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The Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution, Vol. IX
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In the year following, Congress became so much pressed for the want of means in money and military supplies, that they resolved to send a special Minister to France for the purpose of representing, in a strong and just light, the extreme necessities of the United States, and soliciting new aid from the French Court. It was supposed, that a person going directly from the scene of action and suffering, and with a full knowledge of all the particulars from personal observation, would be more likely to succeed in such an application than the resident Minister Plenipotentiary, who could only speak from his general instructions. As the assistance was chiefly wanted for the relief of the army, it was moreover considered that this messenger should be selected from that body. The choice fell on Colonel Laurens, who, on the 23d of December, 1780, was appointed a special Minister to the Court of Versailles for the above purpose. He was then only twentyfive years old. He sailed from Boston in February, and arrived in Paris on the 19th of March, and immediately applied himself with great assiduity to the objects of his mission. His success, though not to the extent of his wishes, or the hopes of Congress, was yet more complete than could reasonably have been expected, considering the liberal grants, which the French government had recently made to the solicitations of Dr Franklin. All that could be effected by zeal, activity, perseverance, and intelligence, was accomplished by Colonel Laurens; but so great was his eagerness to do his duty on the occasion, and to render the most essential service to his country, that his forwardness and impatience were somewhat displeasing to the French Ministry, as not altogether consistent with their ideas of the dignity and deference belonging to transactions with Courts. They made allowance, however, for the ardor and inexperience of youth, and seem not to have been influenced by these objectionable points of manners, in their estimation of his noble and generous traits of character, or in their disposition to listen to his requests.

Having compassed the aims of his mission with uncommon despatch, Colonel Laurens left Paris, and reached Philadelphia towards the end of August, having been absent from the country but little more than six months. As soon as he had made a report of his doings to Congress, he repaired again to the army in time to be present at the memorable siege of York Town. Here he displayed great courage and gallantly in storming and taking a British battery, as second in command to Hamilton. After the capitulation he joined the southern army under General Greene, having previously acted as a representative in the legislature of his native State, which convened at Jacksonborough in January, 1782. While with the army, during the following summer, he was ill with a fever, from which he had hardly recovered when intelligence came, that a party of the British were out on a marauding excursion to Combakee. He went in pursuit of the enemy, and while leading an advanced party, he received a mortal wound, which terminated his life on the 27th of August, 1782, in the twentyseventh year of his age. His death was deeply lamented by the army and the nation.



THE

CORRESPONDENCE

OF

JOHN LAURENS.

* * * * *

INSTRUCTIONS TO JOHN LAURENS.

In Congress, December 23d, 1780.

Sir,

You will herewith receive a commission appointing you our Minister at the Court of Versailles; in pursuing the objects of which, you will conform to the following instructions.

Upon your arrival you will communicate fully to our Minister Plenipotentiary at that Court the business on which you are sent, and avail yourself of his information and influence for obtaining the aids mentioned in the estimate delivered to you. Instructions to him for that purpose are herewith transmitted, which you will deliver immediately on your arrival. You will convey to his Most Christian Majesty the grateful sense Congress have of the noble and generous part he has taken, with regard to the United States, and use every possible means to impress him with the urgent and critical state of our affairs at present, which induced the appointment of a special Minister to solicit his effectual aid.

You will, in particular, give him full information of the present state of our military affairs, and the measures taken for providing a respectable force for the ensuing campaign. It will be proper, at the same time, to point out the causes which rendered the last campaign unsuccessful.

You are to use every effort in your power to enforce the necessity of maintaining a naval superiority in the American seas. You will assure his Most Christian Majesty on our part, that if he will please to communicate to us his intentions respecting the next campaign in America, we will use every effort in our power for an effectual co-operation. You are to give his Majesty the most positive and pointed assurances of our determination to prosecute the war for the great purposes of the alliance agreeable to our engagements.

Should his Majesty grant the aids requested, and send to our assistance a naval force, you will take advantage of that conveyance for forwarding the articles furnished. If no naval armament should be ordered to America, you will endeavor to obtain some vessels of force to transport the said articles, or take advantage of some convoy to America, which may render the transportation less hazardous. You will call upon William Palfrey, our Consul in that kingdom, for such assistance as you may stand in need of for forwarding any supplies which you may obtain. You are authorised to draw upon our Minister Plenipotentiary for such sums as you may from time to time stand in need of, giving him early notice thereof, that he may aid you from funds procured on our account, without doing injury to our other concerns. You may also draw upon any other funds, which you may know to have been procured for us to Europe.

You will, on your arrival at the Court of Versailles, present the letter to his Most Christian Majesty, which you will herewith receive. Previous to your departure from the United States, you are to confer with the Commander in Chief of the American army, the Minister Plenipotentiary of France, the commanders in chief of his Most Christian Majesty's fleet and army at Rhode Island, the Marquis de Lafayette, if it should not retard your voyage, upon the subject of your commission, and avail yourself of every information you may obtain from them respectively. You will embrace every opportunity of informing us of the success of your negotiations, and receive and obey such instructions, as you may from time to time receive from Congress.

When the purpose of your mission shall be as fully effected as you may deem practicable, you are to return, and report your success to Congress without delay, unless you shall previously receive other orders.[15]

We pray God to further you with his goodness in the several objects hereby recommended and that he will have you in his holy keeping.

SAMUEL HUNTINGTON, President.

FOOTNOTES:

[15] For Additional Instructions to Dr Franklin respecting Colonel Laurens's mission, see Franklin's Correspondence, Vol. III. p. 185.

* * * * *

ADDITIONAL INSTRUCTIONS TO JOHN LAURENS.

In Congress, December 27th, 1780.

Sir,

With respect to the loan, we foresee that the sum which we ask will be greatly inadequate to our wants. We wish, however, to depend as much as possible on our internal exertions. In this negotiation, the state of our finances require that you should endeavor to procure as long a respite after the war, for payment of the principal, as may be in your power. You may agree for an interest not exceeding the terms allowed or given on national security in Europe, endeavoring to suspend the discharge of the interest for two or three years, if possible.

You are hereby empowered to pledge the faith of the United States, by executing such securities or obligations for the payment of the money, as you may think proper, and also that the interest shall not be reduced, nor the principal paid during the term for which the same shall have been borrowed, without the consent of the lenders or their representatives.

You are to stipulate for the payment of both principal and interest in specie.

The loan must prove ineffective unless the specie is actually remitted. Experience has shown, that the negotiation of bills is attended with unsupportable loss and disadvantage. His Most Christian Majesty, we are persuaded, will see in the strongest light the necessity of despatching an effective naval armament to the American seas. This is a measure of such vast moment, that your utmost address will be employed to give it success. By such a conveyance, the specie may be remitted in different ships of war with a prospect of safety.

SAMUEL HUNTINGTON, President.

* * * * *

TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.

Philadelphia, January 3d, 1781.

Sir,

Although my instructions relative to the objects of my mission do not explicitly direct what conduct I am to observe, in case the aids solicited from the Court of France cannot be obtained in their full extent, yet I presume it is not the intention of Congress to confine me without alternative to the precise demands which they have made. There is the more reason that this matter should be clearly understood, as my prospects, especially in the important article of pecuniary succors, are far from being flattering. I apprehend then, that I shall have satisfied my duty by aspiring, with every effort, to complete success, and upon failure of that, by approaching it as nearly as shall be found practicable.

With regard to the estimate of the Board of War, as it descends into the minutest detail, and includes a great variety of articles, it appears to me that it will be necessary to attach myself in preference to the objects of first necessity for the ensuing campaign, that the most indispensable supplies may not be retarded by those of a secondary nature, and that the former being secured as far as possible, and the latter left in a train of execution, I may the sooner be at liberty to return and make my report. As I apprehend that these ideas need only to be submitted to Congress to obtain their sanction, I shall consider myself authorised to act in consequence, unless I receive new orders to the contrary.

I have the honor to be, with the profoundest respect, &c.

JOHN LAURENS.

* * * * *

TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.

Boston, February 4th, 1781.

Sir,

I do myself the honor of informing Congress, that I arrived at this place on the 25th ultimo.

After passing two days at Morristown in fruitless expectation of meeting the Commander in Chief, I proceeded to head quarters, where my conference with the General, on the objects of my mission, detained me three days. The impediment of floating ice in the North River, which induced the necessity of crossing it much higher than at the usual place, and other difficulties of the season, will account for the rest of my delay on the journey.

