document;
* See Mr. Jay's despatch in the Diplomatic Correspondence, Vol. VIII. p. 129; and remarks upon it, p. 208. Also, North American Review,
Vol. XXX. p. 22.
whereas, it was written by the secretary without authority, and was merely an exposition of his private sentiments, accompanied by facts of a very dubious character, which are now known to have been derived from a source deserving little confidence. These circumstances not being understood at that time, the letter had much weight in confirming the suspicions that already existed.*
It is to be observed, however, that the commissioners were unanimous in the course they pursued. But they never pretended to give any other reasons for their conduct, than such as were founded on inferences, conjectures, and unexplained appearances. No direct or positive proofs were adduced, and nothing is now hazarded in saying, that no such proofs will ever be brought to light. The French court, from first to last, adhered faithfully to the terms of the alliance. Not that they had any special partiality for the Americans, or were moved by the mere impulse of good will and friendship, unmixed with motives of interest. Why should this be expected? When was entire disinterestedness ever known to characterize the intercourse between nations? But no fact in the history of the American Revolution is more clearly demonstrable, than that the French government, in their relations with the United States, during the war and at the peace, maintained strictly their honor and fidelity to their en
There is a curious passage in Coxe's History of the House of Austria, which shows the designs of the British commissioners, and the kind of influence which was supposed to be exercised by them. "Mr. Fitzherbert," says this historian, "fulfilled his delicate office with great ability and address. While he treated with Vergennes, he succeeded in alarming Franklin, Adams, and Jay, and prevailed on them to sign separate and provisional articles, which severed America from France." - Vol. V. p. 327, 2d. ed.
gagements; nay, more, that they acted a generous, and, in some instances, a magnanimous part.*
In a letter to Mr. Livingston, secretary of foreign affairs, Dr. Franklin explains the grounds upon which he united with his colleagues in signing the treaty.
"I will not now take it upon me," he observes, “to justify the apparent reserve respecting this court, at the signature, which you disapprove. I do not see, however, that they have much reason to complain of that transaction. Nothing was stipulated to their prejudice, and none of the stipulations were to have force, but by a subsequent act of their own. I suppose, indeed, that they have not complained of it, or you would have sent us a copy of the complaint, that we might have answered it. I long since satisfied Count de Vergennes about it here. We did what appeared to all of us best at the time, and, if we have done wrong, the Congress will do right, after hearing us, to censure us. Their nomination of five persons to the service seems to mark, that they had some dependence on our joint judgment, since one alone could have made a treaty by direction of the French ministry as well as twenty.
"I will only add, that, with respect to myself, neither the letter from M. de Marbois, handed us through the British negotiators (a suspicious channel), nor the con
The treaties between France, Spain, and England, were not completed till seven weeks after the signing of the American treaty. By the special invitation of Count de Vergennes, the American commissioners were present when those treaties were signed at Versailles. Mr. Wilmot, in a treatise written under the direction of the British government, concerning the losses and claims of the loyalists, says, that, after having seen the correspondence of the British commissioners at Paris with the ministers at home, "he can assert with confidence, that the court of Versailles absolutely refused to come to any treaty or decision at all, till the American commissioners were completely satisfied."— WILMOT'S Historical View, &c., p. 37.