Chapter 24 – American Envoys in France | France in the Revolution


    About the author

    James Breck Perkins headshot.
    James Breck Perkins

    James Breck Perkins (1847–1910) was an American historian notable for his works on French history. Educated at the University of Rochester, he initially practiced law before shifting to writing and public service. Perkins is best known for his comprehensive studies on the French Regency period, particularly in “France Under the Regency,” which examined Philippe d’Orléans’ governance post-Louis XIV. His other significant works include “France Under Louis XV” and “France in the American Revolution.”



      After the capture of Yorktown the time had at last arrived when there was a possibility of closing the long contest for American independence. Nearly two years elapsed before a treaty was agreed upon, and the negotiations were attended with much distrust and recrimination among those charged with them. Not only at the time, but ever since, they have been a fertile theme for controversy; the representatives of America were not sparing in their criticisms of one another, and they founded schools of partisans who dispute the credit or the blame which should be attributed to each. Among the allies, also, the harmony that had prevailed during the prosecution of the war was not found in equal measure in the negotiations for peace. Some Americans declared that France proved an unfaithful friend at the end. Some Frenchmen asserted that the United States considered only their own interests, and deserted the cause of their benefactress. It is possible now to study the diplomacy of both nations, and see whether either can be justly accused of bad faith toward its ally.

      Suggestions of reconciliation between England and the United States had often been advanced during the progress of the war, and, naturally, they were made to the representative of the colonies in France. Dr. Franklin was by far the most conspicuous American in Europe, and it was probable that any negotiations for peace would be in his hands. In 1778 one Pulteney, a member of Parliament, visited France, under an assumed name, and sought to open a conference with Franklin (Wharton, ii, 523,527.) He seems to have proceeded without authority, and his action bore no fruit. The English still clung to the hope of retaining some control over the colonies, while both France and the thirteen states had agreed that absolute independence must be the first condition of peace.

      A few months later Pulteney was followed by a still more mysterious intriguer. A letter signed Charles de Weissenstein, a name savoring of many nationalities, was thrown over the gateway of the house occupied by the American minister. It suggested a plan of reconciliation, as a part of which Adams, Hancock, Washington, Franklin, and others should receive either valuable offices or pensions for life, for amounts to be inserted in blanks left opposite their names; and it further promised that if American peers were ever created, these leaders should be included in the first promotion. The letter closed with the statement that the writer would be at Notre Dame at a certain hour, with a rose in his hat, ready to receive a reply.

      The American minister did not attempt to meet this extraordinary negotiator, but some French police officers were on hand and reported that a man corresponding to the description wandered about the cathedral at the appointed hour, and at last returned to his hotel and was heard of no more (Bigelow, Franklin, ii, 435-436.) Franklin was convinced that the Weissenstein letter was George III’s own conception, and he prepared a fiery answer to it. It is not impossible that the English King thought that the American colonies could be led back to loyalty by making Washington a peer, and Franklin and John Adams pensioners. His treatment of the colonists in the past showed no better understanding of their character.

      In 1779 Vergennes suggested to Congress that it might be well to select an envoy empowered to treat, in case England should at any time manifest a desire for peace. There was little prospect of such overtures at this stage of the war, but even the suggestion of peace was grateful, and Congress at once took action.

      The selection of a commissioner was not free from intrigue and state jealousies. The choice lay between Adams and Jay. Franklin’s name was not suggested; he was already at Paris as the American minister, and possibly it was thought that his services could be secured without a formal appointment as peace commissioner. Moreover, the persistent slanders which Lee and Izard poured out against him had their effect on members of Congress, who, for the most part, were ignorant of the condition of foreign courts and of the position held by our representatives abroad. Adams was the choice of the New England states, who desired some one to press with unwearied zeal for the recognition of the rights of New England fishermen in the Newfoundland fisheries, and in Adams they selected a man who certainly was faithful to their trust. His name was naturally suggested for the position: he had been for nearly a year and a half at Paris as one of the representatives of the United States, and had lately returned; the experience which he had gained would surely be of much value. Jay had the support of New York and the South, and was agreeable to the French minister.

