Alexander Hamilton Papers

Enclosure: Pierre Henri Hélène Marie Lebrun-Tondu to Gouverneur Morris, 27 September 1792

Pierre Henri Hélène Marie Lebrun-Tondu to Gouverneur Morris3

Paris le 27. Septembre 1792.
L’an ler. de la Republique.

J’ai reçu, Monsieur, la lettre que vous m’avez fait l’honneur de m’écrire le 20. de ce mois, pour m’annoncer que les difficultés élevées à la Haye par M. Short sur le païement de seize cent vingt cinq mille florins de Banque avoient été applanies le 9. du courant, et que vous espérez qu’il ne résultera aucon inconvénient d’un délai de quelques jours.4

Après avoir réfléchi sur le motif qui vous a déterminé à donner votre assentiment au païement de la somme ci-dessus, je juge, Monsieur, que vous n’êtes fondé ni en justice ni en raison à vous refuser de faire tenir à notre disposition à Philadelphie les quatre cent mille Dollars nécessaires pour l’approvisionnement de nos Colonies.5 Il me semble, Monsieur, qu’il y a une contradiction évidente dans la manière dont vous envisager ce dernier objet qui ne différe en rien du premier. Les deux sont les mêmes pour nous. J’ai l’honneur de vous observer, que dans aucun cas vous ne pouviez vous dispenser de faire à M. Short remplir son engagement pour les quatre cent mille Dollars, puisque, de votre aveu, il a agi par votre impulsion pour les seize cent vingt cinq mille florins de Banque.

Vous connoissez, Monsieur, les besoins de nos Colonies et tous les titres que nous avons pour reclamer l’assistance d’un peuple à qui nous sommes unis d’amitié et par principe, et pour la prospérité de qui nous faisons toujours des voeux les plus sincères. Toutes ces considérations devroient être d’un grand poids auprès du Ministre des Etats-unis, à qui une formalité d’etiquette ou des pouvoirs un peu moins, ou un peu plus étendus ne devroient par interdire la faculté d’agir, surtout lorsqu’il s’agit de remplir une obligation aussi solemnellement contractée et de donner à nos possessions en Amérique des secours très-urgents dans l’état où elles se trouvent.

Le Ministre des affaires étrangères.
Le Brun

M. Morris

3LS, Columbia University Libraries.

4For the problem concerning the payment of the installment due on the French debt in the summer of 1792, see the correspondence between Morris and William Short enclosed in Morris to H, September 25, 1792. See also Short to H, September 25, 1792.

5This reference by Lebrun concerns the plan to use money owed France by the United States as payment on the French debt for the purchase of supplies for the relief of Santo Domingo. For the background of these advances, see Jean Baptiste de Ternant to H, September 21, 1791, February 21, March 8, 10, August 22, 1792; H to Ternant, September 21, 1791, February 22, March 8, August 22, 1792; Short to H, December 28, 1791, January 26, April 22, 25, May 14, June 28, August 6, 1792; H to Short, April 10, 1792.

The proposal to use the debt owed France by the United States for the relief of Santo Domingo had been advanced as early as October, 1791, and in March, 1792, the Assembly authorized the sum of six million livres for aid to Santo Domingo, but this decree was not implemented to involve the American debt (Archives Parlementaires description begins Archives Parlementaires de 1787 à 1860 (Paris, 1868– ). description ends , XL, 577–78). On June 26, 1792, however, the French Assembly voted the sum of four million livres “imputables sur la dette americaine” to be used for the purchase of supplies for the relief of Santo Domingo and authorized the French Ministry to open negotiations with the United States Minister in France (Archives Parlementaires description begins Archives Parlementaires de 1787 à 1860 (Paris, 1868– ). description ends , XLV, 594). Before this decree, in March, 1792, the United States had agreed to the request of Jean Baptiste de Ternant, French Minister to the United States, to make advances on the French debt for the purchase of supplies for Santo Domingo, even though Ternant had no formal authorization from the French government on this matter. H and Ternant worked out an agreement by which the sum of four hundred thousand dollars would be advanced to the French Minister at stated intervals during 1792. See Ternant to H, March 8, 10, 1792; H to Ternant, March 8, 1792.