Upon delivering my despatches to the Navy Board, I found, that the two indispensables, men and money, were wanting to fit the Alliance for sea. I urged the necessity of the most prompt and decisive exertions on their part. They returned me such assurances as left me no reason to doubt, that the General Court would authorise an impressment to complete the deficiency of our crew, and that a sufficient supply of money would be procured. This determined me to devote the interval of preparation to making my visit to New York. On my return this day, I learned with great surprise and mortification, that the motion for an impressment had been rejected, private motives having superseded those of general good. In these circumstances I was obliged to apply to General Lincoln for authority to engage such recruits of this State, and such soldiers of the invalid corps, as might be qualified for the marine service. This resource however has afforded us but a few men. I have just obtained permission from Governor Hancock to enlist volunteers from the guard of the Castle. The Navy Board has commissioned a merchant of popularity and influence among the seafaring men, to offer a tempting bounty, with such precautions as will prevent uneasiness among those who entered for a smaller consideration. I am now addressing the principal merchants to spare a few men from their ships, to be replaced from the Navy Board. In the mean time the rendezvous of the frigate continues open.

But these are all precarious expedients, and my expectations are by no means sanguine. Nothing however shall be left unattempted; if my prospects do not brighten, I shall try the effect of a second memorial to the General Court, and finally insist upon Captain Barry's putting to sea with the crew he can obtain by the middle of the week. There is an additional difficulty in procuring the remainder of the ship's compliment, which is the necessity of hiring not only seamen, but natives, as a counterbalance to the bad composition of the men already on board, too many British prisoners having been admitted; their numbers, the value of the ship, and the business on which she is employed, are temptations to an enterprise, in favor of their ancient connexions.

Several gentlemen go as passengers, on condition of serving on the quarter deck in case of an encounter, and they will reinforce the party of the officers in case of a mutiny. I have endeavored to procure every useful information in the several conferences directed by Congress. The General and Admiral at Newport received me with that politeness, which characterises their nation, and professed an earnest desire to promote, as far as depends on them, the objects of my mission. I must however apprize Congress, that the French army and navy are demanding in the most pressing terms, pecuniary supplies for themselves. Their bills of exchange sell at a discount of from twentyfive to twentyeight per cent. This demand and the tenacity of the Spaniards in pursuing their favorite object, Gibraltar, are unfavorable to my negotiation. Upon the whole I am more than ever convinced, that the most powerful and unremitting efforts at home will be required to accomplish the great objects of the war.

I have the honor to be, with the profoundest respect, &c.

JOHN LAURENS.

* * * * *

TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.

Boston, February 7th, 1781.

Sir,

Since my letter to your Excellency on the 4th instant, the measures taken by Governor Hancock relative to the Castle guard proving insufficient, I addressed a Memorial to the General Court. Their permission to engage volunteers from that corps, and a sum of specie granted for the purpose, the volunteer draft from the continental troops, and the unremitting exertions of General Lincoln, have put us at length barely in condition to go to sea. I shall embark today, and expect Captain Barry will sail with the first fair wind. I have to acknowledge the receipt of your Excellency's letter of the 12th ultimo, and the letter and packets enclosed. Particular attention shall be paid to your instructions relative to the latter.

I have the honor to be, with the profoundest respect, &c.

JOHN LAURENS.

* * * * *

TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.

L'Orient, March 11th, 1781.

Sir,

I have the honor of informing Congress, that I arrived at this place on the afternoon of the 9th instant; and should have proceeded, without an instant's repose, to Passy, had not the commandant of the town assured me, that the Marquis de Castries would arrive here that evening on his way to Brest, where he was going to accelerate by his presence the execution of his naval disposition. The prospect of an immediate conference with the Minister on the objects of my mission, which relate to his department, the danger of missing him by our travelling different routes, and the repeated assurances of his expected arrival, have detained me till this morning; but as the delay has been much greater than I apprehended, and the Minister's approach is not announced, I have determined to pursue my journey.

The accounts, which the commandant has communicated to me of the naval preparations at Brest, are, that twentyfive sail of the line are ready for sea, with ninety transports, on board of which are six thousand troops; that the ships of war are destined part for the West Indies, and part with the troops for North America.

The rupture between England and the United Provinces has hitherto proved very prejudicial to the latter, as they were exceedingly vulnerable by having so great a number of merchant ships at sea. On our voyage we captured a British privateer in company with a Venetian ship, of which she had made a prize, contrary to the laws of nations. This appeared to me a happy opportunity for manifesting the determination of Congress to maintain the rights of neutral powers, as far as depends on them. After a short consultation, Captain Barry and his officers very readily acceded to the liberation of the Venetian, and the complete restoration of the cargo and property, which were very valuable. The captain was accordingly left to pursue his voyage, and the privateer was brought into port. Mr Palfrey, our consul, is not yet arrived at this port; it is generally feared that this ship foundered in a storm, which separated her and the Franklin in the commencement of their voyage, as she has not been heard of since.

I have the honor to be with the profoundest respect, &c.

JOHN LAURENS.

* * * * *

TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.

Passy, March 20th, 1781.

Sir,

I had the honor to write to your Excellency from L'Orient the 11th instant. On my journey hither, I met the Marquis de Castries, and obtained a hasty conference with him, in which I insisted principally on the necessity of a constant naval superiority on the American coast. He observed on his pert, that the dispositions of the fleet were already made; that it was not in his power to alter them; that it was necessary at the present juncture to make naval exertions in more places than one; that the French West India possessions, a nearer interest, must naturally be first secured; at the same time he repeatedly assured me, that the United States had a very considerable share in the present armament, the movements of which he was going to accelerate; that he hoped a maritime superiority would exist on the part of the allies, but that it must depend upon the events of war. He excused himself from descending into particulars, and urged me to proceed with all possible despatch to Versailles. Upon my arrival here, I found that the letter of Congress to his Most Christian Majesty, of the 22d of November, 1780,[16] had been delivered by our Minister Plenipotentiary; that he had proceeded to negotiate the succors solicited by Congress, and had received the following communication from the Count de Vergennes.

"It is impossible for his Majesty to favor a loan in this kingdom, because it would prejudice those which he has occasion to make himself for the support of the war; but his Majesty, in order to give a signal proof of his friendship for the United States, grants them under the title of a donation, a sum of six millions livres tournois. As the American army is in want of arms, clothing, &c. Dr Franklin will be so good as to deliver a note of them. The articles will be procured of the best quality, and on the most reasonable terms. General Washington will be authorised to draw for the remaining sum, but the drafts are at long sight, in order to facilitate the payment at the royal treasury. The Courts of Petersburg and Vienna have offered their mediation. The King has answered, that it will be personally agreeable to him, but that he could not accept it as yet, because he has allies whose concurrence is necessary. Dr Franklin is requested to acquaint Congress of this overture and the answer, and to engage them to send their instructions to their Plenipotentiaries. It is supposed that Congress will eagerly accept the mediation."

In my first interview with the Count de Vergennes, I represented to him, in the strongest terms, the insufficiency of the above mentioned succor, and the danger to which France was exposed of losing all her past efforts in favor of America, unless the requests of Congress were complied with. I afterwards addressed to him the enclosed letter, in which I transcribed the result of my conference with General Washington on the objects of my mission, contained in a letter from the General to me of the 15th of January. In consequence of the Count de Vergennes' desire, that I would select from the estimate of the Board of War the articles of most urgent necessity, I extracted a list in which I confined myself to the artillery, arms, military stores, clothing, tents, cloth, drugs, and surgical instruments, and accompanied it with a letter.

My personal solicitations have not been wanting to hasten an answer to these letters, and render them favorable. The constant language of the Count de Vergennes is, that our demands are excessive, that we throw the burthen of the war upon our ally, that the support of it in different parts of the world has cost France exertions and expenses, which fully employ her means, that the public credit, however well established, has its limits, to exceed which would be fatal to it. He adds, at the same time, the strongest assurances of the good will of our ally. This Minister and M. de Maurepas inform me, that nothing can be determined until the return of the Marquis de Castries, which will be the day after tomorrow; that the matter must be deliberated, and that they will consider what can be done. My expectations are very moderate.

We have received no intelligence of the sailing of the Brest fleet. It consists of twentyfive sail, five of which are destined for the East Indies with troops, but it is said they will be detained for want of transports. The remaining twenty are to proceed to the West Indies, where ulterior dispositions will be made, of which the Chevalier de la Luzerne is instructed. The British fleet, of twentyeight sail of the line, with the convoy for Gibraltar, sailed the 13th instant, and Commodore Johnston's squadron put to sea the same day. The Spanish fleet is likewise at sea.

I am firmly of opinion, that the British in the present moment of success will not accede to those preliminaries, which France and the United States can never depart from, and, consequently, that the news of the mediation of Petersburg and Vienna should have no other effect, than to redouble our ardor and exertions for the campaign.

I have the honor to be, &c.

JOHN LAURENS.

FOOTNOTES:

[16] See this letter in the Secret Journals of Congress, Vol. II. p. 343.

* * * * *

Memorial to the Count de Vergennes.

As in presenting a Memorial to your Excellency on the objects of my mission, I should necessarily repeat in part a conference, which I had by order of Congress with General Washington, previous to my departure, I prefer presenting your Excellency with such extracts from it as relate to my purpose. They are as follows.

