Benjamin Franklin Papers

The American Commissioners to [the Committee of Secret Correspondence], 28 April 1777

The American Commissioners to [the Committee of Secret Correspondence9]

Copy: Harvard University Library

Paris, April 28 1777


We wrote to you pretty fully on the State of Affairs here, in ours of the 12th of March and 19th of this Month, since which there has been little Alteration. There is yet no Certainty of a sudden Declaration of War, but the Preparations go on vigorously both here and in Spain, the Armies of france drawing towards the Sea Coasts, and those of Spain to the Frontiers of Portugal; and their fleets fitting in the Ports: But the Court still gives Assurances of Peace to the British Ambassador, The Nation in general all the while calling out for War.

We have receiv’d the Resolution of Congress of Feb. 5. for sending over a great Quantity of Cloathing upon the Credit of the States, in Case We cannot borrow Money of the Government to pay for them. We wrote before that the Loan proposed was at present impracticable; and we have not yet receiv’d the Credit We expected from Spain; the Arms We have bought, Ships building and the Brass Cannon ordered will demand great Sums; But as We shall receive a Payment from the farmers general next Month, and hope you will be very diligent in sending Remittances, We shall go as far upon our Credit as it can carry us, in sending the Cloathing required. Flints sufficient, we apprehend are already gone.

We have according to Orders notified the several Courts of the Intention of Congress to send Ministers to them: and delivered a Remonstrance to the Portugueze Ambassador concerning the Proceeding of that Court. As the Minister for Prussia may not soon arrive, and that Court has shewn a Disposition to treat, by entring into a Correspondence with us, We have thought it might be well that one of us should visit it immediately to improve its present good Dispositions and obtain, if possible, the Privilege of their Ports to trade and fit Ships in, and to sell our Prizes. Mr. Lee has readily undertaken this Journey, and will soon set out for Berlin, with Mr. Carmichael, who has already been there and pav’d the Way, and whom we recommend to Congress as a faithful serviceable Man, that ought to be encouraged.1

Hon. the Secret Committee.

Notation: Dr Franklin believes there was some additions made to this Letter before it was sent, but is not certain. W.T.F.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

9The letter says that it is to the secret committee, but the phrase was often used for the committee of secret correspondence. We believe that this is a case in point. One reason is the subject matter, which deals with more than commercial affairs. Another is the reference to the commissioners’ letter of March 12 and April 19, which fits (on the assumption that “19” is a copyist’s error) the long letter to the committee of secret correspondence above, March 12 to April 9; no letter to the secret committee during that period is extant.

1William Carmichael had been serviceable in more than his recent mission to Berlin. In March he had a series of interviews in the Place Vendôme, first with Thomas Jeans, Lord Stormont’s chaplain, and then with the Ambassador’s secretary, Horace Saint Paul, in which he received overtures for an Anglo-American accommodation; he attended these meetings with the commissioners’ full knowledge and, before the end of the series, on instructions from Vergennes. He rebuffed the overtures. They were accompanied, he said later, by the offer of a handsome income, to be paid him anywhere in the world and whether or not the negotiations succeeded, as a reward for his good offices. ––– to Carmichael, [c. March 24, 1777], University of Pennsylvania Library; Stevens, Facsimiles, VII, nos. 672, 675; Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence, II, 308–9. Did he in fact keep his political virtue as spotless as this implies? The evidence, all from the British side, raises some doubts. He had promised his bosom friend Joseph Hynson, the latter reported to his British employers, to let him steal any papers that might be useful to him. Whether or not this promise led to the interviews in the Place Vendôme, Jeans’ account of the first one suggests overtures that had nothing to do with an Anglo-American rapprochement. Stevens, III, nos. 246, 248, pp. 3–4; VII, no. 670, pp. 17–25. The British clearly had hopes of Carmichael.

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