Benjamin Franklin
by John Torrey Morse, Jr.
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Whether the financiering of the American Revolution is to be looked upon in a pathetic or in a comical light must depend upon the mood of the observer. The spectacle of a young people, with no accumulated capital, engaged in supporting the charge of a mortal struggle against all the vast resources of Britain, has in it something of pathos. But the methods to which this people resorted to raise funds were certainly of amusing simplicity. It was not until the appointment of Robert Morris, in 1781, that a treasury department came into existence and some slight pretense of system was introduced into the financial affairs of the confederation. During the years prior to that time Congress managed the business matters. But Congress neither had funds nor the power to obtain any. It had an unlimited power for contracting debts: absolutely no power for collecting money. It used the former power freely. When creditors wanted payment, requisitions were made upon the States for their respective quotas. But the States were found to be sadly irresponsive; probably the citizens really had not much ready money; certainly they had not enough to pay in taxes the cost of the war; no civilized state has been able to conduct a war, even a small one, in modern times without using the national credit. But the United States had absolutely no credit at all. It was well enough to exclaim "Millions for defense; but not one cent for tribute!" This was rhetoric, not business; and Congress soon found that the driblets which trickled tardily to them in response to their demands on the several States would hardly moisten the bottom of the great exchequer tank, which needed to be filled to the brim.

Two methods of relief were then adopted, crude, simple, but likely for a time to be efficient; and provided only that within that time the war could be finished, all might go well. One of these methods was to issue irredeemable paper "money;" the other was to borrow real money abroad. The droll part was that both these transactions were audaciously entered upon by a body which had absolutely no revenues at all to pledge as security, which had not a dollar of property, nor authority to compel any living man to pay it a dollar. A more utterly irresponsible debtor than Congress never asked for a loan or offered a promissory note. For the security of a creditor there was only the moral probability that in case of success the people would be honest enough to pay their debts; and there was much danger that the jealousies between the States as to their proportionate quotas might stimulate reluctance and furnish excuses which might easily become serious in so unpleasant a matter as paying out hard cash. At home Congress could manage to make its paper money percolate among the people, and could pay a good many American creditors with it; but there were some who would not be thus satisfied, and few European creditors, of course, would meddle with such currency. So to pay these people who would have real money Congress solicited loans from other nations. It was like the financiering of a schoolboy, who issues his IOU's among his mates, and refers the exacting and business-like tradesman to his father. France was cast for the role of father to the congressional schoolboy for many wearisome years.

The arrangement bore hard upon the American representatives, who, at European courts and upon European exchanges, had the embarrassing task of raising money. It was all very well to talk about negotiating a loan; the phrase had a Micawber-like sound as of real business; but in point of plain fact the thing to be done was to beg. Congress had a comparatively easy time of it; such burden and anxiety as lay upon that body were shared among many; and after all, the whole scope of its duty was little else than to vote requisitions upon the States, to order the printing of a fresh batch of bills, and to "resolve that the Treasury Board be directed to prepare bills of exchange of suitable denominations upon the Honorable Benjamin Franklin [or sometimes Jay, or Adams, or another], minister plenipotentiary at the court of Versailles, for—— thousand dollars in specie." Having done this, Congress had fulfilled its simple part, and serenely waited for something to turn up.

The plan which seemed most effective was to send a representative accredited to some foreign government, and instructed to raise money at once. Without wasting time by waiting to see whether he arrived safely, or was received, or was successful in his negotiations, the next ship which followed him brought drafts and bills which he was expected to accept, and at maturity to pay. Having thus skillfully shifted the laboring oar into his hands Congress bestirred itself no further. Poor Jay, in Spain, had a terrible time of it in this way, and if ever a man was placed by his country in a painful and humiliating position, it was he. He faced it gallantly, but had to be carried through by Franklin. From first to last it was upon Franklin that the brunt fell; he had to keep the country from financial failure as Washington had to save it from military failure; he was the real financier of the Revolution; without him Robert Morris would have been helpless. Spain yielded but trifling sums in response to Jay's solicitations; Holland, which was tried by Adams, was even more tardy and unwilling, though towards the end some money was got there. Franklin alone, at Paris, could tap the rock and make the waters flow. So upon him Congress sent in an endless procession of drafts, and compelled him to pay all their foreign bills and indebtedness; he gathered and he disbursed; to him were referred all the drafts upon Jay and others, which they themselves could not pay, and he discharged them one and all. A heavier task never fell upon any man, nor one bringing less recognition; for money matters usually seem so dry and unintelligible that every one shirks informing himself about them. We read about the horrors of the winter camp at Valley Forge, and we shudder at all the details of the vivid picture. The anxiety, the toil, the humiliation, which Franklin endured for many winters and many summers in Paris, in sustaining the national credit, do not make a picture, do not furnish material for a readable chapter in history. Yet many a man would far rather have faced Washington's lot than Franklin's.

I do not intend to tell this tale at length or minutely, for I could trust no reader to follow me in so tedious an enterprise; yet I must try to convey some notion of what this financiering really meant for Franklin, of how ably he performed it, of what it cost him in wear and tear of mind, of what toil it put upon him, and of what measure of gratitude was due to him for it. It may be worth mentioning by the way that he not only spent himself in efforts to induce others to lend, but he himself lent. Before he embarked for Philadelphia on his French mission, he gathered together all that he could raise in money, some L3000 to L4000, and paid it over as an unsecured loan for an indefinite period to the Continental Congress.

It is not probable that from any records now existing the most patient accountant could elicit any statement, even approximating to accuracy, of the sums which Franklin received and paid out. But if such an account could be drawn up, it would only indicate some results in figures which would have little meaning for persons not familiar with the national debts, revenues, and outlays of those times, and certainly would not at all answer the purpose of showing what he really did. The only satisfactory method of giving any passably clear idea on the subject seems to be to furnish some extracts from his papers.

The ship which brought Franklin also brought indigo to the value of L3000, which was to serve as long as it could for the expenses of the commissioners. For keeping them supplied with money later on, it was the intention of Congress to purchase cargoes of American products, such as tobacco, rice, indigo, etc., etc., and consign these to the commissioners, who, besides paying their personal bills, were sure to have abundant other means for using the proceeds. Unfortunately, however, it so happened that the resources presented by this scheme were already exhausted. In January, 1777, a loan of one million livres had been advanced on a pledge of fifty-six thousand hogsheads of tobacco to the Farmers General of the French revenue; and the rice and indigo had been in like manner mortgaged to Beaumarchais. Congressional jugglery could not quite compass the payment of different creditors with the same money, even supposing that the money came to hand. But it did not; for a long while no cargoes arrived; of those that were dispatched, some were run away with by dishonest ship-masters, some were lost at sea, others were captured by the English, so that Franklin sadly remarked that the chief result was that the enemy had been supplied with these articles for nothing. But he preserved his resolute cheerfulness. "The destroying of our ships by the English," he said, "is only like shaving our beards, that will grow again. Their loss of provinces is like the loss of a limb, which can never again be united to their body." When at last a cargo did arrive, Beaumarchais demanded it as his own, and Franklin at last yielded to his importunities and tears, though having no really sufficient knowledge of his right to it. Later a second vessel arrived, and Beaumarchais endeavored to pounce upon it by process of law. That one also Franklin let him have. Then no more came, and this promising resource seems never to have yielded one dollar for Franklin's use.

Already so early as January 26, 1777, it was necessary to appeal to Thomas Morris, from whom remittances had been expected on account of sales made at Nantes: "You must be sensible how very unbecoming it is of the situation we are in to be dependent on the credit of others. We therefore desire that you will remit with all possible expedition the sum allotted by the Congress for our expenses." But the commissioners appealed in vain to this worthless drunkard.

Strange to say, the instructions given by Congress to the commissioners at the time of Franklin's appointment said nothing about borrowing money. In view of what he had to do in this way it was a singular omission; but it was soon repaired by letters. In March, 1777, Franklin writes to Lee: "We are ordered to borrow L2,000,000 on interest;" also to "build six ships of war," presumably on credit. In this same month Franklin wrote a paper, which was widely circulated in Europe, in which he endeavored to show that the honesty, the industry, the resources, and the prospects of the United States were so excellent that it would really be safer to lend to them than to England. It was a skillful piece of work, and its arguments had evidently persuaded the writer himself; but they did not induce the money-lenders of the old countries to accept moral qualities and probabilities as collateral security.

Fair success, however, was soon met with at the court of France, so that the commissioners had the pleasure of assuring Congress that they could safely be depended upon to meet the interest on a loan of $5,000,000, which by this aid Congress probably would be able to contract for. But that body had no idea of being content with this! March 17, 1778, Franklin writes to Lee that they have been drawn upon for 180,000 livres, to pay old indebtedness of the army in Canada; also that other bills have been drawn. The number and gross amount of these were not stated in the advices; but the commissioners were ordered to "accept them when they should appear." "I cannot conceive," said Franklin, "what encouragement the Congress could have had from any of us to draw on us for anything but that interest. I suppose their difficulties have compelled them to it. I see we shall be distressed here by these proceedings," etc., etc. Congress was composed of men far too shrewd to await "encouragement" to draw for money!

