Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Jonathan Williams, Jr., 5 March 1783

From Jonathan Williams, Jr.

ALS: American Philosophical Society; copy: Yale University Library

Nantes March 5. 1783

Dear & hond Sir.

The King has published an Arrêt suspendending the Payment of all Bills drawn by the Marine in America 12 months after the just time of their becoming due4 and I have 184. thousand Livres in that Situation. These Bills belong to a number of Individuals who are here & the Returns are Shipped, I have already paid the greater part & must pay the Remainder, or keep the Bodies of these People for they have nothing but themselves and the Bills to pay with. You will readily conceive how hard it is for me to be the Victim of my Confidence in these Bills which I never before had any Reason to doubt. But the Arrêt expresses only Bills drawn from India & America (meaning by the Latter I suppose their Colonies which are always called Amerique) and no mention of the United States. I am therefore in hopes the Arrêt was not meant to apply to us; But the Treasurer5 takes upon him to suppose so for although these Bills were presented a month ago (some more) they are among the Suspended.— I beg to intreat you Sir to endeavour to save me from this cruel Stroke, the Bills may as well be annihilated, as Suspended for a Year for I must have this money some how or other in a very short Time. I inclose a Letter to the Minister on the Subject, I left it unaddressed because I do not know whether it should go to the Marquis de Castries or M. de Fleury, you are the best Judge of the Propriety, and I beseech you to send it with your Support & Reccommendation:6 I think if they can pay anything, they will pay these Bills after your Representation of the Matter, in which I beg you not to delay a moment, I am Sorry to be so troublesome to you, but it is for me a very Serious Affair and I trust you will kindly give me all the Support in your Power to obtain Redress. I need not repeat all particulars because you will See them by reading the Letter to the Minister.

I once more beg your kind protection & an answer as soon as possible.

I am as ever most dutifully & affectionately Yours.

Jona Williams J

Addressed: A Son Excellence / Monsieur Franklin / en son Hotel / a / Passy / pres Paris

Notation: Jona. Williams March 5. 1783.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

4This arrêt de conseil resulted from the rivalry between Joly de Fleury, finance minister, and Castries, minister of the marine, whom Joly accused of fiscal irresponsibility. Joly calculated that in addition to spending a disproportionate amount of the treasury, Castries had also issued some 50 million l.t. in unregistered letters of exchange to finance military operations in the colonies. He persuaded the king to issue this arrêt on Feb. 23, which suspended payment on the letters for one year and promised 5 percent interest. The arrêt was printed above Castries’ signature, though Castries refused to sign: John Hardman, French Politics, 1774–1789: from the Accession of Louis XVI to the Fall of the Bastille (London and New York, 1995), pp. 65–6; François-André Isambert et al., Recueil général des anciennes lois françaises (29 vols., Paris, 1821–33), XXVII, 256.

5The bills JW held were drawn on Charles-Simon Boutin (1719–1794) for the expenses of the French navy in America: JW to John Williams, March 1, 1783, and to Alexander John Alexander, March 21, 1783 (Yale University Library); Michel Bruguière, Gestionnaires et profiteurs de la révolution: l’administration des finances françaises de Louis XVI à Bonaparte ([Paris], 1986), p. 236. Boutin was one of two alternating treasurer generals of the navy; the other was Baudard de Saint James (XXXIII, 325n).

6BF evidently forwarded JW’s letter to Joly de Fleury on March 9 (see Joly to BF, March 15), and on the same date informed JW of the fact (see JW to BF, March 23). Both of BF’s March 9 letters are unlocated.

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