Benjamin Franklin and John Adams to Ferdinand Grand
We agree that the Bills drawn on you, by Mr. Williams, and paid by you according to the list herewith transmitted shall be charged to the Public Account of the United States; Mr. Williams to be accountable for the expenditure of all the sayd Sums to Congress or to any Person, or Persons appointed by Congress for that purpose, and to the Commissioners of the United States at the Court of France whenever he shall be called to render such Account. This Consent however is not to be considered as any approbation of Mr. Williams Account, nor to have any Influence at all in the final Settlement of them.1
signed B. Franklin
signed John Adams
MS in the hand of Hezekiah Ford (PCC, No. 83, II, f. 455); docketed: “[. . .] Feb. 16 Messrs. Franklin & Adams to Mr. Grand respecting to Mr. Williams’s Bills drawn on Mr. Grand” endorsed: “True Copy H. Ford Sect.” The date indicated in the docketing was probably that on which Ford made his copy.
This letter is taken from Ford’s copy of a note from Ferdinand Grand to Arthur Lee of an undetermined date, forwarding the text of the order concerning Jonathan Williams. There the Franklin-Adams letter is preceded by Grand’s statement that “M. Grand a l’Honeur d’envoyer a Monsieur Lee suivant ses ordres Copie de la Lettre de Messrs. les Deputés, Le Docteur Franklin & Adams a Mr. Grand en date du 10 Juillet.”
1. This tentative approval of the accounts submitted by Jonathan Williams in response to the Commissioners’ order in their letter of 25 May (calendared above) resulted in considerable controversy and reflects the divisions among the Commissioners. The accounts in question dealt with transactions in 1777 and early 1778 and are variously dated 1,12, 14,16 May, 3, 30 June, 27, 31 July, 16 Aug., 31 Dec. 1777; 8 Jan., 25 Feb., 31 March, 20 April, 27, 28, 29, 30 May 1778 (ViU: Lee Papers).
In early 1779 these accounts, as well as some later ones submitted by Williams, provoked a formally correct but angry correspondence between Lee and Franklin, in the course of which the origin and intent of this letter to Grand was explained. On 16 March 1779 Lee wrote Franklin that the letter seemed to indicate “that you yourself, Sir, was convinced that those accounts, as they stood, could not be passed” (Arthur Lee, Observations on Certain Commercial Transactions in France Laid Before Congress, Phila., 1780, p. 39–42; Evans description begins Charles Evans and others, comps., American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of All Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America [1639–1800], Chicago and Worcester, 1903–1959; 14 vols. description ends , No. 16819). Lee assumed that the order to Grand was the work of Benjamin Franklin as a favor to his nephew. In a reply of the 27th (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, Washington, 1889; 6 vols. description ends , 3:101–102), Franklin informed him, “To prevent any suspicion of partiality towards him as my nephew I avoided having anything to do with the examination of them, but left it entirely to you and Mr. Adams. After that examination Mr. Adams drew up and sent me in, for signing, the order you mention. I considered the expressions in it as only serving to show that the accounts were not finally settled; and I considered Mr. Adams’ drawing up and sending me the order as a proof that, in his judgment, who had with you examined the accounts, the bills drawn on M. Grand ought to be paid. I therefore signed it. I was not, as you suppose, convinced ’that the accounts as they stood could not be passed,’ for, having never examined them, I could form no such opinion of them.”
Although no direct evidence substantiates it, the Lee-JA examination of the accounts, and Franklin’s acquiescence in it, probably proceeded from Lee’s refusal to sign a letter to Grand of 15 June declaring that “Nous approuvons toutes les Dispositions que Monsr. Jona. Williams a Fait sur vous jusqu’a ce Jour conformement a son Compte” (We approve all the bills that Mr. Williams has drawn on you to date conformable to his accounts [ViU:Lee Papers, unsigned copy in clerk’s hand]). This letter, probably drafted by Franklin in consultation with JA, indicates that the two men were ready to approve the accounts. When Lee withheld his approval, the joint examination was probably proposed as a final effort to gain his signature. On its becoming clear during the examination that Lee would not approve Williams’ accounts, JA drafted the letter of 10 July, which was more conditional than that of 15 June, perhaps to reflect the lack of agreement among the Commissioners.
Because its submission to him would have been futile, the letter was apparently never sent to Arthur Lee. It seems likely that Lee first learned of the order to Grand from Jonathan Williams’ letter to the Commissioners, rather than to only Franklin and JA, of 17 July (below), thanking them for approving his accounts. This letter, the RC of which is in the Lee Papers (ViU), must have surprised Lee and may have led to his request to Grand for a copy of the letter of 10 July. That he did not know of the order as late as 15 July seems indicated by his very critical report of that date on Williams’ accounts (ViU: Lee Papers), particularly the entries for commissions, sundry expenses, and postage. The report was probably meant for his colleagues, but, in view of Williams’ letter of the 17th, it is unlikely that Lee submitted it. The Williams letter of 17 July, the report of the 15th, the fact that Lee obtained a copy of the letter from Grand, and his comments in the letter to Franklin of 16 March 1779 all seem to show that a split existed between JA and Lee, at least regarding Williams’ accounts, that was as sharp as that between Franklin and Lee.