Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Joseph Reed: Three Letters, 19 March 1780

To Joseph Reed: Three Letters

(I) LS:3 New-York Historical Society; copies: Library of Congress, Pendleton Satterthwaite, East Orange, N.J. (1955); (II) LS:4 New-York Historical Society; (II) and (III) copy: Library of Congress


Passy Mar. 19. 1780.


I have just received the Pamphlet you did me the Honour to send me, by Monsr Gerard,5 and have read it with Pleasure, not only as the clear State of Facts, do you Honour, but as they prove the Falsehood of a Man, who also shewed no regard to Truth in what he said of me, viz. that I approved of the Propositions he carry’d over. The Truth is that his Brother Mr Poultney came here with those Propositions & communicated them to me, after stipulating that if I did not approve of them, I should not speak of them to any Person. I told him frankly, on his desiring to know my Sentiments that I DID NOT approve of them, and that I was sure they WOULD NOT be accepted in America. But, says I, there are two other Commissioners here, I will if you please, shew your Propositions to them, and you will hear their Opinion. I will also shew them to the Ministry here, without whose Knowledge & Concurrence, we can take no Step in such Affairs. No, says he; as you do not approve of them, it can answer no Purpose to show them to any body else; the Reasons that weigh with you will also weigh with them: therefore I now pray that no mention may be made of my having been here, or my Business. To this I agreed; and therefore nothing could be more astonishing to me than to see in an American News Paper that direct Lye in a Letter from Mr Johnstone joined with two other Falshoods, relating to the Time of the Treaty, and to the Opinion of Spain. In Proof of the above I inclose a Certificate, of a Friend of Mr. Pultney’s, the only Person present at our Interview; & do it the rather at this time, because I am informed that another Calumniator (the same who formerly in his private Letters to particular Members, accused you with Messrs. Jay, Duane, Langdon & Harrison of betraying the Secrets of Congress, in a Correspondence with the Ministry)6 has made this Transaction with Mr Pultney, an Article of Accusation against me, as having approved those Propositions.7 He proposes, I understand to settle in your Government. I caution you to beware of him; for in sowing Suspicions and Jealousies, in creating Misunderstandings and Quarrels among Friends, in Malice, Subtility & indefatigable Industry, he has I think no Equal.

I am glad to see that you continue to preside in our new State, as it shows that your publick Conduct is approved by the People. You have had a difficult Time, which required abundance of Prudence; and you have been equal to the Occasion. The Disputes about the Constitution seem to have subsided. It is much admired here and all over Europe, and will draw over many Families of Fortune, to settle under it as soon as there is a Peace.8 The Defects that may on seven Years Trial be found in it, can be amended, when the Time comes for considering them.—

With great and sincere Esteem & Respect, I have the honour to be, Your Excellency’s, most obedient & most humble Servant.

B Franklin

His Exy. Jos. Reed Esqre.

Notations in different hands: Dr. Franklins Letter May 19. 1780 / Passy.


Passy, Mar 19. 1780.


I beg leave to introduce to your Excellency’s Acquaintance and Civilities, Monsr le Chevalier De Chastellux; Major General in the French Troops, now about to embark for America, whom I have long known & esteem’d highly in his several Characters of a Soldier, a Gentleman, & a Man of Letters. His excellent Book on Publick Happiness shews him the Friend to Mankind, and as such intitles him wherever he goes, to their Respect and good Offices.9 He is particularly a Friend to our Cause & I am sure your Excellency will have great Pleasure in his Conversation.

With great Esteem & Respect

His Ex. Jos. Read Eq. Prest. of Penna

Notations in different hands: Dr. Franklin Passy. May 19. 1780 / Introducing Marquis De Chastellux


Passy, March 19. 1780.


The Chevalier D’Oyré Captain in the Royal Corps of Engineers, being about to embark with The Troops for America,1 and as possibly the Operations of War may lead or Permit him to visit Philadelphia, I beg leave to recommend him to your Excellency’s Civilities as a Gentleman of Excellent Character in this Country, and a friend of our Cause. With the highest Esteem and Respect, I have the honour to be, Your Excellency’s most obedient and most humble servant.

His Excelly. Joseph Reed Esq. President of the state of Penn.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3In WTF’s hand.

4In WTF’s hand. The signature has been cropped, undoubtedly by an autograph collector.

5Probably Gérard carried Reed’s Remarks on Governor Johnstone’s Speech in Parliament … (Philadelphia, 1779). The pamphlet was a documented defense of Reed’s relations in 1778 with Gov. George Johnstone, former member of the Carlisle Commission (and William Pulteney’s brother) who was accused of attempting to corrupt and bribe members of Congress. Johnstone resigned from the commission as a result of Congress’s charges. See XXVII, 627n, 630; Smith, Letters, X, 93–102, 311, 559–60.

6The names BF gives make only partial sense. Arthur Lee wrote to Silas Deane in 1776 warning against Sir James Jay, Dennys De Berdt, [John] Langdon from New Hampshire, and William Molleson, a Maryland merchant. In the same letter he referred to Reed as “a dangerous man”: Stevens, Facsimiles, V, no. 467, pp. 2–3. See also Smith, Letters, X, 457–8; Louis W. Potts, Arthur Lee: a Virtuous Revolutionary (Baton Rouge and London, 1981), pp. 134–5. Duane was James Duane (1733–1797), a New York jurist and member of the Continental Congress whom Lee described in a Nov. 5, 1779, letter to James Lovell as a “secret, treacherous & dangerous Enemy to the United States” (National Archives). He was an early defender of Deane: Jack Rakove, The Beginnings of National Politics: an Interpretive History of the Continental Congress (New York, 1979), pp. 250, 253, 260; DAB. Harrison probably was Va. congressional delegate Benjamin Harrison, who was linked to the Lees’ political enemy John Robinson: H. James Henderson, Party Politics in the Continental Congress (New York, St. Louis, and San Francisco, 1974), p. 95n.

7Lee made his remarks on BF’s conduct during the Pulteney mission in a Sept. 24, 1779, letter to JA (Adams Papers, VIII, 169), who may have revealed the accusations to BF. Lee made even more pointed allegations in a May 1, 1779, memorial to Congress (National Archives), about which Gérard may have known.

8BF is repeating the praise for the Pennsylvania constitution that he had expressed to Reed some months earlier: XXXI, 6. For the controversy over the state’s 1776 constitution see Douglas M. Arnold, A Republican Revolution: Ideology and Politics in Pennsylvania, 1776–1790 (New York and London, 1989), passim.

9The chevalier François-Jean de Chastellux was given the rank of maréchal de camp in March, 1780, and assigned to serve with Rochambeau’s army. He sailed from Brest at the beginning of May and remained in America until January, 1783: XXIII, 273n; François-Jean de Chastellux, Travels in North America in the Years 1780, 1781 and 1782 (Howard C. Rice, Jr., ed. and trans., 2 vols., Chapel Hill, N.C., 1963), I, 14–15. In 1775 BF had been sent Chastellux’s An Essay on Public Happiness, the English translation of De la Félicité publique: XXI, 505–6.

1Chevalier François-Ignace d’Oyré (1739–1799) came to America with Rochambeau: Bodinier, Dictionnaire; Rice and Brown, eds., Rochambeau’s Army, II, 116n, 159.

Index Entries