"1. That considering the diffused population of these States, the composition and temper of a part of its inhabitants, the want of a sufficient stock of national wealth as a foundation for credit, and the almost extinction of commerce, the attempts we have been compelled to make for carrying on the war, have exceeded the national abilities of this country, and by degrees brought it to a crisis, which render immediate assistance and efficacious succor from abroad indispensable to its safety.

"2. That notwithstanding from the confusion always attendant on a revolution, from our having had governments to frame, and every species of civil and military institution to create, from that inexperience in affairs necessarily incident to a nation in its commencement, some errors may have been committed in the administration of our finances, to which a part of our embarrassments are to be attributed; yet they are principally to be attributed to our essential want of means; to the want of a sufficient stock of wealth as mentioned in the first article, which, continuing to operate, will make it impossible, by any merely interior exertions, to extricate ourselves from these embarrassments, restore public credit, and furnish the funds requisite for the support of the war.

"3. That experience has demonstrated the impracticability of maintaining a paper credit, without funds for its redemption; the depreciation of our currency was in the main a necessary effect of the want of those funds, and its restoration is impossible for the same reasons, to which the general diffidence, that had taken place among the people, is an additional, and in the present state of things, an insuperable obstacle.

"4. That the mode, which for want of money has been substituted for supplying the army, by assessing a proportion of the productions of the earth, has hitherto been found ineffectual, has frequently exposed the army to the most calamitous distress, and from its novelty and incompatibility with ancient habits, is regarded by the people as burthensome and oppressive, has excited serious discontents, and, in some places, alarming symptoms of opposition. This mode has besides many particular inconveniences, which contribute to make it inadequate to our wants, and ineligible but as an auxiliary.

"5. That from the best estimates of the annual revenues, which these States are capable of affording, there is a balance to be supplied by credit. The resource of domestic loans is inconsiderable, because there are, properly speaking, few monied men, and the few there are can employ their money more profitably otherwise; added to which, the instability of the currency and the deficiency of funds have impaired the public credit.

"6. That the patience of the army, from an almost uninterrupted series of complicated distress, is now nearly exhausted, their wants carried to an extremity, which has recently had very disagreeable consequences, and demonstrate, the absolute necessity of speedy relief, a relief not within the compass of our means. You are too well acquainted with all their sufferings, for want of clothing, for want of provisions, for want of pay.

"7. That the people being dissatisfied with the mode of supporting the war, there is danger to apprehend, that evils actually felt in prosecuting it may weaken the cause which began it, evils founded not on immediate sufferings, but on a speculative apprehension of future sufferings from the loss of their liberties; there is danger that a commercial and free people, little accustomed to heavy burthens, pressed by impositions of a new and odious kind, may not make a proper allowance for the necessity of the conjuncture, and may imagine they have only exchanged one tyranny for another.

"8. That from all the foregoing considerations result, 1st, the absolute necessity of an immediate, ample, and efficacious succor of money, large enough to be a foundation for substantial arrangements of finance to revive public credit, and give vigor to future operations. 2dly, the vast importance of a decided effort of the allied arms on this continent the ensuing campaign, to effectuate once for all the great object of the alliance, the liberty and independence of these United States. Without the former, we may make a feeble and expiring effort the next campaign, in all probability the period to our opposition; with it we should be in a condition to continue the war as long as the obstinacy of the enemy might require. The first is essential; both combined, would bring the contest to a glorious issue, crown the obligations which America already feels to the magnanimity and generosity of her ally, and render the union perpetual by all the ties of gratitude and affection, as well as mutual interest, which alone render it solid and indissoluble.

"9. That next to a loan of money, a constant naval superiority is the most interesting; this would instantly reduce the enemy to a difficult, defensive war, and by removing all prospects of extending their acquisitions, would take away the motives for prosecuting it. Indeed, it is not to be conceived, how they could subsist a large force in this country if we had the command of the seas to interrupt the regular transmission of supplies from Europe. This superiority, with an aid of money, would enable us to convert the contest into a vigorous offensive war. I say nothing of the advantages to the trade of both nations, nor how much it would facilitate our supplies. With respect to us, it seems to be one of two deciding points, and it appears to be the interest of our allies, abstracted from the immediate benefits to this country, to transfer the naval war to America. The number of ports friendly to them and hostile to the British, the materials for repairing their disabled ships, the extensive supplies towards the subsistence of their fleet, are circumstances which would give them a palpable advantage in the contest of the sea. No nation will have it more in its power to repay what it borrows than this. Our debts are hitherto small. The vast and valuable tracts of unlocated lands, the variety and fertility of climates and soils, the advantages of every kind, which we possess for commerce, insure to this country a rapid advancement in population and prosperity, and a certainty (its independence being established) of redeeming in a short term of years the comparatively inconsiderable debts, it may have occasion to contract. Notwithstanding the difficulties under which we labor, and the inquietudes among the people, there is still a fund of inclination and resource in the country equal to great and continued exertions, provided we have it in our power to stop the progress of disgust, by changing the present system, and adopting another more consonant with the spirit of the nation, and more capable of activity and energy in measures of which a powerful succor of money must be the basis.

"The people are discontented, but it is with the feeble, oppressive mode of conducting the war, not with the war itself; they are not unwilling to contribute to its support, but they are unwilling to do it in a way that renders private property precarious, a necessary consequence of the fluctuation of the national currency, and of the inability of government to perform its engagements oftentimes coercively made. A large majority are still firmly attached to the independence of these States, abhor a re-union with Great Britain, and are affectionate to the alliance with France. But this disposition can ill supply the means customary and essential in war, nor can we rely on its duration amidst the perplexities, oppressions, and misfortunes, that attend the want of them."

From those extracts it will appear to your Excellency, that the fate of America depends upon the immediate and decisive succor of her august ally, in the two points of a specific loan and a naval superiority. The most accurate calculation of the expense requisite for a vigorous campaign, and the interior means which Congress have of defraying that expense, prove that there is a deficiency of the full sum solicited by Congress. The grant of six millions, which his Majesty is pleased to make under the title of a donation to the United States, will be acknowledged with the liveliest emotions of gratitude by affectionate allies, at the same time it would be frustrating the gracious intentions of his Majesty towards his allies, and betraying the common cause of France and America, to encourage a belief, that the above mentioned aid will enable the United States to surmount the present perilous juncture of our affairs. The reasoning in the foregoing extracts will evince how inadequate the sum is to the present exigency.

I must likewise remark to your Excellency, that the credit in bills of exchange is subject to difficulties and disadvantages, which render such a resource very unfit for the conduct of the war. Bills are obnoxious to the vicissitudes and speculations of commerce, and it is easy to foresee, that his Majesty's allies would be great sufferers by their drafts, and at the same time be incapable of giving that vigor and energy to their operations, which would be derived from specie. The same enlightened policy and generous regard for the rights of mankind, which prompted France to espouse the cause of America, still dictate the conduct which she is to pursue; they demand every effort on her part to prevent America from being reduced to the British domination, her commerce, and those sources of wealth being restored to the tyrant of the European seas, the ancient rival of France; but on the contrary, the abasement of this rival, and the establishment of a faithful ally, united by all the ties of gratitude, affection, and the most permanent mutual interests. To those invaluable purposes give me leave to repeat to your Excellency, that the decisive measures in the foregoing extracts are necessary.

I submit to your Excellency, whether the objection to his Majesty's favoring a loan in the name of Congress, may not be obviated by an additional loan in the name of his Majesty, on account of the United States, for which Congress will be accountable. The excellent state of the finances of this kingdom, the exalted state of public credit, must unquestionably give the greatest facility for this purpose, and it may be clearly proved, that giving decisive succor in this article at the present juncture will be infinitely more advantageous, than suffering the war to languish, by affording partial and inadequate assistance. Supposing that fortunate casualties, at this time very improbable, should enable us to continue the war upon its present footing, I beg leave to repeat to your Excellency, that the greatest promptness in this business is essential. The British, by being in possession of two States, fertile in grain, timber, and naval stores, have acquired new animation, and fresh resources for the war, and every day, according to present appearances, brings America nearer to the period of her efforts.

JOHN LAURENS.

* * * * *

Questions proposed to Colonel Laurens; with his Answers to them.

Paris, March 29th, 1781.

"1st. To what number can the United States increase their continental troops?

"2dly. What will be the expense of the number fixed?

"3dly. This expense is to be distinguished into pay and appointments, clothing, arms, ammunition, and provision.

"4thly. What does the artillery of the United States consist of, and what is the number of carriages?

"5thly. What is the number of provision wagons?

"6thly. What are the plans of General Washington, in case his army should amount to fifteen, twelve, or ten thousand men, independently of the French troops?"

After answering the foregoing questions generally, both with respect to the northern and southern army, I added the following remarks.

The plans of General Washington are absolutely subordinate to the succors, which his Most Christian Majesty will be pleased to grant to his allies. If Congress obtain the succor in money and military effects, and the naval superiority which they solicit, they will be enabled to revive public credit, to make solid arrangements of finance, to give activity to the resources of the country, to augment their troops, to appease their discontents, and to reinforce General Washington with a select corps of ten thousand militia.

