Paris 26th February 1784.
It is in the name of all the French Sailors that I take the Liberty to request Your Excellency to accept of an American Eagle, expressed rather than embellished by a French Artist.1
Liberty (of which it is the happy and august Symbol) has risen of itself, supported by Wisdom, talents, and disinterestedness, by every virtue—by Genl Washington; obstacles have only Served to increase its strength. The efforts of a patriot army are irresistible, Seconded by the King’s Troops, who have shewn themselves by their discipline and conduct, worthy of the choice of His Majesty, his Navy has made every thing possible—It appears then to be lawful to one of those who unite the titles of Soldier & Sailor to those Sentiments of the most profound admiration and attachment which You inspire to intreat you to receive with indulgence an homage which must cease to be trifling, when it Shall interest your Sensibility.
One who has had the happiness to be the first of those whom the King Sent to America, & who has been the last of those who were designed to lead thither the forces of two great Monarchs, thereby acquires the happy prerogative of being entitled to express, tho’ faintly, the Sentiments of all his fellow Sailors & Soldiers.2 I have the honor to be with respect Sir Your Excellency’s Most obedient and most humble Servant
L, in English, DLC:GW; LS, in French, DLC:GW.
1. D’Estaing wrote La Luzerne on 18 Feb. 1784: “You will find, Monsieur le Chevalier, faults and gallicisms in the private letter in English which I wrote to General Washington. . . . The thought will always be understandable. I have thought it my duty to use my mother tongue in official letters and in Memoirs [which are sent to GW]. My second letter was accompanied by a trinket. Learning by chance that an Eagle set with diamonds had been made for General Washington, I won over the jeweler. I obtained this Cincinnatus; I had a trophy and a banderole added, saying thereon that it was presented to His Excellency General Washington by French sailors” (Hume, Society of the Cincinnati, description begins Edgar Erskine Hume, ed. General Washington’s Correspondence concerning the Society of the Cincinnati. Baltimore, 1941. description ends 81–83). The translation of the letter from d’Estaing to La Luzerne is by Hume. For an account of the adoption of the eagle as the symbol for the Society of the Cincinnati and L’Enfant’s mission to France to have the eagle medals made, see ibid., xii-xiv, and Lafayette to GW, 10 Jan. 1784, n.3.
2. GW responded from Philadelphia on 15 May 1784 in these terms: “Any token of regard of whatever intrinsic worth in itself, coming from the Count D’Estaing, must [be] stamped with dignity & respect; but when attended with the esteem & regards of all the Sailors of your Nation—the companions of your honorable Toils in America, is not only agreeably acceptable—it becomes absolutely inestimable—As such I receive the American Eagle, which your Excellency has been pleased to present me in the name of all the Sailors of the French Nation. And at the same time that I acknowledge myself hereby inexpressibly honored by that most respectable Body of men—I beg you to assure them in my name, of the very high estimation in which I shall ever hold this particular mark of their regard & attention.
“To the Navy of France sir, this country will hold itself deeply indebted: its assistance has rendered practicable those enterprizes, which without it could not with any probability of success, have been attempted. I feel myself happy in this opportunity, thro’ your Excellency’s favour, of paying to the Officers & sailors of His Most Christian Majesty, this tribute of grateful acknowledgement, which I beg you sir to be so obliging as to convey to them, & at the same time to assure yourself of possessing in my breast, every sentimt of inviolable attachment & respect, with which your character has impressed my mind” (LB, DLC:GW).