George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Bondfield, 12 November 1789

From John Bondfield

Bordeaux [France] 12 9bre 1789


The great and Urgent wants of this Nation, occation’d by the faileur of the two last Crops of wheat, creates dreadful Alarms, to this add the low State of the finnances, occation’d by the Great Revolution effecting; for the two last six months few have paid the Usual Tax’s, that the Treasury is exhausted, this forces the National Assembly to extraordinary exertions, to avert the ill consiquences that may attend a real want of dayly subsistence of Bread to the Nation.

The 7th Instant a Motion was made in the National Assembly to impower Le Ministre du finnance to make application to the United States of America, for a supply, and from the Crampt state of the Finnances to Ask a reimburssment, and that in Grain in part of the advances due by America to france[.]1 their Arguments.

In Urgent need America applied to france. france granted powerful Assistance simular circumstances creates simular demands The Glorious revolution now greatly advanct calls in a Multiplied Capacity every exertion of Succor from Antient Amitie strengthend by the new Constitution forming on Simular liberal Principles.

A ship sailing to morrow for Philadelphia engages my taking the liberty to transmit you advice of what is here agitating so far as relates to the United States.2

In an Assembly held yesterday by the Magistrates of this City being call’d on for my sentiments on the dependance of Supplies I assurd them that every exertion on the part of the United States will be made for the releif of this Nation. with due respect I have the Honor to be Sir Your most Obedient and most Humble Servant

John Bondfield

ALS, DNA:PCC, item 78; LS (duplicate), DNA:PCC, item 78.

John Bondfield operated a mercantile establishment in Quebec at the beginning of the American Revolution. A supporter of the American invasion of Canada, he helped to provision American troops in their retreat following the Canadian campaign. Forced to leave Quebec because of his aid to the American forces, Bondfield settled briefly in Philadelphia but went to France in 1777, establishing a mercantile firm in Bordeaux. For Bondfield’s detailed account of his services to the United States during the war, see his letter to Jefferson, 8 Oct. 1790, in Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 17:573–80. Bondfield hoped for an appointment to the post of United States consul at Bordeaux when consular appointments were made in 1790, but the post went instead to Joseph Fenwick. See George Mason to GW, 19 June 1789, and notes.

1By the end of 1789 the United States Revolutionary War debt to France had reached $6,296,296, a sum that included the 10 million livres borrowed in Holland in 1782 and guaranteed by France (see Board of Treasury to GW, 15 June 1789, n.13). At the beginning of 1790 arrearages of interest amounted to $277,777.77. In addition the United States was in arrears to the amount of $1,388,888.88 for payments on the principal of the debt due in 1787, 1788, and 1789 (Report on Public Credit, 9 Jan. 1790, in Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 6:112–13). Whatever differences of opinion existed in the United States concerning the retirement of the domestic debt, there was general agreement that putting the foreign debt in train of payment was a matter of the first priority in order to protect the United States’ fiscal reputation abroad. Shortly after his appointment as secretary of the treasury, Hamilton assured France’s representatives in the United States that the United States fully intended to honor its commitment although he hoped that France would offer to suspend payments until the United States could put its financial house in order (Moustier to Montmorin, 17 Sept. 1789, Louis G. Otto to Montmorin, 30 Oct. 1789, both in FrPMAE, Corr. Pol., Etats-Unis, vol. 34; Hamilton to Lafayette, 6 Oct. 1789, and Hamilton to William Short, 7 Oct. 1789, in Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 5:425–26, 429–30). The debates concerning the use of the debt for securing provision for France took place on 5 and 6 Nov., and in Bondfield’s duplicate letter the date of Mirabeau’s motion is given as 6 Nov. (Archives Parlementaires, description begins J. Mavidal et al., eds. Archives Parlementaires de 1787 a 1860. 1st ser., 101 vols. to date. Paris, 1868–. description ends 9:705–11). Concerning the debates William Short, United States chargé d’affaires in Paris, wrote acting secretary of state John Jay on 7 Nov.: “It was moved two days ago in the National Assembly that His Majesty should be requested to send persons of confidence as Envoys extraordinary to the United States to negotiate the payment of our debt in flour. This motion was made by the Count de Mirabeau in the course of the debate it was said by some of the members that the debt of the United States must be considered as a bad debt—the motion was adjourned to some days hence—as I think it probably will pass I have thought it proper to give you this early notice of it.” On 19 Nov., however, Short informed Jay that the motion had not been renewed and the plan was not likely to be revived (DLC: William Short Papers).

2Bondfield enclosed in his letter a broadside of the “Motion de M. Le Comte de Mirabeau, à L’Assemblée Nationale, Ayant pour objet de demander des Blés Aux Etats-Unis de l’Amérique, en payement de ce que ces Etats doivent à la France” (DNA:PCC, item 78).

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