      At first Adams received the votes of five states and Jay of four, and there was no choice; but a compromise was reached: Adams was selected as commissioner for the peace negotiations, while Jay was sent as minister to Madrid, where he spent two years of discomfort, obtaining few promises of aid and still less performance.

      Having chosen a commissioner, Congress next proceeded to frame his instructions. There had already been much and fervent discussion of the terms to be demanded: the New England states regarded the question of the fisheries as all important, the southern states were equally interested in the extension of the western frontier, and in securing the free navigation of the Mississippi. In all these matters, Gerard, the French minister, took an active part; and that his counsel should be much heeded was not unnatural, when we consider the importance of the French alliance to the young republic. There were in Congress factions largely under the influence of the French minister, and factions that were not influenced by him at all, on whom he naturally looked with ill-favor. Partly to simplify the issues, and partly because be regarded himself as bound to protect the interests of Spain and of all the Bourbon family, he had been anxious that Congress should take no decided stand on any question except the recognition of independence.

      Both Gerard and his successor were instructed by Vergennes to moderate the demands of Congress, not only lest these should hinder the attainment of peace, but still more from regard for the Spanish allies of France. It was desired by many members that the right to the fisheries, a proper western boundary, and the free navigation of the Mississippi should be included in the ultimata to be presented by the representatives of the United States. But Spain wanted the American colonists to be kept as far as possible from her possessions, and the free navigation of a river was to the Spanish as distasteful an idea as freedom of commerce.

      In the negotiations for peace at Philadelphia, as at Paris and London, the demands made by Spain constantly embarrassed the representatives of France. Gerard was able to secure the adoption of instructions in a form agreeable to him. It was decided that an acknowledgment of the absolute independence of the United States must be a condition of peace, but all other matters were left to the fortune of negotiation.

      Adams arrived at Paris in February, 1780, but his presence in the French capital did not foster cordial relations between the young republic and her powerful ally. The selection of Adams by Congress as commissioner to treat of peace was not agreeable to Vergennes. In his first foreign mission Adams had not created a favorable impression on the French minister. Vergennes had probably assumed that Franklin would be designated as commissioner, and Adams, when he reached the French court, was persona non grata. Naturally complications soon arose between the American commissioner and the French minister. Adams suggested that he should at once formally notify the English that he was an envoy sent from the United States, and empowered to agree on terms of peace. As the English King and his prime minister had no thought of making peace, unless the colonists were ready to return to their former allegiance, it was not important that they should be informed that Adams was at Paris, ready to sign a treaty which should recognize American independence. At all events, Vergennes advised against announcing Adams’s official character. He may have thought it was premature, he may have wished that there should be no suggestion of readiness for negotiations, until France and the United States could cooperate. But Adams was annoyed at the failure to make solemn announcement of his official position, and he saw in this action manifest proof of the bad faith of France, and of the ill-will of her minister. He soon decided in his own mind that the colonies were to be used as an aid to French ambition, and were to have no opportunity to act as their own interests might require, but this belief does not seem to have been well founded.

      There is no doubt that Vergennes feared that the Americans might abandon the French alliance, make their own peace with England, and leave France to carry on alone the war she had begun to secure independence for the colonies. Apprehensions of this sort led him to discourage negotiations with England until France could join in them. His fears appeared in a letter written to La Luzerne soon after Adams arrived at Paris. “My opinion has been, and still is, that there is a party which desires Congress to make peace without any attention to our alliance. In other words, to obtain an assurance of American independence directly from England, without our participation.” (Doniol, iv, 414.) In this suspicion he was wrong, and no one would deny that such action would have been in the highest degree dishonorable. Washington, Franklin, the Congress, all declared, that under no circumstances could the United States make terms with England unless France was included in the treaty.

      Other causes of disagreement soon arose and increased Vergennes’s distaste for the American plenipotentiary. It was disagreeable for Adams to acknowledge obligations to any one, either for his country or for himself. The assistance given by France, he thought, should be credited, not to the kindness of the donor, but to the unusual merit of the recipient. This was an unfortunate frame of mind. There is nothing ignoble in sincere gratitude; a man or a nation may gladly admit that others have acted as friends. “I think,” Franklin wrote to the President of Congress, “an expression of gratitude is not only our duty, but our interest. A different conduct seems to me what is not only improper and unbecoming, but what may be hurtful to us. Mr. Adams, on the other hand, who at the same time means our welfare and interest as much as I or any man can do, seems to think a little apparent stoutness and a greater air of independence and boldness in our demands will procure us more ample assistance. It is for the Congress to judge and regulate their affairs accordingly.” (Aug. 9, 1780; Wharton, iv, 23.)

