Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Joshua Johnson, 29 December 1779

To Joshua Johnson1

Copy: Library of Congress

Passy Dec. 29. 1779.


I am much obliged by your kind attention in sending me from time to time the American newspapers that have come to your hands. Please to accept my thankful Acknowledgements.

I have the Pleasure now to acquaint you that tho’ my application at your Request for arms or a Loan of money for your Province in particular2 was not attended with success the Opinion here being (as I think I formerly wrote to you) that all such applications, should regularly come thro’ the Congress;3 yet an aid being now lately granted to that Body for the whole,4 there is no doubt but Maryland will obtain its share of what Shall arrive in America.

If I have not corresponded with you so punctually as you might expect, and as I could have wished to do, I pray you to excuse me. I have had too much Business with too Little Help. The constant expectation of a Secretary, who had long been voted,5 but did not arrive prevented my engaging such assistance as I wanted. And I have not been able by increased Application fully to Supply the Difficiency.

I do not understand that by the Treaty of Alliance between france & America, an American taking a house and settling in france to carry on Business is exempted from the Duties & services that would have been required of a Native of france inhabiting the same house. The droit d’aubaine is indeed abolished in our favour,6 But in other Respects, I Should suppose that Americans settled here as well as frenchmen settled in America, must while they live as Inhabitants, be Subject to the Laws of the respective Countries, of which they at the Same time claim and enjoy the Protection, I am sorry however that you find this so Inconvenient as to induce you to quit the kingdom. Particular Circumstances may have occasioned the Quartering of soldiers on the Inhabitants last year which in time of Peace may rarely happen.7

With great Esteem I have the honour to be, sir y m. o. & m. h. S.

Mr. Joshua Johnson.

1In answer to Johnson’s letter of Oct. 28 (XXX, 605–6).

2Maryland: XXIX, 223, 415–17, 678.

3We have no record of the letter to which BF refers. He himself had long urged that Congress handle all requests for French aid itself (e.g., XXIX, 352, 557).

4The 3,000,000 l.t. loan from the French government to which BF alludes in his Dec. 22 letter to JW.

5Congress had promised the commissioners to France a secretary of embassy (XXII, 629) but had never filled the post. News of John Laurens’ appointment as secretary of BF’s own mission had recently reached France: Bancroft to BF, above, printed under Dec. 25.

6XXV, 606–7, where the exemption is explained.

7A 1768 law attempted to codify the regulations governing the quartering of soldiers among the civilian population, which in Brittany was required to provide housing for the coast guard militia as well: Marcel Marion, Dictionnaire des Institutions de la France aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles (Paris, 1923; reprinted, New York, 1968), pp. 57, 340. To protect the northern coasts of France against possible British raids in late 1777, Montbarey concentrated forces in Brittany, the province with the longest coastline and in the best position to assist other coastal regions. However, most of the troop movements in 1778, for maréchal de Broglie’s “campagne pacifique,” and in 1779, for the invasion of England, seem to have been concentrated in Normandy and along the northern coast of Brittany: Alexandre-Marie-Léonor de Saint-Mauris, prince de Montbarey, Mémoires autographes de M. le prince de Montbarey, ministre secrétaire d’état au Département de la guerre sous Louis XVI (3 vols., Paris, 1826), II, 270, 337, 347; Patterson, The Other Armada, pp. 39, 48–9. For the laws governing the quartering of soldiers see also André Corvisier, L’Armée française de la fin du XVIIe siècle au ministère de Choiseul: le soldat (2 vols., Paris, 1964), I, 94n; II, 848–50.

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