Log In Register

Source & Citation Info

title:“Concerning Public Affairs, Thomas Paine, &c.”
authors:John Jay
date written:1779

permanent link
to this version:
last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:21 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Feb. 20, 2024, 11:16 p.m. UTC

The Kenneth W. Rendell Gallery 989 Madison Avenue New York, NY 10021

Concerning Public Affairs, Thomas Paine, &c. (1779)

I have long been convinced that human fame was a Buble wh[ich], whether swelled by the Breath of the wise, the Good, the ignorant or malicious must burst with the Globe we inhabit. I am not am[on]g those who give it a Place among the motives of their actions. Neither courting or dreading the public opinion on the one Hand nor disregarding it on the other I joined myself to the first assertors of the American cause because I thought it might Duty, & because I consid[ere]d caution [and] neutrality however secure as being no less wrong than dishonorable. The same Principles which then committed one to the Disposal of my Fellow Citizens demand that as I have the best opportunities of knowing so I sh[ould] transmit to Posterity the memory of their political Transactions with this Kingdom and thereby prevent their being misguided by Representations founded on Conjectures and partial Information. America exhibits a new Spectacle to the political world and is rising to Empire & Greatness in a manner so singular as to render her Steps interesting to all making & especially to the People of that Country. I shall confine myself to a plain narrative of Fact, & they shall be told with such scrupulous adherence to Truth and Impartiality as that my last moments shall not be imbittered by a Reflection that I had permitted by Pen to stray from the Lines of Veracity of Justice.
It is necessary that narrative should comprize the Transaction of two Periods, viz. 1. Those which were prior & 2. Those wh[ich] were subsequent to my arrival in Spain. I. Those which were prior to my arrival in Span sh[oul]d all be distringuished by two periods, viz. those which preceded by app[ointment]t and those which intervened between it & my arrival. I shall begin with those which happened prior to my appointment. The Treaties of Alliance & of Commerce between America and France were concluded in February 1778. A secret articles at the same time entered into which as it has since become very generally known I shall insert—it is in the words following—(here insert secret article)
On the Day of following Congress were please to commission Arthur Lee Esqr. To enter into these Treaties and Discussion with the Court of Spain. As that Gentlemans Conduct and & Characters has been the Subject of much Question & many Conjectures Justice demands from me the utmost Circumspection in what I may find it necessary to say respecting him. So far [as] my memory serves me, there remain among the Records of Congress many Papers relative to his Disputes and but very few that can lead us to a minute acc[oun]t of his Negoticiation. I have not go Copies of those Papers with me and therefore to avoid mistakes I shall delay entering into a Details of the Proceedings in the Executions of the Commission till I can have an opportunity of doing it without Danger of committing mistakes. Thus much I can say with certainty –that the Court of Spain previous to her declaring war with Britain furnished considerable aids to America which was transported thither by the house of Gardoque & Sons at Bilboa in various Goods proper of the army. The Supplies were shipped under Mr Lees Direction, and that regular Invoices of the cargoes was transmitted by him to Congress, yet when I left it that Body remained much in the Dark as to the amount of the Sums advances for their use by Spain. It is also well known that Mr. Lee in the month of 177 set out from France for Spain and that he did not proceed further on the way than Burgos where he was met by a Person from the Court; he had a Conference with the Person and returned to France where he remained until his Commission was superseded.
It is proper to observe that Mr Dean in Consequence of his Recall returned to American 1778 and that on his arrival Congress went into an Inquiry into his conduct and particularly those which had given measure to his being recalled. In following Mr. Dean punished a paper in the Philadelphia Gazet[te] containing strictures on the Delays of machinations he attributed the Conduct of Congress towards him. This publication cause[d] a Ferment throughout American and very great Heats in Congress. Mr. President Laurens brought the new Paper with him to the House and from the Chair proposed that it should be read, in order that it might become the Subject of certain Resolutions. The House not thinking it proper to come into that measure he resigned the Chair saying that he c[oul]d no longer hold it consistent with his Honor. They were disgusted and adjourned. The next Day his friends attempted to replace him but did not succeed. Another President was elected.
The public Papers teemed with Publications for and against Mr Dean and Mr Lee; among the writers for the latter was a Thomas Paine, an Englishmen who had been a hackney writer in London. On his arrival in Am[Erica] he was employed by Aiken in compiling &corrected papers for his magazine. In this capacity his attachm[en]t to the American cause became suspected. He struck out several Passages in Papers composed by Doctr. Witherspoon as being too free. He afterwards became attached to some leading men who were most zealous for Am[erican] Independence. He punished a pamph[l]et on that subject called Common Sense and obtained much Credit with the People for it. He was afterwards made Secretary to the com[mittee] for foreign affairs, and when General Washing was retreating before the Enemy in Jersey, & the minds of many were filled with apprehensions, we was again so suspected as that congress became uneasy least the Committees & Papers in his Custody sh[oul]d fall into the Enemys Hands and took their measures accordingly. The Success at Trenton gave things a new aspect, and new courage to Paine.
On the present occasion his Zeal for his Employers carried him too far. His official Papers had brought him acquainted with the State of American affairs at Versailles, and in the paper of the 2d Jany he very imprudently inserted the follow[in]g Paragraph. 'If Mr Deane or any other Gent[leman] will procure an order from Congress to inspect an acc[oun]t in my office, or any of Mr Deans Friends in Congress will take the Trouble of coming themselves, I will give him or them my attendance and shew them in a Hand Writing, which Mr Deane is well acquainted with, that the Supplies he so pompously plumes himself upon were promised and engage, and that as a present before he even arrived in France &c.
