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from The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin

by James Parton

Boston: James R. Osgood, 1864.
 

 

Part 5

CHAPTER VI.

            A LONG LETTER ARRIVES FROM FRANCE.


 
 

            No news yet from over the sea. Mr. Thomas Story had been gone eight months; M. Penet, seven months; Mr. Silas Deane, five months, and no letters from them had reached the Committee of Secret Correspondence, except, perhaps, one from Mr. Deane written at the Bermudas, recommending Congress to seize and fortify that convenient little group. From Arthur Lee, not a word. Nothing from the zealous Dumas. From the enthusiastic Dubourg, nothing. No whisper from the mysterious French officer who was so solicitous for the safety of his head.

            This was not very surprising, for, even in peaceful years, an answer could seldom be obtained from Europe in less than four or five months; and now, to all the usual perils and delays, were added those arising from the cruisers of the first naval power in the world. During the first three years of the revolutionary war, it was only with the greatest difficulty that Congress maintained any communication at all with their servants in Europe. When Congress had as many as twelve paid agents on that continent, all of whom wrote by every opportunity, and some of whom were authorized to make opportunities, and actually did attempt to start a packet once a month, there was one period of eleven months during which Congress had not a line from one of them. Silas Deane, too, was in Europe five months before he received a letter from the Committee which employed him.

            And so the whole summer of 1776 passed away, and Congress knew not whether their infant nation had, or had not, a friend on the other aide of the ocean. The campaign had been disastrous. The battle of Long Island had been followed by the loss of the city of New York, which involved the evacuation of Manhattan Island, and the retreat into Westchester. Some instances of bad behavior on the part of the troops had occurred during these operations, and some invaluable officers had fallen. These events, it must be owned, had cast a gloom over the country, and had made many men seriously doubt whether, after all, the thirteen states had not undertaken taken a task which was beyond their unassisted strength. Judge, then, with what a longing anxiety the Secret Committee, Congress, General Washington, and all well-informed men, waited to hear from the old world during these two months of calamity, August and September. It is often said that the path of virtue is one of pleasantness and peace, and there is, doubtless, a certain truth in the remark. Nevertheless, it often happens, both in the lives of men and of nations, that a great step in the right direction, a great, valiant, virtuous RESOLVE, is quickly followed by disaster. Long the colonies lingered on the brink of Independence. After they had taken the plunge, they experienced little but discouragement and calamity for many months. The true path leads to peace and pleasantness, but it is itself steep, narrow, obstructed, and thorny.

            At length, however, the painful suspense was relieved by an arrival from France with most cheering intelligence. It came in the form of an astonishingly long letter from Dr. Dubourg to Dr. Franklin; who hastened to communicate its contents to Congress, and caused a translation of it to be instantly dispatched to General Washington, to encourage him in his unequal strife with the armies and fleets of Britain. Even now, this long letter entertains the reader. With what intensity of interest must it have been read in September, 1776! In no way, perhaps, can the reader of these pages begin to be informed more agreeably of the state of things in France, than by the perusal of this lively epistle. Dr. Dubourg, it will be easily perceived, was engaged in affairs to which he was unaccustomed, and, perhaps, unequal. He was a physician of established repute in Paris; a writer of some note; a merry old bachelor, who was welcome in the gay circles for his wit and anecdote, and dear to the philosophers because he loved them. He was full of the "sentiment" of the day; he was one of those republicans of the salon so numerous then at Paris, who followed the fortunes of the new Republic with an interest that may, without exaggeration, be called passionate. His enthusiasm carried him away. His letter will enable every reader to understand something of the scene to which Dr. Franklin was himself soon to be transferred, and to make allowance for the errors committed by some who served America in France during the revolutionary period. M. Dubourg, though well informed, was not acquainted with what had transpired in the councils of France respecting America. Few men of that generation were. It is only since Mr. Bancroft, Mr. Sparks, M. de Loménie, and one or two English cotemporaries, have been admitted to peruse and copy the secret records of the French cabinet, that the truth respecting the assistance rendered by France to struggling America has been disclosed. Good old Dr. Dubourg, a man of better heart than head, shall tell the reader all he knew, and to that we may add, by and by, the secrets he would gladly have known. It would be easy to shorten this long epistle, but the passages that most invite the erasive pen are precisely those which elucidate most the future course of the American embassadors, and best excuse the errors of some of them.
 

