Front Page Titles (by Subject) XXIII.: TO THE PUBLIC ON MR. DEANE'S AFFAIR.1 - The Writings of Thomas Paine, Vol. I (1774-1779)
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XXIII.: TO THE PUBLIC ON MR. DEANE’S AFFAIR.1 - Thomas Paine, The Writings of Thomas Paine, Vol. I (1774-1779) 
The Writings of Thomas Paine, Collected and Edited by Moncure Daniel Conway (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1894). Vol. 1.
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TO THE PUBLIC ON MR. DEANE’S AFFAIR.1
Hoping this to be my last on the subject of Mr. Deane’s conduct and address, I shall therefore make a few remarks on what has already appeared in the papers, and furnish you with some interesting and explanatory facts; and whatever I may conceive necessary to say of myself will conclude the piece. As it is my design to make those that can scarcely read understand, I shall therefore avoid every literary ornament, and put it in language as plain as the alphabet.
I desire the public to understand that this is not a personal dispute between Mr. Deane and me, but is a matter of business in which they are more interested than they seemed at first to be apprised of. I rather wonder that no person was curious enough to ask in the papers how affairs stood between Congress and Mr. Deane as to money matters? And likewise, what it was that Mr. Deane has so repeatedly applied to the Congress for without success? Perhaps those two Questions, properly asked, and justly answered, would have unravelled a great part of the mystery, and explained the reason why he threw out, at such a particular time, such a strange address. They might likewise have asked, whether there had been any former dispute between Mr. Deane and Arthur or William Lee, and what it was about? Mr. Deane’s round-about charges against the Lees, are accompanied with a kind of rancor, that differs exceedingly from public-spirited zeal. For my part, I have but a very slender opinion of those patriots, if they can be called such, who never appear till provoked to it by a personal quarrel, and then blaze away, the hero of their own tale, and in a whirlwind of their own raising; such men are very seldom what the populace mean by the word “staunch,” and it is only by a continuance of service that any public can become a judge of a man’s principles.
When I first took up this matter, I expected at least to be abused, and I have not been disappointed. It was the last and only refuge they had, and, thank God, I had nothing to dread from it. I might have escaped it if I would, either by being silent, or by joining in the tumult. A gentleman, a Member of Congress, an Associate, I believe, of Mr. Deane’s, and one whom I would wish had not a hand in the piece signed Plain Truth, very politely asked me, a few days before Common Sense to Mr. Deane came out, whether on that subject I was pro or con? I replied, I knew no pro or con, nor any other sides than right or wrong.
Mr. Deane had objected to my putting the signature of Common Sense to my address to him, and the gentleman who came to my lodgings urged the same objections; their reasons for so doing may, I think, be easily guessed at. The signature has, I believe, an extensive reputation, and which, I trust, will never be forfeited while in my possession. As I do not chuse to comply with the proposal that was made to me for changing it, therefore Mr. Plain Truth, as he calls himself, and his connections, may endeavour to take off from the credit of the signature, by a torrent of lowtoned abuse without wit, matter or sentiment.
Had Mr. Deane confined himself to his proper line of conduct, he would never have been interrupted by me, or exposed himself to suspicious criticism. But departing from this, he has thrown himself on the ocean of the public, where nothing but the firmest integrity can preserve him from becoming a wreck. A smooth and flattering tale may do for a while, but unless it can be supported with facts, and maintained by the most incontestible proof, it will fall to the ground, and leave the inventor in the lurch.
On the first view of things, there is something in Mr. Deane’s conduct which must appear mysterious to every disinterested man, if he will but give himself time to reflect. Mr. Deane has been arrived in America, and in this city, upwards of five months, and had he been possessed of any secrets which affected, or seemed to affect, the interest of America, or known any kind of treachery, misconduct, or neglect of duty in any of the other Commissioners, or in any other person, he ought, as an honest man, to have disclosed it immediately on his arrival, either to the Committee for Foreign Affairs, of which I have the honor to be Secretary, or to Congress. Mr. Deane has done neither, notwithstanding he has had two audiences with Congress in August last, and might at any time have laid his written information before them, or before the Committee, through whom all his foreign concerns had passed, and in whose hands, or rather in mine, are lodged all his political correspondence, and those of other Commissioners.
From an unwillingness to expose Mr. Deane and his adherents too much, I contented myself in my first piece with showing their inconsistency rather than their intentions, and gave them room to retract by concealing their discredit. It is necessary that I should now speak a plainer language.
The public have totally mistaken this matter, and when they come to understand it rightly, they will see it in a very different light to what they at first supposed it. They seemed to conceive, and great pains have been taken to make them believe, that Mr. Deane had repeatedly applied to Congress to obtain an audience, in order to lay before them some great and important discoveries, and that the Congress had refused to hear such information. It is, Gentlemen, no such thing. If Mr. Deane or any one else had told you so, they have imposed upon you.
If you attend to a part of Mr. Deane’s Address to you, you will find there, even from his own account, what it was that he wanted an interview with Congress for, viz. to get some how or other through his own perplext affairs, and obtain an audience of leave and departure that he might embark for France, and which if he could have obtained, there is every reason to believe, he would have quitted America in silence, and that the public would never have been favored with his address, nor I plagued with the trouble of putting it to rights. The part which I allude to is this “and having placed my papers and yours in safety, I left Paris, in full confidence that I should not be detained in America, “to which he adds this curious expression, “on the business I was sent for.” To be “detained “at home is a new transposition of ideas, especially in a man who had been absent from it two years and a half, and serves to show that Mr. Deane was become so wonderfully foreignized that he had quite forgotten poor Connecticut.
As I shall have frequent occasions to make use of the name of Congress, I request you to suspend all kind of opinions on any supposed obligations which I am said to lie under to that body, till you hear what I have to say in the conclusion of this address, for if Mr. Deane’s accounts stand as clear with them as mine do, he might very easily have brought his papers from France. I have several times repeated, and I again repeat it, that my whole design in taking this matter up, was and is, to prevent the public being imposed upon, and the event must and will convince them of it.
I now proceed to put the affiair into such a straight line that you cannot misunderstand it.