July 22, 1778, he wrote to Lovell: "When we engaged to Congress to pay their bills for the interest of the sums they could borrow, we did not dream of their drawing on us for other occasions. We have already paid of Congress's drafts, to returned officers, 82,211 livres; and we know not how much more of that kind we have to pay, because the committee have never let us know the amount of those drafts, or their account of them never reached us, and they still continue coming in. And we are now surprised with drafts from Mr. B. for 100,000 more. If you reduce us to bankruptcy here by a non-payment of your drafts, consider the consequences. In my humble opinion no drafts should be made on us without first learning from us that we shall be able to answer them."

Congress could not fairly exact great accuracy from the drawees of its bills, when it never took pains to give notice of the facts of the drawing, of the number of bills drawn, of dates, or amounts; in a word, really gave no basis for account-keeping or identification. No more helter-skelter way of conducting business has ever been seen since modern business methods were invented. The system, if system it may be called, would have been aggravating and confusing enough under any condition of attendant circumstances; but it so happened that all attendant circumstances tended to increase rather than to mitigate the difficulties created by the carelessness of Congress. One naturally fancies that a nation deals in few and large transactions, that these drafts may have been for inconveniently large sums, but that at least they probably were not numerous. The precise contrary was the case. The drafts were countless, and often were for very petty amounts, much as if a prosperous merchant were drawing cheques to pay his ordinary expenses. Further, the uncertainty of the passage across the Atlantic led to these bills appearing at all sorts of irregular times; seconds often came to hand before firsts, and thirds before either; the bills were often very old when presented. Knaves took advantage of these facts fraudulently to alter seconds and thirds into firsts, so that extreme care had to be taken to prevent constant duplication and even triplication of payments. It would have taken much of the time of an experienced banker's clerk to keep the bill and draft department in correct shape. It is not improbable that Congress lost a good deal of money by undetected rascalities, but if so the fault lay with that body itself, not with Franklin.

Amid the harassments of these demands, Franklin was much vexed by the conduct of Arthur Lee and Izard in drawing money for their own expenses. In February, 1778, each insisted that he should be allowed a credit with the banker, M. Grand, to an amount of L2000, as each then expected to depart on a mission. Franklin reluctantly assented, and was then astonished and indignant to find that each at once drew out the full sum from the national account; yet neither went upon his journey. In January, 1779, Izard applied for more. Franklin's anger was stirred; Izard was a man of handsome private property, and was rendering no service in Paris; and his requirements seemed to Franklin eminently unpatriotic and exorbitant. He therefore refused the request, writing to Izard a letter which is worth quoting, both from the tone of its patriotic appeal and as a vivid sketch of the situation:—

"Your intimation that you expect more money from us obliges us to expose to you our circumstances. Upon the supposition that Congress had borrowed in America but $5,000,000, and relying on the remittances intended to be sent to us for answering other demands, we gave expectations that we should be able to pay here the interest of that sum as a means of supporting the credit of the currency. The Congress have borrowed near twice that sum, and are now actually drawing on us for the interest, the bills appearing here daily for acceptance. Their distress for money in America has been so great from the enormous expense of the war that they have also been induced to draw on us for very large sums to stop other pressing demands; and they have not been able to purchase remittances for us to the extent they proposed; and of what they have sent, much has been taken, or treacherously carried into England, only two small cargoes of tobacco having arrived, and they are long since mortgaged to the Farmers General, so that they produce us nothing, but leave us expenses to pay.

"The continental vessels of war which come to France have likewise required great sums of us to furnish and refit them and supply the men with necessaries. The prisoners, too, who escape from England claim a very expensive assistance from us, and are much dissatisfied with the scanty allowance we are able to afford them. The interest bills above mentioned, of the drawing of which we have received notice, amount to $2,500,000, and we have not a fifth part of the sum in our banker's hands to answer them; and large orders to us from Congress for supplies of clothing, arms, and ammunition remain uncomplied with for want of money.

"In this situation of our affairs, we hope you will not insist on our giving you a farther credit with our banker, with whom we are daily in danger of having no farther credit ourselves. It is not a year since you received from us the sum of 2000 guineas, which you thought necessary on account of your being to set out immediately for Florence. You have not incurred the expense of that journey. You are a gentleman of fortune. You did not come to France with any dependence on being maintained here with your family at the expense of the United States, in the time of their distress, and without rendering them the equivalent service they expected.

"On all these considerations we should rather hope that you would be willing to reimburse us the sum we have advanced to you, if it may be done with any possible convenience to your affairs. Such a supply would at least enable us to relieve more liberally our unfortunate countrymen, who have long been prisoners, stripped of everything, of whom we daily expect to have nearly three hundred upon our hands by the exchange."

At this same time Franklin wrote to Congress to explain how it had happened that so large a sum as L4000 had been allowed to these gentlemen; for he feared that this liberality might "subject the commissioners to censure." The explanation was so discreditable to Lee and Izard that it is charitable to think that there was some misunderstanding between the parties.[68] The matter naturally rankled, and in May Franklin wrote that there was much anger against him, that he was charged with "disobeying an order of Congress, and with cruelly attempting to distress gentlemen who were in the service of their country."

[Note 68: See Franklin's Works, vi. 294.]

"They have indeed," he said, "produced to me a resolve of Congress empowering them to draw ... for their expenses at foreign courts; and doubtless Congress, when that resolve was made, intended to enable us to pay those drafts; but as that has not been done, and the gentlemen (except Mr. Lee for a few weeks) have not incurred any expense at foreign courts, and, if they had, the 5500 guineas received by them in about nine months seemed an ample provision for it, ... I do not conceive that I disobeyed an order of Congress, and that if I did the circumstances will excuse it.... In short, the dreadful consequences of ruin to our public credit, both in America and Europe, that must attend the protesting a single Congress draft for interest, after our funds were out, would have weighed with me against the payment of more money to those gentlemen, if the demand had otherwise been well founded. I am, however, in the judgment of Congress, and if I have done amiss, must submit dutifully to their censure."

Burgoyne's surrender had a market value; it was worth ready money in France and Spain. Upon the strength of it the former lent the States 3,000,000 livres; and the like amount was engaged for by Spain. But, says Bancroft, "when Arthur Lee, who was equally disesteemed in Versailles and Madrid, heard of the money expected of Spain, he talked and wrote so much about it that the Spanish government, who wished to avoid a rupture with England, took alarm, and receded from its intention."[69]

[Note 69: Bancroft, Hist. U. S. ix. 480.]

In February and March, 1779, came demands from the officers of the frigate Alliance for their pay; but Franklin was "neither furnished with money nor authority for such purposes." It seemed, however, too hard to tell these gallant fellows, whose perilous and useful service was in European waters, that they could not have a dollar until they should get safely back to the States; so Franklin agreed to pay for one suit of clothes for each of them. But he begged them to be as "frugal as possible," and not make themselves "expensively fine" from a notion that it was for the honor of the State, which could be better promoted in more sensible ways.

May 26, 1779, he complains to the committee of foreign affairs that, whereas the commissioners had agreed to find in Paris means of paying interest on a loan of $5,000,000, that loan had been doubled, while, on the other hand, they had been "drained by a number of unforeseen expenses," including "orders and drafts" of Congress. "And now," he says, "the drafts of the treasurer of the loans coming very fast upon me, the anxiety I have suffered and the distress of mind lest I should not be able to pay them, have for a long time been very great indeed. To apply again to this court for money for a particular purpose, which they had already over and over again provided for and furnished us, was extremely awkward." One would think so, indeed! So he fell back on a "general application" made some time before, and received naturally the general answer that France herself was being put to enormous expenses, which were aiding the States as efficiently as a direct loan of money could do. The most he could extort was the king's guaranty for the payment of the interest on $3,000,000, provided that sum could be raised in Holland. The embarrassing fact was that the plea of poverty advanced by the French government was perfectly valid. Turgot said so, and no man knew better than Turgot. He had lately told the king that even on a peace footing the annual expenditures exceeded the annual receipts of the exchequer by 20,000,000 livres; and he even talked seriously of an avowal of national bankruptcy. The events preceding the French Revolution soon proved that this great statesman did not exaggerate the ill condition of affairs. Yet instead of practicing rigid prudence and economy, France had actually gone into a costly war for the benefit of America. It was peculiarly disagreeable to be ceaselessly appealing for money to an impoverished friend.