      Adams was convinced that Franklin’s way to secure aid from France was not the right way, and he adopted a course of his own with such success that Vergennes at last refused to have any further communication with him. Adams informed the French minister that the colonies were under no distressing burden of obligation to their ally. “On the other hand, the French could not acknowledge too much obligation to America,” he said, “for, without their cooperation, England was too powerful for the House of Bourbon … and France should not grow weary of a policy that had secured for her an amount of consideration in Europe such as she had never received before.” (Relation, June 17, 1780; Doniol, iv, 416.)

      A further controversy was excited over the repudiation by Congress of its paper money. Apart from the aid furnished by the government, French merchants had sent large quantities of supplies to the Americans, and they held large amounts of the Continental paper currency. In March, 1780, Congress recommended that this should be redeemed at the rate of forty to one, and Adams informed Vergennes of this action. Not unnaturally, the minister was greatly disturbed. This, he wrote, will be a most severe blow to the French, who have been ready to furnish the Americans with articles necessary for them, and who will be ruined as a return for their aid. Little of this currency had come into the hands of other foreigners, and now those were to suffer who had been willing to assist the Americans in their distress (Despatch, June 3,1780; Doniol, iv, 415.)

      When Franklin was constantly asking for new loans, it was hardly the part of wisdom to insist that the colonies had the moral right to settle with their creditors at two and a half cents on the dollar, but Adams did not hesitate. He sent Vergennes an elaborate argument, showing that Congress had the right to adopt this measure, and there could be no exception in favor of foreigners. “I flatter myself,” he wrote, “that I am so much a master of the principles as to demonstrate that the plan of Congress is not only wise but just.” (Doniol, iv, 418.)

      He flattered himself without cause. Doubtless the demonstration convinced Adams, but it produced in Vergennes an indignation that was not unnatural. He wrote La Luzerne asking that Congress should modify the resolution so far as it concerned French subjects, and added, “His Majesty flatters himself that this assembly, actuated by other principles than those Mr. Adams has shown, will think the French worthy of some consideration, and that it appreciates the marks of interest which the King has incessantly manifested towards the United States.” (Doniol, iv, 419.)

      Refusing to be convinced by the arguments of Adams, Vergennes carried his woes to Franklin. ” Mr. Adams . . . has sent me,” he wrote, “a long dissertation . . . but it contains only abstract reasonings, hypotheses, and calculations … principles than which nothing can be less analogous to the alliance subsisting between his Majesty and the United States.” (Translated in Wharton, iii, 827.)

      It is not strange that Franklin should have regretted the unwise activity of his associate, and he endeavored to sooth Vergennes’s irritation. When we are asking aid,” he wrote Arthur Lee, “it is necessary to gratify the desires, and , in some sort, comply with the humors of those we apply to.” This sentiment would have been approved by Adams as little as it was by Lee. At all events, on July 10, Franklin wrote Vergennes that it was just that foreign merchants, and especially the French, should not suffer from this action, and he agreed to lay the whole question before Congress for its consideration. This he did, much to Adams’s annoyance, and the incident helped to increase the latter’s irritation against both Vergennes and Franklin (Wharton, iii, 844.)

      This episode was followed by another, in which Adams could only have volunteered his advice because he felt that Franklin was not capable of attending to the interests of the country he represented. In July, 1780, Adams sent Vergennes a letter in regard to directions to be given Rochambeau and Ternay, who were about to sail to America with an army to assist Washington. Adams informed the French minister that, while he did not know to what part of America Ternay and Rochambeau were destined, he had no hopes of anything decisive from their operations, even though they were instructed to cooperate with General Washington. Having indulged in this prophecy, which the result did not verify, he stated that what America desired was the presence of French ships cruising along the coast and giving an opportunity for American privateers to levy contributions upon English commerce. He added, in somewhat questionable taste, that many Americans thought the court of France did not mean to give any effectual aid to America; and while he deprecated such an opinion, he suggested that the action he recommended would prove the sincerity of the French in their alliance. Of a French army he saw less need, because he said that the English troops in North America for the last two years had been absolutely in the power of their enemies, so nothing was wanted but a little attention to accomplish the entire reduction of their power (Works of John Adams, vii, 219-227.)

