C. W. F. Dumas to Benjamin Franklin: A Translation
The Hague, 1 January 1779
Upon returning here, Tuesday evening, I went to see our friend. He told me that nothing had been decided yet, but that, in spite of all that might still happen tomorrow, things would end well. I knew what he meant. He also told me that Sir Joseph Yorke’s excessive influence on an important person manifested itself more and more, and that there was no doubt that the latter had made secret arrangements with his cousin.1
After dinner on the following day, Wednesday, I visited the French ambassador. While he was out walking, the States General’s answer to the memorandum was delivered by its agent, who was told to return. His Excellency, who already knew its content, told me that he would reject it and did so.2 He also told me that he had in readiness the declaration by which the citizens of the state are to be excluded from the King’s regulation in favor of neutrals and deprived of the privileges they enjoy in his ports, and that the declaration will soon be made official and public.
The Grand Facteur thinks that this affair will benefit the anti-British party as much as the taking of Bergen-op-Zoom3 harmed them thirty years ago, and that the time will come when the others will have to have recourse to the latter in order to lift the opprobrium which their catering to 4 has brought upon them.
Wednesday evening I went to see our friend. He could spare me only a moment. The States General’s response to the French memorandum is the same as that taken in the plurality by the States of Holland, with a few minor, meaningless additions. The members did not even consult their respective provinces on the matter: another blow to the constitution. One of these gentlemen, with whom I had the opportunity to speak, told me, as the only excuse, that this is not the first time that we have acted in this manner. I replied that a prostitute could say the same. I have seen a letter from a very important official of one of the provinces in which he censures and reproaches such behavior. Friesland is the one province that can least do without French trade.
Today, there is a big concert at the French embassy. The Court is there. The ambassador is doing the reverse of what is done in the theater: he begins with the entertainment and will end with the tragedy. People here flatter themselves, however, that he will not proceed too urgently, because it is understood that all the Admiralties have been summoned to deliberate more extensively on the matter of convoys. What is not openly said, but known by all, is that they have sent the response, which the ambassador refused to receive, to Mr. de Berkenrode5 in Paris in order to seek agreement there: but in vain.
Our friend is lucky. He has in all this played a prestigious role and will achieve glory in the end. He is following in the footsteps of the Republic’s great men of old. On the other hand, the French memorandum was very timely in promoting the resolve of the great city. I do not doubt, gentlemen, that the events which will follow will show you the importance of what passes here, and how much the démarches of the servant of the United States, in which you have concurred, have proved useful in this affair.
We have just received confirmation from England of the return of their Commissioners. Campbell’s expedition against Carolina failed.6 Byron sailed from New York with 15 vessels, was hit by a storm on 2 November, and returned to Rhode Island with 10 cripples; the Somerset of 64 guns and the Cornwall of 74 were lost, the Bedford towed dismasted to New York, and the Culloden returned to England in poor condition. D’Estaing sailed from Boston on the 4th in pursuit of Hotham and Grant, or perhaps to conquer the English islands, &c. It has been so long, gentlemen, since you have given me any news from America, that I am reduced to telling you what I hear from the enemy.
The French ambassador will wait until about the middle of the month when the States of Holland will reconvene, and then, if they do not place themselves in perfect compliance with the regulation, he will carry out his threat.
From Hamburg, the 29th of December, I am informed that there is a rumor, which needs confirmation, that Prince Henry will step down from the command of the army, which will then be conferred upon the Prince of Prussia;7 that Prince Repnin is in Breslau,8 where the operational plans for the next campaign are being made, and is receiving high honors; that the Russians will create a diversion in Hungary; that it is for communication with their army that the King9 wishes to maintain his posts in Upper Silesia; that he is in both good health and spirits. Also, that two new treaties of commerce are being worked on, one between the Courts of Berlin and Saxony, the other between those of Berlin and Petersburg; and that there is no sign of peace in Germany.
May God bestow glorious and fruitful benedictions upon the United States. This is my daily wish. May we, gentlemen, you and I, celebrate together, in the course of this year, this happy event.
I am, with a very great respect gentlemen, your very humble and very obedient servant
RC (PPAmP: Franklin Papers); addressed: “à Leurs Excellences Messieurs les Plenipotentiaires des Etats-Unis de l’Amérique à Passy”; docketed by William Temple Franklin: “M. Dumas 1. Janry. 79.”
1. That is, the Stadholder, William V of Orange, had made secret arrangements with his cousin, George III. In extracts from this and other letters to the Commissioners that he enclosed in his letter to the Committee for Foreign Affairs of 7 Jan. (PCC, No. 93, I, f. 255), Dumas replaced “son Cousin” with “la Cour de Lond.”
2. La Vauguyon rejected the answer on 30 Dec., the same day that it was adopted by the States General in the form of a secret resolution (Edler, Dutch Republic and the American Revolution description begins Friedrich Edler, The Dutch Republic and the American Revolution, Baltimore, 1911. description ends , p. 117).
3. Located in the southwestern corner of the Netherlands, the fortress of Bergen-op-Zoom was taken by the French in 1747 (Cambridge Modern Hist. description begins The Cambridge Modern History, New York, 1909–1910; 12 vols. description ends , 6:248).
4. In the extracts from this letter sent to the Committee for Foreign Affairs, Dumas replaced the blank with “la Cour de L.”
5. The effort by Mattheus Lestevenon van Berkenrode, Dutch ambassador to France, to present to Vergennes the States General’s response to La Vauguyon’s mémoire was unsuccessful. On 5 Jan., Berkenrode informed the States General that Vergennes had refused to accept the answer, requested that it be withdrawn, and advised that in the future the States General negotiate with La Vauguyon (Edler, Dutch Republic and the American Revolution description begins Friedrich Edler, The Dutch Republic and the American Revolution, Baltimore, 1911. description ends , p. 120). In fact, the only acceptable reply would be one declaring unequivocably the determination of the United Provinces to protect its vessels, particularly those carrying ships’ timbers, through the use of convoys.
6. Lt. Col. Archibald Campbell’s objective was Georgia rather than the Carolinas. Leaving New York at the end of Nov., Campbell captured Savannah on 29 Dec. and shortly thereafter, following the arrival of additional troops from Florida under the command of Gen. Augustine Prevost, all of Georgia was in British hands (Ward, War of the Revolution description begins Christopher Ward, The War of the Revolution, New York, 1952; 2 vols. description ends , 2:679–681; Mackesy, War for America description begins Piers Mackesy, The War for America, 1775–1783, Cambridge, 1965. description ends , p. 234).
7. The change in command from Prince Henry of Prussia to his nephew, Prince Frederick William (later Frederick William II), did not take place.
8. Prince Nicolai Vasilievich Repnin had arrived at Breslau on 20 Dec. with powers to mediate between Austria and Prussia. In May he signed the Treaty of Teschen ending the War for the Bavarian Succession (Hoefer, Nouv. biog. générale description begins J. C. F. Hoefer, ed., Nouvelle biographie générale depuis les temps les plus reculés jusqu’à nos jours, Paris, 1852–1866; 46 vols. description ends ).
9. Frederick II, or Frederick the Great of Prussia.