 

            Dubourg to Dr. Franklin:

            "PARIS, June 10, 1776.

            "MY DEAR MASTER: ?? After being long deprived of it I had at length the pleasure of receiving news on the 4th of May, directly from you, by M. Penet's arriving from Philadelphia. He told me you had intrusted him with a letter and some papers to be delivered to me; but that he had left all his packets at Rotterdam, fearing that they might be intercepted on the journey from Holland to France. This, at first, gave me some inquietude. I hardly dared open myself to him. However, all his answers to my different questions appeared so satisfactory, that I did not longer hesitate to converse with him in the most unreserved manner.

            "He astonished me much when he told me that not only the people of the Thirteen United Colonies, but even the Congress, and you yourself, doubted much of the disposition of the Court of France with regard to you, and that you had apprehensions from its connections with the Court of London. When I assured him that all the wishes of our nation in general, and more especially of the Ministry, were in favor of the insurgents, I saw upon his countenance such a natural diffusion of joy as completely determined me to confide in him.

            "The next day, the 5th of May, I conducted him to Versailles, that I might convince him, in turn, that I was not under an illusion myself upon a subject so important. I led him to converse with our friend Du Pont, who was, as you have known, the most confidential intimate of M. Turgot, then Comptroller-general of Finance, and who told us, among other things, that one of their most anxious thoughts was, that the Congress might not fail in its operations through want of money. He even added, that they had considered together by what means they might, without entering in to the quarrel, procure credit for so unhappy and interesting a people. That conversation alone quite sufficed to dissipate all the fears of M. Penet. In consequence, he suddenly took his determination, which was to continue his route as far as Nantes, without even going back to Paris, if I would undertake the care of American affairs, as well at Paris as at Court, while, in correspondence with me, he would go to all the ports, and among the different manufactures, where the advantage of the same service might call him.

            "He had assured me, from the instant of his arrival, that you had recommended him to apply to me upon all occasions, and not to confide in any but such persons as I would answer for, and, as much as possible, to concert all his operations with me. I was disposed, as you may well think, to second him in every thing within my power, in a cause in which I have always been so sanguine as to draw upon me in this country a sort of nickname, at which I do not hold myself offended. But your envoy demanded of me more than I thought myself able to promise him, since he wanted to leave me alone charged with all the business in this city. Moreover, the conjuncture appeared to me very delicate.

            "How should I undertake a long train of weighty affairs and important negotiations upon the simple word of a stranger, though calling himself the bearer of letters, which he could not produce? How should I announce myself to numbers of men, in places known and unknown, to treat about the affairs of a distant people, without being furnished with credentials? And, supposing even the necessity of plunging myself into a torrent of circumstances, as essential as they are critical; supposing the possibility of finding everywhere a favorable access, and of being even listened to with confidence by all those with whom I should have to treat, although presenting myself without title and without mission; yet how should I acquit myself, in this work of supererogation, without neglecting the duties which my profession lays upon me, and without exposing myself to lose entirely the position from which I principally gain my living?

            "These reflections threw me into a dilemma. But my attachment to you and your respectable friends; my gratitude for the sentiments of kindness with which you have inspired your countrymen towards me; my zeal for the cause of justice, of liberty, and of humanity; in fine, the very necessity of the conjucture, wherein Providence seemed to have specially intended me, in default of others, for so honorable and indispensable a service, carried my mind above all private considerations, and made me regard it as a sacred duty to devote  myself, without reserve, to what was demanded of me in your name. And from that instant I have looked upon myself as the eventual depository of the confidence of the United Colonies of America. I have striven to go through all the functions of a faithful and zealous agent, and I shall thus proceed till their true representatives disavow me. I compare my situation to that of one who, having perceived himself to be the only person at hand to collect precious effects after a shipwreck or a fire, watches more scrupulously over that enforced charge, than over what passes at the same moment in his own house.

