[dateline] The Hague, 27 January 1779
Finally I have the pleasure to inform you that things have turned out to Amsterdam's liking. Yesterday the States of Holland resolved to annul the resolution of 18 November, which excepted ships timbers from the
convoys, to protect their commerce to the fullest extent guaranteed by the treaties, and, moreover, to suspend any further deliberation on this matter until the Admiralties of all the provinces, now busy with Their High Mightinesses assigning ships and crews, have finished their task. As to the response to be given to the French Ambassador, the Provincial Assembly will occupy itself with that tomorrow, after which it will adjourn, and our friend will leave the following day. I no longer am concerned about the answer. It remains to be seen whether the message will not arrive in France too late, for I learn from a good source that Their High Mightinesses have received letters on the subject from their ambassador in Paris, which must worry them. There he has seen the new regulation already in print. Regardless of what happens, it is certain that what has happened here marks a signal victory over the English influence.
I will take advantage of the several weeks' lull here to send some packets to America for the congress.
The British newspapers of 9, 12, 14, &c. of this month cannot be found in the Republic. They are being held back in England, we know not why. It will not, therefore, be my fault if those that I usually send to the congress are missing or late. In the meantime, it will still have the rest of the papers from Leiden and the Lower Rhine.
The Assembly of Holland will sit again tomorrow and Saturday. Today it did nothing of importance. Tomorrow it will decide on the answer to France, but, as I have said, there will be no difficulty regarding it. Today the States General adopted the same resolution as that passed by the States of Holland on the 26th.1
I learned this from our friend and reported to the Ambassador shortly after the Assembly adjourned.
Contrary to all expectations, nothing was decided today. The response proposed by the Admiralty was so abstruse and ambiguous that Amsterdam warned that she would protest anew, and that all that was needed was to communicate unanimously to France the resolution of the 26th, by which the Republic revokes that of 18 November which had so displeased France, and embrace the most exact neutrality. They would not follow this advice and again prolonged the Assembly until next Tuesday or Wednesday. They would deceive us, said our friend, but they will not succeed.
I am with true respect, gentlemen, your very humble and very obedient servant
PPAmP: Franklin Papers
; addressed: “à Leurs Excellences Messieurs les Plénipotentiaires des Etats-Unis de l'Amérique à Passy”; docketed by William Temple Franklin: “Dumas 29 Janv. 79.”
1. The States General's resolution was less significant than it seemed. Convoy protection was to be extended to vessels carrying ships timbers, but only when the Republic's resources were adequate to do so, a solution that was unacceptable to France (Bemis, Diplomacy of the Amer. Revolution
, p. 142).
2. This is the final letter addressed to the Commissioners by Dumas before Benjamin Franklin officially became the sole American representative at the French Court. In January 1779 the Netherlands was no closer to formulating a policy amenable to both Britain and France that would also preserve its rights as a neutral trader than it had been when the issue of unlimited convoys first arose. In the months that followed, the competing pressures of the two belligerents caused a continuation of the indecision that had characterized the deliberations of the States General. Britain, through Sir Joseph Yorke, adamantly refused to relax its orders regarding the seizure of Dutch vessels carrying naval stores, particularly ships timbers, but even more significant was its request, after Spain entered the war in June 1779, that the Netherlands supply the aid (6,000 troops and 20 warships) required by the Anglo-Dutch alliance of 1678, which had been renewed by later treaties (Charles Jenkinson, Collection of all the Treaties of Peace, Alliance, and Commerce, between Great-Britain and other Powers, 3 vols., London, 1785, 1:214). That demand, like the French insistence on unlimited convoys, required a clear choice between the belligerents and a commitment of resources that the republic was unwilling and unable to make. France's ambassador, La Vauguyon, continued his efforts to obtain unlimited convoys, using trade discrimination in favor of those cities supporting the French position in the States of Holland and before the States General as his major weapon. Ultimately Yorke's arrogance, coupled with the British seizures of Dutch ships and the financial losses to merchants from the duties levied in French ports, produced growing opposition to the Stadholder and a weakening of the English party. On 24 April 1780, following the British interception of a Dutch convoy on 31 Dec. 1779 and renunciation of all treaty obligations to the Netherlands on 17 April because of the Dutch refusal to provide aid under the alliance of 1678, the States General finally resolved to provide unlimited convoys.
French diplomacy won a clear victory. It had further isolated Britain, but at great cost to the Dutch Republic. Although France removed all restrictions on Dutch ships in its ports, neither the French nor the Netherlands' navy was strong enough to protect the Dutch merchant fleet, and thus it suffered great losses. In an effort to protect its trade, the Netherlands joined the League of Armed Neutrality, a decision that, by the end of 1780, brought war with England. For detailed accounts of events in the Netherlands in 1779 and 1780, see Bemis, Diplomacy of the Amer. Revolution
, p. 142–163; Edler, Dutch Republic and the American Revolution
, chaps. 5–6; F. P. Renaut, La neutralité Hollandaise durant la guerre d'Amérique,
Paris, 1924, chaps. 8–9, 12–15.