Benjamin Franklin.

The private correspondence of Benjamin Franklin ... comprising a series of letters on miscellaneous, literary, and political subjects: written between the years 1753 and 1790; illustrating the memoirs of his public and private life, and developing the secret history of his political transactions and online

. (page 12 of 33)
Online LibraryBenjamin FranklinThe private correspondence of Benjamin Franklin ... comprising a series of letters on miscellaneous, literary, and political subjects: written between the years 1753 and 1790; illustrating the memoirs of his public and private life, and developing the secret history of his political transactions and → online text (page 12 of 33)
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Yesterday noon, Mr. William Vaughan of
London, came to my house with^ Mr. Laurens a son of


tlie President, and brought me a line from the latter, and
told me that the President was at Haerlem, and desired
to see me. I went out to Haerlem, and found my old
friend at the Golden Lion.

He told me he was come partly for his health, and the
pleasure of set ing me, and partly to converse with me,
and see if he had at present just ideas and views of things ;
at least to see if we agreed in sentiment, and having been
desired by several of the new ministry to do so.

1 asked him if he was at liberty ? He said, No, that he
was still under parole, but at liberty to say what he
pleased to me.

I told him that I could not communicate to him, being
a prisoner, even his own instructions, nor enter into any
consultations with him as one of our colleagues in the
commission for peace : that all I should say to him would
be as one private citizen conversing with another : but
that upon all such occasions 1 should reserve a right to
communicate whatever should pass to our colleagues and

He said, that Lord Shelburne and others of the new
ministers were anxious to know whether there was any
authority to treat of a separate peace, and whether there
could be an accommodation upon any terms short of in
dependence ; that he had ever answered them, that nothing
short of an express or tacit acknowledgment of our inde
pendence in his opinion would ever be accepted, and that
no treaty ever would or could be made separate from
France. He asked me if his answers had been right ? I
told him, I was fully of that opinion.

He said, that the new ministers had received Digges s
report, but his character was such that they did not chuse


to depend upon it : that a person by the name of Oswald,
I think, set off for Paris to see you, about the same time
that he came away to see me.

I desired him, between him and me, to consider, with
out saying any thing of it to the ministry, whether we
could ever have a real peace with Canada and Nova Scotia
in the hands of the English ? And whether we ought not
to insist at least upon a stipulation, that they should keep
no standing army or regular troops, nor erect any fortifica
tions on the frontiers of either ? That at present I saw no
motive that we had to be anxious for a peace, and if the
nation was not ripe for it upon proper terms, we might
wait patiently till they should be so.

I found the old gentleman perfectly sound in his system
of politics. He has a very poor opinion both of the in
tegrity and abilities of the new ministry, as well as the old.
He thinks they know not what they are about ; that they
are spoiled by the same insincerity, duplicity, falsehood,
and corruption, with the former. Lord Shelburne still
flatters the king with ideas of conciliation and separate
peace, &c. Yet the nation and the best men in it are for
an universal peace, and an express acknowledgment of
American independence, and many of the best are for
giving up Canada and Nova Scotia.

His design seemed to be solely to know how far
Digges s report was true, After an hour or two of con
versation, I returned to Amsterdam, and left him to return
to London.

These are all but artifices to raise the stocks, and if you
think of any method to put a stop to them, I will cheer
fully concur with you. They now know sufficiently, that
our commission is to treat of a general peace, and with


persons vested with equal powers : and if you agree to it,
I will never see another messenger that is not a plenipo

It is expected that the seventh province, Guelderland,
will this day acknowledge American independence. I
think we are in such a situation now that we ought not
upon any consideration to think of a truce, or any thing
short of an express acknowledgment of the sovereignty of
the United States. 1 should be glad, however, to know
your sentiments upon this point.

I have the honour to be, Sir, your most obedient and
most humble servant, JOHN ADAMS.

..I- .ieoi ;ti oi *i jww J o,y JN J~M

To the above, I immediately wrote the following an
swer. ,{. ,-u

SIR, Pass?/, April 20, 1782.

I have just received the honour of yours
dated the 16th instant, acquainting me with the interview
between your Excellency and Mr. Laurens. I am glad
to learn that his political sentiments coincide with ours,
and that there is a disposition in England to give us up
Canada and Nova Scotia.

