C. W. F. Dumas to the Commissioners: A Translation
Amsterdam, 23 April 1778
Your letter of the 10th of this month reached me last Tuesday, the 21 st. I immediately forwarded it along with its enclosures to the Grand Facteur1 who approved everything and promised me to back the operation with powerful intervention and mediation, once I have broken the ice by presenting the letter, for until then he must not seem to be involved. I left immediately to come here, where I found the friend, of whom you know,2 in exactly the same disposition and with the most sincere desire to help me with all his power and that of his town. I believe, with the Facteur, that the format of the letter is perfect and that this démarche will be most timely, the sooner the better. He also gave me some very good advice as to what I should add verbally to ensure its success. I am, therefore, returning the letter—it is so well conceived that not one word needs to be changed. Be kind enough, gentlemen, to make a fair copy of it without delay and return it to me signed, sealed, and addressed in English as I did in French on the back of your enclosed draft, which should also be sent back to me. As to the ostensible3 letter you sent me, gentlemen, I shall continue to make good use of it, especially with the Grand Pensionary,4 when I will present the letter you will send me for him.
The members of the Committee from Holland left The Hague on the 17th. Because they refused to increase the troops, the Prince Stadholder5 was not cordial with them on their departure and added that it wouldn’t be his responsibility if the Republic suffers from it. These gentlemen left without replying, but with the thought that they could very well assume responsibility for what would happen. They will meet at The Hague on the 6th of May. Therefore, it would be helpful if you provided me with the means to begin the demarche during the session and, if possible, as soon as it opens.
I am returning to The Hague.
RC (PPAmP: Franklin Papers); docketed in an unknown hand: “Dumas 23 April 79.” The “79” is obviously an inadvertence.
1. The “Grand Facteur” could not have been anyone other than the Due de la Vauguyon (1746–1828), French ambassador to the Netherlands from 1776 to 1784, with whom JA, during his later mission to the Netherlands, enjoyed “a close and interesting diplomatic relationship.” With close ties to Louis XVI but no previous diplomatic experience, La Vauguyon sought quietly to encourage Dutch neutrality despite intense pressure by Sir Joseph Yorke, the British ambassador. Keeping a low profile, La Vauguyon allied himself with the patriot or anti-Stadholder party, the same group courted by Dumas (Hoefer, Nouv. biog. générale description begins J. C. F. Hoefer, ed., Nouvelle biographie générale depuis les temps les plus reculés jusqu’à nos jours, Paris, 1852–1866; 46 vols. description ends ; JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 2:457, note 1; 4:46, note 6 ; Edler, Dutch Republic and the American Revolution description begins Friedrich Edler, The Dutch Republic and the American Revolution, Baltimore, 1911. description ends , p. 20).
La Vauguyon’s name could not be mentioned because, according to Dumas’ letter of 27 March, the identity of the “Grand Facteur” had to remain secret if his efforts for the American cause were to be successful. It had been La Vauguyon who had initiated the effort to communicate the Franco-American treaties to the Grand Pensionary, and who, in response to a letter from Vergennes complaining that the American effort to communicate the treaties was “un peu premature,” wrote on 1 May to reassure Vergennes about the American initiative (Dumas to the Commissioners, 27 March, 3, 6 April; to La Vauguyon, 29 March, all LbC’s in Algemeen Rijksarchief, The Hague, Dumas Papers, Microfilm; F. P. Renaut, La neutralité Hollandaise durant la guerre d’Amérique, Paris, 1924, p. 176–177; Dumas to the Commissioners, 7 May, below; for further confirmation of La Vauguyon’s identity as the “Grand Facteur” compare Dumas’ letter of 7 May with La Vauguyon to Vergennes, 15 May, Appendix).
The communication of the Franco-American treaties to the Grand Pensionary, proposed by La Vauguyon and carried through by Dumas, involved the Commissioners in the complexities of dealing with the Dutch government. A knowledge of the organization and operation of that government is necessary for an understanding of this and later letters from Dumas chronicling his efforts.
The United Provinces or Dutch Republic was nominally ruled by the stadholder, who commanded the army and navy, held a variety of offices, had wide appointive powers, and at times could exercise a liberum veto over acts of the States General. The stadholder could not, however, “declare war or conclude peace.” Those powers and most other attributes of sovereignty belonged to the States General, referred to officially as Their High Mightinesses. This body was composed of deputies from the seven provinces, each province, regardless of size, having one vote. Besides declaring war and making peace, the States General appointed, instructed, and received the reports of ambassadors and ministers. Diplomatic representatives were accredited to the States General, and it ratified all agreements made in the name of the Republic. It was thus the resolutions adopted by the States General that governed the United Provinces. Nevertheless, its powers were not total, for all matters under consideration by the States General had to be referred back to the Provincial States for approval before a final vote of the States General could be taken. This necessity contributed to the time needed to conduct business and the general unwieldiness of the government, particularly in view of the confusion over whether a majority or unanimous vote of the States General was needed to adopt resolutions.