Mr. Deane wrote his address to you some time in November, and kept it by him in order to publish or not as it might suit his purpose.∗ On the 30th day of the same month he applied by letter to Congress, and what do you think it was for? To give them any important information? No. To “tell them what he has wrote to you?” No, it was to acquaint them that he had missed agreeable opportunities of returning to France; dismal misfortune indeed! And that the season (of the year) is now becoming as pressing as the business which calls him back, and therefore he earnestly entreated the attention of Congress, to what? To his great information? No, to his important discoveries? No, but to his own situation and requests. These are, I believe, his own words.
Now it only remains to know whether Mr. Deane’s official affairs were in a fit position for him to be permitted to quit America or not; and I trust, that when I tell you, I have been secretary for foreign affairs almost two years, you will allow that I must be some judge of the matter.
You have already heard what Mr. Deane’s application to Congress was for. And as one of the public, under the well known signature of Common Sense, I humbly conceive, that the Congress have done that which as a faithful body of Representatives they ought to do, that is, they ordered an enquiry into the state of foreign affairs and accounts which Mr. Deane had been intrusted with, before they could, with justice to you, grant the request he asked; And this was the more necessary to be done, because Mr. Deane says he has left his papers and accounts behind him: Did ever any steward, when called upon, to surrender up his stewardship make such a weak and frivolous excuse? Mr. Deane saw himself not only recalled but superceeded in his office by another person, and he could have no right to think he should return, nor any pretence to come away without the necessary credentials.
His friend and associate, and perhaps partner too, Mr. Plain Truth, says, that I have endeavored in my address, to “throw out a suggestion that Mr. Deane is considered by Congress as a defaulter of public money”: The gentlemen seem to wince before they are touched. I have no where said so, but this I will say, that his accounts are not satisfactory: Mr. Plain Truth endeavors to palliate what he cannot contradict, and with a seeming triumph assures the public “that Mr. Deane not long after his arrival laid before Congress a general state of the receipts and expenditures of the Monies which passed thro’ his hands”; to which Mr. Plain Truth subjoins the following extraordinary apology: “It is true the account was not accompanied with all the vouchers for the particular expenditures.” And why not I ask? for without those it was no account at all; it was what the Sailors call a boot account, so much money gone and the Lord knows for what. Mr. Deane had Secretaries and clerks, and ought to have known better than to produce such an account to Congress, especially as his colleague Arthur Lee had declared in an office letter, which is in my possession, that he had no concern in Mr. Deane’s contracts.
Neither does the excuse, which his whirligig friend Mr. Plain Truth makes for him, apply to his case; this random shot gentleman, in order to bring him as easily off as possible, says, “that any person in the least conversant with business, knows the time which is requisite for calling in manufacturers and tradesmen’s bills, and prepare accounts and vouchers for a final settlement”; and this he mentions because Mr. Deane received his order of recall the 4th of March, and left Paris the 31st: here is, however, four weeks within a day. I shall make three remarks upon this curious excuse.
First, it is contradictory. Mr. Deane could not obtain the total or general expenditure without having the particulars, therefore he must be in the possession of the particulars. He surely did not pass away money without taking receipts, and what was due upon credit, he could only know from the bills delivered in.
Secondly, Mr. Deane’s contracts did not lay in the retail way, and therefore were easily collected.
Thirdly, The accounts which it was Mr. Deane’s particular duty to settle, were those, which he contracted in the time of being only a commercial Agent in 1776, before the arrival of Dr. Franklin and Arthur Lee, which separate agency of his expired upwards of fifteen months before he left France,—and surely that was time enough,—and in which period of his agency, there happened an unexplained contract of about two hundred thousand pounds sterling. But more of this when I come to remark on the ridiculous Puffs with which Mr. Plain Truth has set off Mr. Deane’s pretended Services in France.
Mr. Deane has not only left the public papers and accounts behind him, but he has given no information to Congress, where or in whose hands they are; he says in his address to you, that he has left them in a safe place, and this is all which is known of the matter. Does this look like business? Has it an open and candid or a mysterious and suspicious appearance? Or would it have been right in Congress to have granted Mr. Deane an audience of leave and departure in this embarrassed state of his affairs? And because they have not, his ready written November address has been thrown out to abuse them and amuse you by directing you to another object; and myself, for endeavoring to unriddle confusion, have been loaded with reproach by his partizans and partners, and represented as a writer, who like an unprincipled lawyer had let himself out for pay. Charges which the propagators of them know to be false, because some, who have encouraged the report, are Members of Congress themselves, and know my situation to be directly the reverse. But this I shall explain in the conclusion; and I give the gentlemen notice of it, that if they can make out anything against me, or prove that I ever received a single farthing, public or private, for any thing I ever wrote, they may convict me publicly, and if they do not, I hope they will be honest enough to take shame to themselves, for the falsehood they have supported. And I likewise request that they would inform the public what my salary as Secretary for foreign affairs is, otherwise I shall be obliged to do it myself. I shall not spare them and I beg they would not spare me. But to return—
There is something in this concealment of papers that looks like an embezzlement. Mr. Deane came so privately from France, that he even concealed his departure from his colleague Arthur Lee, of which he complains by a letter in my office, and consequently the papers are not in his hands; and had he left them with Dr. Franklin he would undoubtedly have taken the Doctor’s receipt for them, and left nobody to “guess, “at what Mr. Deane meant by a safe place: A man may leave his own private affairs in the hands of a friend, but the papers of a nation are of another nature, and ought never to be trusted with any person whatever out of the direct line of business. This I conceive to be another reason which justifies Congress in not granting Mr. Deane an audience of leave and departure till they are assured where those papers are. Mr. Deane might have been taken at sea, he might have died or been cast away on his passage back from France, or he might have been settled there, as Madame D’Eon did in England, and quarrelled afterwards as she did with the power that employed him. Many accidents might have happened by which those papers and accounts might have been totally lost, the secrets got into the hands of the enemy, and the possibility of settling the expenditure of public money for ever prevented. No apology can be made for Mr. Deane, as to the danger of the seas, or their being taken by the enemy, in his attempt to bring them over himself, because it ought always to be remembered that he came in a fleet of twelve sail of the line.1
I shall now quit this part of the subject to take notice of a paragraph in Mr. Plain Truth.
