Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Charles Lee, 19 February 1776

To Charles Lee

One page reproduced in facsimile in Samuel T. Freeman sales catalogue, February 17, 1947, p. 7; full text reprinted from The Lee Papers (4 vols., New York, 1871–74), I, 313.7

Philada Febry. 19, 1776.

Dear Sir,

I rejoice that you are going to Canada. I hope the Gout will not have the courage to follow you into that severe Climate.8 I believe you will have the Number of Men you wish for: I am told there will be 2,000 more: but there are always Deficiencies.

The Bearer, Mr. Paine, has requested a Line of Introduction to you, which I give the more willingly, as I know his sentiments are not very different from yours. He is the reputed, and I think the real Author of Common Sense, a Pamphlet that has made great Impression here.9 I do not enlarge, both because he waits, and because I hope for the pleasure of conferring with you face to face in Canada. I will only add, that we are assured here on the part of France, that the Troops sent to the W. Indies, have no inimical views to us or our Cause. It is thought they intend a War without a previous Declaration.1 God prosper all your Undertakings, and return you with Health, Honour and Happiness. Yours most affectionately

B Franklin

Martinico and Cape Francois, by the last Advices, are now fortifying with immense Diligence and great Expence.

To The Honble General Lee at New York.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7We have found no trace of the ALS since it was advertised for sale. From the facsimile, which begins with the end of the sentence “to us or our Cause,” we have amended the punctuation of the printed version. That version, the facsimile indicates, is closer to the original than the first printing of the letter, which also lacks the postscript: Edward Langworthy, Memoirs of the Life of the Late Charles Lee. . . (London, 1792), pp. 249–50.

8Lee had been sounded out as Montgomery’s successor, and had hesitated because he was suffering from both gout and rheumatism: Lee Papers, I, 280. Congress ordered him to Canada on Feb. 17, countermanded the order on the 28th, and the next day appointed him to command in the south. JCC, IV, 157, 175, 180–1.

9A few weeks earlier Lee, in writing to Washington, had characterized Common Sense as “a masterly, irresistible performance,” which had convinced him that independence was a necessity. Lee Papers. I, 259–60.

1In the summer of 1775 Versailles had decided to reinforce its West Indian possessions for fear that the war might spread. Since December the American papers had been filled with much exaggerated reports of French troops and ships of the line arriving in the Caribbean. Uncertainty about their purpose persisted through the spring; in May Congress instructed the committee of secret correspondence to try to fathom French designs. JCC, IV, 366; Dull, French Navy, pp. 27, 377; James H. Hutson, “The Partition Treaty and the Declaration of American Independence,” Jour. of Amer. History, LVIII (1972), 887–8. See also the instructions to Bingham below, June 3.

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