      If Adams thought the American troops were able to overcome the English forces unassisted, he certainly did not share Washington’s opinion. A little earlier Washington had written: “Unless a system very different from that which has for a long time prevailed be immediately adopted throughout the states, our affairs must soon become desperate, beyond the possibility of recovery . . . Indeed, I have almost ceased to hope.”

      Whether Adams’s suggestions were marked by more or less wisdom, Vergennes might properly have replied that his advice would be considered when it was asked. He sent, however, a civil answer, saying that the troops were directed to act under Washington’s orders. This drew a further reply, in which Adams criticized the manner in which the French had furnished military assistance, and this he accompanied by the announcement that advice might be expected frequently from him in future. “I am determined,” he wrote, “to omit no opportunity of communicating my sentiments to your Excellency upon everything that appears to me of importance to the common cause, in which I can do it with any propriety.” (Doniol, iv, 422; Works of John Adams, vii, 241.)

      He might well have omitted the last clause. Franklin was the minister by whom such communications could properly be made, but Adams was convinced of his own superior wisdom, and felt that his counsels must fill the gaps left by the indolent voIuptuary who was neglecting his country’s interests.

      This criticism exceeded the limitations of Vergennes’s endurance, and the prospect of endless communications from this self-appointed counsellor doubtless filled him with dismay. He forwarded the entire correspondence with Adams to Franklin, with the request that it should be sent to Congress, in order that that body might know how its representative was discharging a duty equally important and delicate. To Adams himself he replied that Franklin was the only person accredited from the United States to the French King, and with him alone such matters must be treated. And he added, as a farewell shot, that his Majesty did not require Mr. Adams’s solicitations in order to interest him in the welfare of the United States (July 29, 1780; Doniol, iv, 423.)

      To La Luzerne Vergennes laid bare his heart. “This plenipotentiary will only cause embarrassment and mischief. He possesses a rigidity, a pedantry, an arrogance and a vanity which render him unfit to treat political questions.” (Letter of Aug. 7, 1780; Doniol, iv, 423.)

      Adams’s relations with the French minister were now so strained that even he realized that he could not be of service in Paris. On July 27, 1780, he left for Holland and endeavored to obtain assistance for the United States from the States-General. He insisted that the French representative hindered his progress in Holland, but in this he seems to have been mistaken. Vergennes did not allow any petty annoyance to interfere with his exertions for the success of the allied cause, and as the Dutch were unwilling to lend on the credit of the United States, the French King borrowed ten million livres and turned them over to his allies.

      Patriotism does not require us to say that in these controversies the American was always right, and the Frenchman always wrong. Vergennes disliked Adams and believed him more friendly to England than to France. The belief was not correct, but the dislike was natural. The qualities which Adams manifested in a still more striking way when he was president, were displayed in his career as a diplomat. He not only suspected of wickedness those who differed from him, but he was sure they were wicked. The man who believes every one else a thief and a liar is usually a rogue himself, but Adams’s frame of mind was exceptional. He was a man of the utmost uprightness and veracity, and yet he found it hard to believe that others possessed any of the honesty of which he had so much. To conciliate, to use the wise arts of a Franklin, he regarded as unworthy conduct, to which he would not stoop.

      During all the late years of the war it was necessary for the states to obtain large sums of money from an ally whose own financial condition was constantly becoming worse. The French people were ardent in the American cause, and Vergennes was sincerely anxious for the independence of the colonies. But the most zealous friend can be chilled, and Adams was peculiarly fitted to make the French minister button up his pockets and leave the American colonies to carry on the war, unaided by French gold, and with a paper currency of which five hundred dollars would not buy as much as one louis. Adams was patriotic and upright, but these qualities alone could not make an adroit negotiator for a struggling state demanding aid. If Franklin had been recalled, as Lee and Izard and his other enemies desired that he should be, and Adams alone had represented the United States at the court of Versailles during these closing years, when our success was assured by French aid, it is entirely possible that the aid would have been refused and the alliance would have come to naught. The sympathy of the French people for our cause had much to do in keeping the French nation constant to our alliance, but it is impossible to overestimate the value of the aid which Franklin rendered.