In my piece to Mr. Deane I said, that his address was dated in November, without any day of the month, that on the last day of that month he applied to Congress, that on the 1st of December the Congress resolved to investigate the state of their foreign affairs, of which Mr. Deane had notice, and that on the fourth he informed them of his receiving that notification and expressed his thanks, yet that on the fifth he published his extraordinary address.
Mr. Plain Truth, in commenting upon this arrangement of facts has helped me to a new discovery. He says, that Mr. Deane’s thanks of the fourth of December were only expressed to the President, Henry Laurens Esqr: for personally informing him of the resolution and other attention to his Affairs, and not, as I had said, to Congress for the resolution itself. I give him credit for this, and believe it to be true; for my opinion of the matter is, that Mr. Deane’s views were to get off without any enquiry, and that the resolution referred to was his great disappointment. By all accounts which have been given both by Mr. Deane’s friends and myself, we all agree in this, that Mr. Deane knew of the resolution of Congress before he published his address, and situated as he is he could not help knowing it two or three days before his address came out. Why then did he publish it, since the very thing which he ought to have asked for, viz. an enquiry into his affairs, was ordered to be immediately gone into?
I wish in this place to step for a moment from the floor of office, and press it on every State, to enquire what mercantile connections any of their late or present Delegates have had or now have with Mr. Deane, and that a precedent might not be wanting, it is important that this State, Pennsylvania should begin.
The uncommon fury which has been spread to support Mr. Deane cannot be altogether for his sake. Those who were the original propagators of it, are not remarkable for gratitude. If they excel in anything it is in the contrary principle and a selfish attachment to their own interest. It would suit their plan exceedingly well to have Mr. Deane appointed Ambassador to Holland, because so situated, he would make a very convenient partner in trade, or a useful factor.
In order to rest Mr. Deane on the shoulders of the Public, he has been set off with the most pompous puffs—The Saviour of his Country—the Patriot of America—the True Friend of the Public—the Great Supporter of the cause in Europe,—and a thousand other full-blown bubbles, equally ridiculous and equally untrue. Never were the public more wretchedly imposed upon. An attempt was made to call a town meeting to return him thanks and to march in a body to Congress to demand justice for Mr. Deane. And this brings me to a part in Mr. Plain Truth’s address to me, in which he speaks of Mr. Deane’s services in France, and defies me to disprove them. If any late or present Member of Congress has been concerned in writing that piece, I think it necessary to tell him, that he either knows very little of the state of foreign affairs, or ought to blush in thus attempting to rob a friendly nation, France, of her honors, to bestow them on a man who so little deserves them.
Mr. Deane was sent to France in the Spring, 1776, as a Commercial Agent, under the authority of the Committee which is now stiled the Committee for foreign affairs. He had no Commission of any kind from Congress; and his instructions were to assume no other character but that of a merchant; yet in this line of action Mr. Plain Truth has the ignorance to dub him a “public Minister” and likewise says,
“that before the first of December, after his arrival he had formed and cultivated the esteem of a valuable political and commercial connection, not only in France but in other parts of Europe, laid the foundation of a public loan, procured thirty thousand stand of arms, thirty thousand suits of cloathes, more than two hundred and fifty pieces of brass cannon, and a great amount of tents and military stores, provided vessels to transport them, and in spite of various and almost inconceivable obstructions great part of these articles were shipped and arrived in America before the operations of the campaign in 1777.” To which Mr. Plain Truth adds, “That he has had the means of being acquainted with all these circumstances, avows them to be facts, and defies Common Sense or any other person to disprove them.”
Poor Mr. Plain Truth, and his avower Mr. Clarkson, have most unfortunately for them challenged the wrong person, and fallen into the right hands when they fell into mine, for without stirring a step from the room I am writing in, or asking a single question of any one, I have it in my power, not only to contradict but disprove it.
It is, I confess, a nice point to touch upon, but the necessity of undeceiving the public with respect to Mr. Deane, and the right they have to know the early friendship of the French Nation towards them at the time of their greatest wants, will justify my doing it. I feel likewise the less difficulty in it, because the whole affair respecting those supplies has been in the hands of the enemy at least twelve months, and consequently the necessity for concealing it is superceded: Besides which, the two nations, viz. France and England, being now come to an open rupture makes the secret unnecessary. It was immediately on the discovery of this affair by the enemy fifteen months ago, that the British Ministry began to change their ground and planned what they call their Conciliatory Bills. They got possession of this secret by stealing the dispatches of October, 1777, which should have come over by Captain Folger, and this likewise explains the Controversy which the British Commissioners carried on with Congress, in attempting to prove that England had planned what they called her conciliatory Bills, before France moved towards a treaty; for even admitting that assertion to be true, the case is, that they planned those Bills in consequence of the knowledge they had stolen.∗
The supplies here alluded to, are those which were sent from France in the Amphitrite, Seine and Mercury about two years ago. They had at first the appearance of a present, but whether so, or on credit, the service was nevertheless a great and friendly one, and though only part of them arrived the kindness is the same. A considerable time afterwards the same supplies appeared under the head of a charge amounting to about two hundred thousand pounds sterling, and it is the unexplained contract I alluded to when I spoke of the pompous puffs made use of to support Mr. Deane. On the appearance of this charge the Congress were exceedingly embarrassed as to what line of conduct to pursue. To be insensible of a favor, which has before now been practised between nations, would have implied a want of just conceptions; and to have refused it would have been a species of proud rusticity. To have asked the question was both difficult and awkward; to take no notice of it would have been insensibility itself; and to have seemed backward in payment, if they were to be paid for, would have impeached both the justice and the credit of America. In this state of difficulties such enquiries were made as were judged necessary, in order that Congress might know how to proceed. Still nothing satisfactory could be obtained. The answer which Mr. Deane signed so lately as February 16th last past (and who ought to know most of the matter, because the shipping the supplies was while he acted alone) is as ambiguous as the rest of his conduct. I will venture to give it, as there is no political secret in it and the matter wants explanation.
