Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Alexander Hamilton, 10 June 1793

From Alexander Hamilton

Treasury Department June 10th 1793.


The Comptroller of the Treasury has reported to me that “On examining the subsisting contracts between the United States and the Government of France and the Farmers General and a comparison thereof with the foreign accounts and documents transmitted to the Treasury the following facts appear.

That, previous to the Treaty of February 1778, the sum of Three Millions of livres had been advanced by the Government of France to the Agents of the United States, under the title of gratuitous assistance, for which no reimbursement was to be made.

That the payments which composed the before mentioned sum of Three millions of Livres are stated in a letter of Mr. Durival to Mr. Grand, dated in 1776, to have been made at the following periods. …

One Million delivered by the Royal Treasury the 10th of June 1776, and two other millions advanced also by the Royal Treasury in 1777, on four receipts of the Deputies of Congress of the 17th of January, 3d. of April, 10th of June and 15th of October of the same year.

In the accounts of Mr. Ferdinand Grand, Banker of the United States, the following sums are credited viz—

1777 January 31st Livres 500,000
April 28th 500,000
June 4th 1,000,000
July 3rd 500,000
October 10th 500,000
Amounting, in the whole, to Livs 3,000,000

The Farmers General of France claim a large balance from the United States on account of one million of Livres which they contend was advanced in June 1777, in consequence of a special contract with Messrs. Franklin and Deane, to be repaid by the delivery of Tobacco at certain stipulated prices. . … and the advance made by the Farmers General is said to be the same money as is credited by Mr. Grand on the 4th of June 1777.

After a careful examination of the foreign accounts, it is found that no more than Three millions of Livres have been credited by any Agents of the United States.

An opinion was entertained by the late Officers of the Treasury, that the sum claimed by the Farmers General, composed a part of the sum supplied as a gratuitous aid by the Government. Subsequent explanations have, however, rendered it probable, that, including the claim of the Farmers General, the sum of four millions of livres were in fact received: it is, however, indispensable, that it should be known to whom the money was paid.

The most direct mode of obtaining this information will be to call for Copies of the receipts mentioned in Mr. Durivals letter of 1786, and, more particularly, a Copy of that said to have been given on the 10th of June 1776” .... and, as explanatory of the Transaction, has sent me the documents herewith transmitted.

The most likely conjecture, in my mind, considering the period of the advance and the circumstances of that period is that the unaccounted for Million went into the hands of M. De Beaumarchais. The supplies which he furnished to the United States exceeded his own probable resources, besides the imprudence of having hazarded so much at that stage of our affairs upon our ability to pay—and there were many symtoms at the time of his having been secretly put in motion by the Government.

It is now become urgent that the truth of the case should be known. An account has recently passed the Auditor’s Office, admitting, in favor of M. De Beaumarchais, a balance of 422,265 Dollars and 13 Cents—with a reservation only of the question of the Million. If he has received that Million, which has been acknowledged as a free gift from the French Government, it is unjust that he should be able to establish a claim against the United States for supplies which must have been the proceeds of that sum… If he has never received the million every days suspension of his claim, after the immense delays heretofore incurred, is a grievous hardship upon him. It concerns, materially, the Interests and more the Justice, the Credit and the Character of the United States, that as speedy a solution, as possible, of the enigma may be obtained.

With a view to this I have the honor to make you the present communication, that you may be pleased to take such steps as shall appear to you the most proper and efficacious, to procure, as speedily as the nature of the case will admit, the requisite explanations. With great respect, I have the honor to be, Sir, Your Mo. Obedt Servant,

