Report on the Petition of John de Neufville
The Secretary of State to whom was referred, by the House of Representatives, the petition of John De Neufville, with Instructions to examine the same, and report thereupon his opinion to the House at the present Session; has had the same under examination, together with the Letter accompanying it from William Lee Esquire to the Petitioner, bearing date Dec. 14th. 1791, and hath also examined the records of the Department of State, which might throw light on the allegations of the said petition: And he finds
That William Lee, Esquire, was appointed by Congress in May 1777, a Commissioner for the United States to the Courts of Vienna and Berlin, with power to communicate and treat with those Courts on the subjects of friendship, peace, the safety of navigation and mutual Commerce, and to do all such things as might conduce to those ends:
That the Petitioner, then a Citizen of the United Netherlands, met with Mr: Lee in Germany, where, conversing on the subject of their two Countries, a Treaty between them was spoken of as desirable, and, perhaps practicable: that the Petitioner, having afterwards consulted with persons of influence in his own Country, was engaged by them, on behalf of their Country, to concert with Mr. Lee, or any other person in the employment of the United States, a plan of a Treaty: that this was done at a subsequent meeting, and the Plan signed by Mr. Lee, on our part, and by the petitioner on the other part: but that this plan was not prosecuted to effect, Congress putting the business into other hands. Which several facts appear by the Records in the Department of State, some of the most material of which have been extracted; and are hereto annexed.
The Petitioner further sets forth—
That the persecution excited against him by the enemies of the United States, on account of his Agency on the part of Holland, in preparing the plan of a Treaty, obliged him to convey all his Estate to his Son, to leave his Country, and to part with his property in the British funds, by which last operation he lost between four and five thousand pounds Sterling.
That he advanced for the State of South Carolina, fifteen thousand pounds sterling, in military and other Stores, for which advance, being pressed by his Creditors, he was obliged to sell his House in Amsterdam for £10,000 sterling, which was worth £14,000, and to pass over to America:
That he had lent to Mr. Laurens, during his captivity £1,000 sterling, which sum, however, Mr. Laurens repaid him immediately on his liberation:
That he shipped Goods to St. Eustatia, with a view to supply the Americans, of which £15,000 sterling’s worth was captured by British ships:
And That, during a space of three Years, his House was a hospitable Asylum for Americans in general, by which he incurred an Expense of ten thousand pounds sterling.
The establishment of these latter facts has not been required by the Secretary of State, because, if established, they would not, in his Opinion, have founded a right to indemnification from the United States.
The part the Petitioner bore in projecting a Treaty between Holland and the United States, was, as a Citizen of Holland, on the behalf of that Country, while the counterpart was carried on for us, by Mr. Lee, then employed on another Mission. It followed that each party should defray the expense of it’s own Agent, and that the Losses in the British funds, stated as a consequence of this particular transaction, were to be indemnified by his own nation; if by either party.
The advance of £15,000 sterling in Stores to the State of South Carolina, was a matter of account with that State, as must also be the Losses consequent on that, in the sale of his House, if they be a subject of indemnification at all.
The Loan of a thousand pounds to Mr. Laurens, one of the Ministers of the United States, is acknowledged to have been speedily repaid.
The shipments of Goods to St. Eustatia, with a view of disposing of them to the Americans, were in the line of his commerce, and the Losses sustained on them by capture, belong fairly to the account of Profit and Loss, which every Merchant hazards, and endeavors to counterpoise, without supposing himself ensured, either by his own, or any foreign Government.
The hospitalities of the Petitioner in Amsterdam, stated at £10,000 sterling, of which such Americans participated as happened to be there, found a claim to their particular Gratitude and Attention, and to the Esteem attached to the exercise of private Virtues: but, whilst we sincerely regret calamities, which no degree of personal worth can avert, we are forced to declare they are no legitimate object of taxation on our Citizens in general.
These several Articles, constituting the foundation of the Petition, the Secretary of State
Reports it as his Opinion,
That no part of it ought to be granted.
Nov. 26. 92.
PrC (DLC); in the hand of George Taylor, Jr., with date and signature by TJ. Tr (DNA: RG 59, MLR); in Taylor’s hand, signed by TJ. PrC (DLC); unsigned. FC (Lb in DNA: RG 59, SDR). Tr (Lb in DNA: RG 233, House Records, TR). Tr (NHi); 19th-century copy. Recorded in SJPL. Enclosures: (1) Extract of William Lee to Committee for Foreign Affairs, Paris, 12 Sep. 1778, stating that he had negotiated a draft treaty of commerce with “the regular representative of the Pensionary and Burgomasters of the City of Amsterdam.” (2) Extract of same to same, Frankfurt, 15 Oct. 1778, enclosing treaty of amity and commerce with Netherlands negotiated with Neufville acting on behalf of the Pensionary and Burgomasters of Amsterdam. (3) Statement by Neufville, Aix-la-Chapelle, 4 Sep. 1778, noting that he had negotiated with Lee “in consequence of the appointment and instructions” of the Pensionary of Amsterdam. (4) Extract of John de Neufville and Son to the President of Congress, Amsterdam, 28 July 1779, offering to serve as commercial agent of the United States in the Netherlands on a commission basis. (5) Extract of same to Governor William Livingston, Amsterdam, 31 July 1779, offering to serve in a similar capacity for New Jersey (Trs in Lb in DNA: RG 59, SDR). TJ transmitted the report with a brief covering letter of the same date to the Speaker of the House of Representatives (PrC in DLC; not recorded in SJL). TJ also wrote a brief note to the President on 26 Nov. 1792 enclosing a copy of the report, “which he proposes to send in tomorrow” (RC in DNA: RG 59, MLR; Tr in Lb in same, SDC; not recorded in SJL).
On 11 Apr. 1792 the House of Representatives read a petition from John de Neufville, a former Amsterdam merchant then living in Massachusetts, requesting compensation for various services to the American cause during the Revolutionary War and asked TJ to report on it during the next session of Congress. The House read TJ’s report on 27 Nov. 1792 and tabled it, thus signifying its agreement with his conclusion (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , i, 573, 627). Neufville’s petition and the accompanying letter from William Lee have not been found.
For an analysis of Neufville’s negotiations with William Lee for a treaty of amity and commerce between the Netherlands and the United States, which points out that Neufville was acting on behalf of the pro-American Pensionary of Amsterdam rather than the government of the Netherlands and thus had no legal right to conclude such an agreement, see Jan Willem Schulte Nordholt, The Dutch Republic and American Independence, trans. Herbert H. Rowen (Chapel Hill, 1982), 64–9.