George Washington Papers

To George Washington from La Luzerne, 23 January 1780

From La Luzerne

Philadelphia the 23d of Jany 1780


Advices recently received from Europe make mention of the efforts which The English have made in Germany to procure recruits and new levies and of the difficulty they experienced even in the part of those courts with whom they have before treated— The greatest part of The German princes, who have sold soldiers to the Court of London now blush at these sales, which have excited their subjects against them, and which besides have drained their states. They are reluctant to give troops to a power which is making war against France with whom they have always preserved amicable ties, and I am assured that it is even doubtful that the English will be able to procure a few recruits to complete the corps they have in America. I am informed that these circumstances have determined the British Government to make every effort to obtain men in America, whom they cannot procure in Europe—and that M. Clinton has received orders to spare no pains to effect the exchange or deliverance of the troops of The Convention of Saratoga, and of other prisoners which are in the hands of the Americans; it is added that the want in which the Court of London is for soldiers, is so pressing that General Clinton has been authorised, to surmount all the difficulties which may arise in the negotiation of this exchange, and that he is even permitted, in case of absolute necessity to treat with Congress or their ministers on terms of perfect equality and as with an independent power—He has also equally full liberty to agree upon the number of private soldiers which may be given in exchange for an officer of any rank whatsoever; and they order him simply to remember in treating of this matter that an English soldier transported to America is of an infinite price to England; and they exhort him to employ all his efforts to bring about an exchange whatsoever may be the conditions.

I hastened myself Sir to communicate these interesting ideas to Congress, and I have learnt that they were confirmed by the event, and that Major General Philips had in effect drawn on a negotiation, the progress of which had been intirely confided to your Excellen[c]y1—They prayed me, at the same time to give you a communication of these objects which the Congress think ought greatly to influence the measures which it will be in your power to take when you know that the English Commissioners have orders to pass over all difficulties and to grant all the demands which may be made them rather than to lose the occasion of reinforcing the armies they have upon this Continent.

I join to this some extracts the contents of which have appeared to me of a nature to interest your Excellency—You will see besides Sir by the dispatch of the British Minister with what affectation he seeks to make the thirteen States be considered as subjected to the English domination;2 and you will judge of what importance it is to you to treat with the Court of London upon the footing of perfect equality; and how useful an act of this nature may be to the Negotiators of Congress in Europe, when they can add to all the facts of which the Court of Madrid makes mention, in its memoir,3 a Cartel regulated on the footing of perfect parity, and which would prejudge beforehand the question of your Independence. I congratulate myself that this negotiation is in your hands; and I am well persuaded that nothing will pass derogatory to the part which my Court has taken in acknowleging the independence and the perfect sovereignty of The United States.

I shall intrust to your Excellency that the King is disposed to send over succours to this Continent of arms and ammunition; but as the events of the sea are uncertain I believe that it will be proper to make no change in the measures which may have been taken otherwise to procure them. This news having reached me ’till yesterday I have not yet been able to make a communication of it to Congress.

As you may be retained in your quarters by major considerations I propose to go to render you my duties in the course of the next month and to confer with Yr Excellen[c]y on objects of great importance and relative to the measures to be taken to push the next campaign with vigor and to put the American army in a condition truly proper to hold the enemy in check upon the continent, whilst the King and the King of Spain shall display in the other parts of the world all their forces to reduce them to make a peace advantageous to the allies.4 I am with respect Sir your most Obedt & most humble servant

De La Luzerne

This letter will be delivered to Yr Excellency by Mr De Galvan who has been raised to the Rank of Major by your goodness;5 he desires to merit it anew and prays me to solicit you to put his zeal in activity; I shall be very grateful for what you may be pleased to do for him; he is particularly recommended to me by The Minister of France, he appears to me to merit a great deal from his zeal and from his personal attachment to Yr Excellency.6

Translation, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; LS, in French, DLC:GW; copy (extract) of translation, DLC:GW.

1For the proposals for a prisoner exchange negotiation put forward by British major general William Phillips, see GW to Samuel Huntington, 4 Jan., and the notes to that document. For Congress’s grant of authority to GW to conduct the negotiations, see Huntington to GW, 14 January.

2La Luzerne enclosed an extract in French of the memorial of the British ambassador to the Spanish Court, dated 28 March 1779 (DLC:GW). The contemporary translation of the document reads: “Let the Colonies expose also their grievances and the conditions for their security or for their precaution, in order that the continuance and the authority of a lawful government may be reestablishd—[It is] then we shall see if a direct and immediate accommodation, can take place. If this same method is prefered, in this last case only, let a truce be made in North America, that is to say a real truce and suspension of arms, during which may be reestablished and secured the liberty and estates of persons of every condition, and made to cease all sort of violence against the respective subjects or against the estates or effects which they possess—During this truce—the French may treat upon their particular concerns avoiding thereby the suspicions, to which they would necessarily expose themselves, if they wish to involve in the negotiation their private advantage relatively to the pretended interests of those whom France with affectation calls her allies and his Majesty will be able to establish the Government of his own dominions, without suffering the humiliation of not receiving but from the hand of a declared enemy the conditions which regard this government” (DLC:GW).