      It was unfortunate that Adams excited the animosity of the French minister, and his usefulness was also diminished by the morbid jealousy with which he regarded Franklin’s position. Even if Franklin had not been at the zenith of popularity and fame, his character would have been distasteful to this exact and rigorous Puritan. There was, apparently, something to criticize in the conduct of the American minister. He was old, rather infirm, fond of pleasure, and by no means an accurate man of business. He sent few letters to Congress, and went to a great many dinners with entertaining Frenchmen and charming Frenchwomen. There is no doubt he found the latter occupation more agreeable, and, considering the conditions of French society, it is by no means certain that he was not serving his country quite as well when delighting diplomats and philosophers with his conversation, as when writing letters that would reach Philadelphia six months after the events they narrated.

      Very improperly, important financial duties were added to Franklin’s diplomatic responsibilities. He asked to be relieved from them, but he asked in vain. Whenever Congress was in need of money, and it was always in need, a bill of exchange was drawn on Franklin, and he was expected to get the French minister to advance the funds with which to honor it. He succeeded in doing this for years with marvellous success, and it was largely owing to the qualities which Adams condemned that Franklin was rarely sent away empty-handed from a begging trip to the chamber of Vergennes. It is certain that if Adams had been minister, the French treasury would have been soon closed to such requests, and dishonored Congressional drafts would have been as plentiful as discredited Continental currency.

      It must be said also that when it came to the accounts of the moneys disbursed by Franklin upon innumerable requests and demands, they were carelessly and imperfectly kept. Franklin had little clerical assistance; he was not systematic, he disliked detail work, and the accounts of the American treasury in Paris were in great confusion. Not even Franklin’s enemies ever questioned his absolute integrity, but integrity is not all that is required in public finance.

      From the nature of his being, Adams was jealous of Franklin’s popularity, and be found abundant grounds for criticisms, which he honestly believed to be just. He wrote his cousin in 1778 of his views on Franklin. “The other you know personally, and that he loves his Ease, hates to offend, and seldom gives any opinion till obliged to do it. I know also, and it is necessary that you should be informed, that he is overwhelmed with a correspondence from all quarters, most of them upon trifling subjects and in a more trifling style, with unmeaning visits from Multitudes of People, chiefly from the Vanity of having it to say that they have seen him. There is another thing that I am obliged to mention. There are so many private families, Ladies and gentlemen, that he visits so often, – and they are so fond of him, that he cannot well avoid it, – and so much intercourse with Academicians, that all these things together keep his mind in a constant state of dissipation. . . . But if he is left here alone, . . . and all maritime and Commercial as well as political affairs and money matters are left in his Hands, I am persuaded that France and America will both have Reason to repent it. He is not only so indolent that Business will be neglected, but you know that, although he has as determined a soul as
      any man, yet it is his constant Policy never to say ‘Yes’ or ‘no’ decidedly, but when he cannot avoid it.” (To Samuel Adams, Dec. 7, 1778; Hale, Franklin in France, i, 229.)

      Adams’s animosity toward Franklin grew no less with time. In 1811, when Franklin had been dead for twenty-one years, and Adams had long retired from public life, he accused Franklin and Vergennes of conspiring to crush him, of indulging in low intrigues and base tricks; he charged the philosopher with extreme indolence and dissipation, and denounced the turpitude of his conduct when be entered into partnership with the Comte de Vergennes, the most powerful minister of state in Europe, to destroy the character and power of a poor man, almost without a name, born and educated in the American wilderness and unknown in the European world (Works of John Adams, i, 664.)