Alexander Hamilton

RC (DLC); in a clerk’s hand, signed by Hamilton; ellipses in original; at foot of text: “The Secretary of State”; endorsed by TJ as received 12 June 1793 and so recorded in SJL. Tr (NNC: Gouverneur Morris Papers); in the hand of George Taylor, Jr., and endorsed by him in part: “with documents denominated ‘sundry papers relative to the lost Million.’” PrC (DLC). Tr (Lb in DNA: RG 59, DCI). Enclosures: (1) Extract of Benjamin Franklin to Ferdinand Grand, Philadelphia, 11 July 1786, enclosing letters between Franklin and Charles Thomson regarding three million livres acknowledged to have been received before the February 1778 treaty as a “Don gratuit” from the King of France, of which only two million are recorded in Grand’s accounts, unless the million from the farmers-general is included; stating Franklin’s assumption that all funds from the King, whether loans or gifts, passed through Grand’s hands and that the money obtained from the farmers-general was distinct from royal aid; expressing wonder that he had signed, and that both he and Grand had examined, a contract acknowledging a gift of three millions when they could only account for two; observing that if the million ostensibly furnished by the farmers-general was a disguised gift from the crown, the farmers-general are in debt to the United States for two cargoes of tobacco shipped on account of that payment; and requesting Grand to get the matter explained so as to clear Franklin of possible charges of not accounting for a million livres received. (2) Jean Durival to Grand, Versailles, 30 Aug. 1786, acknowledging his letter of 28 Aug. 1786 regarding the advance of one million livres from the farmers-general to the United States on 3 June 1777; stating that he has no knowledge of that advance, and that the free gift of three million livres which the King verified by the contract of 25 Feb. 1783 consisted of a one million livre payment from the Royal Treasury on 10 June 1776, and two million livres advanced by the Royal Treasury on receipts from the deputies of Congress dated 17 Jan., 3 Apr., 10 June, and 15 Oct. 1777; and suggesting that for more information on the advance by the farmers-general he confer with Mr. Gérard, whose knowledge extends beyond the payments by the Royal Treasury. (3) Same to same, 5 Sep. 1786, stating that he submitted both of his letters to the Comte de Vergennes, who observed that the royal free gift of three million livres had nothing to do with the one million livres Congress may have received from the farmers-general in 1777, that consequently the receipt he asked about would not satisfy his needs, and that providing a copy of it would be useless. (4) Grand to Franklin, Paris, 9 Sep. 1786, acknowledging his letter covering copies of three letters from Thomson seeking explanation of the million livres not included in Grand’s accounts; commenting that he would have found it difficult to prove that he had not pocketed this money had he not applied to Durival, whose enclosed answer shows that one million livres were paid by the Royal Treasury on 10 June 1776; averring that this is the missing million, since he can account for the 1777 payments of two million by the Royal Treasury and one million by the farmers-general; noting that it remains only to determine to whom this missingmillion was paid, and that he could not have received it, since he was not charged with the business of Congress until January 1777; reporting that he asked Durival for a copy of the receipt for the unexplained million and encloses his answer, and that he has written again but received no answer as yet. (5) Durival to Grand, 10 Sep. 1786, stating that he laid Grand’s letter of 9 Sep. before Vergennes, who persists in his view that the receipt of which Grand seeks a copy has no relation to the work he has done for Congress and that he can easily prove this because the payment in question by the Royal Treasury preceded his selection to transact the business of Congress. (6) Postscript from Grand to Franklin, Paris, 12 Sep. 1786, written in hopes that at Lorient it can be joined to his letter of 9 Sep., enclosing No. 5, stating that he cannot understand Vergennes’s reserve, especially since if the payment was made the recipient must have kept an account and will in time be known, and wishinghim better luck in resolving the mystery in America. (7) Franklin to Charles Thomson, Philadelphia, 25 Jan. 1787, reminding him of a letter he wrote last June on the missing million, advising that an explanation could probably be obtained from Grand or TJ; that, wanting the matter resolved, he had written Grand himself and now encloses Nos. 1–6 (Durival being in charge of French expenditures on foreign affairs), all of which, while proving that the million in question was paid on 10 June 1776, do not indicate to whom, although it could not have been the Commissioners from Congress, who did not meet in France until the end of 1776 or the beginning of 1777, nor Grand, who took charge of their affairs thereafter; conjecturing from the refusal of the minister to provide a copy of the receipt that the lost million was advanced to be spent on America by Beaumarchais and is a “Mystere du Cabinet,” that the French were unwilling to admit to having supported America against Britain so early, and that the payment should perhaps be inquired into further only if Beaumarchais asks more of the United States than is just; inquiring if Beaumarchais has dropped his demands or continues to press them; asking to have the enclosures returned but authorizing him to copy them; noting that the million will not affect the account with the King of France since it is stated as a free gift, but that if it passed through the hands of any American agents or ministers, they ought to account for it, and that he does not remember whether Deane arrived in France by 10 June 1776 but thinks from his great lack of money when Franklin joined him there a few months later that it could hardly have been paid to him; and suggesting that TJ might do better than Grand in obtaining the information and should be directed to try if further demands by Hortalez & Company or some other cause make it necessary (Trs in DLC: TJ Papers, 88: 15153–9; Trs in NNC: Gouverneur Morris Papers; Trs in Lb in DNA: RG 59, DCI; printed in Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, 6 vols. [Washington, D.C., 1889], I, 376–9, 380). Also transmitted by Hamilton with this letter or shortly thereafter was the Contract between the American Commissioners to France and the farmers-general, [24 Mch. 1777], by which the former agreed that during 1777 Congress would acquire and deliver to French ports for the use of the farmers-general five million pounds of tobacco in exchange for one million livres tournois payable during the ensuing month and another million when the first shiploads arrived (Tr in NNC: Gouverneur Morris Papers; undated; printed in Franklin, Papers description begins Leonard W. Labaree, William B. Willcox, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, New Haven, 1959-, 30 vols. description ends , xxiii, 514–17). Enclosed in TJ to Gouverneur Morris, 13 June 1793.

