Benjamin Franklin Papers

Dialogue between Britain, France, Spain, Holland, Saxony and America, [1774–75]

Dialogue between Britain, France, Spain, Holland, Saxony and America

Copy: Library of Congress; copy:4 American Philosophical Society

It has been demonstrated that Franklin did not, as William Temple Franklin asserted and subsequent editors believed, write this dialogue shortly after arriving in France in 1776, but shortly before leaving England in 1775.5 If he began it considerably earlier, as seems likely, it must have been in a quite different vein;6 for he clearly finished it at a time when hostilities were imminent. He did not provide any clues, however, for establishing the precise date.


A Dialogue between Britain, France, Spain, Holland, Saxony and America.

Britain Sister of Spain, I have a Favour to ask of you. My Subjects in America are disobedient, and I am about to chastize them. I beg you will not furnish them with any Arms or Ammunition.
Spain Have you forgotten, then, that when my Subjects in the Low Countries rebelled against me, you not only furnished them with military Stores, but join’d them with an Army and a Fleet?7 I wonder how you can have the Impudence to ask such a Favour of me, or the Folly to expect it!
Britain You my dear Sister of France will surely not refuse me this Favour.
France Did you not assist my Rebel Hugenots with a Fleet and an Army at Rochelle? And have you not lately aided privately and sneakingly my Rebel Subjects in Corsica? And do you not at this Instant keep their Chief pension’d, and ready to head a fresh Revolt there, whenever you can find or make an Opportunity?8 Dear Sister you must be9 a little silly!
Britain Honest Holland! You see it is remembered that I was once your Friend, You will therefore be mine on this Occasion. I know indeed you are accustom’d to smuggle with these Rebels of mine. I will wink at that, Sell ’em as much Tea as you please to enervate the Rascals; since they will not take it of me; but for Gods sake dont supply them with any Arms.
Holland ’Tis true you assisted me against Philip, my Tyrant of Spain but have I not since assisted you against one of your Tyrants,1 and enabled you to expell him? Surely that Accompt, as we Merchants say, is Ballanc’d, and I am nothing in your Debt. I have indeed some Complaints against you, for endeavouring to starve me by your Navigation Acts: But being peaceably dispos’d I do not quarrel with you for that. I shall only go on quietly with my own Business. Trade is my Profession, ’tis all I have to subsist on. And let me tell you, I should make no scruple, (on the prospect of a good Market for that Commodity,) even to send my Ships to Hell and supply the Devil with Brimstone. For you must know I can insure in London against the Burning of my Sails.2
America to Britain. Why you old blood thirsty Bully! you who have been everywhere vaunting your own Prowess, and defaming the Americans as Poltroons! you who have boasted of being able to march over all their Bellies with a single Regiment! You who by Fraud have possess’d yourself of their strongest Fortress, and all the Arms they had stor’d up in it!3 You who have a disciplin’d Army in their Country intrench’d to the Teeth and provided with every thing! Do you run about begging all Europe not to supply those poor People with a little Powder and Shot? Do you mean, then, to fall upon them naked and unarm’d, and butcher them in cold Blood? Is this your Courage? Is this your Magnanimity?
Britain. O! you wicked-Whig-Presbyterian-Serpent! Have you the Impudence to appear before me after all your Disobedience? Surrender immediatly all your Liberties and Properties into my Hands, or I will cut you to Pieces. Was it for this that I planted your Country at so great an Expence? that I protected you in your Infancy, and defended you against all your Enemies?
America. I shall not surrender my Liberty and Property but with my Life. It is not true that my Country was planted at your Expence. Your own Records4 refute that Falshood to your Face. Nor did you ever afford me a Man or a shilling to defend me against the Indians, the only Enemies I had upon my own Account. But when you have quarrell’d with all Europe, and drawn me with you into all your Broils, then you value yourself upon protecting me from the Enemies you have made for me. I have no natural Cause of Difference with Spain, France, or Holland; and yet by turns I have join’d with you in Wars against them all. You would not suffer me to make or keep a seperate Peace with any of them, ’tho I might easily have done it, to great Advantage. Does your protecting me in those Wars give you a Right to fleece me? If so, as I fought for you, as well as you for me, it gives me a proportionable Right to fleece you. What think you of an American Law to make a Monopoly of You and your Commerce, as you have done by your Laws of me and mine? Content yourself with that Monopoly if you are Wise, and learn Justice if you would be respected!
Britain You impudent B-h! am not I your Mother Country? Is not that a sufficient Title to your Respect and Obedience?
Saxony. Mother Country! Hah, hah, he! What Respect have you the front to claim as a Mother Country? You know that I am your Mother Country, and yet you pay me none. Nay, it is but the other Day, since you hired Ruffians5 to rob me on the Highway,6 and burn my House!7 For shame! Hide your Face and hold your Tongue. If you continue this Conduct you will make yourself the Contempt of all Europe!
Britain O Lord! where are my Friends!
France Spain Holland and Saxony all together Friends! Believe us you have none, nor ever will have any ’till you mend your Manners. How can we who are your Neighbours have any Regard for You, or expect any Equity from You, should your Power increase, when we see how basely and unjustly you have us’d8 both your own Mother and your own Children?
[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

