Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Robert Morris: Two Letters, 26 May 1783

From Robert Morris: Two Letters

(I) LS and copy: Archives du Ministère des affaires étrangères;9 copy and press copy of copy:1 American Philosophical Society; copy: Library of Congress; (II) LS: American Philosophical Society; copy: Library of Congress


Office of Finance 26th: May 1783.


By the enclosed Acts of the twenty eighth of April and second of May with the Copy of my Letter to Congress of the third of May you will perceive that I am to Continue somewhat longer in the Superintendance of our Finances.2 Be assured Sir, that nothing but a clear View of our Distresses could have induced my Consent. I must at the same time acknowledge that the Distresses we experience arise from our own Misconduct. If the Resources of this Country were drawn forth they would be amply sufficient, but this is not the Case. Congress have not Authority equal to the Object, and their Influence is greatly lessened by their evident Incapacity to do Justice. This is but a melancholy Introduction to the Request contained in the Act of the second Instant.3 But I shall not be guilty of Falsehood nor will I intentionally Deceive you or put you in the Necessity of deceiving others. My Official Situation compels me to do things which I would certainly avoid under any other Circumstances. Nothing should Induce me in my private Character to make such Applications for Money, as I am obliged to in my Public Character. I know and feel that you must be in a disagreeable Situation on this Subject. I can anticipate the Answers to all your Requests. And I know you may be asked for Payment when you ask for Loans. Yet Sir I must desire you to repeat your Applications. My only Hope arises from the Belief that as the Kings Expences are much lessened he may be able to comply with his gracious Intentions towards America. And the only Inducement I can Offer is the Assurance that the Taxes already called for shall be appropriated as fast as other indispensible Services will admit to the Replacement of what the Court may advance.4

Our Situation is shortly this. The Army expect a Payment which will amount to about seven hundred thousand Dollars.5 I am already above half a Million Dollars in Advance of our Resources by Paper Anticipation.6 I must increase this Anticipation immediately to pay Monies due on the Contracts for feeding our Army and I must make them the expected Payment by Notes to be discharged at a distant Day. Now Sir if these Notes are not satisfied when they become due, the little Credit which remains to this Country must fall and the little Authority dependent on it must fall too. Under such Circumstances it is that your are to ask Aid for the United States. If it can be obtained I shall consider the obligation as being in some degree personal to my self and I shall certainly exert my self for the Repayment. You will be so kind Sir as to Ship on Board the Washington7 eighteen hundred thousand Livres, but if the Loan be not obtained I must intreat you will give me the earliest possible Information of the Refusal.

I shall communicate this Letter to the Minister of his Most Christian Majesty and request him to write to Mr. de Vergennes on the Subject of it.

Beleive me I pray With sincere & respectful Esteem & Regard Your Excellency’s Most obedient & Humble Servt.

Robt Morris

P.S. You have enclosed the Copy of a Letter which was sent with this to Monsr. de La Luzerne8

His Excellency Benjn Franklin Esqr.


Office of Finance 26th: May 1783.


I have now before me your Letters of the fourteenth and twenty third of December which are the last I have received.9 Enclosed you have a Letter from me to the Minister of France, with his Answer of the fourteenth of March on the Subject of the Delay which happened in transmitting his Dispatches. You will see by these that Lieutenant Barney was not to blame.1

Your Bills in Favor of Monsr: de Lauzun have not yet appeared or they should have been duly honoured. That Gentleman has since left the Country and therefore it is possible that the Bill may not come.2

The Reflections you make as well on the Nature of Public Credit as on the Inattention of the several States,3 are just and unanswerable but in what Country of the World shall we find a Nation willing to Tax themselves. The Language of Panegyric has held forth the English as such a Nation, but certainly if our Legislatures were subject to like Influence with theirs we might preserve the Form, but we should already have lost the Substance of Freedom. Time, Reason, Argument and above all that kind of Conviction which arises from feeling are necessary to the Establishment of our Revenues and the Consolidation of our Union. Both of these appear to me essential to our public Happiness, but our Ideas (as you well know) are frequently the Result rather of habit than Reflection so that Numbers who might think justly upon these Subjects have been early estranged from the Modes and Means of considering them properly.