I like your idea of seeing no more messengers that are
not plenipotentiaries ; but I cannot refuse seeing Mr. Os
wald again, as the minister here considered the letter to
me from Lord Shelburne as a kind of authority given that
messenger, and expects his return with some explicit pro
positions. I shall keep you advised of what passes.

The late act of parliament for exchanging A merican
prisoners as prisoners of war, according to the law of
nations, any thing in their commitments notwithstanding,


seemed a renunciation of their pretensions to try our
people as subjects guilty of high treason, and to be a
kind of tacit acknowledgment of our independence.
Having taken this step, it will be less difficult for them to
acknowledge it expressly. They are now preparing trans
ports to send the prisoners home. I yesterday sent the
passports desired of me.

Sir George Grand showed me a letter from Mr. Fizeaux
in which he said, that if advantage is taken of the present
enthusiasm in favour of America, a loan might be obtained
in Holland of five or six millions of florins for America ;
and if their house is impowered to open it, he has no
doubt of success ; but that no time is to be lost. I
earnestly recommend this matter to you, as extremely
necessary to the operations of our financier Mr. Morris,
who not knowing that the greatest part of the last five
millions had been consumed by purchase of goods, &c.
in Europe, writes me advice of large drafts that he shall
be obliged to make upon me this summer. This court
has granted us six millions of livres for the current year ;
but it will fall vastly short of our occasions, there being
large orders to fulfil, and near two millions and a half to
pay M. Beaumarchais, besides the interest of bills, &c.
The house of Fizeaux and Grand is now appointed banker
for France, by a special commission from the king, and
will on that as well as other accounts, be in my opinion
the fittest for this operation. Your Excellency being on
the spot, can better judge of the terms, &c. and manage
with that house the whole business, in which I should
be glad to have no other concern, than that of re
ceiving assistance from it when pressed by the dreaded


With great respect, I am, your Excellency s &c.


In reply to this Mr. Adams wrote to me as follows.

SIR, Amsterdam, May 2, 1782.

I am honoured with your favour of the 20th
April, and Mr. Laurens s son proposes to carry the letter
to his farther forthwith. The instructions by the courier
from Versailles came safe, as also other dispatches by that
channel no doubt will do. The correspondence with Mr.
Hartley, I received by Captain Smedley, and will take the
first good opportunity by a private hand to return it, as *
well as that with the Earl of Shelburne.

Mr. Laurens and Mr. Jay will I hope be able to meet
at Paris, but when it will be in my. power to go I know
not. Your present negociation about peace falls in very
well to aid a proposition which 1 am instructed to make,
as soon as the court of Versailles shall judge proper, of a
triple or quadruple alliance. This matter, the treaty of
commerce which is now under deliberation, and the loan
will render it improper for me to quit this station unless
in case of necessity. If there is a real disposition to per
mit Canada to accede to the American association, I
should think there could be no great difficulty in adjusting
all things between England and America, provided our
allies are contented too. In a former letter 1 hinted that
I thought an express acknowledgment of our indepen
dence might now be insisted on : but I did not mean that
we should insist upon such an article in the treaty. If
they make a treaty of peace with the United States of
America, this is acknowledgment enough for me. The


affair of a loan gives me much anxiety and fatigue. It is
true I may open a loan for five millions, but I confess I
have no hopes of obtaining so much. The money is not
to be had. Cash is not infinite in this country. Their
profits by trade have been ruined for two or three years ;
and there are loans open for France, Spain, England,
Russia, Sweden, Denmark, and several other powers, as
well as their own national, provincial and collegiate loans.
The undertakers are already loaded with burthens greater
than they can bear, and all the brokers in the republic are
so engaged, that there is scarcely a ducat to be lent but
what is promised.

This is the true cause why we shall not succeed ; yet
they will seek an hundred other pretences. It is consi
dered such an honour and such an introduction to Ameri
can trade to be the House/ that the eagerness to obtain the
title of American banker is prodigious. Various houses
have pretensions which they set up very high, and let me
chuse which I will, I am sure of a cry and a clamour. I
have taken some measures to endeavour to calm the heat
and give general satisfaction, but have as yet small hopes
of success. I would strike with any house that would in
sure the money, but none will undertake it now it is offer
ed, although several were very ready to affirm that they
could when it began to be talked of. Upon enquiry they
do not find the money easy to obtain, which I could have
told them before. It is to me personally perfectly indiffe
rent which is the house, and the only question is, which
will be able to do best for the interest of the United States.
This question however simple is not easy to answer. But
I think it clear, after very painful and laborious enquiries
for a year and a half, that no house whatever will be able


to do much. Enthusiasm at some times and in some
countries may do a great deal, but there has as yet been
no enthusiasm in this country for America, strong enough
to untie many purses. Another year, if the war should
continue, perhaps we may do better.