Another vexation was found in the way in which the agents of the various individual States soon began to scour Europe in quest of money. First they applied to Franklin, and "seemed to think it his duty as minister for the United States to support and enforce their particular demands." But the foreigners, probably not understanding these separate autonomies, did not relish these requisitions, and Franklin found that he could do nothing. On the contrary, he was hampered in effecting loans on the national credit; for these state agents, hurrying clamorously hither and thither, gave an impression of poverty and injured the reputation of the country, which, indeed, was already low enough upon the exchanges without any such gratuitous impairment.

February 19, 1780, there was an application from John Paul Jones for money for repairs on his ships. Franklin approved keeping the vessels in serviceable condition, but added: "Let me repeat, for God's sake be sparing, unless you mean to make me a bankrupt, or have your drafts dishonored for want of money in my hands to pay them."

May 31, 1780, he complains that he has been reproached by one of the congressional agents whose unauthorized drafts he had refused. He has been drawn upon by Congress, he says, for much more than the interest, which only he had agreed to furnish, and he has answered every demand, and supported their credit in Europe. "But if every agent of Congress in different parts of the world is permitted to run in debt, and draw upon me at pleasure to support his credit, under the idea of its being necessary to do so for the honor of Congress, the difficulty upon me will be too great, and I may in fine be obliged to protest the interest bills. I therefore beg that a stop may be put to such irregular proceedings." It was a reasonable prayer, but had no effect. Franklin continued to be regarded as paymaster-general for the States in Europe.

We next hear of his troubles in paying the bills which Congress, according to its usual custom, was drawing upon Jay. They sent Jay to Spain, and told him to borrow money there; and as soon as they had got him fairly at sea, they began drawing drafts upon him. He soon found himself, as he said, in a "cruel situation," and the torture of mind which he endured and the responsibility which he assumed are well known. He courageously accepted the bills, trusting to Providence and to Franklin, who seemed the agent of Providence, to arrange for their payment. Franklin did not fail him. One of Jay's earliest letters to Franklin said: "I have no reason as yet to think a loan here will be practicable. Bills on me arrive daily. Be pleased to send me a credit for the residue of our salaries." Five days later: "Bills to the amount of $100,000 have arrived. A loan cannot be effected here." And so on. In April, 1781, his appeal became pathetic: "Our situation here is daily becoming more disagreeable from the want of our salaries; to be obliged to contract debts and live on credit is terrible. I have not to this day received a shilling from America, and we should indeed have been greatly distressed, had it not been for your good offices." An American minister without resources to pay his butcher and his grocer, his servant and his tailor, presented a spectacle which moved Franklin to great efforts! In plain truth, Jay and his secretary, Carmichael, were dependent upon Franklin for everything; they not only drew on him for their salaries to pay daily household expenses, but they sent him lists of the bills accepted by them for the "honor of Congress," and which they had no means of paying. It was fortunate that these two men were willing to incur such peril and anxiety in behalf of this same "honor of Congress," which otherwise would soon have been basely discredited; for that body itself was superbly indifferent on the subject, and did not pretend to keep faith even with its own agents.

Thus matters continued to the end. Congress pledged itself not to draw bills, and immediately drew them in batches. Jay could report to Franklin only scant and reluctant promises won from the Spanish court; and small as these engagements were, they were ill kept. Perhaps they could not be kept; for, as Jay wrote, there was "little coin in Egypt," the country was really poor. So the end of it always was that Franklin remained as the only resource for payments, to be made week after week, of all sorts of sums ranging from little bills upon vessels up to great totals of $150,000 or $230,000 upon bankers' demands. Such was the burden of a song which had many more woeful stanzas than can be repeated here.

By way of affording some sort of encouragement to the French court, Franklin now proposed that the United States government should furnish the French fleet and forces in the States with provisions, of which the cost could be offset, to the small extent that it would go, against French loans. It seemed a satisfactory arrangement, and France assented to it.

At the same time he wrote to Adams that he had "long been humiliated with the idea of our running about from court to court begging for money and friendship, which are the more withheld the more eagerly they are solicited, and would perhaps have been offered if they had not been asked. The proverb says, God helps them that help themselves; and the world too, in this sense, is very godly." This was an idea to which he more than once recurred. In March, 1782, in the course of a long letter to Livingston, he said: "A small increase of industry in every American, male and female, with a small diminution of luxury, would produce a sum far superior to all we can hope to beg or borrow from all our friends in Europe." He reiterated the same views again in March, and again in December, and doubtless much oftener.[70] No man was more earnest in the doctrine that every individual American owed his strenuous and unremitting personal assistance to the cause. It was a practical as well as a noble patriotism which he felt, preached, and exemplified; and it was thoroughly characteristic of the man.

[Note 70: Franklin's Works, vii. 404; viii. 236.]

What was then the real financial capacity of the people, and whether they did their utmost in the way of raising money to support the Revolution, is a question about which it is easy to express an opinion, but difficult to prove its accuracy by convincing evidence. On the one hand, it is true that the strain was extreme and that much was done to meet it; on the other hand, it is no less true that even beneath this stress the national prosperity actually made a considerable advance during the war. The people as a whole gathered money rather than impoverished themselves. In the country at large the commercial instinct fully held its own in competition with the spirit of independence. There was not much forswearing of little luxuries. Franklin said that he learned by inquiry that of the interest money which was disbursed in Paris most was laid out for "superfluities, and more than half of it for tea." He computed that L500,000 were annually expended in the States for tea alone. This sum, "annually laid out in defending ourselves or annoying our enemies, would have great effect. With what face can we ask aids and subsidies from our friends, while we are wasting our own wealth in such prodigality?"

Henry Laurens, dispatched as minister to the Hague in 1780, was captured on the voyage and carried into England. But this little incident mattered not at all to the Congress, which for a long while cheerfully drew a great number of bills upon the poor gentleman, who, held in the Tower of London as a traitor, was hardly in a position to negotiate large loans for his fellow "rebels." In October, 1780, these bills began to flutter down upon Franklin's desk, drawn by a sort of natural gravitation. He felt "obliged to accept them," and said that he should "with some difficulty be able to pay them, though these extra demands often embarrass me exceedingly."

November 19, 1780, he wrote to de Vergennes announcing that Congress had notified him of drafts to the amount of about 1,400,000 livres (about $280,000). The reply was: "You can easily imagine my astonishment at your request of the necessary funds to meet these drafts, since you perfectly well know the extraordinary efforts which I have made thus far to assist you and support your credit, and especially since you cannot have forgotten the demands you lately made upon me. Nevertheless, sir, I am very desirous of assisting you out of the embarrassed situation in which these repeated drafts of Congress have placed you; and for this purpose I shall endeavor to procure for you, for the next year, the same aid that I have been able to furnish in the course of the present. I cannot but believe, sir, that Congress will faithfully abide by what it now promises you, that in future no drafts shall be made upon you unless the necessary funds are sent to meet them."

Such a letter, though only gratitude could be felt for it, must have stung the sensitiveness of Franklin, who had already a great national pride. Nor was the pain likely to be assuaged by the conduct of Congress; for that body had not the slightest idea of keeping the promises upon which de Vergennes expressed a reliance perhaps greater than he really felt. It is not without annoyance, even now, that one reads that only two days after the French minister wrote this letter, Congress instructed Franklin to do some more begging for clothes, and for the aid of a fleet, and said: "With respect to the loan, we foresee that the sum which we ask will be greatly inadequate to our wants."

December 2, 1780, Franklin acknowledges "favors," a conventional phrase which seems sarcastic. These tell him that Congress has resolved to draw on him "bills extraordinary, to the amount of near $300,000." These were doubtless what led to the foregoing correspondence with de Vergennes. In reply he says that he has already engaged himself for the bills drawn on Mr. Laurens, and adds: "You cannot conceive how much these things perplex and distress me; for the practice of this government being yearly to apportion the revenue to the several expected services, any after demands made, which the treasury is not furnished to supply, meet with great difficulty, and are very disagreeable to the ministers."

A short fragment of a diary kept in 1781 gives a painful vision of the swarm of bills:—

"Jan. 6. Accepted a number of loan office bills this day, and every day of the past week.

"Sunday, Jan. 7. Accepted a vast number of loan office bills. Some of the new drafts begin to appear.

"Jan. 8. Accepted many bills.

"Jan. 10th. Informed that my recall is to be moved for in Congress.

"Jan. 12th. Sign acceptation [qu. "of"? mutilated] many bills. They come thick.

"Jan. 15th. Accepted above 200 bills, some of the new.

"Jan. 17th. Accepted many bills.

"Jan. 22d. M. Grand informs me that Mr. Williams has drawn on me for 25,000 livres; ... I order payment of his drafts.

"Jan. 24th. A great number of bills.

"Jan. 26th. Accept bills."

