Benjamin Franklin
by John Torrey Morse, Jr.
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This leaving all to Deane might have been well enough had not Deane had an implacable enemy in Arthur Lee, who, for that matter, resembled the devil in at least one particular, inasmuch as he was the foe of all mankind. Beaumarchais early in the proceedings had summarily dropped Lee from his confidence and instated Deane in the vacancy. This was sufficient to set Lee at once at traducing, an art in which long experience had cultivated natural aptitude. He saw great sums of money being used, and he was not told whence they came. But he guessed, and upon his guess he built up a theory of financial knavery. Deane had repeatedly assured Beaumarchais that he should receive the cargoes of American produce with promptitude,[42] and he did his best to make these promises good, writing urgent letters to Congress to hasten forward the colonial merchandise. But Arthur Lee mischievously and maliciously blocked these perfectly straightforward and absolutely necessary arrangements. For he had conceived the notion that Beaumarchais was an agent of the French court, that the supplies were free gifts from the French government, and that any payments for them to Hortalez & Co. would only go to fill the rascal purses of Deane and Beaumarchais, confederates in a scheme for swindling. He had no particle of evidence to sustain this notion, which was simply the subtle conception of his own bad mind; but he was not the less positive and persistent in asserting it in his letters to members of Congress. Such accounts sadly puzzled that body; and it may be imagined to what a further hopeless degree of bewilderment this gathering of American lawyers and tradesmen, planters and farmers, must have been reduced by the extraordinary letters of the wild and fanciful Beaumarchais. The natural consequence was that the easier course was pursued, and no merchandise was sent to Hortalez. If affairs had not soon taken a new turn in France this error might have had disastrous consequences for the colonies. In fact, it only ruined poor Deane.

[Note 41: Franklin's Works, vi. 199, 205; viii. 153, 183; Hale's Franklin in France, i. 53.]

[Note 42: Hale's Franklin in France, i. 45.]

After this unfortunate man had been recalled, and while he was in great affliction at home because he could not get his reputation cleared from these Lee slanders, being utterly unable in America to produce even such accounts and evidence as might have been had in France, Franklin more than once volunteered to express kindly and emphatically his entire belief in Deane's integrity. So late as October, 1779, though admitting his lack of knowledge concerning an affair in which he had "never meddled," he still thought Deane "innocent." Finally in 1782, when Deane had become thoroughly demoralized by his hard fate, Franklin spoke of his fall not without a note of sympathy: "He resides at Ghent, is distressed both in mind and circumstances, raves and writes abundance, and I imagine it will end in his going over to join his friend Arnold in England. I had an exceedingly good opinion of him when he acted with me, and I believe he was then sincere and hearty in our cause. But he is changed, and his character ruined in his own country and in this, so that I see no other but England to which he can now retire. He says we owe him about L12,000 sterling."[43] But of this Franklin knew nothing, and proposed getting experts to examine the accounts. He did know very well, however, what it was to be accused by Arthur Lee, and would condemn no man upon that basis!

[Note 43: See also letter to Morris, March 30, 1782, Works, vii. 419; also viii. 225. In 1835 sufficient evidence was discovered to induce Congress to pay to the heirs of this unfortunate man a part of the sum due to him. Parton's Life of Franklin, ii. 362.]

Yet the matter annoyed him greatly. On June 12, 1781, he wrote acknowledging that he was absolutely in the dark about the whole business:—

"In 1776, being then in Congress, I received a letter from Mr. Lee, acquainting me that M. Beaumarchais had applied to him in London, informing him that 200,000 guineas had been put into his hands, and was at the disposal of the Congress; Mr. Lee added that it was agreed between them that he, M. Beaumarchais, should remit the same in arms, ammunition, etc., under the name of Hortalez & Co. Several cargoes were accordingly sent. Mr. Lee understood this to be a private aid from the government of France; but M. Beaumarchais has since demanded from Congress payment of a gross sum, as due to him, and has received a considerable part, but has rendered no particular account. I have, by order of Congress, desired him to produce his account, that we might know exactly what we owed, and for what; and he has several times promised it, but has not yet done it; and in his conversation he often mentions, as I am told, that we are greatly in his debt. These accounts in the air are unpleasant, and one is neither safe nor easy under them. I wish, therefore, you could help me to obtain a settlement of them. It has been said that Mr. Deane, unknown to his colleagues, wrote to Congress in favor of M. Beaumarchais's demand; on which Mr. Lee accuses him of having, to the prejudice of his constituents, negotiated a gift into a debt. At present all that transaction is in darkness;[44] and we know not whether the whole, or a part, or no part, of the supplies he furnished were at the expense of government, the reports we have had being so inconsistent and contradictory; nor, if we are in debt for them, or any part of them, whether it is the king or M. de Beaumarchais who is our creditor."[45]

[Note 44: Light was first let in upon this darkness by Louis de Lomenie, in his Beaumarchais et Son Temps; and the story as told by him may be read, in a spirited version, in Parton's Life of Franklin, chapters vii., viii.]

[Note 45: Hale's Franklin in France, i. 53.]

What chiefly irritated Congress against Deane and led to his recall was neither his dealings with Beaumarchais nor the slanders of Lee, but quite another matter, in which he certainly showed much lack of discretion. Cargoes of arms and munitions of war were very welcome in the States, but cargoes of French and other European officers were by no means so. Yet the inconsiderate Deane sent over these enthusiasts and adventurers in throngs. The outbreak of the rebellion seemed to arouse a spirit of martial pilgrimage in Europe, a sort of crusading ardor, which seized the Frenchmen especially, but also some few officers in other continental armies. These all flocked to Paris and told Deane that they were burning to give the insurgent States the invaluable assistance of their distinguished services. Deane was little accustomed to the highly appreciative rhetoric with which the true Frenchman frankly describes his own merit, and apparently accepted as correct the appraisal which these warriors made of themselves. Soon they alighted in swarms upon the American coast, besieged the doors of Congress, and mingled their importunities with all the other harassments of Washington. Each one of them had his letter from Deane, reciting the exaggerated estimate of his capacity, and worse still each one was armed with Deane's promise that he should hold in the American army a rank one grade higher than he had held in his home service. To keep these unauthorized pledges would have resulted in the resignation of all the good American officers, and in the utter disorganization of the army. So the inevitable outcome was that the disappointed adventurers became furious; that Congress, greatly annoyed, went to heavy expenses in sending them back again to Europe, and in giving some douceurs, which could be ill afforded by the giver and were quite insufficient to prevent the recipients from spreading at home their bitter grudge against the young republic. Altogether it was a bad business.

No sooner was Franklin's foot on French soil than the same eager horde assailed him. But they found a respondent very different from Deane. Franklin had experience. He knew the world and men; and now his tranquil judgment and firmness saved him and the applicants alike from further blunders. His appreciation of these fiery and priceless gallants, who so dazzled the simple-minded Deane, is shown with charming humor in his effort to say a kindly word for his unfortunate colleague. He did not wonder, he said, that Deane,—

"being then a stranger to the people, and unacquainted with the language, was at first prevailed on to make some such agreements, when all were recommended, as they always are, as officiers experimentes, braves comme leurs epees, pleins de courage, de talent, et de zele pour notre cause, etc., etc.; in short, mere Caesars, each of whom would have been an invaluable acquisition to America. You can have no conception how we are still besieged and worried on this head, our time cut to pieces by personal applications, besides those contained in dozens of letters by every post.... I hope therefore that favorable allowance will be made to my worthy colleague on account of his situation at the time, as he has long since corrected that mistake, and daily approves himself, to my certain knowledge, an able, faithful, active, and extremely useful servant of the public; a testimony I think it my duty of taking this occasion to make to his merit, unasked, as, considering my great age, I may probably not live to give it personally in Congress, and I perceive he has enemies."

But however firmly and wisely Franklin stood out against the storm of importunities he could not for a long time moderate it. He continued to be "besieged and worried," and to have his time "cut to pieces;" till at last he wrote to a friend: "You can have no conception how I am harassed. All my friends are sought out and teased to tease me. Great officers of all ranks, in all departments, ladies great and small, besides professed solicitors, worry me from morning to night. The noise of every coach now that enters my court terrifies me. I am afraid to accept an invitation to dine abroad.... Luckily I do not often in my sleep dream of these vexatious situations, or I should be afraid of what are now my only hours of comfort.... For God's sake, my dear friend, let this, your twenty-third application, be your last."

His plain-spoken replies, however harshly they may have struck upon Gallic sensitiveness, at least left no room for any one to misunderstand him. "I know that officers, going to America for employment, will probably be disappointed," he wrote; "that our armies are full; that there are a number of expectants unemployed and starving for want of subsistence; that my recommendation will not make vacancies, nor can it fill them to the prejudice of those who have a better claim." He also wrote to Washington, to whom the letter must have brought joyous relief, that he dissuaded every one from incurring the great expense and hazard of the long voyage, since there was already an over-supply of officers and the chance of employment was extremely slight.[46]

[Note 46: As an example of the manner in which Franklin sometimes was driven to express himself, his letter to M. Lith is admirable. This gentleman had evidently irritated him somewhat, and Franklin demolished him with a reply in that plain, straightforward style of which he was a master, in which appeared no anger, but sarcasm of that severest kind which lies in a simple statement of facts. I regret that there is not space to transcribe it, but it may be read in his Works, vi. 85.]

