Thomas Jefferson Papers

C. W. F. Dumas to William Short, 27 March 1787

C. W. F. Dumas to William Short

Paris1 27e. Mars 1787


Je vous suis bien obligé de la bonté avec laquelle vous avez pris la peine de m’instruire du sort de mes Lettres, et de ma Traite.

Voici une autre Lettre pour le Congrès, qui partira quand elle pourra: ce sera du moins le 10 de May prochain, s’il ne se présente pas d’occasion plus prompte et aussi sure. Vous aurez le temps d’en noter à loisir ce que vous jugerez digne de Mr. Jefferson. Le contenu vous fera voir avec combien de raison je dois éviter le passage par l’Angleterre.

Je crois que dorénavant il faudra laisser dormir l’affaire que vous savez, sans en plus parler, jusqu’à la réponse que Mr. Jefferson attend dans 4 mois. Dites-moi, Mon cher Monsieur, si vous devinez le personnage dont je parle à Mr. Jay, qui voudroit qu’on l’envoyât Ministre ici. Si vous l’avez deviné, je compte absolument sur le plus grand secret de votre part. Ce que j’en ai dit, est par devoir indispensable: on m’en a prié fortement. Il ne pourroit être d’aucune utilité aux Etats-Unis ici, et ne donneroit que de l’ombrage à nos républicains et à la France, à cause de ses liaisons eclatantes avec le Chev. H——s; on travailleroit à le faire rappeller, comme on a fait tout recemment quant à un autre Ministre, dont je parle dans cette même Lettre. De mon cté je ne pourrois rien avoir de commun avec lui, sans perdre la confiance de mes meilleurs amis. J’aimerois autant perdre la vie. Ce n’est pas tout; il gâteroit aussi l’affaire de l’Emprunt, par ses liaisons avec une maison de Commerce avec laquelle mes Proposants ne veulent point l’entreprendre par des raisons personnelles, outre que la partie est déjà liée avec d’autres.—Je pourrois en dire bien d’Avantage, si je voulois répéter la Chronique scandaleuse. Mais à Dieu ne plaise. Il seroit vu de très-mauvais oeil: Cela suffit, et rend tout le reste superflu. Je serois bien aise seulement de savoir si vous le devinez. Il vient lui-même de m’écrire une Lettre, et Duplicat, out je vois clairement que mes amis ici sont bien informés de ses desseins. Je suis dans le plus grand embarras que lui répondre. Je ne puis ni lui dire la vérité ni le tromper. On croit ici que c’est sa moitié, à qui les Bals, festins, &c. du Ch. H——s, &c. ont tourné la tête, qui le talonne pour venir s’étaler sur ce théatre diplomatique, où il ne pourroit se soutenir d’une maniere qui fût vraiment honorable et avantageuse à l’Amérique.

Mon Epouse et ma fille, sensibles à votre obligeant souvenir, vous prient d’agréer leurs sinceres complimens.

J’ai l’honneur d’être parfaitement Monsieur Votre très humble et très-obéissant serviteur

C W F Dumas

J’espere que vous avez de bonnes nouvelles de la santé de Mr. Jefferson.

RC (DLC: Short Papers). Enclosure: Dumas to Jay, 23 Mch. 1787 (Dipl. Corr., 1783–89 description begins The Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States of America, from the Signing of the Definitive Treaty of Peace … to the Adoption of the Constitution, Washington, Blair & Rives, 1837, 3 vol. description ends , iii, 567–70). Dumas may also have enclosed his letter to Jay of 30 Mch. 1787 and its enclosures (same, iii, 571–6). Both of these were forwarded by Short in his to Jay of 4 May 1787, q.v.

