Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Robert R. Livingston, 14 October 1782

To Robert R. Livingston

LS1 and transcript: National Archives

Passy, Oct. 14. 1782.


I have but just received Information of this Opportunity,2 and have only time allow’d to write a few Lines.

In my last of the 26th. past I mentioned that the Negociation for Peace had been obstructed by the Want of due Form in the English Commissions appointing their Plenipotentiaries. In that for treating with us, the Mentioning our States by their public Name had been avoided, which we objecting to, another is come of which I send a Copy inclosed. We have now made several preliminary Propositions, which the English Minister, Mr. Oswald has approved & sent to his Court.3 He thinks they will be approved there; but I have some Doubts. In a few Days however the answer expected will determine.4 By the first of these Articles the King of Great Britain renounces for himself and Successors all Claim and Pretension to Dominion or Territory within the thirteen United States; and the Boundaries are described as in our Instructions; except that the Line between Nova Scotia & New-England is to be settled by Commissioners after the Peace. By another Article the Fishery in the American Seas is to be freely exercis’d by the Americans wherever they might formerly exercise it while united with Great Britain.5 By another, the Citizens and Subjects of each Nation are to enjoy the same Protection & Privileges in each others Ports and Countries, respecting Commerce, Duties &c. that are enjoy’d by native Subjects. The Articles are drawn up very fully by Mr. Jay; who I suppose sends you a Copy. If not it will go by the next Opportunity.6 If these Articles are agreed to, I apprehend little Difficulty in the rest. Something has been mention’d about the Refugees and English Debts; but not insisted on, as we declar’d at once that whatever Confiscations had been made in America, being in Virtue of the Laws of particular States, the Congress had no Authority to repeal those Laws, and therefore could give us none to stipulate for such Repeal.

I have been honour’d with the Receipt of your Letters No. 14 & 15.7 I have also received two Letters from Mr. L R. Morris both dated the 6th. of July and one dated the 10th. of August8 inclosing Bills for

68,290. Livres
In all 149,426. Livres

being intended for the Payment of Ministers Salaries for the two first Quarters of this Year. But as these Bills came so late that all those Salaries were already paid, I shall make no use of the Bills, but lay them by till farther Orders. And the Salaries of different Ministers not having all the same Times of falling due, as they had different Commencements, I purpose to get all their Accounts settled & reduced to the same Period, and send you the State of them; that you may be clear in future Orders. I see in one of the Estimates sent me that a Quarter’s Salary of a Minister is reckoned at 14,583 Livres; in the other it is reckon’d 16,667 livres. And the Bill for 9756 Livres is mentioned, as intended to pay a Ballance due on the Remittance of the 68,290. Livres.9 Being unacquainted with the State of your Exchanges I do not well comprehend this, and therefore leave the whole for the present as I have said above. Permit me only to hint for your Consideration, whether it may not be well hereafter to omit Mention of Sterling in our Appointments, since we have severed from the Country to which that Denomination of Money is peculiar; and also to order the Payment of your Ministers in such a Manner that they may know exactly what they are to receive, & not be subject to the Fluctuations of Exchange. If it is that which occasions the Difference between 14,583 for the first Quarter, & 16,667 for the second, it is considerable. I think we have no right to any Advantage by the Exchange, nor should we be liable to any Loss from it. Hitherto we have taken 15,000 Livres for a Quarter (subject however to the Allowance or Disallowance of Congress) which is lower than the Medium between those two Extreams.

The different Accounts given of Lord Shelburne’s Character with respect to Sincerity, induced the Ministry here to send over M. de Rayneval, Secretary of the Council,1 to converse with him, and endeavour to form by that Means a more perfect Judgment of what was to be expected from the Negociation. He was five or Six Days in England, saw all the Ministers, and return’d quite satisfy’d that they are sincerely desirous of Peace; so that the Negociations now go on, with some Prospect of Success.2 But the Court & People of England are very changeable. A little Turn of Fortune in their Favour sometimes turns their Heads; and I shall not think a speedy Peace to be depended on till I see the Treaties signed.

I am obliged to finish. With great Esteem I have the honour to be, Sir, Your most obedient and most humble Servant

B Franklin

Honble. Robt. R Livingston Esqe.

Endorsed: Letter 14 Oct 1782 Doct Franklin so far as relates to the mode of paying the salaries of Ministers referred to Mr Osgood Mr Rutledge Mr Wharton Dec. 27. 17823

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

1In L’Air de Lamotte’s hand, except for the last seven words of the complimentary close, which are in BF’s hand.

2Probably provided by Duportail, who carried an Oct. 13 letter from Jay to Livingston: Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence, V, 809.

3For Oswald’s new commission see Vaughan to BF, Sept. 23. The preliminary articles are above, [Oct. 5–7].

