Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Robert R. Livingston, 22 May 1782

From Robert R. Livingston

LS: American Philosophical Society, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, University of Pennsylvania Library; AL (draft): New-York Historical Society; copy and transcript: National Archives

Philadelphia, 22d. May 1782

Dear sir

I had expected to have written you a long Letter, more particularly as it is some time since you have received any information from this Country, the enemy having effectually blocked up our ports for some time past,3 but find myself so extremely hurried that I have hardly leisure to write this, the Vessel by whom it is to be sent going sooner than I apprehended.4

You will receive herewith a Letter to his most Christian Majesty, which you will present & a copy which you will be pleased to deliver to the Count de Vergennes—5 This, I believe, is the usual form— You will also receive in the enclosed papers an account of the marks of respect and pleasure with which the Annunciation of the birth of the Dauphin was received—6 These are of some importance at a time when Great Britain is endeavouring to represent us as weary of our alliance, & anxiously wishing to return to our connection with them— It is probable that the late changes in the British administration & the conciliatory measures they propose may excite apprehensions of our firmness, I have the pleasure of assuring you that it has not produced the least effect—all orders of the people seem to agree that it should redouble our vigilance, & while it argues the weakness of the enemy serve as a spring to our exertion— Sir Guy Carleton shortly after his arrival, wrote a complimentary Letter to Genl Washington, sending him an account of his appointment & the prints which contained the parliamentary debates, and requesting leave to send his Secretary with dispatches to Congress—7 The General refused the passport till he had the sense of Congress thereon, & upon Sir Guy’s letter being laid before them, they came to the Resolution marked No.2—8 The papers I send you contain also resolutions of the state of Maryland & of the executive council of Pennsylvania which I believe, speak the language of all the states, who will I doubt not make similar declarations, when their Legislatures shall be convened—9 So that you may safely assure his Majesty’s ministers, that no act which Great Britain can put in practice, will have the least influence in lessening the attachment of the people of this country to the principles of the alliance— It is true their expectations of powerful assistance this campaign are very high— They saw with some pain that the fleet was withdrawn last year when the Enemy were absolutely at their feet, & when one month’s stay would have reduced either New York or Charlestown— They look eagerly for the return of the fleet, & they generally believe this to be the last campaign in America—1 There is no knowing what effect a disappointment in this hope would have; I believe, from the present view of things they would bear it with fortitude; but I should be sorry to see it put to the trial.

Our trade has suffered astonishingly of late— The influence which this will have upon our internal resources is much to be apprehended. It is to be wished that France would see the great advantages she would derive from keeping a Superiority on this coast where her fleets would be maintained extremely cheaply, while they protected our commerce, & compelled England either to risque her army, or to keep an equal fleet here at five times their expence— Enclosed is a state of our trade drawn by Mr Morris, you are requested to communicate this to the court of Versailles & to use every means in your power to bring the Court to concur in adopting it—2 I also enclose a resolution of Congress to request you to apply for the prisoners due to us, in order that they may be sent here & exchanged for our seamen who are confined without the hopes of relief—3 Is it impossible to devise some means for the enlargement of those who are confined in England can no cartel be settled, or no means devised for sending them here to be exchanged?— Their case is really pitiable.

I have the honor to be, Sir with great respect & esteem Your most obedt humble servt.

Robt R Livingston

You will oblige me by forwarding the enclose from Majr Duponseau4 who complains that his letters have suffered Losses very unfortunate.

No. 11.

Honble. B Franklin, Esqr.

Endorsed: Mr Secy Livingston May 22. 1782

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3For the British blockade see Robert Morris’ first letter to BF of May 18.

4According to a notation which appears on both the copy and transcript, the original of this letter was sent by express to the Chesapeake, the duplicate was carried from Boston by the ship Intrepid (for which see Claghorn, Naval Officers, pp. 37–8, under Moses Brown), and the triplicate was sent to Baltimore.

5This May 20 letter from Congress (JCC, XXII, 278–9) congratulates Louis XVI on the birth of the dauphin. An LS is at the APS; copies by a congressional secretary are at the University of Pa. Library and the Hist. Soc. of Pa.

6The enclosed newspapers have not survived, but see Cooper to BF, June 15.

7Guy Carleton, the former governor of Quebec, was named on Feb. 23 to replace Clinton as commander in chief in America. He arrived in New York on May 5: DNB. Two days later he wrote Washington: Jared Sparks, ed., The Writings of George Washington … (12 vols., Boston, 1834–37), VIII, 536–7. A copy of his letter is with BF’s papers at the University of Pa. Library; an extract, in Benjamin Vaughan’s hand, is with BF’s papers at the Library of Congress.

8In the draft Livingston here wrote but then deleted, “You may assure his Majestie’s ministers that they have nothing to apprehend.” Washington wrote Carleton on May 10 that he could not send the passport without consulting Congress; a copy of this letter is with BF’s papers at the University of Pa. Library. Four days later Congress resolved “That the Commander in Chief be, and hereby is, directed to refuse the request of Sir Guy Carleton, of a passport for Mr. Morgan to bring despatches to Philadelphia.” Washington so informed Carleton on May 21: Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, XXIV, 241–2, 270; JCC, XXII, 263. Shelburne’s secretary Maurice Morgann had been sent to assist Carleton; see our annotation of BF’s journal of the peace negotiations. There are two copies of the congressional resolution with BF’s papers at the Hist. Soc. of Pa.

9The Maryland House of Delegates unanimously resolved on May 15 “that War with all its Calamities, is to be preferred to national dishonour, and that it is the Sentiment of this House that any negotiation for Peace or Truce, not agreeable to the Alliance with France is inadmissable”: Extract from the Maryland Gazette, May 16, 1782 (Public Record Office). On July 9, Grenville told Shelburne that BF had read the resolution to him: Giunta, Emerging Nation, I, 460. The Pa. Supreme Executive Council unanimously resolved on May 21 “that any propositions which may be made by the Court of Great Britain, in any manner whatsoever, tending to violate the treaty subsisting between us and our illustrious Ally, ought to be treated with every mark of indignity and contempt”: Pa. Arch., 1st ser., XIII (Minutes of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania), 286–8.

1A council of war held at Saint Domingue (where some 40 French and Spanish ships of the line assembled after the French defeat at the Saintes) did decide to send the best of the French ships to North America to obtain provisions and materiel: Dull, French Navy, p. 284. Louis-Philippe de Rigaud, marquis de Vaudreuil, who assumed command of the French fleet after de Grasse’s capture, wrote Castries on May 19 that he planned to sail to Boston around June 10 with about 15 ships of the line: Archives de la Marine, B4CCVI, 181–2.

2By congressional resolution of May 14, Livingston was ordered to transmit to BF Morris’ “State of American Commerce and Plan for Protecting It,” which called for French naval assistance: JCC, XXII, 263–74; Morris Papers, V, 145–57.

3This May 7 resolution directed BF to apply to the French court so that orders would be given to the French fleet in the West Indies to send to an American port British prisoners owed to the United States. This would permit the exchange of Americans being held in New York: JCC, XXII, 245–6. Copies of the resolution are with BF’s papers at the Hist. Soc. of Pa. and the University of Pa. Library.

4Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs Pierre-Etienne Du Ponceau (XXXVI, 581–2n).

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