I have the honour to be, Sir, your most obedient and
most humble servant, J. ADAMS.

During Mr. Oswald s absence I received the following
from Mr. Laurens.

SIR, London, April 30, 1782.

I writ to you on the 7th instant by Mr.
Oswald, since which, that is to say on the 28th, I was ho
noured with the receipt of your letter of the 12th, inclosing
a copy of the commission for treating for peace, by the
hands of Mr. Young.

The recognizance exacted from me by the late ministry
has been vacated and done away by the present. These
have been pleased to enlarge me without formal conditions,
but as I would not consent that the United States of Ame
rica should be outdone in generosity, however late the
marks appeared on this side, I took upon me to assure
Lord Shelburne in a letter of acknowledgment for the part
which his lordship had taken for obtaining my release,
that Congress would not fail to make a just and adequate
return, the only return in my view is Lieutenant Gene
ral Lord Comwallis ; Congress were pleased to offer some
time ago a British Lieutenant General for my ransom, and
as I am informed the special exchange of Lord Corn-
wallis for the same subject was lately in contemplation, it
would afford me very great satisfaction to know that you


\villjoin me in cancelling the debt of honour which we
have impliedly incurred, by discharging his lordship from
the obligations of his parole ; for my own part, though
not a bold adventurer, I think I shall not commit myself
to the risque of censure by acting conjunctly with you in
such a bargain. I intreat you, Sir, at least to reflect on
this matter : I shall take the liberty of requesting your de
termination when I reach the continent, which will pro
bably happen in a few days. Lord Cornwallis, in a late
conversation with me, put the following case. Suppose,
said his lordship, it shall have been agreed in America that
Lord Cornwallis should be offered in exchange for Mr.
Laurens, do not you think, although you are now dis
charged, I ought to reap the intended benefit ? A reply
from the feelings of my heart, as I love fair play, was
prompt. Undoubtedly, my Lord, you ought to be, and
shall be in such case discharged, and I will venture to take
the burthen upon myself. Certain legal forms I appre
hend rendered the discharge of me without conditions un
avoidable, but I had previously refused to accept of my
self for nothing, and what I now aim at was understood
as an adequate return ; tis not to be doubted, his Lord
ship s question was built on this ground.

I had uniformly and explicitly declared to the people
here, people in the first rank of importance, that nothing
short of independence in terms of our alliances could in
duce America to treat for a truce or a peace, and that no
treaty could be had without the consent of our ally first
obtained : in a word, if you mean to have a peace you
must seek for a general peace. The doctrine was ill re
lished, especially by those, whose power only could set the
machine in motion, but having since my return from Haer-


lem asserted in very positive terms, that I was confirmed
in my former opinions, the late obduracy has been more
than a little softened, as you will soon learn from the wor
thy friend by whom I addressed you on the 7th, who two
days ago set out on his return to Passy and Versailles with
(as 1 believe) more permanent commission than the

Accept my thanks, Sir, for the kind offer of a supply of
money. I know too well how much you have been ha
rassed for that article, and too well, how low our Ameri
can finances in Europe are : therefore, if I can possibly
avoid it, L will not further trouble you, nor impoverish
them, or not till the last extremity : hitherto I have sup
ported myself without borrowing from any body, and I am
determined to continue living upon my own stock while it
lasts. The stock is indeed small : my expenses have been
and shall be in a suitably modest stile. I pray God to
bless you : I have the honour to be, Sir, your most obe
dient servant, HENRY LAURENS.

P. S. 1 judged it proper not only to show the peace
commission to Lord Shelburne, but to give his Lordship
a copy of it, from an opinion that it would work no evil
being shown elsewhere.

On the 4th May Mr. Oswald returned and brought me
the following letter from Lord Shelburne.