For two months after the passage of the June 26 decree the French Ministry made no attempt to negotiate with Morris. On August 16 he wrote to Jefferson that “the minister of the marine, altho’ authorized to treat with me for Supplies to the colony of St. Domingo, has done nothing in that affair. Two ministers have occupied that place since the Decree. Each has given me various rendezvous, but neither has appeared at the time and place.…” See Morris to Jefferson, August 16, 1792, printed as an enclosure to Jefferson to H, October 31, 1792. On August 29, however, Morris was summoned to an interview with Lebrun, Gaspard Monge, the Minister of Marine, and Etienne Clavière, Minister of Finance, “at the Hôtel of foreign Affairs. They wish me to enter into a Contract to furnish $400,000 in America for the Use of St. Domingo. I shew them many reasons why I cannot and among others tell them that I am not authoriz’d to treat with them. This touches them unpleasantly. I add that I will write and recommend the Matter strongly to the Ministers of the United States but that is not what they want. Clavière is much vexed (Morris, Diary of the French Revolution description begins Gouverneur Morris, A Diary of the French Revolution, ed. by Beatrix Cary Davenport (Boston, 1939). description ends , II, 518). In a letter to Jefferson dated August 30, 1792, Morris wrote as follows concerning the ministers’ proposal:

“A few Days since Mr Monge the present ⟨M⟩inister of the Marine desir’d an Interview and at our Meeting ⟨pres⟩ented me a regular Contract for Payment of 800000 Dollars as being Equivalent to the 4,000,000 livre tournois of livres which the Assembly ⟨had⟩ appropriated as abovemention’d. I will not trouble you with the Conversation because it ended in a Request on his Part to me⟨et⟩ Mr Lebrun … and Mr Claviere.… This Meeting took Place yester⟨day⟩ by their Appointment. The same form of Agreement was ag⟨ain⟩ produced and Mr Claviere who was principal Spokesman men⟨tioned⟩ my signing it as a Thing of Course. I told him that I had been authorized to settle with the late Government the Exchange of one Half of that Sum already paid and paying on this very Account. He spoke of such Settlement as the easiest thing in the World and advancd on the Subject exactly those Principles which Mr Short had refusd to be govern’d by; and rejected as visionary those which Mr Short had stated as just, and which I think ⟨are⟩ reasonable and right. The great object however was to get the M⟨oney,⟩ and Congress was to fix the Exchange. I told them (which is very ⟨true)⟩ that I felt a very sincere Desire to furnish Aid to that unhappy Colony and had done every Thing in my Power to comply with ⟨the⟩ Wish of the Legislature in that Respect but in Vain. That at last our Bankers in Holland being extremely anxious to discharge ⟨t⟩hemselves of the large Sums which had for Months been lying ⟨in⟩ their Hands, Their own Commissaries of the Treasury being also ⟨des⟩irous to receive, Mr Short (to whom the Management of that business had been committed by the United States) being also ⟨so⟩licitous that the Payments should be made, I had desired him ⟨to⟩ place in the Hands of the Bankers named by the Commissaries ⟨a⟩n Equivalent of 6000000 of livres by which Means the Installments of our Debt already due were overpaid. That of Course ⟨a⟩ny Advances now made must be on Account of those Installments ⟨w⟩hich are to become due hereafter. That I have no Instructions ⟨re⟩specting them, for Reasons I had already assign’d, and that of ⟨con⟩sequences if I should enter into the Agreement they wish’d I ⟨sho⟩uld probably be blamed for exceeding the Line prescribd to me. ⟨That⟩ there remain’d however another Point worthy of their Attention ⟨whi⟩ch was that my Agreement would be in itself void because I ⟨ha⟩d no Powers to treat with the present Government. It follow’d ⟨ther⟩efore that the Ministers of the United States would feel them⟨se⟩lves as much at Liberty as if Nothing had been done and act according to their own Ideas of the Object distinctly from m⟨y⟩ Engagements; that it would be equally usefully to them, and more proper in me, to state the whole Matter to you in the first Instance, and that I would add my earnest Request to mak⟨e⟩ the desired Payment. This however did not at all suit th⟨eir⟩ Ideas. Mr. Claviere made many Observations on the Nature of ou⟨r⟩ Debt and the Manner in which it had accrued. He said th⟨at⟩ the United States would certainly act in a different Manner towards the present Government than the Monarchs of Europe did. That it was impossible I should have any Difficulty if I inclin’d to do what they ask’d, and then concluded by asking me peremptorily whether I would or would not. His Language & Manner was such as naturally to excite some little Indignation, altho I could pardon much to a Man whose Stockjobbing Life had not much qualified him for a Station in which Delicacy of Manner and Expression are almost essential; Yet I could not submit to an Indignity in my Person towards the Country I repre⟨sent.⟩ I told him therefore that I did not understand what he meant to say. My Countenance I believe spoke the Rest of my Sentiment a⟨nd l⟩ed him to say in Explanation that it was necessary for them to ⟨h⟩ave some positive Engagement because otherwise they must make ⟨pro⟩vision for the Service from another Source, and then he again ⟨exp⟩rest his Conviction that the United States would recognize them, ⟨an⟩d at any Rate would not disavow the Engagements which I might make. I told him that it was not proper for me (a ⟨Serva⟩nt) to pretend to decide on what would be the Opinion of my ⟨Mas⟩ters. That I should wait their Orders, and obey them when ⟨recei⟩v’d. That the present Government might collect my Senti⟨me⟩nts from my Conduct. That I could not possibly take on me ⟨to ju⟩dge Questions of such Magnitude. That I would do every⟨thing⟩ I could with Propriety: and again repeated my offer which ⟨they⟩ would not listen to, and I left them not a little displeased ⟨if I⟩ may judge from Appearances by no Means equivocal.” (ALS, RG 59, Despatches from United States Ministers to France, 1789–1869, June 17, 1792–March 7, 1794, National Archives.)

