Adams Papers

To John Adams from Benjamin Franklin, 10 May 1779

From Benjamin Franklin

Passy; May 10th. 1779


I received the honour of yours of the 29th. past from Nantes. I hope you are before this time safely arrived at L’Orient. M. De la Luzerne is making diligent Preparation for his Departure, and you will soon see him. He and the Secretary of the Embassy1 are both very agreable and sensible Men, in whose Conversation you will have a great deal of Pleasure in your Passage. What Port the Ship will be ordered to I have not yet learnt, I suppose that it may be partly left to the Captain’s Discretion, as the Winds may happen to serve. It must certainly be most agreable to you to be landed in Boston; as that will give you an earlier Sight of your Family; but as you propose going immediately to Congress, being landed at Philadelphia will have some little Advantage,2 as it saves half your Journey. I shall take care to procure the Order to the Captain from Mr. De Sartine, which you desire; tho’ I should suppose showing the Original Letter of that Minister, which you have, would be sufficient. No publick Dispatches are arrived here since you left us. I see by the Virginia Papers that the 6th. of February, being the Anniversary of the signing of the Treaty, was observed with great Festivity by the Congress &c. at Philadelphia.3 From Holland I have just received the Resolution of the States General, of the 26th. past, to Convoy their Trade, notwithstanding Sir Joseph York’s Memorial, and to fit out directly 32 Ships of War for that purpose;4 which is good News and may have consequences.

I have the honour to be, with great Regard, Sir, Your most obedient & most humble Servant.

B Franklin

RC (Adams Papers); docketed: “Dr Franklin May 10. ansd 17th. 1779.”

1François Barbé-Marbois had acted as La Luzerne’s secretary during his service at the Court of Bavaria between 1775 and 1778 (Stinchcombe, Amer. Rev. and the French Alliance description begins William C. Stinchcombe, The American Revolution and the French Alliance, Syracuse, New York, 1969. description ends , p. 77). With his arrival in America, Barbé-Marbois began a long association with American affairs that culminated in the sale of Louisiana in 1804 (see E. Wilson Lyon, The Man Who Sold Louisiana ..., Norman, Okla., 1942). In the course of JA’s passage to America on La Sensible in company with La Luzerne and Barbé-Marbois, JA and the latter engaged in extensive conversa­tions on American affairs and formed a close and cordial relationship (JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 2:383–384, 386, 386–389, 389–390, 390–392, 392–395, 396–397. For JA’s sketch of Barbé-Marbois, see his letter to the president of the congress of 3 Aug. (below).

2Franklin was mistaken about JA’s intentions; see JA’s reply of 17 May (below).

3Franklin is probably referring to the Virginia Gazette (Dixon and Nicolson) of 5 March, which reported that “the cheerfulness which existed in the company upon the happy occasion of their being assembled, was not to be exceeded; and a thousand brilliances alluding to the alliance were uttered.”

4The memorial of 9 April was a protest against the Dutch failure to contest effectively the French order of January that denied all privileges previously granted to Dutch ships in French ports until measures were taken to protect Dutch trade, particularly in ships timbers and other naval stores, from British warships and privateers. The removal of Amsterdam and Haarlem from the effects of the order, following their protests against the States General’s refusal to undertake convoys, led Yorke to warn that continued indifference to French interference in Dutch internal affairs would bring British retaliation. Yorke saw the French order as a ploy to provoke an Anglo-Dutch war by forcing the Netherlands to provide unlimited convoys to protect its French trade in the midst of an Anglo-French naval war, while at the same time demanding that the provisions of the Anglo-Dutch treaties of 1674 establishing naval stores as noncontraband be strictly observed. This was unacceptable to the British because compliance would permit the Dutch, under the guise of neutrality, to supply France with the naval stores that its own merchant fleet was incapable of carrying and that would be otherwise unobtainable. Yorke’s memorial was too late, for protests by other cities against the favored treatment of Amsterdam and Haarlem, as well as the absence of action by the States General that would restore all the Dutch cities to an equal footing, led to the secret resolution of 26 April to outfit 32 ships (Miller, Sir Joseph Yorke description begins Daniel A. Miller, Sir Joseph Yorke and Anglo-Dutch Relations, 1774–1780, The Hague, 1970. description ends , p. 76; Edler, Dutch Republic and the American Revolution description begins Friedrich Edler, The Dutch Republic and the American Revolution, Baltimore, 1911. description ends , p. 125–126; for the text of Yorke’s memorial, see vol. 2 of John Almon’s Remembrancer for 1778, p. 358–359; or the Annual Register for 1779, p. 425–427; for the French order concerning Dutch ships, see Dumas’ letters to the Commissioners of 16 and 19 Jan., above).

Franklin received the news from C. W. F. Dumas in a letter of 3 May (Cal. Franklin Papers, A.P.S. description begins I. Minis Hays, comp., Calendar of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin in the Library of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1908; 5 vols. description ends , 2:72). Dumas presented a more detailed account of the resolution, including the number of ships that each city was to outfit, in a letter to the Committee for Foreign Affairs of 15 May (French text, PCC, No. 93, I, f. 276–279; translation, Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 3:166–168). There Dumas intimated that the resolution might be less significant than it seemed, for by failing specifically to state that naval stores were to be protected by the convoys, it was unlikely that the resolution would be accepted by France as justification for lifting its restrictions.

Index Entries