The severest dose which he administered must have made some of those excitable swords quiver in their scabbards. He drew up and used this


"Sir,—The bearer of this, who is going to America, presses me to give him a letter of recommendation, though I know nothing of him, not even his name. This may seem extraordinary, but I assure you it is not uncommon here. Sometimes, indeed, one unknown person brings another equally unknown to recommend him; and sometimes they recommend one another! As to this gentleman, I must refer you to himself for his character and merits, with which he is certainly better acquainted than I can possibly be. I recommend him however to those civilities, which every stranger, of whom one knows no harm, has a right to; and I request you will do him all the good offices and show him all the favor, that, on further acquaintance, you shall find him to deserve. I have the honor to be, &c."

It would be entertaining to know how many of these letters were delivered, and in what phrases of French courtesy gratitude was expressed for them. Sometimes, if any one persisted, in spite of discouragement, in making the journey at his own cost, and, being forewarned, also at his own risk of disappointment, Franklin gave him a letter strictly confined to the scope of a civil personal introduction. Possibly, now and again, some useful officer may have been thus deterred from crossing the water; but any such loss was compensated several hundredfold by shutting off the intolerable inundation of useless foreigners. Nor was Franklin wanting in discretion in the matter; for he commended Lafayette and Steuben by letters, which had real value from the fact of the extreme rarity of such a warranty from this source.

Franklin was little given to political prophecy, but it is interesting to read a passage written shortly after his arrival, May 1, 1777:—

"All Europe is on our side of the question, as far as applause and good wishes can carry them. Those who live under arbitrary power do nevertheless approve of liberty, and wish for it; they almost despair of recovering it in Europe; they read the translations of our separate colony constitutions with rapture; and there are such numbers everywhere who talk of removing to America, with their families and fortunes, as soon as peace and our independence shall be established, that it is generally believed that we shall have a prodigious addition of strength, wealth, and arts from the emigration of Europe; and it is thought that to lessen or prevent such emigrations, the tyrannies established there must relax, and allow more liberty to their people. Hence it is a common observation here that our cause is the cause of all mankind, and that we are fighting for their liberty in defending our own. It is a glorious task assigned us by Providence, which has, I trust, given us spirit and virtue equal to it, and will at last crown it with success."

The statesmanship of the time-honored European school, ably practiced by de Vergennes, was short-sighted and blundering in comparison with this broad appreciation of the real vastness and far-reaching importance of that great struggle betwixt the Old and the New.



No sooner had the war taken on an assured character than many quick-eyed and adventurous Americans, and Franklin among the first, saw irresistible temptation and great opportunity in that enormous British commerce which whitened all the seas. The colonists of that day, being a seafaring people with mercantile instincts, were soon industriously engaged in the lucrative field of maritime captures. Franklin recommended the fortifying of three or four harbors into which prizes could be safely carried. Nothing else, he said, would give the new nation "greater weight and importance in the eyes of the commercial states." Privateering is not always described by such complimentary and dignified language, but the practical-minded rebel spoke well of that which it was so greatly to the advantage of his countrymen to do. After arriving in France he found himself in a position to advance this business very greatly. Conyngham, Wickes, with others only less famous, all active and gallant men as ever trod a deck, took the neighboring waters as their chosen scene of action, and very soon were stirring up a commotion such as Englishmen had never experienced before. They harried the high, and more especially the narrow, seas with a success at least equal to that of the Alabama, while some of them differed from Semmes and his compeers in being as anxious to fight as the Southern captains were to avoid fighting. Prize after prize they took and carried into port, or burned and sank; prisoners they had more than they knew what to do with; they frightened the underwriters so that in London the insurance against capture ran up to the ruinous premium of sixty per cent. The Lisbon and the Dutch packets fell victims, and insurance of boats plying between Dover and Calais went to ten per cent. Englishmen began to feel that England was blockaded! We are not so familiar as we ought to be with the interesting record of all these audacious and brilliant enterprises, conducted with dare-devil recklessness by men who would not improbably have been hanged both as pirates and as traitors, had fortune led to their capture at this moment of British rage and anxiety.[47]

[Note 47: In fact, Conyngham, being at last captured, narrowly escaped this fate.]

All this cruising was conducted under the auspices of Franklin. To him these gallant rovers looked for instructions and suggestions, for money and supplies. He had to issue commissions, to settle personal misunderstandings, to attend to questions of prize money, to soothe unpaid mutineers, to advise as to the purchase of ships, and as to the enterprises to be undertaken; in a word, he was the only American government which these independent sailors knew. The tax thus laid upon him was severe, for he was absolutely without experience in such matters.

There was one labor, however, in this connection, which properly fell within his department, and in this his privateersmen gave him abundant occupation. It was to stand between them and the just wrath and fatal interference of the French government. Crude as international law was in those days, it was far from being crude enough for the strictly illegitimate purposes of these vikings. What they expected was to buy, equip, man, and supply their vessels in French ports, to sail out on their prize-taking excursions, and, having captured their fill, to return to these same ports, and there to have their prizes condemned, to sell their booty, to refit and re-supply, and then to sally forth again. In short, an Englishman would have been puzzled to distinguish a difference between the warlike ports of America and the neutral ports of France, save as he saw that the latter, being nearer, were much the more injurious. But de Vergennes had no notion of being used for American purposes in this jeopardizing style. He did not mean to have a war with England, if he could avoid it; so he gave to the harbor masters orders which greatly annoyed and surprised the American captains, "extraordinary" orders, as these somewhat uninstructed sea-dogs described them in their complaining letters to Franklin. They thought it an outrage that the French minister should refuse to have English prizes condemned within French jurisdiction, and that he should not allow them to refit and to take on board cannon and ammunition at Nantes or Rochelle. They called upon Franklin to check these intolerable proceedings. Their audacious and boundless insolence is very entertaining to read, especially if, in connection therewith, we call to mind the history of the "Alabama outrages."

Franklin knew, just as well as de Vergennes did, that the French ministry was all the time favoring the privateersmen and cruisers far beyond the law, and that it was ready to resort to as many devices as ingenuity could concoct for that purpose; also that the Americans by their behavior persistently violated all reason and neutral toleration. Nevertheless he stood gallantly by his own, and in one case after another he kept corresponding with de Vergennes under pretense of correcting misrepresentations, presenting requests, and arguing points, until, by the time thus gained, the end was achieved. The truth was that Franklin's duty was to get from France just as much aid, direct and indirect, as could be either begged or filched from her. Such orders could not be written down in plain words in his instructions, but none the less they lurked there not illegible to him among the lines. He obeyed them diligently. France was willing to go fully as far as she could with safety; his function was to push, to pull, to entice, even to mislead, in order to make her go farther. Perhaps it was a fair game; France had her interest to see Great Britain dismembered and weakened, but not herself to fight other people's battles; the colonies had their interest to get France into the fight if they possibly could. It was a strictly selfish interest, and was pursued almost shamelessly. The colonial policy and the details of its execution are defensible simply on the basis that nations in their dealings with each other are always utterly selfish and generally utterly unscrupulous. By and by, when it comes to the treating for peace between England and the colonies, we shall find de Vergennes much reviled because he pursued exclusively French interests; but it will be only fair to reflect that little more can be charged against him than that he was playing the game with cards drawn from the same pack which the Americans had used in these earlier days of the war.


A matter which grew out of privateering gave Franklin much trouble. The American captains, who were cruising on the European side of the Atlantic prior to the treaty of alliance with France, had no place in which to deposit their prisoners. They could not often send them to the States, neither of course could they accumulate them on board their ships, nor yet store them, so to speak, in France and Spain; for undeveloped as were the rules of neutrality they at least forbade the use of neutral prisons for the keeping of English prisoners of war in time of peace. Meanwhile the colonial captives, in confinement just across the Channel, in the prisons at Plymouth and Portsmouth, were subjected to very harsh treatment; and others were even being sent to the fort of Senegal on the coast of Africa, and to the East Indies, whence they could not hope ever to regain their homes. Franklin immediately resolved, if possible, to utilize these assets in the shape of English sailors in the usual course of exchange. A letter was accordingly addressed by him to Lord Stormont, asking whether it would be worth while to approach the British court with an offer to exchange one hundred English prisoners in the hands of the captain of the Reprisal for a like number of American sailors from the English prisons. The note was a simple interrogatory in proper form of civility. No answer was received. After a while a second letter was prepared, less formal, more forcible in statement and argument, and in the appeal to good sense and decent good feeling. This elicited from his lordship a brief response: "The king's ambassador receives no applications from rebels, unless they come to implore his majesty's mercy." The commissioners indignantly rejoined: "In answer to a letter which concerns some of the most material interests of humanity, and of the two nations, Great Britain and the United States of America, now at war, we received the inclosed indecent paper, as coming from your lordship, which we return for your lordship's more mature consideration."

