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“The importance to France,” congress say, “is derived from the following considerations :
“1. The fishery of Newfoundland is justly considered as the basis of a good marine.
“2. The possession of these two places (Quebec and Halifax) necessarily secures to the party and their friends, the island and fisheries.
“3. It will strengthen her allies, and guarantee more strongly their freedom and independence.
“4. It will have an influence in extending the commerce of Prance, and restoring her to a share of the fur trade, now mo. nopolized by Great Britain.
“ The importance to America results from the following considerations :
“1. The peace of their frontiers.
“ 5. That it will enable them to bend their whole attention and resources to the erection of a marine, which will at once serve and assist their allies.
* 6. That it will secure the fisheries to the United States and France their ally, to the total exclusion of Great Britain.*
The marquis de la Fayette was to go to France and urge the co-operation of the French court in the execution of this project. The plan itself was transmitted to general Washington for his observations. The general was of opinion, that it was too complicated and hazardous, as well as too extensive for the finances of the United States, and could not be undertaken with a reasonable, much less a certain prospect of success.
His observations were communicated to congress on the 11th of November. The members of that body were not easily induced to relinquish a favorite measure ; particularly if France should be disposed to carry it into effect. On a report of a committee, therefore, to whom the observations of the general were refer
Secret Journals of Congress, volume 2, pp. 114, 115--and Note 4.
red, they were still of opinion, that he “ should be directed to write to the marquis de la Fayette upon the subject; and also to write to the minister of the states very fully, in order that eventual measures may be taken, in case an armament should be sent from France to Quebec, to co-operate therewith to the utmost degree which the finances of the states would admit.” In reply to the second communication on this subject, the general said, ** The earnest desire I have strictly to comply, in every instance with the views and instructions of congress, cannot but make me feel the greatest uneasiness, when I find myself in circumstances of hesitation or doubt, with respect to directions. But the perfect confidence I have in the justice and candor of that honorable body, emboldens me to communicate without reserve, the difficulties which occur in the execution of their present order; and the indulgence I have experienced on every former occasion, induces me to imagine that the liberty I now take will not meet with disapprobation.
“I have attentively taken up the report of the committee of the fifth (approved by congress) on the subject of my letter of the 11th ultimo, on the proposed expedition into Canada. I have considered it in several lights, and sincerely regret that I should feel myself under any embarrassment in carrying it into execution. I still remain of opinion, from a general review of things, and the state of our resources,
that no extensive system of Co-operation with the French, for the complete emancipation of Canada, can be positively decided on, for the ensuing year. To propose a plan of perfect co-operation with a foreign power, without a moral certainty in our supplies; and to have that plan actually ratified with the court of Versailles, might be attended, in case of failure in the condition on our part, with very fatal effects.
“ If I should seem unwilling to transmit the plan as prepared by congress, with my observations, it is because I find myself under a necessity (in order to give our minister sufficient ground to form an application upon) to propose something more than a vague and indecisive plan; which, even in the event of a total evacuation of the states by the enemy, may be rendered imprac.
ticable in the execution by a variety of insurmountable obstacles ; or if I retain my present sentiments and act consistently, I must point out the difficulties, as they appear to me, which must embarrass his negociations, and may disappoint the views of congress.
“But proceeding on the idea of the enemy's leaving these states, before the active part of the ensuing campaign, I should fear to hazard a mistake, as to the precise aim and extent of the views of congress. The conduct I am to observe in writing to our minister at the court of France, does not appear sufficiently delineated. Were I to undertake it, I should be much afraid of erring through misconception. In this dilemma, I would esteem it a particular favor to be excused from writing at all on the subject, especially as it is the part of candor in me to acknowledge, that I do not see my way clear enough to point out such a plan for co-operation, as I conceive, to be consistent with the ideas of congress, and will be sufficiently explanatory, with respect to time and circumstances to give efficiency to the measure.
“But if congress still think it necessary for me to proceed in the business, I must request their more definite and explicit instructions, and that they will permit me, previous to transmitting the intended despatches, to submit them to their determination.
