Arthur Lee to Benjamin Franklin and John Adams
Chaillot Feb. 10th 1779
I perceive by the letter you have sent me that Mr. Deane’s claim is ascertaind by marks, and therefore have signd the letter.1 But I think enquiry shoud be made after those goods which were bought with the public Money in Holland, and which those now given up were supposd to be.
I am unwilling to sign the Letter to Capn. Jones, because it does not contain the whole of the facts on that Subject, and gives an opinion which in my humble judgment belongs to Congress only to give after an examination into the whole of that officers conduct.2
I have proposd to Capn. Jones that we shoud certify upon His commission, that it is still in force and he remains in the american Service.3 This as I conceive will relieve us from what may be hereafter embarrassing the entering into a question which will probably come before a proper Court of enquiry; and at the same time will silence those who report he is dismissd from the american Service.
I have to complain to you, that I have receivd a very indecent Letter from Dr. Bancroft telling me of my having made “By letter a direct and personal opposition to his appointment”—and demanding to have a Copy of my letter to you, “that he may judge whether my particular opposition to him arises from a regard for the public Good, or from personal Enmity.” That <
the> A communication of the dissent of any particular Commissioner to the person affected by it, cannot but have the effect of exposing that Commissioner to the abuse and malevolence of that Individual, you must be sensible; and that such communications must put an end to all confidence among the Commissioners, and make it impossible to carry on the business of the public.4
I have the honor to be Gentlemen your Mo. obt. Hble. Sert.
RC (PPAmP: Franklin Papers); addressed: “The Honble. B. Franklin & John Adams Esqr. Ministers plenipotentiary at Passi.”
1. Lee is referring to Williams’ letter of 23 Jan., which mentioned the numbers on the packages belonging to Simeon Deane, and apparently to the reply of the Commissioners to that letter of 9 Feb. (both above). The decision to print the reply as being from the Commissioners is based on Lee’s statement here that he “signd the letter,” and on Jonathan Williams’ reply, directed to the Commissioners, of 20 Feb. (PPAmP: Franklin Papers). At the foot of Lee’s letterbook copy of the response, however, is the note: “not sign’d by A L.” (PCC, No. 102, IV, f. 151–152). Since the recipient’s copy of the letter has not been found, it is impossible to determine whether Lee did sign the letter.
2. That is, Benjamin Franklin and JA to Jones, 10 Feb. (above). At the bottom of his letterbook copy of that letter Lee wrote “not signd by A Lee” and added: “See Jones’s letter contradicting this dated Augt. 18. 1778” (PCC, No. 102, IV, f. 152–153). This note referred to the second and third paragraphs of the letter to Jones of 10 Feb. Jones’ letter may be that directed to Abraham Whipple, which is also in the letterbook, where Jones called for a court-martial for Thomas Simpson with whose conduct “I have been and am unsatisfied and who is now under suspicion of Disobedience of my written order” (same, f. 50). Lee may have believed that in their letter of the 10th Franklin and JA were giving official approval of what he saw as Jones’ hypocrisy.
3. An interesting sidelight to this affair is Jones’ statement in his journal of 1782 that Lee “was willing to sign but I did not wish him to, for reasons which I explained to Dr. Franklin, and which the Doctor communicated to Mr. Adams; the said reasons being obviously quite satisfactory to both those most eminent gentlemen” (quoted in Augustus C. Buell, Paul Jones: Founder of the American Navy, 2 vols., N.Y., 1902, 1:140). Considering Lee’s statements in both the present letter and in his note to his copy of the Franklin-JA letter of 10 Feb., Jones’ recollection seems questionable.
4. Lee’s quotations from Bancroft’s letter of 9 Feb. are almost exact (MH-H: Lee Papers). Lee assumed that Bancroft received his information from one of Lee’s colleagues, probably Franklin; but, in a letter of 13 Feb., Bancroft informed Lee that “the information which produced my Letter to you, was given to me by your honorable Colleagues, and first by Mr. Adams” (CtY: Franklin Papers).