Adams Papers

Benjamin Franklin to John Adams, 6 August 1784

From Benjamin Franklin

Passy, Aug. 6. 1784.


Mr Bingham sent me last Night from Paris, your Excellency’s Letter of the 27th past, inclosing a Copy of one from Mr Jefferson. I had before sent you a Copy of one from the same to me, which I hope you receiv’d.1 I enclose herewith Copies of a Letter from Mr Thomson, some new Instructions, and one of the Commissions; the other two are in the Same Words, except that instead of the Words [the United Netherlands]2 there is, in one, France, and in the other, Sweden.3 These came by M. de la Luzerne, but it was not before Wednesday last that I receiv’d them. You will see that a good deal of Business is cut out for us, Treaties to be made with I think twenty Powers, in two Years, so that we are not likely to eat the Bread of Idleness; and that we may not surfeit by eating too much, our Masters have diminish’d our Allowance.4 I commend their Oeconomy, and shall imitate it by diminishing my Expence. Our too liberal Entertainment of our Countrymen here has been reported at home by our Guests to our Disadvantage, and has given Offence. They must be contented for the future, as I am, with plain Beef and Pudding.— The Readers of Connecticut Newspapers ought not to be troubled with any more Accounts of our Extravagance.5 For my own part, if I could sit down to Dinner on a Piece of their excellent Salt Pork and Pumpkin, I would not give a Farthing for all the Luxuries of Paris.

I am glad to hear that your Family are safely arrived at London, and that you propose to bring them here with you. Your Life will be more comfortable.—

I thank you much for the Translation of Abbé Mably’s Letters. The French Edition is not yet publish’d here. I have as yet only had time to run over the Translator’s Preface, which seems well-written. I imagine Mr Sowdon to be a Presbyterian Minister, as I formerly corresponded with one of that Name in Holland, who I suppose might be his Father.— I have not seen the Piece you mention of a B——n Academician. I should not object to his Enjoyment of the Discovery he has made that Despotism is the best possible Form of Government, by his living under it as long as he pleases: For I admire the Decision of his Prince in a similar Case, the Dispute among his Clergy concerning the Duration of Hell Torments.6

With great Respect I have the honour to be, / Sir, / Your Excellency’s most obedient / & most humble Servant

B. Franklin

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “His Excellency John Adams, Esqr”; endorsed: “Dr Franklin / Aug. 6. 1784.”

1Franklin presumably sent JA a copy of Thomas Jefferson’s 19 June letter to him (Jefferson, Papers, description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, Princeton, 1950–. description ends 7:310–311), but neither Franklin’s letter nor its enclosure are in the Adams Papers.

2Brackets in MS.

3This is Charles Thomson’s letter of 18 June, above. For the commissions and instructions enclosed with it, see note 1 to that letter. If Franklin sent JA the original of the 3 June joint commission to negotiate a supplemental treaty with the Netherlands, it has not been found, but there is in the Adams Papers, at 3 June, a FC of that commission.

4Franklin may have obtained his information regarding Congress’ 7 May resolution cutting its ministers’ salaries from $11,111 to $9,000 from the Journals of Congress enclosed by Thomson (JCC, description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Worthington Chauncey Ford, Gaillard Hunt, John C. Fitzpatrick, Roscoe R. Hill, and others, Washington, D.C., 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends 26:354).

5One can only speculate as to which Connecticut newspaper Franklin had seen, but the Connecticut Courant of 30 March contained an address to the people of Connecticut adopted by the convention meeting at Middletown to consider the continental impost and commutation of army pay. Critical of Congress’ expenditures that required additional funds, the authors of the address declared that “they also beheld with an eye of concern, their delegates in Congress stipulating to pay a number of their servants annually, more than 11000 dollars each, to others 6000, to a numerous list of others in the same proportion, besides a train of secretaries, clerks, and attendants, figuring in all the pomp and parade of European habits and manners.”

6For Ewald Friedrich von Hertzberg’s presentation before the Berlin Academy on 29 Jan., see JA’s 22 Feb. letter to Antoine Marie Cerisier, and note 2, above. In a letter of 10 May 1762 David Hume informed Franklin of the dispute then ongoing at Neuchâtel between a priest opposing the doctrine of eternal damnation and the clerical establishment. Drawn unwillingly into the controversy, Frederick II is reputed to have written that “since our priests absolutely wished to be damned for all eternity, he thought it well that they should be” (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 10:81; Edith E. Cuthell, The Scottish Friend of Frederic the Great, the Last Earl Marischall, 2 vols., London, 1915, 2:122).

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