February 13 he writes a general begging and stimulating letter to de Vergennes. He says that the plain truth is that the present situation in the States "makes one of two things essential to us—a peace, or the most vigorous aid of our allies, particularly in the article of money.... The present conjuncture is critical; there is some danger lest the Congress should lose its influence over the people, if it is found unable to procure the aids that are wanted;" and in that case the opportunity for separation is gone, "perhaps for ages." A few days later he was "under the necessity of being importunate for an answer to the application lately made for stores and money." De Vergennes replied, in an interview, that Franklin must know that for France to lend the 25,000,000 livres asked for was "at present impracticable." Also his excellency mentioned other uncomfortable and distasteful facts, but concluded by saying that the king, as a "signal proof of his friendship," would make a free gift of 6,000,000 livres, in addition to 3,000,000 recently furnished for interest drafts. But the French court had at last so far lost confidence in Congress that in order to make sure that this money should be applied in aid of the army, and not be vaguely absorbed by committees, a stipulation was inserted that it should be paid only upon the order of General Washington. This was a trifle insulting to Congress, and made trouble; and it seems that ultimately the sum was intrusted to Franklin.

Almost immediately afterward he extorted from Necker an agreement that the king of France would guaranty a loan of 10,000,000 livres, if it could be raised in Holland; and upon these terms he was able to raise this sum. Trouble enough the possession of it soon gave him; for the demands for it were numerous. Franklin needed it to keep himself solvent in Europe; Congress greedily sought it for America; William Jackson, who was buying supplies in Holland, required much of it there. Franklin was expected to repeat with it the miracle of the loaves and fishes. 2,500,000 livres he sent to the States in the same ship which carried John Laurens. 2,200,000 Laurens disposed of in purchasing goods; 1,500,000 were sent to Holland to be thence sent to the States in another ship, so as to divide the risk. But while he thus took care of others, he himself was drawn upon by Jackson for L50,000; and at the same time he was expected to provide for all the bills accepted by Laurens, Jay, and Adams, and now rapidly maturing. He sent in haste to Holland to detain the 1,500,000 livres in transitu. "I am sorry," he said, "that this operation is necessary; but it must be done, or the consequences will be terrible."

Laurens and Jackson, however, in Holland, had been actually spending this sum, and more. "I applaud the zeal you have both shown in the affair," said the harassed doctor, "but I see that nobody cares how much I am distressed, provided they can carry their own points." Fortunately the money still lay in the hands of the banker, and there Franklin stopped it; whereupon Jackson fell into extreme rage, and threatened some sort of a "proceeding," which Franklin said would only be exceedingly imprudent, useless, and scandalous. "The noise rashly made about this matter" by Jackson naturally injured American credit in Holland, and especially rendered unmarketable his own drafts upon Franklin. In these straits he journeyed to Paris to see Franklin, represented that his goods were on board ship; that they were articles much needed in America; that they must be paid for, or else relanded and returned, or sold, which would be a public disgrace. So Franklin was prevailed upon to engage for the payment, and was "obliged to go with this after-clap to the ministers," a proceeding especially disagreeable because, as he said, "the money was to be paid for the manufactures of other countries and not laid out in those of this kingdom, by whose friendship it was furnished." He was at first "absolutely refused," but in time prevailed, and "hoped the difficulty was over." Not at all! After all this exertion and annoyance, the officers of the ship said she was overloaded, and turned out a large part of the goods, which were accordingly put into two other ships; and then Franklin was offered the option of buying these two vessels, of hiring them at a freight scarcely less than their value, or of having the goods again set on shore. He was now "ashamed to show his face to the minister," and was casting about for resources, when suddenly he was surprised by new demands to pay for the goods which he had every reason to believe had already been paid for. This produced such a dispute and complication that the goods remained long in Holland before affairs could be arranged, and the final settlement is not clearly to be made out.

In the spring of 1781 John Adams was in Holland, and of course Congress was drawing bills upon him, and equally of course he had not a stiver with which to meet them. He had "opened a loan," but so little had fallen into the opening that he was barely able to pay expenses; so, still of course, he turned to Franklin: "When they [the bills] arrive and are presented I must write to you concerning them, and desire you to enable me to discharge them." He added that it was a "grievous mortification to find that America has no credit here, while England certainly still has so much." Apparently the pamphlet in which Franklin had so convincingly shown that the reverse of this should be the case had not satisfied the minds of the Dutch bankers.

In July, 1781, came a broad hint from Robert Morris: "I will not doubt a moment that, at your instance, his majesty will make pressing representations in support of Mr. Jay's application, and I hope that the authority of so great a sovereign and the arguments of his able ministry will shed auspicious influence on our negotiations at Madrid." This fulsome language, intended of course to be read to de Vergennes, imposed the gratifying duty of begging the French minister to second American begging in Spain.

In the same month Franklin wrote to Morris that the French were vexed at the purchasing of goods in Holland, and would not furnish the money to pay for them, and he actually suggested a remittance from America! "Otherwise I shall be ruined, with the American credit in Europe." He might have had some motive besides patriotism in thus uniting himself with the credit of his country; for he had been warned that the consul's court in Paris had power even over the persons of foreign ministers in the case of bills of exchange.

September 12, 1781, he announces triumphantly that "the remittances ... which I requested are now unnecessary, and I shall finish the year with honor," notwithstanding "drafts on Mr. Jay and on Mr. Adams much exceeding what I had been made to expect."

He was now informed that Congress would not draw upon other ministers without providing funds, but that they would continue to draw on him "funds or no funds," an invidious distinction which "terrified" him; for he had been obliged to promise de Vergennes not to accept any drafts drawn later than March, 1781, unless he should have in hand or in view funds sufficient to pay them. But before long he began to suspect that Congress could outwit the French minister. For so late as January, 1782, bills dated prior to the preceding April were still coming; and he said: "I begin to suspect that the drawing continues, and that the bills are antedated. It is impossible for me to go on with demands after demands." The next month also found these old bills on Laurens still coming in. Congress never let the ministers know how many bills it was drawing, perhaps fearing to discourage them by so appalling a disclosure. Franklin now wrote to Adams: "Perhaps from the series of numbers and the deficiencies one may be able to divine the sum that has been issued." Moreover, he reflects that he has never had any instructions to pay the acceptances of Jay and Adams, nor has had any ratification of his payments; neither had he "ever received a syllable of approbation for having done so. Thus I stand charged with vast sums which I have disbursed for the public service without authority." The thought might cause some anxiety, in view of the moral obliquity manifested by Congress in all its financial dealings.

In November, 1781, came a long letter from Livingston; everything was wanted; but especially the States must have money! December 31, a day that often brings reflection on matters financial, de Vergennes sent a brief warning; 1,000,000 livres, which had been promised, Franklin should have, but not one livre more under any circumstances; if he had accepted, or should accept, Morris's drafts in excess of this sum, he must trust to his own resources to meet his obligations. Accordingly on January 9, 1782, he wrote to Morris: "Bills are still coming in quantities.... You will see by the inclosed letter the situation I am at last brought into.... I shall be able to pay till the end of February, when, if I can get no more money, I must stop."

Ten days later he writes to Jay that his solicitations make him appear insatiable, that he gets no assurances of aid, but that he is "very sensible" of Jay's "unhappy situation," and therefore manages to send him $30,000, though he knows not how to replace it. In the sad month of March, 1782, Lafayette nobly helped Franklin in the disagreeable task of begging, but to little purpose; for at length there seemed a general determination to furnish no more money to the States. The fighting was over, and it seemed reasonable that the borrowing should be over likewise.

In February, 1782, Franklin says that Mr. Morris supposes him to have a sum "vastly greater than the fact," and has "given orders far beyond my abilities to comply with." Franklin was regarded as a miraculous orange which, if squeezed hard enough, would always yield juice! It could not have been reassuring, either, to have one of the American agents at this time ask to have 150,000 livres advanced to him at once; especially since the frankly provident gentleman based his pressing haste upon the avowed fear that, as business was going on, Franklin's embarrassments in money matters were likely to increase.

February 13, 1782, Livingston wrote a letter which must have excited a grim smile. He comforts himself, in making more "importunate demands," by reflecting that it is all for the good of France! which thought, he says, may enable Franklin to "press them with some degree of dignity." Franklin's sense of humor was touched. That means, he says, that I am to say to de Vergennes: "Help us, and we shall not be obliged to you." But in some way or another, probably not precisely in this eccentric way, he so managed it that in March he wheedled the French government into still another and a large loan of 24,000,000 livres payable quarterly during the year. March 9 he informs Morris "pretty fully of the state of our funds here, by which you will be enabled so to regulate your drafts as that our credit in Europe may not be ruined and your friend killed with vexation."

