<br /> Lee Letter: n485

Washington and Lee University

I2 declare upon my honor that I never said one
word to any person in this World, neither in Europe, neither in America
which could give a Just foundation for asserting that Mr. Arthur Lee
had the full Confidence of the Court of France.

Soon after my arrival in America I was questioned on this subject in course
of Conversation and in an Indirect manner by Mr. R. H. Lee and

Mr. Samuel Adams. Perceiving some attachment in them to Mr. A. Lee, and
apprehending something like a party respecting him to subsist, and
unwilling to say any thing that might be made use of on either side, I
answered with caution and reserve, and only said in general that he was
considered as a man of parts, that this Idea of him was founded more on
the reputation he had brought with him from England than on any thing
he had done amongst us. Several attempts were made to get me to declare
whether he had the full Confidence of the Court of France, and I waived
answering as much as good manners would permit, and only said generally
that the Congress had confided in him, and therefore the Court of
France paid him all due respect. In short whatever good I could with
Justice say of the Gentleman, I said expressly. When Questions were put
to me which might be answered against him, I observed a reserve and
Silence from whence a man of Sense might easily conclude that the
answers which must in truth be given to them, if I was pressed to it
would not be in his favor. I was determined to this manner of
conducting myself in the Conversation by my sense of good breeding, and
my reluctance to speak evil of any person.

Mr. Saml. Adams afterwards pressed me closely, and directly to this point,
finding I could no longer avoid it without rudeness, I determined to be
candid and explicit with him, and accordingly delivered myself to him
at large upon the subject to the following
Effect.3

I must confess that Mr. Arthur Lee was suspected by People of all ranks,
and even of the highest in France, of being unfriendly both to France
and America, and the Ministry were sollicited to exclude him from all
Negotiation. The Ministry observed that he was confidentially entrusted
by the Congress, and therefore that there ought to be good proof of
want of Integrity before a resolution should be taken openly to exclude
him – they for this reason desired to know what proofs could be given –
the following circumstances were then adduced, and much Insisted on.
Mr. A. Lee kept up a continued connection with several Principle men in
England who were intimate with the Cabinet, those persons came
frequently to Paris and conversed with him privately, and unknown to
the Ministry, and to his Collegues. He frequently sent his Secretaries
and Messengers to London, unknown to his Collegues and the Ministry,
and they returned again without their business or the result of their
Journies being known either to his Collegues or the Ministry. He had no
Intimate in France but Count Loriga4 who was
a man of high Spirit, high fortune, and high birth, and from the
Misfortune of some Malady or disappointment had conceived great disgust
against the French Court, Ministry, and Nation, had removed his Fortune
chiefly into England, had connected himself with Charles Fox, and
several of the English Politicians and usually railed against France in
the manner of the most enraged Englishman. This man was generally
observed to speak of the Conversations which Mr. A. Lee had had with
the Ministry, and to publish the particulars without reserve, also to
use the same angry and contemptuous Language which Mr A. Lee had been
frequently hear’d to use against the French Nation and Ministry.

The Ministry however on Considering all those Circumstances did not think
them proof sufficient to warrant their excluding a man who had been
trusted by Congress from all knowledge of the Negotiations which
related to them, and the Count5 observed that
he found there was some things which he had communicated to Mr A. Lee
which he found Count Loriga was not informed of, and he therefore
Concluded that Mr A. Lee observed some reserve to this Indiscreet
man – and that he might still be safely trusted with some Confidence.

Mr Laurens also Conversed with me on this Subject, and I observed the same
Conduct as I did in conversing with Mr Lee and Mr Adams. Mr Laurens
observed it, and told me he saw I was willing to say all the good I
could but no evil.

Upon the whole the conclusion that Mr A Lee had the full confidence of the
Court of France could only be drawn from my not denying it possitively
which good breeding, and a reluctance to say any thing which might be
used by his Enemies, if he had any, against him, prevented me
from.6

Notes:

Manuscript, North Carolina State Department of Archives and History. In the
hand of Thomas Burke and endorsed by him: “Conversation with Minister
of France in presence of General Nelson relative Arthur Lee.”

