George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Benjamin Franklin, 3 June 1789

From Benjamin Franklin

Philadelphia, 3 June, 1789.

I have made a rule to myself that your Excellency should not be troubled with any solicitations from me for favors to any even of my nearest connections, but here is a matter of justice in which the honor of our country is concerned, and therefore I cannot refuse giving this line for your information. Mr. Le Ray de Chaumont, father of the young gentleman who will have the honor of waiting on you with this, was the first in France who gave us credit, and before the Court showed us any countenance trusted us with 2000 barrels of gunpowder, and from time to time afterwards exerted himself to furnish the Congress with supplies of various kinds, which, for want of due returns, they being of great amount, has finally much distressed him in circumstances. Young Mr. Chaumont has now been here near four years, soliciting a settlement of the accounts merely, and though the payment of the balance, to be sure, would be acceptable, yet proposing to refer that to the time when it shall better suit the convenience of our Government.

This settlement, if the father had it to show, would tend to quiet his creditors, and might be made use of for that purpose; but his son has not hitherto been able to obtain it, and is detained in this country at an expense that answered no end. He hopes, however, now, that your Excellency may prevail to have some settlement made of those accounts, that he may carry home to his father the statement of them; and I the rather hope this likewise, that we may thereby be freed from the imputation of adding ingratitude to injustice.1

Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, 35 (1887–88), 752.

Benjamin Franklin had returned to the United States from France in September 1785, served as president of the executive council of Pennsylvania and as a member of the Constitutional Convention. At this time he was living with his daughter and grandchildren in Philadelphia.

1Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont (1725–1803) was a French entrepreneur and frequent adviser to the French ministry during the American Revolution. He held a number of minor government posts during the 1770s and was an enthusiastic advocate of French support for the American cause. Chaumont was heavily involved in the acquisition and shipping of supplies for the United States during the war. Shortly after Franklin’s arrival in France in December 1776 as one of the United States’ commissioners, Chaumont offered him the use of a vacant house on his estate at Passy, then a suburb of Paris. Franklin accepted and maintained his residence there for the remaining nine years of his mission. After the Revolution as Chaumont’s financial situation became increasingly perilous, he sent his son James Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont (c.1764–1840) to the United States in 1785 to press for payment of debts Chaumont claimed were owed to him by the United States for his wartime activities (see Jefferson to James Monroe, 15 April 1785, in Boyd, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 8:88–90). Franklin’s letter was submitted to Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton in September 1789 (Tobias Lear to Hamilton, 21 Sept. 1789, DLC:GW), and on 13 Aug. 1790 a Treasury Department warrant was issued to “Francis Christopher Mantel Attorney to Le Ray de Chaumont the younger Attorney to Le Ray de Chaumont the elder towards discharging certain demands of the said Le Ray de Chaumont the elder on the United States” (DNA: RG 233, Original Reports of the Secretary of the Treasury, 1792, Report on Receipts and Expenditures of Public Monies to the End of the Year 1791). See also De Pauw, Documentary History of the First Federal Congress, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972–. description ends 3:804). The younger Le Ray de Chaumont remained in the United States, married Grace Coxe, the sister-in-law of Tench Coxe, and became heavily involved in land speculation in northern New York. He returned to France in the 1830s and died in Paris.

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