Report on Lafayette’s Return to France
MS (NA: PCC, No. 19, II, 241–43½). Written by JM. Docketed, “Report of Comee. on letter 22d Novr. 1781. from the Marquis de la Fayette[,] passed Novr. 23d 1781.”
[23 November 1781]
The Committee to whom was referred the letter of the 22d. instant from Major General the Marquis de la fayette, requesting leave of absence for the purpose of making a visit to France1 report the following resolutions
That Major General the Marquis de la Fayette have permission to go to France & that he return at such time [as] shall be most convenient to him and that he be furnished with the frigate the alliance to carry him to France.2
That he be informed, that, on a review of his conduct throughout the past campaign, and particularly during the period in which he had the chief command in Virginia, the many new proofs which present themselves of his zealous attachment to the cause he has espoused, & of his judgment vigilance, gallantry & address in its defence, have greatly added to the high opinion entertained by Congress of his merits & military talents.
That he be requested to make known to the officers & troops whom he commanded during that period, that the brave & enterprising services with which they seconded his zeal and efforts,3 and which enabled him to defeat the attempts of an enemy far superior in numbers, have been beheld by Congress with particular satisfaction & approbation
That the Secretary of Foreign Affairs4 be instructed to acquaint the Ministers Plenipotentiary of the U. States, [for negotiating a peace,] that in case any negociation for that purpose should be on foot or in prospect during the stay of the Marquis de la Fayette in France, that it is the desire of Congress that they confer with the Marquis de La Fayette & avail themselves of his informations relative to the situation of public affairs in the U. States,5
That the Secretary of Foreign Affairs be further instructed to acquaint the Minister Plenipotentiary at the Court of Versailles6 that he will conform to the intention of Congress by consulting with & employing the assistance of the Marquis de la fayette in accelerating the supplies which may be afforded by his M. C. M. for the use of the U. States.7
That the Superintendt of Finance,8 the Secretary of Foreign Affairs & the Board of War9 make such communications to the Marquis de la fayette touching the affairs of their respective departments as will best enable him to fullful the purpose of the two resolutions immediately preceding.10
That the Superintendant of Finance take order for discharging the engagement entered into by the Marquis de la Fayette with the Merchants of Baltimore, referred to in the Act of the 24 May 178111
1. In his letter of 22 November 1781, written in Philadelphia to President John Hanson, Lafayette asked Congress for a leave of absence from the army to enable him to return to France, “as there is No prospect of Active Operations Before the time at which I May Be Able to Return.” He sought the leave not only for personal reasons but also because Washington had advised him that in his homeland he “Might Also Become Serviceable to our Views for the Next Campaign” (NA: PCC, No. 156, fols. 248–50). Congress referred the letter to a committee consisting of Daniel Carroll, JM, and Ezekiel Cornell. For JM’s interest in having the Virginia General Assembly “pay some handsome compliments to Lafayette,” see his letter of 13 November 1781 to Pendleton and its n. 6.
2. This resolution, as originally phrased by JM, read, “That Major General the Marquis de la Fayette have permission to be absent from the military service of the U. States for the space of and that he be furnished with the frigate the alliance to carry him to France.” When Congress refused to accept the words from “be absent” through the blank following “space of,” JM apparently introduced the following substitute motion, after hurriedly drafting it on a small piece of paper, “That Majr. Genl. the Marquis de la fayette have permission to go to France[,] to return at such time as shall be most convenient to him[,] & that he be furnished with the Frigate the Alliance for that purpose.” After slightly changing the phraseology, Congress seems momentarily to have agreed to this revised version, with the exception of its final clause. Although JM or Charles Thomson, the secretary of Congress, then crossed out this clause on the small piece of paper and wrote “passd” in the left-hand margin, JM failed to make a similar deletion in his original draft, printed above. Before the close of the debate, Congress decided to supplement the resolution with the following directive, “Ordered, That the superintendent of finance furnish the Marquis de la Fayette with a proper conveyance to France” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al.,
eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34
vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 1135). Although on the reverse side of the small piece of paper, already twice mentioned, JM wrote, “Resolved That the Superintendt. of Finance furnish the Marquis del Lfe.
with the Frigate with a proper conveyance to France,” it is not clear whether he was drafting the directive or merely recording what another member of Congress had introduced. Written alongside this resolution, but probably by Charles Thomson, are the names of seven members of Congress, each followed by diagonal pen strokes varying in number from one to six. What this tally signifies is not known to the editors.
