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Improbable Patriot by Harlow Giles Unger

Improbable Patriot by Harlow Giles Unger

Author:Harlow Giles Unger [Unger, Harlow Giles]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: University Press of New England
Published: 0101-01-01T00:00:00+00:00

Beaumarchais’s fictional plots onstage seldom proceeded without complications, however, and his real-life offstage plots were no different. Just as he was establishing his own huge arms-trading enterprise, another French entrepreneur barged into the clandestine Franco-American arms trade, backed by no less a man than Benjamin Franklin. A scientist like Franklin, Monsieur le docteur Barbeu Dubourg and Franklin were old friends, and, like the Philadelphia scholar, he covered costs of his unremunerative scientific pursuits by engaging in various business enterprises. Thus, when the Secret Committee of Congress, of which Franklin was a member, appointed Connecticut delegate Silas Deane to go to Paris to find military supplies and recruit engineers, Franklin suggested that Deane contact Dubourg. He gave the Connecticut merchant a letter of introduction, addressed to “Mon cher ami Barbeu Dubourg,” calling him a “friend to the Americans” who was “prudent, faithful, secret, intelligent in affairs and capable of giving you very sage advice.”9

Deane’s instructions were not dissimilar to those that Congress had given Arthur Lee, but the Committee of Secret Correspondence believed that British agents had infiltrated the congressional membership and that the British-educated Lee might himself be working with the British government. Unaware that Lee had already succeeded in his mission and planned working with Beaumarchais, the committee issued these instructions to Deane:

With the assistance of Monsieur Dubourg, who understands English, you will be able to make immediate application to Monsieur de Vergennes, ministre des affaires étrangères … acquainting him that you are in France upon business of the American Congress in the character of a merchant. … acquaint him that … the Congress … was not able to furnish … the quantity of arms and ammunition necessary for its defense … and you have been dispatched by their authority to apply to some European authority for a supply. France has been pitched on for the first application, from an opinion that if we should come to a total separation from Great Britain, France would be looked upon as the power whose friendship it would be fittest for us to obtain and cultivate. That the commercial advantages Britain had enjoyed with the Colonies had contributed greatly to her late wealth and importance. That it is likely a great part of our commerce will naturally fall to the share of France, especially if she favors us in this application, as that will be a means of gaining and securing the friendship of the Colonies. … That the supply we at present want is clothing and arms for twenty-five thousand men, with a suitable quantity of ammunition, and one hundred field pieces.10


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