“Hear that Mr. B [eaumarchais] has sent over a person to demand a large sum of you on account of arms, ammunition, etc.,—think it will be best for you to leave that matter to be settled here (France), as there is a mixture in it of public and private concern which you cannot so well develop.”
Why did not Mr. Deane compleat the contract so as it might be developed, or at least state to Congress any difficulties that had arisen? When Mr. Deane had his two audiences with Congress in August last, he objected, or his friends for him, against his answering the questions that might be asked him, and the ground upon which the objection was made, was, because a man could not legally be compelled to answer questions that might tend to criminate himself.—Yet this is the same Mr. Deane whose address you saw in the Pennsylvania Packet of December 5 signed Silas Deane.
Having thus shewn the loose manner of Mr. Deane’s doing business in France, which is rendered the more intricate by his leaving his papers behind, or his not producing them; I come now to enquire into what degree of merit or credit Mr. Deane is entitled to as to the procuring these supplies, either as a present or a purchase.
Mr. Plain Truth has given him the whole. Mr. Plain Truth therefore knows nothing of the matter, or something worse. If Mr. Deane or any other gentleman will procure an order from Congress to inspect an account in my office, or any of Mr. Deane’s friends in Congress will take the trouble of coming themselves, I will give him or them my attendance and show them in a handwriting which Mr. Deane is well acquainted with, that the supplies, he so pompously plumes himself upon, were promised and engaged, and that as a present, before he ever arrived in France, and the part that fell to Mr. Deane was only to see it done, and how he has performed that service, the public are now acquainted with. The last paragraph in the account is, “Upon Mr. Deane’s arrival in France the business went into his hands and the aids were at length embarked in the Amphitrite, Mercury and Seine.“
What will Mr. Deane or his Aid de Camp say to this, or what excuse will they make now? If they have met with any cutting truths from me, they must thank themselves for it. My address to Mr. Deane was not only moderate but civil, and he and his adherents had much better have submitted to it quietly, than provoked more material matter to appear against them. I had at that time all the facts in my hands which I have related since, or shall yet relate in my reply. The only thing I aimed at in the address, was, to give out just as much as might prevent the public from being so grossly imposed upon by them, and yet save Mr. Deane and his adherents from appearing too wretched and despicable. My fault was a misplaced tenderness, which they must now be fully sensible of, and the misfortune to them, is, that I have not yet done.
Had Mr. Plain Truth only informed the Public that Mr. Deane had been industrious in promoting and forwarding the sending the supplies, his assertion would have passed uncontradicted by me, because I must naturally suppose that Mr. Deane would do no otherwise; but to give him the whole and sole honour of procuring them, and that, without yielding any part of the honor to the public spirit and good disposition of those who furnished them, and who likewise must in every shape have put up with the total loss of them had America been overpowered by her enemies, is, in my opinion, placing the reputation and affection of our allies not only in a disadvantageous, but in an unjust point of view, and concealing from the public what they ought to know.
Mr. Plain Truth declares that he knows all the circumstances, why then did he not place them in a proper line, and give the public a clear information how they arose? The proposal for sending over those supplies, appears to have been originally made by some public spirited gentleman in France, before ever Mr. Deane arrived there, or was known or heard of in that Country, and to have been communicated (personally by Mr. Beaumarchais, the gentleman mentioned in the letter signed J. L. which letter is given at length by Mr. Plain Truth) to Mr. Arthur Lee while resident in London about three years ago. From Mr. B’s manner of expression, Mr. Lee understood the supplies to be a present, and has signified it in that light. It is very easy to see that if America had miscarried, they must have been a present, which probably adds explanation to the matter. But Mr. Deane is spoken of by Mr. Plain Truth, as having an importance of his own, and procuring those supplies through that importance; whereas he could only rise and fall with the country that empowered him to act, and be in or out of credit, as to money matters, from the same cause and in the same proportion; and every body must suppose, that there were greater and more original wheels at work than he was capable of setting in motion. Exclusive of the matter being begun before Mr. Deane’s arrival, Mr. Plain Truth has given him the whole merit of every part of the transaction. America and France are wholly left out of the question, the former as to her growing importance and credit, from which all Mr. Deane’s consequence was derived, and the latter, as to her generosity in furnishing those supplies, at a time, when the risk of losing them appears to have been as great as our want of them.
I have always understood thus much of the matter, that if we did not succeed no payment would be required, and I think myself fully entitled to believe, and to publish my belief, that whether Mr. Deane had arrived in France or not, or any other gentleman in his stead, those same supplies would have found their way to America. But as the nature of the contract has not been explained by any of Mr. Deane’s letters and is left in obscurity by the account he signed the 16th of February last, which I have already quoted, therefore the full explanation must rest upon other authority.
I have been the more explicit on this subject, not so much on Mr. Deane’s account, as from a principle of public justice. It shews, in the first instance, that the greatness of the American cause drew, at its first beginning, the attention of Europe, and that the justness of it was such as appeared to merit support; and in the second instance, that those who are now her allies, prefaced that alliance by an early and generous friendship; yet, that we might not attribute too much to human or auxiliary aid, so unfortunate were those supplies, that only one ship out of the three arrived. The Mercury and Seine fell into the hands of the enemy.
Mr. Deane, in his address, speaks of himself as “sacrificed for the agrandizement of others “and promises to inform the public of “what he has done and what he has suffered. “What Mr. Deane means by being sacrificed the Lord knows, and what he has suffered is equally as mysterious. It was his good fortune to be situated in an elegant country and at a public charge, while we were driven about from pillar to post. He appears to know but little of the hardships and losses which his countrymen underwent in the period of his fortunate absence. It fell not to his lot to turn out to a Winter’s campaign, and sleep without tent or blanket. He returned to America when the danger was over, and has since that time suffered no personal hardship. What then are Mr. Deane’s sufferings and what the sacrifices he complains of? Has he lost money in the public service? I believe not. Has he got any? That I cannot tell. I can assure him that I have not, and he, if he pleases, may make the same declaration.
