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from The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin
by James Parton
Boston: James R. Osgood, 1864.
ARTHUR LEE SUPPRESSED.
We shall now have the pleasure of settling accounts with Mr. Arthur Lee and his two chief adherents. They died hard, but the reader may comfort himself with the assurance that Europe, Franklin, and the French ministry were rid of them at last. In order to render the story of their discomfiture complete, it is necessary for us to return to the time of Mr. Deane's secret departure from Paris in the spring of 1778.
That event, though it was a triumph for the Lee party, did not have the effect of improving their temper; since the circumstances attending it were such as to grate severely upon the susceptible jealousy of their chief. So rancorous was the animosity of the Lees at that time, that they would not, if they could avoid it, send dispatches in the ships employed by Dr. Franklin and his friends, hut cherished captains of their own selection for the purpose. And after the departure of Mr. Deane, both the malignant Lee and the irascible Izard redoubled their exertions, in public and private letters, to place his conduct in the most odious light, and to involve Dr. Franklin in the ignominy of his alleged peculations.
We have seen, in previous pages, how seriously the mind of Mr. Ralph Izard was perturbed by the molasses articles of the commercial treaty, and, still more, by the omission of Dr. Franklin to consult him during the negotiations. He had now another grievance. Dr. Franklin had not vouchsafed to answer the impertinent and foolish letter which he had written him upon the molasses articles. After writing many letters upon this alleged neglect, he summed up all his complaints in a short and angry note, which he sent to Dr. Franklin by the hands of Mr. John Julius Pringle, his "private secretary." Mr. Pringle delivered the note, conversed with Dr. Franklin upon Izard's complaints, and drew up a report of the interview for the solace of his irritable employer. This document, ridiculous as it may seem, will serve to show on what puerile grounds these shallow progenitors of rebels based their long catalogue of accusations against the ornament of their country and their kind.
"Dr. Franklin," reported Mr. Pringle, "had scarcely read your note, when he said: 'Mr. Izard has written me a very angry letter; please to tell him that he has only made use of general assertions of my having done wrong, which I cannot otherwise answer than by denying. If I have given him any causes of offense, he should let me know what they are.' To this I replied, 'that you had been kind enough to form so good an opinion of me, as to admit me into a share of your confidence; therefore I could take upon me to say, that you were persuaded you had clearly stated, in the several letters he had received from you, circumstances affording sufficient grounds of offense.' He said, 'he should be glad to know what these circumstances were.' I answered, in the first place, 'that, conceiving it your duty as a member of the States, having a considerable fortune there, and intrusted with a commission from Congress, to communicate as occasion offered all the intelligence you could, you found this communication greatly obstructed by a concealment on the part of Dr. Franklin of proper opportunities, when it was quite unnecessary, or when the end of secrecy might be answered, though you had been intrusted with the knowledge of them.' Upon which Dr. Franklin told me, 'that you had only complained of this in the present letter, and as to the particular opportunity you mentioned by M. Gerard, or Mr. Deane, he had not himself looked upon it as a good or proper one, and had not himself made use of it to write.'
"As another ground of complaint I observed, 'that, while the commercial treaty was on the carpet, you considered one article as highly unreasonable and inexpedient, and therefore expressly objected to it; you had in a letter fully specified the reasons upon which your disapprobation was founded, and had sent this letter to Dr. Franklin, in hopes of his removing your scruples, and setting you right if you were wrong, or letting your reasons and objections, if they were just, produce some good effect before the conclusion of the treaty, but you had never been favored with any answer on the subject, though you had repeatedly requested it.' Dr. Franklin alleged,' that he would have given a full and satisfactory answer, but he had been prevented by business and various avocations; that he was still willing to give one, but could not conceive why you should be so impatient. Suppose he could not give it for a month hence, what great inconvenience would it occasion?' I observed, 'that the sooner you had it, you might be the better prepared to guard against any misrepresentation.' Dr. Franklin assured me that he had not been, nor would he ever be, guilty of any misrepresentation; so far from it, that he had not even written any thing concerning the matter. I told him, perhaps you might choose to lay it before Congress, and his answer might enable you to do it more fully and satisfactorily. Dr. Franklin said you should have an answer, but you must be patient; for he really was very much engaged by other business, and interrupted by people continually coming in upon him, though upon some frivolous errands, as was the case with the two Frenchmen, just gone away, who came only to ask him to buy cloth.
"I suggested as a third ground of complaint, that you had been directed by the Congress to propose to the court of Tuscany a commercial treaty similar to the one concluded with this court, which you therefore required as necessary for your regulation, in pursuance of the instructions of Congress, who directed you should have, not only the original treaty, but also the alterations which might be proposed; both were nevertheless withheld from you by Dr. Franklin without the least regard to your applications. Dr. Franklin replied, 'Did he go into Tuscany? Has not the treaty been sent to him?' I said, you had good reasons for staying; that the treaty was kept from you till the other day, when perhaps it was necessary for you to have had it as early as possible, even previous to your departure, to give it the maturer consideration, and because there might be explanations you would like to have made here; or observations might occur to you, which you might think it advisable to communicate to Congress, to have their further instructions as soon as you could.
"I do not recollect that Dr. Franklin made any direct reply to this. He observed, that he was clear he had not given you any just cause of offense, or reasonable grounds of complaint, that he was studious to avoid contention; he acknowledged that he owed you an answer, but, though he was in your debt, he hoped you would be a merciful creditor; he would say, as the debtor in the Scripture, 'have patience, and I will pay thee all;' that you certainly ought to give him time, as you had urged so much matter as would require a pamphlet in answer. I told him that I was sure it was far from your disposition to court quarrels; that if the reasons he gave in his answer to you were just and satisfactory, you would undoubtedly allow them their full weight; that satisfaction you were desirous of having, and were anxious to have the affair ended. He said he should endeavor to do it as soon as possible; in the mean time, he hoped to have no more such angry letters from you; his answer he promised should be a cool one, and that people who wrote such angry letters should keep them till they sufficiently reflected on the contents, before they sent them."
