The Commissioners to Horneca, Fizeaux & Co.: A Translation
Passy, 31 August 1778
We take the opportunity of Mr. Whitall’s1 visit to convey to you a leather-bound book containing 205 promissory notes, each worth 1,000 florins, making a capital fund of 205,000 florins lawful money of the Netherlands, to be paid on 1 January 1788 at your residence with, in addition, 10 coupons of 50 florins in interest for the year, the whole payable to the bearer and signed by us.2
You will please acknowledge their receipt.
You will stamp this book “A” and then do likewise on all 205 promissory notes. At each delivery that you will make you will carefully fill in the blanks, that is to say, with the number of the note which you may designate as 2,001 should you not wish to show that it is the first, its folio, and the date of delivery. You will also carefully fill in all the blanks in the counterfoils which should remain attached to the book after you have detached the notes at the scalloped pattern in the center of the stamp marked United States of North America, according to the enclosed model in French. It would be advisable that the same dates appear on both the counterfoil and the promissory notes in order to have a perfect match which may serve as a model for you, independent of the record we will have in our possession. Therefore, it will be essential that, with each delivery of one or more promissory notes, you keep an exact record consistent with the delivered note and its counterfoil.3
It is superfluous to mention to you not to sell these promissory notes for anything but cash.4 It is even more superfluous to recommend that you undertake the sale of these notes promptly but, at the same time, with all possible prudence and circumspection so as not to jeopardize anything, particularly the success of this loan. To achieve this end you will be able to reward your agents and cover the expenses of the operation. In order to do away with the details and, at the same time, to enable you to spare nothing, instead of the 5 percent carried by the promissory notes, we will give you 6 percent on all those you have sold. This will cover any expenses, even postage and petty cash; in any case, we do not want this sum to exceed 6 percent5 for all expenses incurred. You will observe a uniform procedure for the interest coupon, that is to say, upon delivering it you will have the interest which will be accrued up to the date of delivery given to you.
Finally, for all that concerns this matter, you will correspond directly with us or our successors in order to arrange the remittance of funds as you receive them so that there will be no delay or loss of interest. We are very respectfully, gentlemen, your very humble servants,
LbC (Adams Papers); Dft (ViU: Lee Papers). Both are in Arthur Lee’s hand.
1. Joseph P. Whitall of Philadelphia, an American commercial agent in France (Cal. Franklin Papers, A.P.S. description begins I. Minis Hays, comp., Calendar of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin in the Library of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1908; 5 vols. description ends , 5:316).
2. Despite the hope expressed in this letter, the proposed loan was a failure because Dutch investors were not yet ready to risk investment in a cause that might still be lost. For the origin of this effort and the Commissioners’ views on the difficulty of raising a European loan, see JA to Samuel Adams, 28 July, note 3 (above).
3. In the draft this paragraph was followed by another, beside which in the margin was Arthur Lee’s note: “objected to and expunged.” The canceled paragraph read: “Nous n’avons pas voulu datter ces Promesses pour vous donner par la une nouvelle Preuve de notre confiance” (We have not wanted to date these promissory notes so as to give you by it, a new proof of our confidence).
This, as well as two other alterations suggested by Arthur Lee and mentioned in notes 4 and 5 below, reflect Lee’s split with Franklin and JA over the financial transactions of the Commissioners. Horneca, Fizeaux & Co. were the Dutch agents of Ferdinand Grand, the Commissioners’ banker who had close ties with the French government and held his position with the Commissioners partly for that reason. Lee’s suspicions of France, Franklin, and thus Grand, made the use of Horneca, Fizeaux & Co. very questionable in his mind, particularly when he preferred the firm of Jean de Neufville, an Amsterdam banker, who had had previous contact with William Lee and was eager to undertake any American business that came his way. Franklin was, however, adamant about maintaining his ties with Grand and thus employing Horneca, Fizeaux & Co. in the Netherlands (Pieter van Winter, American Finance and Dutch Investment, 1780–1805, transl. and rev. James C. Riley, 2 vols., N.Y., 1977, 1:29–33). It is understandable, therefore, that Lee would object to passages in this letter that might imply that all three Commissioners had confidence in the firm; might give some freedom of action; or seemed to allow a profit that was, at least to Lee, “out of the ordinary course.”
4. At this point in the Draft was the phrase “ou contre les Marchandises que nous pouvons être dans le cas de vous demander” (or such merchandise as we might request of you). In the left margin was the note: “objected to and expunged.”
5. At this point, in the Draft’s left margin, was the note: “The giving one pr. ct. in lieu of all Charges Objected to, as being out of the ordinary course and suspicious, but I was overrulld.” Lee thought that the extra 1 percent being paid Horneca, Fizeaux & Co. for expenses was excessive.