Hamilton’s letter, written on the seventeenth anniversary of the payment of what came to be known as “The Lost Million,” represented the first effort of the United States government to unravel this obscure episode as part of the Treasury Department’s settlement of the accounts of the Continental and Confederation Congresses. The section of this letter within quotation marks is a reorganized but otherwise almost verbatim extract of a letter to Hamilton of 29 Mch. 1792 from Oliver Wolcott, Jr., the comptroller of the treasury (Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends , xi, 210–11).

TJ promptly referred the matter to Gouverneur Morris, the American minister to France (TJ to Morris, 13 June 1793). Six months after TJ left office Morris succeeded in obtaining a copy of the receipt for the payment of the one million livres tournois, which showed that this sum—part of the three million livres in gratuitous assistance which France claimed in 1783 to have made to America prior to 1778—had indeed gone into the hands of M. De Beaumarchais. Although the other claims of Beaumarchais were finally paid by the Treasury in 1806, seven years after his death, his heirs continued to lobby for payment of the unaccounted “lost million.” Nonetheless, thanks to the extremely murky state of the accounts of American agents abroad in the first years after independence, the continuing reluctance of the French government to admit publicly to such an early payment to rebels against a nation with which it was at peace, and the persisting disagreement between the American and French governments and Beaumarchais and his heirs over the implications of this payment, a settlement was not made until 1837, when with American approval his heirs received 800,000 francs in return for relinquishing all other claims on the United States. Even afterwards the rights and wrongs of the case remained controversial (Miller, Treaties description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and other International Acts of the United States of America, Washington, D.C., 1931–48, 8 vols. description ends , ii, 119; Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends , xi, 207–9; Morris, Papers description begins E. James Ferguson, John Catanzariti, Elizabeth M. Nuxoll, Mary A. Y. Gallagher, and others, eds., The Papers of Robert Morris, 1781–1784, Pittsburgh, 1973–99, 9 vols. description ends , v, 321–8; Charles J. Stillé, “Beaumarchais and ‘The Lost Million,’” PMHB description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 1877- description ends , xi [1887], 1–36; see also TJ to the Senate and House of Representatives, 6 Feb. 1807). As indicated in Wolcott’s letter to Hamilton, the letter from Durival to Grand dated in 1776 was actually written on 30 Aug. 1786 (Enclosure No. 2 above).

Preserved among TJ’s papers is a record of a conversation set down by Nicholas P. Trist at Monticello on 24 Dec. 1827—possibly in connection with the pending consideration in Congress of the claims of Beaumarchais’s heirs for the “lost million”—in which his late grandfather-in-law had given his own views on this tangled affair: “In relation to Beaumarchais’s claim Mr. Jefferson once told me (N. P. Trist) that having been a good deal pestered on the subject, while in Paris, he mentioned the circumstance in conversation with Count Vergennes. [I am positive it was to the french minister; and almost certain that the Count was that minister]. The minister’s countenance immediately assumed the expression of great surprise mingled with indignation. ‘Hah! Does he apply for this money?’ broke from his lips. It was altogether in the way of exclamation, however and did not lead to any farther conversation on the subject. The whole scene nevertheless satisfied Mr. Jefferson that Beaumarchais’s claim had no sort of foundation” (MS in DLC; in Trist’s hand; brackets in original).

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