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Concerning the protection of Lafayette's son and diplomatic relations with France

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Source Name Image(s)
CollectionClements Library: James McHenry Papers view image
Document Information
Date February 13, 1796
Author Name James McHenry (primary) Location: Philadelphia
Recipient Name George Washington (primary)
Summary McHenry advises that Washington publicly receive and accept Lafayette's son under his protection and into his family, for Lafayette was currently imprisoned in Austria after attempting to flee France. McHenry argues that this action would aid relations the pro-French opposition in the United States, and that France could not rightfully object.
Document Format Autograph Draft Letter
Document Notes [not available]
Content Notes [not available]
Related Persons/Groups George Washington; James McHenry; Marquis de Lafayette; Georges Washington de La Fayette; Democratic-Republicans; French; ;
Related Places Philadelphia; United States; France; Vienna; ;
Keywords [not available]
Key Phrases [not available]

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Philada. 13 Febry 1796.
Without pursuing any official form I take the liberty to submit the thoughts which have occurred to me since reading the letter you were pleased to put into my hands on Saturday last.
Were you to conform to the dictates of friendship and receive publickly into your family this son ^of Mr. La Fayette ^ it might be productive of certain political inconveniences resulting this relation between the United States and France, and as connected with a certain party in both countries. There it might be employed, as in all expectation it would be here, to strengthen imputations against government that have been industriously, and in some parts of the union not unsuccessfully disseminated. Inasmuch therefore as the state of things in France may not have acquired sufficient stability to bear the experiment, nor the public mind have everywhere sufficiently to appreciate the motives it may be questioned whether at this juncture it is adviseable to incur a [pak?] that may be avoided without perhaps entrenching from the duties of friendship or with-holding from the young Fayette the kind offices of a protection.
It is this Sir that were you to do openly what may be done privately the act would simultaniously meet the approbation of every man of sensibility, nay it is probable that it might force into silence the perturbed and factious spirits of the day, but also is, Might [illegible] would only continue till an opportunity should convert an act of high generosity and friendship into a political crime.
To take therefore from the factious in both countries the power to distant other Eng-? means, it would
seem expedient that young Fayettes should remain reception should be private and your kindness to him for the present flow to him in the same channel.
I may be asked, Does the duties of friendship, the services of his father and his attachment to the [illegible] upon you an open an avowed expression of sympathy and kinship ^assistance? As to the extent of your kinship ^acceptance, that being relative to your own property must depend upon yourself. As to the mode of bestowing or conveying it, that being relative to your public character must be conformable to the obligation that imposes. As to the duties of friendship [illegible] they can not can they authorise or require ^from you^ anything which might injure your country, or commit uselessly commit the U.S.?
The other point of view which approaches the real merits of the [eaglse?] it may be fairly doubted whether the U. S. through their President can without cause of offence to France publickly receive & acknowledge the son of a man under a positive or implied proscription. A doubt in such a case at least calls for that for the exercise of precedence & caution. On the other hand it may be said that insomuch as the son has not been considered [criminal?] by any decree of that government and is besides a citizen of the U. S. [illegible] no cause of offence could be taken given by [issuing?] public receipt and acknowledged.
And may it naught not also be said that in a case circumstanced like the present, where the public notice and protection presumed is so evidently the result of humanity to a forlorn and [illegible] helpless child, and which and when such notice and protection can neither produce insure nor, be intended to injure any possible injury France, that therefore France could not rightfully nor on rational ground be offended. [illegible]
But there is a fact which [stunned?] me as of weight and which cannot be known out of view in examining this question. If the young Fayette obtained his passport by concealing who
who he was from the authority having power to grant it, he must be considered as a fugitive from France, or one who would not have been suffered to leave the kingdom had he made himself known as such. Then tho' he could yet be reclaimed by France yet he might be proscribed in France while publickly noticed and protected by the U.S.. you. Perhaps too such a reception of him by being artfully managed and represented might induce such a misfortune.
Upon the whole then, will it not be the safest course and the least subject to embarrassing circumstances as it respects himself and ^the public the youth and his connexions to receive him in a private way and remove him to a distance from you till such time as a different situation of things may authorise a different line of conduit and proceeding.
Is it possible that I can have written with such seeming coldness where the suffering & exiled son of Fayette is the subject: that I who would share with his father my fortune should be obliged by the imperious situation of things to advise that your goodness to his son should flow for a while in secret and unseen.
But Sir I think I perceive in Sons letters & those of Mr. Westels, in the reluctance shewn to embrace the course of education which you have proposed, and in the suggestion of a reserved communication that required a personal interview, that his visit to this country has chiefly for its object to implore you to take some steps for the release of his father. It is a mission that might readily occur to his mother, who it seems is gone to Vienna to solicit the Emperor, and must have been preconcerted in the hope that the person chosen was the most likely best filled from his age and other circumstances to act impulsively, on your feelings and thereby remove any political obstacle to a diplomatic application. If
If this conjecture should be founded your sensibility is devoted to a severe trial on his arrival, as well as the poor youths, should you be of opinion not thru reasons that render a private reception of him proper and necessary as it respects himself apply with still greater force against the particular object of his mission messenger to be contemplated.
I enclose the papers you intrusted me with and have the honour to be &c
[right margin] 13 July 1796
To Mr President