An exchange of letters between Morris and Lebrun followed Morris’s refusal, culminating in the United States Minister’s threat to leave France. Although Morris’s departure was averted by a conciliatory statement from Lebrun, the French Ministry continued to press its plan for the payment on behalf of Santo Domingo. On September 19 and 27 Morris transmitted to Jefferson copies of his correspondence with Lebrun on the matter and stated his views of the Ministry’s plan: “I had good Reason to beleive that a private Speculation was at the Bottom of the Proposals made to me, and the extreme Urgency which was exhibited by one of the Conferees, who had been designated to me as concerned therein, tended not a little to confirm the Information I had receivd. The Wrath excited by the Unwillingness on my Part to jump over all the Bounds of my Powers and Instructions, did by no means lessen, but came in Support of the same Idea. Since that Period I have been asked by a Person who said he was offered a Bill drawn by the Government her⟨e⟩ on the Treasury of the United States, whether such Bill would be paid. I exprest my Surprize there at, and was told that ⟨this⟩ Bill would be for the Sum decreed by the Assembly to be employd in purchasing Supplies for the Colony of St Domingo. I observd thereon, that it seemed a strange Procedure either to sell or buy such a Bill: because the Vender could only employ the Money in Amer⟨ica,⟩ and of Course need not risque a Draft; and the Purchaser, who mu⟨st⟩ make the Expenditure thereof, could not I suppos’d find his Account in the Transaction. This led to an Explanation. The Bill was to be paid for in Assignats at Par, six or nine Months hence, and the Produce was to be employ’d in purchasing Manufactures suitab⟨le⟩ to the Colony in this Country. I told the Person who applied to me that I did not think this would be consider’d in America as falling within the Decree, and that no good Reason could be assign’d for paying under great Disadvantages in Philadelphia, what could be paid with great Advantage in Paris, when the Sum paid was not to be expended in the United States but in France. At length the true Object of this Application to me came out. I discover’d that it was meerly a Scheme of Speculation ⟨to⟩ be carried into Effect if I could be induced to recommend the Payment, under what was known to be a favorite Idea ⟨w⟩ith me, viz the expending in America what we owe to France; for the Support of the Colony of S Domingo. As my Concurrence could not be hop’d for, I beleive that the Plan is abandon’d, but perhaps it is only abandon’d in Appearance” (Morris to Jefferson, September 27, 1792, ALS, RG 59, Despatches from United States Ministers to France, 1789–1869, June 17, 1792–March 7, 1794, National Archives).

See also Morris, Diary of the French Revolution description begins Gouverneur Morris, A Diary of the French Revolution, ed. by Beatrix Cary Davenport (Boston, 1939). description ends , II, 519–31, 542–47.

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