Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Charles-Guillaume-Frédéric Dumas, 17 February 1783

To Charles-Guillaume-Frédéric Dumas

Transcript: National Archives

Passy Feb. 17. 1783.

Dear Sir

It is a long time since I have had the Pleasure of hearing from you.6 I hope however that you and yours continue Well.

The Bearers, Mr. President Wheelock and his Brother go to Holland on a Publick spirited Design, which you will find recommended by many eminent Persons in America.7

I beg leave to request for these Gentlemen your civilities and best Counsels, as they will be entire Strangers in your Country.

With great Esteem, I am ever, Dear Sir your faithful humble Servant.

B. Franklin.

M. Dumas.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6Dumas’ last extant letter was written the previous September: XXXVIII, 67.

7John Wheelock, president of Dartmouth College, and his brother James had come to Europe to raise desperately needed funds; for their arrival see the Jan. 31 letters from JW and his father, above. The brothers carried letters of recommendation as well as a document on parchment signed by 39 prominent Americans describing the college’s history and present circumstances: XXXVIII, 134–5. These they presented to BF the day after they arrived in Paris, according to the narrative Wheelock wrote upon his return. BF received the brothers with “much personal politeness, kindness, and civilities,” and lauded their endeavor as “noble and liberal.” He invited them to dine the following day, when he introduced them to Morellet and promised to have their “credentials” translated into French. (A French translation of the parchment document, made by L’Air de Lamotte and corrected by Morellet, is at the APS.) BF declined to present their case at Versailles, however, as he was on the verge of presenting a new application for funds from Congress, and he feared that the French might think that “our applications and solicitations might never end, and there would be a real danger of some disgust & national disservice.” John Wheelock agreed not even to deliver La Luzerne’s letter of introduction to Vergennes and to desist from other fund raising in France. BF suggested that he try England and Holland, and offered, with Morellet, to introduce him to potential donors in Britain including Shelburne; Wheelock politely turned down this offer, as he expected little sympathy for a school in the former colonies. He and his brother departed for the Netherlands on Feb. 21, armed with the present letter and several recommendations from JA. In addition, BF, JA, and Jay each donated 20 louis d’or: Dick Hoefnagel, “Benjamin Franklin and the Wheelocks,” Dartmouth College Library Bulletin, new ser., XXXI (1990), 20–1; Adams Papers, XIV, 271, 293.

Wheelock prepared two documents around the time BF penned the present letter, which remained in BF’s possession: on Feb. 15 he made an extract of a 1768 declaration by the English board of trustees of Moor’s Charity School (XXXVIII, 295n) regarding a fund-raising trip to Britain in 1766–67, and on Feb. 17 he certified an eight-page history and description of the institution entitled “Historical Anecdotes. …” Both are at the APS.

The following year, in response to a solicitation from another college, BF recalled the Wheelocks’ visit. Friends had advised him, he wrote, that Dartmouth’s attempt to seek assistance abroad “hurt the Credit of Responsibility we wish to maintain in Europe, by representing the United States as too poor to provide for the Education of their own Children.” One circumstance in particular made BF “somewhat ashamed for our Country”: that all but one of the 39 signatories of Wheelock’s document had refused to make personal donations. BF to John Witherspoon, April 5, 1784, quoted in Hoefnagel, “Benjamin Franklin and the Wheelocks,” pp. 22–3.

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