C. W. F. Dumas to Benjamin Franklin: A Translation
The Hague, 4 September 1778
Our friend1 and I propose to undertake an initiative2 in regard to his town more ambitious than any yet attempted. With God’s help and that of our enemies, who further our strategy by continuing to mistreat this Republic, we hope that it will lead us into the final, great phase of establishing a perfect union between the two sisters. To achieve this we must give our friend additional material, beyond what he has received from me, so that he can deal successfully with that part of his city’s Regency that he has not yet approached. Here is what is needed. Please send me, as soon as possible, an ostensible letter3 in which should be enclosed either a proposal for a general treaty of amity and commerce, such as would conform to the wishes of the United States, or a declaration that the Republic is desired to conclude with the United States a treaty similar to that with France, which would serve as a basic model, and with such appropriate modifications as might be required by the locations of the contracting parties. I communicated this plan to the Grand Facteur,4 who not only approved it completely, but thinks that no time should be lost. Your response, if you send it at once, will arrive just as the Assembly of the States of Holland adjourns, and our friend will be able to begin proceedings with his city immediately. Therefore, gentlemen, please be prompt and make it possible for me to strike while the iron is hot. The plan is very auspicious because then it would no longer be America soliciting, but the city pressing for it to happen. I can assure you that our friend is as enthusiastic as I am about this project. He has composed a most important document, which cites the city’s reasons for refusing to increase the troops, the contradictions into which they have all fallen here in their demands and circular letters on the subject, and the true state and real interests of the Republic. The conclusion to this document, which will be offered for insertion in the Public Acts of the Republic, is a protest against all that might prove detrimental to the Republic in the present circumstances.5 The merchants of Amsterdam were advised, and readily agreed, to submit to paying double tonnage and poundage in order to equip, at their expense, 15 men-of-war to provide themselves with the protection not given by the State. Several merchants whose property was seized by the British have gone again to Their High Mightinesses to request compensation. France threatens no longer to admit the Dutch coasters into her harbors if the Republic tolerates their seizure by the British. This has reduced an important personage6 to complete silence by showing him the futility of any further attempt to increase the army and by pointing out the incongruity of having naval vessels idly cruise the Mediterranean and elsewhere when there are none left in the Channel and the North Sea, where the real pirates are.7 Also brought to his attention was the fact that a new man-of-war of 54 guns was consumed by flames a few days ago in Amsterdam amidst other Dutch warships. For this miserable deed the 8 are strongly suspected.
I have seen the latest foreign dispatches. In 24 deadly dull pages in folio there is nothing worth a line more than what I have written above. And were there something worth an extract, I would not have time for it today. As you know, I am alone with neither clerk nor secretary nor any means to get one. But, with the most perfect devotion to the service of the United States and the most sincere respect for you, gentlemen, I am your very humble and very obedient servant
RC (PPAmP: Franklin Papers); docketed by William Temple Franklin: “Dumas.”; in another hand: “M. Dumas 4th Sept. 78.”
2. The initiative planned by van Berckel and Dumas was intended to obtain from the Regency of Amsterdam, the governing body of that city, a declaration in favor of a treaty between the Netherlands and the United States, which could then be used to influence the members of the States General. However, events were occurring that would materially affect the outcome of the initiative as well as future relations between the United States and the Netherlands.
On the same day that Dumas wrote the Commissioners, Jan de Neufville, an Amsterdam merchant, and William Lee, who was authorized only to function as American Commissioner to Berlin, were signing a draft treaty of amity and commerce at Aix-la-Chapelle (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 2:789–798). The draft had its origins in a meeting between Lee and Neufville at Frankfort, but received its major impetus from a conversation between Neufville and van Berckel that was reported by Dumas in a letter to Benjamin Franklin of 3 Sept. (PPAmP: Franklin Papers). Neufville approached van Berckel in hope of obtaining from Amsterdam’s Regency a declaration supporting direct negotiations between the United States and the Netherlands on the subjects of amity and commerce. According to van Berckel, Neufville did so to facilitate the placing of a 700,000-florin loan that William Lee claimed to be empowered to raise as one of the American plenipotentiaries. Van Berckel, seeking to take advantage of the situation, but without consulting with the Regency, then informed Neufville that the Regency favored the establishment of the reciprocal benefits of amity and commerce between the Netherlands and the United States and, by implication, that it authorized direct negotiations on such matters.
It is unlikely that Dumas was aware of the ultimate effect of van Berckel’s statement, but he was both concerned about the effect that the Lee-Neufville negotiations might have on his own efforts and mystified by Lee’s reported claim to be one of the American plenipotentiaries. In the letter of the 3d he expressed his apprehensions, and later in letters of 8 and 11 Sept. (both PPAmP: Franklin Papers) to Franklin, the apprehensions of the French ambassador as well.
The results of the draft treaty justified Dumas’ concerns. Neither of the negotiators was authorized by his government to conclude such an agreement, and the part played by Amsterdam was at variance with its position within the complex governmental system of the Netherlands. The response of Amsterdam came on 23 Sept. in a letter from van Berckel to the Commissioners (below) conveying the Burgomasters’ decision as to the conditions under which a treaty between the United States and the Netherlands could be concluded. The Commissioners’ reaction to the planned initiative, the draft treaty, and the Regency’s reaction to the draft can be traced in the letters exchanged by the Commissioners and Dumas on 9 Sept., 2 and 10 Oct.; and in the Commissioners to William Lee, 22–26 Sept. (all below). When a copy of the draft was seized with Henry Laurens’ effects in 1780, it served as a pretext for the British declaration of war against the Netherlands (Bemis, Diplomacy of the Amer. Revolution description begins Samuel Flagg Bemis, The Diplomacy of the American Revolution: The Foundations of American Diplomacy, 1775–1823, New York and London, 1935. description ends , p. 160–161). It was used by JA as a model when he negotiated a treaty with the Netherlands in 1782.
5. Entitled “Extract uit de Resolutien van de Vraedschap van Amsterdam”  and dated 1 Sept., this examination of the state of the republic and vigorous call for the augmentation of the navy was presented to the Provincial States on 8 Sept. and entered into the Resolutien van de Heeren Staten van Holland en Westvriesland (231 vols., 1524–1793), 1778, 2:884–901. Dumas’ reference here and in other letters to the “Actes publics de la Republique” is not clear since the item was inserted in the resolutions of the province of Holland, rather than those of the States General. The document was further described by Dumas in a letter of the 7th to the Committee for Foreign Affairs (PCC, Misc. Papers, Reel No. 2, f. 330), a major portion of which was translated and printed in the Pennsylvania Packet of 14 Jan. 1779. See also Dumas’ letters to the Commissioners of 9 Sept., 27 Oct., and 2 Dec. (all below).
7. That is, there was little point in having naval vessels protect Dutch ships in the Mediterranean against the Barbary pirates, when the British were seizing them in the English Channel and the North Sea.
8. Left blank in MS. The object of Dumas’ suspicions cannot be determined with certainty, but he may have been referring to the British or their agents.