Americanus sum nec quidquam
Americani a me alienum puto
ERUDITE friends whom I told that I was working on Dumas asked, "Père ou fils?" and I was tempted to reply irreverently, "Saint Esprit." For the man whom I was studying -- let me state my conclusion at the very beginning -- is the rare example of a pure "enthusiast." Utterly enraptured by America, he set to work for the cause of America; for more than twenty years he was indomitable, grudging nothing, steadfast in his faith even when he fell into the worst difficulties, even when he got small thanks for his efforts. He has never received the honor that is his due, either during his lifetime or in the pages of history. Samuel F. Bemis, in his Diplomacy of the American Revolution, observes that the United States owes to Charles Dumas"a debt of gratitude never adequately recognized." There is one outdated French book about him and one American article, whose author is not familiar with the sources, and that is about all.
The problem is twofold: on the one hand, the sources are quite abundant; on the other, we do not know much about Dumas himself. In the National Archives in The Hague we have his great letterbook, eleven hundred pages full of draft letters to all his French and, even more, American connections: Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, and so forth. (Many of these letters are reprinted in the various editions of the diplomatic correspondence of the American revolutionaries by Jared Sparks and Francis Wharton). They give us a very good picture of the activities of our hero, but not enough for us to know much about the man himself. He was all ardor and wore his heart on his sleeve, but he tells us little about his own background, and it is difficult to find out more about him.
We have to understand him through his letters, and we happily also can look at a portrait, a typical late-eighteenth-century pastel, which tells us quite a lot about him. Perhaps that is only my biased impression. After