Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Arthur Lee, 14 August 1779

From Arthur Lee

ALS: Archives du Ministère des affaires étrangères;6 copy: National Archives

Paris August 14th. 1779


A decent time having now elaps’d, since the declaration of his Catholic Majesty against the King of great Britain; it seems proper to apply to the spanish Court, to know whether they are inclind to enter into the Alliance, which Congress have agreed to.7 At the same time it appears to me, that to ask Count de Vergennes’s opinion of such a step, before I take it,8 woud be an agreable & useful mark of confidence in this Court.

But as I think, such an application cannot with propriety be made to his Excellency by any one but you as Minister here, I must beg you, Sir, to take the trouble of consulting Count Vergennes, both upon the propriety & manner of my applying upon this subject to the Court of Spain; & that you will have the goodness to communicate to me his opinion. I woud very willingly apply myself, were I not persuaded that it woud be a trespass against the deference due to your situation; and that an observance of this order in our proceedings, will contribute to the attainment of the public object I have in view.

I have the honor to be, with great respect, Sir, Yr. most Obedt. Humb Servt.

Arthur Lee

The Honble. Dr. B. Franklin Minister Plenipotentiary of the U.S. of America

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6BF forwarded this letter to Vergennes on Aug. 17; see his letter of that date.

7The Franco-American Treaty of Alliance was accompanied by a secret act by which Spain could join it: XXV, 593–5.

8Lee had undertaken a journey to Spain on behalf of the commissioners in 1777 to obtain funds. Subsequently he was selected by Congress to conclude a commercial treaty with King Charles III: JCC, VIII, 420, 522–3n. His mission had remained dormant, however, due to Spanish unwillingness to receive him. At the end of May, 1779, he expressed to Congress his desire to resign his commission but the following month wrote Floridablanca hinting that he wished to return to Spain. The Spanish foreign minister, responding on Aug. 6, ignored the hint: Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence, III, 196, 234, 290. No longer accredited to France and unwelcome in Spain, Lee was reduced to pursuing diplomacy through BF as an intermediary.

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