With the addition of this force and the French troops, the General will be in condition to undertake the siege of New York. It is unnecessary to say how glorious and decisive the success of this operation would be for the common cause; it is equally unnecessary to add, how much the promptness of succor from France would contribute to it.

The expense of artillery required for this operation will be found in the estimate delivered; that of clothing, &c. for the army in its present state, will be found in deducting a quantity proportioned to the number of men; but it is impossible to represent too strongly, that this excess far from being superfluous, is absolutely necessary to recruit the army in general; a precaution which is indispensable, unless we should choose to hazard all upon the event of a single operation. That the Congress besides, owes great arrearages of clothing to the soldiers, and that as the estimate of Indian presents has not been included in the present demand, we may be obliged perhaps to sacrifice a part of the clothing now solicited, to maintain the friendship of some of the tribes attached to France and America, and that it is of the greatest importance to prevent them from joining the hostile tribes, who in conjunction with the English tories ravage the country, destroy our harvests, put to flight and massacre all the inhabitants on the western frontier, from New York to Virginia. We may more especially expect, that this diversion will be employed during the siege of New York. It is to be added, that a number of men will be found who have already served, who would eagerly rejoin their ancient standards, provided they had the assurance of proper treatment, instead of the misery and sufferings which they have hitherto experienced. That the army would be augmented, notwithstanding the daily loss in the trenches, by levies perfectly accustomed to fire.

The extreme weakness of the southern army is attributable to the following causes.

1st. That two of the States that furnish quotas to this army are invaded by the British.

2dly. That they have all a great many prisoners in the hands of the enemy, and that their troops in general have been wasted, as well by the excessive marches, which they have undergone in carrying succors to the southward, as by the different misfortunes which have happened there.

The naval superiority of the British, and the rapidity of their movements by sea, secured to them the capture of Charleston, and all their southern successes; enjoying the advantages they have had in their power, to transport a body of troops, with all requisites in ammunition and provision, from one end of the continent to the other in fourteen days, to attack a feeble point; while the American succors, wasted by a march of two months, commenced in the rigors of winter, and without intermission from the fatigues of a campaign, could only arrive to increase the public calamity, by being beat in detail.

JOHN LAURENS.

* * * * *

TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.

Versailles, April 9th, 1781.

Sir,

Since I had the honor of writing to your Excellency, on the 23d ultimo, I have employed the most unremitting efforts to obtain a prompt and favorable decision relative to the objects of my mission. After many difficulties and delays, with the details of which it is needless to trouble Congress, the Count de Vergennes communicated to me yesterday his Most Christian Majesty's determination to guaranty a loan of ten millions, to be opened in Holland, in addition to the six millions granted as a gratuitous gift, and the four millions appropriated for the payment of bills of exchange drawn by Congress on their Minister Plenipotentiary. The purchase money of the clothing, which must be an affair of private contract, and the value of the military effects which may be furnished from the royal arsenals, are to be deducted from the six millions.

I shall use my utmost endeavors to procure an immediate advance of the ten millions from the treasury of France, to be replaced by the proposed loan, and shall renew my solicitations for the supplies of ordinance and military stores on credit, that the present of six millions may not be absorbed by those objects, and the purchase of necessary clothing. The providing this article I fear will be attended with great difficulties and delays, as all the woollen manufactories of France are remote from the sea, and there are no public magazines of cloth suitable to our purposes. The cargo of the Marquis de Lafayette will I hope arrive safe under the convoy of the Alliance; and by satisfying our immediate necessities prevent the delays above mentioned from having any disagreeable consequences.

The Marquis de Castries has engaged to make immediate arrangements for the safe transportation of the pecuniary and other succors destined for the United States, and has repeatedly assured me, that the naval superiority will be established on the American coast the ensuing campaign. The French fleet, he informs me, was on the 27th ultimo sixty leagues west of Cape Finisterre, proceeding to its destination, in good order and with a favorable wind.

I do myself the honor to transmit to your Excellency extracts of the most conspicuous letters of an intercepted mail, taken in a packet bound from Falmouth to New York. Your Excellency will have been informed, that the Court of London have referred the offered mediation of Russia, between England and the United Provinces, to a general pacification. I have been some days stationary at Versailles for the facility of seeing the different Ministers, and accelerating their deliberations. Being just apprized of an opportunity from Nantes to America, I take the liberty of sending this short provisional letter, lest upon my return to Passy I should not have time to write more fully.

I have the honor to be, &c.

JOHN LAURENS.

* * * * *

Memorial from Colonel John Laurens to Count de Vergennes.

The underwritten, special Minister of the United States of America, has the honor to represent to his Most Christian Majesty in behalf of Congress and by their orders, that the crisis is extreme, and that it demands prompt and decisive succors.

The United States claim with confidence the power and good will of their august ally. They had requested,

1st. A loan of twentyfive millions.

2dly. A naval superiority on the American coast.

3dly. Arms and ammunition, materials for clothing, equipments and tents, estimates of which have been laid before the Ministry.

The underwritten, being informed by the Count de Vergennes of the King's intentions with regard to pecuniary succors, earnestly offers in the name of the Congress the homage of the most lively gratitude, but at the same time it is his duty to represent, that although this succor tends to the object which his Majesty has in view, it is nevertheless demonstrated in the present state of affairs, that it is insufficient, considering the urgent necessities of the army and the administration, its engagements and debts, the exhausted condition of America, the absolute deficiency of resources and specie, and the enormous expense essential to the vigorous support of the war. It is on this account, that the underwritten earnestly entreats his Majesty to grant, on credit to the United States of America, the artillery, arms, ammunition, &c. which shall be drawn from his Majesty's arsenals and magazines, as a very considerable sum must be absorbed for the payment of clothing and other articles to be collected in France.

The underwritten further entreats his Majesty to consider, that the operation of a loan in Holland cannot be terminated in less than three months, that the delay of this result may commit the safety of America, and the common cause, lose the fruit of all the expense and sacrifices hitherto made; a single instant is precious, the least delay becomes of the most dangerous consequence, while the successes of the British multiply their resources and give them new energy.

The loan which will be opened in Holland under the auspices of his Majesty, favored by the guarantee which he is pleased to grant, cannot fail of success.

The underwritten flatters himself, therefore, that his Majesty will find no inconvenience in ordering the immediate advance of ten millions to be delivered at the disposal of the United States, which will be returned to his royal treasury by means of the loan in question.

Events of the greatest importance depend upon this disposition equally good and indispensable. The underwritten would think himself deficient in his duty, if he did not persevere in entreating his Majesty to adopt and order it.

The arrival of this sum is necessary to give a vigorous impulse to the organisation of administration in the present state of things, renew the tone of parts which have lost their energy, and revive public credit by making the resources of the country concur in the expenses of the war, which resources cannot be turned to account without coin to determine them.

If it is impossible to make it a part of the general arrangement to grant safe means of conveyance for the whole of this sum, the underwritten entreats his Majesty to cause as considerable a portion as possible to be remitted immediately, and to fix a very early date for the departure of the remainder.

The underwritten further earnestly solicits, that a naval superiority be permanently maintained on the American coast. The practicability and success of all military operations and the event of the war, depend directly and even exclusively on the state of the maritime force in America.

The British, by preserving this advantage, will be able to accomplish all their plans by the rapidity of their movements. The facility of transporting themselves everywhere secures them a series of successes, which are rendered still more decisive by the certainty of finding no opposition in defenceless points.

It is by these means that they have been able lately to possess themselves of a very important maritime point in North Carolina, and, by effecting a sudden junction between two divisions of their army, have been able to penetrate to the granary of that State. This position is the more favorable to the enemy, as he encloses between his army and the port of Wilmington, of which he is master, a considerable number of Scotch colonists attached to the interests of England, and who will be determined, perhaps, by his successes to declare themselves openly. Such consequences are to be expected from great successes in all civil wars. If his Majesty thinks proper to oppose a naval superiority to the British, they will be obliged to recall their troops from the interior country to reunite for the defence of the most important maritime points, the communication between which will be cut off, and the choice of attacks left to the allies.

The abasement of Great Britain, the dismemberment of its empire, the inestimable commercial advantages arising to France, present great interests, and merit powerful efforts. If this opportunity be neglected, if too much be left to chance, if time be lost, and the means employed be insufficient, the British pride will know neither bounds nor restraint; our object will be missed perhaps forever; it is easy to foresee how fatal the consequences would be to the French islands.

The underwritten renews the assurances of the most inviolable attachment on the part of the United States. Whatever may be the decision of his Majesty on these representations, his goodness towards his allies will never be effaced from their hearts; they will support the common cause with the same devotion to the last extremity, but their success must necessarily depend upon their means.

JOHN LAURENS.

Paris, April 18th, 1781.

* * * * *

TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.

Paris, April 24th, 1781.

