George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Laurens, 18 July 1778

From Henry Laurens

Philadelphia 18 July 1778.

Dear Sir.

Yesterday I had the honor of writing to Your Excellency a public Letter by James Martin & also of presenting to Congress Your Excellency’s favor of the 14th which the House received with satisfaction.

permit me Sir, to recommend to Your Excellency’s protection two packets from the Sieur Gerard to Count d’Estaing, which will accompany this. I have assured Monsr Gerard that it is altogether unnecessary to urge Your Excellency to give these dispatches the quickest safe passage to the Vice Admiral.1

prizes are finding the way into Delaware, one laden with Rum Limes &ca intended for the Enemy’s refreshment embraced one of our Wharves the Evening before last & I learn a Rich Ship is on her way up.2

I have this moment Received a second Letter from the British Commissioners if I dared to venture an opinion from a very cursory reading of the performance, it would be, that this is more puerile than any thing I have seen from the other side, since the commencement of our present dispute, with a little dash of insolence, as unnecessary as it will be unavailing. If the Marquis de Vienne will indulge me till I return from Congress Your Excellency will find a Copy of that Letter within this.3 at present he is on the Wing I must send to obtain his permission & in order to be quite ready in case he shall refuse to wait, conclude this with repeated assurances of being with the highest Esteem & Respect Dear sir Your Excellency’s Obliged & Obedient humble servant

Henry Laurens.

Returned from Congress 3 oClock—a Resolve relative to the Commissioners Letter that it ought not to be answered &c. with the Letter will appear in print.4

ALS, DLC:GW; LB, ScHi: Henry Laurens Papers. The postscript is absent from the letter-book copy.

1Conrad-Alexandre Gérard’s letter to d’Estaing of this date is in FrPNA: Marine, B4, I43. The packets contained duplicates of his dispatches of this date to the French foreign minister Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes (Meng, Despatches of Gérard description begins John J. Meng, ed. Despatches and Instructions of Conrad Alexandre Gérard, 1778–1780: Correspondence of the First French Minister to the United States with the Comte de Vergennes. Baltimore, 1939. description ends , 169–73).

2Laurens was referring to the “schooner Lord Drummond, from Antigua … taken near the Capes of the Delaware, by Captain [John] Rice” while en route to Philadelphia “on supposition of the British forces being still in possession of it” (Pennsylvania Packet [Philadelphia], 18 July).

3A copy of the letter of 11 July from the British commissioners to Laurens and the other members of Congress is in DLC:GW. It reads: “We received soon after our arrival at this place your Answer to our Letter of the 10th of June and are sorry to find on your part any difficulties raised which must prolong the Calamities of the present War.

“You propose to us as matter of choice one or other of two alternatives which you state as Preliminaries necessary even to the beginning of a Negociation for Peace to this Empire.

“One is an explicit acknowledgment of the Independence of these States. We are not inclined to dispute with you about the meaning of words: but so far as you mean the entire privilidge of the People of North America to dispose of their property and to Govern themselves without any reference to Great Britain, beyond what is necessary to preserve that union of force in which our mutual safety and advantage consist: we think that so far their Independency is fully acknowledged in the terms of our Letter of the 10th June—and we are willing to enter upon a fair discussion with you of all the circumstances that may be necessary to insure or even to enlarge that Independency.

“In the other alternative you propose that His Majesty should withdraw his Fleets and his Army.

“Although we have no doubt of his Majesty’s disposition to remove every subject of uneasiness from the Colonies, yet there are circumstances of precaution against our antient Enemies, which joined to the regard that must be paid to the safety of many who from affection to Great Britain have exposed themselves to suffer ⟨in⟩ this Contest, and to whom Great Britain owes support at every ⟨ex⟩pence of Blood and Treasure, that will not allow us to begin with this measure. How soon it may follow the first advances to Peace on your part will depend on the favorable prospect you give of a Reconciliation with your fellow Citizens of this Continent and with those in Britain. In the mean time we assure you that no circumstance will give us more satisfaction than to find that the extent of our future connection is to be determined on principles of mere reason and the considerations of mutual interest, on which we are willing likewise to rest the permanency of any arrangements we may form.

“In making these Declarations we do not wait for the decision of any Military Events. Having determined our Judgment by what we believe to be the Interest of our Country we shall abide by the Declarations we now make in every possible situation of our Affairs.

“You refer to Treaties already subsisting, but are pleased to with hold from us any particular information in respect to their nature or tendency.

“If they are in any degree to affect our Deliberations we think that you cannot refuse a full communication of the particulars in which they consist, both for our Consideration and that of your own Constituents, who are to judge between us whether any Alliance you may have contracted be a sufficient reason for continuing this unnatural War. We likewise think ourselves entitled to a full communication of the powers by which you conceive yourselves authorized to make Treaties with Foreign Nations.

“And we are led to ask satisfaction on this point because we have observed in your proposed Articles of Confederation No: 6 and 9 it is stated that you should have the power of entering into Treaties and Alliances under certain restrictions therein specified, yet we do not find promulgated any Act or Resolution of the Assembly’s of particular States conferring this power on you.

“As we have communicated our powers to you, and mean to proceed without reserve in this business we will not suppose that any objection can arise on your part to our communicating to the public so much of your correspondence as may be necessary to explain our own proceedings. At the same time we assure you that in all such publications the respect which we pay to the great body of People you are supposed to represent, shall be evidenced by us in every possible mark of consideration and regard.”

4For the resolution, see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 11:701–2. The resolution and the commissioners’ letter were printed in the Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser (Philadelphia), 21 July.

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