            "Knowing that United America had pressing need of a certain kind of men, and a certain species of provisions, I have exerted myself to procure both the one and the other for her. I have knocked (if I may so express myself) at every door for that end; I have talked vaguely to some, enigmatically to others; I have half confided to many, and as little as possible have I wholly confided in any one whatever, except the king’s ministers and a nephew, of whom I am thoroughly satisfied, and whom I have drawn from his own province on purpose to second me in every thing. I have had the satisfaction of being well received in every quarter, and of seeing that on one demands other assurances than my own word to treat with me upon affairs of the greatest consequence, and concerning which I freely acknowledge to have received neither full power, nor even the least commission or instruction, by word of mouth any more than by letter. Ministers to whom I had never made my court have given me the most flattering marks of confidence from my first interview; have talked to me without winding or mystery; have discussed with me the weightiest matters; and have deliberated with me the plans to be pursued, and the means to accomplish them. Private individuals, merchants, military men, and others, have attended without scruple to take from me conditional arrangements, promising to execute them when it shall be required, though I had declared to them, on my part, that I could not warrant any thing at all positively.

            "On the other hand, I have sometimes been ill directed, and have been in danger of making a bad choice, or bad purchases, if I had not kept myself watchfully on my guard, and if I had not drawn information from several quarters upon every affair. You would hardly think, for example, that a very friendly minister should point out and recommend to me for saltpetre and for small-arms, such magazines and salesmen whose saltpetre was too dear, and whose arms were defective. Far from taking it ill that I made very different contracts, he thanked me for the intelligence I gave him.

            "I have been six (and three times more in the latter part of June) different times to Versailles within a month, to see not only the ministers, but every one who approaches them or continues near them, and to sound or get sounded the dispositions of every one; for it must not be thought that they are all equally well-intentioned; however, I wanted to draw some advantage from all. And, in fact, though I had rather praise some than others, yet there is not one of whom I could complain without ingratitude.

            "I have obtained, among other things, in behalf of M. De la Tuillerie, the undertaker of a manufactory of arms, that there shall be delivered to him immediately from the king’s arsenals fifteen thousand muskets for the use of infantry, according to the model of 1763, to be employed in his business on condition that he replaces them in the course of a year by a like number of new muskets of his own make, giving good and sufficient security for such return; and they have taken my security. The first part of these muskets are already on the route to Nantes, where M. Penet is looking for the vessels which your Secret Committee is to send thither. I hope your brave soldiers will be pleased with these muskets; but you must caution them not to trust to the ordinary muskets of commerce, called "muskets for exportation," which are almost as dangerous to friends as to enemies.

            "I could have obtained brass cannon on the same terms without difficulty, were it nor for the circumstance of their bearing the king’s arms and cipher, which made them too discoverable. However, if I had been authorized by Congress to insist strongly on it, the L. L. and the fleurs de lis might have been taken off by the file; but all this could not have been executed without expense; and who was to have advanced that? M. Turgot, the only minister from whom I could expect so much favor, had been disgraced the 12th of May, and all the others are so perplexed at this time by the extraordinary cabals of the Court, that each one is too hurried by the care of supporting himself, to take as his proper charge the affairs of the public, which are not absolutely and immediately in his own department. All will kindly listen to a just and honorable cause, but none will espouse it with warmth. It is useless to represent to them the great interest which France has in not losing the opportunity of stripping England of an immense commerce, and of drawing  to herself what must certainly increase from year to year; they easily comprehend all this; but France, over head and ears in debt, wants bread, and it is their interest to support her. They would have permitted me to take secretly, from even the Arsenal of Paris, powder and lead, saltpetre, &c., if we had not found as good, and upon better terms, among the merchants, and even in greater quantities than M. Penet has orders to ship.

            "I have obtained long furloughs for officers of artillery, and others, and have been promised the like for all such as may be necessary for us, and whom I can make enter into my views. Numbers of good officers are presented to me from every quarter, who ask nothing better than to enter into the service of the colonies, if I was authorized to promise the rank they wish, or such as it is common to give to those who are sent hence to the Indies. But I believe this is what you have the least need of, as it may disgust your valiant countrymen. I have, however, ventured to promise the rank of captain, with some little advances, and his passage, to M. Fareli, an old Lieutenant of Foot, one of those who are called "Soldiers of Fortune;" the same, with the exception of rank, to M. Davin, an old sergeant-major, of great distinction; and his passage only to M. Bois Bertrand, a youth full of honor, courage, and zeal, who was here a brevet lieutenant-colonel, but who insists upon nothing, and whom your generals will place as they shall judge most for the greatest service of your affairs. I regret having nothing to promise to an old officer, under the patronage of M. Turgot, and who has been employed under his brother at Cayenne; but especially to two Irish officers, Messrs. Geoghegan. One of them, whom I have long known, has been,


during the last two wars, aide-de-camp to a general officer, now Marshal of France, who valued him highly. He is only a brevet lieutenant-colonel of cavalry, but I think him capable of any thing. His cousin has shown himself more advantageously still; when he was only a captain in India, he found himself at the head of a little army, all the superior officers being absent, for good or bad reasons; and he had the fortune, after a well-managed march, to gain a victory over the English. You will readily judge that these two expect to be made general officers.

