C. W. F. Dumas to Benjamin Franklin: A Translation
The Hague, 3 November 1778
Following the dispatch of my letter of 30 October, I went to wish our friend a good trip. He will return this evening.
Mr. Baker, Secretary of the Amsterdam Admiralty, made a command appearance before the Pensionary, Mr. van Berckel, who, sensing that the Secretary wished to sound him out, took the opportunity to express himself in no uncertain terms.
“Sir,” he said to him, “let the Admiralty be warned about the preliminary advisory it will issue next week: if it is of a nature to render useless the representations that have been or will be made to the Court of London by encouraging the said Court, through an apathetic accommodation, to act as it always has, I announce and swear to you that I will take this preliminary advisory ad referendum and communicate it to the Bourse.”1
Such a démarche would have serious consequences. It would certainly bring a third Address to Their High Mightinesses, raise the dissatisfaction to its maximum, &c. It is in conformity with the preliminary advisory of the admiralty that decisions are usually made regarding convoys, the urgency and strictness of orders given to captains, &c. I am with very great respect, gentlemen, your very humble and very obedient servant
RC (PPAmP: Franklin Papers); addressed: “a Leurs Excellences Messieurs les Plenipotentiaries des Etats-Unis de l’Amerique a Passy”; docketed by William Temple Franklin: “M. Dumas 3d Nov. 78.” LbC (Algemeen Rijksarchief, The Hague, Eerste Afdeline, Dumas Papers, vol. 1).
1. In the Letterbook copy this quotation was heavily revised for style, but not content. Van Berckel’s fear was soon confirmed (see Dumas’ letter of 10 Nov., below). The Amsterdam Admiralty’s policy regarding convoys and the seizure of Dutch ships could differ from that of Amsterdam’s representatives to the States General because of the peculiarity of Dutch naval administration. The Dutch navy was a reflection of the decentralized and complex organization of the government of the Netherlands, which almost assured that no decisive action could be taken in time of crisis. No central agency, but rather five separate admiralty colleges for the regions of Amsterdam, the Meuse, North Holland and West Friesland, Zeeland, and Friesland had responsibility for the navy. Although united under the Stadholder as Admiral-General and subject to the authority of the States General, each had considerable independent authority and differed sharply in their conduct of business. Each college consisted of an eightto twelve-member board composed of representatives from the region under the admiralty’s jurisdiction, as well as from areas outside it, including the inland provinces whose primary concern was the augmentation of the army. The Admiralty of Amsterdam, for example, had eleven members, six from Holland and the others from Guilderland, Zeeland, Friesland, Overijssel, and the city of Amsterdam. As a result, the policy decided upon and issued in the form of a preavis might or might not accurately reflect the interests of a particular region, depending on the degree to which the Stadholder and the members from outside the admiralty’s jurisdiction influenced the deliberations. At the same time, the position taken by a single admiralty college might frustrate concerted action by all five (F. P. Renaut, Le crepuscule d’une puissance navale: La marine hollandaise de 1776 a 1783, Paris, 1932, p. 49–52).