Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Richard Oswald, 8 September 1782

To Richard Oswald

Copies: Public Record Office (three),1 William L. Clements Library, Library of Congress

Passy 8th Septr. 1782


I have receivd the honour of yours dated the 5th. Instant, inclosing an Extract of a Letter to you from the Rt. Hon: Thos. Townshend, one of his Majesty’s principal Secretaries of State, wherein your Conduct in communicating to us the 4th Article of your Instructions appears to have been approved of by his Majesty.2

I suppose therefore that there is no Impropriety in my requesting a Copy of that Instruction; And if you see none, I wish to receive it from you; hoping it may be of use in removing some of the Difficulties that obstruct our proceeding.3

With great & Sincere Esteem I am Sir Your most obedt. &c. &c.

signd B. Franklin

To Richd. Oswald Esqr.
/ Copy /

Notation by Richard Oswald: In consequence of the above I waited of the Doctr and delivered him a Copy of the 4th Article abovementd, Signed by me, as in my Letter of this date 10th Sepr4


1We print from the copy made by Caleb Whitefoord, forwarded by Oswald to Townshend on Sept. 10. All other extant copies were made from this one.

2Article 4 of Oswald’s July 31 instructions (which BF had not yet seen) reads, “In case you find the American Commissioners are not at liberty to treat on any terms short of Independence, You are to declare to them that You have Our Authority to make that Concession; Our earnest Wish for Peace disposing Us to purchase it at the Price of acceding to the complete Independence of the Thirteen States, namely New Hampshire &c.”: Giunta, Emerging Nation, I, 482.

3The chief obstruction to the negotiations was Jay’s continued objection to Oswald’s commission. On Sept. 9, Jay finally told Oswald that he would accept (pending BF’s approval) an alteration in the language of that commission, rather than an express acknowledgement of independence. He drafted a sentence specifying that Oswald would be treating with “the thirteen United States of America”: Morris, Jay: Peace, p. 349. (A copy in Oswald’s hand is among BF’s papers at the Library of Congress.) He also drafted a letter to Oswald explaining his reasons and indicating his willingness to proceed with negotiations if the commission were altered: Morris, Jay: Peace, pp. 350–1.

Jay consulted BF at Passy on the evening of Sept. 9 and again the following morning. BF advised against sending the letter, which he thought too strong. Jay concurred, and on Sept. 10 Oswald forwarded to Townshend Jay’s proposed alteration of the commission without Jay’s letter of explanation. The following day, however, Oswald convinced Jay to give him a copy of that letter for private use. Without BF’s knowledge, Oswald forwarded the letter with his dispatch to Shelburne dated Sept. 11. See Morris, Jay: Peace, pp. 351–9.

4Oswald was reluctant to give BF a copy but finally did so. Oswald wrote Townshend on Sept. 11 that BF checked it for accuracy, laid it aside, and said “very kindly, that the only use he proposed to make of it, was, that, in case they took any liberties, for the sake of removing difficulties, not expressly specified in their Instructions, he might have this paper in his hands to shew”: Morris, Jay: Peace, p. 355. Oswald also reported that Jay and BF had agreed to proceed with negotiations if Oswald received a new commission empowering him to treat with “the Thirteen United States of America” and listing the states by name. Unless this new commission was sent, negotiations would cease immediately. Oswald wrote the same admonition to Shelburne on Sept. 11, urging haste. Morris, Jay: Peace, pp. 355–7, 357–9.

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