The Marquis de Lafayette’s Note Containing Vergennes’ Proposal
AD and copy:4 Library of Congress
Vergennes had advised the American commissioners against delaying negotiations over the issue of Oswald’s commission. As he wrote to La Luzerne, in politics one should yield on form when satisfied with the substance.5 Franklin agreed. When Jay continued to object, Vergennes and Lafayette proposed to him a solution that might expedite matters: having Oswald write a letter to the American commissioners stating that he was treating with them as representatives of an independent nation. The present memorandum, in Lafayette’s hand, is undoubtedly the draft of this statement, that Vergennes wanted Franklin (who was still too ill to travel) to read.
Jay deeply distrusted Vergennes and refused to consider this compromise. He suggested to Franklin that they state their objections in writing and request from Vergennes a written response. Franklin agreed, and Jay drafted a letter of colossal length. It was still under Franklin’s consideration when it was rendered moot by the arrival of Oswald’s new commission.6
[September 11, 1782?]7
In Case a letter is Received from M. Oswald Count de Vergennes proposes to have this Sentence.
Que d’après les Instructions et les pouvoirs dont il est Muni, il traitera avec les plenipotentiares Americains dans leur Qualité de plenipotentiaires des Etats Unis, et que l’article premier du traité preliminaire portera la Renonciation la plus Expresse de tous les Droits et pretensions que le Roy et la Couronne d’anglettere ont formé ou pu former dans Aucun tems Sur les territoires Composant la Souveraineté des Etats Unis.
4. The copy is by WTF, with corrections by BF.
5. XXXVII, 714n; Vergennes to La Luzerne, Sept. 7, in Giunta, Emerging Nation, I, 559. His advice to the commissioners seems to have been based on an undated set of “Reflections” (AAE) that recommended that BF and Jay compromise “to facilitate the opening of the peace negotiations,” and observed that “form can be yielded when the substance is assured”: “Reflections on Richard Oswald’s Commission,” translated in Giunta, Emerging Nation, I, 473–5.
6. Jay’s recapitulation of these events, and the text of his unsent letter to Vergennes, are in a Nov. 17 letter to Livingston: Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence, VI, 21, 32–44. He also explained Vergennes’ and BF’s positions in a Sept. 18 letter to Livingston, saying that BF “believes [the French court] mean nothing in their proceedings but what is friendly, fair, and honorable”: ibid., V, 740. Matthew Ridley noted on Sept. 13 that BF “still thinks Vergennes means well — in short he is inclined to have every confidence in him.” (Klingelhofer, “Matthew Ridley’s Diary,” p. 106.) Oswald, in a Sept. 8 note to Shelburne partially quoted in XXXVII, 678–9n, observed that BF was not blinded by his attachment to the French: “Considering how long he has lived here, & how he has been caressed, it must require a great Share of resolution not to feel the effects of it even in matters of business yet upon the whole I must still say I have neither seen or heard of anything that can make me doubt of his Sincerity nor of his Attatchment to his Friends.” Oswald also noted how ill BF had been, marvelling that despite the severe pain from gout that affected his legs and thighs and prevented him from sleeping, “yet he kept me talking of the business I came upon in the kindest way I would have wished.”
7. A day when Jay and Lafayette planned to go to Versailles to discuss “les Scrupules qui Embarassent Notre Negotiation”: Idzerda, Lafayette Papers, V, 54–5, 367–8. Two days earlier Jay had agreed that an alteration in Oswald’s commission would be an adequate acknowledgement of independence; see BF to Oswald, Sept. 8.