He now engaged to pay all the drafts which Jay should send to him, so that Jay could extricate himself honorably from those dread engagements which had been giving that harassed gentleman infinite anxiety at Madrid. Some of his acceptances had already gone to protest; but Franklin soon took them all up. By the end of March he began to breathe more freely; he had saved himself and his colleagues thus far and now he hoped that the worst was over. He wrote to Morris: "Your promise that after this month no more bills shall be drawn on me keeps up my spirits and affords me the greatest satisfaction." By the following summer the accounts between France and the States were in course of liquidation, and Franklin called the attention of Livingston to the fact that the king practically made the States a further present "to the value of near two millions. These, added to the free gifts before made to us at different times, form an object of at least twelve millions, for which no returns but that of gratitude and friendship are expected. These, I hope, may be everlasting." But liquidation, though a necessary preliminary to payment, is not payment, and does not preclude a continuance of borrowing; and in August we find that Morris was still pressing for more money, still drawing drafts, in happy forgetfulness of his promises not to do so, and still keeping Franklin in anxious dread of bankruptcy. By the same letter it appears that Morris had directed Franklin to pay over to M. Grand, the banker, any surplus funds in his hands! "I would do it with pleasure, if there were any such," said Franklin; but the question was still of a deficit, not of a surplus.

December 14, 1782, finds Franklin still at the old task, preferring "the application so strongly pressed by the Congress for a loan of $4,000,000." Lafayette again helped him, but the result remained uncertain. The negotiations for peace were so far advanced that the ministers thought it time for such demands to cease. But probably he succeeded, for a few days later he appears to be remitting a considerable sum. Peace, however, was at hand, and in one respect at least it was peace for Franklin as well as for his country, for even Congress could no longer expect him to continue borrowing. He had indeed rendered services not less gallant though less picturesque than those of Washington himself, vastly more disagreeable, and scarcely less essential to the success of the cause.



John Adams wielded a vivid and vicious pen; he neglected the Scriptural injunction: "Judge not," and he set honesty before charity in speech. His judgments upon his contemporaries were merciless; they had that kind of truthfulness which precluded contradiction, yet which left a sense of injustice; they were at once accurate and unfair. His strictures concerning Franklin are an illustration of these peculiarities. What he said is of importance because he said it, and because members of the Adams family in successive generations, voluminous contributors to the history of the country, have never divested themselves of the inherited enmity toward Franklin. During Adams's first visit to France the relationship between him and Franklin is described as sufficiently friendly rather than as cordial. December 7, 1778, in a letter to his cousin Samuel Adams, John thus described his colleague:—

"The other you know personally, and that he loves his Ease, hates to offend, and seldom gives any opinion till obliged to do it. I know also, and it is necessary that you should be informed, that he is overwhelmed with a correspondence from all quarters, most of them upon trifling subjects and in a more trifling style, with unmeaning visits from Multitudes of People, chiefly from the Vanity of having it to say that they have seen him. There is another thing that I am obliged to mention. There are so many private families, Ladies and gentlemen, that he visits so often,—and they are so fond of him, that he cannot well avoid it,—and so much intercourse with Academicians, that all these things together keep his mind in a constant state of dissipation. If indeed you take out of his hand the Public Treasury and the direction of the Frigates and Continental vessels that are sent here, and all Commercial affairs, and entrust them to Persons to be appointed by Congress, at Nantes and Bordeaux, I should think it would be best to have him here alone, with such a Secretary as you can confide in. But if he is left here alone, even with such a secretary, and all maritime and Commercial as well as political affairs and money matters are left in his Hands, I am persuaded that France and America will both have Reason to repent it. He is not only so indolent that Business will be neglected, but you know that, although he has as determined a soul as any man, yet it is his constant Policy never to say 'yes' or 'no' decidedly but when he cannot avoid it."

This mischievous letter, not actually false, yet misrepresenting and misleading, has unfortunately survived to injure both the man who wrote it and the man about whom it was written. It is quoted in order to show the sort of covert fire in the rear to which Franklin was subjected throughout his term of service. It is astonishing now, when the evidence is all before us and the truth is attainable, to read such a description of such a patriot as Franklin, a man who went through labors and anxieties for the cause probably only surpassed by those of Washington, and whose services did more to promote success than did the services of any other save only Washington. How blind was the personal prejudice of the critic who saw Franklin in Paris and could yet suggest that the charge of the public treasury should be taken from him! To whom else would the Frenchmen have unlocked their coffers as they did to him, whom they so warmly liked and admired? John Adams and Arthur Lee and other Americans who endeavored to deal with the French court got themselves so thoroughly hated there that little aid would have been forthcoming at the request of such representatives. It was to Franklin's personal influence that a large portion of the substantial help in men, ships, and especially in money, accorded by France to the States, was due. He was as much the right man in Europe as was Washington in America.

Nevertheless this attribution of traits, so maliciously penned, has passed into history, and though the world does not see that either France or the States had cause "to repent" keeping Franklin in Paris in general charge of affairs, and unwatched by a vigilant secretary, yet all the world believes that in the gay metropolis Franklin was indolent and given over to social pleasures, which flattered his vanity. Undoubtedly there is foundation in fact for the belief. But to arrive at a just conclusion one must consider many things. The character of the chief witness is as important as that of the accused. Adams, besides being a severe critic, was filled to the brim with an irrepressible activity, an insatiate industry, a restlessness and energy, all which were at this period stimulated by the excitement of the times to an intensity excessive and abnormal even for him. To him, in this condition of chronic agitation, the serenity of Franklin's broad intellect and tranquil nature seemed inexplicable and culpable. But Franklin had what Adams lacked, a vast experience in men and affairs. Adams knew the provinces and the provincials; Franklin knew the provinces and England and France, the provincials, Englishmen, Frenchmen, and all ranks and conditions of men,—journeymen, merchants, philosophers, men of letters, diplomatists, courtiers, noblemen, and statesmen. The one was an able colonist, the other was a man of the world, of exceptionally wide personal experience even as such. Moreover Franklin's undertakings were generally crowned with a success which justifies us in saying that, however much or little exertion he visibly put forth, at least he put forth enough. Adams sometimes was for putting forth too much. Franklin, when he arrived in France, was in his seventy-first year; his health was in the main good, yet his strength had been severely tried by his journey to Canada and by the voyage. He was troubled with a cutaneous complaint, of which he makes light, but which was abundant evidence that his physical condition was far from perfect; he was a victim of the gout, which attacked him frequently and with great severity, so that he was often obliged to keep his bed for days and weeks; when he was appointed sole minister of the States to France he remarked that there was "some incongruity in a plenipotentiary who could neither stand nor go;" later on he suffered extremely from stone and gravel; with all these diseases, and with the remorseless disease of old age gaining ground every day, it is hardly surprising that Franklin seemed to the hale and vigorous Adams not to be making that show of activity which would have been becoming in the chief representative of the United States during these critical years. Yet except that he was careless about his papers and remiss in his correspondence, no definite allegations are made against him prior to the treating for peace; no business of importance was ever said to have failed in his hands, which should be a sufficient vindication of his general efficiency. The amount of labor which was laid upon him was enormous: he did as much business as the managing head of a great banking-house and a great mercantile firm combined; he did all the diplomacy of the United States; he was also their consul-general, and though he had agents in some ports, yet they more often gave trouble than assistance; after the commercial treaty with France he had to investigate French laws and tariffs and give constant advice to American merchants upon all sorts of questions as to statutes, trade, customs, dues, and duties. What he did concerning the warships, the privateers, and the prizes has been hinted at rather than stated; what he did in the way of financiering has been imperfectly shown; he was often engaged in planning naval operations either for Paul Jones and others in European waters or for the French fleet in American waters. He had for a perpetual annoyance all the captiousness and the quarrels of the two Lees, Izard, and Thomas Morris. When business had to be transacted, as often occurred, with states at whose courts the United States had no representative, Franklin had to manage it;[71] especially he was concerned with the business in Spain, whither he would have journeyed in person had his health and other engagements permitted. Moreover he was adviser-general to all American officials of any and every grade and function in Europe; and much as some of these gentlemen contemned him, they each and all instinctively demanded his guidance in every matter of importance. Even Arthur Lee deferred to him rather than decide for himself; Dana sought his instructions for the mission to Russia; men of the calibre of Jay and independent John Adams sought and respected his views and his aid, perhaps more than they themselves appreciated. Surely here was labor enough, and even more responsibility than labor; but Franklin's great, well-trained mind worked with the ease and force of a perfectly regulated machine whose smoothness of action almost conceals its power, and all the higher parts of his labor were achieved with little perceptible effort. For the matters of account-keeping and letter-writing, he neglected these things; and one is almost provoked into respecting him for so doing when it is remembered that during all the time of his stay in France Congress never allowed to this aged and overtasked man a secretary of legation, or even an amanuensis or a copyist. He had with him his grandson, Temple Franklin, a lad of sixteen years at the time of his arrival in France, and whom it had been intended to place at school. But Franklin could not dispense with his services, and kept this youngster as his sole clerk and assistant. It should be mentioned also in this connection that it was not only necessary to prepare the customary duplicates of every document of importance, but every paper which was to be sent across the Atlantic had to be copied half a dozen extra times, in order to be dispatched in as many different ships, so great were the dangers of capture. It was hardly fair to expect a minister plenipotentiary to display unwearied zeal in this sort of work. Adams himself would have done it, and grumbled; Franklin did not do it, and preserved his good temper. In conclusion it may be said that, if Franklin was indolent, as in some ways he probably was, he had at least much excuse for indolence, and the trait showed itself only on what may be called the physical side of his duties; upon the intellectual side, it cannot be denied that during the period thus far traversed he did more thinking and to better purpose than any other American of the day.