DEAR SIR, Shelburne House, April 28, 1782.

I have received much satisfaction in
being assured by you, that the qualifications of wisdom
and integrity, which induced me to make choice of Mr,


Oswald, as the fittest instrument for the renewal of our
friendly intercourse, have also recommended him so effec
tually to your approbation and esteem. I most heartily wish
that the influence of this first communication of our mu
tual sentiments may be extended to a happy conclusion of
all our public differences.

The candour with which M. le Comte de Vergennes
expresses his most Christian Majesty s sentiments and
wishes on the subject of a speedy pacification, is a pleas
ing omen of its accomplishment. His Majesty is not less
decided in the same sentiments and wishes, and it confirms
his Majesty s ministers in their intention to act in like
manner, as most consonant to the true dignity of a great

In consequence of these reciprocal advances Mr. Os
wald is sent back to Paris, for the purpose of arranging
and settling with you the preliminaries of time and place :
and, 1 have the pleasure to tell you, that Mr. Laurens is
already discharged from those engagements, which he en
tered into, when he was admitted to bail.

It is also determined that Mr. Fox, from whose depart
ment that communication is necessarily to proceed, shall
send a proper person, who may confer and settle imme
diately with M. de Vergennes the further measures and
proceedings which may be judged proper to adopt to
wards advancing the prosecution of this important busi
ness. In the mean time Mr. Oswald is instructed to
communicate to you my thoughts upon the principal ob
jects to be settled.

Transports are actually preparing for the purpose of
conveying your prisoners to America, to be there ex
changed, and we trust, that you will learn, that due atten-


tion has not been wanting to their accommodation and
good treatment.

I have the honour to be with very sincere respect, dear
Sir, your faithful and obedient servant, SHELBURNE.

Having read the letter, I mentioned to Mr. Oswald the
part which refers me to him for his Lordship s sentiments.
He acquainted me that they were very sincerely disposed
to peace ; that the whole ministry concurred in the same
dispositions ; that a good deal of confidence was placed
in my character for open honest dealing ; that it was also
generally believed I had still remaining some part of my
ancient affection and regard for Old England, and it was
hoped it might appear on this occasion. He then showed
me an extract from the minutes of council, but did not
leave the paper with me. As well as I remember it was
to this purpose.

At a Cabinet Council held April 27, 1782, present
Lord Rockinghani, Lord Chancellor, Lord President,
Lord Camden, &c. 8tc. (to the number of fifteen or twen
ty, being all ministers and great officers of state.)

" It was proposed to represent to his Majesty, that it
would be well for Mr. Oswald to return to Dr. Franklin
and acquaint him, that it is agreed to treat for a general
peace, and at Paris 9 and that the principal points in con
templation are, the allowing of American independence,
on condition that England be put into the same sitiration
that she was left in by the peace of 1763."

Mr. Oswald also informed me, that he had conversed

with Lord Shelburne on the subject of my paper of notes

relating to reconciliation. That he had shown him the

paper, and had been prevailed on to leave it with him a

VOL. ii. L


night, but it was on his Lordship s solemn promise of re
turning it, which had been complied with, and he now re
turned it to me. That it seemed to have made an im
pression, and he had reason to believe that matter might
be settled to our satisfaction towards the end of the treaty ;
but in his mind he wished it might not be mentioned at the
beginning. That his Lordship indeed said, he had not
imagined reparation would be expected ; and he won
dered I should not know whether it was intended to de
mand it. Finally Mr. Oswald acquainted me, that as the
business, now likely to be brought forward, more particu
larly appertained to the department of the other secretary,
Mr. Fox, he was directed to announce another agent com
ing from that department, who might be expected every
day, viz. the Honourable Mr. Grenville, brother of Lord
Temple, and son of the famous Mr. George Grenville,
formerly Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I immediately wrote the following note to M. le Comte
de Vergennes.

SIR, Passy, May 4, 1782.

I have the honour to acquaint your Excel
lency that Mr. Oswald is just returned from London, and
.tfiow with me. He has delivered me a letter from Lord
cfcelburne which I inclose for your perusal, together with
a copy of my letter to which it is an answer. He tells me,
that it has been agreed in council to treat at Paris, and to
treat of a general peace ; and that as it is more particu
larly in the department of Mr. Fox, to regulate the cir
cumstantials, a gentleman, (Mr. Grenville) to be sent by
him for that purpose, may be daily expected here. Mr,


Oswald will wait on your Excellency whenever you shall
think fit to receive him. I am with respect your Excel
lency s most obedient and most, &c. &c.


