Adams Papers

To John Adams from Benjamin Franklin, 10 September 1783

From Benjamin Franklin

Passy, Sept. 10. 1783.


I have received a Letter from a very respectable Person in America, containing the following Words, Viz

“It is confidently reported, propagated, and believed by some among us, that the Court of France was at bottom against our Obtaining the Fishery and Territory in that great Extent in which both are secured to us by the Treaty; that our Minister at that Court favoured, or did not oppose this Design against us; and that it was entirely owing to the Firmness, Sagacity & Disinterestedness of Mr. Adams, with whom Mr. Jay united, that we have obtained those important Advantages.”1

It is not my Purpose to dispute any Share of the Honour of that Treaty which the Friends of my Colleagues may be dispos’d to give them; but having now spent Fifty Years of my Life in public offices and Trusts, and having still one Ambition left, that of carrying the Character of Fidelity at least, to the Grave with me, I cannot allow that I was behind any of them in Zeal and Faithfulness. I therefore think that I ought not to suffer an Accusation, which falls little short of Treason to my Country, to pass without Notice, when the Means of effectual Vindication are at hand. You, Sir, was a Witness of my Conduct in that affair. To you and my other Colleagues I appeal, by sending to each a similar Letter with this, and I have no doubt of your Readiness to do a Brother Commissioner Justice, by Certificates that will entirely destroy the Effect of that Accusation.2 I have the honour to be, with much Esteem, / Sir, / Your most obedient / & most humble Servant.

B. Franklin

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “His Excelly. J. Adams Esqe.”; endorsed: “Dr Franklin 10 Sept. 1783 / concerning a Letter he / recd from America.”; docketed by CFA: “This letter and it’s answer / may be found published / in the Diplomatic Correspe / vol 4th. p 163–4.5.” CFA refers to The Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution, ed. Jared Sparks, 12 vols., Boston, 1829–1830, 4:163–166. Within the range of page numbers are Franklin’s 10 Sept. letter to John Jay (nearly identical to his letter to JA of 10 Sept.), Jay’s reply of 11 Sept., and JA’s reply of 13 Sept., below.

1Franklin quotes from a [5 May] letter from Samuel Cooper, who traced accusations of obstructionism by France and supineness on the part of Franklin to letters received at Philadelphia and in Massachusetts “from some of our Plenipotentiaries at Paris, and particularly from Mr. Adams” (Franklin, Papers description begins The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Leonard W. Labaree, William B. Willcox, Claude A. Lopez, Barbara B. Oberg, Ellen R. Cohn, and others, New Haven, 1959–. description ends , 39:561–563). Cooper, who never saw the letters, likely heard reports of JA’s “Peace Journal,” an account of the Anglo-American peace negotiations made up of extracts from his Diary (JA, D&A description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 3:41–96). JA sent one copy to Congress, where it was read in March 1783, and a second, longer version to AA, who by the end of April had shared it with friends, including Jonathan Jackson and William Gordon (same, 3:42–43; AFC description begins Adams Family Correspondence, ed. L. H. Butterfield, Marc Friedlaender, Richard Alan Ryerson, Margaret A. Hogan, and others, Cambridge, 1963–. description ends , 5:60, 141–143; vol. 14:472–473). The accusations attributed to JA by Cooper reflect to a striking degree remarks made by JA in a 17 Nov. 1782 letter to Jackson (vol. 14:61–64). That letter, which arrived at Philadelphia at the same time as JA’s “Peace Journal,” was opened and read by the Massachusetts delegates then serving in Congress—and possibly shown to others—before it was forwarded to Jackson at Newburyport (JA, D&A description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 3:42–43). For the history of JA’s “Peace Journal,” see vol. 14:xviii–xx.

Franklin immediately replied to Cooper in a letter (not found) carried by John Thaxter on his departure from Paris on 14 Sept. 1783 for delivery to “a Gentleman in Philadelphia” (from Thaxter, 19 Jan. 1784, below). Franklin subsequently enclosed “a packet” for Cooper (also not found) with a 2 Nov. 1783 letter to Richard Bache, Franklin’s son-in-law, who perhaps not coincidentally lived in Philadelphia (Bache to Franklin, 7 March 1784, CtY: Franklin Coll.). The packet probably contained what Franklin later called “my Justification” (Franklin to Jonathan Williams Jr., 16 Feb. 1786, Franklin, Writings description begins The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Albert Henry Smyth, New York and London, 1905–1907; 10 vols. description ends , 9:487–488), including letters that he solicited from JA, John Jay, and Henry Laurens certifying his fidelity and zeal in the peace negotiations (see note 2), which he intended Cooper to make public at Boston (Bache to Franklin, 21 June 1784, PPAmP:Franklin Papers). But Cooper died before the packet reached him, and Franklin by then had begun to have second thoughts. In a 26 Dec. 1783 letter to Cooper, Franklin indicated that he had written to him “a too long letter some time since, respecting Mr A.’s Calumnies, of which perhaps it was not necessary to take so much Notice” (DLC:Franklin Papers).

2Franklin wrote almost identical letters to Jay and Laurens on this date. The two men replied, in support of Franklin, on 11 and 21 Sept., respectively (ScHi:Laurens Papers; Jay, Unpublished Papers description begins John Jay: Unpublished Papers, ed. Richard B. Morris, New York, 1975–1980; 2 vols. description ends , 2:584–585; Laurens, Papers description begins The Papers of Henry Laurens, ed. Philip M. Hamer, George C. Rogers Jr., David R. Chesnutt, C. James Taylor, and others, Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003; 16 vols. description ends , 16:343–344). JA replied on the 13th, below.

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