The technical position of the English in this business was that the captured Americans were not prisoners of war, but traitors. Their practical position was that captains of American privateers, not finding it a physical possibility to keep their prisoners, would erelong be obliged to let them go without exchange. This anticipation turned out to be correct, and so far justified their refusal; for soon some five hundred English sailors got their freedom as a necessity, without any compensatory freeing of Americans. Each of them gave a solemn promise in writing to obtain the release of an American prisoner in return; but he had as much authority to hand over the Tower of London, and the British government was not so romantically chivalrous as to recognize pledges entered into by foremast hands.

All sorts of stories continued to reach Franklin's ears as to the cruelty which his imprisoned countrymen had to endure. He heard that they were penniless and could get no petty comforts; that they suffered from cold and hunger, and were subjected to personal indignities; that they were not allowed to read a newspaper or to write a letter; that they were all committed by a magistrate on a charge of high treason, and were never allowed to forget their probable fate on the gibbet; that some of them, as has been said, were deported to distant and unwholesome English possessions. For the truth of these accounts it is not necessary to believe that the English government was intentionally brutal; but it was neglectful and indifferent, and those who had prisoners in charge felt assured that no sympathy for rebels would induce an investigation into peculations or unfeeling behavior. Moreover there was a deliberate design, by terror and discouragement, to break the spirit of the so-called traitors and persuade them to become real traitors by entering the English service.

By all these tales Franklin's zeal in the matter of exchange was greatly stimulated. His humane soul revolted at keeping men who were not criminals locked up in wasting misery, when they might be set free upon terms of perfect equality between the contending parties. Throughout his correspondence on this subject there is a magnanimity, a humanity, a spirit of honesty and even of honor so extraordinary, or actually unique, in dealings between diplomats and nations, that the temptation is irresistible to give a fuller narrative than the intrinsic importance of the subject would warrant. For after all there were never many English prisoners in France to be exchanged; after a while they might be counted by hundreds, but perhaps they never rose to a total of one thousand.

There was at this time in England a man to whose memory Americans ought to erect statues. This was David Hartley. He was a gentleman of the most liberal and generous sentiments, an old and valued friend of Franklin, member of Parliament for Hull, allied with the opposition in this matter of the American war, but personally on good terms with Lord North. He had not very great ability; he wrote long letters, somewhat surcharged with morality and good-feeling. One would expect to hear that he was on terms of admiring intimacy with his contemporary, the good Mrs. Barbauld. But he had those opportunities which come only to men whose excellence of character and purity of motive place them above suspicion,—opportunities which might have been shut off from an abler man, and which he now used with untiring zeal and much efficiency in behalf of the American prisoners. Lord North did not hesitate to permit him to correspond with Franklin, and he long acted as a medium of communication more serviceable than Lord Stormont had been. Furthermore Hartley served as almoner to the poor fellows, and pushed a private subscription in England to raise funds for securing to them reasonable comforts. There were responsive hearts and purses, even for rebels, among his majesty's subjects, and a considerable sum was collected.

Franklin's first letter to Hartley on this subject, October 14, 1777, has something of bitterness in its tone, with much deep feeling for his countrymen, whose reputed woes he narrates. "I can assure you," he adds, "from my certain knowledge, that your people, prisoners in America, have been treated with great kindness, having had the same rations of wholesome provisions as our own troops," "comfortable lodgings" in healthy villages, with liberty "to walk and amuse themselves on their parole." "Where you have thought fit to employ contractors to supply your people, these contractors have been protected and aided in their operations. Some considerable act of kindness towards our people would take off the reproach of inhumanity in that respect from the nation and leave it where it ought with more certainty to lie, on the conductors of your war in America. This I hint to you out of some remaining good will to a nation I once loved sincerely. But as things are, and in my present temper of mind, not being over-fond of receiving obligations, I shall content myself with proposing that your government should allow us to send or employ a commissary to take some care of those unfortunate people. Perhaps on your representations this might be obtained in England, though it was refused most inhumanly at New York."

In December following he had arranged with Major Thornton, "who appears a man of humanity," to visit the prisons and give relief to the prisoners, and he hopes that Thornton "may obtain permission for that purpose." "I have wished," he added, "that some voluntary act of compassion on the part of your government towards those in your power had appeared in abating the rigors of their confinement, and relieving their pressing necessities, as such generosity towards enemies has naturally an effect in softening and abating animosity in their compatriots, and disposing to reconciliation." Of such unconventional humanity was he!

Hartley met Franklin's ardent appeals with responsive ardor. May 29, 1778, he writes that he will press the point of exchange as much as he can, "which in truth," he says, "I have done many times since I saw you; but official departments move slowly here. A promise of five months is yet unperformed." But a few days later, June 5, he is "authorized" to propose that Franklin should send to him "the number and rank of the prisoners, upon which an equal number shall be prepared upon this side for the exchange." Franklin at once demanded lists from his captains, and replied to Hartley: "We desire and expect that the number of ours shall be taken from Forton and Plymouth, in proportion to the number in each place, and to consist of those who have been longest in confinement." He then made this extraordinary suggestion: "If you think proper to clear all your prisoners at once, and give us all our people, we give you our solemn engagement, which we are sure will be punctually executed, to deliver to Lord Howe in America, or to his order, a number of your sailors equal to the surplus, as soon as the agreement arrives there." It is easy to fancy a British minister thrusting his tongue into his cheek as this simple-minded proposal of the plain-dealing colonist was read to him. The only occasion on which Franklin showed ignorance of diplomacy was in assuming, in this matter of the prisoners, that honesty and honor were bases of dealing between public officials in international matters.

He suggested also retaining a distinction between sailors of the navy and of the commercial marine. After repeated applications to the Board of Admiralty, Hartley was only able to reply to all Franklin's proposals that no distinction could be made between the naval and merchant services, because all the Americans were "detained under commitments from some magistrate, as for high treason."

July 13, 1778, Franklin remitted to Hartley the lists of English prisoners. September 14 he recurs again to the general release: "You have not mentioned whether the proposition of sending us the whole of those in your prisons was agreed to. If it is, you may rely on our sending immediately all that come to our hands for the future; or we will give you, [at] your option, an order for the balance to be delivered to your fleet in America. By putting a little confidence in one another, we may thus diminish the miseries of war." Five days later he took a still more romantic position: heretofore, he said, the American commissioners had encouraged and aided the American prisoners to try to escape; "but if the British government should honorably keep their agreement to make regular exchanges, we shall not think it consistent with the honor of the United States to encourage such escapes, or to give any assistance to such as shall escape."

Yet at the same time he showed himself fully able to conduct business according to the usual commonplace method. This same letter closes with a threat under the lex talionis: "We have now obtained permission of this government to put all British prisoners, whether taken by continental frigates or by privateers, into the king's prisons; and we are determined to treat such prisoners precisely as our countrymen are treated in England, to give them the same allowance of provisions and accommodations, and no other." He was long obliged to reiterate the like menaces.[48]

[Note 48: Hale's Franklin in France, i. 352.]

October 20, 1778, he reverts to his favorite project: "I wish their lordships could have seen it well to exchange upon account; but though they may not think it safe trusting to us, we shall make no difficulty in trusting to them;" and he proposes that, if the English will "send us over 250 of our people, we will deliver all we have in France;" if these be less than two hundred and fifty, the English may take back the surplus Americans; but if these be more than two hundred and fifty, Franklin says that he will nevertheless deliver them all in expectation that he will receive back an equivalent for the surplus. "We would thus wish to commence, by this first advance, that mutual confidence which it would be for the good of mankind that nations should maintain honorably with each other, tho' engaged in war."

November 19, 1778, nothing has been achieved, and he gets impatient: "I have heard nothing from you lately concerning the exchange of the prisoners. Is that affair dropt? Winter is coming on apace." January 25, 1779: "I a long time believed that your government were in earnest in agreeing to an exchange of prisoners. I begin now to think I was mistaken. It seems they cannot give up the pleasing idea of having at the end of the war 1000 Americans to hang for high treason." Poor Hartley had been working with all the energy of a good man in a good cause; but he was in the painful position of having no excuse to offer for the backwardness of his government.

February 22, 1779, brought more reproaches from Franklin. Months had elapsed since he had heard that the cartel ship was prepared to cross the Channel, but she had never come. He feared that he had been "deceived or trifled with," and proposed sending Edward Bancroft on a special mission to England, if a safe conduct could be procured. At last, on March 30, Hartley had the pleasure of announcing that the exchange ship had "sailed the 25th instant from Plymouth." Franklin soon replied that the transaction was completed, and gave well-earned thanks to Hartley for his "unwearied pains in that affair."

Thus after infinite difficulty the English government had been pushed into conformity with the ordinary customs of war among civilized nations. Yet subsequent exchanges seem to have been effected only after every possible obstacle had been contumaciously thrown in the way by the English and patiently removed by Franklin. The Americans were driven to various devices. The captains sometimes released their prisoners at sea upon the written parole of each either to secure the return of an American, or to surrender himself to Franklin in France. In November, 1781, Franklin had about five hundred of these documents, "not one of which," he says, "has been regarded, so little faith and honor remain in that corrupted nation." At last, after France and Spain had joined in the war, Franklin arranged that the American captors might lodge their prisoners in French and Spanish prisons.

