Silas Deane


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Silas DeaneDeane, SILAS, diplomatist; born in Groton, Connecticut, December 24, 1737; graduated at Yale College in 1758; became a merchant in Wethersfield, Connecticut; and was a delegate to the first Continental Congress. He was very active in Congress, in 1775, in fitting out a naval force for the colonies, and in the spring of 1776 was sent to France as a secret political and financial agent, with authority to operate in Holland and elsewhere. He was to ascertain the feeling of the French government towards the revolted colonies and Great Britain, and to obtain military supplies. Mr. Deane went in the character of a Bermuda merchant; and, the better to cover his designs, he did not take any considerable sum of money or bills of exchange with him for his support. The secret committee was to send them after him by way of London, to arrive in Paris nearly as soon as himself, lest a capture should betray his secret. On his arrival in Paris he sought an interview with the Count de Vergennes, the minister for foreign affairs, but no notice was taken of him. He repeated his application in vain. His remittances were all captured or lost. He soon expended the cash he took with him, and was in great distress. His landlady became importunate, and he was threatened with ejectment into the street. He again repeated his application for an interview with Vergennes, but was denied.

Which way to turn he knew not. He walked in the fields in the suburbs in despair. There he met a citizen to whom he revealed his distressed condition. The citizen invited him to make his house his home until remittances should arrive. Losing hope of either funds or an interview with the minister, he resolved to return to America, and was actually packing his wardrobe when two letters reached him, announcing the Declaration of Independence by Congress and the action of Benedict Arnold with the British fleet on Lake Champlain. Two hours later he received a card from Vergennes, requesting his company immediately. Deane, indignant at the treatment he had received, refused to go. The next morning, as he was rising from his bed, an undersecretary called, inviting him to breakfast with the count. He again refused; but, on the secretary's pressing him to go, he consented, and was received very cordially by Vergennes. A long conversation on American affairs took place, when Deane acquainted the minister with the nature of his mission. So began the diplomatic relations between France and the United States which resulted in the negotiation of a treaty of amity and alliance between the two nations.

To him were entrusted the receipts and expenditures of money by the commissioners to Europe. Dr. Franklin had deserved confidence in his ability and honesty. The jealous, querulous ARTHUR LEE, who became associated with him and Franklin, soon made trouble. He wrote letters to his brother in Congress (Richard Henry Lee), in which he made many insinuations against the probity of both his colleagues. Ralph Izard, commissioner to the Tuscan Court, offended because he was not consulted about the treaty with France, had written home similar letters; and William Carmichael, a secretary of the commissioners, who had returned to America, insinuated in Congress that Deane had appropriated the public money to his own use. Deane was recalled, by order of Congress, November 21, 1777; arrived at Philadelphia August 10, 1778; and on the 13th reported to Congress. In that body he found false reports operating against him; and finally, exasperated by the treatment which he received at their hands, he engaged in a controversy with influential members. Out of this affair sprang two violent parties, Robert Morris and other members of Congress who were commercial experts taking the side of Deane, and Richard Henry Lee, then chairman of the committee on foreign affairs, being against him.

Deane published in the Philadelphia Gazette an "Address to the People of the United States," in which he referred to the brothers Lee with much severity, and claimed for himself the credit of obtaining supplies from France through Beaumarchais. THOMAS PAINE, then secretary of the committee on foreign affairs, replied to Deane (January 2, 1779), availing himself of public documents in his charge. In that reply he declared that the arrangement had been made by Arthur Lee, in London, and revealed the secret that the supplies, though nominally furnished by a commercial house, really came from the French government. This statement called out loud complaints from the French minister (Gerard), for it exposed the duplicity of his government, and to soothe the feelings of their allies, Congress, by resolution, expressly denied that any gratuity had been received from the French Court previous to the treaty of alliance. This resolution gave Beaumarchais a valid claim upon Congress for payment for supplies which he, under the firm name of Hortales & Co., had sent to America (see BEAUMARCHAIS, PIERRE AUGUSTIN). Paine's indiscretion cost him his place. He was compelled to resign his secretaryship. The discussion among the diplomatic agents soon led to the recall of all of them excepting Dr. Franklin, who remained sole minister at the French Court. Deane, who was undoubtedly an able, honest man, preferred claims for services and private expenditures abroad, but, under the malign influence of the Lees, he was treated with neglect and fairly driven into poverty and exile, and died in Deal, England, August 23, 1789. In 1842 Deane's long disputed claim was adjusted by Congress. a large sum being paid over to his heirs.



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