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MVB to W[illiam] C[abell] Rives, 18 December 1830

No. 55


I am not yet enabled to communicate to you the close of the labours of the commission charged with the investigation of the Claims. In my last despatch, I mentioned that the commission had called for additional documents, which they supposed would be useful in fulfilling the object of their enquiries. The application was addressed to the Department of foreign affairs, during the short ministry of Marshal Maison, but, it seems, was not then acted on. It was not until after my first interview with the present minister, that it was taken up; & the documents called for being then considered as not pertinent or necessary to the enquiries with which the commission was charged, a letter, to that effect, was addressed by the minister to the President of the Commission.

Among the pieces of information which the commission had called for, they had requested the minister, it seems, to obtain from me a list of our claims, arranged into classes corresponding with those indicated in my projét of a treaty. The minister replied to them, that as they were required to express their opinion on the validity of the several classes of claims in principle only, it could not be important to them, in that view, to know the number or amount of the claims comprehended in each class, nor would it be proper for him to apply to me for such a statement. In a meeting of the commission, however, which was convoked shortly after the receipt of the letter addressed by the minister of foreign affairs to the President of the commission, it was determined that an inofficial application should be made to me by one of their own members for such statements of our claims as I might be able to present, & should not be indisposed to communicate. This application was made to me, on behalf of the commission, by Mr. G.W. Lafayette. As the commission was charged, among other things, with suggesting "the bases of a treaty," & as they, as well as the minister, had evidently in view a transaction en bloc, I thought it desirable that they should possess as full a view as could be presented of the amount of our claims, (of which I had reason to apprehend that they had not yet had an adequate idea), & I did not hesitate, therefore, to comply with their request. We, therefore, compiled from the materials in the office of the Legation, & chiefly from the schedules communicated to Congress from the Department of State, a tabular statement of the claims, (without any particular classification of them, however), framed in such a manner as I thought best calculated to answer the purpose in view; which was sent to Mr. G.W. Lafayette, with a note of which a copy, is herewith enclosed.

In my communications with the members of the commission, as well as with the minister, I have not ceased to urge all the important considerations which call for the speedy settlement of this question. The state of feeling existing here, at present, however, has imposed upon me the necessity of preserving as much delicacy, in the manner of my importunities, as the subject admitted. Insinuations have reached me, repeatedly, that the pressure of our claims at the present moment, when the finances of France, were so much embarrassed, & when her safety was so seriously threatened by enemies within & without, was not reconcileable with the sympathy, we had professed in the revolution she had just accomplished, or with a proper sensibility to the services she had rendered us in our own revolutionary struggle. Objections of this character have been encountered in quarters, where there might have been the least reason to apprehend them.

In the conversations I have had with the members of the commission, these sentiments have been, several times manifested, & by none more frequently than by Mr. G.W. Lafayette, whose habitual remark to me is that "the present moment is not well chosen for the settlement of this business." After reminding him that a delay of twenty years had already taken place, & that the late government was on the point of doing us justice, when its existence was terminated by the revolution, I have said to him that we thought we had a right to expect dispositions at least equally just from the present government; & that it was, in fact, the interest of France, no less than of the United States, that a question, which, so long as it should remain unsettled, must be a source of heart-burnings & discontent, should be now definitively adjusted, & that nothing should remain to obstruct the full exercise of those friendly feelings, which the two nations cherished for each other.

These & similar considerations have, I flatter myself, had their proper influence on all to whom I have had occasion to address them, & the matter is now in a train, which cannot fail, I hope, to lead to an adjustment. My hopes of this are materially strengthened by the recent designation by the commission of Mr Pichon to examine the documents referred to them, & to prepare their report. This work had been expected of their President, Vicomte Lainé, whose general sentiments towards the United States, as well as his particular dispositions on the subject of the claims, are, I have reason to believe, far from being favorable. Mr. Pichon, on the other hand, from his former official residence in the United States, is the better enabled to appreciate properly the importance of friendly relations between the two countries, as well as the magnitude & unwarrantable character of the injuries for which we are seeking redress; & I have met with no person in France whose views, in both respects, are more just & enlightened.

I passed several hours with him, two days ago, in his bureau, & in a spirit of perfect frankness, explanations were mutually given & received in relation to various questions. He informed me of many claims of France against the United States, which have never before been brought forward in connection with the present negotiation. In addition to the land claims heretofore mentioned to you, there is a very large one of the heirs of Rayneval, another of Renaut, (the same of which an account is given in the 1st. vol. of the Laws of the United States), & several others, in names which I cannot, at this moment, recal. But, from the apparent acquiescence of Mr. Pichon in the views I expressed with regard to these claims, they are not likely, I think, to prove a serious obstacle to our claims of indemnity.

There is also a claim of the government of France against the United States, founded on several drafts of Mr. Armstrong, (amounting to somewhat more than 100,000 francs). These drafts, it seems, were drawn in favour of the French government by Mr. Armstrong, on the alledged ground that France had herself paid several of the claimants under the arrangement of 1803, who were entitled to be paid by the United-States out of the fund of the 20 millions of francs, & whose rights became thus transferred to France. Mr. Pichon shewed me a letter addressed by Mr. Dallas, as secretary of the Treasury, to the consul-general of France in 1816, which will furnish you the means of informing yourself more fully of the character of this claim, which did not, however, seem to be much insisted on. Nothing was said, in the course of this conversation, of the Beaumarchais claim, or of the question under the 8th. article of the Louisiana Treaty, tho', doubtless, they are not lost sight of.

Mr. Pichon informed me that the mass of documents which he had to examine, of which he shewed me the contents of several boxes, would render it impossible, for him to make his report to the commission, in less than a fortnight, & some time must then elapse before the report is made to the minister.

I have not thought it necessary to have an official interview with the minister of foreign affairs, since my last despatch, tho' I have had several conversations with him, in occasional meetings in society. Nothing, however, of sufficient importance has passed in these conversations to merit special communication, as he seems to feel himself bound to await the report of the commission.

At this moment, an intense anxiety occupies all minds here, in regard to the trial of the ex-ministers which is now going on, not only on account of it's particular result, but the effect which that result may have on the popular feeling. It is to be hoped that all will pass well, tho' it cannot be disguised that there is great inquietude. A few days more will terminate this painful suspense, as it is understood that the court of Peers will certainly pronounce their judgment by the 25th. of this month.

The journals, which accompany this despatch, will inform you of the important events which have recently occurred in Poland. Very few details have reached Paris; but enough is known to give them a character of great gravity, & to cause their further progress to be looked to, as likely to have a most important influence on the general state of Europe.

I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your despatch no. 19, under the date of the 18th. October last, & remain, with

great respect, your

most obedient servant,



Rcd Feby 20

[In the hand of Aaron Vail:}

Progress of the french Commn. in the examination of claims. List furnished by Mr Rives. Sentiments of the members. Mr Pichon & G.W. Lafayette. New claims preferred by France in the name of the heirs of Rayneval & Renaut; & drafts of Mr. Armstrong. Political events.

William Cabell Rives to MVB, 18 December 1830William Cabell Rives to MVB, 18 December 1830William Cabell Rives to MVB, 18 December 1830William Cabell Rives to MVB, 18 December 1830William Cabell Rives to MVB, 18 December 1830William Cabell Rives to MVB, 18 December 1830
Source: DNA National Archives and Records Administration
Collection: RG 59 General Records of the Department of State, M34: Despatches from United States Ministers to France (DNA)
Series: Series 6 (4 March 1829-3 March 1833)