4Both copies are in unidentifiable hands. That in the APS is less tidy, and the second of BF’s footnotes is incomplete; we therefore print the Library of Congress text. The wording of the two, with exceptions that we have noted, is identical.

5George S. Wykoff, “Problems Concerning Franklin’s ’A Dialogue between Britain, France, Spain, Holland, Saxony, and America,’” Amer. Literature, XI (1939–40), 439–48.

6See above, XX, 337n.

7Queen Elizabeth’s intervention in the revolt of the Netherlands.

8The first reference is to Buckingham’s disastrous attempt to aid the Rochellais in 1627. The second is to the Corsicans’ war for independence: Pasquale Paoli, their leader, escaped from the island on a British frigate in 1769 and eventually reached England, where he was given a pension that he enjoyed for the next twenty years. DNB.

9APS copy: “must certainly be.”

1[BF’s note:] James 2nd.

2A Dutch merchant commented that, if the trade were lucrative, he would send his ships to hell and risk burning their sails. Smyth, Writings, VII, 84 n. Since the autumn of 1774 the Dutch had been selling the colonists arms and ammunition; see the note on Cushing to BF above, Dec. 30.

3We have been unable to identify the source (assuming it was not BF) of the boast about a single regiment; otherwise we could at least fix the earliest date for the document. For BF’s similar satiric reference to American cowardice see above, p. 185. The “Fraud” in the crown’s securing Castle William, in Boston harbor, is explained above, XVII, 277–8; XX, 398–9.

4[BF’s note:] See the Journals of the House of Commons 1640. Viz, Die Veneris Martii 10. 1642. Whereas the Plantations in New England have, by the Blessing of Almighty God, had good and prosperous Success, without any Publick Charge to this State; and are now likely to prove very happy for the Propagation of the Gospel in those Parts, and very beneficial and commodious to this Kingdom and Nation, the Commons now assembled in Parliament do, for the better Advancement of those Plantations and the Encouragement of the Planters to proceed in their Undertaking, Ordain that all Merchandizes and Goods that by any Merchant or other Person or Persons whatsoever, shall be exported out of this Kingdom of England into New England, to be spent, used or employ’d there, or being of the Growth of that Kingdom, shall be from thence imported hither; or shall be laden or put on board in any Ship or Vessel for Necessaries in passing or returning to and fro; and all and every the Owner or Owners thereof, shall be freed and discharg’d of and from paying and yielding any Custom, Subsidy, Taxation, Imposition, or other Duty for the same, either Inward or Outward, either in this Kingdom or New England, or in any Port, Haven, Creek, or other place whatsoever, untill the House of Commons shall take further order therein to the Contrary. And all and singular Customers, &c. are to Observe this Order. [This was the resolution to which BF had referred in 1769: above, XVI, 244; he reverted to it, along with other themes of the “Dialogue,” in his Vindication below, under July 21, 1775.]

5[BF’s note:] Prussians.

6[BF’s note:] They enter’d and rais’d Contributions in Saxony.

7[BF’s note:] And they burnt the fine Suburbs of Dresden the Capital of Saxony. [These last three references are to the invasion by King Frederick, Britain’s ally, in the summer of 1756. BF borrowed from this paragraph in the Vindication cited above; see also his “Edict” above, XX, 415.]

8APS copy: “you treat both.”

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