The Provincial States were the nominal governing bodies of the provinces, the deputies to which were appointed by the cities acting as almost independent republics within the larger Dutch state. In Holland, for example, the 6 large and 12 small towns had, together, 18 votes, to which was added a 19th, that of the nobility or Ridderschap. In fact, although the nobility was respected, its influence and power in the deliberations of the Provincial States were minor when compared to that of the large towns, particularly Amsterdam.
The burgomasters were the chief executives of the cities; under their authority stood the pensionary, who served as the city’s secretary or minister. The burgomasters, with a number of councilors, formed the Great Council of the city, while members of those two groups, joined by schepens or judges, formed the Regency. The Regency, the final authority in the city, appointed deputies to the Provincial States. Each province, headed by a pensionary, then appointed its deputies to the States General.
Because of the size of the Province of Holland, which comprised almost half the country, its pensionary bore the title of grand pensionary. In that capacity he maintained a more or less permanent residence at The Hague and acted as the foreign minister of the Republic. Although nominally the second most powerful Dutch official after the stadholder, the grand pensionary often wielded greater power and influence, at least in the maritime provinces (the nucleus of the antiStadholder party) than the stadholder (Edler, Dutch Republic and the American Revolution description begins Friedrich Edler, The Dutch Republic and the American Revolution, Baltimore, 1911. description ends , p. 11–12, note 1; Miller, Sir Joseph Yorke description begins Daniel A. Miller, Sir Joseph Yorke and Anglo-Dutch Relations, 1774–1780, The Hague, 1970. description ends , p. 15, 16, 18–19; Alice Clare Carter, Neutrality or Commitment: The Evolution of Dutch Foreign Policy, 1667–1795, London, 1975, p. 4–5; Robert Fruin, Geschiedenis der Staatsinstellingen in Nederland tot den val der Republiek, ed. H. T. Colenbrander, The Hague, 1922).
2. This was Engelbert François van Berckel (1726–1796), Pensionary of Amsterdam, partisan of the American cause, merchant, and a leader of the anti-Stadholder party. In close and regular contact with Dumas, he took the position that British demands in regard to Dutch neutrality were contrary to the interests of the Netherlands, that is, the interests of the commercial community centered in Amsterdam (Nieuw Ned. Biog. Woordenboek description begins P. C. Molhuysen and others, eds., Nieuw Nederlandsch Biografisch Woordenboek, Leyden, 1911–1937; 10 vols. description ends , 4:109–111; Miller, Sir Joseph Yorke description begins Daniel A. Miller, Sir Joseph Yorke and Anglo-Dutch Relations, 1774–1780, The Hague, 1970. description ends , p. 38).
3. The “Lettre ostensible” was of course the Commissioners’ letter of 10 April (calendared above). The word “ostensible” has been retained in the translation, here and in later letters from Dumas, because of the difficulty of rendering it in English so as to convey his exact meaning. That is, as paraphrased from a note attached to the letter of the 10th, it was a letter that Dumas could show “on occasion” to those with whom he came in contact in the course of his efforts to promote American interests in the Netherlands, as opposed to other communications from the Commissioners that were to be considered confidential (JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 4:45).
4. Pieter van Bleiswyck (1724–1790) was the Grand Pensionary of Holland. When the revised letter from the Commissioners to the Grand Pensionary of 28 April (below) was presented to van Bleiswyck, he declined to present it to the States General because of its certain rejection by that body. Instead, he agreed to communicate it secretly, with the consent of the Stadholder, to the members of the Provincial States of Holland, each city having a vote in that province receiving a copy (Nieuw Ned. Biog. Woordenboek description begins P. C. Molhuysen and others, eds., Nieuw Nederlandsch Biografisch Woordenboek, Leyden, 1911–1937; 10 vols. description ends , 10:78–80; Edler, Dutch Republic and the American Revolution description begins Friedrich Edler, The Dutch Republic and the American Revolution, Baltimore, 1911. description ends , p. 86–87).
5. The dispute between Holland’s delegation to the States General and Prince William V of Orange and Nassau (1748–1806), the Stadholder, over the augmentation of the army, which Dumas notes here and chronicles in later letters, was an old one and perhaps the clearest manifestation of the conflict between the patriot and Stadholder parties. The former, composed of merchants such as van Berckel and favoring France as less dangerous to the Netherlands than Britain, supported a larger navy to protect its trade against British depredations. The latter, composed of representatives of the inland provinces and the Stadholder, whose anti-French position was encouraged by his chief adviser, the Duke of Brunswick, favored Britain and wanted a larger army for protection against French aggression. In 1778 the representatives of both Britain and France were actively urging on the States General their own nation’s position on this matter (Nieuw Ned. Biog. Woordenboek description begins P. C. Molhuysen and others, eds., Nieuw Nederlandsch Biografisch Woordenboek, Leyden, 1911–1937; 10 vols. description ends , 1:1556–1560; Edler, Dutch Republic and the American Revolution description begins Friedrich Edler, The Dutch Republic and the American Revolution, Baltimore, 1911. description ends , p. 13–14, 114–115, and note 5; Miller, Sir Joseph Yorke description begins Daniel A. Miller, Sir Joseph Yorke and Anglo-Dutch Relations, 1774–1780, The Hague, 1970. description ends , p. 62–63).