            "With regard to Engineers, there are a number of supernumeraries in France. I have retained two of them upon the single assurance of free passage, and a good recommendation to you. One is M. Potten, of Baldivia, very young, but well-instructed, and a son of a Chevalier of St. Louis, an engineer in the service of the Duke of Orleans, and formerly aid-de-camp to Marshal Saxe; the other is M. Gillet de Lomont, a young man of rare  merit, and who wants only an opportunity of practicing in war what he has learned in peace. But engineers who have served in the wars with reputation, are all in places where they are content with their lot. You know that the artillerists and engineers have the greatest affinity with each other. Perhaps you may not know that those two corps have been alternately united and separated here, by different Ministers, so that one may well supply the place of the other. And military men agree in thinking that, in the present situation of the colonies, there is much greater need of officers of artillery than of engineers. This is particularly the opinion of the most capable judge in Europe – the Count de St. Germain. I am well assured of the good disposition of some officers of artillery, active, experienced, and wise. But I have another embarrassment. M. de Gribauval, Lieutenant-General of the King’s armies, and Director-General of the Artillery of France, and consequently, at the head of that corps, and enjoying the highest public esteem, with whom I have had many conferences on this subject, is of opinion that you ought to have three officers of artillery over at a time -- one to be chief, and set the whole agoing; the two others to direct all the operations -- one in the Northern Colonies, and one in the Southern. For the chief, he has fixed his eyes, in concert with the minister, upon an officer still in the flower of his age, who is judged equally capable of the whole and of the details, and who has already proved his great talents in Corsica, where every thing was trusted to him, he having been raised over the heads of one hundred and eighty senior officers. I send you herewith a plan, drawn up by the gentleman in question, Monsieur Du Coudray, officer of artillery which appears to me a very good one; but I thought, at the same time, to let you know that many persons are less prejudiced in his favor, not only in the corps of artillery, where they are jealous of him, but also out of that corps, as he is engaged in very warm controversies with the military, the chemists, and with Monsieur Buffon.

            "Among other officers of artillery who might be persuaded to pass over to America, I particularly distinguish two brothers Messrs. D'Hangest ?? one a lieutenant-colonel of artillery and Chevalier of St. Louis, the other a captain of artillery, who has also seen action, and is a Chevalier of St. Louis. These Messrs. D'Hangest are brothers-in-law to Monsieur D'Antic, the man in France, perhaps, whom it is most for the interest of America to secure. All agree in thinking him the only one possessed both of the theory and practice of all the arts relative to chemistry, especially glass-making and metallurgy. This learned artist has been cheated by most crafty financiers. Monsieur Turgot proposed to give him the whole direction of all the manufactures of France, if he had continued in place. Monsieur D'Antic is himself in difficulties, being encumbered with a wife and four children, as well as a patrimony loaded with clamorous debts. Gentlemen, whom I believe of your acquaintance, have made him very advantageous offers; Mr. Hutton, chief of the Moravian Brethren, and Mr. Johnston, to draw him to England; M. Voltravers to attach him to the Elector Palatine; others form projects to fix him here; others, in fine, would have him go into Spain; but I have absolutely fixed him to give you the preference, if you can provide a suitable situation for him. He cannot engage to pass over into the New World, unless you can advance him here twenty thousand crowns of France, making two thousand five hundred pounds sterling, to clear his goods, and to secure the condition of his family. If he obtains that, he will immediately set off. A crowd of workmen of all sorts will press to follow him; and you may be certain, in a manner, that this single transmigration would advance all the arts an age in your country. I send you herewith a small memorial, drawn up in concert with him.