With regard to the ceaseless interruptions from visitors and parcels to which Dr. Franklin was subjected at Passy, he has left us a striking illustration in the memoranda of a single day, December 18, 1778. This is the record:
"A man came to tell me he had invented a machine which would go of itself, without the help of a spring, weight, air, water, or any of the elements, or the labor of man or beast, and with force sufficient to work four machines for cutting tobacco; that he had experienced it; would show it me if I would come to his house, and would sell the secret of it for two hundred louis. I doubted it, but promised to go to him in order to see it.
"A Monsieur Coder came with a proposition in writing to levy six hundred men, to be employed in landing on the coast of England and Scotland, to burn and ransom towns and villages, in order to put a stop to the English proceedings in that way in America. I thanked him, and told him I could not approve it, nor had I any money at command for such purposes; moreover, that it would not be permitted by the government here.
"A man came with a request that I would patronize and recommend to government an invention he had, whereby a hussar might so conceal his arms and habiliments, with provision for twenty-four hours, as to appear a common traveler; by which means a considerable body might be admitted into a town, one at a time, unsuspected, and, afterwards assembling, surprise it. I told him I was not a military man, of course no judge of such matters, and advised him to apply to the Bureau de la Guerre. He said he had no friends, and so could procure no attention. The number of wild schemes proposed to me is so great, and they have heretofore taken so much of my time, that I begin to reject all, though possibly some of them may be worthy notice.
"Received a parcel from an unknown philosopher, who submits to my consideration a memoir on the subject of elementary fire, containing experiments in a dark chamber. It seems to be well written, and is in English, with a little tincture of French idiom. I wish to see the experiments, without which I cannot well judge of it."
This "unknown philosopher," upon inquiry, proved to be Jean Paul Marat, who was destined to play so memorable a part in the French Revolution, and to receive his death at the hands of Charlotte Corday. Marat had recently returned from England, where he had earned a scanty living by teaching French; and was then trying to live in Paris by his pen and by his experiments. Failing in this, he sold medicines in the streets. The Revolution found him in the employment of a veterinary surgeon.
Dr. Franklin's explanations, given both to Arthur Lee and Ralph Izard, were not satisfactory to the Carolinian. He laid his silly complaints before Congress, in a long and minute dispatch, in which he accused Dr. Franklin of "effrontery," of "chicanery," and of sacrificing the interests of the country to the interests of one section of it. "His abilities," wrote Izard, "are great, and his reputation high. Removed as he is at so considerable a distance from the observation of his constituents, if he is not guided by principles of virtue and honor, those abilities and that reputation may produce the most mischievous effects. In my conscience, I declare to you, that I believe him under no such restraint, and God knows that I speak the real, unprejudiced sentiments of my heart."
In May, 1778, another character appeared upon the scene, Mr. John Adams; the most undiplomatic of men, and of all honest men, the least able to endure a superior. Mr. Bancroft has sketched his character with truth, charity, and elegance; and his own diary portrays him to the life, as an honest, valiant, patriotic, fussy, vain, blundering Yankee John Bull. "He was humane," says Mr. Bancroft, "and frank, generous, and clement; yet he wanted that spirit of love which reconciles to being out-done. He could not look with complacency on those who excelled him, and regarded another's bearing away the palm as a wrong to himself; he never sat placidly under the shade of a greater reputation than his own." (1) The marble bust of Mr. Adams, which now stands over the platform, in Faneuil Hall, reveals plainly the same traits. The head is of a great size, but curiously short and low, like a line-of-battle ship razeed into a stocky gunboat; having still the strength of the original ship, though not its grace and swiftness. You say to yourself, as you look at this most interesting and truth-telling of all the revolutionary relics in Boston, "What a man had this been, if he could have been raised a story higher!" It is as though that vast, bald, polished crown of his pressed down upon the great volume of brain, and kept it from having free play. A great tuft of hair, on each side of the head, increases the effect of breadth and shortness. He only lacks a uniform to look the very picture of a bluff, hearty, irascible, brave old British Admiral, all of the olden time. A great sailor, indeed, he might have been; but never has there figured in courts a man with less of the diplomatist in him than John Adams. Yet such is the force of absolute, downright, incorruptible honesty, that his court life, though it often excites our mirth, never provokes contempt.
