C. W. F. Dumas to Benjamin Franklin: A Translation
The Hague, 30 October 1778
On Tuesday, the 27th, I had the honor to send you a very interesting letter. Already the address, a copy of which was enclosed, has had several important results. I. The Assembly of Holland, which people here thought would be finished today, will resume its sessions next Wednesday. In the meantime, the gentlemen from Amsterdam will go home in order to return Tuesday with some new instructions. 2. The Corps of Nobility of the province, which had already printed up a counter-address, to oppose that of Amsterdam in the Assembly, has prudently withdrawn it. 3. An important personage1 with good reason to be jealous of the people’s affection and seeing that this petition does not come from a mere party in the Regency of Amsterdam, as people around him have sought to persuade him, but rather expresses a discontent that is increasing and becoming general, seems to be alarmed. The English party is also concerned: on Sunday, Sir Joseph Yorke sent an express to England in a fisherman’s pink from Scheveling, apparently to inform them of events and advise them to moderate and soften their tone.
Yesterday, as he read Suffolk’s reply to the Assembly, the Grand Pensionary showed by his tone and gestures how much it displeased him. I informed some merchants from Amsterdam of this with a full commentary for their guidance.
In my letter of the 23d,2 I spoke to Mr. Franklin in general terms of the demarche that I had undertaken. Today, I have the great pleasure to inform you of its good results. You are aware from my previous letters, gentlemen, that the Grand Pensionary’s sole excuse for remaining inactive was that he could not communicate the treaty without your consent. To deprive him of this pretext I asked [the Grand Facteur]3 for his only printed copy, which he was kind enough to give me. With that in hand, on the 22d I went to request an audience with the Grand Pensionary. I gave him the printed treaty on your behalf, adding that out of deference to the Court of France you had awaited its first printing by the French Court, but that now, thinking that the obligations as presented in your letter4 had been fulfilled in every respect, you felt he could proceed in the manner that he judged would be most agreeable to this Republic. Seeing him taken aback and at a loss for words, I pursued the point by making him understand that, at the very least, he owed you the courtesy of a reply; that you were expecting one; and to prove it I gave him the following extract, signed by me, from Mr. Franklin’s letter of 22 September.
“We have made Overtures to the Grand Pensionary. We took that to be a regular and Kind mode of proceeding. We expect an answer. If he gives us none, we shall naturally conclude, that there is no disposition in their High Mightinesses to have any connection with the United States of America; and I believe we shall give them no farther trouble. At least that would be my opinion. I know your nation, having been frequently there, and much esteeming the people, and wishing for a firm union between the two republics. On the other Side, our Virgin State is a jolly one, and, though at present not very rich, will in time be a great fortune to any suitor; and where she has a favourable predisposition, it seems to be well worth cultivating.”5
The underlined portions are the little additions that I made to tie together the excerpted passages and make them coherent.6
He read it carefully and by a smile indicated that the ending pleased him. As I arose, I told him that I was prepared to convey to you anything he might like and beseeched him to consider me as zealous for the welfare and prosperity of this Republic, in which I have enjoyed living for so long, as I am a friend of the Americans. He answered, / do not doubt it. I then went to render an account of this interview to our friend and to give him a copy of the aforementioned excerpt, with an attestation of its conformity to the one delivered the same day to the Grand Pensionary. I gave him to understand that I was thereby giving his city something that might one day be used to raise some serious charges if this overture was repressed. He agreed and thanked me profusely.
There things stood until the morning of the 28th, when an important person in whom we can have full confidence, but who requested anonymity, told me the following: “You are requested to please tell Mr. Franklin that he should not find it strange or incongruous on the part of the Grand Pensionary if he does not answer the letter just yet and to make him understand that there are important, but secret, reasons which impose the need for delay.”
Moreover, I have noticed that our friend, who until now had been greatly irritated by the Grand Pensionary, has rather softened his attitude toward him.