The Minister of France Mr. Gerard being aware of the consequences which would result from these assertions, and feeling very sensibly how much the honor of France was wounded by a Supposition of her havin[g] given gratuitous aids to America contrary to her assurance to Britain and on 5th of Jany 1779 present a memorial to Congress referring to this Publication, denying the Assertions they contained and representing the property of their being disavowed by Congress. The Day following this memorial was considered and various Debates not proper to be spelled here insued. Pain[e] and the Printer were ordered to attend at the Bar of the House. The former confession himself the author & the latter to be the publisher of the Papers in Question. Many Motions were made debated & rejected before the House adopted the Resolutions which finally took Place. The Subject was interesting to the public to the House & particularly to the Friends of the Parties in Difference as well as Mr Pain[e]s Patrons, and as is always the Case on such occasions more warmth than prudence took place. The majority however were of opinion that Pain[e] had prostituted the Office to party Purposes and therefore ought to be discharged. This did not long remain a Secret to him and to avoide that Disgrace resigned.
The warmth raised by this Coincidence of Circumstances inflamed Mr Gerards mind and led him to speak more freely of Mr. Lee than he had hitherto done; he at length went so far as to commit his knowledge respecting his Character in France to Writing & give it to some of the members. From this is appeared among other things that he was not only obnoxious to the Court of France but suspected by them of Attachm[en]t to Britain. Mr. Gerard had before intimated to Congress the propriety of their taking speedy measures for drawing Spain into the general Cause; he often enlarged on the Policy and objects of that Court one of whi[ich] was to regain the Floridas and to become possessed of the exclusive navigation of the Gulph of Mexico and of course the Mississippy. He said he was confident that if these were ceded to her it w[oul]d not be difficult to induce her to join in, and especially as the Family Compact and the Refusal of Britain to accept her mediation would afford a good Pretext, he further insinuated that we might reasonable expect to obtain from that Court a considerable Sum of money which considering the State of our Finances was desirable object.
The Congress were desirous of an Alliance with Spain & ready to make measures for the Purpose, yet whom to employ became a serious Question. Mr. Lees Connections insisted that he ought to be the man while others who had neither a Predilection for or aversion to him thought it inexpedient to commit that Business to one respecting whom America at present entertained Doubts, and who had become disagreeable to France, and not consequent in a certain degree to Spain. By these unfortunate Circumstances near a Year was wasted in fruitless altercation, and the opportunity of obtaining Loans from Spain lost by her hav[in]g entered into the War and hav[in]g occasion for all her money to defray the Expence of it. Some time prior to my Appointm[en]t to Spain a suspicion of it prevailed and both Mr Gerard and Mr Miralles expressed much Satisfaction at the Prospect of that Event. Ony coming to Congress in the Fall of 1788 and constantly after both Mr Gerard and Mr Miralles the Spanish Agent had shewn me every mark of Civility and Attention, tho I have Reason to think that both of them entertained higher opinions of my Docility than were well founded.
As a member of Congress it appeared to me very improper to make their Proceedings the Topic of Conversation out of Doors, and I made it an invariable Rule to not to speake of their Debates or of any matters before them to any who were not members. Mr Gerard used very frequently to spend an Evening with me & sometimes sat up very late. As the Ev[enin]g advanced he often became more open and spoke without Reserve on the Subject of the Views of Spain and the Interest of America with respect to her. He pres[s]ed our quitting to her the Floridas and Missippi as indispensible Prerequisites to a Treaty and urged a variety of Reasons to support his opinions, that her Friendship for the United States was the sole motives to declaring her opinion at any time relative to her Concerns. These several matters being under the Consideration of Congress I restrained myself from entering into a Discussion of them with him, and confin[e]d myself to now and then throwing in a loose general observation by way of keeping up the Conversation, besides had that not been the case, I should not have left the way for the Communications open and not have left it free any obstacles which Dispute and controversy might have created. From this silent attention and appearance of moderation I am persuaded he supposed I concurred with him in Sentiment and induced him to go great Lengths than he might [otherwise] have done. I sh[oul]d have considered the matters [at hand] within the Restriction of private Con[ver]sation and sh[oul]d never have mentioned them, but I soon found that he conversed in like manner with many others and that he was…endeavouring to carry these Points of Congress.
I was early convinced that provided we could obtain Independence and a Speedy Peace that we could not justify protracting the War and hazarding the Event of it for the Sake of conquer[in]g the Floridas to which we had no Title or retaining the navigation of the Missippi which we sh[oul]d not want for this age and of wh[ich] we might probably acquire a partial use with the Consent of Spain. IT was therefore my opinion that we sho[u]ld quit all Claim to the Floridas & grant them the Navigation on their River below specified in a Treaty provided they w[ould] acknowledge our Independence, defend it with their Arms, and grant us either a proper Sum of Money or an annual Subsidy for a certain Numb[er] of Year. Such then was the Situation of things as to induce me to think that a Conduct so decided and spirited on the part of Spain w[oul]d speedily bring about a Peace and that Great Britain rather hazard the Loss of Canada, Nova Scotia and the Islands when Spain afterwards declared war for objects that did not include ours, and in a Manner not very civil to our Independence, I became persuaded that…we ought not to cede to her any of our Rights, and of course that we sh[oul]d retain and insist upon our Right to the Navigation of the Missisippi. With Respect indeed to the Floridas, I was content she sh[oul]d have them being ever of opinion that a useless extent of Territory was of advantage to no People and that we had full as much already[y] as we sh[oul]d be able to govern & prote[ct].

Resource Metadata






Annotations (0)