We are, also, to bear in mind, that Mr. Adams, in crossing the ocean at this time, left a country in which he was a great man, perhaps the foremost civilian of all the nation, and came to a country in which he was very nearly unknown, and where he must be, till he could acquire the language and manners of the people, completely insignificant. He felt the change, and had the weakness to attribute it to the machinations of a faction. He records in his diary, that, on his arrival at Bordeaux, the question arose among the friends of America, whether or not he was the famous Adams: "Le fameux Adams! Ah, le fameux Adams!" Portions of Paine's "Common Sense," it appears, had been published in France, and attributed to the "celebrated Adams." All that he could say would not convince the people of Bordeaux that he was not this distinguished person. "'C'est un homme celebre! Votre nom est bien connu ici!' My answer was, it is another gentleman whose name of Adams you have heard; it is Mr. Samuel Adams, who was exempted from pardon by General Gage's proclamation. 'Oh non, Monsieur, c'est votre modestie.' But when I arrived at Paris, I found a very different style. I found great pains taken, much more than the question was worth, to settle the point that I was not the famous Adams …. I soon found, too, that it was effectually settled in the English newspapers that I was not the famous Adams …. I behaved with as much prudence and civility and industry as I could; but still it was a settled point at Paris, and in the English newspapers, that I was not the famous Adams; and, therefore, the consequence was settled, absolutely and unalterably, that I was a man of whom nobody had ever heard before — a perfect cipher, a man who did not understand one word of French, awkward in his figure, awkward in his dress; no abilities; a perfect bigot and fanatic." (2)
What a wild exaggerater is human vanity! I have found the very paragraph of the London Morning Post, which evidently gave rise to all this misconception. It occurs in the course of a long tory letter from Paris, in which all the American envoys, in due order, are severely satirized and execrated — Dr. Franklin most severely of all. Here is the passage relating to the new comer: "John Adams, the now third Commissioner at Paris, was appointed to succeed the recalled Mr. D—e. His proscribed relation and namesake, who is still the political ruler of Congress, obtained for him this appointment, to which trust he had neither property for abilities enough to recommend him; but his being the most flaming, violent patriot of all his Bostonian friends, made up for all other deficiencies. He is a mere cipher at Paris as yet; does not understand a word of French, is disgusted with the volatile spirits of the Parisians, extremely awkward in his manners, warm in his passions, uncouth in his dress and figure, and a truly fanatic bigot. He was bred to the law, and has no other character at home than that of a cunning, hard-headed attorney." (3)
Upon such a trifling basis as this, a man of susceptible vanity will erect a formidable superstructure of vague accusation and complaint. In this trait of his character, John Adams was but another Arthur Lee. In the whole world there could not another honest man have been found so fitted by nature, so prepared by circumstances, to sympathize with Lee in his mean jealousies and mad suspicion.
At remote Bordeaux, hundreds of miles from Paris, he already began to hear of the enmities that raged in the American embassy at Paris. He was informed that "the animosity was very rancorous, and had divided all the Americans and all the French people connected with Americans or American affairs, into parties very bitter against each other." Lee, Izard, and Bancroft, he had never seen, though he had sat with two brothers of Arthur Lee in Congress. With Dr. Franklin he was well acquainted, and Jonathan Williams had studied law under him at Boston. "I determined," he says, "to be cautious and impartial; knowing, however, very well the difficulty and the danger of acting an honest and upright part in all such situations."
A week later he met Dr. Franklin at Passy, who greeted the stranger with an invitation to dinner from the greatest man in France, M. Turgot; and, after dinner, Mr. Adams went home with Dr. Franklin, and supped with him "on cheese and beer." It was soon arranged between them, that Mr. Adams should occupy the apartments at Passy vacated by Mr. Deane.
"The first moment," says Mr. Adams, "Dr. Franklin and I happened to be alone, he began to complain to me of the coolness, as he very coolly called it, between the American ministers. He said there had been disputes between Mr. Deane and Lee; that Mr. Lee was a man of an anxious, uneasy temper, which made it disagreeable to do business with him; that he seemed to be one of those men, of whom he had known many in his day, who went on through life quarreling with one person or another, till they commonly ended with the loss of their reason. He said Mr. Izard was there too, and joined in close friendship with Mr. Lee; that Mr. Izard was a man of violent and ungoverned passions; that each of these had a number of Americans about him, who were always exciting disputes, and propagating stories that made the service very disagreeable; that Mr. Izard, instead of going to Italy, and having nothing else to do, spent his time in consultations with Mr. Lee, and in interfering with the business of the commission to this court."
This exactly true and very charitable statement of the case, Mr. Adams heard, as he tells us, "with inward grief and external patience and composure;" and assured Dr. Franklin that he deplored the "misunderstanding," and should think only of harmonizing and composing it.
From the first hour of his arrival in Paris, he had been constantly associating with Arthur Lee; but Mr. Lee was politic enough to be extremely "reserved" upon the subject of the quarrel. Mr. Adams, however, was not left to wonder at his silence. "I was informed by others," he tells us, "that Mr. Lee had said he would be silent on this subject, and leave me to learn by experience the state and course of the public business, and judge for myself whether it had been or was likely to be done right or wrong." Mr. Izard, however, had no reserve. His hatred of Dr. Franklin had become a fanaticism, and he gave Mr. Adams such a tale as "shocked him beyond measure;" a tale compounded of Lee's malign imaginings and his own savage resentments. It is but too evident that John Adams believed the substance of Izard's story. He speaks of Izard as a man of violent passions, but as one who had "a fund of honor, integrity, candor and benevolence in his character, which must render him eternally estimable in the sight of all moral and social beings. "I do not think that Mr. Adams, after this conversation with Ralph Izard, ever heartily believed in Franklin. He endeavored to act fairly towards him as towards all men; he could not but be amused by his wit, and moved by his benevolence; he could never quite resist the genial magic of his presence; he had some pride in his discoveries and his celebrity; but this horrible tale coined in Lee's evil heart, and thundered from Izard's infuriate tongue, poisoned his mind against the man with whom he ought, at once, to have made common cause against those shallow maligners. And though, at first, he was gratified by the attentions shown him at Paris, soon, as we have already seen, he began to imagine that some one, or some party, was interested in keeping Europe advised , after all, he was not the famous Adams.
