Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont, 21 November 1780

From Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont

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

It was not only Franklin who was threatened with financial ruin, in his case by the impending arrival of bills of credit drawn on him by Congress.5 His landlord Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont was on the verge of bankruptcy, largely as a result of his heavy holdings in devalued American currency.6 Catastrophe threatened him if Franklin could not pay for the clothing Chaumont had assembled for the American army and the ship he had purchased to carry it.7 The most feasible solution, it seemed, was a plan similar to the one Franklin had submitted to Vergennes in September, whereby goods would be supplied to French troops in America in partial payment for money loaned by the King.8

In the new proposal, evidently worked out by Necker and Ferdinand Grand,9 Franklin would issue bills of exchange to cover Chaumont’s costs, which then could be used as collateral with Treasurer General for War Antoine-Jean-François Mégret de Sérilly.1 The treasury, through Grand as an intermediary, would issue the money to Chaumont and would be reimbursed by supplies provided in America to Rochambeau’s expeditionary corps. Sérilly agreed, on condition that no money be paid until the supplies were in hand. Chaumont, concerned about potentially disastrous delays, insisted on a guarantee that the bills would be covered. Vergennes offered it, and in this letter Chaumont insists on having the assurance in writing.2

Passi ce 21. 9bre. 1780

Monsieur le Docteur

Nous sommes Convenus ensemble que les etoffes que Je vous ay procuré généreusement pour L’habillement des troupes americaines et qui Sont entre les Mains de M. Williams votre Neveu, qui les fera embarquer sur mon Vaisseau le Marquis de la Fayette; me Seroient remboursées en vos traittes Sur le Congrès:3 dont Je me proposois de faire usage pour les dépenses des forces francaises au Continent de L’amerique Septentrionale. Des Circonstances dont J’ay eu L’honneur d’entretenir votre Excellence me forcent a vous prier de Joindre à ces traittes unne assurance de M. le Comte de Vergennes que Si à tout évenement elles n’etoient pas acquittées à L’amerique, il vous mettera en état de les Rembourser icy. Je vous supplie, Monsieur le Docteur, de me procurer le plutost possible Cette tranquilité pour que je puisse La Donner à Ceux qui m’ont temoignés quelques inquietudes Sur cet objet qui peut aller à Cent mils Dollards.

Je Suis avec Respect et amitié Monsieur le Docteur vostre tres humble et très obeissant Serviteur

Leray DE Chaumont.

Son Ex. Mr le Docteur franklin.

Notation: 21 novembre 1780.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

5See BF to Vergennes, Nov. 19, above.

6XXXII, 527n; XXXIII, 445n.

7XXXI, 267–8, and numerous subsequent documents.

8XXXIII, 329–30. BF had proposed the scheme upon hearing from James Searle that the harvest in America had been abundant. According to BF, the King refused the plan out of concern that American troops might suffer: XXXXIII, 356–7.

9On Nov. 16, Grand wrote a note to WTF that we believe has to do with drafting this proposal: Grand had received an answer to the letter he had shown WTF the day before, and no longer had confidence in that plan. He was therefore thinking of “yours.” To put that into action, he would need BF to supply him with additional documentation that he would bring to Versailles. WTF should ask BF for those papers and set up a time for Grand and BF to discuss the matter. APS.

JW had drafted language for the bills of exchange on Nov. 7; see BF’s Receipt for Chaumont, Nov. 23, below. On Nov. 23, Grand informed Vergennes about his meeting with Necker; the language suggests that Necker proposed certain details to BF. AAE. See also our headnote to BF’s letter to Huntington, Dec. 2.

1For Mégret de Sérilly (1746–94) see J.F. Bosher, French Finances 1770–1795: From Business to Bureaucracy (Cambridge, 1970), p. 333.

2Our understanding of this scheme is based on four documents: (1) a memorandum by Chaumont of Nov. 17, one copy of which went to Vergennes (AAE) and another (undated) to BF, who endorsed it,” “Papers relating to Mr de Chaumont’s Affair Cloth &c His Endeavour to dispose of Mr F’s Bill on Congress — &c No Date” (APS); (2) an undated note from Chaumont to BF, endorsed, “Note of M. de Chaumont to satisfy M. Franklin who was uneasy at the Change proposed by M. de Chaumont in the Manner of Payment for the Cloth. — No date”; (3) a letter from Grand to Vergennes, Nov. 23 (AAE); and (4) Vergennes’ reply to Grand, Nov. 24, copies of which are at both the AAE and the APS.

3The bills of exchange discussed in the headnote.

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