Under flags of truce two cargoes of English sailors were dispatched from Boston to England; but the English refused to reciprocate. "There is no getting anything from these barbarians," said Franklin, "by advances of civility or humanity." Then much trouble arose because the French borrowed from Franklin some English prisoners for exchange in Holland, and returned to him a like number a little too late for delivery on board the cartel ship, which had brought over one hundred Americans. Thereupon the Englishmen charged Franklin with "breach of faith," and with "deceiving the Board," and put a stop to further exchanging. This matter was, of course, set right in time. But the next point made by the admiralty was that they would make no exchanges with Franklin except for English sailors taken by American cruisers, thus excluding captives taken by the privateersmen. Franklin, much angered at the thwarting of his humane and reasonable scheme, said that they had "given up all pretensions to equity and honor." In his disappointment he went a little too far; if he had said "liberality and humanity" instead of "equity and honor" he would have kept within literal truth. To meet this last action on the part of England he suggested to Congress: "Whether it may not be well to set apart 500 or 600 English prisoners, and refuse them all exchange in America, but for our countrymen now confined in England?"

Another thing which vexed him later was that the English government would not give the Americans an "equal allowance" with the French and Spanish prisoners. He suggested retaliation upon a certain number of English prisoners in America. He himself was constantly remitting money to be distributed to the American prisoners, at the rate of one shilling apiece each week. But he had the pain to hear that the wretched fellow, one Digges, to whom he sent the funds, embezzled much of them. "If such a fellow is not damned," he said, "it is not worth while to keep a devil." One prisoner of distinction, Colonel Laurens, captured on his way to France, complained that Franklin did not show sufficient zeal in his behalf. But he made the assertion in ignorance of Franklin's efforts, which for a long while Franklin had reason to believe had been successful in securing kind and liberal treatment for this captive.

In all this business Franklin ought to have received efficient assistance from Thomas Morris, who held the position of commercial agent for the States at Nantes, and who might properly have extended his functions to include so much of the naval business as required personal attention at that port. But he turned out to be a drunken rascal, active only in mischief. Thereupon, early in 1777, Franklin employed a nephew of his own from Boston, Jonathan Williams, not to supersede Morris in the commercial department, but to take charge of the strictly naval affairs, which were construed to include all matters pertaining to warships, privateers, and prizes. This action became the source of much trouble. It was a case of nepotism, of course, which was unfortunate; yet there was an absolute necessity to engage some one for these duties, and there was scant opportunity for choice. During the year that Williams held the office there is no reason to believe that he did not prove himself both efficient and honest. Robert Morris, however, whose brother Thomas was, and who had obtained for him the commercial office, was much offended, and it was not until in the course of time he received masses of indisputable evidence of his brother's worthlessness, that he was placated. Then at length he wrote a frank, pathetic letter, in which he acknowledged that he had been misled by natural affection, and that his resentment had been a mistake.

Arthur Lee also poured the destructive torrent of his malignant wrath over the ill-starred Williams. For William Lee pretended to find his province and his profits also trenched upon. The facts were that he was appointed to the commercial agency jointly with Thomas Morris; but shortly afterward he was promoted to the diplomatic service, and left Nantes for a permanent stay in Paris. He did not formally vacate his agency, but practically he abandoned it by rendering himself unable to attend to its duties. So even if by any construction he could have established a show of right to conduct the naval business, at least he never was on hand to do so. These considerations, however, did not in the least mitigate the rage of the Lee brethren, who now brought a great variety of charges. Franklin, they said, had no authority to make the appointment, and Williams was a knave engaged in a scandalous partnership with Deane to make money dishonestly out of the public business, especially the prizes. The quarrel continued unabated when John Adams arrived, in 1778, as joint commissioner with Franklin and Arthur Lee. At once the active Lee besieged the ear of the newcomer with all his criminations; and he must have found a ready listener, for so soon as the fourth day after his arrival Adams felt himself sufficiently informed to take what was practically judicial action in the matter. He declared upon Lee's side. The two then signed an order for Williams's dismissal, and presented it to Franklin. It was discourteous if not insulting behavior to an old man and the senior commissioner; but Franklin wisely said not a word, and added his signature to those of his colleagues. The rest of the story is the familiar one of many cases: the agent made repeated demands for the appointment of an accountant to examine his accounts, and Franklin often and very urgently preferred the same request. But the busy Congress would not bother itself ever so little with a matter no longer of any practical moment. Lee's charges remained unrefuted, though not a shadow of justifiable suspicion rested upon Franklin's unfortunate nephew.



The enthusiastic reception of Franklin in France was responded to by him with a bearing so cheerful and words so encouraging that all the auguries for America seemed for a while of the best. For he was sanguine by nature, by resolution, and by policy; and his way of alluring good fortune was to welcome it in advance. But in fact there were clouds enough floating in the sky, and soon they expanded and obscured the transitory brightness. Communication between the two continents was extremely slow; throughout the war intervals occurred when for long and weary months no more trustworthy news reached Paris than the rumors which got their coloring by filtration through Great Britain. Thus in the dread year of 1777, there traveled across the Channel tales that Washington was conducting the remnant of his forces in a demoralized retreat; that Philadelphia had fallen before Howe; that Burgoyne, with a fine army, was moving to bisect the insurgent colonies from the north. It was very well for Franklin, when told that Howe had taken Philadelphia, to reply: "No, sir: Philadelphia has taken Howe." The jest may have relieved the stress of his mind, as President Lincoln used often to relieve his own over-taxed endurance in the same way. But the undeniable truth was that it looked much as if the affair, to use Franklin's words, would prove to be a "rebellion" and not a "revolution." Still, any misgivings which he may have inwardly felt found no expression, and to no one would he admit the possibility of such an ultimate outcome. Late in the autumn of this dismal year he wrote:—

"You desire to know my opinion of what will probably be the end of this war, and whether our new establishments will not be thereby again reduced to deserts. I do not, for my part, apprehend much danger of so great an evil to us. I think we shall be able, with a little help, to defend ourselves, our possessions, and our liberties so long that England will be ruined by persisting in the wicked attempt to destroy them.... And I sometimes flatter myself that, old as I am, I may possibly live to see my country settled in peace, when Britain shall make no more a formidable figure among the powers of Europe."

But though Franklin might thus refuse to despair for his country, the French ministry were not to be blamed if they betrayed an increased reserve in their communications with men who might soon prove to be traitors instead of ambassadors, and if they were careful to stop short of actually bringing on a war with England. It was an anxious period for Franklin when the days wore slowly into months and the months lengthened almost into a year, during which he had no trustworthy information as to all the ominous news which the English papers and letters brought.

In this crisis of military affairs the anxious envoys felt that the awful burden of their country's salvation not improbably rested upon them. If they could induce France to come to the rescue, all would be well; if they could not, the worst might be feared. Yet in this mortal jeopardy they saw France growing more guarded in her conduct, while in vain they asked themselves, in an agony, what influence it was possible for them to exert. At the close of November, 1777, they conferred upon the matter. Mr. Deane was in favor of demanding from the French court a direct answer to the question, whether or not France would come openly to the aid of the colonies; and he advised that de Vergennes should be distinctly told that, if France should decline, the colonies would be obliged to seek an accommodation with Great Britain. But Dr. Franklin strenuously opposed this course. The effect of such a declaration seemed to him too uncertain; France might take it as a menace; she might be induced by it to throw over the colonies altogether, in despair or anger. Neither would he admit that the case was in fact so desperate; the colonies might yet work out their own safety, with the advantage in that event of remaining more free from any European influence. The soundness of this latter argument was afterward abundantly shown by the history of the country during the first three administrations. Fortunately upon this occasion Lee sided with Franklin, and the untimely trial of French friendship was not made. Had it been, it would have been more likely to jeopardize forever than to precipitate the good fortune which, though still invisible, was close at hand.

It was not until December 4, 1777, that there broke a great and sudden rift in the solid cloudiness. First there came a vague rumor of good news, no one at all knew what; then a post-chaise drove into Dr. Franklin's courtyard, and from it hastily alighted the young messenger, Jonathan Loring Austin, whom Congress had sent express from Philadelphia, and who had accomplished an extraordinarily rapid journey. The American group of envoys and agents were all there, gathered by the mysterious report which had reached them, and at the sound of the wheels they ran out into the courtyard and eagerly surrounded the chaise. "Sir," exclaimed Franklin, "is Philadelphia taken?" "Yes, sir," replied Austin; and Franklin clasped his hands and turned to reenter the house. But Austin cried that he bore greater news: that General Burgoyne and his whole army were prisoners of war! At the words the glorious sunshine burst forth. Beaumarchais, the ecstatic, sprang into his carriage and drove madly for the city to spread the story; but he upset his vehicle and dislocated his arm. The envoys hastily read and wrote; in a few hours Austin was again on the road, this time bound to de Vergennes at Versailles, to tell the great tidings. Soon all Paris got the news and burst into triumphant rejoicing over the disaster to England.