The first important official act done by Mr. Adams in France was to join Arthur Lee in expelling Jonathan Williams from the naval agency at Nantes, to which Franklin and Deane had appointed him. William Lee had, at length, offered to give the commercial agency to Mr. Williams on condition of receiving one-half its profits. Dr. Franklin advised his nephew not to accept the post, and himself notified William Lee (March 6th, 1778) that he would have no hand either in appointing his nephew to the commercial agency, or in approving it, "not being desirous of his being in any way concerned in that business." (4) Consequently, Mr. Lee gave the appointment to Mr. Schweighauser, a respectable merchant of Nantes. There was immediate collision between the commercial agent and the naval agent. Arthur Lee demanded that the drafts of Mr. Williams should be dishonored, he having no authority to draw upon the funds of the envoys. He also thought it monstrous that Mr. Williams should ever have been permitted to draw directly upon the banker of the embassy. Franklin replied: "The reason of permitting him to draw on our banker instead of ourselves, was, as I understand it, to mask more effectually our building and equipping vessels of force. If, in a single instance, he is known or suspected to have abused this confidence placed in him, I am ready to join with you in putting a stop to his proceedings by ordering his bills to be protested. If not, I think the public service requires that he should complete his orders, which, as far as I have ever heard, he has hitherto executed with great care, fidelity, and ability."
Thus the affair stood on the day of Mr. Adams's arrival in Paris. Within four days after, Mr. Adams concurred in ordering Mr. Williams to close his accounts as soon as possible and to enter into no new ones; in short, dismissed him from the naval agency. Dr. Franklin finding them resolved, disappointed Arthur Lee and astonished Mr. Adams by quietly signing the order. I have not space to dwell upon this transaction, but, if it were necessary, I think it could be demonstrated, that the preference of Mr. Schweighauser to Mr. Williams was neither just nor wise, nor required either by the letter or the spirit of the orders of Congress. Mr. Adams, moreover, agreed to draft and sign the dismissal of Mr. Williams before it was possible for him to have been fully informed upon the points in dispute. He seemed to throw himself into the arms of Arthur Lee at the very first opportunity. Mr. Schweighauser acknowledged the substantial compliment paid him by receiving into his counting-room a nephew of the Lees, whom they had attempted to get into the military school at Paris, but could not, because the young gentleman was not a Catholic. (5)
Mr. Adams, with all his impetuosity, was a man of method; and, like the genuine Yankee that he was, was seldom happy or satisfied unless hard at work. Franklin, a somewhat disorderly man of genius, old, fond of society, very willing to serve his county by dining out six days in the week, and able to see that that was serving his country, did not keep the papers and books of the embassy in the perfect order to which the Boston lawyer was accustomed. We have seen in an early chapter, that when Franklin was striving after moral perfection, he found no part of his scheme so difficult as that which related to Order. There is not a more exquisite page in his Autobiography than that in which he relates his failure to acquire orderly habits.
"I made so little progress in amendment, and had such frequent relapses, that I was almost ready to give up the attempt, and content myself with a faulty character in that respect. Like the man, who, in buying an axe of a smith, my neighbor, desired to have the whole of its surface as bright as the edge. The smith consented to grind it bright for him, if he would turn the wheel; he turned, while the smith pressed the broad face of the axe hard and heavily on the stone, which made the turning of it very fatiguing. The man came every now and then from the wheel to see how the work went on; and at length would take his axe as it was, without further grinding. 'No,' said the smith, 'turn on, turn on, we shall have it bright by and by; as yet it is only speckled.' 'Yes,' said the man, 'but I think I like a speckled axe best.” And I believe this may have been the case with many, who, having for want of some such means as I employed, found the difficulty of obtaining good and breaking bad habits in other points of vice and virtue, have given up the struggle, and concluded that 'a speckled axe is best.' For something, that pretended to be reason, was every now and then suggesting to me, that such extreme nicety as I exacted of myself might be a kind of foppery in morals, which, if it were known, would make me ridiculous; that a perfect character might be attended with the inconvenience of being envied and hated; and that a benevolent man should allow a few faults in himself, to keep his friends in countenance. In truth, I found myself incorrigible with respect to Order; and now I am grown old, and my memory bad, I feel very sensibly the want of it."
Red tape has been much spoken against in late years; it is in bad odor everywhere. It is, nevertheless, one of the minor essentials of public business, and a perfect minister must have a few yards of it in his composition.
Mr. Adams objected to the disarrangement of the papers, and very properly addressed himself to the task of putting the embassy in order. He procured letter books and pigeon-holes, and performed a great deal of useful, and, perhaps, some superfluous labor, in arranging and rectifying the affairs of the office. In a word, he put the office into red tape. I suppose he attempted at the embassy what he did on board the frigate crossing the ocean. In his sea Diary he wrote: "I am constantly giving the captain hints concerning order, economy, and regularity, and he seems to be sensible of the necessity of them, and exerts himself to introduce them. He has cleared out the 'tween decks, ordered up the hammocks to be aired, and ordered up the sick, such as could bear it, upon deck for sweet air. … This was in pursuance of the advice I gave him in the morning: 'If you intend to have any reputation for economy, discipline, or any thing that is good, look to your cockpit.'" An amusingly characteristic passage. He had never been out of sight of land before in his life.
Accustomed to the plain, frugal ways of New England, he appears to have been a little uncomfortable amid the grandeurs and elegancies of the Hotel de Valentinois; and his discomfort was only increased when he learned, that M. de Chaumont had only lent a part of the house to Dr. Franklin, merely stipulating that when the war was over, Congress might, if it pleased, grant him a tract of land in America; not as rent or compensation, but only as an honorary souvenir — that he might be able to boast of owning a portion of the soil which he had assisted to deliver. Mr. Adams did not like such an arrangement; it was not business-like. Accordingly, he wrote a very polite letter on the subject to M. de Chaumont, requesting him to name the rent of that part of the hotel occupied by Dr. Franklin and himself. He thanked him for his constant politeness and generosity to the Americans in Paris; "yet," he added, "it is not reasonable that the United States should be under so great an obligation to a private gentleman as that two of their representatives should occupy, for so long a time, so elegant a seat, with so much furniture and so fine accommodations, without any compensation; and in order to avoid the danger of the disapprobation of our constituents, on the one hand, for living at too great or too uncertain an expense, and, on the other, the censure of the world for not making sufficient compendium to a gentleman who has done so much for our convenience, it seems necessary that we should come to an eclâircissement upon this head."
