Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to George Washington, 4 September 1777

To George Washington

AL (draft): Library of Congress

Passy, near Paris, Sept. 4. 1777.


The Gentleman who will have the Honour of waiting upon you with this Letter is the Baron de Steuben, lately a Lieutenant General in the King of Prussia’s Service, whom he attended in all his Campaigns, being his Aide Camp, Quartermaster General, &c.8 He goes to America with a true Zeal for our Cause, and a View of engaging in it and rendring it all the Service in his Power. He is recommended to us by two of the best Judges of military Merit in this Country, M. de Vergennes and M. de St. Germain who have long been personally acquainted with him, and interest themselves in promoting his Voyage, from a full Persuasion that the Knowledge9 and Experience he has acquir’d by 20 Years Study and Practice in the Prussian School may be of great Use in our Armies. I therefore cannot but wish that our Service may be made agreable to him. I have the Honour to be

His Excelly Gen. Washington

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

8BF doubtless thought that this was true, but most of it was not. Steuben had been the King’s aide-de-camp and staff officer, but not quartermaster general or lieutenant general; his rank in the Prussian service had been that of captain. DAB. In August, Deane said later, the Baron proposed to go to America and was introduced to BF, who showed no interest and gave him no encouragement. Vergennes, it soon transpired, was eager for him to go, and Deane tried to use the situation for his own purposes: the voyage might be for nothing, he told Steuben, because unless the Americans received effective French aid they were likely to come to terms with Britain. That conversation, promptly reported at court, caused the alarm he had expected. Vergennes inquired indirectly of BF, who spoiled Deane’s ploy by giving a quite different view of the prospects. Deane Papers, V, 439–40. If this story is true, and we see no reason why it should not be, it implies that BF reversed himself about Steuben when he learned of Vergennes’ involvement.

9BF originally wrote, “acquainted with him. I have therefore great Hopes that the Knowledge,” etc.

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