Austin's next errand was a secret and singular one. Franklin managed throughout his residence in France to maintain a constant communication with the opposition party in England. He now thought it wise to enable them to obtain full information from an intelligent man who was not many weeks absent from the States. Accordingly he dispatched Austin, using extreme precautions of secrecy, making him "burn every letter which he had brought from his friends in America," but giving him in exchange two other letters, which certainly introduced him to strange society for an American "rebel" to frequent. During his visit he was "domesticated in the family of the Earl of Shelburne; placed under the particular protection of his chaplain, the celebrated Dr. Priestley; introduced" to George IV., then Prince of Wales, with whom was Charles Fox, and was "present at all the coteries of the opposition." Almost every evening he was invited to dinner-parties, at which the company was chiefly composed of members of Parliament, and they plied him with interrogations about his country and its affairs, so that, as he reported, "no question which you can conceive is omitted."[49] He answered well, and rendered service as good as it was singular, for which Franklin was probably the only American who could have furnished the opening. The adventure brings to mind some of the Jacobite tales of Sir Walter Scott's novels.

[Note 49: Parton's Life of Franklin, ii. 307.]

One half of the advantages accruing from "General Burgoyne's capitulation to Mr. Gates"—such was the Tory euphemism, somewhat ill considered, since it implied that the gallant British commander had capitulated to a civilian—was to be reaped in Europe. The excellent Hartley was already benevolently dreaming of effecting an accommodation between the two contestants; and seeing clearly that an alliance with France must be fatal to any such project, he closed a letter on February 3, 1778, to Franklin, by "subjoining one earnest caution and request: Let nothing ever persuade America to throw themselves into the arms of France. Times may mend. I hope they will. An American must always be a stranger in France; Great Britain may for ages to come be their home." This was as kindly in intention as it was bad in grammatical construction; but it was written from a point of view very different from that which an American could adopt. Franklin promptly replied: "When your nation is hiring all the cut-throats it can collect, of all countries and colors, to destroy us, it is hard to persuade us not to ask or accept aid from any power that may be prevailed with to grant it; and this only from the hope that, though you now thirst for our blood, and pursue us with fire and sword, you may in some future time treat us kindly. This is too much patience to be expected of us; indeed, I think it is not in human nature."

A few days later he transposed Hartley's advice, not without irony: "Let nothing induce [the English Whigs] to join with the Tories in supporting and continuing this wicked war against the Whigs of America, whose assistance they may hereafter want to secure their own liberties, or whose country they may be glad to retire to for the enjoyment of them." Hartley must have had a marvelous good temper, if he read without resentment the very blunt and severe replies which Franklin a little mercilessly made to the other's ever temperate and amiable letters.

Hartley's advice, if not acceptable, was at least timely. At the very moment when he warned America against taking refuge in the arms of France, the colonists were joyously springing into that international embrace. The victory at Saratoga had at last settled that matter. On December 6, 1777, two days after the news was received, M. Gerard called upon the envoys and said that the capacity of the colonies to maintain their independence could no longer be doubted, and that the French court would be pleased by a renewal of their proposals for an alliance. On December 8 a request for an alliance was placed by young Temple Franklin in the hands of de Vergennes. On December 12 the cabinet met; also Arthur Lee reports that the envoys went out to Versailles and concealed themselves at an appointed spot in the wood, whither soon came to them de Vergennes. In the talk that ensued he said to them everything which a liberal spirit of friendship could suggest, but nothing which was actually positive and binding. For it was necessary, as he explained, first to consult with Spain, whose concurrence was desired; this, however, could be safely counted upon, and a courier was to be dispatched at once to Madrid. But the return of this messenger was not awaited; for on December 17 the commissioners were formally notified that France would acknowledge the independence of the colonies, and would execute with them treaties of commerce and alliance immediately upon getting the Spanish reply. In return for her engagements France only asked that, in the probable event of a war ensuing between herself and England, the colonies would pledge themselves never to make peace save upon the terms of independence.

On January 8, 1778, M. Gerard met the envoys after dark at Mr. Deane's quarters. He informed them that the government had resolved immediately to conclude with the colonies a treaty of amity and commerce; also another treaty, offensive and defensive, and guaranteeing independence, upon the conditions that the colonies would neither make a separate peace, nor one relinquishing their independence. The independence of the thirteen colonies being the king's sole purpose, no assistance would be extended for subduing Canada or the English West Indies. As it would probably not be agreeable to the colonies to have foreign troops in their country, the design was to furnish only naval aid. It would be left open for Spain to accede to the treaties at any time. Nothing could have been more agreeable and encouraging than these arrangements, by which France did all the giving and America all the receiving. A few days later Gerard said that the king would not only acknowledge, but would support American independence, and that the condition precluding the Americans from making a separate peace, if France should be drawn into the war, would be waived.

On January 18 Gerard came to the envoys with drafts which he had prepared for the two treaties, and which he left for them to consider at their leisure. It took them much longer to consider than it had taken him to devise these documents. Lee said that the delay was all Franklin's fault; but at least Franklin illumined it by one of his mots. There was sent to the envoys a large cake inscribed: "Le digne Franklin." Deane said that, with thanks, they would appropriate it to their joint use; Franklin pleasantly replied that it was obviously intended for all three, only the French donor did not know how to spell "Lee, Deane, Franklin" correctly. But the uneasy jealousy of Lee suggested a counter-argument:

"When they remember us," i. e., himself and Deane, he said, "they always put you first." Lee, who in his lifetime could never endure being second to Franklin, must be astounded indeed if, in another existence, he sees the place which judicial posterity has assigned to him!

In their discussions concerning the treaty the commissioners fell into a contention over one article. Their secret instructions directed them to "press" for a stipulation that no export duties should be imposed by France upon molasses taken from the French West Indies into the States; but they were not to let the "fate of the treaty depend upon obtaining it." Of all merchandise imported into the States molasses was the most important to their general trade; it was the "basis on which a very great part of the American commerce rested."[50] In exchange for it they sent to the islands considerable quantities of pretty much all their products, and they distilled it in enormous quantities into rum. Every man who drank a glass of rum seemed to be advancing pro tanto the national prosperity, and the zeal with which those godly forefathers of ours thus promoted the general welfare is feebly appreciated by their descendants. All this rum, said John Adams, has "injured our health and our morals;" but "the taste for rum will continue;" and upon this conviction the commissioners felt obliged to act. Accordingly they proposed that it should be "agreed and concluded that there shall never be any duty imposed on the exportation of molasses that may be taken by the subjects of the United States from the islands of America which belong or may hereafter appertain to his most Christian majesty." But Gerard said that this was "unequal," since the States made no balancing concession. It was not easy to suggest any "concession of equal importance on the part of the United States," and so "after long consideration Dr. Franklin proposed" this: "In compensation of the exemption stipulated in the preceding article, it is agreed and concluded that there shall never be any duties imposed on the exportation of any kind of merchandise, which the subjects of his most Christian majesty may take from the countries and possessions, present or future, of any of the thirteen United States, for the use of the islands which shall furnish molasses."

[Note 50: Diplomatic Correspondence of the Amer. Rev. i. 156.]

This pleased Lee as little as the other article had pleased Gerard; for it was "too extensive, and more than equivalent for molasses only." He was answered that "it was in reality nothing more than giving up what we could never make use of but to our own prejudice; for nothing was more evident than the bad policy of laying duties on our own exports." Franklin was of opinion that export duties were "a knavish attempt to get something for nothing;" that the inventor of them had the "genius of a pickpocket." Britain had lost her colonies by an export duty on tea. Moreover since the States produced no commodity which could not be procured elsewhere, to discourage consumption of their own and encourage the rivalship of others would be an "absolute folly" against which he would protest even if practiced by way of reprisal. Gerard finally said that he regarded these articles as "reciprocal and equal," that his majesty was "indifferent" about them, and that they might be retained or rejected together, but that one could not be kept without the other. Lee then yielded, and Gerard was notified that both articles would be inserted. He assented. Soon, however, William Lee and Izard, being informed of the arrangement, took Arthur Lee's original view and protested against it. Lee reports that this interference put Franklin "much out of humor," and that he said it would "appear an act of levity to renew the discussion of a thing we had agreed to." None the less, Lee now resumed his first position so firmly that Franklin and Deane in their turn agreed to omit both articles. But they stipulated that Lee should arrange the matter with Gerard, since, as they had just agreed in writing to retain both, they "could not with any consistency make a point of their being expunged," and they felt that the business of a change at this stage might be disagreeable. In fact Lee found it so. When he called on Gerard and requested the omission of both, Gerard replied that the king had already approved the treaty, that it was now engrossed on parchment, and that a new arrangement would entail "inconvenience and considerable delay." But finally, not without showing some irritation at the fickleness of the commissioners, he was brought to agree that Congress might ratify the treaty either with or without these articles, as it should see fit. This business cost Franklin, as an annoying incident, an encounter with Mr. Izard, and a tart correspondence ensued.

