Benjamin Franklin Papers
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To Benjamin Franklin from David Hartley, 4 October 1783

From David Hartley

Reprinted from William Temple Franklin, ed., The Private Correspondence of Benjamin Franklin, LL.D., F.R.S., &c. (2nd ed.; 2 vols., London, 1817), II, 440–1.

Bath, October 4, 1783.

My Dear Friend,

I only write one line to you to let you know that I am not forgetful of you, or of our common concerns. I have not heard any thing from the ministry yet: I believe it is a kind of vacation with them before the meeting of parliament.7 I have told you of a proposition which I have had some thoughts to make as a kind of co-partnership in commerce. I send you a purposed temporary convention, which I have drawn up. You are to consider it only as one I recommend. The words underlined are grafted upon the proposition of my memorial, dated May 21, 1783.8 You will see the principle which I have in my thoughts to extend for the purpose of restoring our ancient co-partnership generally. I cannot tell you what event things may take, but my thoughts are always employed in endeavouring to arrange that system upon which the China Vase, lately shattered,9 may be cemented together, upon principles of compact and connection, instead of dependence. I have met with a sentiment in this country which gives some alarm, viz. lest the unity of government in America should be uncertain, and the States reject the authority of Congress. Some passages in General Washington’s letter have given weight to these doubts.1 I don’t hear of any tendency to this opinion; that the American States will break to pieces, and then we may still conquer them. I believe all that folly is extinguished. But many serious and well disposed persons are alarmed lest this should be the ill-fated moment for relaxing the powers of the union, and annihilating the cement of confederation2 (vide Washington’s letter), and that Great Britain should thereby lose her best and wisest hope of being re-connected with the American States unitedly. I should for one, think it the greatest misfortune. Pray give me some opinion upon this.3 You see there is likewise another turn which may be given to this sentiment by intemperate and disappointed people, who may indulge a passionate revenge for their own disappointments, by endeavouring to excite general distrust, discord, and dis-union. I wish to be prepared and guarded at all points. I beg my best compliments to your colleagues; be so good as to show this letter to them. I beg particularly my condolence (and I hope congratulation) to Mr. Adams; I hear that he has been very dangerously ill, but that he is again recovered.4 I hope the latter part is true, and that we shall all survive to set our hands to some future compacts of common interest, and common affection, between our two countries. Your ever affectionate,

D. Hartley

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7The fourth session of the 15th Parliament convened on Nov. 11: Cobbett, Parliamentary History, XXIII, 1122–3.

8BF’S copy of Hartley’s temporary convention is missing, but Hartley sent a copy dated “September 1783” to Fox on Oct. 29, with a 23-page memoir that summarized his views on “the present state of the negotiation” with the American commissioners (Clements Library). His convention is a rephrased version of the May 19 proposed agreement that he gave the commissioners on May 21: XL, 39. The section he mentions as having been underlined was in a new paragraph stating that American ships would be excluded from the trade between the United States and the British West Indies (as was stipulated by the Order in Council of July 2: XL, 289n), “unless one half of the property of such Ships belong to some British owner or owners & that such Ships shall be navigated by an equal number of British & American Seamen.” The convention was limited to one year.

9“That fine and noble China Vase the British Empire,” which BF told Lord Howe he had long endeavored to preserve: XXII, 520.

1In a circular letter sent in June to the state governors (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, XXVI, 483–96), GW warned that in order to avoid the dissolution of the union, the states had to submit to the powers bestowed on Congress by the Articles of Confederation. In particular, the states needed to comply with the demand Congress made in its own circular letter of April, 1783 (XXXIX, 579n), that each state contribute to the payment of the national debt. Elias Boudinot sent the American peace commissioners a newspaper containing the circular letter in July: XL, 308. It was reprinted in England in the Aug. 9–12 issue of the London Chronicle, and by the beginning of September had been issued as a pamphlet by at least two publishers; see St. James’s Chronicle, Aug. 23–26, 1783; Whitehall Evening Post, Sept. 2–4, 1783.

2Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, XXVI, 486.

3BF did not respond until Oct. 22. Before receiving that reply, Hartley on Oct. 27 forwarded to Fox the letter BF had written to him on Sept. 6, which may have been drafted with the British ministry in mind. In it, BF praised Fox as “a Great Man” and argued that British expectations of benefitting from alleged American disunity were misguided and would destroy any chances for reconciliation: XL, 582–3. Hartley added an explanation of his own of how further delaying negotiations of a temporary commercial convention was contrary to British interests. On Nov. 1 and 6, Hartley sent Fox two more lengthy memoranda discussing unresolved issues from the peace negotiations and proposing a naval alliance between the United States and Great Britain. All three letters are at the Clements Library.

4For several weeks after the signing of the definitive treaty, JA was ill with a fever that left him emaciated and fatigued. On Sept. 22, he moved to Thomas Barclay’s house in Auteuil to recover: XXXV, 556; Butterfield, John Adams Diary, III, 143–4; John Ferling and Lewis E. Braverman, “John Adams’s Health Reconsidered,” W&MQ, 3rd ser., LV (1998), 88–97.

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