To the Honorable Senate of the United States January 21, 1808
From the records of the American State Papers, No. 189, 10th Congress, First Session.
To the honorable the Senate of the United States: New York, January 21, 1808.
THE purport of this address is to state a claim I feel myself entitled to make on the United States, leaving it to their representatives in Congress to decide on its worth and its merits. The case is as follows:
Towards the latter end of the year 1780, the continental money had become so depreciated, a paper dollar not being more than a cent, that it seemed next to impossible to continue the war.
As the United States were then in alliance with France, it became necessary to make France acquainted with our real situation. I therefore drew up a letter to Count de Vergennes, stating undisguisedly the true case; and concluding with the request, whether France could not, either as a subsidy or a loan, supply the United States with a million sterling, and continue that supply, annually, during the war.
I showed the letter to Mr. Marbois, secretary to the French minister. His remark upon it was, that a million sent out of the nation exhausted it more than ten millions spent in it. I then showed it to Mr. Ralph Isard, member of Congress for South Carolina. He borrowed the letter of me, and said, “We will endeavor to do something about it in Congress.”
Accordingly Congress appointed Colonel John Laurens, then aid to General Washington, to go to France and make representation of our situation, for the purpose of obtaining assistance. Colonel Laurens wished to decline the mission, and that Congress would appoint Colonel Hamilton; which Congress did not choose to do.
Colonel Laurens then came to state the case to me. He said he was enough acquainted with the military difficulties of the army, but that he was not enough acquainted with political affairs, nor with the resources of the country, to undertake the mission; “but,” said he, “if you will go with me, I will accept it;” which I agreed to do, and did do.
We sailed from Boston in the Alliance frigate, Captain Barry, the beginning of February, 1781, and arrived at L’Orient the beginning of March. The aid obtained from France was six millions livres as a present, and ten millions as a loan, borrowed in Holland, on the security of France. We sailed from Brest in the French Resolve frigate the 1st of June, and arrived at Boston the 25th of August, bringing with us two millions and a half of livres in silver, and convoying a ship and a brig laden with clothing and military stores. The money was transported in sixteen ox teams to the National Bank at Philadelphia, which enabled the army to move to Yorktown to attack, in conjunction with the French army under Rochambeau, the British army under Cornwallis. As I never had a cent for this service, I feel myself entitled, as the country is now in a state of prosperity, to state the case to Congress.
As to my political works, beginning with the pamphlet Common Sense, published the beginning of January, 1776, which awakened America to a declaration of independence, as the President and Vice President both know, as they were works done from principle, I cannot dishonor that principle by asking any reward for them. The country has been benefited by them, and I make myself happy in the knowledge of it. It is, however, proper to me to add, that the mere independence of America, were it to have been followed by a system of Government, modelled after the corrupt system of the English Government, it would not have interested me with the unabated ardor it did. It was to bring forward and establish the representative system of Government, as the work itself will show, that was the leading principle with me in writing that work, and all my other works during the progress of the revolution. And I followed the same principle in writing the Rights of Man, in England.
There is a resolve of the old Congress, while they sat at New York, of a grant of three thousand dollars to me. The resolve is put in handsome language, but it has relation to a matter which it does not express. Elbridge Gerry was chairman of the committee who brought in the resolve. If Congress should judge proper to refer this memorial to a committee, I will inform that committee of the particulars of it.
I have also to state to Congress, that the authority of the old Congress was become so reduced towards the latter end of the war, as to be unable to hold the States together. Congress could do no more than recommend, of which the States frequently took no notice; and, when they did, it was never uniformly.
After the failure of the five per cent. duty recommended by Congress, to pay the interest of a loan to be borrowed in Holland, I wrote to Chancellor Livingston, then Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Robert Morris, Minister of Finance, and proposed a method for getting over the whole difficulty at once; which was, by adding a continental Legislature to Congress, who should be empowered to make laws for the Union, instead of recommending them; so the method proposed me their full approbation. I held myself in reserve, to take the subject up whenever a direct occasion occurred.
In a conversation afterwards with Governor Clinton, of New York, now Vice President, it was judged that, for the purpose of going fully into the subject, and to prevent any misconstruction of my motive or object, it would be best that I received nothing from Congress, but leave it to the States individually to make me what acknowledgment they pleased.
The State of New York made me a present of a farm, which, since my return to America, I have found it necessary to sell; and the State of Pennsylvania voted me five hundred pounds, their currency. But none of the States to the east of New York, or the south of Philadelphia, ever made the least acknowledgment. They had received benefits from me, which they accepted, and there the matter ended. This story will not tell well in history. All the civilized world know I have been of great service to the United States, and have generously given away talent that would have made me a fortune.
I much question if an instance is to be found in ancient or modern times of a man who had no personal interest in the cause he took up, that of independence and the establishment of a representative system of Government, and who sought neither place nor office after it was established, that persevered in the same undeviating principles as I have done, for more than thirty years, and that in spite of difficulties, dangers, and inconveniences, of which I have had my share.