On February 6 all was at length ready and the parties came together, M. Gerard for France and the envoys for the States, to execute these most important documents. Franklin wore the spotted velvet suit of privy council fame. They signed a treaty of amity and commerce, a treaty of alliance, and a secret article belonging with the latter providing that Spain might become a party to it—on the Spanish manana. There was an express stipulation on the part of France that the whole should be kept secret until after ratification by Congress; for there was a singular apprehension that in the interval some accommodation might be brought about between the insurgent States and the mother country, which would leave France in a very embarrassing position if she should not be free to deny the existence of such treaties. It was undoubtedly a dread of some such occurrence which had induced the promptitude and the ever-increasing liberality in terms which France had shown from the moment when the news of Saratoga arrived. Nor perhaps was her anxiety so utterly absurd as it now seems. There was some foundation for Gibbon's epigrammatic statement that "the two greatest nations in Europe were fairly running a race for the favor of America." For the disaster to the army on the Hudson had had an effect in England even greater than it had had in France, and Burgoyne's capitulation to "Mr. Gates" had very nearly brought on a capitulation of Lord North's cabinet to the insurgent Congress. On February 17 that minister rose, and in a speech of two hours introduced two conciliatory bills. The one declared that Parliament had no intention of exercising the right of taxing the colonies in America. The other authorized sending to the States commissioners empowered to "treat with Congress, with provincial assemblies, or with Washington; to order a truce; to suspend all laws; to grant pardons and rewards; to restore the form of constitution as it stood before the troubles."[51] The prime minister substantially acknowledged that England's course toward her colonies had been one prolonged blunder, and now she was willing to concede every demand save actual independence. The war might be continued, as it was; but such a confession could never be retracted. "A dull melancholy silence for some time succeeded to this speech.... Astonishment, dejection, and fear overclouded the assembly."

[Note 51: Bancroft, Hist. U. S. ix. 484.]

But a fresh sensation was at hand. Horace and Thomas Walpole had obtained private information of what had taken place in France, but had cautiously held it in reserve, and arranged that only two hours before the meeting of the House of Commons on that eventful day the Duke of Grafton should tell it to Charles Fox. So now when North sat down Fox rose, indulged in a little sarcasm on the conversion of the ministry to the views of the opposition, and then asked his lordship "Whether a commercial treaty with France had not been signed by the American agents at Paris within the last ten days? 'If so,' he said, 'the administration is beaten by ten days, a situation so threatening that in such a time of danger the House must concur with the propositions, though probably now they would have no effect.' Lord North was thunderstruck and would not rise." But at last, warned that it would be "criminal and a matter of impeachment to withhold an answer," he admitted that he had heard a rumor of the signature of such a treaty.[52] So the bills were passed too late.

[Note 52: Parton's Life of Franklin, ii. 309.]

So soon as their passage was assured, Hartley, "acting on an understanding with Lord North,"[53] dispatched copies to Franklin. Franklin upon his part, also first having an understanding with de Vergennes, replied that, if peace with the States upon equal terms were really desired, the commissioners need not journey to America for it, for "if wise and honest men, such as Sir George Saville, the Bishop of St. Asaph, and yourself were to come over here immediately with powers to treat, you might not only obtain peace with America but prevent a war with France." About the same time also Hartley visited Franklin in person; but nothing came of their interview, of which no record is preserved. The two bills were passed, almost unanimously. But every one felt that their usefulness had been taken out of them by the other consequences of that event which had induced their introduction. News of them, however, was dispatched to America by a ship which followed close upon the frigate which carried the tidings of the French treaties. If the English ship should arrive first, something might be effected. But it did not, and probably nothing would have been gained if it had. Franklin truly said to Hartley: "All acts that suppose your future government of the colonies can be no longer significant;" and he described the acts as "two frivolous bills, which the present ministry, in their consternation, have thought fit to propose, with a view to support their public credit a little longer at home, and to amuse and divide, if possible, our people in America." But even for this purpose they came too late, and stirred no other response than a ripple of sarcastic triumph over such an act of humiliation, which was aggravated by being rejected almost without consideration by Congress.

[Note 53: Bancroft, Hist. U. S. ix. 485; Hale's Franklin in France, i. 223.]

So there was an end of conciliation. On March 23 the American envoys had the significant distinction of a presentation to the king, who is said to have addressed to them this gracious and royal sentence: "Gentlemen, I wish the Congress to be assured of my friendship. I beg leave also to observe that I am exceedingly satisfied, in particular, with your own conduct during your residence in my kingdom."[54] This personal compliment, if paid, was gratifying; for the anomalous and difficult position of the envoys had compelled them to govern themselves wholly by their own tact and judgment, with no aid from experience or precedents.

[Note 54: Parton's Life of Franklin, ii. 312.]

The presentation had been delayed by reason of Franklin having an attack of the gout, and the effort, when made, laid him up for some time afterward. It was on this occasion, especially, that he made himself conspicuous by wearing only the simple dress of a gentleman of the day instead of the costume of etiquette. Bancroft says that again he donned the suit of spotted Manchester velvet. He did not wear a sword, but made up for it by keeping on his spectacles; he had a round white hat under his arm, and no wig concealed his scanty gray hair. America has always rejoiced at this republican simplicity; but the fact seems to be that it was largely due to chance. Parton says that the doctor had ordered a wig, but when it came home it proved much too small for his great head, and there was no time to make another. Hawthorne also repeats the story that Franklin's court suit did not get home in time, and so he had to go in ordinary apparel; but it "took" so well that the shrewd doctor never explained the real reason.

On March 13 the Marquis de Noailles, French ambassador at St. James's, formally announced to the English secretary of state the execution of the treaty of amity and commerce; and impudently added a hope that the English court would see therein "new proofs" of King Louis's "sincere disposition for peace;" and that his Britannic majesty, animated by the same sentiments, would equally avoid everything that might alter their good harmony; also that he would particularly take effective measures to prevent the commerce between his French majesty's subjects and the United States of North America from being interrupted. When this was communicated to Parliament Conway asked: "What else have we to do but to take up the idea that Franklin has thrown out with fairness and manliness?"[55] But Franklin's ideas had not now, any more than heretofore, the good fortune to be acceptable to English ministers. Indeed, the mere fact that a suggestion came from him was in itself unfortunate; for the king, whose influence was preponderant in this American business, had singled out Franklin among all the "rebels" as the object of extreme personal hatred.[56] Franklin certainly reciprocated the feeling with an intensity which John Adams soon afterward noted, apparently with some surprise. The only real reply to Noailles's message which commended itself to government was the instant recall of Lord Stormont, who left Paris on March 23, sans prendre conge, just as he had once before threatened to do. On the same day the French ambassador left London, accompanied, as Gibbon said, by "some slight expression of ill humor from John Bull." At the end of the month M. Gerard sailed for America, the first accredited minister to the new member of the sisterhood of civilized nations. A fortnight later the squadron of D'Estaing sailed from Toulon for American waters, and two weeks later the English fleet followed.

[Note 55: The reference was to the suggestion made to Hartley for sending commissioners to Paris to treat for peace.]

[Note 56: Franklin's Works, vi. 39, note.]

Thus far the course of France throughout her relationship with the States had been that of a generous friend. She undoubtedly had been primarily instigated by enmity to England; and she had been for a while guarded and cautious; yet not unreasonably so; on the contrary, she had in many instances been sufficiently remiss in regarding her neutral obligations to give abundant cause for war, though England had not felt ready to declare it. At the first interview concerning the treaty of commerce de Vergennes had said that the French court desired to take no advantage of the condition of the States, and to exact no terms which they would afterward regret, but rather to make an arrangement so based upon the interest of both parties that it should last as long as human institutions should endure, so that mutual amity should subsist forever. M. Gerard reiterated the same sentiments. That this language was not mere French courtesy was proved by the fact that the treaties, when completed, were "founded on principles of equality and reciprocity, and for the most part were in conformity to the proposals of Congress."[57] Each party, under the customs laws of the other, was to be upon the footing of the most favored nation. The transfer of the valuable and growing trade of the States from England to France had been assiduously held out as a temptation to France to enter into these treaties; but no effort was made by France to gain from the needs of the Americans any exclusive privileges for herself. She was content to stipulate only that no other people should be granted preferences over her, leaving the States entirely unhampered for making subsequent arrangements with other nations. The light in which these dealings about the treaties made the French minister and the French court appear to Franklin should be remembered in the discussions which arose later concerning the treaty of peace.[58]

[Note 57: Bancroft, Hist. U. S. ix. 481.]

[Note 58: See Franklin's Works, vi. 133. At this time John Adams strongly entertained the same sentiments, though he afterward felt very differently about the sincerity of France. Diplomatic Correspondence of American Revolution, iv. 262, 292.]

