Benjamin Franklin Papers

Extracts of John Baynes’s Journal, 27 August–15 September 1783

Extracts of John Baynes’s Journal1

Reprinted from The Life of Sir Samuel Romilly, Written by Himself. With a Selection from His Correspondence. Edited by His Sons. (3rd ed., 2 vols., London, 1842), I, 447–58.

[August 27—September 15, 1783]

Wednesday, August 27. Hired a coach for the day, and went to visit the ambassador (the Duke of Manchester), who received me very politely; asked me to dine on Friday. From thence I went to Passy (a pleasant town, two miles from Paris, and on the Seine) to present Dr. Jebb’s letter to Dr. Franklin.2 Mr. Romilly went with me, having inquired most particularly into the propriety of his going, and finding that there would be nothing improper.3 His house is delightfully situated, and seems very spacious; and he seemed to have a great number of domestics. We sent up the letter, and were then shown up into his bedchamber, where he sat in his nightgown, his feet wrapped up in flannels and resting on a pillow, he having for three or four days been much afflicted with the gout and the gravel. He first inquired particularly after Dr. Jebb, which led us to the subject of parliamentary reformation. I mentioned that Dr. Jebb was for having every man vote: he said he thought Dr. Jebb was right, as the all of one man was as dear to him as the all of another. Afterwards, however, he seemed to qualify this by expressing his approbation of the American system, which excludes minors, servants, and others, who are liable to undue influence. He said that he much doubted whether a parliamentary reform at present would have the desired effect; that we had been much too tender in our economical reform,—that offices ought never to be accompanied with such salaries as will make them the objects of desire. In support of this he read the 36th article of the Pennsylvania Constitution (a most wise and salutary rule).4 He mentioned the absurd manner in which the Courrier de l’Europe had spoken of General Washington’s resignation and retirement, as if it were a dissolution of the original compact:5 he said that the General was an officer appointed by the state, and no integral part of the constitution, and that his retirement could affect the state no more than a constable, or other executive officer, going out of office. I observed how some of our papers had affected to depreciate his motives in retiring,6 and added that I should always suppose a man to act from good motives till I saw cause to think otherwise. “Yes,” said he, “so would every honest man;” and then he took an opportunity of reprobating the maxim that all men were equally corrupt. “And yet,” said Mr. Romilly, “that was the favourite maxim of Lord North’s Administration.” Dr. Franklin observed that such men might hold such opinions with some degree of reason, judging from themselves and the persons they knew: “A man,” added he, “who has seen nothing but hospitals, must naturally have a poor opinion of the health of mankind.”

Mr. Romilly asked as to the slave-trade in America, whether it was likely to be abolished?7 He answered that in several states it now did not exist; that in Pennsylvania effective measures were taken for suppressing it;8 and that, if it had not been for the Board of Trade, he believed that it would have been abolished everywhere.9 To that board he attributed all our misfortunes, the old members corrupting the young ones.

He seemed equally liberal in religious and in political opinions. The excellence of the constitution of Massachusetts in point of religious liberty being mentioned, he observed that they had always shown themselves equally so; that the land was originally granted out to them subject to the payment of a small sum for the support of a presbyterian minister; that, many years ago, on the application of persons of other religions, they agreed that the sum actually paid by any congregation should go to its own minister, whatever was his persuasion.1 This was certainly a great act of liberality, because they were not bound to do it in point even of justice, the annual payment being in fact the price or rent of the land. He mentioned his having had a conversation with Lord Bristol (the Bishop of Derry) on a similar subject; that the Bishop said he had long had in hand a work for the purpose of freeing Roman Catholics from their present state, and giving them a similar indulgence.2 “And pray, my Lord, while your hand is in, do extend your plan to dissenters, who are clearly within all the reasons of the rule.” His Lordship was astonished—no—he saw some distinction or other, which he could not easily explain. In fact, the revenue of his Lordship would have suffered considerable diminution by suffering dissenters to pay their tithes to their own pastors. He reprobated the statute of Henry VI. for limiting votes to forty-shilling freeholders, and observed that the very next statute in the book was an act full of oppression upon poor artificers.3

He conversed with greater freedom and openness than I had any right to expect, which I impute partly to Dr. Jebb’s friendly letter, partly to his own disposition. I never enjoyed so much pleasure in my life as in the present conversation with this great and good character. He looked very well, notwithstanding his illness; and, as usual, wore his spectacles, which made him very like a small print I have seen of him in England.4 He desired us on taking leave to come and visit him again, which we resolved to do. …