[Note 71: For example, with Norway, with Denmark, and with Portugal.]

In saying that Franklin was fond of society and pleased with the admiration expressed for him by the ardent and courteous Frenchmen and by other continental Europeans, Adams spoke correctly. Franklin was always social and always a little vain. But much less would have been heard of these traits if the distinction made between him and his colleagues had been less conspicuous and less constant. That men of the size of the Lees and Izard should inflate themselves to the measure of harboring a jealousy of Franklin's preeminence was only ridiculous; but Adams should have had, as Jay had, too much self-respect to cherish such a feeling. It was the weak point in his character that he could never acknowledge a superior, and the fact that the world at large estimated Washington, Franklin, and Hamilton as men of larger calibre than his own kept him in a state of exasperation all his life. Now the simple truth, forced in a thousand unintended ways upon the knowledge of all American envoys during the Revolution, was, that in Europe Franklin was a distinguished man, while no other American was known or cared for at all. Franklin received deference, where others received civility; Franklin was selected for attentions, for flattery, for official consultations and communications, while his colleagues were "forgotten entirely by the French people." Jay, Dana, and Carmichael accepted this situation in the spirit of sensible gentlemen, but Adams, the Lees, and Izard were incensed and sought an offset in defamation. Compare Carmichael's language with what has been quoted from Adams: he says: "The age of Dr. Franklin in some measure hinders him from taking so active a part in the drudgery of business as his great zeal and abilities would otherwise enable him to execute. He is the Master, to whom we children in politics look up for counsel, and whose name is everywhere a passport to be well received." Still it must have been provoking to be customarily spoken of as "Dr. Franklin's associates." When Franklin was appointed minister plenipotentiary he was obliged to explain that he was not the "sole representative of America in Europe." De Vergennes always wished to deal only with him, and occasionally said things to him in secrecy so close as to be exclusive even of his "associates." Adams honestly admitted that "this court have confidence in him alone." When a favor was to be asked, it was Franklin who could best seek it; and when it was granted it seemed to be vouchsafed to Franklin. In a word, Franklin had the monopoly of the confidence, the respect, and the personal regard of the French ministry. It was the same way also with the English; when they made advances for conciliation or peace, they too selected Franklin for their communications.

Adams was not sufficiently familiar with the modes of political life in Europe to appreciate what a substantial value Franklin's social and scientific prestige among the "ladies and gentlemen" and the "academicians" had there. All those tributes which the great "philosopher" was constantly receiving may have been, as Adams said, pleasant food for his vanity, but they were also of practical worth and service, signifying that he was a man of real note and importance in what European statesmen regarded as "the world." If Franklin relished the repast, who among mortals would not? And was his accuser a man to have turned his back on such viands, had he also been bidden to the feast of flattery? Franklin's vanity was a simple, amiable, and harmless source of pleasure to himself; it was not of the greedy or envious type, nor did its gratification do any injury to any person or any interest. Jay, a man of generous temper, understood the advantage reaped by the States from being represented at the French court by a man whose greatness all Europe recognized. More than once he bore this testimony, honorable alike to the giver and to him for whom it was given.[72]

[Note 72: See, for example, Franklin's Works, vii. 252, note.]

Pleasant as were many of the features of Franklin's residence in France, and skillfully as he may have evaded some of the more irksome labors imposed upon him, the attraction was not always sufficient to make him reluctant to have done with the place. Its vexations and anxieties wore upon him grievously. He knew that unfriendly representations concerning him were often made in America, and that these induced some men to distrust him, and caused others to feel anxious about him. He heard stories that he was to be recalled, other stories that there was a cabal to vent a petty ill will by putting an end to the clerkship of his grandson. This cut him to the quick. "I should not part with the child," he said, "but with the employment;" and so the ignoble scheme miscarried; for Congress was not ready to lose Franklin, and did not really feel any extreme dread of harm from a lad who, though the son of a loyalist, had grown up under Franklin's personal influence. At times homesickness attacked him. When he heard of the death of an old friend at home he wrote sadly: "A few more such deaths will make me a stranger in my own country." He was not one of those patriots who like to live abroad and protest love for their own country. Generally he preserved the delightful evenness of his temper with a success quite wonderful in a man troubled with complaints which preeminently make the sufferer impatient and irascible. Only once he said, when he was being very unreasonably annoyed about some shipping business: "I will absolutely have nothing to do with any new squadron project. I have been too long in hot water, plagued almost to death with the passions, vagaries, and ill humors and madnesses of other people. I must have a little repose." A very mild outbreak this, under all his provocations, but it is the only one of which any record remains. His tranquil self-control was a very remarkable trait; he was never made so angry by all the calumny and assaults of enemies peculiarly apt in the art of irritation as to use any immoderate or undignified language. He never retaliated, though he had the fighting capacity in him. Before the tribunal of posterity his patient endurance has counted greatly in his favor.

By March, 1781, he had definitively made up his mind to resign, and wrote to the president of Congress a letter which was unmistakably earnest and in parts even touching.[73] When this alarming communication was received all the depreciation of the Lees, Izard, and the rest went for nothing. Without hesitation Congress ignored the request, with far better reason than it could show for the utter indifference with which it was wont to regard pretty much all the other requests which Franklin ever made. Its behavior in this respect was indeed very singular. He recommended his grandson to it, and it paid absolutely no attention to the petition. He repeatedly asked the appointment of consuls at some of the French ports; it created all sorts of other officials, keeping Paris full of useless and costly "ministers" accredited to courts which would not receive them, but appointed no consul. He urged hard, as a trifling personal favor, that an accountant might be appointed to audit his nephew Williams's accounts, but Congress would not attend to a matter which could have been disposed of in five minutes. He never could get a secretary or a clerk, nor even any proper appointment of, or salary for, his grandson. He seldom got an expression of thanks or approbation for anything that he did, though he did many things wholly outside of his regular functions and involving great personal risk and responsibility. Yet when he really wanted to resign he was not allowed to do so; and thus at last he was left to learn by inference that he had given satisfaction.[74]

[Note 73: Franklin's Works, vii. 207; the letter is unfortunately too long to quote. See also his letter to Lafayette, Ibid. 237.]

[Note 74: See letter to Carmichael, Works, vii. 285.]


No sooner had Adams got comfortably settled at home than he was obliged to return again to Europe. Franklin, Jay, Laurens, Jefferson, and he were appointed by Congress commissioners to treat for peace, whenever the fitting time should come; and so in February, 1780, he was back in Paris. But peace was still far away in the future, and Adams, meanwhile, finding the intolerable incumbrance of leisure upon his hands, exorcised the demon by writing long letters to de Vergennes upon sundry matters of interest in American affairs. It was an unfortunate scheme. If Nature had maliciously sought to create a man for the express purpose of aggravating de Vergennes, she could not have made one better adapted for that service than was Adams. Very soon there was a terrible explosion, and Franklin, invoked by both parties, had to hasten to the rescue, to his own serious injury.

On May 31, 1780, in a letter to the president of Congress, Franklin said: "A great clamor has lately been made by some merchants, who say they have large sums on their hands of paper money in America, and that they are ruined by some resolution of Congress, which reduces its value to one part in forty. As I have had no letter explaining this matter I have only been able to say that it is probably misunderstood, and that I am confident the Congress have not done, nor will do, anything unjust towards strangers who have given us credit." Soon afterward Adams got private information of the passage of an act for the redemption of the paper money at the rate of forty dollars for one in silver. At once he sent the news to de Vergennes. That statesman took fire at the tidings, and promptly responded that foreigners ought to be indemnified for any losses they might suffer, and that Americans alone should "support the expense which is occasioned by the defense of their liberty," and should regard "the depreciation of their paper money only as an impost which ought to fall upon themselves." He added that he had instructed the Chevalier de la Luzerne, French minister to the States, "to make the strongest representations on this subject" to Congress.

Adams was alarmed at the anger which he had excited, and besought de Vergennes to hold his hand until Franklin could "have opportunity to make his representations to his majesty's ministers." But this gleam of good sense was transitory, for on the same day, without waiting for Franklin to intervene, he composed and sent to de Vergennes a long, elaborate defense of the course of the States. It was such an argument as a stubborn lawyer might address to a presumably prejudiced court; it had not a pleasant word of gratitude for past favors, or of regret at the present necessity; it was as undiplomatic and ill considered as it certainly was unanswerable. But its impregnability could not offset its gross imprudence. To exasperate de Vergennes and alienate the French government at that period, although by a perfectly sound presentation, was an act of madness as unpardonable as any crime.

