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John Jay: Account of Conversations with Franklin, 19 July 1783

John Jay: Account of Conversations with Franklin

AD: Columbia University Library

On July 19, the day after the American peace commissioners finalized their letter to Livingston, John Adams left for Holland, and Franklin and Jay, to judge by the present document, indulged in some moments of relaxed conversation. The thirty-eight-year-old Jay had been living at the Hôtel Valentinois with his family for more than a month, and Franklin seemed comfortable enough with him by this time to reminisce in an unguarded way about prominent people he had met as a young man, in many cases before Jay was born. Jay recorded these stories in a small quire reserved for occasional anecdotes about people, which he began in 1781 and continued through the spring of 1784. In addition to the two entries presented here, Jay also recorded anecdotes Franklin told him on unspecified days in September, 1783, and March, 1784, which will be published in our next volume.9 Franklin would eventually include some of these stories in his autobiography, but most of what he told Jay remained private. Both of the reminiscences recorded on July 19 begin with anecdotes about New York attorneys, leading us to suspect that Jay had prompted them.

19 July 1783

Dr. Franklin told me that not long after the elder Lewis Morris (who was once chief Justice of N York) came to the Governmt. of N Jersey, he involved himself in a Dispute with the Assembly of that Province—1 The Doctr. (who was then a printer at Pha.) went to Burlington while the Assembly was sitting there, & were engaged in the Dispute with their Govr.— The House had referred his Message to a Committee, consisting of some of their principal Members, Jos. Cooper was one of them—but tho they were Men of good Understanding & respectable, yet there was not one among them capable of writing a proper ansr. to the Message—and Cooper who was acquaintd with the Dr. prevailed upon him to undertake it.— He did and went thro the Business much to their Satisfaction.— In Consideration of the Aid he gave them in that Way then & afterwards, they made him their Printer (this shews the then State of Literature in Jersey).2

Robert Hunter Morris, the Son of the former, and who for about a Year was Govr. of Pennsylvania, the Dr. knew very well— It seems that the Dr. was at New York on His Way to Boston when Morris arrived there from England— He asked the Dr. many Questions abt. Pennsylvania, abt. the Temper of the People, and whether he thought it difficult for him to pass his Time agreable among them— The Dr. told him nothing wd be more easy if he avoided Disputes with the Assembly—but replied he laughingly, why wd. you have me deprive myself of one of my greatest pleasures— He was fond of disputing and thought he had Talents for it— However added he I will take your advice— On Franklin’s Return from Boston to Pha, he found the Govr. and Assembly in warm Altercations— The Dr. was a Member of the Assembly, and was appointed to Draw up their answrs. Morris after having sent a Message to the Assembly, met Saml. Rhodes and asked him what he thought of it— Rhodes said he thought it very smart— Ah sd. Morris I thought so too when I had finished it—but tomorrow we shall see Benj. Franklin’s Answer and then I suspect we shall both change our Minds— Altho he knew that Franklin conducted the Dispute agt. him—yet they were always good Friends, and frequently dined together &c—3 When the Dr.’s Son was many Years afterwards made Govr of Jersey, & was going to take upon him the Govt. Morris came to meet him on the Road, and behaved kindly & in a friendly Manner— He was a very good natured Man—had Talents & Learning but his Imagination was too strong & he was not deep in any thing—

The elder Lewis Morris was brought up by an Uncle— When young he was very wild— His Uncle sent him to the W. Indies with a Vessel and Cargo, which he spent— On his Return he married—4 His Uncle observed to him on that occasion “that now when he wanted every thing he got himself a Wife”. He replied “that now he did not want every thing”— His Uncle asked him What it was that he did not want.— He answered that now he did not want a Wife— Dr. Franklin was told this by some of Morris’s Cotemporaries—

19 July 1783

Dr. Franklin says he was very well and long acquainted With Andw. Hamilton the Lawyer who distinguished himself on Zengers Tryal at New York—5 He was a Scotchman who came young into Pensylvania, some said he came a Servant— Mr Brooks who in those Days was an old Man told Dr. Franklin that he had seen Hamilton who then lived at Lewis Town studying the Law in an Osnabrigs Shirt and Trowsers, that he observed him often, and that from his great application he predicted that he wd. one Day make a Figure in that Proffession— He was a Man of exceeding good Talents & ready Elocution—

Wm. Allen then one of the most Wealthy Men in Pensa. & afterwards Chf. Justice—married Hamilton’s Daughter—6 That Event gave Hamilton more Weight & Consideration— He practiced generously, & took no Fees in the Cause of Zenger. The City of New York presented him with the Freedom of the City in a Gold Box with handsome Inscriptions—

He left a good Estate, made by laying out his Money as he acquired it in Lotts & Lands wh. rose daily in Value—

His Son7 was afterwards Govr of Pensylv.—sustained a good Character, had a decent Share of Talents but not much improved—

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

9All of Jay’s entries are in Morris, Jay: Peace, pp. 712–19.

1One of many during Morris’ tenure as governor of New Jersey (1738–46): ANB.

2J. A. Leo Lemay identified the “ghostwritten” speech mentioned here as the N.J. Assembly’s reply of April 25, 1740, to a message the governor delivered on April 18, the same day the Assembly appointed BF to print the legislature’s Votes and Proceedings. If this is the case, as Lemay points out, then BF’s appointment as printer predated his composing the Assembly’s answer: J. A. Leo Lemay, The Life of Benjamin Franklin (3 vols., Philadelphia, 2006–08), II, 504–9.

Although BF had intended to write about this incident in his autobiography (“Writing for Jersey Assembly” is the last entry of the outline Abel James discovered and sent to him at the end of 1782), he never did so. For the outline entry see Autobiog., p. 271; for James’s cover letter urging BF to finish the autobiography see XXXVIII, 425–9.

3Morris (V, 527–8n) appears throughout vols. 5 and 6. The version of this story and the account of their friendship that BF eventually included in part 3 of his autobiography is more detailed in certain aspects but does not include the conversation between Morris and Samuel Rhoads (II, 406n): Autobiog., pp. 212–14, 239.

4The uncle was the merchant and sugar planter Lewis Morris, Sr., who raised Lewis Morris after his parents’ death in 1672. Young Morris’ trip to the West Indies was not sponsored by his uncle, however; he ran away from home. Lewis Morris, Sr., died only days after bringing his nephew back to New York in 1691, leaving him a substantial inheritance and having arranged his marriage into the prominent Graham family: Eugene R. Sheridan, Lewis Morris, 1671–1746: a Study in Early American Politics (Syracuse, 1981), pp. 1–8.

5The prominent Philadelphia lawyer and politician Andrew Hamilton (c. 1676–1741), whose origins remain obscure, became famous for his precedent-setting defense of publisher John Peter Zenger, who was tried for seditious libel in New York in 1735: I, 333; ANB. BF met Hamilton on his first voyage to England in 1724. He had already written in part 1 of the autobiography about how he had cultivated that friendship and how useful it was but did not include any of the personal details mentioned here: Autobiog., pp. 93–4.

6William Allen (III, 296–7n) married Margaret Hamilton in 1734: ANB.

7James Hamilton: III, 327–8n.

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