Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to John Adams, 10 September 1783

To John Adams

LS:2 Massachusetts Historical Society

Passy, Sept. 10. 1783.


I have received a Letter from a very respectable Person in America,3 containing the following Words, Viz “It is confidently reported, propagated, and believed by some among us, that the Court of France was at bottom against our obtaining the Fishery and Territory in that great Extent in which both are secured to us by the Treaty; that our Minister at that Court favoured, or did not oppose this Design against us; and that it was entirely owing to the Firmness, Sagacity & Disinterestedness of Mr. Adams, with whom Mr. Jay united, that we have obtained those important Advantages.”—

It is not my Purpose to dispute any Share of the Honour of that Treaty which the Friends of my Colleagues may be dispos’d to give them; but having now spent Fifty Years of my Life in public Offices and Trusts, and having still one Ambition left, that of carrying the Character of Fidelity at least, to the Grave with me, I cannot allow that I was behind any of them in Zeal and Faithfulness. I therefore think that I ought not to suffer an Accusation, which falls little short of Treason to my Country, to pass without Notice, when the Means of effectual Vindication are at hand. You, Sir, was a Witness of my Conduct in that affair. To you and my other Colleagues I appeal, by sending to each a similar Letter with this,4 and I have no doubt of your Readiness to do a Brother Commissioner Justice, by Certificates that will entirely destroy the Effect of that Accusation. I have the honour to be, with much Esteem, Sir, Your most obedient & most humble Servant.

B. Franklin

His Excelly. J. Adams Esqe.

Endorsed: Dr Franklin 10 Sept. 1783 concerning a Letter he recd from America.5

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2In L’Air de Lamotte’s hand.

3Samuel Cooper. The only portion of that May 5 letter to have survived is the lengthy extract BF sent to Vergennes; see the extract and annotation in XXXIX, 561–3, and for further background see Adams Papers, XV, 289–90n. In the passage quoted below, BF condensed Cooper’s opening phrases: “It is then confidently whispered among us that Letters have been received from Paris, both in this State and at Philadelphia, which mention, that the Court of France …”

4He sent nearly identical letters to John Jay (Columbia University Library) and Henry Laurens (S.C. Hist. Soc.). He wrote the one to Jay himself; the one to Laurens was copied by L’Air de Lamotte.

5That same day, JA maligned BF in three more letters to America that warned against allowing the doctor to continue negotiating commercial treaties on his own, a situation “contrived by Vergennes on purpose to throw slights upon Jay and me, & to cheat you out of your Carrying Trade.” BF had been “secretly contriving” to gain the exclusive management of the negotiations with Denmark and Portugal, as he had those with Sweden. He was “cunning, but very malicious to every Man and every Project, calculated for the public Good.” Anyone who objected to his acting as sole plenipotentiary in these matters was “persecute[d] … with a Malice and Rancour that is astonishing.” Indeed, JA professed himself astonished “that Jealousy Envy and Vanity could have gone such Lengths”: JA to Elbridge Gerry, William Gordon, and James Warren, all of Sept. 10, in Adams Papers, XV, 276–7, 278–9, 280.

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