Surely the Congress might recall Mr. Deane if they thought proper, without an insinuated charge of injustice for so doing. The authority of America must be little indeed when she cannot change a Commissioner without being insulted by him. And I conceive Mr. Deane as speaking in the most disrespectful language of the Authority of America when he says in his address, that in December 1776 he was “honored with one Colleague, and saddled with another.” Was Mr. Deane to dictate who should be Commissioner, and who should not? It was time, however, to saddle him, as he calls it, with somebody, as I shall shew before I conclude.
When we have elected our Representatives, either in Congress or in the Assembly, it is for our own good that we support them in the execution of that authority they derive from us. If Congress is to be abused by every one whom they may appoint or remove, there is an end to all useful delegation of power, and the public accounts in the hands of individuals will never be settled. There has, I believe, been too much of this work practised already, and it is time that the public should now make those matters a point of consideration. But who will begin the disagreeable talk?
I look on the independence of America to be as firmly established as that of any country which is at war. Length of time is no guarantee when arms are to decide the fate of a nation. Hitherto our whole anxiety has been absorbed in the means for supporting our independence, and we have paid but little attention to the expenditure of money; yet we see it daily depreciating, and how should it be otherwise when so few public Accounts are settled, and new emissions continually going on?—I will venture to mention one circumstance which I hope will be sufficient to awaken the attention of the public to this subject. In October, 1777, some books of the Commercial Committee, in which, among other things, were kept the accounts of Mr. Thomas Morris, appointed a Commercial Agent in France, were by Mr. Robert Morris’s request taken into his possession to be settled, he having obtained from the Council of this State six months’ leave of absence from Congress to settle his affairs. In February following those books were called for by Congress, but not being compleated were not delivered. In September, 1778 Mr. Morris returned them to Congress, in, or nearly in, the same unsettled state he took them, which, with the death of Mr. Thomas Morris, may probably involve those accounts in further embarrassment. The amount of expenditure on those books is considerably above two millions of dollars.∗
I now quit this subject to take notice of a paragraph in Mr. Plain Truth, relative to myself. It never fell to my lot to have to do with a more illiberal set of men than those of Mr. Deane’s advocates who were concerned in writing that piece. They have neither wit, manners nor honesty; an instance of which I shall now produce. In speaking of Mr. Deane’s contracts with individuals in France I said in my address “We are all fully sensible, that the gentlemen who have come from France since the arrival of Dr. Franklin and Mr. Lee in that Country are of a different rank from the generality of those with whom Mr. Deane contracted when alone.” These are the exact words I used in my address.
Mr. Plain Truth has misquoted the above paragraph into his piece, and that in a manner, which shews him to be a man of little reading and less principle. The method in which he has quoted it is as follows: “All are fully sensible that the gentlemen who came from France since the arrival of Dr. Franklin and Mr. Lee in that country, are of a different rank from those with whom Mr. Deane contracted when acting separately.” Thus by leaving out the words “the generality of, “Mr. Plain Truth has altered the sense of my expression, so as to suit a most malicious purpose in his own, which could be no other, than that of embroiling me with the French gentlemen that have remained; whereas it is evident, that my mode of expression was intended to do justice to such characters as Fleury and Touzard, by making a distinction they are clearly entitled to. Mr. Plain Truth not content with unjustly subjecting me to the misconceptions of those gentlemen, with whom even explanation was difficult on account of the language, but in addition to his injustice, endeavoured to provoke them to it by calling on them, and reminding them that they were the “Guardians of their own honour. “And I have reason to believe, that either Mr. Plain Truth or some of the party did not even stop here, but went so far as personally to excite them on. Mr. Fleury came to my lodgings and complained that I had done him great injustice, but that he was sure I did not intend it, because he was certain that I knew him better. He confessed to me that he was pointed at and told that I meant him, and he withal desired, that as I knew his services and character, that I would put the matter right in the next paper. I endeavoured to explain to him that the mistake was not mine, and we parted. I do not remember that in the course of my reading I ever met with a more illiberal and malicious mis-quotation, and the more so when all the circumstances are taken with it. Yet this same Mr. Plain Truth, whom no body knows, has the impertinence to give himself out to be a man of “education “and to inform the public that “he is not a writer from inclination much less by profession, “to which he might safely have added, still less by capacity, and least of all by principle. As Mr. Clarkson has undertaken to avow the piece signed Plain Truth, I shall therefore consider him as legally accountable for the apparent malicious intentions of this mis-quotation, and he may get whom he pleases to speak or write a defence of him.
I conceive that the general distinction I referred to between those with whom Mr. Deane contracted when alone, and those who have come from France since the arrival of Dr. Franklin and Mr. Lee in that Country, is sufficiently warranted. That gallant and amiable officer and volunteer the Marquis de la Fayette, and some others whom Mr. Plain Truth mentions, did not come from France till after the arrival of the additional Commissioners, and proves my assertion to be true. My remark is confined to the many and unnecessary ones with which Mr. Deane burthened and distracted the army. If he acquired any part of his popularity in France by this means he made the continent pay smartly for it. Many thousand pounds it cost America, and that in money totally sunk, on account of Mr. Deane’s injudicious contracts, and what renders it the more unpardonable is, that by the instructions he took with him, he was restricted from making them, and consequently by having no authority had an easy answer to give to solicitations. It was Doctor Franklin’s answer as soon as he arrived and might have been Mr. Deane’s. Gentlemen of science or literature or conversant with the polite or useful arts, will, I presume, always find a welcome reception in America, at least with persons of a liberal cast, and with the bulk of the people.
In speaking of Mr. Deane’s contracts with foreign officers, I concealed out of pity to him a circumstance that must have sufficiently shewn the necessity of recalling him, and, either his great want of judgment, or the danger of trusting him with discretionary power. It is no less than that of his throwing out a proposal, in one of his last foreign letters, for contracting with a German prince1 to command the American Army. For my own part I was no ways surprised when I read it, though I presume almost every body else will be so when they hear it, and I think when he got to this length, it was time to saddle him.
