Benjamin Franklin Papers

The American Commissioners to Jonathan Williams, Jr., with Franklin’s Proposed Substitute, 13 April 1778

The American Commissioners to Jonathan Williams, Jr., with Franklin’s Proposed Substitute

(I) AL (draft):3 American Philosophical Society; copies: Massachusetts Historical Society, National Archives (two); (II) AL (incomplete draft): Library of Congress


Passi: 13 April 1778


We are sorry to inform you, that the state of our funds admits of no farther expenditure without danger of bringing us into great difficulties. It is therefore our desire that you will abstain from any farther purchases, and close your Accounts for the present with as little expence as possible.4 We also desire to be informed when the Repair of the Arms is likely to be compleated. You judge right in not paying the 28 Louis where there is the least appearance of trick; for that would encourage a thousand more. Enclosd you have a Copy of Mercier’s agreement. We have not yet been able to discover that Mr. Deane has left among the Papers any agreement made with Mr. Monthieu by which we can settle the difference you mention. Perhaps Mr. Monthieu may have it. We wish to avoid disputes, confusion and expence. We may now expect many american vessels will come into the french ports. We hope you may get them to take the remainder of the Goods already bought on public account upon freight as is done at Bilboa. We are Sir &c.

Jonathan Williams Junr. Nantes


[On or before April 13, 17785]


——— expenditure. And we expect to be well inform’d of the Necessity and Quantity of any propos’d considerable Expence, and that our Approbation should be obtain’d before the same is incurr’d and Bills drawn on us for defraying it. We have for some time expected you here agreable to your former Letters, being desirous of knowing the State of our Affairs that have been transacted by you. We hope your Health is so far restor’d, as that you may now soon be able to undertake the Journey; We are, Sir,

Mr Williams

Notations: To Mr Williams / Feb. 1778

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3On the back of JW to the commissioners above, March 31, and in Arthur Lee’s hand; a few words, now concealed by the binding, we have silently supplied from the otherwise identical version printed in Butterfield, John Adams Diary, IV, 51. Adams says there (p. 50) that it was one of the letters he wrote. The draft indicates however, that Lee was the author, and the point is of some importance; see the following note. We reprint the full text, as we usually do not, to enable the reader to evaluate our contention that BF was offering a substitute for it.

4If Lee wrote the draft, as we believe, this brusque suspension of JW’s activities was due to more than financial stringency. The commissioners had no authority to give JW the powers he was claiming, Lee contended, and conceding them would undercut William Lee’s position; see our note on JW to BF above, April 9. When Adams was persuaded to the same position, BF, outnumbered, agreed to sign the dispatch: Butterfield, op. cit., IV, 52–3. But only, we believe, after he had tried and failed to change it.

5The notation does not disturb our belief that this is BF’s rewriting of the previous letter, meant to follow the word “expenditure” in the first sentence and to tone down the categorical prohibition on further purchases. This version does not answer, as the other does, the questions in JW’s letter of March 31; but the references at the end to the young man’s illness and projected trip to Paris indicate that BF was writing at about this time.

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