C. W. F. Dumas to Benjamin Franklin: A Translation
The Hague, 18 December 1778
I have seen our friend. There are two committees: one to work on the new British complaints; the other on the response to be given to the French Ambassador’s mémoire, of which I sent you a copy.1 We will not know the result until next week.
The protest published by Amsterdam against the resolution of the 18th was sent to me so that I might send a copy to Congress. This important document is 20 pages in folio.2 I will thus have much work to do, first translating it and then having it copied in duplicate and triplicate &c.
If a satisfactory response is not made to France, Amsterdam will protest again.
We were told that the Admiralty would not give its preliminary advisory regarding the resolution until next week, but measures were secretly taken to issue one this morning that promises fine things to France without, in the meantime, changing anything regarding the refusal of convoys for naval stores. Early this morning the Ambassador, having heard of it, visited the Grand Pensionary, before he left for the Assembly, to deliver a note so strong that I do not think that it will be possible to avoid giving a precise yes or no answer, which will either maintain or destroy the commerce of the seven provinces with France.
Despite the Ambassador’s note, the English party has prevailed in the Assembly, and all but Amsterdam have adopted by a plurality the Admiralty’s position. Thereupon Amsterdam delivered its protest which, after confirming her previous protests, especially against the resolution of 18 November, declared that she considers herself not responsible for and thus free from all the unfavorable consequences for the Republic that might result from the unsatisfactory answer to be given to France. Our friend made me read this protest which is as short and moderate in form as it is strong in content.3
I have been permitted to make a copy of both the resolution and the protest. On good authority I have been assured that a letter from Count Walderen has arrived which indicates that the Court of London is no longer content with the resolution taken by this state on 18 November. Thus have those who were so eager to spare the said Court been badly paid for their complaisance. Will they not finally open their eyes? That I do not know. What is certain is that the resolution taken by a plurality of the States of Holland on the 19th of this month has not yet been brought before the States General. The Assembly of Holland, which was to separate this week, has been adjourned to next Tuesday. The delegates of the towns will leave Thursday. Are they going to seek new instructions for another response that the French ambassador can receive? It is possible. Only the Amsterdam delegates remain, for they do not need ad referendum—stat sententia civitatis.4
The letter from the Envoy, Count Welderen, contains the order of the British Court, given him by Suffolk, by which the Royal Navy and British privateers are authorized to seize all neutral vessels carrying munitions for land or naval forces, that is to say masts, &c., to France. This ruling is directly contrary to the resolution of 18 November, in which the States refused to call into question this article guaranteed them by their treaties.
Until I can give you, gentlemen, the outcome of all this, I think that I should inform you of a curious letter that I received and my reply. The writer, a lawyer and brother of the State Council’s fiscal agent, came by coach to deliver it, together with a package and a visiting card. Among some legal documents, gentlemen, was a copy of a letter written to you, last year and your reply regarding a Dutch vessel from Rotterdam, captured at sea, taken into Charleston, and there declared good prize.5
As a result, I went to see him and was told that he was one of those interested in the vessel, having invested 10,000 florins, etc. Finally, he said to me: But sir, you have nevertheless been entrusted with some business matters by the States or, at least, they have passed through your hands. I have positive assurances of it. I replied: if that was so, I would be very indiscreet to admit it. But, sir, please believe my letter; make whatever use of it you please; show it to the Grand Pensionary or anyone else, who will tell you far better than I what you wish to learn.
The Grand Facteur, to whom I told all this, fully approved.
I carried this letter with me to Amsterdam, where certain persons [had invited me?] to confer with them on some undertakings which could be very beneficial to America. [I] will make the necessary moves to bring [this matter to?] fruition before [speaking?] to you [about it?]. Tomorrow I leave for The Hague, whence I will inform you as to what will have been resolved regarding the answer to be given the French Court. I am, with very great respect, gentlemen, your very humble and very obedient servant
RC (MH-H: Lee Papers). LbC (Algemeen Rijksarchief, The Hague, Eerste Afdeling, Dumas Coll., Inventaris I, p. 242–243). Water damage to the recipient’s copy has resulted in the obliteration of several words. In the section of the letter dated 22 Dec. these have been supplied, in brackets, from the Letterbook copy. The section dated 28 Dec., however, does not appear in the Letterbook and missing words there are conjecturally supplied.
3. The Duc de la Vauguyon’s note or mémoire of 19 Dec., the Provincial Assembly’s response, and Amsterdam’s protest were copied by Dumas and sent to the Committee for Foreign Affairs as enclosures in his letter of 7 Jan. 1779 (PCC, No. 93, I, f. 258–259). For the text of an explanatory note to the mémoire of the 19th, see Dumas’ letter of 12 Jan. to the Commissioners (below). In his note La Vauguyon demanded a precise explanation of the means by which the United Provinces intended to maintain a perfect neutrality and declared that the absence of such an explanation would be seen as partiality and result in the implementation of the measures promised in his mémoire of 7 Dec. The resolution adopted by the Assembly in response to La Vauguyon’s representations did not mention convoys for ships carrying materials for naval construction, the real issue, but only reiterated the Assembly’s desire to maintain a perfect neutrality and intention to put the issue before the States General. Amsterdam’s protest is summarized accurately by Dumas.
4. That is, to carry back an answer—the decision of their city stands.
5. This was a letter from Franco and Adrianus Dubbeldemutts to the Commissioners of 30 Oct. 1777. The Rotterdam firm sought the Commissioners’ help in recovering its sloop Chester which, bound for Rotterdam with a cargo of dyewoods and hides, had been seized by American privateers on 14 June 1777 and brought to Charleston, S.C., where it was condemned. Because the privateers had put the Chester’s captain ashore at St. Eustatius, he was unable either to testify concerning the sloop’s ownership or appeal the ruling within the statutory time limit. In their reply of 10 Nov. 1777, the Commissioners deplored the seizure and promised to send all of the documents in their possession to the congress for its consideration. Not until 24 July 1786, however, did the congress authorize a new trial for the Chester (Franklin, Papers description begins The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Leonard W. Labaree, William B. Willcox (from vol. 15), and others, New Haven, 1959– description ends , 25:122–124, 147–148; PCC, No. 45, f. 93–254 passim; JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 30:423–424).
Immediately following this paragraph Dumas inserted copies of two letters, which have been omitted. The first, dated 4 Dec. 1778, was from H. J. d’Oldenbarneveld, also known as Witte Tullingh. Understanding that Dumas handled the interests of the Americans, had a commission from the congress, and was friendly with Franklin, Tullingh requested Dumas to use his influence for the recovery of the Chester. In the second, dated 6 Dec., Dumas denied that he held any such commission, but agreed to do what he could in the case.