Report on Communication from La Luzerne
MS (NA: PCC, No. 25, II, 95). The manuscript, written by JM, is docketed: “Report of Committee on foreign Communications. Passed May 1st 1782.”
[1 May 1782]1
The Committee to whom were referred the Communication &c laid before Congress by the Secy. of F. Affairs, submit the following resolutions.
Resolved. The Secretary of Fo. Affairs be directed to make a confidential communication to the Several States, of the intelligence recd. by Congress on the day of 2 through his Department; in order that the States may be the more fully impressed with the necessity of, such, United & determined exertions as with the co-operation of our generous Ally will expell the Enemy from their remaining ports within the U. S. and display to the world the falsehood of the assertions of the British Court that the people of these States are neither united nor determined in support of their national Independence.3
Resolved That the sd. Secy. be further directed to prepare and report to Congress a Manifesto exhibiting to the World the origin & justice of our cause, and in particular the several facts & arguments which demonstrate the Unanimity & unalterable firmness of the Citizens of the U. S. therein.4
1. Prefatory to this report in JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 222–23, is an entry, chiefly comprising Robert Livingston’s summary of a conversation on Sunday, 28 April 1782, with La Luzerne about the latter’s dispatches, dated 24 December 1781 and 22 January 1782, from Vergennes. Although unnoted in JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , Congress referred the summary on 29 April to a committee consisting of JM, John Morin Scott, and Arthur Middleton (NA: PCC, No. 186, fol. 20). Accompanying the manuscript of the summary in NA: PCC, No. 79, II, 125–31, is a resolution, probably in the hand of a clerk, in which Livingston suggests what action Congress might direct him to take so as to give satisfaction to the government of France. This proposed resolution, similar to JM’s report in content but rarely in phraseology, no doubt helped to guide the deliberations of the committee.
3. Although partly designed to stir the state governments from their lethargy, the resolution was intended also to allay French fears that American war weariness, combined with British propaganda, might lead to an Anglo-American accommodation to the injury of France. Before his conference with Livingston, La Luzerne had written to Washington about Vergennes’ disquietude. At the same time a letter from Lafayette informed the commander-in-chief that in France it was “generally thought, the exertions of America are not equal to her abilities, and that nothing could operate so much for further assistance, as pointed assurances of a good Army for the War.” On 23 April Washington quoted Lafayette’s comment in a letter to Livingston and added, “I wish I could say, that the States were making all the efforts, our situation demands, and which our Allies have a right to expect from us.” Five days later, in a dispatch to La Luzerne estimating the probable strength of the American and British forces in the military operations expected soon to begin, Washington frankly acknowledged ignorance of what the effective strength of the American forces would be (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXIV, 155–56, 178–82; William E. O’Donnell, Chevalier de La Luzerne, pp. 212–15).
On 2 May 1782, in accord with the tenor of the present resolution, Livingston sent an identical letter to the executive of each state. In this dispatch he more closely followed the information he had gleaned from La Luzerne and Washington than the precise terms of the directive of Congress. Besides warning against “the artifice of the enemy” and suggesting ways to counteract it, Livingston chided the executives upon the halfhearted manner in which their states had co-operated with France. “We have at no period,” he declared, “been in a situation to second fully the endeavors of our ally to serve us; we either neglected to assemble our army in time or to provide the means for supporting or moving them; a feather would have turned the balance last year, notwithstanding the powerful aid we received from abroad. Providence blinded our adversaries; to their temerity we owe our success” (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 393–95).
4. Congress apparently declined to adopt this second resolution. It is deleted both in JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXII, 223, and in the manuscript copy of the committee’s report. Congress may have rejected the suggestion of “a Manifesto” because Livingston had not included it in his proposed resolution, mentioned in n. 1, above.