Benjamin Franklin Papers

Lafayette to the American Peace Commissioners, 21 November 1782

Lafayette to the American Peace Commissioners

ALS: Newberry Library; transcript: New York Public Library

Paris November the 21st 1782


Since the Early Period When I Had the Happiness to Be Adopted Among the sons of America, I Ever Made it My Point to do that Which I thought Would prove Useful to Her Cause or Agreable to Her Citizens. After We Had Long Stood By ourselves, France did join in our Quarrell, and So Soon as Count d’Estaing’s departure Made My Presence Unnecessary, I Had a Permission to Return to France3 Where, Among other things, I Endeavoured to Impress this Court With the Propriety to Send a Naval force, and An Auxiliary Army to Serve Under the orders of General Washington.4 The Plan of a descent in England Lengthened My Negotiation, the Succour was at Last Sent,5 and Arrived at a Critical Period. It Prevented Evils, But did not Produce Any great Immediate Good Untill that Naval Superiority Which I Had Been Promised Was Sent to Cooperate With us, and Helped us in the Capture of Lord Cornwallis.

This Event Ended the Campaign in Virginia, and the Army I Had Commanded Was of Course Separated. Congress Gave me Leave to Go to France, and to Return at Such time as I should think Proper. I Had it in Command to Make Some Representations at this Court, and the General’s Particular Instructions Were By all Means to Bring a Naval and Land Assistance to Operate in our America.6

Count de Grasse’s defeat Having Ruined our Plans, I Now was despairing to fulfill the Intentions of Congress and the orders of My General, When it Was Proposed to me to Serve in the Army Under the direction of Count d’Estaing.7 This Has Appeared to me the only Way I Had to Serve My Views, I Had the Honor to Consult you About it, and Upon Your Approbation of the Measure, I Consented to Accompagny Count d’Estaing in His Expeditions, Provided it Was in My Capacity, and Even Under the Uniform of an American officer, Who Being for a time Borrowed from the United States, Will obey the first order or take the first Opportunity to Rejoin His Colours.

Had I not Been detained By You, Gentlemen, Upon Political Accounts Which You Have Been Pleased to Communicate to Congress, I Would Have Long Ago Returned to America.8 But I Was With You of Opinion, that My Presence Here Might Be Useful, and Since it Appears Matters are not Ripe for a treaty, My first Wish is Now to Return to America With such force as May Expell the Enemy from the United States, Serve the Views of Congress, and Assist Your Political Operations.9 When, or How this May Be Offered I am Not Yet Able to determine, or I Would not Be at Liberty to Mention, But, However Certain I Have Been of Your Opinion, I think it A Mark of Respect to Congress not to depart Untill I Have Your Official Approbation of the Measure.

With the Highest Respect I Have the Honor to Be, Gentlemen, Your Obedient Humble Servant


Their Excellencies Mrs franklin, Adams

Endorsed by John Jay: marq. Fayette to Comrs 21 Nov 1782

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3See XXVIII, 288–9.

4See XXIX, 623.

5Rochambeau’s army and Ternay’s squadron, sent to Newport in 1780, a year after the abortive invasion attempt.

6In a Nov. 15, 1781, letter to Lafayette, Washington asked for French naval aid, but refused to discuss the question of reinforcements for Rochambeau’s army: Idzerda, Lafayette Papers, IV, 435–7.

7Apparently d’Estaing requested the services of Lafayette for the planned attack on Jamaica and treated him as his chief of staff: Louis Gottschalk, Lafayette and the Close of the American Revolution (Chicago, 1942), pp. 379, 388. Lafayette does not seem to have been aware that d’Estaing also had a diplomatic mission, that of convincing Spain to make peace rather than attempt the attack. He traveled to Cadiz by land, visiting the Spanish court, while Lafayette traveled by sea: Dull, French Navy, pp. 317–18, 324; Idzerda, Lafayette Papers, V, 74–6.

8According to JA, this comment “nettled” BF and Jay: Butterfield, John Adams Diary, III, 71.

9Lafayette hoped that once Jamaica had been captured, attacks would be mounted against New York and possibly even Canada: Idzerda, Lafayette Papers, V, 89; Gottschalk, Lafayette, p. 388.

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