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Committee of Foreign Affairs to B. Franklin, Silas Deane, and Arthur Lee



Baltimore, in Maryland, December 21, 1776.

HONOURABLE GENTLEMEN: After expressing our hopes that this will find you all three safely fixed at Paris, we proceed with pleasure to acknowledge the receipt of Mr˙ Deane' s letter of the 1st October.

When we reflect on the character and views of the Court of London, it ceases to be a wonder that the British Ambassador, and all other British agents, should employ every means that tended to prevent European Powers, but France more especially, from giving America aid in this war. Prospects


of accommodation, it is well known, would effectually prevent foreign interference; and therefore, without one serious design of accommodating on any principles but the absolute submission of America, the delusive idea of conciliation has been industriously suggested on both sides the water, that, undercover of this dividing and aid-withholding prospect, the vast British force sent to America might have the fairest chance of succeeding. And this policy hath, in fact, done considerable injury to the United States, as we shall presently show by a just detail of this campaign, for it is not yet ended.

You know, gentlemen, that at the moment a potent land and marine force was preparing to be sent here, an act was passed for appointing Commissioners, who, too many expected, were to give peace to America. As, therefore, the war might be soon concluded, so were our military arrangements accommodated, and the troops taken into service the last spring, consisting of regular corps and bodies of Militia, were all engaged for short periods. With these the campaign began in various parts of North-America. Dr˙ Franklin is so well acquainted with the progress of the war in Canada previous to his departure, that we need only observe, the campaign has ended as favourably for us in that quarter as we could reasonably expect. The enemy having been able to pierce no further than Crown-Point, after a short stay and reconnoitring General Gates' s Army at Tyconderoga, thought proper to recross the lake, and leave us in quiet possession of those passes. General Gates having left a proper force at Ticonderoga and on the communication, retired with the rest of his troops.

New-York and its neighbourhood, not being defensible by an army singly against a strong land and sea force acting in conjunction, was of necessity yielded to the enemy, after some contest, General Washington retiring, until the situation of the country above King' s Bridge no longer enabled the enemy to receive aid from their ships. General Howe having stopped here, and General Carleton at Crown-Point, effectually disappointed the great object of joining the two armies. The latter, as we have said, returning to Canada, and the former retreating from the White-Plains towards New-York, gave us a favourable prospect of seeing a happy end put to this dangerous campaign. However, many causes have concurred in producing an unlucky reverse of fortune — the nature of the country, the uncommon fineness of the weather, even to this day, and, above all, the short inlistments, which gave the soldiery an opportunity of going home, tired as they were with the operations of an active summer.

When General Howe retreated from the White-Plains, he halted his whole Army on the North River, between Dobbs' s Ferry and Kingsbridge, where he remained for some time. Having effected so little of the great business that brought him here, and the season allowing time for it, most men were of opinion that the next attempt would be to get possession of Philadelphia, by a forced march through the Jerseys, whilst a fleet should be sent up the Delaware to facilitate the enterprise. To guard against such a manoeuvre, General Washington crossed the North River, with all the battalions that had been raised to the northward of it, leaving General Lee, with the Eastern troops, to guard the pass of the Highlands, on Hudson' s River. In this situation of things, Mr˙ Howe made a sudden attack upon Fort Washington, with the greatest part of his Army, and carried it, with considerable loss. Here he made near three thousand of our men prisoners. By this event it became unnecessary longer to hold Fort Lee, (or Fort Constitution, as it was formerly called.) which is on the west side of North River, nearly opposite to Fort Washington. It had therefore been determined to abandon Fort Lee; but before the stores could be all removed, the enemy came suddenly upon it, and the garrison retreated, leaving some of their baggage and stores behind. About this time General Howe became possessed of a letter (by the agency of some wicked person, who contrived to get it from the express) written by General Washington to the Board of War, in which he had given an exact account when the time of service of all our battalions would expire, and his apprehensions that the men would not reinlist without first going home to see their families and friends. Possessed of this intelligence, the opportunity was carefully watched, and a vigourous impression actually made at the very crisis when our Army in the Jerseys was reduced to three thousand men, by the retiring of numbers and the


sickness of others, and before Militia could, in this extensive country, be brought up to supply their places. The enemy marched rapidly on through the Jerseys, whilst our feeble Army was obliged to retreat from post to post, until it crossed the Delaware, at Trenton, where about two thousand five hundred Militia, from the city of Philadelphia, joined the General. Since General Howe' s arrival on the borders of the Delaware, various manoeuvres and stratagems have been practised to effect a passage over the river, but they have hitherto failed. General Washington' s small Army is placed along the west side of Delaware, to within fourteen miles of Philadelphia, from above Cornell' s Ferry, which, with the gondolas, one frigate of thirty-two guns, and other armed vessels in the river, above the chevaux-de-frise, cover the passage of it.

General Lee, who has crossed the North River with as many of the Eastern troops as could be spared from the defence of the Highlands, (either to join General Washington or to act on the enemy' s rear, as occasions might point out,) was the other day surprised and made prisoner by a party of seventy Light-Horse, who found him in an house a few miles in rear of his Army, with his domesticks only. This loss, though great, will in some degree be repaired for the present by General Gates, who, we understand, has joined the Army commanded by General Lee, and who, we have reason to think, has by this time effected a junction of his force with that of General Washington.

As the Militia are marching from various quarters to reinforce the General, if the enemy do not quickly accomplish their wishes of possessing Philadelphia, we hope not only to save that city, but to see General Howe retreat as fast as he advanced through the Jerseys.

