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interest. A different conduct seems to me what is not only improper and unbecoming, but what may be hurtful to us. Mr. Adams, on the other hand, who, at the same time, means our welfare and interest as much as I, or any man, can do, seems to think a little apparent stoutness, and a greater air of independence and boldness in our demands, will procure us more ample assistance. It is for Congress to judge, and regulate their affairs accordingly.”
It was one of the charges of Dr. Franklin's enemies against him, that he was compliant to the French court. The nature of this compliance, such as it was in reality, is seen in the above extract. It consisted in showing a proper sense of gratitude for benefits received, and in endeavouring to please those, from whom, in his public character, he was constantly asking favors for his country. He thought this right in itself
, and it was certainly politic. The consequence was, that he acquired and retained the confidence of the French King and ministry; they listened to his applications and were often influenced by his counsels; and he rarely made a request, which was not granted, although the wants of Congress, particularly in the article of money, rendered frequent applications necessary. Just before the peace he had occasion to say, that Count de Vergennes never made him a promise, which he did not fulfil; and it is a fact worthy of being remembered, as bearing on this subject, that not one of the vast number of drafts, which were drawn on him by Congress throughout the war, was allowed to be protested, or to pass the time of payment, although he relied almost exclusively on the French government for funds to meet them. Shortly after Mr. Jay was appointed minister to Spain and Mr. Adams to Holland, drafts to a large amount were
drawn on them, with the expectation that they would be able to procure loans in those countries; but no money was obtained, and the drafts all came upon Dr. Franklin. He found the means of paying them by applying, as usual, to the French court; but he was told, at the same time, that this unexpected demand subjected the King to much inconvenience.
By this course of conduct, asking only what was reasonable, with a becoming deference to the judgment, and reliance on the good intentions, of the ministers, he won a reciprocal confidence, and was enabled to execute the arduous and complicated duties of his station with entire success. His adversaries called it subserviency, and represented him as carried away by the adulation of the French people, so as not only to forget what was due to his own character, but to lose his attachment to his country. It was said, that the French ministers cajoled him, with the sinister design of moulding him to their purposes, and of effecting some deep scheme of policy to deceive and overreach their allies. These absurdities, unsustained as they are by a word of credible testimony, would not deserve to be repeated, if they had not been used at the time to injure his reputation, and give currency to an unmerited distrust of the French court.
They led to a new attempt in Congress to procure his recall. M. de la Luzernė, the French minister in the United States, writes thus to Count de Vergennes, in a letter dated at Philadelphia, December 15th, 1780. Congress is filled with intrigues and cabals respecting the recall of Dr. Franklin, which the delegates from Massachusetts insist on by all sorts of
That minister has very little direct support in Congress; but the fear entertained by both parties,
that his place would be supplied by one of the opposite party, has served to sustain him. The States of Massachusetts and South Carolina, and a few individual voices, influenced by Mr. Lee and Mr. Izard, have declared, in a positive manner, that there is no person who is not preferable to the present minister; and they urge, that, by his supineness and the influence of those around him, the American cause has been ruined in France.”
Two months after the date of this letter, Count de Vergennes replied. “If you are questioned respecting our opinion of Dr. Franklin, you may say, without hesitation, that we esteem him as much for his patriotism, as for the wisdom of his conduct; and it has been owing in a great part to this cause, and to the confidence which we put in the veracity of Dr. Franklin, that we have determined to relieve the pecuniary embarrassments, in which he has been placed by Congress. One may judge from this fact, which is of a personal nature, whether his conduct has been injurious to the interests of his country, and whether any other minister would have had the same advantages. But, although we esteem Dr. Franklin, and hold him in high consideration, yet we are not the less obliged to confess, that, on account of his great age and love of tranquillity, he is less active than is compatible with the affairs with which he is charged, and that we see this with the more concern, since it is upon matters of importance that he preserves silence, whilst the good of the service requires, that he should transmit his sentiments to Congress. We are of opinion, however, that his recall would be very inconvenient in the present state of things, and it would be the more disagreeable to us, inasmuch as he would perhaps be succeeded by a character unquiet, exacting, difficult,
and less ardently attached to the cause of his country. Congress might relieve themselves from the embarrassment of a new choice, by giving Dr. Franklin a secretary of legation, wise, discreet, well informed, and capable of supplying his place.”
We here see in what light the French government regarded Dr. Franklin, as minister to that court, and we have no indication of any wish to retain him in that post, on account of his being compliant to their wishes. In addition to the natural infirmities of age, he was afflicted by two severe maladies, the gout and the stone, which sometimes confined him to his house for weeks together, and disabled him from bodily or mental exertion. Yet Congress never sent him a secretary, and he was obliged to discharge all the duties of his office alone, or with such assistance as could be rendered by his grandson. This is the more singular, as both Mr. Adams and Mr. Jay were accompanied by secretaries of legation chosen by Congress, men of character and talents, accustomed to business, and acquainted with the details of public affairs.
He was, moreover, burdened with the concerns of the American public vessels, which came into French ports, and these gave him infinite trouble. “My time is more taken up with matters extraneous to the functions of a minister,” said he, in a letter to Mr. Jay, “than you can possibly imagine. I have written often to Congress to establish consuls in the ports, and ease me of what relates to maritime and mercantile affairs; but no notice has yet been taken of my request. Nor was any consul appointed till near the end of
It must be inferred, at least, that Congress did not distrust his ability to perform the important services appertaining to his station, notwithstanding the machinations that were constantly at work to have him
removed. And, indeed, the resources and vigor of his mind nowhere appear to greater advantage, than in his correspondence during this period. Count de Vergennes was not well satisfied, that he did not write oftener and more fully with respect to the state of things in France, and thus discourage Congress from making such repeated and importunate demands for aids; but Franklin knew that the French minister in Philadelphia was perfectly informed of all these particulars, and represented them to Congress whenever occasion required.
The loans from the French government had amounted to about three millions of livres annually. For the year 1781, Dr. Franklin obtained a loan of four millions, besides a subsidy of six millions, which the minister told him was intended as a free gift to the United States. After these sums were granted, Colonel John Laurens arrived in France, commissioned by Congress to represent the extreme wants of the army, and to solicit further aids both in money and military supplies. Dr. Franklin joined heartily with Colonel Laurens in urging this application, and it met with
More direct aids could not be furnished; but, to facilitate a -loan on American account in Holland, the King of France agreed to guaranty the payment of the interest of such a loan not exceeding ten millions of livres.
At this time Dr. Franklin proposed to retire from the public service, and requested that some other person might be appointed to supply his place. His reasons are given in the following extract from a letter to the President of Congress.
“I must now beg leave to say something relating to myself; a subject with which I have not often troubled the Congress. I have passed my seventy