Mr. Deane was directed by the Committee which employed him to engage four able engineers in France, and beyond this he had neither authority nor commission. But disregarding his instructions (a fault criminal in a negociator) he proceeded through the several degrees of subalterns, to Captains, Majors, Lieutenant Colonels, Colonels, Brigadier Generals and at last to Major Generals; he fixed their rank, regulated their command, and on some, I believe, he bestowed a pension. At this stage, I set him down for a Commander in Chief, and his next letter proved me prophetic. Mr. Plain Truth, in the course of his numerous encomiums on Mr. Deane, says, that—
“The letter of the Count de Vergennes, written by order of his Most Christian Majesty to Congress, speaking of Mr. Deane in the most honorable manner, and the letter from that Minister in his own character, written not in the language of a courtier, but in that of a person who felt what he expressed, would be sufficient to counterbalance, not only the opinions of the writer of the address to Mr. Deane, but even of characters of more influence, who may vainly endeavor to circulate notions of his insignificancy and unfitness for a public minister.”
The supreme authority of one country, however different may be its mode, will ever pay a just regard to that of another, more especially when in alliance. But those letters can extend no further than to such parts of Mr. Deane’s conduct as came under the immediate notice of the Court as a public Minister, or a political agent; and cannot be supposed to interfere with such other parts as might be disapproved in him here as a Contractor or a Commercial Agent, and can in no place be applied as an extenuation of any imprudence of his either there or since his return; besides which, letters of this kind, are as much intended to compliment the power that employs, as the person employed; and upon the whole, I fear Mr. Deane has presumed too much upon the polite friendship of that nation, and engrossed to himself, a regard, that was partly intended to express, through him, an affection to the continent.
Mr. Deane should likewise recollect that the early appearance of any gentleman from America, was a circumstance, so agreeable to the nation, he had the honor of appearing at, that he must have managed unwisely indeed to have avoided popularity. For as the poet says,
“Fame then was cheap, and the first comers sped.“
The last line of the couplet is not applicable
“Which they have since preserved by being dead.“
From the pathetic manner in which Mr. Deane speaks of his “sufferings “and the little concern he seems to have of ours, it may not be improper to inform him, that there is kept in this city a “Book of Sufferings, “into which, by the assistance of some of his connections, he may probably get them registered.1 I have not interest enough myself to afford him any service in this particular, though I am a friend to all religions, and no personal enemy to those who may, in this place, suppose themselves alluded to.
I can likewise explain to Mr. Deane, the reason of one of his sufferings which I know he has complained of. After the Declaration of Independence was passed, Mr. Deane thought it a great hardship that he was not authorized to announce it in form to the Court of France, and this circumstance has been mentioned as a seeming inattention in Congress. The reason of it was this, and I mention it from my own knowledge. Mr. Deane was at that time only a Commercial Agent, without any Commission from Congress, and consequently could not appear at Court with the rank suitable to the formality of such an occasion. A new commission was therefore necessary to be issued by Congress, and that honour was purposely reserved for Doctor Franklin, whose long services in the world, and established reputation in Europe, rendered him the fittest person in America to execute such a great and original design; and it was likewise paying a just attention to the honour of France by sending so able and extraordinary a character to announce the Declaration.
Mr. Plain Truth, who sticks at nothing to carry Mr. Deane through everything thick or thin, says:
“It may not be improper to remark that when he (Mr. Deane) arrived in France, the opinion of people there, and in the different parts of Europe, not only with respect to the merits, but the probable issue of the Contest, had by no means acquired that consistency which they had at the time of Dr. Franklin’s and Mr. Arthur Lee’s arrival in that Kingdom.”
Mr. Plain Truth is not a bad historian. For it was the fate of Dr. Franklin and Mr. Lee to arrive in France at the very worst of times. Their first appearance there was followed by a long series of ill fortune on our side. Doctor Franklin went from America in October, 1776, at which time our affairs were taking a wrong turn. The loss on Long Island, and the evacuation of New York happened before he went, and all the succeeding retreats and misfortunes through the course of that year, till the scale was again turned by taking the Hessians at Trenton on the 26th day of December, followed day by day after him. And I have been informed by a gentleman from France, that the philosophical ease and cheerful fortitude, with which Dr. Franklin heard of or announced those tidings, contributed greatly towards lessening the real weight of them on the minds of the Europeans.
Mr. Deane speaking of himself in his address says, “While it was safe to be silent my lips were closed. Necessity hath opened them and necessity must excuse this effort to serve, by informing you.” After which he goes on with his address. In this paragraph there is an insinuation thrown out by Mr. Deane that some treason was on foot, which he had happily discovered, and which his duty to his country compelled him to reveal. The public had a right to be alarmed, and the alarm was carefully kept by those who at first contrived it. Now, if after this, Mr. Deane has nothing to inform them of, he must sink into nothing. When a public man stakes his reputation in this manner, he likewise stakes all his future credit on the performance of his obligation.
I am not writing to defend Mr. Arthur or Mr. William Lee, I leave their conduct to defend itself; and I would with as much freedom make an attack on either of these gentlemen, if there was a public necessity for it, as on Mr. Deane. In my address I mentioned Colonel R. H. Lee with some testimony of honourable respect, because I am personally acquainted with that gentleman’s integrity and abilities as a public man, and in the circle of my acquaintance I know but few that have equalled, and none that have exceeded him, particularly in his ardor to bring foreign affairs, and more especially the present happy alliance, to an issue.
I heard it mentioned of this gentleman, that he was among those, whose impatience for victory led them into some kind of discontent at the operations of last Winter. The event has, I think, fully proved those gentlemen wrong, and must convince them of it; but I can see no reason why a misgrounded opinion, produced by an overheated anxiety for success, should be mixed up with other matters it has no concern with. A man’s political abilities may be exceedingly good, though at the same time he may differ, and even be wrong, in his notions of some military particulars.
Mr. Deane says that Mr. Arthur Lee was dragged into a Treaty with the utmost reluctance, a charge which if he cannot support, he must expect to answer for. I am acquainted that Mr. Lee had some objection against the constructions of a particular article [12th], which, I think, shews his judgment, and whenever they can be known will do him honor; but his general opinion of that valuable transaction I shall give in his own words from a letter in my hands.
