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Letter from the Committee of Secret Correspondence of the Congress to Silas Deane



Philadelphia, March 3, 1776.

On your arrival in France, you will for some time be engaged in the business of providing goods for the Indian trade. This will give good countenance to your appearing in the character of a merchant, which we wish you continually to retain among the French, in general, it being probable that the Court of France may not like it should be known publickly that any agent from the Colonies is in that country. When you come to Paris, by delivering Dr˙ Franklin' s letters to Monsieur Le Roy, at the Louvre, and Mons˙ Dubourg, you will be introduced to a set of acquaintance, all friends to the Americans. By conversing with them, you will have a good opportunity of acquiring Parisian French, and you will find in Mons˙ Dubourg a man prudent, faithful, secret, intelligent in affairs, and capable of giving you very sage advice.

It is scarce necessary to pretend any other business at Paris than the gratifying of that curiosity, which draws numbers thither yearly, merely to see so famous a city. With the assistance of Mons˙ Dubourg, who understands English, you will be able to make immediate application to Mons˙ De Vergennes, Ministre des Affaires Etrangeres, either personally or by letter, if Mons˙ Dubourg adopts that method, acquainting him that you are in France upon business of the American Congress, in the character of a merchant, having something to communicate to him that may be mutually beneficial to France and the North American Colonies; that you request an audience of him, and that he would be pleased to appoint the time and place. At this audience, if agreed to, it may be well to show him, first, your letter of credence, and then acquaint him that the Congress, finding that in the common course of commerce it was not practicable to furnish the Continent of America with the quantity of arms and ammunition necessary for its defence, (the Ministry of Great Britain having been extremely industrious to prevent it,) you had been despatched by their authority, to apply to some European Power for a supply. That France had been pitched on for the first application, from an opinion that if we should, as there is a great appearance we shall, come to a total separation from Great Britain, France would be looked upon as the power whose friendship it would be fittest for us to obtain and cultivate. That the commercial advantages Britain had enjoyed with the Colonies, had contributed greatly to her late wealth and importance. That it is likely great part of our commerce will naturally fall to the share of France, especially if she favours us in this application, as that will be a means of gaining and securing the friendship of the Colonies; and that as our trade was rapidly increasing with our increase of people, and in a greater proportion, her part of it will be extremely valuable. That the supply we at present want is clothing and arms for twenty-five thousand men, with a suitable quantity of ammunition, and one hundred field-pieces. That we mean to pay for the same by remittances to France, or through Spain, Portugal, or the French Islands, as soon as our navigation can be protected by ourselves or friends; and that we, besides, want great quantities of linens and woollens, with other articles for the Indian trade, which you are now actually purchasing, and for which you ask no credit; and that the whole, if France should grant the other supplies, would make a cargo which it might be well to secure by a convoy of two or three ships-of-war.

If you should find Mons˙ De Vergennes reserved, and not inclined to enter into free conversation with you, it may be well to shorten your visit; request him to consider what you have proposed; acquaint him with your place of lodging; that you may yet stay some time at Paris; and that knowing how precious his time is, you do not presume to ask another audience; but that if he should have any commands for you, you will, upon the least notice, immediately wait upon him.

If at a future conference he should be more free, and you find a disposition to favour the Colonies, it may be proper to acquaint him, that they must necessarily be anxious to know the disposition of France on certain points, which, with his permission, you would mention — such as whether, if the Colonies should be forced to form themselves into an independent state, France would probably acknowledge them as such, receive their Ambassadors, enter into any treaty or alliance with them for commerce or defence, or both? If so, on what principal conditions? Intimating that you shall speedily have an opportunity of sending to America, if you do not immediately return, and that he maybe assured of your fidelity and secrecy in transmitting carefully anything he would wish conveyed to the Congress on that subject.

In subsequent conversations, you may, as you find it convenient, enlarge on those topicks that have been the subjects of our conferences with you; to which you may occasionally add the well-known substantial answers we usually give to the several calumnies thrown out against us.

If these supplies, on the credit of the Congress, should be refused, you are then to endeavour the obtaining a permission of purchasing those articles, or as much of them as you can find credit for.

You will keep a daily journal of all your material transactions, and particularly of what passes in your conversation with great personages; and you will, by every safe opportunity, furnish us with such information as may be important.

When your business in France admits of it, it may be well to go into Holland, and visit our agent there; Mons˙ Dumas, conferring with hirn on subjects that may promote our interest, and on the means of communication.

You will endeavour, to procure a meeting with Mr˙ Bancroft, by writing a letter to him, under cover to Mr˙ Griffiths, at Tumham-Green, near London, and desiring him to come over to you, in France or Holland, on the score of old acquaintance. From him you may obtain a good deal of information of what is now going forward in England, and settle a mode of continuing a correspondence. It may be well to remit; him a small bill to defray his expenses in coming to you, and avoid all political matters' in your letter to him. You will also endeavour to correspond with Mr˙ Arthur Lee, Agent of the Colonies, in London. You will endeavour to obtain acquaintance with Mr˙ Garnier, late Charge des Affaires de France en Angleterre, if now in France — or, if returned to England, a correspondence with him as a person, extremely intelligent and friendly to our cause, Frorn him you may learn many particulars, occasionally, that will be useful to us.