Silas Deane

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Silas Deane (December 24, 1737 – September 23, 1789) was a delegate to the American Continental Congress and later the United States' first foreign diplomat.



Deane was born in Groton, Connecticut, the son of a blacksmith. He graduated from Yale in 1758 and in 1761 was admitted to the bar, he practiced law for a short time outside of Hartford before he became a merchant in Wethersfield, Connecticut. In Connecticut he taught the future double-spy Edward Bancroft.

He took an active part in the movements in Connecticut preceding the War of Independence, was elected to the state assembly in 1772, and from 1774 to 1776 was a delegate from Connecticut to the Continental Congress. Early in 1776, he was sent to France by Congress in a semi-official capacity, as a secret agent to induce the French government to lend its financial aid to the colonies. Subsequently he became, with Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee, one of the regularly accredited commissioners to France from Congress.

On arriving in Paris, Deane at once opened negotiations with Vergennes and Beaumarchais, securing through the latter the shipment of many shiploads of arms and munitions of war to America, and helping finance the Battle of Ticonderoga. He also enlisted the services of a number of Continental soldiers of fortune, among whom were Lafayette, Baron Johann de Kalb, Thomas Conway, Casimir Pulaski, and Baron von Steuben.

His carelessness in keeping account of his receipts and expenditures, and the differences between himself and Arthur Lee regarding the contracts with Beaumarchais, eventually led to his recall and replacement by John Adams as ambassador to France on November 21, 1777 and was expected to face charges based on Lee's complaints and on his having promised the foreign officers commissions outranking American officers. Before returning to America, however, he signed on February 6, 1778 the treaties of amity and commerce and of alliance with France, which he and the other commissioners had successfully negotiated. It was also in Paris that Deane formally approved of Scotsman James Aitken's (John the Painter) plot to destroy Royal Navy stores in Portsmouth, England on behalf of the Continental cause.

In America, Deane was defended by John Jay and John Adams in 1778 in a long and bitter dispute before Congress, whose requests for copies of his receipts and disbursements were refused by France; since France had not officially made alliance with the Thirteen Colonies until February 6, 1778, they felt that any such evidence of their prior involvement would be a diplomatic embarrassment. Deane in turn then agitated for a diplomatic break with France and questioned the integrity of members of Congress who disagreed with him. He was finally allowed to return to Paris in 1781 to settle his affairs and attempt to find copies of the disputed records, but his differences with various French officials, coupled with the publication in Rivington's Royal Gazette in New York of private letters to his brother in which he repudiated the Revolution as hopeless and suggested a rapprochement with England, led to his being barred from entry and branded a traitor at home. He eventually settled in the Netherlands until after the treaty of peace had been signed, after which he lived in England in a state of poverty. He published his defence in An Address to the Free and Independent Citizens of the United States of North America (Hartford, Conn., and London, 1784).

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