Sir,

I had the honor of addressing to your Excellency a letter on the 9th instant, conformably to which I presented the Memorial now sent, after preparing the way for it by as many conferences as an intervening vacation would permit. In the course of these I discovered that it was impossible to obtain any further detachment of ships of force from hence; consequently, that the sum of specie to be sent immediately to America would be limited by the means of conveyance, and that successive epochs must divide a risk, which would be too considerable if simultaneous.

In pursuance of these ideas Count de Vergennes declared to me, that it had been solemnly determined to send no more than two millions in a frigate with me, and to have the remainder transmitted afterwards at different periods; this sum appeared to me so inconsiderable, compared with our necessities, that I thought it my duty to make the warmest remonstrances on the subject, and the succeeding day I delivered the Memorial above mentioned. In the mean time I have been employed in engaging a conveyance from Holland, which is so unexceptionable as to enable me to demand with confidence an additional sum for the first remittance of specie. The conveyance alluded to is the Indian, a vessel having the dimensions of a seventyfour gun ship, mounting twentyeight French thirtysix pounders on her main deck, and twelve twelves on her quarter deck and forecastle, sold by the Chevalier de Luxembourg to the State of South Carolina for the term of three years, loaded in part with articles of clothing, &c. on said State's account, nearly ready for sea, but reduced to the impossibility of sailing for want of ten thousand pounds sterling to discharge an accumulation of debts contracted in port. In these circumstances Captain Gillon, her present commander, has applied to me in the most pressing terms for assistance, and has offered to cede me the cargo which he has on board, on condition of furnishing the means of extricating himself from his present difficulties. As there appeared to me a happy coincidence in this matter, of the interests of the State and the Continent, I determined to accept his offer, annexing certain conditions, as will be seen in the enclosure.[17]

The advantages in favor of the continent are in the first place a very important and considerable gain of time in forwarding supplies of clothing, as no considerable quantity could have been obtained at the proper seaport of France at an earlier date than the 10th of June. Secondly, the excellence of the conveyance removes a powerful objection on the part on the Ministry against augmenting the first remittance of specie.

The advantages on the part of the State are, that she will be able to avail herself of the services of her ship, of which without the present interposition there would not be the least prospect, and besides, she will derive her share in common with the other members of the Union from the general advantages.

I have not as yet received a definitive answer from the Count de Vergennes to my last Memorial and subsequent applications, but I learn from M. Necker, that the following will be the distribution of what relates to his department, viz. that two millions will be sent in the frigate with me, one million on board the Indian, and that it is besides in agitation to make an arrangement with Spain for assigning a sum of specie at Vera Cruz, to be transported from thence by a frigate to be ordered on that service from one of the West India Islands.

I have reason to apprehend an unfavorable answer to my request, that the military effects from the public arsenals should be granted on credit. The expense of these articles will make a considerable deduction from our pecuniary resources. Your Excellency will observe that the same difficulties exist with respect to these objects, as with regard to the manufactures of cloth, the great deposits of them all being situated in the interior country, remote from the sea. The cargo of the Marquis de Lafayette, that of the Indian, (including the additional purchases, which I have directed to be made in order to complete her tonnage) and the supplies collected at Brest, or on their way thither, will nearly include the most essential articles of the Board of War's estimate. The purchases in France are made under the direction of an Intendant in the War Department. Those in Holland are made by M. de Neufville & Son, whom I employed because they appeared to possess the confidence of our Minister Plenipotentiary in that country.

I found great difficulties and delays likely to attend the plan of casting howitzers of English calibre in France. The scarcity of materials, the great danger of a want of precision in the proportions, and the facility with which we cast shells in America, induced me to substitute six inch howitzers of French calibre, to those demanded by the Board of War. This size, in the opinion of the most experienced artillerists, is preferable to the larger, their effects being the same, and their inferior size rendering them much more manageable, as well as less expensive of ammunition. A certain number of shells will accompany the howitzers, but it will be necessary that the Board of War should give immediate orders for making a larger provision of them. Their dimensions may be taken from those with the French artillery under General Rochambeau.

The same reasons as those above mentioned, determined me to substitute the French twelve-inch mortar to the thirteen inch of English calibre, as there was no other way of procuring them but by having them cast, and the same observation is to be made with respect to their shells as with respect to those of the howitzers. A store-ship, freighted by government, is to proceed under convoy of the frigate on board which I shall sail, and will be charged with such supplies as can be collected in time at Brest.

As soon as I shall have accomplished all that requires my presence here, which I flatter myself will be in a few days, I shall proceed to Brest, to do everything that can depend on me for hastening the departure of the frigate. I shall in the mean time despatch Captain Jackson, an officer of great intelligence and activity, who accompanied me from America, with instructions to exert his utmost efforts to get the Indian to sea without loss of time.[18]

I have the honor to be, with the greatest veneration, &c.

JOHN LAURENS.

FOOTNOTES:

[17] Missing.

[18] For a correspondence on this subject between Dr Franklin and Captain Jackson, see Franklin's Correspondence, Vol. III. pp. 121, 232.

* * * * *

Memorial from John Laurens to the Director-General of Finance.

The underwritten, special Minister of the United States of North America, renews his representations to the Director-General of Finance, upon the necessity of augmenting the present remittance of pecuniary succors destined for America. He cannot repeat too often, that upon the quantity and seasonableness of these succors, the fate of his Majesty's allies must necessarily depend.

He entreats him to recollect, that in the first discussion with regard to the sum, the difficulties which opposed an immediate remittance, more proportionate to the urgent necessities of the United States, were unconnected with reasons of finance. With respect to the apprehension of exposing ourselves to simultaneous risks that would be too considerable, which was the principal reason alleged, he thinks himself warranted in saying, that comparing the sum with the risk, the strictest laws of prudence would not be violated in shipping the amount of six millions on board of two frigates, well armed and good sailors, despatched from ports distant from each other.

The plan of procuring money from Vera Cruz or the Havana, the success and speedy execution of which were regarded as certain, would have dispensed government from making any very considerable remittance from hence at the present moment, but as according to the Director-General's own account, there is reason to apprehend a delay, which would render this plan delusive, the underwritten sees no other remedy, than in augmenting the sums remitted from hence, as far as the present means of conveyance will authorise, and seconding this first remittance by a definitive arrangement for having it closely followed by the remainder.

With regard to the distribution between the two ships, the underwritten would prefer committing the most considerable portion of the specie to the frigate in Holland, on account of her very superior force.

He has the honor to apprize the Director-General, that he has authorised Mr W. Jackson, Captain of infantry in the service of the United States, to give receipts for the sum destined to be shipped in Holland, and that he will himself sign receipts for the sum to be shipped at Brest.

JOHN LAURENS.

Paris, April 29th, 1781.

* * * * *

TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.

Paris, May 15th, 1781.

Sir,

Since I had the honor of writing to your Excellency on the 24th ult. my prospects of pecuniary succor have suffered a very unfavorable change, first in the suspension and I apprehend the total failure of the plan of procuring a sum of specie at Vera Cruz, to be transmitted immediately from thence for the service of the United States. This arrangement which the Spanish agent at this Court was at first very desirous of making with M. Necker, and which would have been a convenience to the finance of this country, was prevented from being carried into execution by the arrival of intelligence, that the treasure had been safely transported from Vera Cruz to the Havana; in consequence of which the agent declined engaging to furnish the money on any other terms than by a schedule of bill of exchange, payable at six months' sight. M. Necker has since made him an offer of a profit on the money to be supplied at the Havana, and the agent has written to his Court on the subject, but it does not appear to me, that the offer is likely to be accepted. As soon as I was apprized of this, I delivered the preceding Memorial to the Director-General of Finance.

In addition to this disappointment we have received notice from Holland of the total refusal of the Dutch to countenance the proposed loan of ten millions on account of the United States. M. Necker was of opinion, that the Dutch would lend more readily on this footing than to France alone, as there would be a double security; but the event has proved, that its being a concern of the United States was sufficient for political reasons to occasion the overthrow of the business. I have uniformly insisted from the beginning upon the necessity of securing this aid to the United States from the finances of France, and while I pleaded the fertility of her resources, and facility of borrowing in her own name, I have enlarged upon the fatal consequences to which we should be exposed by referring the matter to an uncertain and dilatory operation. I apprehend some new efforts are making on the subject of the loan. His Majesty in the mean time engages to supply the failure of the loan from the finances of his kingdom. The future transmissions of specie are to be concerted between the Minister of Marine and the Director-General of Finance, and Count de Vergennes has promised me to urge them upon the subject. I have not been able to obtain any greater augmentation of the sums destined to be embarked at Brest and in Holland, than half a million at the first, and nearly the same sum at the latter.

With respect to the maritime succors so repeatedly solicited, I am authorised only in general terms to assure Congress, that such dispositions are made for detaching from the West Indies, as give every reason to hope a naval superiority will exist on the part of the allies in America; that the fleet will probably remain on that station three months, and that it will be time on my arrival to commence the most vigorous preparations for co-operating with it.

