Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to the Comte de Vergennes, 10 July 1780

To the Comte de Vergennes

LS:1 Archives du Ministère des affaires étrangères; copy: Library of Congress

Passy July 10th 1780


I received the Letter your Excellency did me the honour of writing to me, dated the 1st Instant, together with the Papers accompanying it, containing the Correspondence with Mr Adams.2 I have taken some Pains since to understand the Subject, and obtain Information of the Facts, from Persons lately arrived, having received no Letters myself that explain it. I cannot say that I yet perfectly understand it; but in this I am clear, that if the Operation directed by Congress in their Resolution of the 18th of March, occasions from the Necessity of the Case, some Inequality of Justice, that Inconvenience ought to fall wholly on the Inhabitants of the States, who reap with it the Advantages obtained by the Measure. And that the greatest Care should be taken, that Foreign Merchants, particularly the French who are our Creditors, do not suffer by it. This I am so confident the Congress will do, that I do not think any Representations of mine necessary to persuade them to it.3 I shall not fail, however, to lay the whole before them. And I beg that the King may be assured, their Sentiments and those of the Americans in general, with regard to the Alliance, as far as I have been able to learn them, not only from private Letters, but from authentic public Acts, differ widely from those that seem to be express’d by M. Adams, in his Letter to your Excellency,4 and are filled with the strongest Impressions of the Friendship of France, of the generous manner in which his Majesty was pleased to enter into an equal Treaty with us, and of the great Obligations our Country is under for the important Aids he has since afforded us.

With the sincerest Respect, I have the honour to be, Sir. Your Excellency’s, most obedt. & most humble Servant.

B Franklin

His Exy. the Count De Vergennes.

Endorsed: M. de R5

1In WTF’s hand.

2Foreign Minister Vergennes’ letter actually was dated June 30: XXXII, 625–7. For several weeks he and JA had been conducting an acrimonious correspondence about the March, 1780, devaluation of American currency to a fortieth of its nominal value: XXXII, 527n, 573n. Recently JA had escalated the conflict by criticizing French naval efforts and by again raising the question of informing the British of his appointment as peace commissioner. In late July, JA chose to leave France for the Netherlands: Butterfield, John Adams Diary, II, 442–3n; IV, 243–5, 250–2; Adams Papers, IX, 516–29, 536; X, 1–4, 16–18, 32–51, 56–8; James H. Hutson, John Adams and the Diplomacy of the American Revolution (Lexington, Ky., 1980), pp. 66–73. BF also wrote Vergennes’ premier commis Joseph-Mathias Gérard de Rayneval on this date enclosing “the Original Letter of Mr. Adams, of which Mr Franklin has taken the copy” (AAE); that enclosure was a memorandum JA had sent Vergennes: XXXII, 625n.

3Had BF made such representations he would have undercut JA as well as risking his own reputation. On Aug. 9, below, he did send Samuel Huntington copies of JA’s letters to Vergennes, but he did not directly discuss the currency devaluation.

4JA had argued that the alliance was beneficial to France as well as to the United States, had minimized the damage done by the devaluation to the French holders of American currency, and had criticized French demands for an exemption: Adams Papers, IX, 460–70.

5This assigns to Gérard de Rayneval responsibility for preparing a response.

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