Benjamin Franklin Papers
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From Benjamin Franklin to Vergennes, 15 December 1783

To Vergennes3

LS:4 Archives du Ministère des affaires étrangères

Passy, Dec. 15. 1783.


I understand that the Bishop or Spiritual Person who superintends or governs the Roman Catholic Clergy in the United States of America, resides in London, and is supposed to be under Obligations to that Court, and subject to be influenced by its Ministers. This gives me some uneasiness, and I cannot but wish that one should be appointed to that Office, who is of this Nation and who may reside here among our Friends. I beg your Excellency to think a little of this Matter, and to afford me your Counsels upon it. With the greatest Respect, I am, Sir, Your Excellency’s most obedient and most humble Servant5

B Franklin

His Excelly. the Count de Vergennes.

Endorsed: M. de R6

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3This letter appears to be the first time BF consulted Vergennes on a topic he had discussed in July and August with Archbishop Pamphili, the papal nuncio: how the Catholic Church could best minister to its American followers after independence. The memoranda BF sent Pamphili in August included the suggestion that a French ecclesiastic (rather than an American) be named bishop or vicar apostolic for the United States, a suggestion he repeats here: XL, 410–12, 516–18. In October, Pamphili assured the Vatican that he would continue discussions with BF about establishing missions in America until the issue was concluded: Jules A. Baisnée, France and the Establishment of the American Catholic Hierarchy: the Myth of French Interference (1783–1784) (Baltimore, 1934), p. 57.

4In the hand of L’Air de Lamotte. BF added the last six words of the complimentary close before signing.

5We have no record of a response, but docketing on the present document indicates that a translation was made and sent on Dec. 29 to Marbeuf, the bishop of Autun and minister of ecclesiastical benefices. Marbeuf sent his “Observation” to Vergennes on Jan. 4. He advised that before making any decision about the ecclesiastic superior, Vergennes should examine Pamphili’s proposal that the French government establish a mission in America and train 20 students of different ages in colleges and seminaries (at an annual cost of 1,000 l.t. per student) who would serve in America upon graduation. Pamphili also wanted the king to endow a bishop or an apostolic prefect, at the cost of 12,000 l.t. per year. Marbeuf emphasized that Vergennes should consult BF before making a final decision. This Jan. 4 letter (AAE) is published in Baisnée, France and the Establishment of the American Catholic Hierarchy, pp. 61–2.

6Gérard de Rayneval.

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