2. The initiative planned by van Berckel and Dumas was intended to obtain from the Regency of Amsterdam, the governing body of that city, a declaration in favor of a treaty between the Netherlands and the United States, which could then be used to influence the members of the States General. However, events were occurring that would materially affect the outcome of the initiative as well as future relations between the United States and the Netherlands.
On the same day that Dumas wrote the Commissioners, Jan de Neufville, an Amsterdam merchant, and William Lee, who was authorized only to function as American Commissioner to Berlin, were signing a draft treaty of amity and commerce at Aix-la-Chapelle (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev.
, 2:789–798). The
draft had its origins in a meeting between Lee and Neufville at Frankfort, but received its major impetus from a conversation between Neufville and van Berckel that was reported by Dumas in a letter to Benjamin Franklin of 3 Sept. (PPAmP
: Franklin Papers). Neufville approached van Berckel in hope of obtaining from Amsterdam's Regency a declaration supporting direct negotiations between the United States and the Netherlands on the subjects of amity and commerce. According to van Berckel, Neufville did so to facilitate the placing of a 700,000-florin loan that William Lee claimed to be empowered to raise as one of the American plenipotentiaries. Van Berckel, seeking to take advantage of the situation, but without consulting with the Regency, then informed Neufville that the Regency favored the establishment of the reciprocal benefits of amity and commerce between the Netherlands and the United States and, by implication, that it authorized direct negotiations on such matters.
It is unlikely that Dumas was aware of the ultimate effect of van Berckel's statement, but he was both concerned about the effect that the Lee-Neufville negotiations might have on his own efforts and mystified by Lee's reported claim to be one of the American plenipotentiaries. In the letter of the 3d he expressed his apprehensions, and later in letters of 8 and 11 Sept. (both PPAmP
: Franklin Papers) to Franklin, the apprehensions of the French ambassador as well.
The results of the draft treaty justified Dumas' concerns. Neither of the negotiators was authorized by his government to conclude such an agreement, and the part played by Amsterdam was at variance with its position within the complex governmental system of the Netherlands. The response of Amsterdam came on 23 Sept. in a letter from van Berckel to the Commissioners (below) conveying the Burgomasters' decision as to the conditions under which a treaty between the United States and the Netherlands could be concluded. The Commissioners' reaction to the planned initiative, the draft treaty, and the Regency's reaction to the draft can be traced in the letters exchanged by the Commissioners and Dumas on 9 Sept
Oct.; and in the Commissioners to William Lee, 22–26 Sept
. (all below). When a copy of the draft was seized with Henry Laurens' effects in 1780, it served as a pretext for the British declaration of war against the Netherlands (Bemis, Diplomacy of the Amer. Revolution
, p. 160–161). It was used by JA as a model when he negotiated a treaty with the Netherlands in 1782.