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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

The diplomatic renown he had won in England


Negotiations

were proceeding at Paris; Franklin had joined Silas Deane there. His great scientific reputation, the diplomatic renown he had won in England, his able and prudent devotion to the cause of his country, had paved the way for the new negotiator's popularity in France: it was immense. Born at Boston on the 17th of January, 1706, a printer before he came out as a great physicist, Franklin was seventy years old when he arrived in Paris. His sprightly good-nature, the bold subtilty of his mind cloaked beneath external simplicity, his moderation in religion and the breadth of his philosophical tolerance, won the world of fashion as well as the great public, and were a great help to the success of his diplomatic negotiations. Quartered at Passy, at Madame Helvetius', he had frequent interviews with the ministers under a veil of secrecy and precaution which was, before long, skilfully and discreetly removed; from roundabout aid accorded to the Americans, at Beaumarchais' solicitations, on pretext of commercial business, the French Government had come to remitting money straight to the agents of the United States; everything tended to recognition of the independence of the colonies. In England, people were irritated and disturbed; Lord Chatham exclaimed with the usual exaggeration of his powerful and impassioned genius "Yesterday England could still stand against the world, today there is none so poor as to do her reverence. I borrow the poet's words, my lords, but what his verse
expresses is no fiction. France has insulted you, she has encouraged and supported America, and, be America right or wrong, the dignity of this nation requires that we should thrust aside with contempt the officious intervention of France; ministers and ambassadors from those whom we call rebels and enemies are received at Paris, there they treat of the mutual interests of France and America, their countrymen are aided, provided with military resources, and our ministers suffer it, they do not protest! Is this maintaining the honor of a great kingdom, of that England which but lately gave laws to the House of Bourbon?"

The hereditary sentiments of Louis XVI. and his monarchical principles, as well as the prudent moderation of M. Turgot, retarded at Paris the negotiations which caused so much illhumor among the English; M. de Vergennes still preserved, in all diplomatic relations, an apparent neutrality. "It is my line (_metier_), you see, to be a royalist," the Emperor Joseph II. had said during a visit he had just paid to Paris, when he was pressed to declare in favor of the American insurgents. At the bottom of his heart the King of France was of the same opinion; he had refused the permission to serve in America which he had been asked for by many gentlemen: some had set off without waiting for it; the most important, as well as the most illustrious of them all, the Marquis of La Fayette, was not twenty years old when he slipped away from Paris, leaving behind his young wife close to her confinement, to go and embark upon a vessel which he had bought, and which, laden with arms, awaited him in a Spanish port; arrested by order of the court, he evaded the vigilance of his guards; in, the month of July, 1777, he disembarked in America.

Washington did not like France; he did not share the hopes which some of his fellow-countrymen founded upon her aid; he made no case of the young volunteers who came to enroll themselves among the defenders of independence, and whom Congress loaded with favors. "No bond but interest attaches these men to America," he would say; "and, as for France, she only lets us get our munitions from her, because of the benefit her commerce derives from it." Prudent, reserved, and proud, Washington looked for America's salvation to only America herself; neither had he foreseen nor did he understand that enthusiasm, as generous as it is unreflecting, which easily takes possession of the French nation, and of which the United States were just then the object. M. de La Fayette was the first who managed to win the general's affection and esteem. A great yearning for excitement and renown, a great zeal for new ideas and a certain political perspicacity, had impelled M. de La Fayette to America; he showed himself courageous, devoted, more judicious and more able than had been expected from his youth and character. Washington came to love him as a son.


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