Immediately on closing this packet, I shall set out for Brest, and use my utmost efforts to accelerate our sailing. My frigate is ready in the roads. If any delay arises it will be owing to the store ship, which she will have under convoy.

I have the honor to be, with the greatest respect,

JOHN LAURENS.

P. S. Those despatches will be delivered to your Excellency by Captain Jackson of the first South Carolina regiment, whose zeal for the service made him cheerfully undertake the journey to Holland, for the purpose of accelerating the departure of the Indian, and to whom I am much indebted for his assistance in this country.

J. L.

* * * * *

COUNT DE VERGENNES TO JOHN LAURENS.

Translation.

Versailles, May 16th, 1781.

Congress has directed Mr Laurens to solicit from the King an aid of money, and to request his guarantee for a loan. In consequence his Majesty has been pleased to grant six millions tournois,[19] in form of a gift, and he has likewise agreed to be security for a loan of ten millions, to be opened in Holland, for account of Congress; and if that loan should meet with difficulties, he has even resolved to supply it out of his own finances, as soon as possible. The six millions, which his Majesty has granted, have been employed in the following manner; two million five hundred thousand livres are sent to Brest, there to be shipped; one million five hundred thousand are sent to Amsterdam, to be likewise shipped there; about two millions are to be employed in payment for the goods, which Mr Laurens was directed to purchase. Besides the sum above mentioned, his Majesty has been pleased to grant Dr Franklin four millions to discharge the bills of exchange drawn on him by Congress. In case the loan, which is to be opened in Holland on account of the Americans, should fail of success, his Majesty will be under the necessity of supplying it. It is understood, that the United States shall repay his Majesty the sum of ten millions, in order to fulfil the engagements, that shall be entered into in Holland.

The operations of the campaign, of which his Majesty has given a plan to the commander of his fleet in America, form the second object, in which the United States are interested; and without being able to fix the attention of Congress or General Washington upon the moment when his fleet shall appear on the coast of North America, he assures them, that the success of their armies makes a principal part of his views for the ensuing campaign. It is therefore proper, that, upon the arrival of Colonel Laurens, the United States should put themselves in condition to take advantage of the operations of his fleet in America.

DE VERGENNES.

FOOTNOTES:

[19] These six millions were not obtained "in consequence" of Colonel Laurens's solicitation, but were granted to Dr Franklin, before Colonel Laurens's arrival. See Franklin's Correspondence, Vol. III. p. 230, and also Colonel Laurens's letter above, dated March 20th;—also the following letter of September 2d.

* * * * *

TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.

Philadelphia, September 2d, 1781.

Sir,

Happy in this opportunity of renewing the assurances of my inviolable duty and attachment to the United States, in Congress assembled, I have the honor of submitting to them a supplementary report of the negotiation, with which they were pleased to intrust me, by their commission of the 23d of December, 1780.

Previous to my arrival in France, the letter from Congress of the 22d of December to his Most Christian Majesty had been delivered, and the application for succors supported by our Minister Plenipotentiary, the result of which was a gratuitous donation from the King of France of six millions of livres, to be drawn for by General Washington at distant periods, and an offer to provide clothing and other supplies for the army, the expense to be deducted from the donation above mentioned. The disproportion between this and the necessities of the United States upon which their demand was founded, as well as the exceptionable manner of touching the money, determined me without delay to renew the negotiation, in which I had the concurrence of our Minister Plenipotentiary, and the advantage of his counsels.

After my first interview with the Count de Vergennes, I presented, in form of a memorial, a copy of which has been transmitted to Congress, an extract of a letter from General Washington, written in consequence of my conference with him by order of Congress, making such small additions as were suggested by the state of the business. The advantage of the General's credit in Europe made me prefer his letter to any common form of memorial, especially as he had treated the principal objects of my mission in a manner no less full and explicit than conformable to the ideas of Congress.

I accompanied it with the estimate of the Board of War, after making a deduction of many articles, the demand of which I apprehended would throw an unfavorable cast on the whole business. A translated duplicate of the complete estimate had been long since delivered by Dr Franklin. The Count de Vergennes exclaimed vehemently against the exorbitance of the demand, to which the strength of our army was so disproportioned, adding, that duplicate cargoes of such value could not be afforded, and that the articles demanded would exhaust all our money; for he refused to understand as I did, the intention of Congress to solicit the supplies in addition to the loan.

Argument and expostulation on this subject were fruitless. In pursuance of his definitive request, I formed a reduced list accompanied by a letter, a copy of which has been transmitted. An allowance was made for the Lafayette's cargo, as well as a very imperfect sketch of it could enable me. This list was immediately referred to the War Department. In all my interviews with the Ministers, I endeavored to represent in their strongest light the following important articles. That notwithstanding the unalterable determination of the United States to support their independence, notwithstanding the virtue and firmness of the citizens in general, the immense pecuniary resources of Great Britain, and her constant naval superiority were advantages too decisive to be counterbalanced by any interior exertions on the part of the United States. That these must infallibly impose a term to the efforts of a nation, whose extended maritime and inland frontier rendered her obnoxious to sudden descents and incursions on all sides; whose army was consequently exposed to excessive marches, attended with insupportable expense of money and waste of soldiers, that the exhausted state of their finances reduced Congress to the impossibility of calling the natural resources of the country into activity; that the aggravated calamities of a war, which in its principles had been precautionary, began now to produce dangerous uneasinesses and discontents; that we had concealed enemies to contend against; that the British left no measures unattempted either of open force or secret intrigue; and finally, unless instant succor were afforded as solicited by Congress, that France was in danger of losing all the fruits of the part she had hitherto taken in the contest; that if instead of being actuated by a generous and enlightened policy, the Court of France had systematically protracted the war, in order that Britain and America might mutually exhaust themselves, while she had reserved her power to decide only in the last extremity, this period with respect to America had arrived; that the importance of the objects of the war on one hand, and the mischiefs of suffering Great Britain to re-annex to herself the resources of America, demanded the greatest exertions; that the honor of the King, as well as the national interest, was engaged, and that, considering the flourishing state of the French marine and finances, the succor solicited was as easy as, considering our situation, it was indispensable.

I endeavored, above all, to hasten their determinations. The general language held by the Ministry was, that the demands of Congress were excessive; that to induce succor from their ally, there should be greater exertions on the part of the United States; that the King had the greatest good will towards them, but that the expenditures of the war were immense; the necessity of supporting a maritime war in different quarters, and the indispensable defence of his own colonies, limited his power of giving assistance; that the public credit of France, however good, had its limits, which it were dangerous to exceed; that the administration of the American finances was not calculated to inspire confidence; that a dangerous wound had been given to our public credit by the resolution of the 18th of March, 1780, a measure, which, however judicious it might have been in time of peace, was exceedingly pernicious in time of war; that the application of Congress was tardy, and by its suddenness excluded expedients which might otherwise have been employed for our relief; that with regard to the national interest and honor, France had been a great kingdom, and the King a powerful monarch, when America was composed of feeble colonies.

To this kind of discourse I answered, by enlarging on the natural and political disadvantages of America in the present contest, the fertile resources of the British, their power and activity; the impossibility of our supporting a paper credit without a foundation of specie, adding, that the continental currency must have died a natural death if it had not been checked at a late stage of depreciation, by the act of Congress in question; that persons, who had clamored most on this subject, had been instrumental in hastening the discredit of our paper, by various commercial speculations, but that the downfall of the currency must be attributed principally to a want of funds for its support; for this object Congress were renewing their application in the most pressing terms; that the King of France's glory could not but suffer if the British triumphed in the present dispute, as his consideration in Europe would be lessened by it; that his interests besides, and those of his kingdom, would certainly be deeply wounded by a re-accession of America to Great Britain, and that the same fleet and army, which should prove decisive there, would be at hand to possess themselves of the French islands.

The Marquis de Castries, Minister for the Marine Department, being absent, and a vacation produced some delay, I waited on this Minister immediately on his return to Court, and observed to him that the most important decisions relative to the common cause of France and America had been suspended on account of his absence; urged him particularly on the great point of a naval superiority, reminding him, that the British Marine was the principal instrument of their power; that the efforts of the allies to reduce this force could nowhere be made with such a prospect of success as on the American coast; that it would be very easy after a decisive campaign in America, in which his personal glory was so much interested, to transport a sufficient force from the continent to reduce any British island; that in the mean time the French islands would be in the most perfect security. He repeated nearly what he had said at our first interview, with stronger assurances of his prospect of a naval superiority the ensuing campaign.

In a word I used every argument of national interest, and added such personal motives as I thought applicable to the different Ministers.