Upon the same day on which Adams drew up this able, inexcusable brief for his unfortunate client, the Congress, he wrote to Franklin begging him to interfere. On June 29 he followed this request with a humbler note than John Adams often wrote, acknowledging that he might have made some errors, and desiring to be set right. On June 30 de Vergennes also appealed to Franklin, saying, amid much more: "The king is so firmly persuaded, sir, that your private opinion respecting the effects of that resolution of Congress, as far as it concerns strangers and especially Frenchmen, differs from that of Mr. Adams, that he is not apprehensive of laying you under any embarrassment by requesting you to support the representations which his minister is ordered to make to Congress."

Franklin, receiving these epistles, was greatly vexed at the jeopardy into which the rash zeal of Adams had suddenly plunged the American interests in France. His indignation was not likely to be made less by the fact that all this letter-writing to de Vergennes was a tacit reproach upon his own performance of his duties and a gratuitous intrenchment upon his province. The question which presented itself to him was not whether the argument of Adams was right or wrong, nor whether the distinction which de Vergennes sought to establish between American citizens and foreigners was practicable or not. This was fortunate, because, while Adams in the States had been forced to ponder carefully all the problems of a depreciating paper currency, Franklin in France had neither necessity, nor opportunity, nor leisure for studying either the ethics or the solution of so perplexing a problem. He now hastily made such inquiries as he could among the Americans lately arrived in Paris, but did not pretend "perfectly to understand" the subject. To master its difficulties, however, did not seem essential, because he recognized that the obvious duty of the moment was to say something which might at least mitigate the present wrath of the French ministry, and so gain time for explanation and adjustment in a better state of feeling. He had once laid down to Arthur Lee the principle: "While we are asking aid it is necessary to gratify the desires and in some sort comply with the humors of those we apply to. Our business now is to carry our point." Acting upon this rule of conciliation, he wrote, on July 10, to de Vergennes:—

"In this I am clear, that if the operation directed by Congress in their resolution of March the 18th occasions, from the necessity of the case, some inequality of justice, that inconvenience ought to fall wholly upon the inhabitants of the States, who reap with it the advantages obtained by the measure; and that the greatest care should be taken that foreign merchants, particularly the French, who are our creditors, do not suffer by it. This I am so confident the Congress will do that I do not think any representations of mine necessary to persuade them to it. I shall not fail, however, to lay the whole before them."

In pursuance of this promise Franklin wrote on August 9 a full narrative of the entire matter; it was a fair and temperate statement of facts which it was his duty to lay before Congress.[75] Before sending it he wrote to Adams that de Vergennes, "having taken much amiss some passages in your letter to him, sent the whole correspondence to me, requesting that I would transmit it to Congress. I was myself sorry to see those passages. If they were the effects merely of inadvertence, and you do not, on reflection, approve of them, perhaps you may think it proper to write something for effacing the impressions made by them. I do not presume to advise you; but mention it only for your consideration." But Adams had already taken his own measures for presenting the case before Congress.

[Note 75: Franklin's Works, vii. 110-112.]

Such is the full story of Franklin's doings in this affair. His connection with it was limited to an effort to counteract the mischief which another had done. Whether he thought that the "inconvenience" which "ought to fall" only on Americans could be arranged to do so, does not appear; probably he never concerned himself to work out a problem entirely outside his own department. As a diplomatist, who had to gain time for angry people to cool down for amicable discussion, he was content to throw out this general remark, and to express confidence that his countrymen would do liberal justice. So far as he was concerned, this should have been the end of the matter, and Adams should have been grateful to a man whose tranquil wisdom and skillful tact had saved him from the self-reproach which he would ever have felt had his well-intentioned, ill-timed act borne its full possible fruit of injury to the cause of the States. But Adams, who knew that his views were intrinsically correct, emerged from the imbroglio with an extreme resentment against his rescuer, nor was he ever able to see that Franklin did right in not reiterating the same views. He wished not to be saved but to be vindicated. The consequence has been unfortunate for Franklin, because the affair has furnished material for one of the counts in the indictment which the Adamses have filed against him before the bar of posterity.

It may be remarked here that the few words which Franklin ever let drop concerning paper money indicate that he had given it little thought. He said that in Europe it seemed "a mystery," "a wonderful machine;" and there is no reason why he should have understood it better than other people in Europe. He also said that the general effect of the depreciation had operated as a gradual tax on the citizens, and "perhaps the most equal of all taxes, since it depreciated in the hands of the holders of money, and thereby taxed them in proportion to the sums they held and the time they held it, which is generally in proportion to men's wealth."[76] The remark could not keep a place in any very profound discussion of the subject; but it should be noted that in this point of view the contention of de Vergennes might be logically defended, on the ground that a foreigner ought not to be taxed like a citizen; but the insuperable difficulty of making the distinction practicable remained undisposed of.

[Note 76: See also Franklin's Works, vii. 343.]



The war had not been long waging before overtures and soundings concerning an accommodation, abetted and sometimes instigated by the cabinet, began to come from England. Nearly all these were addressed to Franklin, because all Europe persisted in regarding him as the one authentic representative of America, and because Englishmen of all parties had long known and respected him far beyond any other American. In March, 1778, William Pulteney, a member of Parliament, came under an assumed name to Paris and had an interview with him. But it seemed that England would not renounce the theory of the power of Parliament over the colonies, though willing by way of favor to forego its exercise. Franklin declared an arrangement on such a basis to be impossible.

A few months later there occurred the singular and mysterious episode of Charles de Weissenstein. Such was the signature to a letter dated at Brussels, June 16, 1778. The writer said that independence was an impossibility, and that the English title to the colonies, being indisputable, would be enforced by coming generations even if the present generation should have to "stop awhile in the pursuit to recover breath;" he then sketched a plan of reconciliation, which included offices or life pensions for Franklin, Washington, and other prominent rebels. He requested a personal interview with Franklin, and, failing that, he appointed to be in a certain spot in Notre Dame at a certain hour, wearing a rose in his hat, to receive a written reply. The French police reported the presence at the time and place of a man obviously bent upon this errand, who was traced to his hotel and found, says John Adams, to be "Colonel Fitz-something, an Irish name, that I have forgotten." He got no answer, because at a consultation between the American commissioners and de Vergennes it was so decided. But one had been written by Franklin, and though de Weissenstein and Colonel Fitz-something never saw it, at least it has afforded pleasure to thousands of readers since that time. For by sundry evidence Franklin became convinced, even to the point of alleging that he "knew," that the incognito correspondent was the English monarch himself, whose letter the Irish colonel had brought. The extraordinary occasion inspired him. It is a rare occurrence when one can speak direct to a king as man with man on terms of real equality. Franklin seized his chance, and wrote a letter in his best vein, a dignified, vigorous statement of the American position, an eloquent, indignant arraignment of the English measures for which George III. more than any other one man was responsible. In language which was impassioned without being extravagant, he mingled sarcasm and retort, statement and argument, with a strenuous force that would have bewildered the royal "de Weissenstein." To this day one cannot read these stinging paragraphs without a feeling of disappointment that de Vergennes would not let them reach their destination. Such a bolt should have been sent hotly home, not dropped to be picked up as a curiosity by the groping historians of posterity.

The good Hartley also was constantly toiling to find some common ground upon which negotiators could stand and talk. One of his schemes, which now seems an idle one, was for a long truce, during which passions might subside and perhaps a settlement be devised. Franklin ever lent a courteous ear to any one who spoke the word Peace. But neither this strong feeling, nor any discouragement by reason of American reverses, nor any arguments of Englishmen ever induced him to recede in the least from the line of demands which he thought reasonable, nor to abate his uncompromising plainness of speech.

With the outbreak of war Franklin's feelings towards England had taken on that extreme bitterness which so often succeeds when love and admiration seem to have been misplaced. "I was fond to a folly," he said, "of our British connections, ... but the extreme cruelty with which we have been treated has now extinguished every thought of returning to it, and separated us forever. You have thereby lost limbs that will never grow again." English barbarities, he declared, "have at length demolished all my moderation." Often and often he reiterated such statements in burning words, which verge more nearly upon vehemence than any other reminiscence which survives to us of the great and calm philosopher.

Yet in the bottom of his heart he felt that the chasm should not be made wider and deeper than was inevitable. In 1780 he told Hartley that Congress would fain have had him "make a school-book" from accounts of "British barbarities," to be illustrated by thirty-five prints by good artists of Paris, "each expressing one or more of the different horrid facts, ... in order to impress the minds of children and posterity with a deep sense of your bloody and insatiable malice and wickedness." He would not do this, yet was sorely provoked toward it. "Every kindness I hear of done by an Englishman to an American prisoner makes me resolve not to proceed in the work, hoping a reconciliation may yet take place. But every fresh instance of your devilism weakens that resolution, and makes me abominate the thought of a reunion with such a people."