I am in the Hourly Wish and Expectation of hearing from You and sincerely hope that it may be soon.

Beleive me I pray with Esteem and Respect Your Excellency’s Most obedient & Humble Servant

Robt Morris

His Excellency Benjn: Franklin.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

9A French notation on the LS indicates that it was sent to Vergennes by BF under cover of his letter of July 4. (The resolutions Morris enclosed remain among BF’s papers at the APS.) The copy is in the hand of Morris’ secretary and appears to have been sent to Vergennes by La Luzerne. It and its enclosures (all in the same hand) are filed with Morris’ signed letter to La Luzerne of May 27 asking him to read the enclosed letter to BF and write a similar appeal to Vergennes; dispatches would go on the General Washington. La Luzerne informed Morris on June 3 that he had sent Morris’ letters and enclosures to his court but could not give Morris the slightest hope of success: Morris Papers, VIII, 124–5, 157.

1In the hand of L’Air de Lamotte with a notation by WTF. We presume that BF ordered this copy made before sending the LS to Vergennes.

2The April 28 resolution extended Morris’ service so that he could arrange to pay the army. The three acts of May 2 resolved that the states collect taxes to pay the army’s expenses, an application be made to Louis XVI for an additional 3,000,000 l.t., and Morris be authorized to carry out these directives: JCC, XXIV, 283–5, 325–6, 326. For Morris’ reluctant decision to remain in office rather than resign at the end of May and his May 3 letter, see Morris Papers, VII, 767–81, 789–90.

3For a new loan; see the preceding note.

4When La Luzerne announced to Morris on March 15 that the king had granted a new loan of 6,000,000 l.t., he also conveyed Vergennes’ warning that it would surely be the last unless Congress demonstrated its ability to meet its obligations: Morris Papers, VII, 584–9. On April 18 Congress passed by majority vote a new plan to fund the national debt, pending unanimous ratification by the states, which called for the 5 percent impost on foreign imports that had long been discussed, as well as the appropriation of $1,500,000 annually in state revenues toward the payment of principal and interest. Ratification was so prolonged and contentious that the plan never went into effect: JCC, XXIV, 256–62; Ferguson, Power of the Purse, pp. 166–7, 221; Jack N. Rakove, Beginnings of National Politics (New York, 1979), pp. 337–9.

The plan was printed in the pamphlet that Livingston enclosed in his letter to BF of May 9. Livingston also enclosed a copy of the resolution seeking an additional loan that Morris enclosed in the present letter: XXXIX, 579–80. Both these letters—Livingston’s and Morris’—were carried by Barney and delivered to BF on July 2.

5The largest components of army expenses were rations and pay: Morris Papers, VIII, 58. Financial considerations influenced Congress on May 26 to order furloughs from the army: JCC, XXIV, 364; Morris Papers, VIII, 130–2.

6During the first four months of 1783, Continental Treasury expenditures exceeded receipts by an estimated $583,599.78: Morris Papers, VIII, 54.

7The packet General Washington, commanded by Joshua Barney.

8This postscript, not visible on the photostat of the LS supplied by the AAE, comes from the copy at the APS. For Morris’ letter to La Luzerne see the first note, above.

9XXXVIII, 453–6, 487–9.

1Morris’ letter to La Luzerne, dated March 14, apologized for the news (contained in BF’s Dec. 14 letter) that there had been an “extraordinary Delay” in Barney’s delivering La Luzerne’s dispatches to Vergennes and assured him that there would be an investigation. La Luzerne replied that none was necessary: Morris Papers, VII, 576, 576–7.

2See XXXVIII, 455. The duc de Lauzun sailed for France from Wilmington, Del., on May 11: Rice and Brown, eds., Rochambeau’s Army, I, 315.

3XXXVIII, 488–9.

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