“France has done us substantial benefits, Great Britain substantial injuries. France offers to guarantee our sovereignty, and universal freedom of commerce. Great Britain condescends to accept our submission and to monopolize our commerce. France demands of us to be independent, Great Britain tributary. I do not conceive how there can be a mind so debased, or an understanding so perverted, as to balance between them.
“The journies I have made north and south in the public service, have given me opportunities of knowing the general disposition of Europe on our question. There never was one in which the harmony of opinion was so universal. From the Prince to the peasant there is but one voice, one wish, the liberty of America and the humiliation of Great Britain.”
If Mr. Deane was industrious to spread reports to the injury of these gentlemen in Europe, as he has been in America, no wonder that their real characters have been misunderstood. The peculiar talent which Mr. Deane possesses of attacking persons behind their backs, has so near a resemblance to the author of Plain Truth, who after promising his name to the public has declined to give it, and some other proceedings I am not unacquainted with, particularly an attempt to prevent my publications, that it looks as if one spirit of private malevolence governed the whole.
Mr. Plain Truth has renewed the story of Dr. Birkenhout, to which I have but one reply to make: why did not Mr. Deane appear against him while he was here? He was the only person who knew anything of him, and his neglecting to give information, and thereby suffering a suspicious person to escape for want of proof, is a story very much against Mr. Deane; and his complaining after the man was gone corresponds with the rest of his conduct.
When little circumstances are so easily dwelt upon, it is a sign, not only of the want of great ones, but of weakness and ill will. The crime against Mr. William Lee is, that some years ago he was elected an Alderman of one of the wards in London, and the English Calender has yet printed him with the same title. Is that any fault of his? Or can he be made accountable for what the people of London may do? Let us distinguish between whiggishness and waspishness, between patriotism and peevishness, otherwise we shall become the laughing stock of every sensible and candid mind. Suppose the Londoners should take it into their heads to elect the President of Congress or General Washington an Alderman, is that a reason why we should displace them? But, Mr. Lee, say they, has not resigned. These men have no judgment, or they would not advance such positions. Mr. Lee has nothing to resign. He has vacated his Aldermanship by accepting an appointment under Congress, and can know nothing further of the matter. Were he to make a formal resignation it would imply his being a subject of Great Britain; besides which, the character of being an Ambassador from the States of America, is so superior to that of any Alderman of London, that I conceive Mr. Deane, or Mr. Plain Truth, or any other person, as doing a great injustice to the dignity of America by attempting to put the two in any disputable competition. Let us be honest lest we be despised, and generous lest we be laughed at.
Mr. Deane in his address of the 5th of December, says, “having thus introduced you to your great servants, I now proceed to make you acquainted with some other personages, which it may be of consequence for you to know. I am sorry to say, that Arthur Lee, Esq., was suspected by some of the best friends you had abroad, and those in important characters and stations.” To which I reply, that I firmly believe Mr. Deane will likewise be sorry he has said it. Mr. Deane after thus advancing a charge endeavours to paliate it by saying, “these suspicions, whether well or ill founded, were frequently urged to Dr. Franklin and myself.” But Mr. Deane ought to have been certain that they were well founded, before he made such a publication, for if they are not well founded he must appear with great discredit, and it is now his duty to accuse Mr. Arthur Lee legally, and support the accusation with sufficient proofs. Characters are tender and valuable things; they are more than life to a man of sensibility, and are not to be made the sport of interest, or the sacrifice of incendiary malice. Mr. Lee is an absent gentleman, I believe too, an honest one, and my motive for publishing this, is not to gratify any party, or any person, but as an act of social duty which one man owes to another, and which, I hope, will be done to me whenever I shall be accused ungenerously behind my back.
Mr. Lee to my knowledge has far excelled Mr. Deane in the usefulness of his information, respecting the political and military designs of the Court of London. While in London he conveyed intelligence that was dangerous to his personal safety. Many will remember the instance of the rifle man who had been carried prisoner to England alone three years ago, and who afterwards returned from thence to America, and brought with him a letter concealed in a button. That letter was from this gentleman, and the public will, I believe, conclude, that the hazard Mr. Lee exposed himself to, in giving information while so situated, and by such means, deserves their regard and thanks. The detail of the number of the foreign and British troops for the campaign of 1776, came first from him, as did likewise the expedition against South Carolina and Canada, and among other accounts of his, that the English emissaries at Paris had boasted that the British Ministry had sent over half a million of guineas to corrupt the Congress. This money, should they be fools enough to send it, will be very ineffectually attempted or bestowed, for repeated instances have shewn that the moment any man steps aside from the public interest of America, he becomes despised, and if in office, superceeded.
Mr. Deane says, “that Dr. Birkenhout, when he returned to New York, ventured to assure the British Commissioners, that by the alliance with France, America was at liberty to make peace without consulting her ally, unless England declared War.” What is it to us what Dr. Birkenhout said, or how came Mr. Deane to know what passed between him and the British Commissioners? But I ask Mr. Deane’s pardon, he has told us how. “Providence, (says he) in whom we put our trust, unfolded it to me.” But Mr. Deane says, that Col. R. H. Lee, pertinaciously maintained the same doctrine. The treaty of alliance will neither admit of debate nor any equivocal explanation. Had war not broke out, or had not Great Britain, in resentment to that alliance or connection, and of the good correspondence which is the object of the said treaty, broke the peace with France, either by direct hostilities or by hindering her commerce and navigation in a manner contrary to the rights of nations, and the peace subsisting at that time, between the two Crowns,—in this case, I likewise say, that America, as a matter of right, could have made a peace without consulting her ally, though the civil obligations of mutual esteem and friendship would have required such a consultation. But war has broke out, though not declared, for the first article in the treaty of alliance is confined to the breaking out of war, and not to its declaration. Hostilities have been commenced; therefore the first case is superseded, and the eighth article of the treaty of alliance has its full intentional force: “Article 8.—Neither of the two parties shall conclude either truce or peace without the formal consent of the other first obtained, and they mutually engage not to lay down their arms until the independence of the United States, shall have been formally or tacitly assured, by the treaty or treaties that shall terminate that war.”
