C. W. F. Dumas to Benjamin Franklin: A Translation
The Hague, 13 September 1778
Although today is not post-day, I will begin by informing you that, after a long session yesterday, the Assembly of Holland has finally resolved that as long as France and Britain are at war and in addition to the squadron in the West Indies, it would increase the Republic’s forces by 32 ships of the line and frigates, and 8,000 crewmen, to serve in Europe, mainly in the Channel and the North Sea. Of these 32 vessels, part will be ready by next January and the rest during the course of the next year.1
The address by the Bourse of Amsterdam has arrived and will be the topic of the next deliberations.2 The Assembly will thus be in session a few more days.
They told the Grand Pensionary that they would expect some vigorous démarches by both the government and an important personage, not only on the demands to be made, but also on the most effective means of compelling the English to allow the Republic to observe the most exact neutrality and on the orders to be given to captains of warships in this regard. In response to the Grand Pensionary’s evasions on this head, they told him very frankly that the party that would frustrate this legitimate expectation would be declaring itself manifestly in favor of England and would be an English Party, ready to sacrifice the Dutch to the British. I heard all this from good sources.
The address has been read, both in the assembly of Their High Mightinesses and in that of Holland, and continues to be under serious consideration.
There is more. Rotterdam is finally waking up: a similar address was received from a number of merchants of that city. Those of Dort are also complaining. As a matter of fact, several of their vessels were seized and then returned, but they had to spend 300 pounds sterling which they demand as justice. The Republic’s envoy in London sent here the names of 3 vessels which were returned by Britain, but among those, one cannot properly be called restored since it was taken back by a Dutch warship, Captain van Braam. He also wrote that he had made remonstrances to the London Court against such captures as being contrary to the principles of the law of nature and nations, adding that he will suspend further action in that vein and tone until he is sure that his superiors approve. One could say that he has some doubts as to whether they wish the Dutch subject to be treated by the British according to these principles.
All this, gentlemen, greatly embarrasses and distresses the English party here.
I have just received, gentlemen, your letters dated the 9th and 10th of this month.3 I immediately went to the Grand Facteur (where I am received at all hours of the day, like a child of the House). He is very pleased with the letter. While reading the passage concerning your previous démarche, he said this is worth gold, and our friend will be able to make much of it. I am going to make a copy and leave it with our Friend, after having shown him the original.
In addition to the Amsterdam address, there arrived this morning a delegation from Amsterdam’s Chamber of Commerce to meet with the Prince on the same subject.
A second address from Rotterdam has arrived. It comes from a single merchant named Dubbel de Mutz,4 but it is the strongest of them all, and rather curious for the details it reveals. Here is the one I was told of. The masters of Dutch ships taken to England must undergo, on the spot and as if they were criminals, interrogatories of 30 pages in folio that ask them to tell everything they ever did, at home and at sea, since their birth; the voyages they have made, and in what capacity; the merchandise or cargo aboard the vessels they were on during their entire life. Their High Mightinesses are requested to let the King of England know in no uncertain terms that he cannot interfere in the affairs of their subjects. The issue of the captures will be seriously considered tomorrow, together with the addresses they have given rise to. If the resolution adopted is not strong enough to force the British to respect the Dutch flag, Amsterdam will urge that there be none, for a feeble resolution would only make the British even more insolent.
Since the Grand Facteur wished to have a copy of the address of the Amsterdam merchants, I procured it for him and he had it copied by his secretaries. It is 15 pages in folio, strong in content, but moderate in form. I have to return it in an hour, otherwise I would have made a copy for myself. The principles on which it is based are those of the law of nature and nations, natural equality, and the treaty between Great Britain and Holland of 1/11 December 1674 and 30 December 1675, concluded at the time by the British for their own protection, while Holland was at war with France.5 It asks Their High Mightinesses to attend promptly and effectively to the security of this country’s commerce, not only through the serious representations to the British Court for past excesses in order to bring them to an end, but also through a sufficient force of men-of-war, &c.
The resolution taken today by the States of Holland to make stronger representations and to protect the country’s trade is satisfactory. This is what time allows me to add today. I left my letter open until the last moment, in order to be able to report this important news.
I am with the most respectful devotion, gentlemen, your very humble and very obedient servant
Everyone here, even the Prince, thinks that the British behavior is intolerable.
RC (PPAmP: Franklin Papers); docketed by William Temple Franklin: “Dumas. Sept 13. 78”; in another hand: “M Dumas public.”
1. This resolution of the provincial assembly, entitled “Authorisatie op Gedeputeerden ter Generaliteit omtrent het bevorderen van een Equipage voor 1779” [Authorization for the deputies to the Admiralty about the promoting an Equipage for 1779] (Resolutien van de Heeren Staaten van Holland en Westvriesland, 1778, 2:959–961) and intended for presentation to the States General of the United Provinces, was adopted in response to the proposal presented by Amsterdam on 8 Sept. See Dumas’ letters to the Commissioners of 4 and 9 Sept. (both above). After much procrastination and in the face of strong pressure from Amsterdam and France, the States General adopted the substance of this resolution—the outfitting of 32 warships—on 26 April 1779, in the form of a secret resolution. See Benjamin Franklin to JA, 10 May, and note 4 (below).
2. This address, translated into English as “from the merchants, proprietors of vessels, and exchange insurers,” was printed in vol. 2 of Almon’s Remembrancer for 1778 (London, 1779, p. 92–96). Also in the Remembrancer were memorials from “the Merchants and owners of ships” of Rotterdam and from “the Merchants, Proprietors of vessels, and Exchange Insurers” of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Dordrecht (p. 96–99).
5. The desire of the merchants of Amsterdam and other Dutch cities to base their commerce on the principles set down in the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1674 and Explanatory Convention of 1675, and to have those principles respected by Britain, is understandable, but their hopes were unrealistic. Those agreements had been initiated by the English in order that they might take over the carrying trade during the Franco-Dutch war then in progress. Art. 1 of the treaty declared that each party could trade unmolested with states at war with the other signatory, and Art. 8 provided that free ships made free goods. The explanatory convention dealt with Art. 1 and stated that the vessels of either party could trade from a neutral to a belligerent port, and vice versa, as well as from one belligerent port to another (George Chalmers, ed., A Collection of Treaties between Great Britain and Other Powers, London, 1790, p. 177–178, 182–183, 189–191). At the time this allowed English ships to conduct an unrestricted trade with France, except in contraband as listed in Art. 3 (same, p. 178–179), even to the extent of taking over the carrying trade that normally would have been the exclusive province of French ships.
In 1778 the British were unwilling to permit the Dutch to obtain any commercial advantage from the agreements. In the Seven Years’ War the British government made its positions clear. Its promulgation of the Rule of 1756 effectively annulled the convention and Arts. 1 and 8 of the treaty by prohibiting a neutral from taking over any trade, i.e. with the French colonies, in time of war that was not open in time of peace. In addition, a clear distinction came to be made between trading with an enemy and for an enemy, the latter being, for all intents, prohibited so as not to permit a neutral state to benefit from the war. For a discussion of the Treaty of 1674 and the Convention of 1675, and the efforts by the British to diminish their effect, see Richard Pares, Colonial Blockade and Neutral Rights, 1739–1763, London, 1938, chaps. 3 and 4.