E. F. van Berckel to Benjamin Franklin: A Translation
Amsterdam, 23 September 1778
The undersigned, Councilor Pensionary of the City of Amsterdam, has the honor to inform all the gentlemen who find themselves duely commissioned by the congress of the United States of America, that he finds himself authorized by the burgomasters of the city to declare in their name that, assuming the said congress will not enter into any agreement with the English commissioners that would be harmful or prejudicial to the trade of the Republic of the Netherlands in Europe, either directly or indirectly,1 the aforementioned burgomasters will be entirely disposed to facilitate matters on their part and as much as may depend upon them, so that as soon as the independence of the said United States in America is recognized by the English, it will be able to at once settle and conclude a treaty of perpetual friendship between this Republic and the said United States containing the broadest reciprocal advantages in trade between the subjects of the two nations.
The undersigned has the honor to add that it is the intention of the said burgomasters that the present statement be used as will be deemed appropriate, not doubting that it will be used with all the necessary precautions so that nothing will occur to aid those who would like to see such a project fail or at least made difficult to implement, when its sole purpose is to increase the happiness and true reciprocal interests of the two republics.2
E. F. Van Berckel
RC (PPAmP: Franklin Papers). Although the letter printed here constituted the recipient’s copy for the Commissioners, it was not the original MS signed by van Berckel, but a copy made by C. W. F. Dumas from the original sent to him by van Berckel. Dumas sent his copy to the Commissioners enclosed in a letter of 2 Oct. (below), adding at the bottom of the copy: “Copie fidele, faite sur l’original qui m’a été adressé, et qui est entre mes mains, à La Haie 2e. Octobre 1778. C. G. F. Dumas.”
2. The declaration by the burgomasters of Amsterdam was, at its heart, an exercise in self-defense against the possible consequences of the Lee-Neufville treaty signed at Aix-la-Chapelle on 4 Sept. (see Dumas to the Commissioners, 4 Sept., note 2, above). Unable to deny its existence, the burgomasters sought to define the agreement as merely an effort to prepare the ground for the eventual conclusion of a treaty after the formal recognition of American independence by Great Britain.
This intention is even more clearly expressed in the letter of 23 Sept. from van Berckel to Dumas (PPAmP: Franklin Papers), which Dumas also copied and enclosed in his letter to the Commissioners of 2 Oct. There van Berckel stated that the burgomasters’ declaration made it clear that they did not intend to conclude an agreement separately from the States General, but only to make advance preparations for a treaty when an opportunity presented itself. He also noted that the States General could not conclude a treaty without Amsterdam’s consent and approval of the draft. To save time, however, such a draft could be examined even before Britain recognized American independence.
Van Berckel closed his letter by suggesting that the preliminary work might be accomplished by using the Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce as a model. That document could be submitted to experienced Amsterdam merchants, who would then suggest what changes were necessary.