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A French Army sent to the United States.—Lafayette. — Northern Powers of Europe combine in Defence of Neutrals. – Franklin's Opinion of Privateering. — Correspondence between Count de Vergennes and Mr. Adams. – Franklin's Remarks upon it. — Charges against Franklin by his Enemies, examined and refuted. — New Attempt in Congress to procure his Recall.— Count de Vergennes's Opinion of him as Minister at the French Court. — The numerous Duties of his Office. — Colonel John Laurens. – Franklin proposes to retire from the Public Service. — New Propositions for Peace, through the Agency of Mr. Hartley. — Franklin's Answer to them.—His Friends at Passy and Auteuil. — Madame Brillon. — Madame Helvétius.
It had been a question much agitated both in France and America, since the treaty of alliance, whether it was advisable to send French troops to coöperate with the armies of the United States. The prudence of such an experiment was thought extremely doubtful. While fighting the battles of the mother country in former wars, the Americans had often been brought into conflict with the French on the frontiers. It was feared, that prejudices had been contracted, and habits formed, which would prevent the troops of the two nations from acting together in harmony, even if the people themselves could be reconciled to the presence of a French army. All aids from France, it was said, would be the most effectually rendered in money and by a naval force. Such was likewise the view taken by the French cabinet, and they acted upon this plan for two years. But many persons in the United States thought differently. They saw no reason, in the common principles of human nature, why a people should sacrifice their interests, and put their freedom in jeopardy, by giving themselves up to an inherited prejudice.
A conviction of the justness of this sentiment was deeply wrought into the mind of Lafayette. He had been a year and a half in the country, and, from the manner in which he and other French officers were treated by all classes of people, he was satisfied, that there would be no hazard in bringing an army of Frenchmen to coöperate with American soldiers. He conversed frequently with General Washington on the subject, and, although the opinion of the latter is nowhere explicitly recorded, it is certain that Lafayette returned to France fully convinced, that such a measure would meet his approbation. He applied to the ministers accordingly; who hesitated for some time, influenced by the same motives of prudence, which had hitherto guided their counsels. But Lafayette persevered, and his zeal and the force of his arguments at last prevailed. In the early part of the year 1780, preparations were made for sending an army under Count de Rochambeau to America, with a fleet commanded by the Chevalier de Ternay.
In all these transactions he was assisted by the advice and cordial support of Dr. Franklin. They also procured large supplies of arms, equipments, and clothing for the American army. As the bearer of the good news, Lafayette sailed for the United States, authorized to concert measures with Washington and Congress for the reception and future employment of the French troops.
The northern powers of Europe, at the instance of Russia, had recently come into an arrangement respecting neutrals, which Dr. Franklin so highly approved, that he issued orders to the American cruisers in conformity with it, even before he ascertained the views of Congress. By the practice of nations in time of war, it had been a rule to seize the property of an enemy wherever found at sea; and neutral vessels having such property on board were captured under this rule, the cargo being confiscated as a prize to the captors, and the vessel being restored to the owners. This rule was reversed by the combined powers, and the law was established, that goods belonging to an enemy on board a neutral vessel, except such as were contraband, should not be subject to capture, or, in other words, that free ships should make free goods. A law so clearly founded in justice and humanity could not but receive his hearty concurrence. In his opinion, the application of the law ought to be extended still further, so as to mitigate the evils of war as much as possible, by leaving individuals to pursue their occupations unmolested. “I approve much of the principles of the confederacy of the neutral powers,” said he, “and am not only for respecting the ships as the house of a friend, though containing the goods of an enemy, but I even wish, for the sake of humanity, that the law of nations may be further improved, by determining, that, even in time of war, all those kinds of people, who are employed in procuring subsistence for the species, or in exchanging the necessaries or conveniences of life, which are for the common benefit of mankind, such as husbandmen on their lands, fishermen in their barques, and traders in unarmed vessels, shall be permitted to prosecute their several innocent and useful employments without interruption or molestation, and nothing taken from them, even when wanted by an enemy, but on paying a fair price for the same.” Privateering he called “robbing,” and “a remnant of the ancient piracy.” In an able paper on this practice, he shows its inhumanity, and condemns it M. M. “
as violating the code of morality, which ought to be sacredly observed by every civilized nation. “It behoves merchants to consider well of the justice of a war,” he remarks, “before they voluntarily engage a gang of ruffians to attack their fellow merchants of a neighbouring nation, to plunder them of their property, and perhaps ruin them and their families, if they yield it; or to woond, maim, or murder them, if they endeavour to defend it. Yet these things are done by Christian merchants, whether a war be just or unjust; and it can hardly be just on both sides. They are done by English and American merchants, who, nevertheless, complain of private theft, and hang by dozens the thieves they have taught by their own example.” He proposed, that, in treaties between nations, an article should be introduced, by which the contracting parties should bind themselves not to grant commissions to private armed vessels; and he was instrumental in forming such a treaty between Prussia and the United States. In fact, he was an enemy to war in all its forms and disguises. It was a maxim with him, that there never was a good war, or a bad peace. Mr. Adams had been but a short time in Paris, as minister for negotiating peace, when intelligence arrived of a resolve of Congress, by which the Continental paper money was to be redeemed at the rate of forty paper dollars for one of silver. The resolve being of a general nature, it was not obvious whether it was intended to apply to Americans only, or whether foreigners were to be included. The French court were concerned to ascertain this point, and Count de Vergennes wrote for information to Mr. Adams, who, having recently come from America, he supposed might be able to explain the intentions of Congress. Mr. Adams replied, that he could not tell how far the resolve was meant to extend, but expressed his decided conviction, that it ought to include foreigners, as much as Americans, and supported his opinion by ingenious and cogent arguments. Count de Vergennes expressed surprise, that this view of the subject should be taken. The French merchants had shipped various commodities to the United States, relying on the good faith of Congress in regard to their currency; and he said it would be an act of injustice to compel these merchants to suffer by an arbitrary depreciation, which they had no reason to expect at the time of shipping their goods. A few weeks later, the correspondence was renewed on other subjects connected with the alliance and the relations between the two countries; and Mr. Adams, in his zeal for a cause which no man had more at heart, advanced sentiments and spoke with a freedom, which were displeasing to Count de Vergennes, who sent a copy of the correspondence to Dr. Franklin, and requested him to transmit it to Congress. He did so, and at the same time wrote as follows to the President. “Mr. Adams thinks, as he tells me himself, that America has been too free in expressions of gratitude to France; for that she is more obliged to us than we to her; and that we should show spirit in our applications. I apprehend, that he mistakes his ground, and that this court is to be treated with decency and delicacy. The King, a young and virtuous prince, has, I am persuaded, a pleasure in reflecting on the generous benevolence of the action in assisting an oppressed people, and proposes it as a part of the glory of his reign. I think it right to increase this pleasure by our thankful acknowledgments, and that such an expression of gratitude is not only our duty, but our