Monday, September 15. Called on Lieutenant Hernon, and walked with him as far as the Barrière de la Conférence, on the way to Passy. He left me there, and I proceeded to Dr. Franklin’s house. On entering, a confounded Swiss servant told me to go up stairs and I should meet with domestics. I went up, but not a domestic was there; I returned and told him there was nobody. He then walked up with me, and pointing to the room before me told me I might enter and I should find his master alone. I desired him to announce me. “Oh! Monsieur, ce n’est pas nécessaire; entrez, entrez;” on which I proceeded, and, rapping at the door, I perceived that I had disturbed the old man from a sleep he had been taking on a sofa. My confusion was inexpressible. However, he soon relieved me from it, saying that he had risen early that morning, and that the heat of the weather had made a little rest not unacceptable; and desiring me to sit down. He inquired if I had heard from Dr. Jebb. I then showed him an excellent letter which I had just received from him, containing some noble sentiments on the American war, with which he seemed much pleased. The letter contained some sentiments on the American religious constitution, particularly noticing the liberality of that of Massachusetts Bay. Dr. Franklin observed that, notwithstanding its excellence, he thought there was one fault in it: that when the government of that colony had, thirty or forty years ago, upon the application of the dissenters, permitted them to apply their portion of the sum raised for religious purposes to the use of their own minister (as he had mentioned in his former conversation), the Quakers likewise applied for a total exemption from this burden upon this ground, that they did, one among another, gratis, the same duties as the other sects paid a duty for performing. “The government,” said he, “considered their case and exempted them from the burden, the person claiming an exemption being obliged to produce a certificate from the meeting that he was really bonâ fide one of that persuasion. The present constitution of Massachusetts Bay does not appear to me to make any provision of this sort in favour of Quakers. Now I own I think this a fault;5 for if their regulations, one among another, be such that they answer the ends of a minister, I see no good reason why they should be obliged to contribute to a useless expense. We find the Quakers to be as orderly and as good subjects as any other religious sect whatever; and indeed,” said he, “in one respect I think their mode of instruction has the advantage; for it is always delivered in language adapted to the audience, and consequently is perfectly intelligible. I remember once in England being at a church near Lord Despencer’s with his Lordship,6 who told me that the clergyman was a very sensible young man, to whom he had just given the living. His sermon was a sensible discourse and in elegant language; but notwithstanding this, I could not perceive that the audience seemed at all struck with it. The Quakers in general attend to some plain sensible man of their sect, whose discourse they all understand. I therefore rather incline to doubt of the necessity of having teachers, or ministers, for the express purpose of instructing the people in their religious duties.

“All this is equally applicable to the law: the Quakers have no lawsuits except such as are determined at their own meetings; there is an appeal from the monthly to the annual meeting. All is done without expense, and nobody grumbles at the trouble of deciding. In fact, the honour of being listened to as a preacher, or of presiding to decide lawsuits, is in itself sufficient. A salary only tends to diminish the honour of the office; and this, if considered, will tend to support the doctrine, held in the Pennsylvania constitutions, which I mentioned to you in our last conversation. Persons will play at chess, by the hour, without being paid for it; this you may see in every coffee-house in Paris. Deciding causes is in fact only a matter of amusement to sensible men.”

I mentioned the mode in France of buying seats in the Parliament for the purpose of ennobling themselves. He observed that that very practice would confirm the ideas he had just thrown out. Here a bourgeois gives a sum of money for his seat in Parliament as a conseiller. The fees of his office do not bring him in 3 per cent., or at least not more. Therefore for the noblesse or honour which his seat gives him, he pays two-fifths of the price of the office, and at the same time gives up his labour without any recompense.

In the course of our conversation I asked if they did not still imprison for debt in America? He answered that they did; but he expressed his disapprobation of this usage in very strong terms. He said he could not compare any sum of money with imprisonment—they were not commensurable quantities. Nobody, however, in America who possessed a freehold (and almost everybody had a freehold) could be arrested on mesne process.7 He inclined to think that all these sorts of methods to compel payment were very impolitic—some people indeed think that credit and consequently commerce would be diminished if such means were not permitted, but he said that he could not think that the diminution of credit was an evil, for that the commerce which arose from credit was in a great measure detrimental to a state.