Now, M. de Chaumont was a most ardent Franklinite, and he evidently regarded this letter as a measure of the Lee party, and replied accordingly. "When," said he, "I consecrated my house to Dr. Franklin and his associates who might live with him, I made it fully understood that I should expect no compensation, because I perceived that you had need of all your means to send to the succor of your country, or to relieve the distresses of your countrymen escaping from the chains of their enemies. I pray you, sir, to permit this arrangement to remain, which I made when the fate of your country was doubtful. When she shall enjoy all her splendor, such sacrifices on my part will be superfluous or unworthy of her, but, at present, they may be useful, and I am most happy in offering them to you. There is no occasion for strangers to be informed of my proceeding in this respect. It is so much the worse for those who would not do the same if they had the opportunity, and so much the better for me to have immortalized my house by receiving into it Dr. Franklin and his associates." (6)
"Dr. Franklin and his associates!" Always Dr. Franklin! How tired certain persons must have been of hearing Aristides called the Just!
It is curious to observe that, with all this contention and jealousy, the envoys long contrived to remain on terms of outward civility. As late as the third of May, 1778, Dr. Franklin still occasionally invited Mr. Izard, Mrs. Izard, and Arthur Lee to his Sunday dinners, which were usually attended by a large circle of Americans and the young gentlemen at school, as well as by such stanch friends of America as Dr. Dubourg and M. de Chaumont. At Dr. Dubourg’s residence, too, they all met, now and then; much to the satisfaction of Mr. Adams, who thought Dr. Dubourg's house one of the most agreeable in Paris, and his pictures chosen with true taste. During this summer, however, Dr. Franklin, placable as he was, ceased to invite Mr. Izard. The fourth of July approached, and the two envoys who lived at Passy resolved to celebrate the day by a grand banquet, to which should be invited the leading Americans and friends of America. Mr. Adams tells us that, knowing Dr. Franklin would not invite Mr. Izard and his adherents, he sent the invitation in his own name; an expedient to which Franklin consented. He was resolved, he says, to "bring them all together, and compel them, if possible, to forget their animosities." The day, he adds, "passed joyously enough, and no ill humor appeared from any quarter." "Afterwards Mr. Izard said to me, that he thought we should have had some of the gentlemen of France; he would not allow those we had" (i. e., the wits, the philosophers, the republicans) " to be the gentlemen of the country. They were not ministers of State, nor embassadors, nor princes, nor dukes, nor peers, nor marquises, nor cardinals, nor bishops. But neither our furniture nor our finances would have borne us out in such an ostentation. We should have made a most ridiculous figure in the eyes of such company."
Mr. Adams's diary affords us three glimpses of Franklin in his social moments; when, during the hours of business, he paused to interject an anecdote or a remark. This is one: "Franklin told us one of his characteristic stories. A Spanish writer of certain visions of hell relates, that a certain devil, who was civil and well-bred, showed him all the apartments of the place, among others, that of deceased kings. The Spaniard was much pleased at so illustrious a sight, and, after viewing them for some time, said he should be glad to see the rest of them. 'The rest!' said the demon; 'here are all the kings that ever reigned upon earth, from the creation of it to this day. What the devil would the man have?' Another: A certain tailor once stole a horse, and was found out, and committed to prison, where he met another person who had long followed the trade of horse-stealing. The tailor told the other his story. The other inquired why he had not taken such a road, and assumed such a disguise, and why he had not disguised the horse. 'I did not think of it.' 'Who are you, and what has been your employment?' 'A tailor.' 'You never stole a horse before, I suppose, in your life?' Never.' 'G—d—you! what business had you with horse-stealing? Why did you not content yourself with your cabbage?'" Another and a better — one of the best things ever said by man:
"Orthodoxy is my doxy, and Heterodoxy is your doxy."
Mr. Adams's benevolent efforts on the fourth of July were not rewarded with the success he had hoped for; Arthur Lee and his fiery friend from South Carolina were not mollified in the least. Lee, indeed, now laid aside all moderation and decency in his denunciations of Dr. Franklin. Nevertheless, when Mr. Deane's appeal to the public reached France, Mr. Adams made haste to write to the Count de Vergennes, defending Lee and denouncing Deane, ludicrously exaggerating the importance of the affair. He told Dr. Franklin that Deane's publication was "one of the most wicked and abominable productions that ever sprang from a human heart." In fact, it was nothing more than a moderate and ill-timed exposure of Arthur Lee, who was one of the most impracticable and incompetent men that ever, in any age or country, held a public station.
But relief was at hand. On one point, and only on one, the five envoys were agreed; and that was in recommending Congress to appoint a single plenipotentiary to each court. Franklin, Adams, Izard, and both Lees, all wrote letters to this effect, each, perhaps, cherishing some expectation of being the happy man whom Congress would appoint sole plenipotentiary to the court of France. Congress acted upon their unanimous recommendation, revoked the joint commission of Franklin, Lee, and Adams, and elected Dr. Franklin sole plenipotentiary. In February, 1779, General Lafayette returning to France on leave of absence, brought the new commission and the new instructions. This measure threw Mr. Adams out of employment, while Arthur Lee still retained his place as envoy to Spain. Mr. Adams submitted with excellent grace, and prepared forthwith to return to America. "This masterly measure of Congress," he wrote to the Count de Vergennes in his letter of leave, "which has my most hearty approbation, and of the necessity of which I was fully convinced before I had been two months in Europe, has taken away the possibility of those dissensions which I so much apprehended." Not so. Dr. Franklin wrote a note to Mr. Arthur Lee, a day or two after that sentence was written, asking him to send to Passy "the public papers in your hands belonging to this department." Mr. Lee replied that he had "no papers belonging to the department of minister plenipotentiary to the court of Versailles." All the public papers in his possession, he said, belonged to the late joint commission, which no single commissioner had a right to demand or hold, and he would not give them up. Mr. Adams returned the papers in his possession without being asked.
