Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to a French Friend, [June 1772]: extract

To a French Friend

Extract: printed in Pierre-Joseph-André Roubaud, Histoire générale de l’Asie, de l’Afrique et de l’Amérique … (5 vols., Paris, 1770–75), V, 90.

[June, 17723]

Les Américains ne le cédent ni en force, ni en courage, ni en esprit aux Européens.4

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3So dated by Roubaud. BF, he says, was writing to a friend in Paris after the appearance of Cornelius de Pauw’s Recherches philosophiques sur les Américains …, presumably the 3-vol. London edition of 1771. Roubaud adds that he has seen the letter, which has since vanished.

4It is clear from the context in which Roubaud set the quotation that BF was referring to the American Indians. The sentence we print is in italics, which undoubtedly indicate direct translation of BF. A paraphrase follows: “mais … le fer et autres moyens leur ont manqué pour s’élever au même degré de police.” BF was commenting on one of the central points in de Pauw’s Recherches philosophiques. The book was attracting extraordinary attention, in good part because it was an assault on Rousseau’s concept of the noble savage. De Pauw advanced the thesis, buttressed by borrowings from Buffon, Kalm, and others, that the American climate produced degeneracy among the aborigines, and extended his thesis to cover European settlers as well. See Gilbert Chinard, “Eighteenth Century Theories on America as a Human Habitat,” APS Proc., XCI (1947), 35–6; Durand Echeverria, Mirage in the West: a History of the French Image of American Society to 1815 (Princeton, 1957), pp. 10, 12–13.

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