Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Samuel Huntington, 2 December 1780

To Samuel Huntington

Two LS:9 National Archives; AL (draft): Library of Congress; copies: Archives du Ministère des affaires étrangères, Library of Congress; transcript: National Archives

Once Ferdinand Grand received Vergennes’ acceptance of the proposal to repay French loans by supplying Rochambeau’s troops in America, he drafted, in French, a “Projet de lettre” for Franklin to send Congress.1 Grand forwarded the “Projet” to Vergennes on November 25, explaining that Necker and Franklin had both approved it, and that Franklin would incorporate any changes that the minister might suggest.2 Grand added that the plan was essentially the same as the one Franklin had proposed on September 26.3 Vergennes replied on November 29 with only one suggestion: that Franklin should place more emphasis on the reciprocal nature of the advantages.4 That undoubtedly explains the first few words of the present letter, which is not a translation of Grand’s “projet,” but is entirely Franklin’s own.

Passy, Dec. 2. 1780.


The many mutual Advantages that must arise from carrying into Execution the Proposition already communicated to Congress of furnishing Provisions to the King’s Forces in America, to be paid for here5 have, I make no doubt, already induced them to begin that Operation. But as the Proposition has lately been renew’d to me, on Occasion of my requesting farther Aids of Money, to answer the unexpected Drafts upon me ordered by the Resolutions of May & August last;6 which Drafts it is absolutely necessary I should find Funds to pay; and as the Congress have long desired to have the Means of forming Funds in Europe; and an easier, cheaper & safer Method cannot possibly be contrived; and as I see by the Journals of February, that the several States were to furnish Provisions in Quantities instead of Supplies in Money,7 whereby much will be in the Disposition of Congress, I flatter myself that they will not disapprove of my engaging in their Behalf, with the Minister of the Finances here, that they will cause to be delivered for the King’s Land & Sea Forces in North America, such Provisions as may be wanted from time to time, to the Amount of 400 thousand Dollars, value of 5. Livres Tournois per Dollar, the said Provisions to be furnished at the current Prices for which they might be bought with Silver Specie.— I have constantly done my utmost to support the Credit of Congress by procuring wherewith punctually to pay all their Drafts, and I have no doubt of their Care to support mine in this Instance, by fulfilling honourably my Engagement; in which Case Receipts in due Form should be taken of the Persons to whom the Provisions are delivered in the several States, and those Receipts sent to me here. With great Respect, I have the honour to be, Sir, Your Excellency’s most obedient and most humble Servant.

B Franklin

P.S. This Value of 400,000 Dollars, is to be considered as exclusive of any Provisions already furnished; but the Receipts for those should also be sent me, if not paid for there.

His Excellency, Samuel Huntington Esqr. President of Congress.

Notation: Decr: 2d: 1780 read Feb 19. 17818 proposal of agreement to furnish fr: Fleet and army with provisions to amount of 400,000 dollars Specie to be pd. in France.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

9We print from the one in L’Air de Lamotte’s hand. The other is in the hand of Gurdon S. Mumford and was received on March 12.

1For the proposal see the headnote to Chaumont to BF, Nov. 21; Vergennes’ letter to Grand of Nov. 24, cited there in annotation offered no objection to it. Copies of the “Projet de lettre à écrire au Congrès par Monsieur Franklin” are at the Library of Congress and the AAE.

2Grand to Vergennes, Nov. 25, AAE.

3XXXIII, 329–30.

4Vergennes to Grand, Nov. 29, AAE.

5Options for paying for these supplies seem to have been communicated to Congress orally through French Minister La Luzerne, who received his information from Lafayette. La Luzerne wrote Congress on May 16, 1780, of the King’s resolve to send troops to America, and, urging the utmost secrecy, asked them to appoint a committee to handle arrangements. A committee was appointed the following day. After consultation with La Luzerne, it filed a report on May 24: Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence, III, 683–5, 699–701; JCC, XVII, 433, 443. For an overview of the French supply problem see Lee Kennett, The French Forces in America, 1780–1783 (Westport, Conn., and London, 1977), pp. 64–84.

6The drafts are discussed in BF to Vergennes, Nov. 19, and Vergennes’ response of Nov. 26.

7JCC, XVI, 143–5, 196–201.

8BF’s letter was referred to a committee of Joseph Jones, Samuel Adams, and Thomas Burke. On April 11, 1781, Congress resolved to take every measure to provide the supplies: JCC, XIX, 174, 308–11, 371–3. Rochambeau soon sent a representative to discuss the plan with Robert Morris and Washington; he reported that Washington was cool to the idea, because it might lead to competition for supplies his own army needed, and that Morris told him there was little chance of the project succeeding: Kennett, French Forces in America, p. 83; Morris to BF, July 21, Morris Papers, I, 364–6. See also JCC, XX, 527–8.

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