Le personnage dont je parle a Mr. Jay: This was William Bingham, who Dumas feared would be appointed minister to Holland from the United States (see TJ to Jay, 22 May 1786). In his enclosed letter to Jay, Dumas warned again that Bingham’s appointment “would give pleasure neither here nor in France,” and in his letter to Jay of 27 Feb.—2 Mch. he had inserted a private “Note, which I beseech you, sir, to keep for yourself alone, without letting any one else see it, or know that I wrote it.” In this note he said: “Under the present circumstances, and certainly for a long time to come, as it is my duty to repeat, it is worse than useless to send any one here as Minister, who, by consorting with the Anglomanes and idle, sensual, gaming diplomatists, who are always to be found at Sir J—H—’s, would only give umbrage to the party of the Patriots, and of France, which is fortunately the superior here. I am authorized, nay, entreated, sir, to impress this upon you, and to assure you that the party I have mentioned do not wish Congress to send them a mere Minister of etiquette and ostentation. In the present state of affairs, political as well as financial, being is better than seeming” (Dipl. Corr., 1783–89 description begins The Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States of America, from the Signing of the Definitive Treaty of Peace … to the Adoption of the Constitution, Washington, Blair & Rives, 1837, 3 vol. description ends , iii, 567, 570). Le chev. H—S was Sir James Harris (1746–1820), British minister to Holland who so well understood the intricacies of parties in that country that he resorted not only to bals, festins, &c. but also to bribery, intrigue, and all the other arts of diplomacy of which he was master. “Hospitality,” he reported to Carmarthen 3 Jan. 1787, “is the life and soul of a party here, and an able cook goes as far, if not further, than an able secretary” (Diaries and Correspondence of James Harris, First Earl of Malmesbury, London, 1845, ii, 222). Harris’ grandson, in a single comprehensive paragraph and without too gross an exaggeration, set forth the important role played by this able diplomat in Holland: “The Bourbons had been and were still playing the blind and desperate game against us in Holland, which they had successfully used in America; and encouraged the Dutch Democrats with money, and promises to establish a pure Republic independent of the Stadtholder. They hoped thus to render the States a French province. Our object was to fortify the national independence of Holland under its ancient constitution, and recover her friendship and alliance. In this trial of skill we were completely victorious, mainly owing to the boldness and ability of Sir J. Harris, who may be said to have created, fostered, and matured a counter-revolution in the States, which restored to the Stadtholder his power, to England her ally, and left nothing for the King of France but the deeper infection of those dangerous doctrines, which his Ministers, in their eagerness to spread them amongst his enemies, received into the vitals of his kingdom, to burst forth for its destruction in 1789. History affords no instance of a political retribution so rapid and so crushing” (same, ii, 9). Harris was considerably aided in his plan of an alliance between England and Prussia to support the Stadtholder’s party when, in May 1787, the British ministry made available to him £20,000 sterling of secret service money. Even before this Dumas reported that Harris “is employing every means to increase the Anglomania. Pleasures, fêtes, play, intrigue, espionage, and corruptions of every kind are set at work, and with but too much success. The representatives of all the other Powers, except France and Spain, have fallen into the snare, and become devoted slaves” (Dumas to Jay, 27 Feb. 1787; Dipl. Corr., 1783–89, iii, 566). But Harris’ success was even more insured by the factor that caused TJ such disturbed reflections—that is, the failure of France to give firm and decisive support to the republican cause. Soon after the signing of the treaty between Prussia and England in 1788 Harris was created Earl of Malmesbury and was invested with the Prussian Order of the Black Eagle. In these interventions by the great powers in Holland’s internal struggles it is not likely that either Bingham’s appointment or Dumas’ continuance would have affected the outcome, though Dumas was undoubtedly correct in thinking that Bingham would have been drawn into the British ambassador’s orbit (see TJ to Anne Willing Bingham, 7 Feb. 1787; TJ to Madison, 30 Jan. 1787). For the principal comments by TJ on the civil conflict in Holland, see Autobiography, Ford, description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, “Letterpress Edition,” N.Y., 1892–1899. description ends i, 101–7; TJ to Jay, 6 Aug., 22 and 24 Sep., and 3 Nov. 1787; 16 Mch. 1788; TJ to Adams, 13 Nov. 1787.

1Dumas erroneously wrote “Paris”; this was corrected by Short, who wrote “La Haye” above it.

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