Benjamin Franklin Papers

The American Commissioners to Vergennes: Letter and Memoir, 7 December 1778

The American Commissioners to Vergennes: Letter and Memoir7

(I) LS and copy8: Archives du Ministère des affaires étrangères; AL (draft): Massachusetts Historical Society; two copies: National Archives; (II) LS: Archives du Ministère des affaires étrangères


Passy Decr 7 1778


We have the Honour to inclose to your Excellency a Memorial of very great Importance to the United States, to which We beg your Excellency’s Attention and a favourable Answer.

We have the Honour to be with very great Respect Your Excellency’s most obedient and most humble Servants

B Franklin
Arthur Lee
John Adams

His Excellency the Count de Vergennes


<Passy, December 7, 1778: Because of the scarcity of specie and stoppage of commerce Congress at the beginning of the war issued paper money instead of imposing taxes to support the war effort. The excessive amounts issued have caused this money to depreciate in value, although it has somewhat recovered since the signing of the alliance. Our credit is based on a congressional promise to pay in France with real money the interest on loans. Congress had hoped to make remittances in produce or to borrow money from private persons in Europe for this purpose, but now its only remaining hope is a subsidy or loan from His Most Christian Majesty. Bills of exchange drawn on the commissioners will arrive between this month and next May; we will pay as many as we can, but we will not be able to pay all of them. Should any bills be protested our public credit will be ruined and the beginnings of commerce between the two countries nipped in the bud. We pray His Majesty will give orders to furnish from time to time such sums as we need.9>

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7The LS of both the letter and memoir are in the hand of Gellée. The memoir (II) is reproduced in Stevens, Facsimiles, XXIII, no. 2000, and published in Taylor, Adams Papers, VII, 259–62.

8The copy is in WTF’s hand.

9The renewal of an appeal made on Aug. 28: XXVII, 312. The French government had been providing a regular subsidy, the last quarterly installment of which was paid in November: Taylor, Adams Papers, VII, 262n. Vergennes, however, on Dec. 25 wrote Gérard in Philadelphia that war expenses would require France to discontinue the subsidy and asked him to inform members of Congress that the King would support the establishment of a consortium of private bankers to underwrite the interest payments: Meng, Despatches of Gérard, pp. 450–1. See also Ferguson, Power of the Purse, pp. 39–40.

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