Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Lafayette, 12 September 1782

From Lafayette

ALS: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

In the present letter Lafayette confirms that Vergennes secretly sent Gérard de Rayneval to England for a meeting with Shelburne. Jay had heard this news on September 9, the day he and Oswald were forging a compromise about the language of Oswald’s commission.7 Suspecting that the purpose of Rayneval’s mission was to arrange a peace with France at America’s expense, Jay immediately asked Benjamin Vaughan to go to Shelburne’s estate at Bowood and argue the American case, even instructing him to hint broadly at the possibility of a separate peace.8 Vaughan dashed off a note to Shelburne asking him not to make any decisions about France until he received further word. He entrusted the note to Elkanah Watson, Jr., who was leaving that day for England carrying a passport from Franklin.9 Vaughan wrote Shelburne a longer letter on September 11, alerting him to his own imminent departure, warning him of the Americans’ concern about Rayneval’s agenda, and again asking him to delay making any arrangements with Rayneval. Vaughan also warned that unless the language of Oswald’s commission were changed, the negotiations would fail.1

Jay did not tell Franklin about his conference with Vaughan because, as he later explained to Livingston, he knew that Franklin did not share his suspicions about Vergennes.2 This is not to say, however, that Franklin was ignorant of Vaughan’s mission. The ostensible reason for Vaughan’s trip was personal (his wife was pregnant) and the Franklin household gave him a list of items to procure in England.3 More to the point, Franklin reversed his decision about granting Elkanah Watson a passport because, according to Watson, he knew the merchant would carry to Shelburne Vaughan’s urgent message. Vaughan must have let Franklin know that he intended to call on Shelburne, if only to underscore the necessity of revising Oswald’s commission.4 It is difficult to believe that Vaughan was capable of keeping secrets from a man he so idolized, and whose approval he so keenly sought. If Franklin ever knew that Jay had given Vaughan specific instructions designed to counteract Rayneval’s perceived mischief, however, he certainly never let on to Jay.

Paris September the 12h 1782

Dear Sir

Inclosed I Have the Honor to send You a Letter that Relates to our Continental Stores,5 and When I am able to Get the Account of them You Have Seemed to Desire, I will immediately Communicate it to Your Excellency— I fear the Army is in want, and of Course Am Particularly interested in their safe and speedy Departure—if You Approuve of it, I will wait Upon M. de Castries, and from Him know Every Particular About the Convoy.6

By a Very Good Information, tho Not Ministerial, I Have found that Mr. Reyneval Has Been truly intended to Go, or perhaps is Gone, in which I Confess I Have Been Mistaken— Having at once Put two Questions to Count de Vergennes it Appears He Answered But one of them, But Had I sooner Received Your Letter I Would Have Been More Pointed in My Enquiries with that Minister.7

Upon Recollection, I Cannot Help thinking Mr. jay Had some Notion of My knowing Mr. Rayneval’s Departure, and Having with You some Reserve about it which it was But Proper to Return— When I thought of it, it Made me smile, and As it was the 11th september I Might Have spoke to Him pretty Much the same way As Scipio did to the Romans Upon a Mistaken Notion of theirs.8

Be pleased, My Good friend, to Let Me know How You do, and Accept the tender Assurances of the High Respect and Warm Attachement I Have the Honor to Be With Your obedient hbe sert and devoted friend


Notation: Mr. La Fayette

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7Jay’s source was Matthew Ridley: Klingelhofer, “Matthew Ridley’s Diary,” p. 104. For the compromise reached on Sept. 9 see our annotation of BF to Oswald, Sept. 8.

8Jay recounted his instructions to Vaughan in a Nov. 17 letter to Livingston: Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence, VI, 29–32.

9Vaughan to Shelburne, Sept. 9, in Morris, Jay: Peace, p. 338. For Watson’s passport see the annotation of Watson & Cossoul to BF, Aug. 20. The merchant arrived in London on Sept. 14 and immediately waited on Shelburne “with the important dispatches committed to my charge by Mr. Vaughan.” He spent a half hour conversing with the prime minister about “American affairs and about his old friend Dr. Franklin.” According to Watson’s journal, he was hailed in the London papers as a “messenger of peace” and introduced to the leading members of the House of Commons: Journal B, Elkanah Watson Papers, New York State Library. Watson later annotated his passport with a description of his mission, “the most interesting moment of my Life.”

1Morris, Jay: Peace, pp. 338–40. Throughout his stay in France, Vaughan carried on a regular, confidential correspondence with Shelburne; Vaughan’s own copies of those letters, including this one, are at the APS.

2Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence, VI, 29–32; Klingelhofer, “Matthew Ridley’s Diary,” p. 104. See also Vergennes’ memorandum under the date of Sept. 11.

3Vaughan to BF, Sept. 23, below.

4Vaughan’s letter cited immediately above, written on the eve of his return, takes for granted that BF knew that he would be carrying to Paris the new sealed commission for Oswald.

5From Palteau de Veimerange; see BF’s response to Lafayette of the following day.

6Apparently a long-delayed French convoy for the Chesapeake, which finally was canceled in November: XXXVI, 546n, 557–8; XXXVII, 71n.

7Gérard de Rayneval was sent to meet with Shelburne in order to verify the British prime minister’s intentions, as reported by de Grasse; see de Grasse to BF, Aug. 18. Louis XVI approved the meeting on Sept. 5. Rayneval left Paris two days later, arrived in London on Sept. 10, and began discussions at Bowood, Shelburne’s estate, on Sept. 13. Over the next week Shelburne convinced Rayneval that he was prepared to work with Vergennes not only in making peace but also in resisting Russian expansion against the Turks, a prime concern of the French foreign minister. The Rayneval mission thus laid the foundation for serious negotiations between Britain and France: Dull, French Navy, pp. 302–7; Jonathan R. Dull, “Vergennes, Rayneval, and the Diplomacy of Trust,” Hoffman and Albert, eds., Peace and the Peacemakers, pp. 113–20; Harlow, Founding of the Second British Empire, I, 329–42; Andrew Stockley, Britain and France at the Birth of America: the European Powers and the Peace Negotiations of 1782–1783 (Exeter, 2001), pp. 98–103. The minutes Rayneval took of his meetings with Shelburne are in Doniol, Histoire, V, 603–26.

BF’s now-missing letter must have inquired about the Rayneval mission, which Vergennes was trying to keep quiet. According to Ridley, Rayneval himself had told Jay only that he would be absent for several days: Klingelhofer, “Matthew Ridley’s Diary,” pp. 104, 112; Morris, Jay: Peace, p. 330.

8Sept. 11 was the anniversary of Lafayette’s being wounded at Brandywine in 1777. Scipio the Elder, when accused of crimes against Rome, answered by reminding his accusers that it was the anniversary of his victory over Hannibal: Idzerda, Lafayette Papers, V, 56n.

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