            "Another person, who would be scarcely less useful to you, is more than half determined to go over to America, to set up there a manufacture of arms, such as is not in Europe, if you can provide the means of transporting him with security. He is rich; he is extremely expert in his branch; he is discontented with the court. It is Monsieur De Montieux, formerly undertaker of the Royal Manufacture of Arms, at St. Stephen's in the Forrest, who has been involved in the famous lawsuit with M. Belle-garde, Inspector-General of Artillery, his brother-in-law. This worthy man has ready two small ships of his own, twenty-two finished brass field-pieces, and materials ready for one hundred more. All those who have worked under him would follow him in a crowd. He would take with him all the necessary tools and materials. You have only to speak, and to show how you could secure his safe passage, to what place he should proceed, and what aids could given to him in his establishments. After our several conversations together, he formed another speculative plan, for forcing a passage through all the cruisers of the English marine, if the Colonies could advance two or three millions of francs for such a decisive expedition. I send you herewith the memorial, which he drew up upon that subject. Also, I have reflected on methods of supporting the vast expenses of your rising Republic.

            "The packets which M. Penet mentioned to me have not come to hand in six weeks (this 19th of June), they contain charts of the colonies, plans, pamphlets, a letter from you, and another from Mr. Rush. But I have received, and have several times read, the contract in parchment passed between the Secret Committee of Congress on one part, and Messrs. Plianne, Penet & Co., on the other part, with the instructions of the same committee to the said Commissioners. Upon these authentic proofs M. Penet has given all the explanations which I could desire, and has laid before me his various projects of operation. These appear to me judicious and well concerted. I made him return from Nantes, that I might present him secretly to Monsieur the Count de V., Minister for Foreign Affairs, who wanted to examine him upon the affairs of your colonies. He returned some days after, but, in the interval, we determined together upon further steps to be pursued. In consequence, I have made arrangements with the company of Farmers-General to furnish them directly by commission from the United Colonies with the necessary provision of tobacco for the annual consumption of this kingdom, which they drew heretofore by way of England; thereby saving, on one hand and the other, all that the custom-house and the merchants of Great Britain gained, as well upon the American sales as upon the French purchases. I was extremely satisfied with the frankness with which the Farmers-General, appointed on this occasion, treated with me; opening all their books and showing the original entries. I have proposed to Monsieur de S., Minister of the Marine, to furnish meal and sea-biscuit, timber for ships (and, in course, lumber for cooperage), flax, pitch, tar, &c. He assured me that he should not examine where I procured them for him, provided I did it for him, and for a reasonable price; and that I might take my steps in consequence. But I will not dissemble or conceal from you that I have found this Minister under some mercantile prejudices, which I must combat, and from which I shall find some difficulty to recover him, because they have been suggested to him by such as are reputed to be the most skillful merchants, and who have, or think they have, an interest in maintaining ancient prejudices on such points. I have, however, shaken him a little. He has directed me to throw out, in a small written memoire, my particular ideas upon those articles whereon we differ most; he will give this memoire for the discussion of

some skillful merchants, or the Deputies of Commerce; after which he will weigh definitively the reasons on one side and the other. I shall join herewith that memoire, when I shall have shown it to him.

            "I have taken the advice of many trading people for a contract of grain, peltries, indigo, whalebone, and spermaceti, and in general all the wares and productions of your climate. And we can flatter ourselves with producing for you a greater advantage than you have ever made. I am still more sure of being able to procure for you in return all the European merchandise which you want, as wine, oil, cloths, linens, drugs, mercury, and hardware, on better terms than you have them from England, because France produces more, and labor is cheaper. I have already an intelligent and  vigorous agent, who goes through all the manufactories of needles and pins in Normandy, etc., to put himself soon in a condition of establishing one in Pennsylvania, to which place, upon the encouragement which I have led him to hope for, he intends to proceed, and render himself useful to the Americans, and to build for himself a  good house. It appears from the instructions that, next to military stores, your most pressing wants are for needles and pins.

            "M. Penet appears a faithful, active, intelligent man, and very much the connoisseur in arms of every kind but I have been led to think that your committee, not knowing him sufficiently to trust him with large pecuniary funds, would only engage themselves to repay amply his advances; and he is not in a condition to do great things in that way, however good his disposition is therefor. This is what retards all the operations, which might have been much accelerated if you had somebody here duly authorized to make bargains, and to pass engagements for their execution in the name the Thirteen United Colonies, on terms which would be readily acceptable.

            "I have learned from our ministers that you have given orders at Liege for having field-pieces cast there. If we had receive commission for them here, we could have had better cast here than at Liege, and could have sent them to you with more ease.