On the 8th of April Count de Vergennes communicated to me his Most Christian Majesty's determination to become security for a loan of ten millions of livres, to be opened on account of the United States in Holland; that he had immediately despatched a courier extraordinary to M. de la Vauguyon with a letter relative to this business; that I had reason to be satisfied with this in addition to the donation of six millions, and four millions that had been appropriated to the payment of bills drawn on Mr Franklin. I pressed him by many arguments to leave an opening for the remaining five millions; exposed the false policy of incomplete succors; observed that Congress had solicited no more than was necessary; that there should be no other limits to the present succor than the invincible bounds of possibility; that it was not the condition on which the money was obtained, but the sum and opportuneness of remitting it, that were above all important; that in this point of view I would prefer converting the donation into a loan, if it would make the advance more convenient to the French finances, and facilitate the augmentation of the total sum, destined for the United States. I repeated the same thing to the Director-General of Finance, but their answer was, the King had passed his word and could not retract.

I entreated both M. de Vergennes and M. Necker not to abandon the United States to the operation of a loan, but to secure us from the finances of France the sum in question, and above all, to make immediate arrangements for the remittance of it.

In the mean time I pressed the Minister of Marine on the subject of ships, but I found that it was far from the intention of the Court to furnish the means for remitting any considerable sum immediately. Count de Vergennes urged the imprudence of exposing such precious succors to a simultaneous risk, and the necessity of dividing the danger by successive remittances, adding besides, that as permission had been given to draw, an allowance was to be made on this account, and a provisional sum for payment retained; that pursuant to those ideas it had been solemnly determined to send no more than two millions in a frigate with me. I observed, that the first difficulty would be obviated by proportioning the escort to the value of the specie; with regard to the other objection, I gave it as my opinion, that no bills would be drawn in consequence of the mode for touching the donation of six millions. The Count said, that I was not sufficiently impressed with what had been already done on our account, and appealed to our Minister Plenipotentiary. In addition to the warmest verbal remonstrances on the subject, I presented the Memorial, a copy of which was forwarded to Congress.

In these circumstances I was induced to make an arrangement with Captain Gillon, of the frigate South Carolina, in order to secure an unexceptionable conveyance for a further remittance of specie, as well as for other reasons to be mentioned hereafter. This conveyance being approved by the Ministry, it was proposed by M. Necker, that one million should be remitted by this opportunity, two in the frigate from France as above mentioned, and that an arrangement should be made with the Spaniards for a further remittance from Vera Cruz, agreeably to an offer from their agent in Paris. Unfortunately, while this latter plan was in agitation, the agent received intelligence that the whole of the Spanish treasure destined for Europe had arrived safe at the Havana, in consequence of which he changed the terms of his first proposal, from an order payable at sight, to bills at six months' date; this, joined to the disagreeable intelligence from Holland of the failure of the loan proposed on account of the United States, occasioned my giving a Memorial to the Director-General, and insisting, in several interviews with him, on the necessity of something decisive in his department, adding, that the administration could not pursue a better plan for securing the triumph of Great Britain than the present system of giving inadequate and dilatory succor to America.

All that I could obtain was an addition of half a million to the specie to be embarked at Brest, and about the same sum to that in Gillon's ship. The Director-General informed me, that he had passed the sum of the proposed loan to the debit of the King's finances, and repeated his assurances, that our further remittances should be made successively.

I have already informed Congress, that the reduced list of supplies had been referred to the War Department, where it had to undergo a recopying and more methodical distribution under several heads. I used my endeavors to hasten the decisions on this subject, and to procure orders at least with respect to some particular articles, the providing of which obviously required a more early notice than others; but he said no partial arrangement could be made, and that a decision must be definitively given in council upon the whole business, previous to his engaging in the execution of his part.

On the 1st of April I received a letter from M. de Corney, Provincial Commissary, informing me, that the Marquis de Segur had appointed M. de Viemerange in conjunction with him to confer with me on the objects of the estimate, and the time and means of procuring them. I immediately repaired to Versailles for this purpose.

As the ancient administration for clothing the French troops was abolished, and each regiment in France makes its own contracts for habiliments and equipments, there exists no public magazine of supplies in this way, either in the War or Marine Department, and there was no other resource for this article than the remainder of some supplies at Brest, which had been provided for General Rochambeau's army; it was proposed then to cede these to the United States, and continue the provision upon the same terms as had been settled for the King's service. The quantity was extremely inconsiderable, compared even with the reduced list, which I had presented; the time proposed for augmenting it was long, and my prospects upon the whole were very discouraging, but the impracticability of doing better in present circumstances obliged me to yield. The difficulties and delays, however, which occurred in this transaction, and a persuasion that it would not be so economical as I had at first been taught to expect, were powerful additional motives with me for accepting Captain Gillon's offer relative to the South Carolina frigate, in order to avail myself of the supplies in his possession, and to complete his vacant tonnage by purchases in Holland, where the vicinity of the seaport and manufacturing towns insured despatch. Copies of all the papers, relative to the supplies, are in the hands of the Minister Plenipotentiary. I apprized him of the necessity of watching the punctual execution of the terms of Sabatier & Co's agreement, notwithstanding the superintendence of the War Department. The artillery, arms, ammunition, and encamping supplies, were to be collected at Brest from different arsenals in Brittany and elsewhere, at the same rates at which they were provided for the national service.

When the subject of casting howitzers, conformably to the British calibre, came to be more minutely and definitively discussed, difficulties with respect to the scarcity of materials, the danger of errors in the proportion, the want of a proper person to inspect the business, in a word, objections of different kinds were started; these, added to the facility of casting shells in America, determined me finally to substitute six inch howitzers of French calibre. Experience has proved, on a comparison of their effects with those of the larger sized howitzers, that the difference is trifling, and that the former will answer all the purposes of the latter, while their proportions render them more manageable, and economise ammunition. The French artillerists, enlightened by this discovery, have determined the reform of all their larger howitzers.

Upon my arrival at Brest I found the whole of the articles agreed to be furnished for the first convoy were not yet arrived. In these circumstances I substituted some articles which I found in the magazine there, that there might not be any further loss of time, and that there should be the least possible interval between our sailing and the embarcation of the specie, which once commenced could not be kept secret in passing through a number of hands, and might be a temptation to enterprises on the part of the enemy. The same motive determined me not to shift the whole of the money into cases, which would have been more portable. This precaution became indispensable however with respect to two of the casks, that had suffered too much from the violent shaking on the road to be embarked in that condition, and although all the casks are double, I apprehend the most scrupulous care will be necessary in their debarcation and removal. I send herewith the Chevalier de l'Angle's receipt for the specie on board the frigate Resolve, the copy of the Treasurer's note at Brest, and invoices of the cargoes on board the Cibelle and the Olimpe. Besides these, the whole of the surgical instruments, drugs, and tin and wire for camp kettles, agreeably to the Board of War's estimate, are supplied upon the same footing as the other articles. The drugs and tin I expect in the brigantine Active. In addition to the list, I left a statement of the ulterior demands. These, in addition to the cargo expected by Gillon, and the invoices already cited, include the total of the supplies.

The deduction of money for their payment was incompatible with so ample a provision, as prudence might otherwise have dictated. Necessitated to confine myself to a reduced list of the most indispensable articles, in order to leave the sum for remittances as unimpaired as possible, I avoided every purchase and additional expense of workmanship, that could be readily supplied by our artisans and manufacturers at home, as the money expended here, besides accomplishing the primary object, after descending in various channels to the encouragement of arts, and animation of industry among ourselves, would return its contribution to the great reservoir of public resources.

I am sorry not to be able to give Congress a more satisfactory and definitive account of Captain Gillon's proceedings. The papers sent herewith will show the measures I had taken, and all the intelligence I had received relative to this business previous to my departure. Relying on the zeal and activity of Captain Jackson, aided by the counsels of the Minister Plenipotentiary in Holland, I cannot apprehend any improper delay.

Captain Jackson alone was intrusted with the secret of the specie to be embarked, I enjoined him not to communicate it to any one, until the moment when it should become necessary to embark it; and, that the bankers might not be apprized of its destination, I sent the order for it enclosed to him.

I used every argument, at taking leave of the several Ministers, that I thought could influence them, and previous to my departure from Brest, renewed my solicitations in writing. I imagine some further effort will have been made relative to the loan in Holland, but at all events the ten millions are to be supplied from the King of France's finances. The Marquis de Castries, and M. Necker, were to concert the future remittances; they gave me fair promises on the subject, and Count de Vergennes assured me he would press them; he likewise gave me some hopes of credit for the supplies of military stores. The naval superiority, it is expected, will be established on the American coast for a sufficient time to enable us to enterprise something important.

Enclosed herewith is an answer from the Most Christian King to my letter of credence. Count de Vergennes informed me, that an answer to the other letter of Congress had been already despatched.

At taking my leave of his Most Christian Majesty, he desired me to renew his assurances of affection to the United States. The succeeding day his Majesty honored me with the accustomed present of his portrait. Republican strictness, and the utility of the precedent, lead me to refer it to the supreme representative of the majesty of the American people, the organ of that sovereign will to which I am devoted.

