Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from [William Pulteney], 29 March 1778

From [William Pulteney]

Reprinted from William Temple Franklin, ed., Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin . . . (3 vols., 4to, London, 1817–18), II, 243–4.

Pulteney, when he returned from his self-appointed mission to Franklin,1 found Whitehall more receptive than it had been. The French Ambassador left London on March 19, and war was clearly in the offing; any last-minute chance to avert it seemed worth investigating. The government outlined some proposals as a basis of negotiation, and on the 26th the King reluctantly approved them.2 On the 29th Pulteney was back in Paris and discussing the proposals with Franklin. The underlying British premise, the Doctor wrote him on the 30th, made any treaty impossible; but the letter was apparently not sent,3 and the discussions may have gone on. When Deane left for home on the 31st, he carried with him a copy of the terms Pulteney had brought, to show them to Gérard.4 The decisive interview between Pulteney and Franklin took place in Alexander’s presence, and apparently before Deane’s departure. Although Franklin again pronounced the terms unacceptable, he offered if desired to consult his two colleagues. No point in that, Pulteney replied; “the reasons that weigh with you will also weigh with them.” He asked to bury the whole matter in oblivion, and Franklin agreed.5 On April 4 Alexander suggested a meeting that day, and sent an enclosure to the Doctor that he asked to have back, uncopied, “in case no business be done”; the banker had, it seems, not yet despaired of success. Franklin had. On the 7th he wrote Deane to burn the copy given him; North’s emissary had gone home, and all record of his mission was to be expunged. Pulteney was less scrupulous: the terms found their way into the hands of his brother, George Johnstone, one of the members of the Carlisle commission.6 Johnstone had even fewer scruples. Soon after he arrived in America he wrote an acquaintance there that Franklin, on March 29, had examined the terms the commissioners brought and pronounced them “beneficial to North America, and such as she should accept.”7 This wild distortion was laid before Congress.

Sunday Morning, March 29, 1788 [i.e.., 1778]

Mr. Williams8 returned this morning to Paris, and will be glad to see Dr. Franklin, whenever it is convenient for the Doctor, at the Hotel Frasiliere[?] Rue Tournon. It is near the Hotel where he lodged when the Doctor saw him a fortnight ago. He does not propose to go abroad, and therefore the Doctor will find him at any hour. He understands that Mr. Alexander is not yet returned from Dijon, which he regrets.

1See the headnote on BF to Alexander above, March 12.

2Fortescue, Correspondence of George Third, IV, 79–81. The proposals, which left the crown a shadow of sovereignty, are printed in Frederick B. Tolles, “Franklin and the Pulteney Mission: an Episode in the Secret History of the American Revolution . . .,” Huntington Library Quarterly, XVII (1953–54), 47–8. For carrying on the negotiations Pulteney had access to a remarkably large sum of money, probably £20,000, for some secret purpose: Stevens, Facsimiles, XXIII, no. 1946, passim, where the references to the transaction are so cryptic, and the accounting so uninformative, that we dare not guess at the purpose. A small fraction of the money seems to have gone into moving Alexander and his family from Dijon to Auteuil, so that he might keep an eye on the commissioners. He was to be paid 250 guineas for six months, ending in November, and another 150 if he stayed for a year. Incomplete and undated letter from Pulteney to “My Lord” (Weymouth?), Huntington Library; see also Price, France and the Chesapeake, II, 695.

3The letter is below, as are the others in the headnote that have no citations.

4BF to Gérard below, April 1.

5From BF’s description of the interview two years later: Smyth, Writings, VIII, 43–4. Deane’s report to Congress on the episode was published by Charles M. Andrews, “A Note on the Franklin-Deane Mission to France,” Yale University Library Quarterly, II (1927–28), 59. Such dates as it gives are clearly wrong, but it says that BF delayed a final reply to the proposals until after his colleague’s departure.

6Stevens, op. cit., no. 68.

7The Remembrancer; or, Impartial Repository of Public Events . . ., VII (1778–79), 8–9. BF had a copy of Johnstone’s letter by early autumn, 1778, and reacted in anger. “He gave it me with marks of Indignation,” Alexander wrote Pulteney on Oct. 8 (Huntington Library), “which I never faced In him but on a like occasion. He told me That He had now to Justify Himself to His Country and to the Congress which was his business but what trust or Confidence could ever be put in Men who thus violated the most solemn engagements, and to whom breach of faith, and falshood were equally easy? That He had under the promise of Secrecy he had given, Never discovered to any Mortal alive, any one circumstance that Had passed and that altho’, on the open averment in England that He had agreed to terms with you, He had thought it necessary to Contradict the facts, He had neither then or since ever mentioned any Circumstances of what really had passed.”

8The alias that Pulteney used in Paris.

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