I had the honor of receiving the interesting papers that Mr. Lee favored me with under the date of 22 October. After communicating their content to certain people here, I sent a copy to the printer of the Gazette at Leyden so that he can correct in his supplement, or in the following issue, the inaccuracies contributed by his other correspondents on the same subjects in today’s paper.7 I recommend myself to his good remembrance and friendship and request a continuation of these favors, and am with great respect, gentlemen, your very humble and very obedient servant
P.S. I was about to close when I received a Dutch book of 180 pages in octavo. Fresh from the press, it is advertised publicly as being on sale at all the bookstores of the Republic under the title: Examen de la Conduite de la Grande-Bretagne à l’égard de la Hottande, depuis l’origine de la République jusqua’à ce jour; Par un Hollandois bien intentionné; Pour servir à faire connoître le Caractere des Anglois8 dans leur conduite envers les Américains. This piece is well done and, as one might expect, is very violent against the English. What I had published is mildness itself by comparison. Certainly it will greatly embarrass the English party and is well suited to arouse this nation even more against England. All this should help you gauge the degree to which the ferment increases in this country, as well as the conduct that should be followed to take advantage of it.
RC (PPAmP: Franklin Papers); addressed: “à Leurs Excellences Messieurs les Plénipotentiaires des Etats-Unis de l’Amérique à Passy”; docketed by William Temple Franklin: “Dumas Oct. 30. 78.” LbC (Algemeen Rijksarchief, The Hague, Eerste Afdeling, Dumas Papers, vol. 1).
1. Presumably the Stadholder, William V.
2. In that letter Dumas stated that he had made a demarche that he thought would greatly embarrass certain men and provide the friends of the American cause with a powerful weapon of great potential (PPAmP: Franklin Papers).
3. Supplied from the Letterbook copy; Dumas left a blank space in the recipient’s copy.
5. The recipient’s copy of Franklin’s letter has not been found. However, in an enclosure to this letter Dumas supplied a much more extensive extract from the Franklin letter than he inserted above. From that it is clear that Dumas’ presentation to the Grand Pensionary was accurate, but with two significant differences. The first was Franklin’s continuation of the fifth sentence which there reads: “At least that would be my opinion; for I think that a young State like a young Virgin, should modestly stay at home, and wait the Application of Suitors for an Alliance with her; and not run about offering her Amity to all the World, and hazarding their Refusal.” The second was his request for Dumas’ advice on whether, if he should undertake a mission to The Hague as proposed by JA and Arthur Lee, he would be received as “a Minister of the States of America.” See also the Commissioners’ letter to van Berckel of 29 Oct. (above).
6. This sentence was written in the left margin beside the quoted passage.
7. The “papers” sent by Lee were printed in the Gazette de Leyde of 3 Nov. and comprised an extract from a letter dated 3 Oct. at La Coruna (apparent recipient’s copy at ViU: Lee Papers) and a captured letter by a British officer at Sandy Hook dated 23 Aug. The Coruna letter reported the arrival of the American privateer Vengeance with numerous prisoners taken in the capture of the British packets Harriot and Eagle, while that from America dealt with the French fleet’s arrival in American waters and blamed Estaing’s inability to gain a decisive victory over Adm. Howe on chance and bad weather. The officer also stated that the British position was greatly weakened by the absence of Byron’s fleet and might, if that situation continued in the presence of a French fleet of superior strength, result in the abandonment of New York as well as other American possessions.
Lee’s “papers” were important to Dumas because the Gazette of 30 Oct. had printed a letter from La Coruna dated 3 Oct., which noted the arrival of the Vengeance, but also contained a very critical account of Estaing’s actions by Wingate Newman, captain of the Vengeance. Newman believed that Estaing’s unwillingness or inability to engage and defeat the British fleet under Howe stood in the way of a prompt end to the war. See also Dumas’ letter to the Commissioners of 4 Nov. (below) and an extract of a letter from Newman on the voyage of the Vengeance printed in the Boston Gazette of 11 Jan. 1779.
8. The remainder of this title was interlined for insertion at this point. The whole title is Dumas’ translation from the Dutch: Onderzoek van Groot-Brittanjes Gedrag, ten Opzichte van Holland. Zedert de Opkomste der Republicq tot nu toe. Door een welmend Hollander. Dienende tot opmaking van het Nationale Character der Engelschen in haar gedrag me de Americaanen (1778). This pamphlet had originally been published in French in 1756, ostensibly at Paris but actually at The Hague, and is attributed to Louis Joseph Plumard de Dangeul, with the first full Dutch translation appearing in 1757. With the exception of the introduction, to which material had been added to bring it up to date, the version published in 1778 was identical to those of 1756 and 1757 (W. P. C. Knuttel, Catalogue van de Pamfletten-Verzamel berustende in de Koniklijke Bibliotheek, 7 vols., The Hague, 1889–1920).