4On Oct. 17 the cabinet directed that Oswald be notified, either in writing or by personal messenger, that the terms he had agreed to were unacceptable. They insisted that the Nova Scotia boundaries be expanded; that Oswald state the King’s “Right to the Back Country and urge it as a means of providing for the Refugees” (a condition the King was willing to revoke if the Americans made adequate provisions for those refugees); that the Americans’ claim to dry fish on the shores of Newfoundland be rejected; that the right to navigation on the Mississippi be accepted but the rest of the fourth article be referred to a Treaty of Commerce, where it would be more appropriate; and that Oswald should “strongly” urge that pre-war debts be repaid to British merchants: Fortescue, Correspondence of George Third, VI, 143–4. These terms, less generous than what Shelburne had been prepared to offer, were likely strengthened after the news arrived in London on Sept. 30 that the British fortress at Gibraltar had repulsed a major Spanish attack: Jack Russell, Gibraltar Besieged, 1779–1783 ([London, 1965]), pp. 229–56; Harlow, Second British Empire, I, 287–9.

5The first and third articles of the draft treaty. For Jay the questions of borders and fishing rights involved contestation with Spain and France as well as Britain. His futile discussions with Aranda over the competing territorial claims of Spain and the United States east of the Mississippi River led him to encourage Britain to retake West Florida from Spain. Luckily for the United States, Britain rejected the offer, which could have had dire consequences for later American history: Morris, Jay: Peace, pp. 268–83, 362–3, 368, 372–82, 394–5; Jonathan R. Dull, A Diplomatic History of the American Revolution (New Haven and London, 1985), p. 149. Gérard de Rayneval’s attempts to mediate the dispute helped convince Jay that France was hostile to American interests. He was further convinced by a letter from François Barbé de Marbois, the French chargé d’affaires in Philadelphia, which had been intercepted by the British and leaked to Jay in mid-September. In it Marbois opposed American claims to Newfoundland fishing rights. Jay immediately sent a copy of this letter to Livingston. BF was less alarmed. According to Matthew Ridley, BF “affect[ed] not to see the drift” of the letter, surmised that Marbois was acting out of his own “zeal,” and refused to believe that Vergennes had given him any encouragement: Giunta, Emerging Nation, I, 313–16, 581–2, 612; Klingelhofer, “Matthew Ridley’s Diary,” pp. 107–8.

Vergennes did think the American land claims extravagant, and was concerned lest they cause the American negotiations to fail and hence end the chance of a general peace: Vergennes to La Luzerne, Oct. 14, in Giunta, Emerging Nation, I, 616.

6On Oct. 13 Jay wrote Livingston that he would not communicate details until he found an American to carry his letter: Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence, V, 809.

7Livingston’s letters of July 5 and Aug. 9: XXXVII, 580–1, 717–19.

8The confusion BF expresses in this paragraph stems from the new arrangements Congress was making for paying its ministers in Europe. Having learned in April that France would no longer pay these salaries and would only recognize bills sent from America, Congress passed a resolution on May 29 that Robert Morris would pay the ministers’ salaries. It revised those instructions on June 5, returning the authority to Livingston: as of August, Livingston would receive money from the Treasury, purchase bills of exchange on European bankers, and send those bills to the ministers and their secretaries. This arrangement would hold until such time as the ministers appointed agents in Philadelphia: Morris Papers, V, 128. Lewis R. Morris was one of Livingston’s undersecretaries. Although his three letters mentioned here by BF are missing, we know that in July he sent a bill or bills for 68,290 l.t. drawn on Robert Morris (Morris to Ferdinand Grand, July 6: Morris Papers, V, 542; VI, 164–5), whereas the August bill for 71, 380 l.t. was drawn on Livingston (who also wrote about it to BF; see XXXVII, 718).

9Livingston here noted in the margin: “N.B: This not merely to pay a ballance but an excess on acct. of contingencies.”

The estimates BF mentions may have been in the missing letters from Lewis Morris. BF drew on Grand for 14,583 l.t. on Aug. 1: Account XXVII (XXXII, 4). Lewis Morris sent him a bill of exchange for 16,666 l.t. on Nov. 11, below, which he did not cash. The former was calculated at an exchange rate of 5.25 l.t. per specie dollar, and the latter at 6 l.t. per specie dollar. (Robert Morris had converted BF’s annual salary of £2,500 to 11,111 10/90 specie dollars: Morris Papers, V, 127.)

1Gérard de Rayneval was secrétaire du Conseil d’état: Jean-Pierre Samoyault, Les Bureaux du secrétariat d’état des affaires étrangères sous Louis XV: Administration, personnel (Paris, 1971), p. 289.

2For Rayneval’s mission to England see Lafayette to BF, Sept. 12.

3Another section of the letter was referred to a congressional committee consisting of delegates James Madison, John Rutledge, Abraham Clark, Alexander Hamilton, and Samuel Osgood. Their report, issued on Dec. 31 (JCC, XXIII, 838), led to the congressional resolution sent by Livingston on Jan. 2, 1783 (below).

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