      Franklin’s position in France was too brilliant to be disturbed by any jealousy of Adams, though doubtless he was annoyed by the latter’s ill-timed activity. To plot and intrigue, as Adams charged him with doing, would have been as foreign to Franklin’s character as to Washington’s. In the intensity of his atrabilious character, Adams’s judgment went far astray, and his conviction of Vergennes’s furtive and wicked hostility toward America seems as groundless as his belief that Franklin was guilty of tricks and low intrigues.

      Vergennes was an astute and experienced diplomat, yet if it be the test of diplomacy to get the utmost possible for the country one represents, Franklin was his superior. Personal liking had much to do with the fact that the French minister was loath to say no to any request of the American envoy; but no man realized more thoroughly than Franklin how valuable is personal popularity in such negotiations, and no one used it more unsparingly, – Vergennes might have said, more unmercifully. Even Adams admitted that the French court put its confidence in Franklin alone, but still he felt that the vigor and intellect of an Adams ought to be more effectual than the affability and adroitness of a Franklin.

      A new endeavor for peace led to some change in Adams’s position and increased his irritation against the French court. In the early part of 1781 there seemed little reason to expect a speedy and favorable termination of the war. The year 1780 was one of disaster: Charleston had been captured, Gates had been defeated at Camden, and much of the South had fallen into the possession of the English. In the North the treachery of Arnold had threatened the country with ruin. The finances of the colonies were at their lowest ebb, Continental currency had become practically worthless, a suit of clothes cost two thousand dollars, a barrel of flour sold for fifteen hundred dollars. The results of the alliance between France and the United States had not, thus far, corresponded to the hopes which had been entertained; the cost of the war was constantly increasing, while the expectation of a successful termination grew less. It was at this juncture that Russia and Austria offered to act as mediators and close this protracted and unfortunate contest.

      Vergennes was unwilling to repel the offer, lest he should give offence to those countries, and, moreover, he was quite ready for peace. The English, so it was said, would accept the mediation, but France could take no step without the consent of her allies. In his desire for peace, the terms to which Vergennes wished Congress to agree seem singularly unsatisfactory, and differ widely from those that were obtained a few years later. But although the French minister was eager that the ultimatum should be so moderate as to insure its acceptance, his subsequent conduct showed that he was willing his allies should get as much more as they could. The proposition of mediation was made at almost the lowest era of depression during the war. It was not strange that Vergennes advised his allies to be satisfied with moderate terms, when victory seemed so remote, and in writing to the French minister at Philadelphia, he even suggested that it might be necessary to consent to the loss of some of the thirteen states.

      “It is certain,” he said, ,that the United States . . . would suffer a sensible loss by the separation of some of the provinces . . . In this the King entirely agrees with Congress, and his Majesty, guided by an intelligent policy and by his engagements, will do all he can that the thirteen colonies may preserve their union without alteration. But only too often circumstances furnish the law to the most powerful sovereigns . . . The King will not change his resolution, unless he sees the absolute impossibility of obtaining a reasonable peace without some sacrifice. But … a sacrifice is among the possibilities, and if it becomes unavoidable, it is necessary to be resigned. Most of the Belgian provinces threw off the Spanish yoke, but only seven preserved their independence . . . It is well that we should make the Americans realize that the war cannot be eternal, and there is a time at which one must needs stop . . . His Majesty will suggest no sacrifice to them. This unpleasant task he will leave to the two mediating powers if ever it becomes necessary.” (Vergennes to La Luzerne, June 30,1781; Doniol, iv, 601-602.)

      This suggestion was not made to Congress, but the possibility that it might be necessary to accept a long truce, instead of a formal recognition of independence, was not only suggested to Congress but was acknowledged by that body. In advising Congress to obtain the good-will of the mediators, by exercising the utmost moderation in their demands, Vergennes added the judicious counsel, that whether treating for a permanent peace or for a truce, the war should be carried on with the utmost vigor, for this was the true way to bring the English to reason and secure honorable terms (Doniol, iv, 553-556.)

