Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Vergennes, 15 December 1782

From Vergennes2

AL (draft): Archives du Ministère des affaires étrangères

Versailles le 15 Xbre 1782

Je puis etre surpris, Monsieur, après l’Explication que j’ai eue avec vous et la promesse que vous m’aviez faite que vous ne presseriez pas l’obtention d’un Passeport Anglois pour l’expedition du Paquet bot le Wasington,3 que vous me fassiez part que vous avez reçu ce meme passeport et que demain a dix heures du matin votre courier partira pour porter vos Depeches. Je suis assés embarrassé, M, a expliquer votre conduite et celle de vos collegues a notre egard. Vous avez arreté vos articles préliminaires sans nous en faire part quoique les instructions du Congrés vous prescrivissent de ne rien faire sans la participation du Roi.4 Vous allez faire luire un Espoir certain de paix en Amerique sans meme vous informer de l’Etat de notre negociation.5 Vous etes sage et avisé, M, vous connoïssez les bienseances vous avez rempli toute votre vie vos devoirs. Croyez vous satisfaire a ceux qui vous lient au Roi? Je ne veux pas porter plus loin ces reflexions, je les abandonne a votre honneteté.6 Quand vous aurez bien voulu satisfaire a mes doutes je prierai le Roi de me mettre en Etat de repondre a vos demandes.

J’ai l’honneur d’etre avec une veritable Consideration, M, Ve. &a.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2In answer to BF’s of the same date, above.

3A “few days” after the signing of the provisional articles BF and Laurens visited Vergennes, who told them that their hastening to sign the articles had not been very obliging to Louis XVI. BF informed Vergennes that the peace commissioners wished to send the articles to Congress and had agreed to exchange passports with the British. Vergennes warned that this would be dangerous because the articles were provisional and the remaining negotiations uncertain. According to Vergennes, BF and Laurens promised to do what he desired: Vergennes to La Luzerne, Dec. 19, in Giunta, Emerging Nation, I, 728.

4Congress gave the peace commissioners these instructions on June 15, 1781: XXXV, 166–7.

5Vergennes had made the same point in his conversation with BF and Laurens. In fact, when Joshua Barney arrived in Philadelphia on March 12 with news of the preliminary treaty, Americans in general considered it to mean the end of hostilities. Had France been forced by its alliance with Spain to continue the war, the United States would have been nearly worthless as an ally, and the huge British garrison at New York could have been used to attack the French and Spaniards in the Caribbean: William C. Stinchcombe, The American Revolution and the French Alliance (Syracuse, 1969), pp. 195–9. Fitzherbert told Grantham on Nov. 30 that the commissioners had proclaimed that they would not continue fighting to satisfy the demands of Spain or Holland: Andrew Stockley, Britain and France at the Birth of America: the European Powers and the Peace Negotiations of 1782–1783 (Exeter, 2001), p. 87.

6In the letter to La Luzerne cited above, Vergennes asked him to inform the most influential members of Congress of the irregular conduct of their commissioners. Vergennes did not blame BF personally; he suspected BF’s colleagues of influencing him: Giunta, Emerging Nation, I, 728–9. He had reason to be upset. Should negotiations between Spain and Britain fail, France, already in dire economic and military circumstances, was committed to participating in an almost hopeless Franco-Spanish attack on Jamaica. This danger was reduced, however, when on Dec. 16 Ambassador Aranda on his own authority indicated Spain’s willingness to accept the British offer of Minorca and Florida in lieu of Gibraltar: Dull, French Navy, pp. 317–19, 330–5. This doubtless made it easier for Vergennes to accept BF’s apology of Dec. 17 (below).

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