Although Congress, contrary to JM’s original suggestion, refused to designate the “Alliance” for the homeward voyage of Lafayette, he sailed from Boston in that ship on Christmas Day and disembarked at L’Orient on 17 January 1782 (Louis Gottschalk, Lafayette and the Close of the American Revolution, pp. 344–46).
3. Between “that period” and “efforts,” JM originally wrote what appears under his cancellations to have been, “that the brave & active services with which they seconded his own extensive efforts.” Although in his letter of 25 November to President Hanson, acknowledging these resolutions, Lafayette mentioned the “Unspeakable Pleasure” he would derive from transmitting “the Resolve of Congress to the Brave and Virtous troops whom it Has Been My Happiness to Command” (NA: PCC, No. 156, fols. 252–54), he evidently felt relieved when Washington offered to assume the obligation. In a letter of 29 November 1781 to his revered commander-in-chief, Lafayette remarked: “The goodness you had to take upon yourself the communication to the Virginia Army the approbation of Congress appears much better to me than my writing to the scattered parts of the body I had the honor to command” (Louis Gottschalk, ed., Letters of Lafayette to Washington, p. 238).
4. Robert R. Livingston.
5. Before adopting this resolution, Congress shortened it without altering its purport (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 1135). Both before and after, or at least before or after, JM introduced this resolution, he amended his draft to such an extent, including an indecipherable deletion of one or two words, that the exact form of the resolution presented to Congress cannot be known. Although after the first “U. States” in the paragraph, he wrote and crossed out “for negotiating a peace,” this phrase is so obviously needed to clarify the meaning of the paragraph that the editors have retained it within brackets and deleted an “&” which JM inadvertently placed after the comma. Following the “that” adjacent to this comma, JM inserted a perpendicular line and matched it with another after “in France.” Since this entire qualifying clause was omitted in the resolution adopted by Congress, JM may have intended by these two lines either to leave out the clause before the report was submitted to Congress or merely to record an amendment made by Congress. A third possibility, of course, is that the two marks were made by Charles Thomson. The first one or two of four or five deleted words after “Congress that they” are too heavily crossed out to be recovered; the last three are “confer with him.” Above this eliminated passage is written the “confer with the Marquis de La Fayette” shown in the present text.
6. Benjamin Franklin.
7. Instead of “which may be afforded by,” JM at first wrote “promised to him by.” For the supplies to be furnished by the court of Versailles, see Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 605, 685–92, 705, 710, 827–28, 835–37, 855–56; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 999–1006.
8. Robert Morris.
10. This resolution may have been an afterthought of JM or of his two colleagues on the committee, since he wrote it on a separate sheet of paper and marked on the second page of the basic draft the place where the resolution should be inserted.
11. On this date Congress, after thanking the merchants of Baltimore for lending about two thousand guineas to Lafayette so that he could move his troops from the neighborhood of that city to the battlefront in Virginia, assured him that the money would be repaid from public funds (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XX, 531; Louis Gottschalk, Lafayette and the Close of the American Revolution, pp. 197–98). Following the directive (see n. 2) Congress added, “That the secretary for foreign affairs report a letter to his Most Christian Majesty, to be sent by the Marquis de la Fayette.” Congress adopted these resolutions and their two appended directives without a recorded vote (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 1135–36). For the letter to King Louis XVI, adopted by Congress on 29 November 1781, see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 1145–46.