Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to John Jay, [before 18 July 1783]

To John Jay6

Copies:7 Massachusetts Historical Society, Library of Congress

[before July 18, 1783]8

Mr. F. submits it to the Consideration of Mr. Jay, whether it may not be adviseable to forbear, at present, the Justification of ourselves, respecting the Signature of the Preliminaries; because

That matter is, at present, quiet here;

No Letter sent to the Congress is ever kept secret;

The Justification contains some Charges of unfavourable Dispositions in the Ministers here towards us, that will give offense & will be deny’d;

Our Situation is still critical with respect to the two Nations, and the most perfect good Understanding should be maintained with this;

The Congress do not call upon us for an Account of our Conduct, or its Justification. They have not by any Resolution blamed us. What Censure we have received is only the private Opinion of Mr. L.

Mr. Laurens is not here, who is concern’d with us, Will it be attended with any Inconvenience, if that Part of the Letter, which relates to the Signature be reserved to a future Occasion?

B. Franklin’s Observations on Mr Jay’s Draft of a Letter to Mr Livingston, which occasioned the foregoing Part to be left out.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6These are BF’s comments on Jay’s draft of an official response to Livingston. The final version of the commissioners’ letter is immediately below; see the annotation there for background. The portion of Jay’s draft to which BF here objects, and which was removed, is published in Morris, Jay: Peace, pp. 550–3. Jay sent a revised version of it in a personal letter to Livingston of July 19: Morris, Jay: Peace, pp. 558–64.

7From the commissioners’ letterbooks.

8It is not known when Jay produced his draft. Livingston’s March 25 letter reporting on the debates in Congress and criticizing the commissioners for signing the preliminaries without notifying France (XXXIX, 380–5), which the commissioners received on July 3, struck such a nerve that JA lost no time in firing back private letters justifying their conduct. (He wrote to Robert Morris on July 5, and to Livingston on July 9, 10, and 11: Adams Papers, XV, 81–3, 92–7, 99–100.) Meanwhile, the commissioners were expecting Henry Laurens to return from England, as BF had asked him to do on July 6 (above). We believe that BF, Jay, and JA had decided to wait for Laurens’ return before composing an official response to Livingston. Laurens, however, did not receive BF’s letter until July 17 (see his answer of that date). By that time, Barney must have informed the commissioners of his imminent departure (for which see the annotation of the following document). The pressure of having to send some response with Barney makes it likely that Jay produced his version shortly before July 18. BF’s last argument, after all, was that Laurens was not in Paris, and he wondered what harm would be done if the contested section were postponed.

Thirty years later, JA recalled how he had asked Jay to draft their answer because he thought it more likely that BF would “subscribe” to something Jay wrote, and furthermore, he did not trust himself to be objective. He found Jay’s draft “a great consolation and a high gratification,” as it agreed with “everything [he] had ever said or written” about the French: Boston Patriot, Feb. 15 and 19, 1812. See Adams Papers, XV, 140–3, where these reminiscences are quoted and an alternate interpretation of events is proposed.

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