What Mr. Deane means by this affected appearance of his, both personally and in print, I am quite at a loss to understand. He seems to conduct himself here in a stile, that would more properly become the secretary to a foreign embassy, than that of an American Minister returned from his charge. He appears to be everybody’s servant but ours, and for that reason can never be the proper person to execute any commission, or possess our confidence. Among the number of his “sufferings “I am told that he returned burthened with forty changes of silk, velvet, and other dresses. Perhaps this was the reason he could not bring his papers.
Mr. Deane says, that William Lee Esq: gives five per cent commission, and receives a share of it, for what was formerly done for two per cent. That matter requires to be cleared up and explained; for it is not the quantity per cent, but the purposes to which it is applied that makes it right or wrong; besides which, the whole matter, like many other of Mr. Deane’s charges, may be groundless.
I here take my leave of this gentleman, wishing him more discretion, candour and generosity.
In the beginning of this address I informed the public, that “whatever I should conceive necessary to say of myself, would appear in the conclusion.” I chose that mode of arrangement, lest by explaining my own situation first, the public might be induced to pay a greater regard to what I had to say against Mr. Deane, than was necessary they should; whereas it was my wish to give Mr. Deane every advantage, by letting what I had to advance come from me, while I laid under the disadvantage of having the motives of my conduct mistaken by the public. Mr. Deane and his adherents have apparently deserted the field they first took possession of and seemed to triumph in. They made their appeal to you, yet have suffered me to accuse and expose them for almost three weeks past, without a denial or a reply.
I do not blame the public for censuring me while they, though wrongfully, supposed I deserved it. When they see their mistake, I have no doubt, but they will honor me with that regard of theirs which I before enjoyed. And considering how much I have been misrepresented, I hope it will not now appear ostentatious in me, if I set forth what has been my conduct, ever since the first publication of the pamphlet Common Sense down to this day, on which, and on account of my reply to Mr. Deane, and in order to import the liberty of the press, and my right as a freeman, I have been obliged to resign my office of Secretary for foreign affairs, which I held under Congress. But this, in order to be compleat, will be published in the Crisis No 8, of which notice will be given in the papers.
January 8, 1779.
From the Pennsylvania Packet of December 31, 1778, and January 2, 5, 7, and 9, 1779.—Editor.
[∗]This is fully proved by the address itself which is dated November, but without any day of the month, and the same is likewise acknowledged by his blundering friend Mr. Plain Truth. His words are, “Mr. Deane, it is true, wrote his address” (dated November) “previous to his application to Congress, of the 30th of November.” He certainly could not write it after, there being, unfortunately for him, but thirty days in that month; “but,” continues Mr. Plain Truth, “he was determined notwithstanding some forceable reasons, which the vigilant part of the publick are at no loss to guess, not to publish it if he could be assured of an early audience with Congress.” Mr. Deane was in a confounded hurry, sure that he could not submit to be detained in America till the next day, for on that very next day, December 1st, in consequence of his letter the Congress, “Resolved to spend two hours each day, beginning at six in the evening, till the state of their foreign affairs should be fully ascertained. “This naturally included all and every part of Mr. Deane’s affairs, information and everything else, and it is impossible but he (connected as he is with some late and present Members of Congress) should know immediately about it.
There is now little doubt that Deane left his papers in the hands of the British spy George Lupton, whom he employed as a clerk, and who gave his English employers regular information, and the American Dr. Edward Bancroft, who was so royally paid by England. See Donne’s “Letters of George III. to Lord North”; also Stevens’ Facsimiles. Had the King’s correspondence been known in 1842, Deane’s family would never have received from Congress the money voted them.—Editor.
[∗]When Capt. Folger arrived at York-Town [Pa.] he delivered a Packet which contained nothing but blank paper, that had been put under the cover of the dispatches which were taken out. This fraud was acted by the person to whom they were first intrusted to be brought to America, and who afterwards absconded, having given by way of deception the blank packet to Capt. Folger. The Congress were by this means left without any information of European Affairs. It happened that a private letter from Dr. Franklin to myself, in which he wrote to me respecting my undertaking the history of the present revolution, and engaged to furnish me with all his materials towards the completion of that work, escaped the pilfering by not being enclosed in the packet with the dispatches. I received this letter at Lancaster through the favor of the President, Henry Laurens, Esqr., and as it was the only letter which contained any authentic intelligence of the general state of our affairs in France, I transmitted it again to him to be communicated to Congress. This likewise was the only intelligence which was received from France from May, 1777, to May 2d, 1778, when the treaty arrived; wherefore, laying aside the point controverted by the British Commissioners as to which moved first, France or England, it is evident that the resolutions of Congress of April 22d, 1778, for totally rejecting the British Bills, were grounded entirely on the determination of America to support her cause,—a circumstance which gives the highest honour to the resolutions alluded to, and at the same time gives such a character of her fortitude as heightens her value, when considered as an ally, which though it had at that time taken place, was, to her, perfectly unknown.—Author.
[∗]There is an article in the constitution of this state, which, were it at this time introduced as a Continental regulation, might be of infinite service; I mean a Council of Censors to inspect into the expenditure of public money and call defaulters to an account. It is, in my opinion, one of the best things in the Constitution, and that which the people ought never to give up, and whenever they do they will deserve to be cheated. It has not the most favourable look that those who are hoping to succeed to the government of this state, by a change in the Constitution, are so anxious to get that article abolished. Let expenses be ever so great, only let them be fair and necessary, and no good citizen will grumble.
Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, brother-in-law of George III. In Donne’s “Correspondence of George III. with Lord North” (ii., p. 116), a letter of the king shows that Prince Ferdinand had actually received such a proposal.—Editor.
Some of the Quakers who opposed the Revolution, but whose peace-principles did not prevent their giving assistance to the enemy, so that they had to be dealt with, kept a “Book of Sufferings.” Those interested may find something on the subject, though not much, in a brief “Memoir of John Pemberton,” issued by the Quakers.—Editor.