3La Luzerne enclosed an extract in French of an undated document commenting on the reaction of the English court to the Spanish ultimatum (DLC:GW, filed with the 28 March 1779 documents). The contemporary translation of the document reads: “Among the propositions of the ultimatum of the King of Spain, there is one for which the British Cabinet has affected to have the greatest repugnance—‘tis the proposition which imports that the colonies shall be treated as independent of fact, during the interval of the truce; it is extraordinary it is even ridiculous, that the Court of London after having treated the colonies during the war as independent, not only of fact, but also of right, should have any repugnance to treat them as independent only of fact dur[i]ng the truce or suspension of arms—The convention of Saratoga—General Burgoyne considered as lawful prisoner to suspend his process [trial]—the exchange and liberation of other colonial prisoners, the nomination of Commissioners to go to seek the Americans at their own homes—The act of having asked peace of them and to treat with them or with Congress and an hundred other facts of this nature authorised by the Court of London have been genuine signs of an acknowlegement of the independence of the colonies—Tis the English nation itself which can best Judge and decide, if all these acts are as compatible with the honor of the British Crown as would be that of granting to the colonies by the interposition of his Catholic Majesty, a suspension of arms to discuss their differences and to treat them during this interval as independent of fact” (DLC:GW).

La Luzerne also enclosed a copy in French of Spain’s ultimatum to France and Great Britain, dated 3 April 1779 (DLC:GW). The contemporary translation of the document reads: “If these overtures or propositions had arrived here immediately after the King had made his to adjust the plan of reconciliation, several difficulties might have been some time since removed, by the modifications which might have been negociated—counting upon good faith and reciprocal confidance, as well as the desire of obtaining the conclusion of a peace—but after having lost more than two months without reckoning the time that uselessly passed before, and after having observed that during this interval, they did not cease to make great preparations of war; it must necessarily be suspected, that the object of England is to let glide away the months which the campai[gn] might still last, and to continue the war with vigour. In this case, all the efforts of the King to bring back the belligerant powers to peace would be ineff[ec]tual—Nevertheless his majesty wishing to give one more proof of his love for humanity, and to make it appear that he has neglected nothing, to stop and prevent the calamities of war, has ordered to propose to the two courts the following plan, which will be on his part an ultimatum in this affair.

“That there shall be an unlimited suspension of arms with France on the condition that neither of the belligerent powers can break it without advertising the other a year before hand.

“That with a view of reestablishing reciprocally, security and good faith between the two crowns, by means of this cessasion of hostilities—there shall be a general disarming in the space of one month on the seas of Europe, in four months on those of America—and in eight months or a year upon those of Africa—and of Asia the most remote.

“That they shall determine in a month, the place where the plenipotentiaries of the two courts shall assemble—to treat of a definitive accommodation of peace—and to regulate the restitutions or compensations relative to the reprisals which have been made without a declaration of war, and to other grievances or pretentions of one or the other crown. For this purpose the King will continue his mediation offering in the first place the City of Madrid to hold a Congress—That the King of Great Britain grant seperately a like cessation of hostilities to the American Colonies by the intercession and mediation of his catholic majesty a year before hand, to the end that he may apprise the said American provinces that they are equally ordered to make a reciprocal disarming at the epochas and for the spaces of time which have been specified with regard to France, and that the bounds be fixed beyond which neither of the two parties shall pass into the positions and territories, in which it shall be at the time of the ratification of this arrangement. That they may send to Madrid one or more commissione[r]s on the part of the Colonies, and that his Britannick majesty may also send others on his part under the mediation of the King (if it is necessary to them) in order to adjust all these points and others which respect the suspension of arms, and the effects which it ought to produce so long as it shall subsist, and that during this interval the Colonies shall be treated as independent of fact In fine, that in case all the belligerent powers or any one among them, or even the colonies themselves, demand, that the Treaties or accommodations which are concluded be gauranteed, by these powers and by Spain, they shall in effect be so gauranteed, And the Catholic King now offers his gaurantee for the prelimenaries” (DLC:GW).

4La Luzerne’s conference with GW did not take place until April. La Luzerne, accompanied by the Spanish agent Juan de Miralles, arrived in Morristown on 19 April and visited with GW until 25 April (see Robert Hanson Harrison to Jedediah Huntington and to William Livingston, both 19 April [both in DLC:GW]; GW to Huntington, 20 April, DLC:GW; and General Orders, 25 and 26 April; see also GW to La Luzerne, 26 April [FrPMAE], and Steuben to GW, 11 and 12 April [DLC:GW]).

5GW had recommended Maj. William Galvan to the Board of War for a major’s commission and a position as an inspector (see GW to the Board of War, 12 Dec. 1779). On 12 Jan., Congress gave Galvan the commission (see Samuel Huntington to GW, 14 Jan., n.1).

6In the LS, the postscript is in La Luzerne’s writing.

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