Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Vergennes, 8 August 1782

To Vergennes

LS:3 Archives du Ministère des affaires étrangères

Passy, Augt. 8. 1782


Yesterday Mr Oswald communicated to Mr. Jay and me a Paper he had just received from his Court being a Copy of the King’s Order to the Attorney or Sollicitor General to prepare a Commission to pass the great Seal, appointing him to treat with us &ca.4 and he shew’d me a Letter from Mr Secretary Townshend, which expresses his Concern that the Commission itself could not be sent by this Courier, the Officers who were to expedite it being in the Country, which would occasion a Delay of eight or ten Days; but that its being then sent might be depended on, and it was hoped the Treaty might in the meantime be proceeded on. Mr Oswald left with me a Copy of the Paper, which I enclose for your Excellency’s Consideration,5 and am with great Respect, Sir, Your Excellency’s most obedient and most humble Sert

B Franklin

His Exy Count de Vergennes

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3In the hand of WTF, except for the last six words of the complimentary close, which are in BF’s hand.

4Following a cabinet recommendation of July 25 (Fortescue, Correspondence of George Third, VI, 91), the King had Townshend write the order that same day. It asked that a bill be prepared for the King’s signature empowering Oswald to negotiate with any commissioner or commissioners named by the thirteen “Colonies or plantations or with any Body or Bodies, Corporate or Politick or any Assembly or Assemblies or Description of Men or any Person or Persons whatsoever a Peace or a Truce with the said Colonies or plantations or any of Them, or any part or parts thereof”: Giunta, Emerging Nation, I, 471–3; BF’s copy, in L’Air de Lamotte’s hand, is at the Library of Congress and another copy is at the AAE. Oswald’s instructions of July 31 (Giunta, Emerging Nation, I, 481–4) authorized him to allow any persons with whom he treated “to describe themselves by any Title or Appellation whatever.”

5Oswald received the King’s order (serving as a draft commission) and his instructions on the evening of Aug. 6. The following morning he showed the draft commission to BF. According to Oswald, BF was relieved to see it, since Vergennes’ own negotiations with Fitzherbert were stalled until it arrived; Vergennes had told BF that “both treaties must go on together hand in hand.” BF “seemed to be satisfied, and said, as on a former occasion, He hoped we should agree; and not be long about it”: Morris, Jay: Peace, pp. 286, 292, 295.

Oswald then took his draft commission to Jay, who remarked that independence should be expressly granted by Parliament in advance of negotiations for a treaty: Morris, Jay: Peace, p. 287. On Aug. 8, BF and Jay called on Oswald, after having seen Fitzherbert, and informed him of BF’s present communication with Vergennes.

The conversation between Jay and Oswald marked the beginning of a crisis which paralyzed negotiations until Oswald received a revised commission, issued on Sept. 21, specifically empowering him to treat “with any Commissioners or Persons vested with equal powers, by and on the part of the Thirteen United States of America”: Morris, Jay: Peace, pp. 292–3, 298–308, 310–11, 360–2.

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