It may further be mentioned, by the way, that Franklin had the pleasure of seeing inserted his favorite principle: that free ships should make free goods, and free persons also, save only soldiers in actual service of an enemy. In passing, it is pleasant to preserve this, amid the abundant other testimony to Franklin's humane and advanced ideas as to the conduct of war between civilized nations.[59] The doctrine of free ships making free goods, though promulgated early in the century, was still making slow and difficult progress. Franklin accepted it with eagerness. He wrote that he was "not only for respecting the ships as the house of a friend, though containing the goods of an enemy, but I even wish that ... all those kinds of people who are employed in procuring subsistence for the species, or in exchanging the necessaries or conveniences of life, which are for the common benefit of mankind, such as husbandmen on their lands, fishermen in their barques, and traders in unarmed vessels, shall be permitted to prosecute their several innocent and useful employments without interruption or molestation, and nothing taken from them, even when wanted by an enemy, but on paying a fair price for the same." Also to the president of Congress he spoke of Russia's famous proposal for an "armed neutrality for protecting the liberty of commerce" as "the great public event" of the year in Europe. He proposed that Congress should order their cruisers "not to molest foreign ships, but to conform to the spirit of that treaty of neutrality." Congress promptly voted to request the admission of the States to the league, and John Adams took charge of this business during his mission to Holland.

[Note 59: He was able to give a practical proof of his liberality by furnishing a passport to the packets carrying goods to the Moravian brethren in Labrador. Hale's Franklin in France, i. 245.]

Events having thus established the indefinite continuance of the war, the good Hartley, profoundly disappointed, wrote a brief note invoking blessings on his "dear friend," and closing with the ominous words, "If tempestuous times should come, take care of your own safety; events are uncertain and men may be capricious." Franklin, however, declined to be alarmed. "I thank you," he said, "for your kind caution, but having nearly finished a long life, I set but little value on what remains of it. Like a draper, when one chaffers with him for a remnant, I am ready to say: 'As it is only the fag end, I will not differ with you about it; take it for what you please.' Perhaps the best use such an old fellow can be put to is to make a martyr of him."

A few weeks after the conclusion of this diplomatic bond of friendship between the two peoples, Franklin, in the words of Mr. Bancroft, "placed the public opinion of philosophical France conspicuously on the side of America." Voltaire came back to Paris, after twenty-seven years of voluntary exile, and received such adoration that it almost seemed as if, for Frenchmen, he was taking the place of that God whom he had been declaring non-existent, but whom he believed it necessary for mankind to invent. Franklin had an interview with him, which presented a curious scene. The aged French philosopher, shriveled, bright-eyed, destructive-minded, received the aged American philosopher, portly, serene, the humanest of men, in theatrical French fashion, quoting a passage of English poetry, and uttering over the head of young Temple the appropriate benediction, "God and Liberty." This drama was enacted in private, but on April 29 occurred that public spectacle made familiar by countless engravings, decorating the walls of so many old-fashioned American "sitting-rooms" and "best parlors," when, upon the stage of the Academy of Sciences, before a numerous and distinguished audience, the two venerable sages met and saluted each other. "Il faut s'embrasser a la Francaise," shouted the enthusiastic crowd; so they fell into each other's arms, and kissed, after the continental mode. Great was the fervor aroused in the breasts of the classic people of France as they proudly saw upon their soil a new "Solon and Sophocles" in embrace. Who shall say that Franklin's personal prestige in Europe had not practical value for America?

Silas Deane, recalled, accompanied Gerard to America. He carried with him a brief but generous letter from Franklin to the president of Congress.[60] At the same time Izard was writing home that Deane's misbehavior had long delayed the alliance with France, and he repeated what he had said in former letters, that "whatever good dispositions were shown by Mr. Lee, they were always opposed and overruled by the two oldest commissioners." The departure of the two gentlemen was kept a close secret at Paris, and at the request of de Vergennes especially a secret from Arthur Lee. For the French ministry were well assured that Lee's private secretary was a spy in British pay, and had he got possession of this important bit of news, it would not only have been untimely in a diplomatic way, but it might have given opportunity for British cruisers to waylay a vessel carrying such distinguished passengers. The precaution was justifiable, but it had ill consequences for Franklin, since it naturally incensed Lee to an extreme degree, and led to a very sharp correspondence, which still further aggravated the discomfort of the situation. The legitimate trials to which the aged doctor was subjected were numerous and severe enough, but the untiring and malicious enmity of Arthur Lee was an altogether illegitimate vexation.

[Note 60: Franklin's Works, vi. 153.]

Mr. Hale in his recent volumes upon Franklin truly says that "it is unnecessary to place vituperative adjectives to the credit [discredit?] of Arthur Lee;" and in fact to do so seems a work of supererogation, since there probably remain few such epithets in the English language which have not already been applied to him by one writer or another. Yet it is hard to hold one's hand, although humanity would perhaps induce us to pity rather than to revile a man cursed with so unhappy a temperament. But whatever may be said or left unsaid about him personally, the infinite disturbance which he caused cannot be wholly ignored. It was great enough to constitute an important element in history. Covered by the powerful authority of his influential and patriotic family at home, and screened by the profound ignorance of Congress concerning men and affairs abroad, Lee was able for a long time to run his mischievous career without discovery or interruption. He buzzed about Europe like an angry hornet, thrusting his venomous sting into every respectable and useful servant of his country, and irritating exceedingly the foreigners whom it was of the first importance to conciliate. Incredible as it seems, it is undoubtedly true that he did not hesitate to express in Paris his deep antipathy to France and Frenchmen; and it was only the low esteem in which he was held that prevented his singular behavior from doing irreparable injury to the colonial cause. The English newspapers tauntingly ridiculed his insignificance and incapacity; de Vergennes could not endure him, and scarcely treated him with civility. But his intense egotism prevented him from gathering wisdom from such harsh instruction, which only added gall to his native bitterness. He wreaked his revenge upon his colleagues, and towards Franklin he cherished an envious hatred which developed into a monomania. Perhaps Franklin was correct in charitably saying that at times he was "insane." He began by asserting that Franklin was old, idle, and useless, fit only to be shelved in some respectable sinecure mission; but he rapidly advanced from such moderate condemnation until he charged Franklin with being a party to the abstraction of his dispatches from a sealed parcel, which was rifled in some unexplained way on its passage home;[61] and finally he even reached the extremity of alleging financial dishonesty in the public business, and insinuated an opinion that the doctor's great rascality indicated an intention never again to revisit his native land. In all this malevolence he found an earnest colleague in the hot-blooded Izard, whose charges against Franklin were unmeasured. "His abilities," wrote this angry gentleman, "are great and his reputation high. Removed as he is at so considerable a distance from the observation of his constituents, if he is not guided by principles of virtue and honor, those abilities and that reputation may produce the most mischievous effects. In my conscience I declare to you that I believe him under no such restraint, and God knows that I speak the real, unprejudiced sentiments of my heart." Such fulminations, reaching the States out of what was then for them the obscurity of Europe, greatly perplexed the members of Congress; for they had very insufficient means for determining the value of the testimony given by these absent witnesses.

[Note 61: Parton's Franklin, ii. 354.]

It would serve no useful purpose to devote valuable space to narrating at length all the slander and malice of these restless men, all the correspondence, the quarrels, the explanations, and general trouble to which they gave rise. But the reader must exercise his imagination liberally in fancying these things, in order to appreciate to what incessant annoyance Franklin was subjected at a time when the inevitable anxieties and severe labors of his position were far beyond the strength of a man of his years. He showed wonderful patience and dignity, and though he sometimes let some asperity find expression in his replies, he never let them degenerate into retorts. Moreover, he replied as little as possible, for he truly said that he hated altercation; whereas Lee, who reveled in it, took as an aggravation of all his other injuries that his opponent was inclined to curtail the full luxury to be expected from a quarrel. Franklin also magnanimously refrained from arraigning Lee and Izard to Congress, either publicly or privately, a forbearance which these chivalrous gentlemen did not emulate. The memorial[62] of Arthur Lee, of May, 1779, addressed to Congress, contains criminations enough to furnish forth many impeachments. But Franklin would not condescend to allow his serenity to be disturbed by the news of these assaults. He felt "very easy," he said, about these efforts to injure him, trusting in the justice of the Congress to listen to no accusations without giving him an opportunity to reply.[63] Yet his position was not so absolutely secure and exalted but that he suffered some little injury at home.

[Note 62: Franklin's Works, vi. 363.]

[Note 63: To Richard Bache, Franklin's Works, vi. 414.]

John Adams, going out to replace Silas Deane, crossed him on the passage, arriving at Bordeaux on March 31, 1778. This ardent New Englander, orderly, business-like, endowed with an insatiate industry, plunged headlong into the midst of affairs. With that happy self-confidence characteristic of our people, which leads every American to believe that he can at once and without training do anything whatsoever better than it can be done by any other living man no matter how well trained, Adams began immediately to act and to criticise. In a few hours he knew all about the discussions between the various envoys, quasi envoys, and agents, who were squabbling with each other to the scandal of Paris; in a few days he was ready to turn out Jonathan Williams, unseen and unheard. He was shocked at the confusion in which he saw all the papers of the embassy, and set vigorously about the task of sorting, labeling, docketing, and tying up letters and accounts; it was a task which Franklin unquestionably had neglected, and which required to be done. He was appalled at the "prodigious sums of money" which had been expended, at the further great sums which were still to be paid, and at the lack of any proper books of accounts, so that he could not learn "what the United States have received as an equivalent." He did not in direct words charge the other commissioners with culpable negligence; but it was an unavoidable inference from what he did say. Undoubtedly the fact was that the accounts were disgracefully muddled and insufficient; but the fault really lay with Congress, which had never permitted proper clerical assistance to be employed. Adams soon found this out, and appreciated that besides all the diplomatic affairs, which were their only proper concern, the commissioners were also transacting an enormous business, financial and commercial, involving innumerable payments great and small, loans, purchases, and correspondence, and that all was being conducted with scarcely any aid of clerks or accountants; whereas a mercantile firm engaged in affairs of like extent and moment would have had an extensive establishment with a numerous force of skilled employees. When Adams had been a little longer in Paris, he also began to see where and how "the prodigious sums" went,[64] and just what was the full scope of the functions of the commissioners; then the censoriousness evaporated out of his language. He admitted that the neglects of subordinate agents were such that it was impossible for the commissioners to learn the true state of their finances; and he joined in the demand, so often reiterated by Franklin, for the establishment of the usual and proper commercial agencies. The business of accepting and keeping the run of the bills drawn by Congress, and of teasing the French government for money to meet them at maturity, would still remain to be attended to by the ministers in person; but these things long experience might enable them to manage.