“I could wish to lay before congress more minutely the state of the army, the condition of our supplies, and the requisites necessary for carrying into execution an undertaking that may involve the most serious events. If congress think this can be done more satisfactorily in a personal conference, I hope to have the army in such a situation before I can receive their answer, as to afford me an opportunity of giving my attendance."**
A committee was appointed to confer with the commander in chief, agreeably to his suggestion, relative to the operations of the ensuing campaign, and particularly on the proposed plan for the emancipation of Canada, in co-operation with an armament from France. On the first of January, 1779, the committee in reporting the result of this important conference, say, “ That im
* Marshall's Life of Washington, vol. 3, pp. 577, 578, 579. Vol. II.
“ As we have communicated our powers to you, we mean to proceed without reserve in this business ; we will not suppose that any objection can arise on your part to our communicating to the public so much of your correspondence as may be necessary to explain our own proceedings. At the same time we assure you, that in all such publications, the respect which we pay to the great body of people you are disposed to represent, shall be evidenced by us in every possible mark of consideration and regard."
On the receipt of this letter, congress declared, that as neither the independence of the United States was acknowledged, nor the British fleet and armies were withdrawn, no answer should be returned.
The letter itself was no doubt designed rather for the people of America, than the members of the national legislature. The British commissioners could not believe, that the Americans, when fully acquainted with the terms of reconciliation, would consent to an alliance with their 'ancient enemy. They, therefore, suggested, that as the articles of confederation were not fully ratified, the treaties with France could not be binding without the assent of the states themselves; and this suggestion was made with an expectation, that the people would prefer British offers of peace to French alliance.
But the commissioners were unacquainted with the character either of the people of America, or their representatives in the national legislature. Governor Johnston addressed private letters to several members of congress, with some of whom he had formerly been acquainted, on the subject of his mission ; particularly to Mr. Reed, Robert Morris, Mr. Laurens, and Mr. Dana. These letters, in July, 1778, were directed to be laid before congress ; and disclosed the objects of the writer. To Mr. Reed, in a letter written before he left England, he said, “ the man, who can be instrumental in bringing us all to act once more in harmony, and to unite together the various powers, which this contest has drawn forth, will deserve more from the king and the people, from patriotism, humanity, and all the tender ties, that
are affected by the quarrel and reconciliation, than ever was bestowed on human kind." To Mr. Morris, he wrote, “ I believe the men, who have conducted the affairs of America, incapable of being influenced by improper motives ; but in all such transactions there is risk, and I think, that whoever ventures should be secured ; at the same time, that honor and emolument should naturally follow the fortunes of those, who have steered the vessel in the storm and brought her safe to port. I think Washington and the president have a right to any favor, that grateful nations can bestow, if they could once more unite our interest and spare the miseries and devastations of war." To Mr. Dana, he declared, among other things, that Dr. Franklin, in March, was satisfied, that the articles which the commissioners wished to make the basis of a treaty, were beneficial to America, and such as he should accept.
Mr. Reed, also, at the same time stated, in his place in congress, that on the 21st of June, he received a written message from a lady of character, having connection with the British army, wishing to see him on business, which could not be committed to writing. That in a conference with this lady, he was given to understand, that it was particularly wished by governor Johnston, that his influence should be obtained, in bringing about a re-union between the two countries, if consistent with his principles and judgment; and in such case, he might have £10,000 sterling, and any office in the colonies, in the gift of the crown.
That an answer being expected, he replied, that "he was not worth purchasing, but such as he was, the king of Great Britain was not rich enough to do it.”
These letters, connected with the offers made to Mr. Reed, were considered by congress, as an attempt to bribe the members of that body; and on the 11th of August, they declared it to be “incompatible with the honor of congress, to hold any man. ner of correspondence with Mr. Johnston, especially to negotiate with him, upon affairs in which the cause of liberty is interested."
This declaration was sent to the British commissioners at New York. It drew from Mr. Johnston, a very angry counter-declara