And the next day I received the following answer.

a Versailles, le 5 May, 1782.
J ai regu, Monsieur, la lettre que vous
m avez fait 1 honneur de m e"crire le 4 de ce mois, ainsi
que celles qui y etoient jointes. Je vous verrai avec pla-
sir avec votre ami demain matin a onze heures.

J ai Phonneur d etre sincerement, Monsieur, votre tre"s
humble et tres obeissant serviteur, DE VERGENNES.

Accordingly on Monday morning I went with Mr,
Oswald to Versailles, and we saw the minister. Mr. Os
wald acquainted him with the disposition of his court to
treat for a general peace and at Paris ; and he announced
Mr. Grenville, who he said was to set out about the same
time with him, but as he would probably come by way of
Ostend, might be a few days longer on the road. Some
general conversation passed, agreeable enough, but not of
importance. In our return Mr. Oswald repeated to me
his opinion, that the affair of Canada would be settled to
our satisfaction, and his wish that it might not be men
tioned till towards the end of the treaty. He intimated
too, that it was apprehended the greatest obstructions in
the treaty might come from the part of Spain ; but said if
she was unreasonable, there were means to bring her to
reason ; that Russia was a friend to England, had lately
made great discoveries ou the back of North America,


could make establishments there, and might easily trans
port an army from Kamschatka to the Coast of Mexico,
and conquer all those countries. This appeared to me
a little visionary at present, but I did not dispute it. On
the whole I was able to draw so little from Mr. O. of the
sentiments of Lord S. who had mentioned him as entrust
ed with the communication of them, that I could not but
\vonder at his being sent again to me, especially as Mr.
Grenville was so soon to follow.

On Tuesday I was at court as usual on that day, M. de
Vergennes asked me if Mr. Oswald had not opened him
self farther to me. 1 acquainted him with the sight I had
had of the minute of council, and of the loose expressions
contained in it of what was in contemplation. He seemed
to think it odd that he had brought nothing more explicit.
I supposed Mr. Grenville might be better furnished.

The next morning I wrote the following letter to Mr.

SIR, Passy, May 8, 1782.

Mr. Oswald, whom I mentioned in a former letter which i
find you have received, is returned, and brought me another
letter from Lord Shelburne of which the above is a copy.
It says, Mr. Oswald is instructed to communicate to me
his Lordship s thoughts. He is however very sparing of
such communication. All I have got from him is that
the ministry have in contemplation the " allowing Inde
pendence to America on condition of Britain being put
again into the state she was left in by the peace of 1763,"
\Vhich I suppose means being put again in possession of
the islands France has taken from her. This seems to me


a proposition of selling to us a thing that is already our
own, and making France pay the price they are pleased to
ask for it. Mr. Grenville, who is sent by Mr. Fox, is ex
pected here daily. Mr. Oswald tells me that Mr. Lau-
rens will soon be here also. Yours of the 2nd instant is
just come to hand. I shall write to you on this affair
hereafter by the Court couriers, for I am certain your let
ters to me are opened at the post office either here or in
Holland. 1 suppose mine to you are treated in the same
manner. I enclose the cover of jour last that you may
see the seal. With great respect I am, Sir, your Excel
lency s, &c. &c. B. FRANKLIN.

I had but just sent away this letter, when Mr. Oswald
came in, bringing with him Mr. Grenville, who was recently
arrived. He gave me the following letter from Mr. Se
cretary Fox.

SIR, St. James s, May, ], 1782.

Though Mr. Oswald will no doubt have
informed you of the nature of Mr. Grenville s commission,
yet I cannot refrain from mating use of the opportunity
his going offers me, to assure you of the esteem and re
spect which I have borne to your character, and to beg

Online LibraryBenjamin FranklinThe private correspondence of Benjamin Franklin ... comprising a series of letters on miscellaneous, literary, and political subjects: written between the years 1753 and 1790; illustrating the memoirs of his public and private life, and developing the secret history of his political transactions and → online text (page 12 of 33)