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ANSWER TO A Letter PROM BRUSSELS.
Passy, July 1, 1778.
My vanity might possibly be flattered by your expressions of compliment to my understanding, if your proposals did not more clearly manifest a mean opinion of it.
You conjure me, in the name of the omniscient and just God before whom I must appear, and by my hopes of future fame, to consider if some expedient cannot be found to put a stop to the desolation of America, and prevent the miseries of a general war. As I am conscious of having taken every step in my power to prevent the breach, and no one to widen it; I can appear cheerfully before that God, fearing nothing from his justice in this particular, though I have much occasion for his mercy in many others. As to my future fame I am content to rest it on my past and present conduct, without seeking an addition to it in the crooked, dark paths you propose to me, where I should most certainly lose it. This your solemn address would therefore have been more properly made to your sovereign and his venal parliament. He and they, who wickedly began and madly continue a war for the desolation of America, are alone accountable for the consequences.
You endeavor to impress me with a bad opinion of French faith ; but the instances of their friendly endeavors to serve a race of weak princes, who by their own imprudence defeated every attempt to promote their interest, weigh but little with me, when I consider the steady friendship of France to the thirteen United States of Switzerland, which has now continued inviolate two hundred years. You tell me that she will certainly cheat us, and that she despises us already. I do not believe that she will cheat us, and I am not certain that she despises us; but I see clearly that you are endeavoring to cheat us by your conciliatory bills ; that you actually despised our understandings when you flattered yourselves those artifices would succeed ; and that not only
l France, but all Europe, yourselves included, most certainly and for ever would despise us if we were weak enough to accept your insidious propositions.
Our expectations of the future grandeur of America, áre not so magnificent, and therefore not so vain or visionary, as you represent them to be. The body of our people are not merchants, but humble husbandmen, who delight in the cultivation of their lands; which, from their fertility, and the variety of our climates, are capable of furnishing all the necessaries and conveniences of life without external comnjerce. And we have too much land to have the least temptation to extend our territory by conquest from peaceable neighbors, as well as too much justice to think of it. Our militia, you find by experience, are sufficient to defend our lands from invasion; and the commerce with us will be defended by all the nations who find an advantage in it. We, therefore, have not the occasion you imagine of fleets or standing armies, but may leave those expensive machines to be maintained for the pomp of princes, and the wealth of ancient states. We propose, if possible, to live in peace with all mankind; and after you have been convinced to your cost, that there is nothing to be got by attacking us, we have reason to hope that no other power will judge it prudent to quarrel with us, lest they divert us from our own quiet industry, and turn us into corsairs preying upon theirs. The weight therefore of an independent empire, which you seem so certain of our inability to bear, will not be so great as you imagine. The expense of our civil government we have always borne, and can easily bear, because it is small. A virtuous and laborious people may be cheaply governed. Determining, as we do, to have no offices of profit, nor any sinecures or useless appointments, so common in ancient and corrupted states, we can govern ourselves a year for the sum you pay in a single department, or for what one jobbing contractor, by the favor of a minister, can cheat you out of in a single article.
You think we flatter ourselves, and are deceived into an opinion that England must acknowledge our independency. We, on the other hand, think you flatter yourselves in imagining such an acknowledgment a vast boon which we strongly desire, and which you may gain some great advantage by granting or withholding. We have never asked it of you. We only tell you, that you can have no treaty with us but as an independent state ; and you may please yourselves and your children with the rattle of your right to govern us, as long as you have done with that of your king's being king of France, without giving us the least concern, if you do not attempt to exercise it. That this pretended right is indisputable, as you say, we utterly deny. Your parliament never had a right to govern us, and your king has forfeited it by his bloody tyranny. But I thank you for letting me know a little of your mind, that even if the parliament should acknowledge our independency, the act would not be binding to posterity, and that your nation would resume and prosecute the claim as soon as they found it convenient from the influence of your passions, and your present malice against us. We suspected before, that you would not be actually bound by your conciliatory acts longer than till they had served their purpose of inducing us to disband our forces; but we were not certain that you were knaves by principle, and that we ought not to have the least confidence in your
offers, promises, or treaties, though confirmed by parliament. I now indeed recollect my being informed long since, when in England, that a certain very great personage, then young, studied much a certain book entitled Arcana Imperii. I had the curiosity to procure the book and read it. There are sensible and good things in it, but some bad ones; for if I remember right, a particular king is applauded for his politically exciting a rebellion among his subjects at a time when they had not strength to support it, that he might in subduing them take away their privileges which were troublesome to him: and a question is formally stated and discussed, " Whether a prince, who to appease a revolt, makes promises of indemnity to the revolters, is obliged to fulfil those promises ?” Honest and good men would say aye : but this politician says, as you say,--no. And he gives this pretty reason, that though it was right to make the promises, because otherwise revolt would not be suppressed; yet it would be wrong to keep them, because revolters ought to be punished to deter future revolts. If these are the principles of your nation, no confidence can be placed in you, it is in vain to treat with you, and the wars can only end in being reduced to an utter inability of continuing them.
One main drift of your letter seems to be to impress me with an idea of your own impartiality, by just censures of your ministers and measures, and to draw from me propositions of peace, or approbations of those you have enclosed me, which you intimate may, by your means, be conveyed to the king directly, without the intervention of those ministers. Would you have me give them to, or drop them for, a stranger I may find next Monday in the church of Notre Dame, to be known by a rose in his hat? You yourself, sir, are quite unknown to me, you have not trusted me with your name, Our taking the least step towards a treaty with
England through you, might, if you are an enemy, be made use of to ruin us with our vew and good friends. I may be indiscreet enough in many things ; but certainly if I were disposed to make propositions, (which I cannot do, having none committed to me to make,) I should never think of delivering them to the Lord knows who, to be carried to the Lord knows where, to serve no one knows what purposes. Being at this time one of the most remarkable figures in Paris, even my appearance in the church of Notre Dame, where I cannot have any conceivable business, and especially being seen to leave or drop any letter to any person there, would be a matter of some speculation, and might, from the suspicions it must naturally give, have very mischievous consequences to our credit here. The very proposing of a correspondence so to be managed, in a manner not necessary where fair dealing is intended, gives just reason to suppose you intend the contrary. Besides, as your court has sent commissioners to treat with the congress, with all the powers that would be given them by the crown under the act of parliament, what good purpose can be served by privately obtaining propositions from us? Before those commissioners went, we might have treated in virtue of our general powers, (with the knowledge, advice, and approbation of our friends,) upon any propositions made to us. But under the present circumstances, for us to make propositions while a treaty is supposed to be actually on foot with the congress, would be extremely improper, highly presumptuous with regard to our honorable constituents, and answer no good end whatever.
I write this letter to you notwithstanding, (which I think I can convey in a less mysterious manner, and think it may come to your hands); I write it because I would let you know our sense of your procedure, which appears as insi