General Clinton, with a fleet in which it is said he carried eight thousand men, has gone from New-York, through the Sound, some suppose for Rhode-Island; but neither his destination or its consequences are yet certainly known to us.

Thus, gentlemen, we have given you a true detail of the progress and present state of our affairs, which, although not in so good a posture as they were two months ago, are by no means in so bad a way as the emissaries of the British Court will undoubtedly represent to them. If the great land and sea force with which we have been attacked be compared with the feeble state in which the commencement of this war found us, with respect to military stores of all kinds, soldiers' clothing, navy and regular force; and if the infinite art be considered, with which Great Britain hath endeavoured to prevent our getting these necessaries from foreign parts, which has in part prevailed, the wonder will rather be that our enemies have made so little progress, than that they have made so much.

All views of accommodation with Great Britain, but on principles of peace, as independent States, and in a manner perfectly consistent with the treaties our Commissioners may make with foreign States, being totally at an end since the declaration of independence and the embassy to the Court of France, Congress have directed the raising of ninety-four battalions of infantry with some cavalry. Thirteen frigates, from twenty-four to thirty-six guns, are already launched and fitting; and two ships-of-the-line, with five more frigates, are ordered to be put on the slocks. We hear the levies are going on well in the different States. Until the new Army is collected, the Militia must curb the enemy' s progress.

The very considerable force that Great Britain has already in North-America, the possibility of recruiting it here within their own quarters by force and fraud together, added to the reinforcements that may be sent from Europe, and the difficulty of finding funds in the present depressed state of American commerce, all conspire to prove, incontestably, that if France desires to preclude the possibility of North-America being ever reunited with Great Britain, now is the favourable moment for establishing the glory, strength, and commercial greatness of the former kingdom, by the ruin of her ancient rival. A decided part now taken by the Court of Versailles, and a vigourous engagement in the war, in union with North-America, would with ease sacrifice the fleet and army of Great Britain, at this time chiefly collected about New-York. The inevitable consequence would be, the quick reduction of the British Islands in the West-Indies, already bared of defence by the removal of their troops to this Continent.

For reasons herein assigned, gentlemen, you will readily


discern how all-important it is to the security of American independence, that France should enter the war as soon as may be; and how necessary it is, if it be possible, to procure from her the line of battle-ships you were desired in your instructions to obtain for us; the speedy arrival of which here, in the present state of things, might decide the contest at one stroke.

We shall pay proper attention to what Mr˙ Deane writes concerning Dr˙ Williamson and Mr˙ Hopkins, and we think the ill-treatment this country and Mr˙ Deane have received from these men, strongly suggest the necessity of invincible reserve with persons corning to France as Americans and friends to America, whom the most irrefragable proofs have not removed all doubt about.

The British recall of their Mediterranean passes is an object of great consequence, and may require much intercession with the Court of France to prevent the mischiefs that may be derived to American commerce therefrom; but this subject has been already touched upon in your instructions on the sixth article of the treaty proposed to be made with France. As all affairs relative to the conduct of commerce and remittances pass through another department, we beg leave to refer you to the Secret Committee, and Mr˙ Thomas Morris, their agent in France, for every information on those subjects.

The neighbourhood of Philadelphia having, by the enemy' s movements, become the seat of war, it was adjudged that Congress should adjourn to this town, where the publick business may be attended with the undisturbed deliberation that its importance demands. The Congress was accordingly opened here on the 20th instant.

As it is more than probable that the conference with Lord Howe, on Staten-Island, may be misrepresented to the injury of these States, we do ourselves the pleasure to enclose you an authentick account of the whole business, which the possibility of Dr˙ Franklin' s not arriving renders proper. This step was taken to unmask his Lordship, and evince to the world that he did not possess powers which, for the purposes of delusion and division, had been suggested.

Mr˙ Deane' s proposition of loan is accepted by Congress, and they have desired two millions sterling be obtained if possible. The necessity of keeping up the credit of our paper currency, and the variety of important uses that may be made of this money, have induced Congress to go so far as six per cent˙; but the interest is heavy, and it s hoped that you may be able to do the business on much easier terms. The resolves of Congress on this subject are enclosed, and your earliest attention to them is desired, that we may know as soon as possible the event of this application.

Another resolve enclosed will show you, that Congress approve of armed vessels being fitted out by you on Continental account, provided the Court of France dislike not the measure; and blank commissions for this purpose will be sent you by next opportunity. Private ships of war, or privateers, cannot be admitted where you are, because the securities necessary in such cases to prevent irregular practices, cannot be given by the owners and commanders of such privateers.

Another resolve of Congress, which we have the honour to enclose you, directs the conduct to be pursued with regard to Portugal.

We have nothing further to add at present, but to request that you will omit no good opportunity of informing us how you succeed in your mission; what events take place in Europe, by which these States may be affected; and that you contrive to send to us, in regular succession, some of the best London, French, and Dutch newspapers, with any valuable political publications that may concern North-America.

We have the honour to be, &c˙, with great respect and esteem, honourable gentlemen, your most obedient and very humble servants,

R˙ H˙ LEE,

P˙ S˙ The American captures of British vessels at sea have not been less numerous or less valuable than before Dr˙ Franklin left us. The value, of these captures have been estimated at two millions.

To B˙ Franklin, S˙ Deane, and A˙ Lee, at Paris.