1 Burke submitted this statement to the North Carolina Assembly in October
1779 with a report he delivered on “the variety of Business which
came before Congress from the beginning of January ’79 to the middle
of August.” During a debate on the subject of Arthur Lee, Burke
explained, “a Gentleman from Massachusetts Bay (Mr. S. Adams)
declared that he had it from the highest Authority, that Mr. Lee was
not denied the full Confidence of the Court of Versails.” Because
Burke’s reference to Samuel Adams pertains to remarks that Adams
apparently made on 15 April, it is reasonable to conclude that the
incident Burke describes in this document occurred soon after Adams
delivered those remarks. The fact that Henry Laurens and the French
minister, Gerard, also had a conversation on April 16 on the same
subject suggests that Gerard’s meeting with Burke and Thomas Nelson
herein recounted also took place at about the same time. See John
Fell’s Diary, 6 April, note 2; Laurens’ Notes Respecting Gerard’s
Views on Arthur Lee, c.21 April; and Thomas Burke’s Report to the
North Carolina Assembly, c.25 October 1779.

2 The speaker is Conrad Alexandre Gerard.

3 For the difficulties Gerard had in conversing with Samuel Adams, see the
document pertaining to this matter that he delivered to Adams on
21 April. A transcript of that document, made by Henry Laurens,
appears as a preamble to Laurens’ Notes Respecting Gerard’s Views on
Arthur Lee, c.21 April 1779, printed below.

4 Louis-Leon-Felicite de Brancas, comte de Lauraguais, who was also a major
topic of the following document written by Richard Henry Lee
concerning Gerard’s views on Arthur Lee. The document, which is in
the Samuel Adarns Papers, NN, was printed by Burnett under the date
21 April 1779, but it could have been written at almost any time
after August 1778 that Lee was in Philadelphia. Burnett, Letters,
4:170 – 71.

“At the time that Mr. Adams and R. H. Lee waited on Monsr. Gerard the
Minister plenipotentiary of France to the United States in order to
notify him of the time and place of his audience of Congress after
the immediate business of the Committee was over and other
conversation being taken up, Mr. Adams observed that he was concerned
to find it had been reported that Dr. Arthur Lee was Antigallican.
Since he was known here to have been among the earliest and firmest
opposers of G. Britain – On which the Minister replied to this effect.
I assure you gentlemen it is not the opinion of the Court of France
that Mr Lee is Antigallican – There have been some idle people who have
talked in this manner, and the reason was supposed to be, because Dr.
Lee was intimate with Count Languois with whom he came frequently to
Court – That the Count was a man of fortune and very talkative, that he
was frequently speaking on American subjects, and the proceedings of
the Court relative thereto – But as Men of information discovered that
in all the Counts conversations he never hit upon the true designs of
the Court, so they were satisfied that what he said was merely the
conjectures of his own mind and could not come from Dr. Lee, who
being well informed, if he had made communications to the Count, his
frequent conversations must sometimes have discovered the truth.”

Lauraguais apparently first appears in the correspondence of Congress in
Silas Deane’s 18 August 1776, letter to the Committee of Secret
Correspondence. The comte de Vergennes, Deane reported, had recently
told him in conversation “that the Count Laureguais was perhaps a
well-meaning man, but not sufficiently discreet for such purposes as
this; that Mr. Lee (meaning Mr. Arthur Lee, of London), had confided,
he feared, too much in him, and wished me to caution him on the
subject, and that if I could write to him he would inclose it in a
letter of his by a courier that evening.” Wharton, Diplomatic
Correspondence,
2:118. For Arthur Lee’s letter of 15 February 1778,
to the Committee for Foreign Affairs enclosing a 8 February affidavit
from Lauraguais concerning an offer of money and supplies made by
Beaumarchais to Arthur Lee in London in the spring of 1776, see PCC,
item 83, 1:155 – 56. Further information on the comte de Lauraguais
may be found in Beaumarchais Correspondence (Morton and Spinelli),
4:65n.1, 82n.7, 162n.2, 164n.6; and Benjamin Franklin, The Papers of
Benjamin Franklin,
ed. Leonard W. Labaree et al. (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1959 – ), 19:86n, 22:468n, 23:49n.

5 Vergennes.

6 For the congressional debate on the recall of the American commissioners in
Europe and the principal documents bearing on the delegates’ efforts
to ascertain Arthur Lee’s standing with French officials, see John
Fell’s Diary, 6 April, note 2; Henry Laurens’ Notes, 21, 26, and 30 April; and William Paca and William Henry Drayton to Congress,
30 April 1779.