Every true friend to America in Paris rejoiced in this triumph of Franklin over his mean, insidious foes. The French court and ministry were especially gratified. M. Gerard was ordered to say to Congress that "the King and ministry were extremely pleased with the exclusive appointment of so steady and honest a man, and so firm and solid a patriot as Dr. Franklin." M. Gerard observed, in explanation of this order, that "the personal character of Dr. Franklin will enable the Court to act with a frankness becoming the alliance, and they will have no occasion to withhold any more the secrets which may interest the United States and the alliance." A fit of the gout prevented Dr. Franklin from immediately appearing at court; but, in April, as soon as he could hobble, he went to Versailles, and was presented to the King with all the forms, and with unusual eclat. Art has portrayed or imagined the scene — as our picture-shop windows daily attest. The leading incident of the picture, a lady of the Court placing a wreath upon Franklin's head, has, at least, the authority of Madame Campan.
The appointment of Dr. Franklin as plenipotentiary caused a flutter in the circle of diplomatists at Paris. Shall we return his official visit — we whose courts have not acknowledged the independence of the United States? The agreement was general not to do so. Dr, Franklin, "by good luck," as he says, heard of this resolution, and "disappointed their project by visiting none of them."
General Lafayette, besides Dr. Franklin's new commission and instructions, brought over a curious resolution of Congress, enjoining their servants in Europe to live together in harmony. Dr. Franklin sent a copy of this resolution to each of the gentlemen concerned, and assured them that he concurred most heartily with the desire of Congress, and should do all in his power to comply with it. They all replied in a similar strain; each protesting himself the most peaceful of all possible men. Nevertheless, Dr. Franklin, before he could be rid of them, was destined to have a quarrel with each of the three, so intense and bitter as almost to obliterate the recollection of the disputes which had preceded it.
And, first, with Ralph Izard. This individual, as we have before mentioned, was a man of large fortune. He had now held the appointment of envoy to Tuscany for fifteen months, during which period he had lived in Paris in the style supposed to be becoming a plenipotentiary, and had not performed one act calculated to be of the slightest benefit to his country. The Grand Duke of Tuscany had not acknowledged the independence of the United States, would not receive their embassador, and could have done nothing for them if he had. The appointment held by Mr. Izard, necessarily useless, became absurd when the politics of Europe were better understood. He clung to it, however, and even charged Congress with the education of his children at Paris schools. Already, Dr. Franklin and his colleagues had advanced to him and William Lee two thousand pounds each. This he did soon after the arrival of their commissions in 1777, and for reasons which he himself explains: "These gentlemen having represented to us that no provision had arrived for their subsistence, and that they were nearly ready to set out for their respective destinations, but wanted money to defray the expense of their journeys; for which they therefore requested us to furnish them with a credit on our banker; — the commissioners, fearing that the public interests might possibly suffer if those journeys were delayed till the necessary provision or orders should arrive from America, thought they might be justified in giving such a credit, for the expense of those journeys; and Mr. Lee, being asked what sum he imagined would be necessary, said, justly, that the expense of his journey could not be exactly ascertained beforehand; but, if he were empowered to draw on our banker, he should certainly only take, from time to time, what was absolutely necessary, and therefore it was of little importance for what sum the credit should be ordered; it would, however, look handsome and confidential, if the sum were two thousand louis. We thereupon, confiding that no more of this money would be taken out of our disposition than the expenses of the journeys as they should accrue, did frankly but unwarily give the orders. Mr. Deane and myself were, however, soon surprised with the intelligence, that the gentlemen had gone directly to the banker, and by virtue of these orders had taken out of our account the whole sum mentioned and carried it to their own; leaving the money indeed in his hands, but requiring his receipt for it as their money, for which he was to be accountable to them only."
Ten months after, Mr. Izard applied to Messrs. Franklin, Lee, and Adams for five hundred guineas more. Dr. Franklin drafted a reply, revealing the financial condition of the United States, showing him that the credit of Congress in Europe was in imminent, daily peril, through the enormous and unexpected drafts from America. "It is not a year," wrote Franklin, "since you received from us the sum of two thousand guineas, which you thought necessary on account of your being to set out immediately for Florence. You have not incurred the expense of that journey. You are a gentleman of fortune. You did not come to France with any dependence on being maintained here with your family at the expense of the United States in the time of their distress, and without rendering them the equivalent service they expected. On all these considerations we should rather hope, that you would be willing to reimburse us the sum we have advanced to you, if it may be done with any possible convenience to your affairs. Such a supply would at least enable us to relieve more liberally our unfortunate countrymen, who have long been prisoners, stripped of every thing, of whom we daily expect to have near three hundred upon our hands by the exchange."
