Francis Dana and the League of Armed Neutrality

Francis Dana and the League of Armed Neutrality

Francis Dana had many notable roles in the American Revolution.  His largest contribution was as a Foreign Ambassador.

Francis Dana

Francis Dana was a Boston lawyer who detested the British soldiers who held his city under military occupation.  

Dana received his first elected office in 1774 when he became a member of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.  This Congress was set up to replace the government which had been shut down by the Royal Governor.


In an attempt to reconcile their differences with the Mother Country, the Continental Congress selected Dana to go to London.  His mission was to receive concessions from Brittain’s tax policies in order to restore normalcy.

Dana sailed for England in early 1775 where he met with Benjamin Franklin.  However, word soon arrived of Lexington and Concord and Franklin return to the colonies.

Francis Dana spent almost two years in London but, satisfied there was no compromise to be found, sailed back to Massachusetts.

Continental Congress

Upon his return, Dana was sent as a Massachusetts delegate to the Continental Congress.  There, serving alongside his father-in-law William Ellery, Dana became a signer of the Articles of Confederation.

As a member of the Continental Congress, Dana was tasked with assisting George Washington in reorganizing the Continental Army.  Because of this, he spent about three months camped in Valley Forge.  Luckily, Baron von Steuben arrived and helped them tremendously with the changes needed to improve their forces.

Upon his return, Dana recommended to Congress that soldiers receive half pay and a pension after the war.  He came to this decision because the money being printed in the colonies was inflating and it would be the only way to continue paying for the war.

Hamilton's Accusation

In the summer of 1779, Dana had a heated series of exchanges with Alexander Hamilton.  John Brooks though he overheard Dana speaking poorly of Hamilton.  Brooks in turn told Hamilton, who exchanged a series of letters with Dana.  Fortunately, another person present for the conversation was none other than Artemas Ward.

Ward backed Dana’s claim that he did not make these statements.  The culprit ended up being William Gordon, who denied Hamilton’s request for a duel.

League of Armed Neutrality

In 1780, Catherine the Great of Russia sponsored the League of Armed Neutrality.  This League eventually consisted of Russia, Denmark-Norway, Sweden, the Ottoman Empire, the Two Sicilies, Prussia, Austria and Portugal.

The League’s goal was to allow neutral nations to trade with countries at war, as long as none of the products were to assist in the hostilities.  France, Spain and the United States all pledged to support the League, but Britain did not (although they did nothing to upset the League).

Minister to Russia

Seeing how Catherine’s League was beneficial to the States, the Continental Congress sent Francis Dana as the first Minister to Russia.

Unfortunately, Russia did not want to antagonize King George too much (and did not want its citizens overthrowing Catherine), so they did not officially recognize the United States as an independent nation.  Because of this, Dana was never fully accepted as a Minister.

After three years of trying to form an alliance, Dana returned home.

Dana then spent twenty years on the State Supreme Court.  Most of this time he sat as Chief Justice of Massachusetts.


Francis Dana helped organize the first government of the United States, then reorganize the Continental Army.  Although both of his foreign policy missions overseas were failures, the trust he was given by the Continental Congress speaks volumes about his abilities and his importance to the American Founding.

If your interested in more information regarding Francis Dana, you can find W. P. Cresson's authoritative text here.

For more on foreign policy during the American Revolution, check out 'A Global War.'

And if you haven't picked up the Book of the Month, now's the time to grab 'Plain, Honest Men.'  As always, we are affiliated with Amazon but our commission does not increase your purchase price.

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