Benjamin Franklin Papers
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From Benjamin Franklin to John Adams, 6 August 1784

To John Adams

ALS: Massachusetts Historical Society

Passy, Aug. 6. 1784.

Sir,

Mr Bingham sent me last Night from Paris, your Excellency’s Letter of the 27th past, inclosing a Copy of one from Mr Jefferson. I had before sent you a Copy of one from the same to me, which I hope you receiv’d.4 I enclose herewith Copies of a Letter from Mr Thomson, some new Instructions, and one of the Commissions;5 the other two are in the same Words, except that instead of the Words [the United Netherlands]6 there is, in one, France, and in the other, Sweden. These came by M. de la Luzerne, but it was not before Wednesday last that I receiv’d them.7 You will see that a good deal of Business is cut out for us, Treaties to be made with I think twenty Powers, in two Years, so that we are not likely to eat the Bread of Idleness;8 and that we may not surfeit by eating too much, our Masters have diminish’d our Allowance.9 I commend their Oeconomy, and shall imitate it by diminishing my Expence. Our too liberal Entertainment of our Countrymen here has been reported at home by our Guests to our Disadvantage, and has given Offence. They must be contented for the future, as I am, with plain Beef and Pudding.— The Readers of Connecticut Newspapers ought not to be troubled with any more Accounts of our Extravagance. For my own part, if I could sit down to Dinner on a Piece of their excellent Salt Pork and Pumpkin, I would not give a Farthing for all the Luxuries of Paris.

I am glad to hear that your Family are safely arrived at London, and that you propose to bring them here with you.1 Your Life will be more comfortable.—

I thank you much for the Translation of Abbé Mably’s Letters. The French Edition is not yet publish’d here.2 I have as yet only had time to run over the Translator’s Preface, which seems well-written. I imagine Mr Sowdon to be a Presbyterian Minister, as I formerly corresponded with one of that Name in Holland, who I suppose might be his Father.—3 I have not seen the Piece you mention of a B——n Academician.— I should not object to his Enjoyment of the Discovery he has made that Despotism is the best possible Form of Government, by his living under it as long as he pleases: For I admire the Decision of his Prince in a similar Case, the Dispute among his Clergy concerning the Duration of Hell Torments.4

With great Respect I have the honour to be, Sir, Your Excellency’s most obedient & most humble Servant

B. Franklin

His Excellency John Adams, Esqr

Endorsed: Dr Franklin Aug. 6. 1784

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

4Undoubtedly TJ to BF, June 19 (above). We have not found a cover letter.

5Thomson to the commissioners, June 18, and the new instructions of May 7[–June 3] are both above. For the June 3 commission to negotiate a supplementary treaty with the Netherlands see the annotation of Thomson’s letter.

6The brackets, as well as the italics here and below, are in the MS.

7The previous Wednesday was Aug. 4. For La Luzerne’s return voyage see the annotation to SB to BF, June 20[–21].

8Proverbs 31:27.

9In early May, as it struggled to find savings by eliminating superfluous positions and reducing salaries of essential government personnel, Congress voted to set the annual salary of its ministers abroad at $9,000, a reduction of more than $2,000. An earlier vote had set the salaries at $8,000, but that was reversed. BF could have followed the votes on pp. 199–204 of the incomplete Journal of Congress that Thomson enclosed in his June 18 letter. See also JCC, XXVI, 349–50, 353–4.

1JA met his wife and daughter in London, where he had already sent JQA, on Aug. 7. The following day the family left for Paris, where they arrived on Aug. 13. Four days later they moved into the Hôtel de Rouault in Auteuil, which would be their residence for the duration of their stay in France: Taylor, J. Q. Adams Diary, 1, 207–8n; Butterfield, John Adams Diary, 111, 170–1; Adams Correspondence, v, 399–400, 416, 419n, 430n.

2In the fall of 1783, JA requested Vergennes’ help in getting Mably’s Observations sur le gouvernement et les loix des Etats-Unis de l’Amérique published in France. However, he then chose to have the pamphlet published in Amsterdam: Adams Papers, XV, 312–14, 367–8. Importing Observations into France proved to be difficult, despite official permits for distribution and reprinting. It would not be printed in Paris until 1791: Métra, Correspondance secrete, XVII, 173; Durand Echeverria and Everett C. Wilkie, Jr., comps., The French Image of America … (2 vols., Metuchen, N.J., and London, 1994), 11, 794–5.

3The translator was indeed Rev. Benjamin Choyce Sowden, son of the late Benjamin Sowden, a Presbyterian minister in Rotterdam with whom BF had corresponded. The son became an Anglican priest and was named chaplain of the Episcopal Church in Amsterdam in 1782. His writings, apart from some sermons published in English, were largely anonymous: XXVII, 203–4. Johannes van den Berg and Geoffrey F. Nuttall, Philip Doddridge (1702–1751) and the Netherlands (Leiden, 1987), pp. 82–3, 88–9; Gent. Mag., LXVI (1796), 356, 385.

4BF’s reaction was the same as that attributed by Voltaire to Frederick II in a theological dispute in Neuchâtel that David Hume reported to BF in 1762. For those clergy who insisted on the doctrine of eternal damnation, Frederick was quite content that they should suffer it: X, 81, 83; Voltaire, Quatorzième lettre à l’occasion des miracles … ([Geneva, 1765]), pp. 7–8.

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