Benjamin Franklin Papers
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To Benjamin Franklin from Stephen Hopkins and James Manning, 9 January 1784

From Stephen Hopkins and James Manning4

LS: American Philosophical Society; ALS (draft):5 Brown University Library

Providence State of Rhode Island 9th Jany 1784


Influenced by your Promptitude in promoting the great Interests of Society, and especially by your predilection of Your native Country, discovered by that early and decided Part which you took in its Favour, and which has been Continued by Such unparalleled Success through a Life protracted far beyond the Common Bounds marked out for Man; by your Interestedness in promoting American Literature, so greatly indebted to your inventive Genius for that enviable Point of Light in which it is viewed by Some, at least, of the Nations of Europe; together with your long Residence at, and Interest with the Court of France,—

The Corporation of the College at Providence in the State of Rhode Island, at their Meeting on the 7th. of January 1784 voted unanimously, to request your Assistance in presenting the inclosed Address to his most Christian Majesty, soliciting his Patronage of this College by establishing a Professor of the French Language and History therein, and presenting such Books in the French Language, or other Benefactions thereto as shall be most agreeable to that Munificent Monarch.6

Encouraged by his generous Proffer of important literary Favours to Yale College in Connecticut, which, we are Assured from Authentic Information, the Corporation of that College thought proper to decline,7 we take the Liberty to make this application.— Inclosed is a Copy of the Address to his Majesty for your Perusal.8 Secure of your Concurrence in every Measure which promises to add Permanence to that Union, So happily formed between France & the United States of America, the Corporation have only to request your Assistance in having this Address properly introduced, and your prevalent Influence with the King of France in gaining its Object, Together with the Favour of a Line to advise us of its Success.

With the highest Sentiments of Esteem, in behalf of the Corporation, we are Sir, Your most obedient and most humble Servants—

Step Hopkins Chancr.
James Manning Prest:

His Excellency Benjamin Franklin Esqr

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

4The first chancellor and president, respectively, of Rhode Island College, later Brown University. For Hopkins, whom BF knew, see XI, 357. The Rev. James Manning (1738–1791) was a Baptist clergyman: ANB.

5In the hand of James Manning.

6The corporation had decided to embark on this course of action in September, 1783, and asked their congressman, David Howell, to enlist the support of La Luzerne. Howell did not speak to La Luzerne until c. Feb. 20, when the minister agreed to send the present letter and its enclosure with his own diplomatic dispatches. Howell could not have expected it to receive a positive reception, however. La Luzerne was furious at states like Rhode Island for being so recalcitrant in agreeing to Congress’ plan to tax citizens in order to repay the debt to France, which required unanimous ratification (XL, 65n). On March 12 he reported to Vergennes what he described as the “incohérence” of the federal system and advised him to alert BF to the king’s displeasure. BF could help his country, La Luzerne wrote, if he would convey frankly what was being said about the federal system and the Americans’ resistance to meeting their obligations (AAE). For more background on the college’s request see Walter C. Bronson, The History of Brown University, 1764–1914 (Providence, 1914), pp. 66–8, 76–80; Reuben A. Guild, Life, Times and Correspondence of James Manning … (Boston, 1864), pp. 298–9, 301.

7The “authentic” source reported, altogether inaccurately, that the king had offered to endow a professorship in French and give Yale College a library of 2,000 volumes of the best French authors: Joseph Brown to Vioménil, Dec. 12, 1782 (Brown University Library). This rumor may have stemmed from a proposal to Yale made by Silas Deane in 1778. Arguing for the importance of French instruction, Deane offered to tap wealthy European aristocrats to underwrite a French professor, perhaps from Geneva. The Yale officers returned a lukewarm reply and never made a decision: Deane Papers, 11, 476; Franklin B. Dexter, ed., The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles, D.D., LL.D., President of Yale College (3 vols., New York, 1901), 11, 296, 297–8, 304n.

8The address to Louis XVI, dated Jan. 9, 1784, was signed by Hopkins and Manning. It remains among BF’s papers at the APS, along with the copy (also signed). Making the case for the importance of knowing French, so vital to future commercial enterprises, the officers ask for books and a professor, which they themselves cannot afford. In exchange they promise everlasting gratitude, “firmly believing that whatever tends to make Men wiser, better, and happier, will meet with your royal Assistance and Encouragement.” The petition is published in Guild, Life, Times and Correspondence of James Manning, pp. 301–3.

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