The Resolve sailed from Brest, with the Cibelle and Olimpe under her convoy, the 1st of June. The judicious precautions, and unwearied attention of the Chevalier de l'Angle, commander of the frigate, relative to his convoy, during a passage in which we experienced every contrariety, deserve the highest applause.

I entreat the further orders of Congress, being exceedingly solicitous to lose no time in rejoining the army.

I have the honor to be, with the greatest respect, &c.

JOHN LAURENS.

P. S. My first intention was to have steered for Philadelphia, but learning from a vessel, which we pursued for the purpose of intelligence, that Count de Grasse was not arrived, I judged it most prudent to make a safe eastern port, and arrived at Boston the afternoon of the 25th ult.

J. L.

* * * * *

TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.

Philadelphia, September 6th, 1781.

Sir,

In consequence of the desire of the committee of conference on the subject of my mission to France, I do myself the honor to communicate to Congress all the information I am possessed of relative to the present situation of Henry Laurens, and the prospect of his enlargement or exchange. It appears from the letter of a gentleman in London, who had access to him under certain restrictions, that though the rigor of his confinement was in some degree abated, he still labored under several interdictions and restraints, as unprecedented as illiberal, and that the British Court still affected to consider him as amenable to their municipal laws, and maintained the idea of a future trial.

After I had finished the general business with which Congress had charged me, I consulted the several Ministers at the Court of France upon the proper measures to be taken, when such a flagrant violation of the laws of nations had been offered in the person of a public Minister, and solicited their intervention and assistance. They all declared, that however anxious they were to restore to his country a citizen, so valuable by his services, they had not the least hope, that any benefit would be derived from their interference, the British Court being as little disposed to gratify the Court of France, as they were to gratify the United States; and the unanimous opinion of these gentlemen further was, that nothing would determine the British to pursue a reasonable conduct in the present case, but the most exact retaliation on the part of Congress. For this purpose they advised, that one or more British prisoners of sufficient note and importance to cause a sensation by their own complaints, or those of their friends, to their Court, should be held as security for the safety of Mr Laurens, and that their mode of confinement and treatment should invariably follow the rule of the conduct of the British government towards him.

In addition to the report, which I had the honor to make the 2d instant, I take the present opportunity of enclosing to Congress the duplicate account of the frigate Alliance's disbursements, by Messrs Gourlade and Moylan of L'Orient. The misfortune of Mr Palfrey left us without other resource, than an application to a mercantile house. The persons above mentioned offered their services, and were recommended. The sum total appeared both to the Minister Plenipotentiary and myself very considerable for the short stay of the vessel in port, and the charge of advanced officers' pay unprecedented; but Captain Barry had signed the original account, and M. Moylan's house had advanced the money, and offered every authentic voucher. I thought myself obliged to write from Brest, requesting Dr Franklin to order payment after necessary security.

I found myself under the necessity of drawing, under the authority of Congress, for three hundred and fifty louis, on their Minister Plenipotentiary at the Court of France. Fifty of these were given to Mr Jackson on his departure for Holland. On my arrival at Boston, I borrowed on my private credit forty guineas, twentyfive of which have been paid for the purchase of saddles, and the expense of the journey, including that of an express with the despatches from France for the French Minister and army, and that of an escort of dragoons, which it became prudent, on account of my papers, to take from Danbury to a place a few miles on this side of the North River.

I had recourse to the State of Rhode Island for horses, &c. a particular account of which will be given to the Board of War.

I have the honor to be, with the greatest veneration, &c.

JOHN LAURENS.



THE

CORRESPONDENCE

OF

CHARLES W. F. DUMAS;

AGENT OF THE UNITED STATES IN HOLLAND.



Charles William Frederick Dumas was a native of Switzerland, but he passed a large portion of his life in Holland, chiefly employed as a man of letters. He was a person of deep learning, versed in the ancient classics, and skilled in several modern languages, a warm friend of liberty, and an early defender of the American cause. About the year 1770, or a little later, he published an edition of Vattel, with a long preface and notes, which were marked with his liberal sentiments.

When Dr Franklin was in Holland on his way to France, a short time before his return to his own country, at the beginning of the Revolution, he became acquainted with M. Dumas. Having thus witnessed his ability, his love of freedom, and his zeal in favor of America, he considered him a suitable person to act as agent in promoting our affairs abroad. When the Committee of Secret Correspondence in Congress was formed, towards the close of the year 1775, of which Dr Franklin was chairman, it was resolved to employ M. Dumas for executing the purposes of the Committee in Holland. A letter of general instructions was accordingly written to him by Dr Franklin in the name of the Committee, and from that time M. Dumas commenced a correspondence with Congress, which continued without interruption during the Revolution, and occasionally to a much later period. He acted at first as a secret agent, and after John Adams went to Holland as Minister Plenipotentiary from the United States, M. Dumas performed the office of Secretary and translator to the Minister. On the departure of Mr Adams for Paris, to engage in the negotiations for peace, M. Dumas remained in the character of Charge d'Affaires from the United States. In this capacity he exchanged with the Dutch government the ratification of the treaty, which had been previously negotiated by Mr Adams.

It will be seen by M. Dumas's correspondence, that his services were unremitted, assiduous, and important, and performed with a singular devotedness to the interests of the United States, and with a warm and undeviating attachment to the rights and liberties for which they were contending. Congress seem not to have well understood the extent or merits of his labors. He was obliged often to complain of the meagre compensation he received, and of the extreme difficulty with which he and his small family contrived to subsist on it. Both Mr Adams and Dr Franklin recommended him to Congress as worthy of better returns, but with little effect. This indifference to his worth and his services while living renders it the more just, that his memory should be honored with the respect and gratitude of posterity.

M. Dumas was still living in 1791, when Mr John Quincy Adams went to Holland as Minister from this country, but he died soon afterwards at an advanced age.



THE

CORRESPONDENCE

OF

CHARLES W. F. DUMAS.

* * * * *

B. FRANKLIN TO M. DUMAS.

Philadelphia, December 19th, 1775.

Dear Sir,

I received your several favors of May 18th, June 30th, and July 8th, by Messrs Vaillant & Pochard, whom if I could serve upon your recommendation, it would give me great pleasure. Their total want of English is at present an obstruction to their getting any employment among us; but I hope they will soon obtain some knowledge of it. This is a good country for artificers or farmers, but gentlemen of mere science in Les Belles Lettres cannot so easily subsist here, there being little demand for their assistance among an industrious people, who, as yet, have not much leisure for studies of that kind.

I am much obliged by the kind present you have made us of your edition of Vattel. It came to us in good season, when the circumstances of a rising State make it necessary frequently to consult the law of nations. Accordingly, that copy which I kept, (after depositing one in our own public library here, and sending the other to the College of Massachusetts Bay, as you directed,) has been continually in the hands of the members of our Congress now sitting, who are much pleased with your notes and preface, and have entertained a high and just esteem for their author. Your manuscript "Idee sur le Gouvernement et la Royaute," is also well relished, and may, in time, have its effect. I thank you, likewise, for the other smaller pieces, which accompanied Vattel. "Le court Expose de ce qui est passe entre la Cour Britanique et les Colonies, &c." being a very concise and clear statement of facts, will be reprinted here for the use of our new friends in Canada. The translations of the proceedings of our Congress are very acceptable. I send you herewith what of them has been farther published here, together with a few newspapers, containing accounts of some of the successes Providence has favored us with.

We are threatened from England with a very powerful force to come next year against us. We are making all the provision in our power here to prevent that force, and we hope we shall be able to defend ourselves. But as the events of war are always uncertain, possibly, after another campaign, we may find it necessary to ask aid of some foreign power. It gives us great pleasure to learn from you, that "all Europe wishes us the best success in the maintenance of our liberty." But we wish to know whether any one of them, from principles of humanity, is disposed magnanimously to step in for the relief of an oppressed people, or whether if, as it seems likely to happen, we should be obliged to break off all connexion with Britain, and declare ourselves an independent people, there is any State or Power in Europe, who would be willing to enter into an alliance with us for the benefit of our commerce, which amounted, before the war, to near seven millions sterling per annum, and must continually increase, as our people increase most rapidly. Confiding, my dear friend, in your good will to us and our cause, and in your sagacity and abilities for business, the Committee of Congress, appointed for the purpose of establishing and conducting a correspondence with our friends in Europe, of which Committee I have the honor to be a member, have directed me to request of you, that as you are situated at the Hague, where Ambassadors from all the Courts reside, you would make use of the opportunity, which that situation affords you, of discovering, if possible, the disposition of the several Courts with respect to such assistance or alliance, if we should apply for the one or propose for the other. As it may possibly be necessary, in particular instances, that you should, for this purpose, confer directly with some great Ministers, and show them this letter as your credential, we only recommend it to your discretion, that you proceed therein with such caution, as to keep the same from the knowledge of the English Ambassador, and prevent any public appearance, at present, of your being employed in any such business, as thereby, we imagine, many inconveniences may be avoided, and your means of rendering us service increased.

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