Benjamin Franklin Papers

James Smith to the American Commissioners, 24 August 1778: résumé

James Smith to the American Commissioners6

ALS: American Philosophical Society

<Paris, August 24, 1778: When I reached Calais on May 4 the customs officers detained part of my luggage, consisting of household linen and plate, as contraband. Soon after arriving in Paris I mentioned the matter to Mr. [Arthur] Lee, who told me that I had no remedy; his brother, though a public minister, had had to pay fifteen guineas. Public officials may have to live in a splendor unsuited to new republics groaning under financial burdens; private individuals fleeing from the tyranny of old governments are in a different position, however.

I spoke to M. Grand, who promised to use his good offices. When I did not hear from him I told Dr. Franklin on July 4. He said he would make the necessary application, but some time later he had forgotten the whole business and asked for a memorandum. Aware that memory fades in the evening of life, I sent the memorandum by young Mr. Franklin so that he might compensate for the imbecility of old age. He answered with expressions unfit for any one who serves constituents.7>

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6Published in Taylor, Adams Papers, VI, 389–92. For Smith, the physician and former professor at King’s College, see above, XXVI, 387 n.

7In his letter to WTF, Aug. 14, Smith assumed that Americans had a right to free passage for their goods through France, and that the commissioners had the duty to secure that right. He had spent all his time in his country’s cause “while Boys are receiving Places of Profit and Emolument under the Congress.” He appended a list of the missing articles: a parcel of table linen and another of silver-handled knives and forks, “etc.” WTF’s answer on the 16th pointed out that BF could not act without a written statement of the particulars, which he had never received; Smith’s complaint to his grandson was therefore ill-founded, improper, and indecent: University of Pa. Library. Smith replied on the same day: he had called on BF upon arrival, but had been ignored until the 4th of July party, though he had a right to attention as an American and a gentleman. He had explained the particulars to BF when dining with him at Passy, had been promised action, and then had discovered that “he had intirely forgot the Transaction“; reminding WTF of it did not constitute impropriety or indecency. Copies of these letters, except as indicated, are in the APS.

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