Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to the Marquis de Lafayette, 2 March 1780

To the Marquis de Lafayette

Copy: Library of Congress

Passy, March. 2. 1780.

Dear Sir,

I receiv’d with Pleasure the Letter you honour’d me with of the 29th. past, and am infinitely obliged by the zeal and Assiduity with which you have forwarded our affairs at Versailles. The 15000. Arms and Accoutrements are a great article.5

I had written to Capt. Jones that Besides the 122. Bales of Cloth,6 we hoped for that quantity Arms which it was suppos’d he might take as Bellast. I think the Cloathing 4000. suits was also mentioned to him by Mr. de Chaumont. In his last letter to me he says he will take as much as possible and hopes he may be able to cram in the whole.7 If not your ship8 can take the rest. I wish much to know where the arms are and when they can be render’d at L’Orient.

Mr. Williams I hear is indefatigable in preparing the Cloathing, and hopes to have the whole 10,000 suits ready by the End of the Month.9 I wish they could go with you, but that being impossible. I hope we shall get another ship of force to carry them. They are made precisely according to the Directions of the Commitee.1

If on seeing the accounts I find I can add a proportion of Cloaths for Officers, which you urge so earnestly, I Shall do it with Pleasure. But from the large and unexpected Drafts often made upon me by Congress, I am become timid. I must take Care of their Credit, and my own, and cannot take hazardous steps, as protesting or not praying [paying] one of their Bills would be attended with great Mischief on both sides the Water. And when I consider the vast Expence occasioned to this nation by the War, I am asham’d to be repeatedly worrying the Ministers by applications for more money.

I ought to let Capt. Jones know as soon as Possible whither the arms are to go with him, as he would Stow them low to serve partly for Ballast. If a Ship can be obtain’d for them and what shall remain of the Cloathing, perhaps it may be as well to excuse the alliance from that article, and let her take more of the Cloathing.

I am told the 122. Bails of Cloath to be shipt by Mr. Ross for the Congress, will by Computation make 7 or 8000 suits. These will be in Addition to the 10,000 making by Mr. Williams. Those Suits will be compos’d of Coat waste coat, Breeches, Overalls, 2 pair of Strokings, 2 pair of shoes, two shirts, two stocks, and a Hat for each man. I think there will also be Buckles. If there be any farther information that you want, let me know, and I will give what I can.

With The sincerest Esteem and affection, I am Dear sir, &c.

Mr. De La fayette.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

5Lafayette had informed BF (XXXI, 565–6) that Foreign Minister Vergennes and Army Minister Montbarey had assured him of the delivery of these arms for the use of the American army. Lafayette had been pressuring Montbarey for them: XXXI, 358–9, 370.

6Which the merchant John Ross proposed to send to America for making into uniforms. BF had left Jones the option of carrying them on the Alliance when she returned home: XXXI, 499, 501.

7The previous December BF had placed with JW an order for 10,000 uniforms for the American army, to be purchased with a loan from the French government, and JW was soon at work on it: XXXI, 267–8, 328–9. BF turned to Chaumont, with his extensive business experience and government contacts, to organize the assembling and shipping of the uniforms: Lopez, Lafayette, pp. 186–7. Chaumont ordered JW to have as many uniforms as possible ready by the beginning of March. Jones, in turn, promised to carry to America “a great part if not the Whole” of them: XXXI, 375–6, 524.

8The French frigate Hermione was selected to take Lafayette to America to announce the coming of a French expeditionary corps: XXXI, 370–1n, 519n.

9XXXI, 504.

1On orders of Congress the Board of War had drawn up the specifications for the uniforms: XXXI, 268n, 329n; Idzerda, Lafayette Papers, II, 354n; Lopez, Lafayette, pp. 184–5. Lafayette, however, had made his own suggestions, such as making the officers’ uniforms of superior quality: XXXI, 504–5n.

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