Temple's Diary Temple's Diary
Episode 6. War or No War?

The Electric Franklin

November 21, 1775

Good morning, History. I wrote you a few days ago that a new committee, the Committee of Secret Correspondence, has been created and that in my humble opinion it may turn out to be the most important one of all — with my apologies to the Committee of Correspondence, the Committee of Inspection, the Committee of Inspection and Observation, the Committee of Safety, to name only a few. And now, to my excitement, that new committee has already jumped into action.

I know this because of a long letter Grandfather has just asked me to copy, after telling me that my handwriting is so clear and beautiful (I know it is very much like his); while handing it to me, he put his finger to his lips. Of course, I won't tell anybody about it. We are engaged, he and I, in the first wobbly steps of the foreign service!

The letter is addressed to a Mr. Charles Dumas, who lives in The Hague, Holland. Grandfather, who met M. Dumas some ten years ago when he was traveling in Holland, told me that he was a man interested in literature, international law, and politics, with whom he has cordially exchanged books over the years. Indeed, the letter I'm copying opens with profuse thanks for a treatise on international law "which came to us in good season, when the circumstance of a rising state made it necessary frequently to consult the law of nations."

And now, getting to his real purpose, Grandfather writes:

"We are threatened from England with a very powerful force, to come next year against us. We are making all the provision in our power here to oppose that force, and we hope we shall be able to defend ourselves. But as the events of war are always uncertain, possibly, after another campaign, we may find it necessary to ask aid of some foreign power."

How painful it must have been for Grandfather, always so self-confident, to even admit the possibility of defeat! He pursues:

"It gives us great pleasure to hear from you that all of Europe wishes success in keeping our freedom. But we wish to know whether any of them, from principles of humanity, is disposed magnanimously to step in for the relief of an oppressed people, or whether if, as it seems likely to happen, we should be obliged to break off all connection with Britain, and declare ourselves an independent people, there is any state or power in Europe, who would be willing to enter into an alliance with us for the benefit of our commerce, which amounted, before the war, to nearly seven millions sterling per annum, and must continually increase most rapidly."

He has now stated his case, his country's case. What does he want M. Dumas to do? I resume my copying. I haven't even started my homework, but I don't care.

"Confiding, my dear friend, in your good will to us and our cause, and in your sagacity and abilities for business, the committee of Congress appointed for the purpose of establishing and conducting a correspondence with our friends in Europe have directed me to request of you, that as you are situated in The Hague, where ambassadors from all the courts reside, you would make use of the opportunity that situation affords you, of discovering, if possible, the disposition of the several courts with respect to such assistance or alliance, if we should apply for the one, or propose the other."

How well he writes! Clearly, concisely, just right. And nobody ever taught him. He had to figure it out by himself, reading The Tatler and The Spectator during the night. What a difference with the way Mr. Elphinston wanted us to write ... I read on: Grandfather warns Dumas, in ultra-polite terms, to keep the English ambassador in the dark, of course, and to entrust his outgoing mail to reliable people. But then, regaining his spirits, he paints a rosy picture of the American situation for the benefit of the influential people Dumas might contact:

"The whole continent is very firmly united ... the party in favor of the British ministry is very small and much dispersed ... during the last campaign we have had on foot an army of near twenty-five thousand men, wherewith we have been able to block up the king's army in Boston ... we purpose greatly to increase our force ... and hope, with the assistance of a well disciplined militia, to be able to defend our coast, notwithstanding its great extent ... we already have a small squadron of armed vessels to protect our coastal trade ... we are using the utmost industry in endeavouring to make saltpeter ..."

Yes, all that is very nice, Grandfather, but how can those home-made enterprises hold up against the might of the British Empire? "Tell him about our (your) needs, Gwanpapa," as Benny would say. Good, here they come, our requests:

"Both arms and ammunition are much wanted. Any merchants who would venture to send ships laden with those articles might make great profit. ... We are in great want of good engineers, and wish you could engage and send us two able ones, one acquainted with field service, sieges, etc. and the other with fortifying of sea-ports."

Finally, he sends Dumas 100 pounds sterling for his initial expenses. I'm sure that Dumas will accept to be the first American agent abroad. How could he refuse?

As I'm copying this letter, I'm thinking of the ironies of History. France, the big, bad enemy during the French and Indian War, is now the focus of Grandfather's hope for independence. As to my own future, it seems more nebulous than ever. I've just received a letter from Caldwell, telling me that Mr. Elphinston plans to close our school for good at Christmas. And Mrs. Stevenson, we hear, is no longer living on Craven Street. My two London homes are fading away. England of the daffodils, shall I ever see you again?

Episode 7: Ups and Downs of Family Life