This letter, Mr. Adams and Mr. Arthur Lee declined to sign, and it was not sent. Upon Izard's drawing for the money, Dr. Franklin refused to accept his bill. It was accepted, however, by Messrs. Adams and Lee, and Izard obtained the five hundred guineas. This occurred in January, 1779. In May, Dr. Franklin being sole plenipotentiary, and the financial peril not less threatening than before, Izard and William Lee both applied for more money for their subsistence. Dr. Franklin positively declined to furnish it. "They produced to me," wrote Franklin, "a resolve of Congress empowering them to draw on the Commissioners in France for their expenses at foreign courts; and doubtless Congress, when that resolve was made, intended to enable us to pay those drafts; but, as that has not been done, and the gentlemen (except Mr. Lee for a few weeks) have not incurred any expense at foreign courts, and, if they had, the five thousand five hundred guineas, received by them in about nine months, seemed an ample provision for it, and as both of them might command money from England, I do not conceive that I disobeyed an order of Congress, and that, if I did, the circumstances will excuse it; and I could have no intention to distress them, because I must know it is out of my power, as their private fortunes and credit will enable them at all times to pay their own expenses."
Dr. Franklin had, also, the pleasure, in the course of the year, of refusing to supply Arthur Lee with money for a journey to Spain; which journey he knew would be useless. And, again, when William Lee desired the aid of Dr. Franklin in procuring official interviews with the Count de Vergennes for purposes of transparent inutility, Dr. Franklin refused either to accompany him to Versailles on those idle errands, or to write to M. de Vergennes recommending Mr. Lee's proposals to the consideration of the government.
The wrath of the three worthies at these rebuffs, their letters, public and private, still attest. Arthur Lee went so far as to say, in a letter to a member of Congress, that Paul Jones's glorious expedition of this year, was "a cruising job of Chaumont and Dr. Franklin." Here is the passage: "There is nothing of which I am more persuaded than that Duane" (the well known, patriotic member of Congress from the State of New York) "is a secret, treacherous, and dangerous enemy to the United States. If Congress are satisfied, that, while from the feebleness of our marine the enemy's vessels of every description are plundering our commerce and our coast, one of our best frigates, the Alliance, should be kept upon a cruising job of Chaumont and Dr. Franklin, I shall be much surprised. I am sure that the latter would never have ventured to do so criminal an act, were he not resolved never to return to his country to give an account of his conduct, which, without some extraordinary conjuncture, or a total violation of justice, could not escape the severest condemnation." A paragraph from another Lee letter of this year: "So effectually have the seeds, sown by the father of corruption here, prospered both in Europe and America, that every thing yields to it. Dumas has been at Passy some weeks, but is not permitted to come near me. Sayre tells me, his object is to get the agency for a loan into the hands of a French house. If he offers good private reasons, it will embarrass the good Doctor exceedingly, because the house of Grand, in whose hands it is at present, is in partnership with Deane (in which probably the Doctor may share), and therefore it will wound those honorable and friendly feelings which bind them together. As to the public, that is out of the question." With equal malice, but less insanity, wrote William Lee and Ralph Izard.
It is worth noticing, before we finally dispose of Mr. Arthur Lee, that while he was so fierce a critic of other men, he himself was signally faulty and incompetent. It was he who was cheated in buying fusils at Berlin — as he himself confesses. It was his secretary who betrayed the secrets of the legation. It was he who had his papers stolen. It was he who caused repeated delays in the shipping of stores. He made himself abhorred by the government and people whom it was his first duty to conciliate. He sanctioned the indecent drafts of Izard and his brother upon the public treasury. He alone asked a personal favor of the French ministry. It was he who caused the long misery arising from the transactions of Beaumarchais, which lasted from 1777 until 1835. It was he who lent his influence to the expulsion from the naval agency of that efficient, prompt, economical Bostonian, Jonathan Williams, and the appointment of the highly respectable but very expensive Herr Schweighauser. He it was who recommended to public employment in London the Maryland merchant, Digges, who cheated the American prisoners in England of more than four hundred pounds of the money intrusted to him by the envoys for the prisoners' weekly allowance. Franklin has damned this wretch to eternal infamy in a familiar passage: "He that robs the rich even of a single guinea is a villain; but what is he who can break his sacred trust, by robbing a poor man and a prisoner of eighteen pence given in charity for his relief, and repeat that crime as often as there are weeks in a winter, and multiply it by robbing as many poor men every week as make up the number of near six hundred? We have no name in our language for such atrocious wickedness. If such a fellow is not damned, it is not worth while to keep a devil." This was a protégé of Arthur Lee. All men are liable to be deceived; but none are so liable as those who habitually and savagely denounce the conduct of others.
Congress soon discovered that the appointment of Franklin as sole plenipotentiary had not allayed the dissensions among their envoys in Europe; and again those dissensions were the theme of warm discussion. A committee of thirteen was appointed to consider the matter and report. Many propositions were considered by this committee. Some members were in favor of recalling all the envoys and sending out a new set. A powerful faction aimed at the recall of Dr. Franklin, and the election of Arthur Lee in his stead. There are reasons for believing that this project would actually have prevailed, but for the direct and energetic influence of the French Embassador. All accounts agree that the majority in the committee for sustaining Dr. Franklin was very small, probably it was for a time a majority of one. M. Gerard distinctly claims the honor of having defeated the Lees on this occasion. One of his letters to M. de Vergennes contains these sentences: “The stories of Mr. Arthur Lee are but an absurd tissue of falsehoods and sarcasms, which can only compromise those who have the misfortune of being obliged to have any correspondence with him. Permit me, Monseigneur, to congratulate myself at least on having relieved you of this burden." Another letter has the following: "I explained myself gradually, and not until the very instant when it was indispensable, to prevent this dangerous and bad man (Arthur Lee) from replacing Franklin, and being, at the same time, charged with the negotiations with Spain. I cannot conceal from you, Monseigneur, that I rejoice every day more and more in having been able to assist in preventing this misfortune." (7)
The struggle was long and severe; it lasted all the spring and part of the summer of 1779, until the country clamored for an end of the strife, that Congress might turn to the support of its failing credit. Truth, justice, and good policy prevailed at length; Dr. Franklin was confirmed in his post. Arthur Lee, William Lee, and Ralph Izard were recalled.
