Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Stephen Sayre, 27 October 1777

From Stephen Sayre4

ALS: Harvard University Library

Berlin 27th Octor 1777.

Dear Sir

I address you not as a Commissioner for America, but as a man of feeling, who has a disposition to do justice to all the world. Do you not think it hard indeed that I should be left under the necessity of returning to England, at the mercey of my Enemies, who are Enemies also to public liberty, after having committed myself by taking an open part in the business of America, so as to forfeit my personal liberty and perhaps my life?

When our commission was at an end at this Court, I was told by Mr. Lee that I was to expect no further support from the Plenipotentiaries.5 This declaration has been confirm’d by a Letter from him, since his arrival at Paris, as the sense of all three.

I cannot bring myself to believe that your judgement could possibly accord with such an Idea; common justice, and common usage forbids it. I therefore appeal to you as a man of honor, and beg your immediate exertions in my favour, that I may not be compell’d to turn my back on the cause of America, to which I have sacrifised every thing but the attachment I bear it.

If I do return to England, it will look like a desertion of those principles which have hitherto govern’d every public action of my life, and will disgrace me in the Eyes of those I most esteem. If you have not power to give me some temporary aid, then let this Letter stand as a protest against what I deem downright Injustice, and as a vindication of my honor and conduct.

My necessities would not have forced me to this dreadful alternative, had not my Letters been stop’d, somehow or other, ever since the 4th of augt. tho’ I have wrote near thirty since that time; cover’d too, under various names, and sent by different roads. Hitherto, I have done the cause of America honor by remaining at this Court; as I can no longer support the expence of it, I, this day, retire to a Gentleman’s Country Seat, where I will wait your answer, which I hope to be honor’d with immediately. I ask for but little and that I leave to your discretion; nor do I require that little to support me here. I want to know if I am to have your support any where.

Please to let the bearer Mr. Dumont know when he shall wait on you for your Reply; which he will send safe to my hands. I have in charge Monr. de Gorne’s Compliments for you, he is at the head of the commercial Directory here, and ranks as Minister de Etat.6 I am, with great personal respect, your most obedient humble servant

Stepn Sayre

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

4Although he addresses BF personally rather than officially, his only answer seems to have been the curt one from the commissioners below, under Nov. 17.

5Sayre had accompanied Arthur Lee to Prussia as his secretary. The two did not get on together, and, when Lee left, Sayre stayed behind in Berlin. His friend Dumont, the son-in-law of the marquis d’Aubarède (above, XXIV, 61 n), must have joined him there in order to have carried this letter. Dumont gave it unsealed to his father-in-law to be forwarded to BF, and also delivered to the marquis a letter from Sayre explaining his grievances against the commissioners. D’Aubarède, who had long known the American, was disturbed by his plight and its possible results; he promptly wrote Vergennes, enclosing a translation of this letter. BF, he explained, had selected Sayre for the mission to Prussia because of his friendship with Chatham, whom King Frederick admired. Lee had quarreled with his secretary, “l’homme le plus doux et le plus aimable que je connoisse,” and left him behind. Sayre no longer hoped to be on the commission, but only to be its secretary; Lee and Deane were jealous of him, however, and he feared might turn BF against him. D’Aubarède pointed out that Sayre had been the most prominent American in London, with many friends there and across the Atlantic; his forced return to England could have disastrous consequences that Vergennes might wish to prevent. After BF had sent WTF to collect the letter from the marquis, the latter concluded, he himself had twice called on BF without being received; this might mean that Deane and Lee had already had their way. Stevens, Facsimiles, XIX, no. 1741. Vergennes declined to intervene in a dispute between Americans: ibid., no. 1744.

6Von Görne, director of the Seehandlung or overseas trading corporation, was sentenced a few years later to life imprisonment for embezzling its funds: William O. Henderson, Studies in the Economic Policy of Frederick the Great ([London,] 1963), pp. 157–8.

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