The American Commissioners
to the Comte de Vergennes
Passy March 28th. 17851
We have the honour to enclose an extract of a letter from the Commissioners of the United States of America to Your Excellency dated Augst. 28th. 1778. Copy of Your Excellency’s ansr dated 27. Septr. 1778. & Copy of M. de Sartine’s letter to Your Excellency of the 21st of Septr. 1778 all relative to a proposed negotiation with the States of Barbary.2 Not having any particular authority or instructions from Congress at that time to treat with those States, the Commissioners desisted from any further pursuit of the negotiation until Congress should have opportunity to deliberate & decide upon it. We are now able to inform your Excellency that we have received from the United States in Congress assembled special full powers to treat with each of the Powers of Barbary, Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli and the rest; & we have lately received authentic information that one of those Powers at least, the Emperor of Morocco has commenced hostilities against the United States by the capture of a vessel belonging to Philadelphia by one of his frigates, which has spread an alarm among the American Merchants & Mariners, raised the præmiums of insurance, and made it necessary for us to do all in our power to prevent the further progress of the war as well as to procure the liberation of our Countrymen who are made prisoners. As it is impossible for us to go to Morocco & we have no power of substitution, we can do no more than write a letter to the Emperor & either invite him to send a Minister or authorize his consul in France to treat with us here, or to carry on the negotiation in writing at this distance through the French consul at Morocco, or propose to him to wait until we can write to America & Congress can send a consul to the Emperor.
We therefore request the honour of your Excellency’s advice which of these measures is the most eligible, & whether your Excellency or the Minister in whose Department it is, would do us the favour to transmit a letter from us to the Emperor through the French consul.
Looking over several treaties between Christian Powers & the Barbary States we find that the treaty between the crown of France & Algiers of April 1684 is upon the point of expiring; and we are desirous of knowing (if it is not improper that we should enquire) whether this treaty is or is likely to be renewed; because if there is a probability of a war Congress would probably prefer joining in the war, rather than to treat with Nations who so barbarously & inhumanly commence hostilities against others who have done them no injury.
In order to lay before Congress all the information necessary to enable them to judge what is best for them to do, we have obtained from Holland a certain account of the presents given annually and occasionally by the States General to the Barbary Powers, and have taken measures which promise success for procuring similar intelligence from other Christian States. And if there is no impropriety in the request we should desire to be informed what is the annual amount of the presents given by France to each of those States & in what articles they usually consist.
We have the further honour to propose to your Excellency that his Majesty’s good offices and interposition may be employed with the Emperor, in order to provide as fully as possible for the convenience & safety of those inhabitants of the United States, their vessels & effects, who are now or my hereafter be in captivity in Morocco, according to the tenor of the eighth article of the treaty of commerce.
With the highest respect / We have the honor to be / Your Excellency’s / Most obedient and / Most humble Servants
FC in David Humphreys’ hand (PCC, No. 116, f. 274–278); internal address: “His Excellency / The Count de Vergennes / Minister & Secry of State / &c &c &c.”
1. This letter is the official representation, or “office,” requested by Vergennes at his meeting with JA on 20 March, essentially a restatement of the points raised by JA in the course of that meeting (to Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, 20 March, above). At that meeting Vergennes noted that relations with the Barbary States were “not in his Department,” but that he would submit the commissioners’ written request for French advice and assistance to the naval minister, the Marquis de Castries, in whose department responsibility lay. The foreign minister did so on 21 April and in his 28 April letter to the commissioners enclosed a copy of Castries’ 24 April response (PCC, No. 59, II, f. 271–278; Dipl. Corr., 1783–1789, 1:572–574). In his letter, Castries indicated that he thought that the best way for the Americans to proceed would be to send a consul to Morocco to negotiate with the emperor and that he would be willing to forward a letter from the commissioners to the emperor indicating their desire to open negotiations. The commissioners enclosed the letters by Vergennes and Castries with their 11 May letter to John Jay, indicating there that they awaited Congress’ further instructions “and in the mean time wish to keep matters with the Emperor of Morocco suspended in their present state” (Jefferson, Papers, description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, Princeton, 1950–. description ends 8:140–141).
2. For these letters, all of which referred to France’s obligations under Art. 8 of the Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce and are very similar to this letter and those by Vergennes and Castries mentioned in note 1, see vol. 6:401–405; 7:83–84; Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev., description begins The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, ed. Francis Wharton, Washington, D.C., 1889; 6 vols. description ends 2:731–732.