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while he was in London, and notes of his conversations with Lord Shelburne, have been perused by the author of these pages; and there is not one word in them relating to the American boundaries and fisheries, except in two instances, in which Lord Shelburne of his own accord mentioned the subject, and said he hoped the King of France would not sustain the unreasonable demands of the Americans. On both these occasions M. de Rayneval declined holding any discussion. Indeed, he was expressly instructed, in case Lord Shelburne should speak to him on American affairs, to declare, “that he had no authority to treat on these topics.
It was the main object of M. de Rayneval's mission to settle the difficulties in the Spanish treaty. Before Spain declared war against England, a secret convention was formed between France and Spain, in which the former engaged to prosecute the war jointly with the latter, till certain advantages should be gained, particularly the restoration of Gibraltar. But the time of peace had come, and Gibraltar was still in the hands of the English. This subject caused a great deal of trouble in adjusting the Spanish treaty.
Again, the British envoys, perceiving these suspicions, took care to make the most of them, and to effect as wide a separation as they could between the Americans and the French. They produced an intercepted letter, written by M. de Marbois, secretary of the French legation in Philadelphia, whilst the minister himself was absent on a visit to the American army. This letter contained heretical doctrines about the fisheries, and it was assumed to be a ministerial document;
* See Mr. Jay's despatch in the Diplomatic Correspondence, Vol. VIII. p. 129; and remarks upon it, p. 208. Also, North American Review, Vol. XXX. p. 22.
whereas, it was written by the secretary without authority, and was merely an exposition of his private sentiments, accompanied by facts of a very dubious character, which are now known to have been derived from a source deserving little confidence. These circumstances not being understood at that time, the letter had much weight in confirming the suspicions that already existed.*
It is to be observed, however, that the commissioners were unanimous in the course they pursued. But they never pretended to give any other reasons for their conduct, than such as were founded on inferences, conjectures, and unexplained appearances. No direct or positive proofs were adduced, and nothing is now hazarded in saying, that no such proofs will ever be brought to light. The French court, from first to last, adhered faithfully to the terms of the alliance. Not that they had any special partiality for the Americans, or were moved by the mere impulse of good will and friendship, unmixed with motives of interest. Why should this be expected ? When was entire disinterestedness ever known to characterize the intercourse between nations ? But no fact in the history of the American Revolution is more clearly demonstrable, than that the French government, in their relations with the United States, during the war and at the peace, maintained strictly their honor and fidelity to their en
There is a curious passage in Coxe's History of the House of Austria, which shows the designs of the British commissioners, and the kind of influence which was supposed to be exercised by them. “Mr. Fitzherbert,” says this historian, “fulfilled his delicate office with great ability and address. While he treated with Vergennes, he succeeded in alarming Franklin, Adams, and Jay, and prevailed on them to sign separate and provisional articles, which severed America from France.” – Vol. V. p. 327, 2d. ed.
gagements; nay, more, that they acted a generous, and, in some instances, a magnanimous part. *
In a letter to Mr. Livingston, secretary of foreign affairs, Dr. Franklin explains the grounds upon which he united with his colleagues in signing the treaty.
“I will not now take it upon me,” he observes, “to justify the apparent reserve respecting this court, at the signature, which you disapprove. I do not see, however, that they have much reason to complain of that transaction. Nothing was stipulated to their prejudice, and none of the stipulations were to have force, but by a subsequent act of their own. I suppose,
indeed, that they have not complained of it, or you would have sent us a copy of the complaint, that we might have answered it. I long since satisfied Count de Vergennes about it here. We did what appeared to all of us best at the time, and, if we have done wrong, the Congress will do right, after hearing us, to censure us. Their nomination of five persons to the service seems to mark, that they had some dependence on our joint judgment, since one alone could have made a treaty by direction of the French ministry as well as twenty.
“I will only add, that, with respect to myself, neither the letter from M. de Marbois, handed us through the British negotiators (a suspicious channel), nor the con
The treaties between France, Spain, and England, were not completed till seven weeks after the signing of the American treaty. By the special invitation of Count de Vergennes, the American commissioners were present when those treaties were signed at Versailles. Mr. Wilmot, in a treatise written under the direction of the British government, concerning the losses and claims of the loyalists, says, that, after having seen the correspondence of the British commissioners at Paris with the ministers at home, “he can assert with confidence, that the court of Versailles absolutely refused to come to any treaty or decision at all, till the American commissioners were completely satisfied." — Wilmot's Historical View, &c., p. 37.
versations respecting the fishery, the boundaries, the royalists, &c., recommending moderation in our demands, are of weight sufficient in my mind to fix an opinion, that this court wished to restrain us in obtaining any degree of advantage we could prevail on our enemies to accord; since those discourses are fairly resolvable, by supposing a very natural apprehension, that we, relying too much on the ability of France to continue the war in our favor, and supply us constantly with money, might insist on more advantages than the English would be willing to grant, and thereby lose the opportunity of making peace, so necessary to all our friends."
A rumor was circulated in America, not long after the signature of the treaty, that Dr. Franklin was lukewarm about the boundaries and fisheries, and that he was even willing to conclude a treaty without securing these advantages to his country. His friend, Dr. Cooper of Boston, informed him of this rumor, and of its tendency to injure his character. Such a charge, considering that he had originally proposed these articles as essential, and had zealously supported them to their fullest extent in every stage of the negotiation, appeared to him as ungrateful as it was unjust. He immediately wrote to the other commissioners on the subject, enclosing an extract from Dr. Cooper's letter. "It is not my purpose,” said he, “to dispute any share of the honor of the treaty, which the friends of my colleagues may be disposed to give them; but, having now spent fifty years of my life in public offices and trusts, and having still one ambition left, that of carrying the character of fidelity at least to the grave with me, I cannot allow that I was behind any of them in zeal and faithfulness. I therefore think, that I ought not to suffer an accusation,
which falls little short of treason to my country, to pass without notice, when the means of effectual vindication are at hand. You, Sir, were a witness of my conduct in that affair. To you and my other colleagues I appeal, by sending to each a similar letter with this; and I have no doubt of your readiness to do a brother commissioner justice, by certificates that will entirely destroy the effect of that accusation.” Mr. Jay replied; “I have no reason whatever to believe, that you were averse to our obtaining the full extent of boundary and fishery secured to us by the treaty. Your conduct respecting them, throughout the negotiation, indicated a strong, a steady attachment to both those objects, and in my opinion promoted the attainment of them.” And further; “I do not recollect the least difference of sentiment between us respecting the boundaries or fisheries. On the contrary, we were unanimous and united in adhering to and insisting on them. Nor did I perceive the least disposition in either of us to recede from our claims, or be satisfied with less than we obtained.” *
Whilst the treaty was in the course of negotiation,
Notwithstanding this declaration, so positive and full, we find the following extraordinary language in the Life of Jay, lately published. Speaking of the claims to the boundaries and fisheries, the author says; “Dr. Franklin never questioned either the justice or the importance of these claims, but he did question the propriety of making the success of these claims an ultimatum of peace, when Congress had not made it so." And again; “ Urged on the one hand by France, and fettered on the other by his instructions, Franklin would, in all human probability, but with feelings of deep mortification and regret, have set his hand to a treaty, sacrificing rights, which he had himself ably and zealously maintained, and which he knew to be of inestimable value to his country." — Life of John Jay, Vol. I. pp. 153, 154. These charges, equally unfounded and unsustained by proofs, may be regarded with the less surprise, when it is known that the author adopts all Mr. Jay's suspicions of the French court as historical facts, and appears to have acquired but a limited knowledge of the actual history of the negotiation.