Adams Papers

From John Adams to William Lee, 10 April 1783

To William Lee

Paris. 10th. April. 1783—1


I know not to what extravagances Adulation may extend in regard to Dr: Franklin—nor do I much care, now the Independence of our Country, her Tom-Cod & Buckskins are so well secured. I expect soon to see a proposition to name the 18th. Century, the Franklinian Age, le Siecle Franklinnien, & am willing to leave the Question, whether it shall have this epithet or that of Fredericien, to the Dr: & the King: tho’, the latter will stand a poor Chance with a certain French Writer, who, within a few weeks, has said, that the Dr:, after a few ages, will be considered as a God, and I think the King has not eno: of the Cæsar in him to dispute with the Skies—2

The title of “Founder of the American Empire,” which as you observe the Eng: Newspapers give him, does not, most certainly belong to him:3 and it is extremely fortunate for our Country that no one man has the least Color of a just pretension to that popular & bewitching Appellation— Gen: W. himself, who has undoubtedly acted his part, as well as any Citizen whatever, has no just pretensions to it— There has been such a Swarm, such a republic of Characters, in every State, acting material & essential parts in the great Drama, that it is very difficult to say who has done the most— For my own part I am not afraid nor ashamed to say, that I think Mr: S: Adams is the man, who has acted the longest & the most essential part, as well as the most dangerous & difficult, in this Revolution— and I say this, without fear of being contradicted by Posterity; because there are extant Writings of this Gent:, for a Succession of 40. years together, which will one day be collected, all tending to the great end we have seen, written with a Simplicity & Elegance, a majesty & energy, wh: will be read with admiration in future ages, & wd. have done honor to any that is past. He will have the honor too of a disinterestedness, equal to that of any Character in Athens or Rome,4 and, what will still add to his glory, he has done all under the constant pressure of Poverty & Distress. A Collection of his Writings wd. be one of the most usefull & important works, especially for our Country, wh: was ever was published—5

I am on a delicate & invidious Subject; but historical Justice is as essential to the formation of virtuous Citizens, & consequently as indispensable for the prosperity States, as distributive Justice— But there is such a prostitution of all Justice, such a confusion of Right & wrong, virtue & vice, to accomplish the Apotheosis of Dr: F., as ought to excite the indignation of every honest man— There is such a partiallity to him too, among our own Countrymen, their Allies & their Enemies, arising fm. the imposing bubble of his Reputation, as embarasses Congress in their Deliberations, & forces even that august body into similar Partialities. Such a Reputation is as real a Tyranny as any that can be erected among men—

If you direct a letter to Mr: Dana, under cover to Messrs: Strathborne & Wolfe, Bankers at Petersburgh, it will go safe to his hands.—

The revokation of the Commission to make a Treaty of Commerce with G: B: without issuing another, a measure wh: originated in the common source of evil, has lost us, I fear forever, the critical moment for makg: the best possible Treaty: Yet I hope the Minister, who may be appinted, will be able to convince the English where their true Interest lies.—

I can give you no advice abt: carrying to America British Manufactures, as I know not whether they will be recd. or not—

I have no letter fm. yr: Brother, since the middle of last Fall—nor do I know that Mr: Livingston’s Resignation has been accepted—

I am Sir, / Yr: &c.—

LbC in Charles Storer’s hand (Adams Papers); internal address: “Mr: Lee—”; APM Reel 108.

1This is the second of two Letterbook copies of this letter. The first, dated 6 April, is in John Thaxter’s hand and bears the notation “Not sent” (LbC, APM Reel 108). Significant differences between the two are indicated in the notes. Despite the fact that JA and Lee were in substantial agreement regarding the malignant influence of Benjamin Franklin, JA likely decided to err on the side of caution and not send the 6 April letter because of its criticism of Franklin. His reconsideration and decision to send a revised letter, at least as critical of Franklin as the first, may be another result of the arrival of James Warren’s 1 Nov. letter, for which see JA’s 9 April letter to Warren, and note 2, above.

2JA’s reference to Franklin here and to George Washington and Samuel Adams in the following paragraph likely means that he had read portions of Joseph Antoine Joachim Cérutti’s L’aigle et le hibou, fable écrite pour un jeune prince que l’on osoit blâmer de son amour pour les sciences et les lettres, Glasgow (Paris), 1783, a 15-page poem accompanied by 38 pages of notes. Franklin may have shown JA the copy he received as an enclosure in a 1 March letter from Ignace d’Urtado, Marquis d’Amezaga (PPAmP:Franklin Papers). For Cérutti, Franklin was a gray-haired Jupiter, the man of the century whom future ages would regard as a god; Washington, the American Atlas, was the New World equivalent of Frederick the Great; and Samuel Adams, whose modest appearance belied the strength and wisdom of his ideas, was one of the foremost architects of American liberty (p. 8–9, 39–40).

3In the first letter this sentence was followed by “He has a much better Right to be called ‘The Dæmon of Discord among American Ministers, & the Curse and Scourge of their Cause.’”

4In the first letter the remainder of this paragraph reads: “a Character to which Dr. Franklin has very small Pretensions, and the still greater Glory of a Distress and Poverty, which, happily for the Public, Genl. Washington was and is exempt from.”

5In the first letter this sentence begins a new paragraph, which continues “Dr. Franklin’s political Works would appear much smaller, by the Comparison.”

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