[Note 64: Diplomatic Corresp. of Amer. Rev. iv. 249, 251.]

No sooner had Adams scented the first whiff of the quarrel-laden atmosphere of the embassy than he expressed in his usual self-satisfied, impetuous, and defiant way his purpose to be rigidly impartial. But he was a natural fault-finder, and by no means a natural peacemaker; and his impartiality had no effect in assuaging the animosities which he found. However, amid all the discords of the embassy there was one note of harmony; and the bewildered Congress must have felt much satisfaction in finding that all the envoys were agreed that one representative at the French court would be vastly better as well as cheaper than the sort of caucus which now held its angry sessions there. At worst one man could not be forever at odds with himself. Adams, when he had finished the task of arranging the archives, found no other occupation; and he was scandalized at the extravagance of keeping three envoys. Lee, by the way, had constantly insinuated that Franklin was blamably lax, if not actually untrustworthy, in money matters, though all the while he and his friend Izard had been quite shameless in extorting from the doctor very large sums for their own expenses. When the figures came to be made up it appeared that Franklin had drawn less than either of his colleagues, and much less than the sum soon afterward established by Congress as the proper salary for the position.[65] The frugal-minded New Englander himself now acknowledged that he could "not find any article of expense which could be retrenched,"[66] and he honestly begged Congress to stop the triple outlay.

[Note 65: Diplomatic Corresp. of Amer. Rev. iv. 246.]

[Note 66: Ibid. 245.]

Franklin, upon his part, wrote that in many ways the public business and the national prestige suffered much from the lack of unanimity among the envoys, and said: "In consideration of the whole, I wish Congress would separate us." Neither Adams nor Franklin wrote one word which either directly or indirectly had a personal bearing. Arthur Lee was more frank; in the days of Deane he had begun to write that to continue himself at Paris would "disconcert effectually the wicked measures" of Franklin, Deane, and Williams, and that it was "the one way of redressing" the "neglect, dissipation, and private schemes" prevalent in the department, and of "remedying the public evil." He said that the French court was the place of chief importance, calling for the ablest and most efficient man, to wit, himself. He suggested that Franklin might be sent to Vienna, a dignified retreat without labor. Izard and William Lee wrote letters of like purport; it was true that it was none of their affair, but they were wont to interfere in the business of the commissioners, as if the French mission were common property. Congress took so much of this advice as all their advisers were agreed upon; that is to say, it broke up the commission to France. But it did not appoint Arthur Lee to remain there; on the contrary, it nominated Franklin to be minister plenipotentiary at the French court, left Lee still accredited to Madrid, as he had been before, and gave Adams neither any place nor any instructions, so that he soon returned home. Gerard, at Philadelphia, claimed the credit of having defeated the machinations of the "dangerous and bad man," Lee, and congratulated de Vergennes on his relief from the burden.[67] Franklin's commission was brought over by Lafayette in February, 1779. Thus ended the Lee-Izard cabal against Franklin; it was not unlike the Gates-Conway cabal against Washington, save that it lasted longer and was more exasperating. The success of either would have been almost equally perilous to the popular cause; for the instatement of Lee as minister plenipotentiary at the French court would inevitably have led to a breach with France. The result was very gratifying to Franklin, since it showed that all the ill tales about him which had gone home had not ruined, though certainly they had seriously injured, his good repute among his countrymen. Moreover, he could truly say that the office "was not obtained by any solicitation or intrigue," or by "magnifying his own services, or diminishing those of others." But apart from the gratification and a slight access of personal dignity, the change made no difference in his duties; he still combined the functions of loan-agent, consul, naval director, and minister, as before. Nor was he even yet wholly rid of Arthur Lee. He had, however, the satisfaction of absolutely refusing to honor any more of Lee's or Izard's exorbitant drafts for their personal expenses.

[Note 67: Parton's Life of Franklin, ii. 383.]

Shortly after his appointment Franklin sent his grandson to Lee, with a note requesting Lee to send to him such papers belonging to the embassy as were in his possession. Lee insolently replied that he had "no papers belonging to the department of minister plenipotentiary at the court of Versailles;" that if Franklin referred to papers relating to transactions of the late joint commission, he had "yet to learn and could not conceive" by what reason or authority one commissioner was entitled to demand custody of them. Franklin replied temperately enough that many of them were essential to him for reference in conducting the public business, but said that he should be perfectly content to have copies. The captious Lee was still further irritated by this scheme for avoiding a quarrel, but had to accede to it.


To John Paul Jones Franklin stood in the relation of a navy department. The daring exploits of that gallant mariner form a chapter too fascinating to be passed by without reluctance, but limitations of space are inexorable. His success and his immunity in his reckless feats seem marvelous. His chosen field was the narrow seas which surround Britain, which swarmed with British shipping, and were dominated by the redoubtable British navy as the streets of a city are kept in order by police. But the rover Jones, though always close to his majesty's coasts, was too much for all his majesty's admirals and captains. He harried these home waters and captured prizes till he became embarrassed by the extent of his own success; he landed at Whitehaven, spiked the guns of the fort, and fired the ships of the fleet in the harbor beneath the eyes of the astounded Englishmen, who thronged the shore and gazed bewildered upon the spectacle which American audacity displayed for them; he made incursions on the land; he threatened the port of Leith, and would undoubtedly have bombarded it, had not obstinate counter winds thwarted his plans; he kept the whole British shores in a state of feverish alarm; he was always ready to fight, and challenged the English warship, the Serapis, to come out and meet him; she came, and he captured her after fighting so desperately that his own ship, the famous Bon Homme Richard, named after Poor Richard, sank a few hours after the combat was over.

All these glorious feats were rendered possible by Franklin, who found the money, consulted as to the operations, issued commissions, attended to purchases and repairs, to supplies and equipment, who composed quarrels, settled questions of authority, and interposed to protect vessels and commanders from the perils of the laws of neutrality. Jones had a great respect and admiration for him, and said to him once that his letters would make a coward brave. The projects of Jones were generally devised in consultations with Franklin, and were in the direct line of enterprises already suggested by Franklin, who had urged Congress to send out three frigates, disguised as merchantmen, which could make sudden descents upon the English coast, destroy, burn, gather plunder, and levy contributions, and be off before molestation was possible. "The burning or plundering of Liverpool or Glasgow," he wrote, "would do us more essential service than a million of treasure, and much blood spent on the continent;" and he was confident that it was "practicable with very little danger." This was not altogether in accord with his humane theory for the conduct of war; but so long as that theory was not adopted by one side, it could not of course be allowed to handicap the other.

As if Franklin had not enough legitimate trouble in furthering these naval enterprises, an entirely undeserved vexation grew out of them for him. There was a French captain Landais, who entered the service of the States and was given the command of a ship in what was dignified by the name of Jones's "squadron." Of all the excitable Frenchmen who have ever lived none can have been more hot-headed than this remarkable man. During the engagement between the Bon Homme Richard and the Serapis, he sailed up and down beside the former and delivered broadsides into her until he was near disabling and sinking the ship of his own commander. The incomprehensible proceeding meant only that he was so wildly excited that he did not know at whom he was firing. Soon he quarreled with Jones; Franklin had to intervene; then Landais advanced all sorts of preposterous demands, which Franklin refused; thereupon he quarreled with Franklin; a very disagreeable correspondence ensued; Franklin finally had to displace Landais from command of his ship; Landais defied him and refused to surrender command. Then Lee decided to go home to the States in Landais's ship. When the two got together they stirred up a mutiny on board, and more trouble was made for Franklin. At last they got away, and Landais went crazy during the voyage, was deposed by his officers, and placed in confinement. If the ship had been lost, it would have been a more tolerable loss than many for which the ocean is accountable; but she was not, and Lee got safe ashore to continue his machinations at Philadelphia, and to publish an elaborate pamphlet against Franklin. All this story and the correspondence may be read at length in Mr. Hale's "Franklin in France." It is entertaining and shows vividly the misery to which Franklin was subjected in attending to affairs which were entirely outside of the proper scope of his office. "It is hard," said he, "that I, who give others no trouble with my quarrels, should be plagued with all the perversities of those who think fit to wrangle with one another."

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