            "Further, I have lately had under my eye the state of the cannon in all the arsenals of France, and I have been convinced that there is a superabundance of all bores, and particularly twelve hundred four-pounders. There are scarcely five hundred in actual employ, and about seven hundred pieces without any precise destination. Thus, perhaps, it may not be very difficult for us to borrow, secretly, two or three hundred, on condition of replacing them; and these four-pounders are exactly those from which the greatest advantage may be had in the field, where they go at the head of regiments. If you adopt this idea, be so kind as to send us powers in due form; and to add an assurance of replacing them, either by silver, or merchandise, or bills of exchange, or paper money of the Congress.

            "If I could only answer affirmatively upon any one of those heads for a fixed term, you should be left to want nothing. Stripped of every means of that kind, we are obliged to reduce ourselves to send you only a little at a time, by vessels which shall arrive from your ports; muskets, powder, lead, flints, saltpeter, and some subaltern officers of artillery, chief workmen, founders, armorers, etc.

            "June 29th. M. D'Hangest, the elder, came from La Fere to this city, on purpose to confer with me upon the means and conditions of his passage to America; but after having consulted a common friend in company and separately, we found that better could be done for him and for us; therefore he returned to his employment.

            "It remains for us to choose between two men, and such as I doubt whether a third like them can be found in Europe of their profession: one is the M. Du Coudray of whom I have before spoken to you in this letter, and for whom my esteem does but increase; the other is the famous Chevalier De Tot, who, the day before yesterday, arrived from Constantinople, where, by the report of all the Gazettes, he has conducted the artillery of the Turks much better than could have been hoped; established foundries for cannon, erected batteries, and constructed fortifications, especially at the straits of the Dardanelles, which he rendered secure against the invasion of the Russians, very powerful then in the Mediterranean. Artists do not think altogether so advantageously of things and they regard him as excellent perhaps in Turkey, but indifferent elsewhere. However, I should not think I made you a bad present in sending him.

            "In what remains, I shall manage your interests the best way in my power; but you easily conceive that either of these two men must be purchased at a very high rate.

            "The Chevalier De Tot boasts of having exhibited himself with the greatest eclat. M. Du Coudray, by his credit with the minister in the War Department, being in the way of rendering you greater services than any one else, does not fail to set value upon that circumstance. I have seen him often lately to concert how we may get the loan of some hundreds of field-pieces (cannon or howitzers), and we are not without hopes of succeeding therein. I strove to avail myself, for that purpose, of the protection of the Count D'Aranda, formerly minister of Spain, and now embassador here. He showed me much kindness, but important considerations do not permit him to risk a dispute with the French ministry. Though M. Penet has positively authorized me, by word of mouth and by writing, to exercise for him and as himself the powers which he has received from your Secret Committee, my mind is not altogether easy at his not having delivered to me the letter which you did me the honor to write with your own hand. In this perplexity, I have conceived the idea of opening a correspondence with Mr. Arthur Lee, your deputy at London, from whom I might have frequent intelligence. Not being known to him, I have had recourse to the Count de Lamagnais, with whom he is in connection, to get him to send my first letter. I have just received one from M. Penet; he is aiming to procure for the colony of Virginia twelve pieces of cannon, six-pounders; that bore is not common here; however, we will strive to find them.

            "The time is not yet come to speak to you of a musket of new construction, more simple, and, it is hoped, not less solid; the will also be a saving in the price. The inventor (named Reynard) led me to expect the model, day by day, more than a month; he tells me at length that it is finished, and the proof of it will be made next week, with the most scrupulous exactness, under the eye of M. De Gribauval, who is pleased to attend it, and who, in  case of success, will be charmed that the first employment of it should be consecrated to the cause of liberty, of justice, and of humanity, and that they should not be made use of for the service of the French armies till after yours shall be abundantly provided with them.

            "July 1st. I have not yet received the much desired packet from Rotterdam; and I must this day close this letter, which I shall send by M. De Bois Bertrand, who goes post haste to-morrow to embark at Nantes. God grant that he may soon deliver it to you.

            "Be assured that I have not trusted it to him till after being convinced, by good warrants, of his fidelity, his courage, and his wisdom. He has given me his word of honor that at least it shall not fall into the enemy's hands, though such a chance should happen to himself. He would have given me his oath for it, if I laid stress upon oaths; but I have never regarded them otherwise than as the last resource of liars. Were it not for that, I would swear, in this within your hands, a full homage and inviolable fidelity to the august Congress of the most respectable Republic which has ever existed. But my attachment to you answers sufficiently for my devotedness to that. May it long enjoy a subject such as you, and produce likenesses of you from generation to generation! And may my services be agreeable to it in an under rank to yours. I would die contented could I see my country and yours intimately united; and could I contribute towards it, I should be at the summit of my wishes.

