From Benjamin Franklin
Passy April 21. 1782
I have just received the Honour of yours dated the 16th. Instant, acquainting me with the Interview between your Excellency and Mr Lawrens. I am glad to learn that his political Sentiments coincide with ours; and that there is a Disposition in England to give us up Canada and Nova Scotia.
I like your Idea of seeing no more Messengers that are not Plenipotentiaries; But I cannot refuse seeing again Mr. Oswald, as the Minister here consider’d the Letter to me from Lord Shelburne as a kind of Authentication given that Messenger, and expects his Return with some explicit Propositions. I shall keep you advised of whatever passes.
The late Act of Parliament for Exchanging American Prisoners as Prisoners of War according to the Law of Nations, any thing in their Commitments notwithstanding,1 seems to me a Renunciation of the British Pretensions to try our People as Subjects guilty of High Treason, and to be a kind of tacit Acknowledgement of our Independency. Having taken this Step, it will be less difficult for them to acknowledge it expressly. They are now preparing Transports to send the Prisoners home. I yesterday sent the Pass-ports desir’d of me.
Sir George Grand shows me a Letter from Mr Fizeaux, in which he says, that if Advantage is taken of the present Enthusiasm in favour of America, a Loan might be obtained in Holland of Five or Six Millions of Florins for America, and if their House is impower’d to open it he has no doubt of Success; but that no time is to be lost. I earnestly recommend this Matter to you, as extreamly necessary to the Operations of our Financier Mr Morris, who not knowing that the greatest Part of the last Five Millions had been consumed by Purchases of Goods &ca in Europe, writes me Advice of large Drafts, that he shall be obliged to make upon me this Summer. This Court has granted us six Millions of Livres for the current Year; but it will fall vastly short of our Occasions, there being large Orders to fulfill, and near two Millions and an half to pay M. Beaumarchais, besides the Interest Bills &ca. The House of Fizeaux & Grand is now appointed Banker for France by a special Commission from the King, and will on that as well as on other Accounts be in my Opinion the fitter for this Operation.2 Your Excellency being on the Spot can better judge of the Terms, &ca. and manage with that House the whole Business, in which I should be glad to have no other Concern, than that of receiving Assistance from it when press’d by the dreaded Drafts.
With great Respect, I am, Sir, Your Excellency’s most obedient and most humble Sert.
RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Dr Franklin April 21 1782.”
1. Franklin cites 22 Geo. III, ch. 10, entitled “An Act for the Better Detaining, and More Easy Exchange, of American Prisoners brought into Great Britain” (Marion and Jack Kaminkow, Mariners of the American Revolution, Baltimore, 1967, p. 243–244). Proposed by Edmund Burke on 26 Feb., the bill was passed by the House of Commons on 19 March and approved by the House of Lords and George III on 25 March (Journals of the House of Commons, London, 38:859, 866, 900, 904, 907). This act made exchanges much easier by acknowledging American prisoners to be prisoners of war rather than rebels. Its effect was immediate and by July over 1,000 Americans had sailed for home from Portsmouth and Plymouth (Catherine M. Prelinger, “Benjamin Franklin and the American Prisoners of War in England During the American Revolution,” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly description ends , 3d ser., 32:261–294 [April 1975]).
2. Almost thirty years later, in his reminiscences to the Boston Patriot, JA explained the difficulties he had in deciding what firms to approach for a loan. When compared with the extant documents from 1782, JA’s account does not always proceed in a strictly chronological fashion, but it does offer detailed reasons for how he selected a firm.
“The loan! When the prospect of my public reception and a treaty of friendship began to dawn and brighten, the loan of money began to be seriously meditated. I had tryed the house of De Neufville and found it wanting. I had learned enough of its real circumstances and distresses to know that if I opened a new loan with them alone, I should ruin the credit of the U. States. Though the house had money, many friends, and many instruments, among Americans as well as others, to raise a clamor, I was determined at all risques, not to commit myself entirely to them. I received offers and solicitations which I need not name. But the house of Nicholas and Jacob Van Staphorst, and the house of De la Lande and Fynje, were the most importunate, next to the De Neufvilles. Both as far as I had been then informed, were respectable, but neither was considered as a great house, neither was an ancient house, and antiquity among mercantile houses and houses of capitalists, is in Amsterdam a distinction as much regarded as it is among princes and nobles in France or England. In the midst of all these solicitations, I received a letter from Dr. Franklin, at Passy, and another from the Duke de la Vauguion, at the Hague, most earnestly recommending to me the house of Fizeau and Grand. Sir George Grand as we called him, because he was a knight of St. Louis, was a brother of Mr Ferdinand Grand of Paris, our American banker, both of them gentlemen from Switzerland. Sir George had lived in Sweden, and kept a public house in Stockholm, at which the compte De Vergenes had met the leaders of the Revolution in 1770, and had acquired the friendship of that minister to such a degree as to obtain the cross of St. Louis, and favor as a banker. I knew very well that Dr Franklin’s letter and the duke de la Vauguion’s, originated in the same source, the compte de Vergennes’ recommendation. What should I do? Disoblige Dr Franklin? Disoblige the duke de la Vauguion? Disoblige the comte de Vergennes? Disoblige the two Grands? Disoblige the De Neufvilles, the Van Staphorsts and de la Lande & Fynje, as well as several other houses? After long deliberation, I wrote a letter to four houses, Fizeau & Grand, De Neufville, Van Staphorsts, and de la Lande & Fynje, offering to associate all of them in a joint company. Every one of them refused to unite with Mr. De Neufville” (Boston Patriot, 20 April 1811).
This is probably a reference to JA’s letter to Fizeaux, Grand & Co., Jean de Neufville & Fils, Nicolaas & Jacob van Staphorst, De la Lande & Fynje, John Hodshon & Zoon, and Daniel Crommelin & Son, 30 April, below. Before he sent this letter JA had already pursued detailed negotiations with John Hodshon; see Hodshon’s proposal for a loan, 25 April, below.
In a second installment in the Boston Patriot, JA continued his comments on Fizeaux, Grand & Co.:
“To open a loan in the French house of Fizeau & Grand, though it was very respectable, and had always behaved towards me and all Americans with unexceptionable civility; I knew would furnish Versailles and Passy with information of every guilder I might from time to time obtain; and I had seen enough of the intrigues and waste from that quarter, to be determined at all risques not to open a loan in that house singly. Moreover all my most faithful and intelligent Dutch friends had uniformly warned me against opening my loan in a French house. They said it would lessen my reputation and materially injure the credit of the United States. If I wished a solid and lasting credit for my country, in Holland, I must select a house or houses, purely Dutch” (Boston Patriot, 24 April 1811).