In point of fact the idea of an actual reunion seems never from the very outset to have had any real foothold in his mind. In 1779 he said: "We have long since settled all the account in our own minds. We know the worst you can do to us, if you have your wish, is to confiscate our estates and take our lives, to rob and murder us; and this ... we are ready to hazard rather than come again under your detested government."[77] This sentiment steadily gained strength as the struggle advanced. Whenever he talked about terms of peace he took a tone so high as must have seemed altogether ridiculous to English statesmen. Independence, he said, was established; no words need be wasted about that. Then he audaciously suggested that it would be good policy for England "to act nobly and generously; ... to cede all that remains in North America, and thus conciliate and strengthen a young power, which she wishes to have a future and serviceable friend." She would do well to "throw in" Canada, Nova Scotia, and the Floridas, and "call it ... an indemnification for the burning of the towns."

[Note 77: See also a strong statement in letter to Hartley of October 14, 1777; Works, vii. 106.]

Englishmen constantly warned him of the blunder which the colonies would commit, should they "throw themselves into the arms" of France, and they assured him that the alliance was the one "great stumbling-block in the way of making peace." But he had ever the reply, after the fashion of Scripture: By their fruits ye shall know them. France was as liberal of friendship and good services as England was of tyranny and cruelties. This was enough to satisfy Franklin; he saw no Judas in the constant and generous de Vergennes, and could recognize no inducement to drop the substance France for the shadow England.[78] To his mind it seemed to concern equally the honor and the interest of the States to stand closely and resolutely by their allies, whom to abandon would be "infamy;" and after all, what better bond could there be than a common interest and a common foe? From this view he never wavered to the hour when the definitive treaty of peace was signed.[79]

[Note 78: See Franklin's Works, vi. 303.]

[Note 79: See Franklin's Works, vi. 151, 303, 310; vii. 3, for examples of his expressions on this subject.]

Such was Franklin's frame of mind when the surrender at Yorktown and the events incident to the reception of the news in England at last brought peace into really serious consideration. The States had already been forward to place themselves in a position for negotiating at the first possible moment. For in 1779 Congress had received from France an intimation that it would be well to have an envoy in Europe empowered to treat; and though it was seizing time very much by the forelock, yet that body was in no mood to dally with so pleasing a hint, and at once nominated John Adams to be plenipotentiary. This, however, by no means, fell in with the schemes of the French ministry, for de Vergennes knew and disliked Mr. Adams's very unmanageable character. Accordingly the French ambassador at Philadelphia was instructed to use his great influence with Congress to effect some amelioration of the distasteful arrangement, and he soon covertly succeeded in inducing Congress to create a commission by appointing Adams, Jay, Franklin, Jefferson, who never went on the mission, and Laurens, who was a prisoner in England and joined his colleagues only after the business had been substantially concluded. Adams promptly came to Paris, created a great turmoil there, as has been in part narrated, and passed on to Holland, where he still remained. Jay, accredited to, but not yet received by, the Spanish court, was at Madrid. Franklin therefore alone was on hand in Paris when the great tidings of the capture of Cornwallis came.

It was on November 25, 1781, that Lord North got this news, taking it "as he would have taken a ball in his breast." He recognized at once that "all was over," yet for a short time longer he retained the management of affairs. But his majority in Parliament was steadily dwindling, and evidently with him also "all was over." In his despair he caught with almost pathetic eagerness at what for a moment seemed a chance to save his ministry by treating with the States secretly and apart from France. He was a man not troubled with convictions, and having been obstinate in conducting a war for which he really cared little, he was equally ready to save his party by putting an end to it with the loss of all that had been at stake. Franklin, however, decisively cut off that hope. America, he assured Hartley, would not forfeit the world's good opinion by "such perfidy;" and in the incredible event of Congress instructing its commissioners to treat upon "such ignominious terms," he himself at least "would certainly refuse to act." So Digges, whom Franklin described as "the greatest villain I ever met with," carried back no comfort from secret, tentative errands to Adams in Holland and to Franklin in France. Simultaneous furtive advances to de Vergennes met with a like rebuff. France and America were not to be separated; Lord North and his colleagues were not to be saved by the bad faith of either of their enemies. On February 22, 1782, an address to the king against continuing the American war was moved by Conway. It was carried by a majority of nineteen. A few days later a second, more pointed, address was carried without a division. The next day leave was granted to bring in a bill enabling the king to make a peace or a truce with the colonies. The game was up; the ministry held no more cards to play; on March 20 Lord North announced that his administration was at an end.

In his shrewd, intelligent fashion, Franklin was watching these events, perfectly appreciating the significance of each in turn. On March 22 he seized an opportunity which chance threw in his way for writing to Lord Shelburne a short note, in which he suggested a hope that the "returning good disposition" of England towards America would "tend to produce a general peace." It was a note of a few lines only, seemingly a mere pleasant passage of courtesy to an old friend, but significant and timely, an admirable specimen of the delicate tact with which Franklin could meet and almost create opportunity. A few days later the cabinet of Lord Rockingham was formed, composed of the friends of America. In it Charles Fox was secretary for foreign affairs, and Lord Shelburne had the home department, including the colonies. No sooner were the new ministers fairly instated than Shelburne dispatched Richard Oswald, a retired Scotch merchant, of very estimable character, of good temper, reasonable views, and sufficient ability, to talk matters over with Franklin at Paris. Oswald arrived on April 12, and had satisfactory interviews with Franklin and de Vergennes. The important fact of which he became satisfied by the explicit language of Franklin was, that the hope of inducing the American commissioners to treat secretly and separately from France was utterly groundless.[80] After a few days he went back to London, carrying a letter from Franklin to Shelburne, in which Franklin expressed his gratification at these overtures and his hope that Oswald might continue to represent the English minister. Oswald also carried certain "Notes for Conversation," which Franklin had written out; "some loose thoughts on paper," as he called them, "which I intended to serve as memorandums for my discourse, but without a fixed intention of showing them to him." As matters turned out later, it would have been better if Franklin had not been quite so free with these "memorandums," which contained a suggestion that the English should cede Canada and the Americans should recoup the losses of the royalists. Indeed, no sooner had the paper left his hands than he saw his error, and was "a little ashamed of his weakness." The letter only was shown to the whole cabinet.

[Note 80: About the same time Laurens was released on parole and sent to confer with Adams in Holland, concerning a separate treating, and brought from Adams the like response as Oswald brought from Franklin.]

On May 5 Oswald was again in Paris, charged to discuss terms with Franklin. But on May 7 there arrived also Thomas Grenville, deputed by Fox to approach de Vergennes with the design not only of treating with France, but also of treating with the States through France. The double mission indicated a division in the English cabinet. Fox and Shelburne were almost as hostile to each other as were both to Lord North; and each was aiming to control the coming negotiations with the States. Which should secure it was a nice question. For English purposes of classification the States, until independence was acknowledged, remained colonies, and so within the charge of Shelburne. Hence came Fox's scheme for reaching them indirectly through France, also his avowed willingness to recognize their independence immediately, for foreign business belonged to him. Shelburne, on the other hand, strenuously resisted this; at worst, as he thought, independence must come through a treaty, and with equivalents. Moreover it seems that he cherished an odd, half-defined notion, apparently altogether peculiar to himself, that he might escape the humiliation of a grant of full independence, and in place thereof might devise some sort of "federal union." Perhaps it was out of this strange fancy that there grew at this time a story that the States were to be reconciled and joined to Great Britain by a gift of the same measure of autonomy enjoyed by Ireland.

When Oswald and Franklin next met, they made at first little progress; each seemed desirous to keep himself closed while the other unfolded. The result was that Franklin wrote, with unusual naivete: "On the whole I was able to draw so little of the sentiments of Lord Shelburne ... that I could not but wonder at his being again sent to me." At the same time Grenville was offering to de Vergennes to acknowledge the independence of the United States, provided that in other respects the treaty of 1763[81] should be reinstated. That is to say, France was to agree to a complete restoration of the status quo ante bellum in every respect so far as her own interests were concerned, and to accept as the entire recompense for all her expenditures of money and blood a benefit accruing to the American States. This was a humorous assumption of the ingenuousness of her most disinterested protestations. The French minister, we are told, "seemed to smile" at this compliment to the unselfishness of his chivalrous nation,[82] and replied that the American States were making no request to England for independence. As Franklin happily expressed it: "This seems to me a proposition of selling to us a thing that was already our own, and making France pay the price they [the English] are pleased to ask for it." But the design of weaning the States from France, in the treating, was obvious.

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