            "I am, with the most perfect esteem, and most tender affection, sir and dear friend, your very humble, and very obedient servant,"

            BARBUE DUBOURG.
 

 

            “As it is very doubtful if these dispatches will reach you; since the sea is porcupined with English cruisers, I have ordered two other copies, which I shall send by two different ships, so that one of the three at least may arrive safely to you.

            "July 2d. M. De Bois Bertrand takes at his own charge two subalterns of thorough bravery and irreproachable conduct, of whom may be made very good officers, if they shall be wanted, as is to be presumed. As to him, I have led him to expect the rank of Colonel, from the persuasion I have that he would fill it well, to the satisfaction of your Generals. I have, nevertheless, been upon my guard with him as to giving an absolute promise; but I must observe to you that it is the constant usage here to advance one grade every officer who is sent over to the Indies.

            "As to what regards M. Du Coudray and M. De Tot, as I must have taken far too much upon me to make either one or the other to proceed immediately, I thought myself obliged to wait your orders on that head.

            "P. S. – I open my letter to tell you that within an hour I have learned some things which make me abate the character which I gave you of M. Montieux. Adieu, fare you well, be prosperous, you and yours, and know that not one in the world is more devoted to you." (1)

            Such was the letter of the worthy Dr. Dubourg; such his overflowing zeal for the country of his friend and "master." The rash engagements into which he had entered, and might enter, were little thought of in the joy excited by the great news he had transmitted which surpassed the hopes of the most sanguine. That the French government should even permit the operations of M. Penet and Dr. Dubourg was a hopeful sign; but the Count de Vergennes had gone the length of seeking an interview with them, and had dismissed them without rebuke. What might not be expected when Mr. Deane, the authorized representative and commissioner of Congress, should exhibit his credentials to the minister? The coming over of so many officers of high rank and higher pretensions would be embarrassing, but there was time to prevent that, and, probably, no one supposed they would venture to cross the ocean unless expressly invited to do so by Congress.

            Congress now resolved to send to France an imposing embassy; imposing in the number and the character of its members. It should consist of three persons, to be chosen by ballot. The election occurred on the twenty-sixth of September. Members had already pledged in writing their honor to divulge nothing of what occurred in Congress, except what Congress should order to be made public, and on this occasion they were reminded anew of the infinite and peculiar importance of secrecy. It was difficult enough to elude Lord Howe's cruisers, without stimulating the admiral to greater vigilance by the prospect of capturing commissioners to a foreign court. On the first ballot, as was foreseen, Dr. Franklin was unanimously elected. When the result of the balloting was announced, he is reported to have turned to Dr. Rush, who sat next him, and said: "I am old and good for nothing; but, as the store-keepers keepers say of their remnants of cloth, 'I am but a fag end, and you may have me for what you please.'” The next balloting elected Thomas Jefferson, then thirty-three years of age, who would be dear to the Salons of Paris as the author of the Declaration of Independence. The third gave a majority to Silas Deane, already in Europe.

            Dr: Franklin, regardless of his age, his aversion to voyaging, his longing for repose, and the danger of capture, began forthwith to prepare for his departure. An express was sent to Virginia to notify Mr. Jefferson. Unhappily for Franklin and for Congress, Mr. Jefferson was compelled, by the ill?health of his wife, to decline the mission, and Congress elected in his stead that uneasy spirit, that thorn in Franklin's side, that miracle of ill temper and jealousy, that man formed to stir up strife, enmity, and every evil passion, who spent his whole existence in a broil – Arthur Lee. He, too, had the advantage of being already on the safe side of the Atlantic, and had been for several months in the service of the Secret Committee in London.

            Three days after the election of the three commissioners arrived Mr. Thomas Story, with letters from Deane, Dumas, and Arthur Lee, and bearing in his memory intelligence too precious to be intrusted to paper. That this intelligence may be understood, we must return to France, and enter the council chamber of Versailles, the secret cabinet of the Count de Vergennes, and, perhaps, the boudoir of the young queen, Marie Antoinette.
 

 

Note


1. "American Archives," Fourth Series, vi., 771.
 

 
 
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