He mentioned one instance to show how unnecessary such compulsory means were, and he seemed to think that it would be better if there were no legal means of compelling the payment of debts of a certain magnitude. In the interval between the declaration of independence and the formation of the code of laws in America, there was no method of compelling payment of debts, yet, notwithstanding this, the debts were paid as regularly as ever; and if any man had refused to pay a just debt because he was not legally compellable, he durst not have shown his face in the streets. Dr. Jebb having requested me to inquire if there were any good political tracts or pamphlets, I took the liberty to ask if he knew any. He told me that there were a good many upon one particular subject, which had been fully discussed, but which was little known in England as yet. Of these he said one might make a little library. The subject was on the giving information to the public on matters of finance. The books in question had given rise to a set of persons or to a sect called economists, who held that if the people were well informed on matters of finance, it would be unnecessary to use force to compel the raising of money; that the taxes might be too great—so great as in fact to diminish the revenue—for that a farmer should have at the end of the year not only wherewith to pay his rent and to subsist his family, but also enough to defray the expense of the sowing, &c. &c., of next year’s crop; otherwise, if the taxes are so high as to prevent this, part of his land must remain unsown, and consequently the crop which is the subject of taxation be diminished, and the taxes of course must suffer the same fate. Some of their principles, he observed, were perhaps not quite tenable. However, the subject was discussed thoroughly. The Marquis de Mirabeau was said to be the author of the system. Dr. Franklin waited on him, but he assured him that he was not the author originally—that the founder was a Dr. Chenelle, or Quenelle. The Marquis introduced Dr. Franklin to him, but he could not make much out of him, having rather an obscure mode of expressing himself.8

He said that he was acquainted with an Abbé now abroad, but who would return in a fortnight or so, and who would give him a list of the principal pamphlets on both sides.

I then left him, and he desired me to call from time to time during my stay at Paris.


[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

1The political reformer John Baynes (1758–1787) formed a close friendship with fellow student Samuel Romilly when they were both reading law at Gray’s Inn. In August, 1783, when Romilly set off for Lausanne on family business, Baynes accompanied him as far as Paris, carrying a letter of introduction to BF (mentioned below). Baynes remained in Paris for two months, visiting BF several times and keeping a detailed journal of their conversations. Romilly was with him for the introductory visit and recorded his own impressions (quoted in annotation below). When Baynes died of a fever four years later, in the bloom of a promising legal and literary career, his friend considered it a great loss to the public: DNB and ODNB for both men; The Life of Sir Samuel Romilly, Written by Himself … (3rd ed., 2 vols., London, 1842), I, 48–50.

Baynes never married, and the disposition of his Paris journal is not known. Romilly’s sons had access to it from “its present possessor” when, decades after their father’s death in 1818, they were preparing the third edition of their father’s memoirs. Believing Baynes’s entries to be of general interest, they added an appendix containing selections from the journal “which refer principally to conversations with Benjamin Franklin”: Life of Sir Samuel Romilly, I, 447. Principally but not entirely. In reprinting these selections, we omit several paragraphs that do not relate to BF, indicating those omissions with ellipses. The rows of asterisks, on the other hand, are original to the published text and signal the editorial decisions of 1842. The journal continues through Oct. 17; the latter portion will be published in vol. 41.

2Of Aug. 15, above.

3Romilly described the visit thus: “Dr. Franklin was indulgent enough to converse a good deal with us, whom he observed to be young men very desirous of improving by his conversation. Of all the celebrated persons whom, in my life, I have chanced to see, Dr. Franklin, both from his appearance and his conversation, seemed to me the most remarkable. His venerable patriarchal appearance, the simplicity of his manner and language, and the novelty of his observations, at least the novelty of them at that time to me, impressed me with an opinion of him as of one of the most extraordinary men that ever existed. The American Constitutions were then very recently published. I remember his reading us some passages out of them, and expressing some surprise that the French government had permitted the publication of them in France. They certainly produced a very great sensation at Paris, the effects of which were probably felt many years afterwards.” Life of Sir Samuel Romilly, I, 50.

4“As every Freeman, to preserve his Independence, (if without a sufficient estate) ought to have some profession, calling, trade or farm, whereby he may honestly subsist, there can be no necessity for, nor use in establishing offices of profit, the usual effects of which are dependence and servility, unbecoming Freemen, in the possessors and expectants; faction, contention, corruption and disorder among the people. But if any man is called into public service, to the prejudice of his private affairs, he has a right to a reasonable compensation: And whenever an office, through increase of fees, or otherwise becomes so profitable as to occasion many to apply for it, the profits ought to be lessened by the legislature.” The Constitution of the Common-wealth of Pennsylvania … (Philadelphia, 1776), p. 27.

5The Aug. 15 issue of the Courier de l’Europe printed a translation of Washington’s June 18 circular letter to the state governors announcing his resignation (which had been widely reprinted in the British press the previous week). It also reported on the general belief that the United States was now without a legitimate government, and raised the question of whether any definitive peace treaty could be signed: Courier de l’Europe, XIV (1783), 106–9, 111–12. For Washington’s circular letter see the annotation of Boudinot to the Commissioners, July 15.

