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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 8

This foot note contained in document ADMS-06-08-02-0039
1. It is not clear exactly what Jenings, or others in Paris, suspected, but he is referring to the controversy that erupted over statements by Thomas Paine in the Pennsylvania Packet of 2 and 5 Jan., concerning Silas Deane's role in obtaining military aid from France. Paine's assertions came in the course of a longer essay, “Common Sense to the public on Mr. Deane's Essay,” that had begun in the issue of 31 Dec. 1778, and was continued in those of 7 and 9 Jan. Using his position as secretary to the Committee for Foreign Affairs, Paine declared on 2 Jan. that documents in his possession proved that the supplies obtained through Beaumarchais and the fictitious Roderigue, Hortalez & Cie. were “a present” from France, “promised and engaged . . . before he [Deane] ever arrived” in that country, and on the 5th he added that France had “prefaced that alliance with an early and generous friendship.”
The French minister, Conrad Alexandre Gérard, immediately protested and in memorials of 5 and 10 Jan. called for Paine's repudiation by the congress (French texts and English translations, PCC, No. 94, f. 78–81, 83–87). Gérard was disturbed because Paine's statements took on an official character from his position as secretary of the Committee for Foreign Affairs. Moreover, by contradicting assurances given by France to Great Britain before the conclusion of the Franco-American treaties, they lent credibility to British charges that the continuation of the conflict in America and the outbreak of the Anglo-French war were the result of France's early and continued violations of the law and usages of nations. In his memorial of 5 Jan., Gérard declared that he relied “intirely on the Prudence of Congress to take measures agreable to the Situation.” Congress debated the matter off and on for the next four days, but could not resolve the affair. Impatient at the inaction, Gérard renewed his protest in the memorial of 10 Jan., there emphasizing the dangers to the alliance. On 12 Jan. the congress finally resolved to disavow Paine's assertions and declared “that the supplies shipped in the Amphitrite, Seine, and Mercury were not a present, and that his most Christian Majesty . . . did not preface his alliance with any supplies whatever sent to America” ( JCC , 13:54–55). The resolution was printed in the Pennsylvania Packet of 16 Jan., the same day that the congress accepted Paine's resignation and ordered him to surrender any public papers in his possession ( JCC , 13:75–77).
Gérard succeeded in forcing the congress to excise a diplomatic embarrassment, but in the process he strained the Franco-American alliance. This incident, combined with Gérard's previous actions, such as his apparent agreement with Deane's “address” and open advocacy of Arthur Lee's recall, undermined his credibility. In addition, by siding with the supporters of Silas Deane against his critics, he placed unnecessary obstacles in the way of effective dealings with a sizable congressional bloc on substantive issues during the time remaining to him as minister. The instructions of Gérard's replacement, La Luzerne, warned against intervention on behalf of one faction or another, an admonition that was repeated by JA in conversations with La Luzerne and Barbé-Marbois on the Sensible during JA 's return to America (Stinchcombe, Amer. Rev. and the French Alliance , p. 40–47; JA, Diary and Autobiography , 2:383).