« ZurückWeiter »
price. One million of livres was advanced on this contract. Within a few months they were thus put in possession of three millions of livres. With this money they continued to purchase arms, clothing for soldiers, all kinds of military equipments, and naval stores, which they sent to America. They built a frigate at Amsterdam, and another at Nantes. They also contributed the means for supplying American cruisers, that came into French ports. In these operations they were often embarrassed. Every thing was done with as much secrecy as possible; but Lord Stormont, the British ambassador, had spies in all the principal ports, and gained a knowledge of their proceedings. His remonstrances to the court were listened to, and were followed by orders for detaining the vessels which the commissioners had provided. Sometimes the goods would be taken out and put on shore, and at other times they would be stopped in their transportation from place to place. The American cruisers brought in prizes and effected sales. This drew fresh remonstrances from the British ambassador; and, on one occasion, Count de Vergennes wrote a letter to the commissioners censuring this conduct, and declaring that no transactions could be allowed, which infringed upon treaties. Knowing the actual disposition of the court, however, they were not deterred by these obstacles. They continued, by pursuing a prudent course, to ship to the United States all the articles they procured, which were of the utmost importance to the American army. The business was chiefly managed by Dr. Franklin and Mr. Deane. The commissioners being authorized by their instructions to make application to any of the European powers and to solicit aids for prosecuting the war, Mr. Lee was accordingly deputed by them to undertake this service, first in Spain and afterwards in Prussia. On these missions he was absent nearly all the spring and summer. Dr. Franklin disapproved the policy of seeking foreign alliances, and he had opposed this measure when it was under discussion in Congress. He thought the dignity of the United States would be better sustained by waiting for the advances of other governments. The majority, however, were of a different opinion, and commissioners or ministers to different courts in Europe were from time to time appointed. Very little success attended these applications. * Dr. Franklin had been but a few weeks in France, when he received from Congress a commission to treat with the court of Spain, with the proper credentials and instructions; but, this affair being already in the hands of Mr. Lee, and there being no sufficient evidence that his Catholic Majesty was ready, either to enter into a treaty with the United States, or to contribute essential aid for carrying on the war, he declined acting under the commission, and gave such reasons as were satisfactory to Congress. He consulted Count d’Aranda, the Spanish ambassador, who discouraged any immediate attempt to negotiate with his court. It was reported to the commissioners, that American prisoners, who had been captured at sea, were treated with unjustifiable severity in England; that some of them were compelled to enter the navy and fight against their friends, and that others were sent to the British settlements in Africa and Asia. They wrote to Lord Stormont, suggesting an exchange of seamen thus captured for an equal number of British prisoners, who had been brought into France by an American cruiser. His Lordship did not condescend to return an answer. They wrote again, and drew from him the following laconic reply. “The King's ambassador receives no applications from rebels, unless they come to implore his Majesty's mercy.” The paper, containing this piece of insolence, was sent back. “In answer to a letter,” say they, “which concerns some of the most material interests of humanity, and of the two nations, Great Britain and the United States, we received the enclosed indecent paper, which we return for your Lordship's more mature consideration.” The British ministry, however, did not long uphold the arrogance of their ambassador. The number of captures made at sea by the American cruisers soon convinced them of the policy, if not of the humanity, of exchanging prisoners, according to the common usage of nations at war.” The multitude of foreign officers applying for letters
* See remarks on this subject in SPARKs's Life of Gouverneur Morris, Vol. I. p. 205. VOL. I. 54 J.J.”
of recommendation to Congress, or to General Wash
ington, was so great, as to be a source of unceasing trouble and embarrassment. Scarcely had Dr. Franklin landed in France when applications began to throng upon him for employment in the American army. They continued to the end of the war, coming from every country, and written in almost every language, of Europe. Some of the writers told only the story of their own exploits; others enclosed the certificates of friends, or of generals under whom they had served; while others were backed by the interest of persons of high rank and influence, whom it was impossible to gratify, and disagreeable to refuse. It was in vain that he assured them, that he had no power to engage officers, that the army was already full, that his recommendation could not create vacancies, and that they would inevitably be disappointed when they arrived in America. Writing to a friend on this subject, he says; “Not a day passes in which I have not a number of soliciting visits, besides letters. You can have no idea how I am harassed. All my friends are sought out and teased to tease me. Great officers of rank in all departments, ladies, great and small, besides professed solicitors, worry me from morning to night.” To a person, who importuned him in this way, he wrote as follows. “You demand whether I will support you by my authority in giving you letters of recommendation. I doubt not your being a man of merit; and, knowing it yourself, you may forget that it is not known to everybody; but reflect a moment, Sir, and you will be convinced, that, if I were to practise giving letters of recommendation to persons of whose character I knew no more than I do of yours, my recommendations would soon be of no authority at all. I thank you, however, for your kind desire of being serviceable to my countrymen; and I wish in return, that I could be of service to you in the scheme you have formed of going to America. But numbers of experienced officers here have offered to go over and join our army, and I could give them no encouragement, because I have no orders for that purpose, and I know it extremely difficult to place them when they arrive there. I cannot but think, therefore, that it is best for you not to make so long, so expensive, and so hazardous a voyage, but to take the advice of your friends, and ‘stay in Franconia.’”
* After Dr. Franklin's arrival in France, a stove invented by him became fashionable and was much used. One of the ministers was asked whether he would have one. “By no means,” said he ; “Lord Stormont will then never warm himself at my fire.”
One officer, however, he recommended without reluctance or reserve, and he afterwards had the satisfaction of finding, in common with the whole American people, that his judgment was not deceived, nor his hopes disappointed. In a letter to Congress, signed by him and Mr. Deane, they say ; “The Marquis de Lafayette, a young nobleman of great family connexions here, and great wealth, is gone to America in a ship of his own, accompanied by some officers of distinction, in order to serve in our armies. He is exceedingly beloved, and everybody's good wishes attend him. We cannot but hope he may meet with such a reception as will make the country and his expedition agreeable to him. Those, who censure it as imprudent in him, do nevertheless applaud his spirit; and we are satisfied, that the civilities and respect, that may be shown him, will be serviceable to our affairs here, as pleasing not only to his powerful relations and to the court, but to the whole French nation. He has left a beautiful young wife, and, for her sake particularly, we hope that his bravery and ardent desire to distinguish himself will be a little restrained by the General's prudence, so as not to permit his being hazarded much, except on some important occasion.”
Dr. Franklin had been ten months in France before the court of Versailles manifested any disposition to engage openly in the American contest. The opinion of the ministers was divided on this subject. Count de Vergennes and Count Maurepas, the two principal ministers, were decidedly in favor of a war with England, and of bringing it on by uniting with the Americans. Some of the others, among whom was Turgot while he was in the cabinet, disapproved this policy, and the King himself came into it with reluctance.