6Some newspapers went so far as to suggest that Washington’s retirement was “fictitious,” and that like Julius Caesar, Richard III, and Oliver Cromwell, he was plotting to become absolute ruler by popular acclaim. That accusation appeared in identical language in at least two Englishlanguage newspapers on Aug. 19: the Public Advertiser and Public Ledger. The Courier de l’Europe printed a translation of the latter, explaining that it was the most concise rendition of what all the papers were saying: Courier de l’Europe, XIV (1783), 116.

7Romilly was an ardent abolitionist. He had translated Condorcet’s Réflexions sur l’esclavage des negres. Par M. Schwartz … (Neufchâtel, 1781), which he acquired on a previous trip to Lausanne, but was unable to find a publisher: Life of Sir Samuel Romilly, I, 51n.

8On March 1, 1780, Pennsylvania passed “An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery,” which banned the importation of slaves and provided for gradual emancipation of newborn slave children, who remained indentured to their former owners for 28 years: Gary B. Nash and Jean R. Soderlund, Freedom by Degrees: Emancipation in Pennsylvania and Its Aftermath (New York and Oxford, 1991), pp. 105, 110–11, 137–8.

9In the years before the Revolution, American colonists, including BF, came to believe that the British government had coerced them into maintaining slavery and the slave trade against American efforts to limit or abolish both. (BF had made this argument in his 1770 “Conversation on Slavery”: XVII, 38–40.) In fact, the Board of Trade and the Privy Council had vetoed only some, but not all, duties on imported slaves that the colonies had levied to raise revenue and slave prices or to better control the slave population: James A. Rawley, The Transatlantic Slave Trade: a History (New York and London, 1981), pp. 316–18.

1In 1727 the Mass. legislature allowed Anglicans to use the mandatory tax levied on behalf of the Congregational Church for their own ministers. A year later, the legislature exempted Baptists and Quakers from the tax: John D. Cushing, “Notes on Disestablishment in Massachusetts, 1780–1833,” W&MQ, 3rd ser., XXVI (1969), 169–72. However, the 1780 constitution put an end to these exemptions, as BF explained to Baynes on Sept. 15.

2The only subjects who were excluded from the liberty of conscience granted by the Mass. charter were Roman Catholics: Cushing, “Notes on Disestablishment in Massachusetts, 1780–1833,” p. 171.

3BF attacked these statutes in his marginalia in Allan Ramsey’s pamphlet, Thoughts on the Origin and Nature of Government …; see XVI, 312–13.

4The 1777 “fur hat” engraving by Augustin de Saint-Aubin, the frontispiece of vol. 24, inspired many copies: XXIV, XXX; Sellers, Franklin in Portraiture, pp. 109–10, 227–30.

5Article III of the Declaration of Rights of the 1780 Mass. Constitution, which mandated the raising of taxes for the support of religious establishments, reversed the exemptions secured by Baptists and Quakers (discussed above). The tax was now compulsory for all citizens; if they did not have a minister of their own, their contributions would go to the Congregational Church. Article III was the only article that JA declined to draft: Adams Papers, VIII, 231; Samuel Eliot Morison, “The Struggle over the Adoption of the Constitution of Massachusetts, 1780,” Mass. Hist. Soc. Proc., L (1916–17), 368–71. In 1780 BF had made a similar criticism of the Mass. constitution’s religious tests, arguing in a letter to Richard Price that “When a Religion is good, I conceive that it will support itself”: XXXIII, 389–90.

6The late Sir Francis Dashwood, Baron Le Despencer, with whom BF had collaborated on Abridgement of the Book of Common Prayer: XX, 343–5.

7Under English law, a creditor could have a debtor arrested and held to bail or imprisoned on mesne process, i.e., before the suit came to trial, which could take several months. In the United States, laws on this matter varied from state to state: Joanna Innes, “The King’s Bench Prison in the Later Eighteenth Century: Law, Authority and Order in a London Debtors’ Prison,” in An Ungovernable People: the English and Their Law in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, ed. John Brewer and John Styles (New Brunswick, N.J., 1980), pp. 252–3; Peter J. Coleman, Debtors and Creditors in America: Insolvency, Imprisonment for Debt, and Bankruptcy, 1607–1900 (Washington, D.C., 1999).

8BF met physiocrats Victor de Riquetti, marquis de Mirabeau, and Quesnay during a trip to Paris in the fall of 1767. Du Pont de Nemours sent him Quesnay’s Physiocratie the following spring, which he read with great interest; he had a copy of Mirabeau’s Les Economiques on his bookshelf at Passy: XV, 118–20, 181–2; XXXVI, 340.

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