      In June, 1781, Congress authorized the commissioners to accept the mediation of the Emperor of Russia and the Emperor of Germany (as he was inaccurately styled), insisting only that no peace should be made without an acknowledgment of the independence of the thirteen states. As to all other matters, they were left to the suggestions already given Adams, in which they could see the desires and expectations of Congress, but they were bound by no fixed instructions: they were to secure the interests of the United States in such manner as circumstances might direct. So far as their relations with France were concerned, the instructions were couched in language which the French minister might well have dictated, and which was probably due to his inspiration, in substance if not in form. “You are to make the most candid and confidential communications upon all subjects to the ministers of our generous ally, the King of France; to undertake nothing in the negotiations for peace or truce without their knowledge and concurrence, and ultimately to govern yourselves by their advice and opinion.” (Wharton, iv, 505.)

      If these instructions were followed literally, the American commissioners must adopt whatever conditions of peace the French minister should decide to recommend. Probably so extraordinary an abrogation of independent action was not intended to be taken literally; the commissioners were to pay to the opinion of a valued ally the deference to which it was justly entitled, and to sign no treaty unless France joined. As a matter of fact, the instructions did not prove of any importance. They were drawn in view of the mediation offered by Russia and Austria, and this came to nothing; when peace was made, the representatives of England and America conferred with one another and agreed on terms, and the American commissioners decided that it was not advisable to have Vergennes join in their deliberations. The instructions of Congress, to obtain which La Luzerne had spent so many anxious hours, proved of no more value than so much blank paper.

      The action taken by Congress in another direction was of more practical importance. Adams had become distasteful to Vergennes, and the French minister would have been pleased if some one else had replaced the belligerent New Englander, but to this his friends would in no way consent. The people of New England felt that Adams would be to them a tower of strength in the great question of the fisheries, and a large party in Congress was loath to inflict upon him the affront of a recall, even if he had not always been judicious in his diplomatic career. It was decided therefore to create a commission to treat of peace, instead of leaving Adams alone. Jay was unanimously chosen as his associate, and Laurens, who was then a prisoner in the Tower of London, and Jefferson were selected as other associates. The French minister was anxious that Franklin should be one of the commissioners, and Franklin was manifestly a fit man for the work. But there was strong opposition to him in Congress. Arthur Lee and Izard had returned home filled with anger, and had followed him with unwearying animosity. The Lees had an important following in Congress, and they were all hostile to Franklin. Only by the active manipulation of Sullivan was it possible to elect Benjamin Franklin as one of five commissioners.

      It is sad to find that the influence of the French minister rested in part on the arts of corruption. Tom Paine had used his ready pen in a manner distasteful to the minister, and the latter adopted a simple remedy. He saw Paine and suggested that he should employ his pen in inspiring his people with proper feelings in reference to France and the alliance, and with hatred toward the English. “He informed me, that he would accept this task with pleasure. I promised him an allowance of a thousand dollars a year.” (Gerard to Vergennes, Jan. 17,1779; Doniol, iv, 60.) The same simple appliance obtained the support of General Sullivan when he became a member of Congress, and his action secured Franklin’s selection as one of the peace commissioners. ” This delegate,” writes La Luzerne, “has shown in this affair equal patriotism and attachment for the alliance.” (La Luzerne to Vergennes, May 13,1781; Doniol, iv, 608.)

      The selection of additional commissioners to treat for peace was naturally distasteful to Adams, and he was offended also by the form of the instructions. In this, as in many other things, he saw sure proof of the duplicity and bad faith of the French government. The action of Congress excited him to an outburst which seems somewhat frothy. “Congress surrendered their own sovereignty into the hands of a French minister. Blush, blush, ye guilty records, blush and perish. It is a glory to have broken such infamous orders. Infamous, I say, for so they will be to all posterity. How can such a stain be washed out!” In declaring that his country had prostituted its own honor Adams was sincere, as he always was; but there seems no reason that the records of which he complains should stain their yellow parchment by a blush, or that posterity should be disturbed by their infamy.

      Congress insisted on less than its commissioners obtained, but the instructions were given when the fortunes of the colonies were almost at their lowest ebb; the commissioners undertook the negotiations when the victory at Yorktown had brought the war to a successful termination. When the instructions were adopted, it was asking much to insist on American independence. When the representatives of America and England began their formal conferences American independence had been recognized, and they had only to deal with the other questions arising between the two countries. To Vergennes’s firmness as much as to any other single fact, the commissioners were indebted for this advantage.

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