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patches may require it, we desire you to send an express boat with them from England, for which service your agreement with the owner there shall be fulfilled by us here.
We can now only add that we continue firm in our resolutions to defend ourselves, notwithstanding the big threats of the ministry. We have just taken one of their ordnance storeships, in which an abundance of carcasses and bombs intended for burning our towns, were found.
With great esteem we are, sir, your most obedient humble servants.
B. FRANKLIN, Committee of
$ Correspondence. Arthur Lee, Esq.
In the capacity of agent for the secret committee of congress Mr. Lee acted with a zeal yet more active than he had heretofore done, and with more assured confidence exerted himself in behalf of his country. Feeling that his new character as agent for so respectable a body as the continental congress gave more importance and imparted more weight to his efforts as its authority empowered him to enlarge them, he gave free course to his active and patriotic mind. From this time until he left England he devoted himself almost entirely to public concerns.
As soon as he received the foregoing letter from the secret committee, he sought and obtained several interviews with the French ambassador at the court of Great Britain, and urged upon the attention of his court the direct interest of France, in affording to the colonies the cheerings of her friendship, and even her aid. In consequence of these conferences with the French ambassador, the count de Vergennes, then the prime minister of Lewis the 16th, an able and enlightened statesman to whom the colonies were deeply indebted, sent a gentleman* in a confidential manner to Mr. Lee in London, to inform him “ that the French court could not think of entering
* This person was Mons. Caron de Beaumarchais.
into a war with England; but that they would assist
until several months afterwards. *
See the first No. of the American Quarterly Review, which contains a very interesting article, “ The Secret Journals of the old Congress.” The writer of it had access to the journal of the secret committee, from which he has given extracts confirming the account here given of Mr. Lee's agency in the incipient and important negotiations of the United States with France.
time in France many nien who had great influence on public opinion, though they held no offices under the government, and took little part in what might be termed practical politics. They obtained this influence from the faine of their learning and from their political writings. To them Mr. Lee found an easy access; and his literary and scientific acquirements proved of essential advantage (as well as a source of enjoyment in his intercourse with them), in gaining their attention to the affairs of America. Among these persons the celebrated Turgot held a conspicuous place. Mr. Lee cultivated his acquaintance, and presented to his enthusiastic mind the character of his countrymen as a brave people, warmly and obstinately attached to freedom; and to his judgment, the policy of France in assisting them in wresting from England their political independence. Impressed by the forcible representation of Mr. Lee, the Count de Vergennes in the spring of '76 presented to the king a memorial on American affairs, accompanied with reflections of Turgot on the subject of it. The policy advised by this memorial and enforced by the reflections of Mons. Turgot,was "to facilitate to the colonists the means of procuring in the way of commerce the articles and even the money which they needed; but without departing from neutrality, and without giving them direct suecours.” This aid, even thus furnished, was as much as Mr. Lee could anticipate at this time.
To carry into effect this plan of assisting the Americans, Vergennes directed the same secret agent whom he had sent to London in December '75 to wait on Mr. Lee, and inform him of the views and determination of the French court respecting America. Mr. Lee transmitted this highly important intelligence to the secret committee, through the same gentleman to whom he had communicated the message of Vergennes delivered to him in London in the preceding fall. This gentleman (Mr. Storey) reached Philadelphia, and imparted the information of the official promise of aid from the court of France to Dr. Franklin and Robert Morris, two of the committee, on the first of October 1776. The minutes or journals of this transac
tion kept by the committee, are here taken from an extract from their journal, to be found in the article referred to in the ably conducted and useful periodical, the American Quarterly Review, page 132, &c.
After stating the information received (as they say) from Mr. Arthur Lee through Mr. Storey, the two members of the committee just named thus proceed:
“Philadelphia, October 1st, 1776.—The above intelligence was communicated to the subscribers, being the only two members of the committee of secret correspondence now in this city; and on our considering the nature and importance of it, we agree in opinion that it is our indispensable duty to keep it a secret, even from congress, for the following reasons:
Ist. Should it get to the ears of our enemies at NewYork, they would undoubtedly take measures to intercept these supplies, and thereby deprive us not only of these succours but of others expected by the same route.
2d. As the court of France have taken measures to negotiate this loan and succour in the most cautious and secret manner, should we divulge it immediately we may not only lose the present benefit, but also render that court cautious of any further connexion with such unguarded people, and prevent their granting other loans and assistance we stand in need of, and have directed Mr. Deane to ask of them ; for it appears from all our intelligence they are not disposed to enter into an immediate war with Great Britain, though disposed to support us in our contest with them; we therefore think it our duty to cultivate their favourable disposition towards us, to draw from them all the support we can; and in the end their private aid must assist us to establish peace, or inevitably draw them as parties to the war.
3d. We find by fatal experience, the congress consists of too many members to keep secrets, as none could be more strongly enjoined than the present embassy to France, notwithstanding which, Mr. Morris was this day asked by Mr. Rees Meredith, whether Dr. Franklin and others were really going ambassadors to France, which
plainly proves that this committee ought to keep this secret, if secresy is required.
4th. We are of opinion that it is unnecessary to inform congress of this intelligence at present, because Mr. Morris belongs to all the committees that can properly be employed in receiving and importing the expected supplies from Martinique, and will influence the necessary measures for that purpose; indeed, we have already authorized William Bingham, Esq. to apply at Martinique and St. Eustatius for what comes there, and remit part by the armed sloop Independence, Capt. Young, promising to send others for the rest.
Mr. Morris will apply to the marine committee to send other armed vessels after her, and also to Cape Francois, (without communicating this advice) in consequence of private intelligence lately received, that arms, ammunition and clothing, can now be procured at those places.
But should unexampled misfortune befal the states of America, so as to depress the spirits of congress, it is our opinion that on any event of that kind, Mr. Morris (if Dr. Franklin should be absent) should communicate this important matter to congress, otherwise keep it until part or the whole supplies arrive, unless other events happen to render the communication of it more proper than it appears to be at present.”
The reviewer, in the article just referred to, adds to these minutes of the committee this observation : “ This was signed by Dr. Franklin and Mr. Morris, and soon after approved by Richard H. Lee and Mr. Hooper, two other members of the committee."
From the spring of the year 1776 until the fall of it, Mr. Lee remained in Paris as a secret agent of congress. He then returned to England, and resided in London until the month of December, when having received an official notification of his appointment as a commissioner to France, he repaired again to Paris. His conduct in the capacity of a secret agent in France, had given great satisfaction to that body. He did not contine himself within the exact line of his instructions, as agent to the French court. He sought and improved the acquaint