C. W. F. Dumas to Benjamin Franklin: A Translation
The Hague, 10 November 1778
My last, of the 4th, left on the 6th. Tomorrow will be an important day and, if Amsterdam softens its position, will have serious consequences. We already know what the preliminary advisory of the Admiralties will be. The committee named to confer on this matter with the gentlemen of the Admiralty has made the following report: 1. They will refuse to enter into negotiations with Sir Joseph Yorke on the interpretation of the Treaties regarding naval stores. 2. They will strongly insist upon the restitution of the captured vessels. 3. The Admiralty will make certain specific arrangements with the country’s merchants during these troubles, or, to put it more plainly, convoys will be suspended for the said materials.1 This last point ruins all the rest.
Our friend seemed a little embarrassed. He has written to ask that some of the best minds of the Bourse be sent to him in order that he might profit from their advice on this last point, which he characterizes as being plain foolishness. Another person,2 extremely displeased by the same thing, says that Amsterdam can successfully oppose this maneuver if it holds firm for the strict observance of the Treaties and a perfect neutrality. If not, the nation’s servile submission to the British whip will also draw down upon her that of the French, who will not only withhold the privileges she has thus far enjoyed in France, but will also follow the British example in capturing her vessels.3
You should, therefore, prepare yourselves, gentlemen, for my next letter, which will inform you of either the city’s strong and successful opposition, or the thunderbolt struck against the commerce and navigation of this nation. Then we can say quidquid delirant Britanni, plectuntur Belge.4 It will be their own fault.
This situation will very likely linger a while, for our friend has told me that the Provincial Assembly will not adjourn this week. Since I cannot see him today, because he is dining in town, I wrote him a letter, a copy of which is enclosed.5
I am, with great respect, gentlemen, your very humble and very obedient servant
RC with one enclosure (PPAmP: Franklin Papers); addressed: “à Leurs Excellences Messieurs les Plénipotentiaires des Etats-Unis de l’Amérique à Passy.”; docketed by William Temple Franklin: “Dumas. 10. Nov. 78.”
1. Dumas gives an accurate summary of the main conclusions of this report, which was put before the Assembly on 6 Nov. and printed under that date in Secrete Resolutien van de Edele Groot Mog(()) Heeren Staten van Holland en Westvriesland (The Hague, 16 vols., 1670–1796, 13:444–454). It was officially proposed for adoption on 11 Nov. (Resolutien van de Heeren Staten van Holland en Westvriesland, 231 vols., 1524–1793, 2 :1250–1251, 1253) and approved on the 18th. For Dumas’ comments on its passage and Amsterdam’s reaction to it, see his letters of 13 and 20 Nov. (below).
2. This person cannot be positively identified, but it was probably La Vauguyon, the French ambassador. See his statement to members of the Dutch government reported in Dumas’ letter of 13 Nov. (below).
3. That is, if the Netherlands did not require Great Britain to observe the treaties of 1674–1675, particularly those articles declaring that free ships made free goods, France would rescind its regulation of 26 July 1778 concerning neutral commerce insofar as it applied to Dutch ships. The first article of that regulation, which could be revoked in six months if Britain did not grant the same privileges, permitted neutral ships to trade unmolested to or from an enemy port not blockaded, except in contraband. Even then the neutral ship would not be seized unless the contraband made up three-fourths or more of its cargo (Martens, ed., Recueil des principaux traités d’alliance description begins Georg Friedrich von Martens, ed., Recueil des principaux traités d’alliance, de paix, de trêve ... conclus par les puissances de l’Europe ... depuis 1761 jusqu’à présent ... Par Mr. de Martens, Gottingue, 1791–1801; 7 vols. description ends , 4:198; English translation of the regulation in vol. 2 of Almon’s Remembrancer for 1778, London, 1779, p. 355–357; see also Dumas’ letter of 13 Sept., note 5).
France’s primary objective was to have neutral nations do what it could not achieve with its own limited naval resources, that is, to force Britain to permit relatively unrestricted trade with France, particularly in naval stores, which were not included in the French list of contraband (Bemis, Diplomacy of the Amer. Revolution description begins Samuel Flagg Bemis, The Diplomacy of the American Revolution: The Foundations of American Diplomacy, 1775–1823, New York and London, 1935. description ends , p. 138–139). In the case of the Netherlands this came down to the demand that the States General provide unrestricted convoys or, in other words, convoys from which vessels carrying naval stores, particularly ships timbers, would not be excluded. This was a step that, except for Amsterdam, even the Assembly of Holland, much less the States General, was reluctant to take because of the inevitable Anglo-Dutch naval confrontation that it would produce. For the application of pressure by Britain and France in support of their respective positions and its impact on the deliberations of the Assembly of Holland and the States General, see Dumas’ later letters, particularly that of 16 Jan. 1779 (below).
4. The British set the policy, but it is the Belgians who suffer. This is presumably a paraphrase of Horace’s “quicquid delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi,” the kings set the policy but it is the Greeks that suffer.
5. In his letter to van Berckel, Dumas reiterated his position that Amsterdam, and by implication the United Provinces, must stand firm against British demands and in support of the strict observance of the Anglo-Dutch treaties in order to preserve its neutrality.