Paris. Oct. 1, 1800. p. on an 8 3/4 x 8 1/2-inch sheet of paper, docketed on verso. Old folds. Faint bleed-through from the docketing. Very good. In a folding cloth box, gilt leather label. Item #WRCAM54771
A strikingly immediate and significant letter, sent by the American commissioners in Paris to the American minister in England, notifying him of the signing of the Convention of Mortefontaine, a crucially important early American treaty with France. The treaty repaired relations between the two nations that had been disintegrating for a decade, ended a naval conflict, and paved the way for the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. The present letter transmits the news of the treaty to Rufus King, the American minister to England and is signed by the three American commissioners who negotiated the agreement, Supreme Court Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth, North Carolina Governor William R. Davie, and diplomat William Vans Murray. The Convention of Mortefontaine, signed on September 30, 1800 and ratified and proclaimed the following year, was an important event in the course of relations between the United States and France. France and the U.S. first signed a pair of treaties on February 6, 1778 - one of alliance and the other of amity and commerce. They were the first treaties ever signed by the United States with a foreign power, and marked the recognition of the former British colonies as a legitimate nation. French military assistance during the Revolution, a result of the treaty of alliance, was a crucial factor in the achievement of American independence. In 1782 and 1783 further agreements were signed between the two nations regarding loans and credits, and in 1788 a convention was signed establishing the functions and privileges of consuls and vice-consuls. The 1790s brought a cooling of relations between France and the United States, largely due to the war being fought between France and Great Britain, and the American policy of neutrality in the conflict. Relations were further soured by the controversial actions of Edmund Genet, the French Minister to the United States, who commissioned American ships as privateers, established French prize courts in American ports, and sought to raise troops to attack British and Spanish holdings in North America. The Washington administration requested Genet's recall and the French government acceded, but the Jacobin faction in charge demanded the recall of the American minister to France, Gouverneur Morris, who was suspected of having royalist sympathies. Relations between the two nations continued to worsen over the following years. In 1796 the French government, angry over the American treaty with England of 1794 (Jay's Treaty) announced that they would treat American ships as they would British vessels, thus formally endorsing French privateering raids against American vessels. Shortly thereafter President Washington replaced James Monroe (who was considered pro-France) as minister to France with Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, who the French government refused to acknowledge. All of these events came to a head in the so-called "Quasi-War" between the United States and France, and the diplomatic scandal known as the "XYZ Affair." The Quasi-War was an undeclared naval war between the two nations, fought between 1798 and 1800 mostly off the southern coast of the United States and in the Caribbean. The Federalists in Congress pushed President Adams to declare open war with France, and in July, 1798, the Congress abrogated the 1778 Treaty of Amity with France. Adams also sought peace, however, sending three American commissioners to France in 1797 to re- establish good relations. The "XYZ Affair" destroyed these hopes, however, when it was revealed that agents of French Foreign Minister Talleyrand demanded bribes from the Americans to even permit talks to begin. This resulted in an uproar in the United States. Conciliatory moves by Talleyrand encouraged President Adams to appoint another peace delegation to France in 1799, comprised of Supreme Court Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth, North Carolina Governor William Richardson Davie, and William Vans Murray, the American minister to the Netherlands. Ellsworth resigned as Chief Justice of the Court in order to take the assignment. Murray, stationed at the Hague, had already been meeting with the French envoy, Pichon, to repair relations. The American representatives presented their credentials to the new French First Consul, Napoleon, in March, 1800, and negotiations commenced. They culminated in the Convention of Mortefontaine, signed on September 30, 1800 in Paris. The agreement re-established peace between the United States and France, abrogated the 1778 treaty of alliance (the United States' first "entangling" alliance), restored captured naval vessels to each side, arranged for payments of debts, and re-affirmed the trade rights of neutral ships. The text of this brief letter from the American commissioners to Rufus King, sent the day after the signing of the convention, reads as follows: "Paris, Oct. 1, 1800. Sir, We have the honor to inform you that a convention [written above the words "provisional treaty," which have been crossed out] was yesterday signed between France & the United States which if ratified re-establishes the relations of amity between the two nations. We are, sir, respectfully your most obedient Oliver Ellsworth, W.R. Davie, W. V. Murray." The letter is docketed on the verso (likely in Rufus King's hand) as having been received on 3 November, 1800. The Treaty of Mortefontaine was the capstone of William Vans Murray's diplomatic career and the final act of public service in the life of Oliver Ellsworth. John Adams considered it one of the most important accomplishments in his long career. This letter was sent to Rufus King, the American minister to England and a leading Federalist politician. Informing King of the agreement was very important, as King would have to gauge the feelings of the British government on the agreement. Alexander DeConde, the foremost historian of this period of Franco-American relations, calls the Convention of Mortefontaine "a major achievement" that "prevented full-scale war...perhaps no peace settlement has brought the nation greater benefits for so little cost." In re-establishing good relations between the United States and Napoleon's government it helped to ease the path toward the Louisiana Purchase, less than three years later. A remarkable artifact of an early American diplomatic triumph, announcing an agreement that ended a period of deep tension between the United States and France, and paved the way toward the Louisiana Purchase. MALLOY, pp.496-505 (ref). Alexander DeConde, THE QUASI-WAR. THE POLITICS AND DIPLOMACY OF THE UNDECLARED WAR WITH FRANCE 1797-1801 (New York, 1966), pp.223-340. Peter P. Hill, WILLIAM VANS MURRAY, FEDERALIST DIPLOMAT. THE SHAPING OF PEACE WITH FRANCE 1797-1801 (Syracuse, N.Y., 1971), pp.161-204.