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Heretofore I have mentioned to you, that I had not been able to adjust with the minister of Foreign Affairs the rate of exchange, which should govern the payments made, and mak ing, in America, on account of our debt to France ; and that I had not been able to see the minister of Marine, to adjust with him the sums which the Assembly had determined to apply out of that debt to the use of St Domingo. You will have seen, by my correspondence with the Commissioners of the Treasury, that the last payment of six millions will nearly balance the account according even to their statement of it, over and above the four hundred thousand dollars, which are to be paid at Philadelphia during the current year.
A few days since M. Monge, the present minister of the Marine, desired an interview, and at our meeting he presented me a regular contract for payment of eight hundred thousand dollars, as being equivalent to the four million of livres, which the Assembly had appropriated as above mentioned. I will not trouble you with the conversation, because it ended in a request on his part to meet M. Lebrun the minister of Foreign Affairs, and M. Claviere the minister of Public Contributions. This meeting took place yesterday by their appointment. The same form of agreement was again produced, and M. Claviere, who was principal spokesman, mentioned my signing it as a thing of course. I told him that I had been authorised to settle with the late government the exchange of one half of that sum already paid, and paying, on this very account. He spoke of such settlement as the easiest thing in the world, and advanced on the subject exactly those principles, which Mr Short had refused to be governed by ; and rejected as visionary those, which Mr Short had stated as just, and which I think are reasonable and right.
The great object however was to get the money, and Congress was to fix the exchange. I told them, (which is very true) that I felt a sincere desire to furnish aid to that unhappy colony, and had done everything in my power to comply with the wish of the legislature in that respect, but in vain ; that at last our bankers in Holland being extremely anxious to discharge themselves of the large sums which had for months been lying in their hands, their own Commissaries of the Treasury being also desirous to receive it, Mr Short, to whom the management of that business had been committed by the United States, being also solicitous that the payments should be made, I had desired him to place in the hands of the bankers named by the Commissaries an equivalent of six mil lions of livres, by which means the instalments of our debt already due, were overpaid. That of course any advances now made must be on account of those instalments, which are to become due hereafter. That I had no instructions respecting them, for reasons I had already assigned, and that of consequence, if I should enter into the agreement they wished, I should probably be blamed for exceeding the line prescribed to me. That there remained, however, another point worthy of their attention, which was that my agreement would be in itself void, because I had no powers to treat with the present government. It followed, therefore, that the ministers of the United States would feel themselves as much at liberty, as if nothing had been done, and act according to their own ideas of the object, distinctly from any engagements. That it would be equally useful to them,, and more proper in me, to state the whole matter to you in the first instance, and that I would add my earnest request to make the desired payment.
This however did not at all suit their ideas. M. Claviere made many observations on the nature of our debt, and the manner in which it had accrued. He said that the United States would certainly act in a different manner towards the present Government, from what the Monarchs of Europe did. That it was impossible I should have any difficulty, if I inclined to do what they asked, and then concluded by asking me peremptorily whether I would, or would not.
His language and manner were such as naturally to excite some little indignation, and although I would pardon much in a man, whose stockjobbing life had but little qualified him for a station in which delicacy of manner and expression is almost essential, yet I could not submit to an indignity in my per son, towards the country I represent. I told him therefore that I did not understand what he meant to say. My countenance I believe spoke the rest of my sentiments, and led him to say, in explanation, that it was necessary for them to have some positive engagement, because otherwise they must make pro vision for the service from another source, and then he again expressed his conviction, that the United States would recognise them ; and at any rate would not disavow the engagements which I might make. I told him it was not proper for me, a servant, to pretend to decide on what would be the opinion of my masters. That I should wait their orders, and obey them when received. That the present Government might collect my sentiments from my conduct. That I could not possibly take on me to judge questions of such magnitude. That I would do everything I could with propriety, and again repeated my offer, which they would not listen to, and I left them, not a little displeased, if I may judge from appearances by no means equivocal.
The Dutch Ambassador, who dined with me, told me that he had received his orders, and should ask for passports this day. The British Ambassador went off two days ago, and Mr Lindsay, their Minister, intends going tomorrow. He offers to take my letters to Mr Pinckney, to whom I shall en close this to be forwarded to you.
Last evening between ten and eleven, I received a visit from some Commissaires de Section, who came in consequence of a denunciation made by some blockhead, or rascal, that I had arms concealed in my house. I made them sensible of the impropriety of their conduct, told them that I had no arms, and that if I had, they should not touch one of them. That in such case, they must apply to me through their minister of Foreign Affairs, and ask me to cede them. I insisted that the man who had presumed to make this denunciation should be seized, and then I would demonstrate the falsehood, that he might be punished. The scene finished by apologies on their part. Last night there was a general visit and search through out the town for arms and I presume for persons also. It still continues. Between nine and ten, the Commissary called on me with many apologies, and took a note of my reply, so that we met and parted good friends.
You will see by all this, my dear Sir, that I have sufficient cause to take offence and depart, if I were so inclined ; but I will stay, if possible, so as to preserve to you the most perfect liberty of action. I do not indeed feel offended at what is done by the people, because they cannot be supposed to understand the law of nations, and because they are in a state of fury which is inconceivable, and which leaves them liable to all impressions, and renders them capable of all excesses. I shall endeavor, nevertheless, to preserve the proper firmness, and let what will happen^ I hope that though my friends should have occasion to lament my fate, they will never be obliged to blush for my conduct.
- Gouverneur Morris
- The Life of Gouverneur Morris With Selections from His Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers Vol. II., Jared Sparks, 1832