Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Robert Morris, 11 January 1783

From Robert Morris

LS: American Philosophical Society, Library of Congress; copy: Library of Congress

Office of Finance 11th. January 1783


On the ninth Instant, from an Investigation of Mr. Grands Accounts, then lately received,6 I found that after making due Allowance for Loan Office Bills &ca. which might still come upon him, my Drafts (and those which I have directed) would exceed, by Something more than six Millions (exclusive of the Interest payable by him in November on the Dutch Loan) any Funds which he could be possessed of. It appeared also by indirect Information so late as in the Month of September, that the Loan opened by Mr. Adams had not produced above three Millions,7 so that unless he had met with further Success, there would be a Deficiency of three Millions. Had the Court granted us twelve Millions in the first Instance, Had Mr. Adams’ Loan produced six Millions, had Mr de Beaumarchais Bills been provided for, without Recurrence to the American Banker, or finally had the heavy Deduction made by those Bills been replaced,8 this disagreeable Thing would not have happened. Presuming that the Loan of the last Year was exclusively at my Disposition, I drew during the Year to the Amount of it, and I am convinced that all my Bills, and those drawn by my Authority will have been paid. Rely on it, that as I told you in a former Letter,9 I have acted under the Influence of dire Necessity, and this you will be convinced of by a few out of many Circumstances. Enclosed you have a general State of the public Account, until the end of 1781:1 On which you will observe, that the Army was fed principally (tho scantily) by the specific Supplies called for at different previous Periods; and that there remained in the Treasury near three hundred thousand Dollars, being Part of the Money which Colo. Laurens brought with him from France. I also enclose you the Copy of a Letter written to Congress, on the twenty first of October, and of its several Enclosures2 whch. will need no Commentary, or if it did, I would only add that I have been obliged to sell part of the Goods which arrived here from Holland, in Order to raise so much Money as would save my sinking Credit from Destruction.3 I would go into a Detail of the various Measures pursued to stimulate the Exertions of the States, but to do this with Accuracy would be to give a tedious History of my whole Administration. Whatever Expedient could suggest itself which might have that desirable Effect, I have tried: and I do assure you that when I look back at the Scenes I have passed thro, they strike my own Mind with Astonishment. As soon as I can get the Accounts made up, I will transmit you the Total of our Expenditures,4 but to transmit, or even relate, our Hazards and Difficulties would be impossible.

Even at this Moment I am making farther Exertions to bring our unwieldy System into Form, and Ward off impending Evils, but what the Success may be Heaven knows. Imagine the Situation of a Man who is to direct the Finances of a Country, almost without Revenue (for such you will perceive this to be) surrounded by Creditors whose Distresses, while they encrease their Clamors, render it more difficult to appease them. An Army ready to disband or Mutiny. A Government whose sole Authority consists in the Power of framing Recommendations. Surely it is not necessary to add any Colouring to such a Piece, and yet Truth would justify more than Fancy could paint. The Settlement of Accounts, long and intricate beyond Comprehension, becomes next to impossible, from the Want of that Authority which is on the Verge of Annihilation from those Confusions which nothing can disipate except the complete Settlement of Accounts, and an honest Provision for Payment.

Upon Discovering the Situation of our Affairs, in the manner already mentioned, I laid them before Congress. You will know the Result. The Secretary of foreign Affairs will doubtless transmit their Act,5 to which I must add this farther Communication, that I expect my Bills will amot. to a Million, within a Month from this Date. There are Cases where Nothing worse can be apprehended from a Measure, than what would inevitably happen without it, and our present Position is one of them. An immediate Command of Money is alike necessary to our present Existence and future Prospects. In Europe, when this Letter arrives, you will know decidedly whether we are to expect Peace or War, but in America we must prepare for the latter; for by so doing we may forward Negotiations for Peace, and at the worst will only have incurred some additional Expence whereas by neglecting it, we risk the Chance of being taken unawares, and paying very dearly the Penalties of Neglect.

But Sir, notwithstanding these Reasons and many others which will justify every Counsel and every Act (however irregular in other Respects) I would not draw one more Bill, and I would boldly hazard every Consequence of the Omission, if I were not persuaded that they would be paid. On this Occasion your Sovereign will expect your most vigorous Exertions, and your Country will, I trust, be indebted to you in a Degree for her political Existence.

I am Sir your most obedient and humble Servant

Robt Morris

His Excellency Benjamin Franklin Esquire

Endorsed: Mr Morris Jan. 11. 83 Money— Money—

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6Grand’s accounts, now-missing, arrived in December: Morris Papers, VII, 265n.

7All these sums are in livres tournois. 3,000,000 l.t. is equivalent to about 1,320,000 f. (or guilders); see XXXVI, 190n. The “indirect information” Morris alludes to was probably the communication he received from Lewis Morris on behalf of Livingston, dated Sept. 11, which included JA’s July 5 letter to Livingston announcing the opening of a subscription for the Dutch loan. JA warned that of the 5,000,000 guilders he was seeking, Congress should expect no more than 1,500,000 “by Christmas.” By January, 1783, the Dutch banks had raised about 1,800,000 guilders: Morris Papers, VI, 352; VII, 24n; Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence, V, 594.

8For Beaumarchais’ bills see Robert Morris to BF, Sept. 30.

9Of Jan. 3, above.

1This printed statement prepared under Morris’ supervision is reproduced in Morris Papers, VII, 62–3.

2Morris’ Oct. 21 letter to President of Congress John Hanson and its 14 enclosures concerned the lack of funds to pay the contractors for supplying the army and the replacement of the existing contract with the firm of Wadsworth and Carter. The enclosures (APS), all from 1782, include: Morris to George Washington, Aug. 29, 30, and Sept. 9; Comfort Sands, Walter Livingston, William Duer, and Daniel Parker to Morris, Sept. 11; Morris to Ezekiel Cornell, Sept. 20, 23, and Oct. 10; Cornell to Sands, Livingston, Duer, and Parker, Sept. 30; Sands, Livingston, Duer, and Parker to Cornell, Oct. 1; Cornell to Morris, Oct. 5; Tench Tilghman to Morris, Oct. 5; Morris to the Contractors for West Point and the Moving Army, Oct. 10; Robert Morris, Jeremiah Wadsworth, John Carter: Contract for Military Food and Stores, Oct. 12; Morris to the Governors of the States, Oct. 21. They are in Morris Papers, VI, 282–3, 286, 345–6, 356–64, 408–9, 419–20, 501–4, 508–9, 544–5, 545–6, 551–3, 553, 565–73, 631–4, 635–8.

3Morris had to sell part of the cargo of the Heer Adams: Morris Papers, VI, 372–3, 429, 600–1; VII, 295n.

4For the 1782 statement of receipts and expenditures, dated Jan. 31, 1783, see Morris Papers, VII, 386 and facing page.

5Given the vastness of the shortfall, Morris had asked Congress on Jan. 9 to convene a secret advisory committee and sanction his drawing of bills of exchange on the credit of contingent loans in Europe. On Jan. 10, Congress passed a secret resolution authorizing him to do so: JCC, XXIV, 43–4; Morris Papers, VII, 266n, 286–8. Two copies of that resolution, written entirely in code, were sent to BF (APS; Hist. Soc. of Pa.), though we cannot determine when or by whom. The one at the Hist. Soc. of Pa. was endorsed by BF, “Resolution of Congress Jan. 10. 83 Money.”

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