It is humiliating to think that such a creature as Arthur Lee could, for a single instant, have stood to Franklin in the light of a competitor. We are to consider, however, that Lee was personally unknown to Congress; that many of his letters, though transparently false to the well-informed, read plausibly enough to persons not familiar with the events and characters involved; that he and his two confederates possessed great family influence in the two leading States of the South; that for two years they had been assiduously employed in poisoning the mind of Congress against Franklin; that he had never deigned, until after the question was decided, to so much as allude to their efforts to undermine him; and that Congress, owing to the irregularity of the packets, had only such knowledge of their affairs in Europe as they could gather and infer from the few letters of their correspondents which escaped capture. In a letter of this very year Dr. Franklin mentions, that of four copies of his new commission, sent to him by as many different ships, he received only the one brought by the Marquis de Lafayette. Every man, moreover, of any force or individuality has enemies. Franklin, during the long contests in Pennsylvania, in which he had been the head and champion of the popular party against the wealth and rank of the province, had inflicted some wounds which time had not healed. Nay, time has not healed them; for there is to this hour a certain narrow, dismally respectable circle in Philadelphia, who cherish, besides sundry silver teapots, cracked punch-bowls, family pictures, ancient furniture, and other trumpery of the Past, an hereditary antipathy to Dr. Franklin, of which they are very proud.
His grandson, William Temple Franklin, did not escape the malevolence of the factions. Mrs. Bache informed her father that a cabal was plotting his removal. He assured her that he would resign if the youth were taken from him; and to Mr. Bache he wrote: "I am surprised to hear that my grandson, Temple Franklin, being with me, should be an objection against me, and that there is a cabal for removing him. Methinks, it is rather some merit that I have rescued a valuable young man from the danger of being a Tory, and fixed him in honest, republican Whig principles; as I think, from the integrity of his disposition, his industry, his early sagacity, and uncommon abilities for business, he may in time become of great service to his country. It is enough that I have lost my son; would they add my grandson? An old man of seventy, I undertook a winter voyage at the command of the Congress, and for the public service, with no other attendant to take care of me. I am continued here in a foreign country, where, if I am sick, his filial attention comforts me, and, if I die, I have a child to close my eyes and take care of my remains. His dutiful behavior towards me, and his diligence and fidelity in business, are both pleasing and useful to me. His conduct, as my private secretary, has been unexceptionable, and I am confident the Congress will never think of separating us."
It is well for us to know that Franklin suffered such things as these. Perhaps, every estimable man who has lived forty years in the World, has had his Arthur Lee. It is comforting to know that such disordered beings can only sting and perplex, not permanently injure, and that the greatest and wisest men are not exempt from their attacks. Franklin's own comments upon the enmity of Lee and Izard are amusing: "As to friends and enemies, I have hitherto, thanks to God, had plenty of the former kind; they have been my treasure; and it has perhaps been of no disadvantage to me, that I have had a few of the latter. They serve to put us upon correcting the faults we have, and avoiding those we are in danger of having. They counteract the mischief flattery might do us, and their malicious attacks make our friends more zealous in serving us and promoting our interest. At present, I do not know of more than two such enemies that I enjoy, viz., Arthur Lee and Ralph Izard. I deserved the enmity of the latter, because I might have avoided it by paying him a compliment, which I neglected. (8) That of the former I owe to the people of France, who happened to respect me too much and him too little; which I could bear, and he could not. They are unhappy that they cannot make everybody hate me as much as they do; and I should be so, if my friends did not love me much more than those gentlemen can possibly love one another."
To the last hour of their stay in Europe, these two individuals were a plague and a shame to all honest men concerned with them. Paul Jones, covered with the glory of his late expedition, and deserves to return to America, Dr. Franklin had appointed to the command of the frigate Alliance, which had been so shockingly misgoverned, and then abandoned by Captain Landais. In this ship Franklin had, also, obtained passage for Lee and Izard. The crew of the Alliance refused to sail until large disputed arrears of pay and prize money were paid them. Lee and Izard openly supported them in this mutinous resolution. Many weeks were consumed in this dispute, though the Alliance was to convey stores to America, of which the army was in pressing need. Commodore Jones went to Paris, at length, to seek the advice and authority of Dr. Franklin; and, in his absence, Captain Landais reappeared, and assumed command of the ship. On the return of Jones, the ship being upon the point of sailing, the contest for the command was referred to Arthur Lee. Landais exhibited merely his original commission from Congress, appointing him to the command of the Alliance. Against his claim to the present control of the ship were the following considerations: 1. His conduct in the late expedition, which was attested by every officer of the Bon Homme Richard, in writing, and which misconduct was capital; 2. His public abandonment of the ship, and the removal therefrom of all his effects; 3. His written request to Dr. Franklin for money and a passage to America, to take his trial there before a court-martial; 4. Dr. Franklin's written and very emphatic refusal to restore him; 5. Franklin's order to Captain Jones, assigning him to the command; 6. Captain Jones's actual command of the ship for eight months; 7. The evident, notorious, undeniable unfitness of Landais for any post of trust and difficulty; 8. The pre-eminent ability and reputation of Captain Jones, and the gratitude due to him from every citizen of America. Need I say that Arthur Lee disregarded these considerations, and assigned the command of the Alliance to Captain Landais? Jones left the frigate, rather than sail under such a commander. News of these proceedings reaching Paris, Franklin annulled his order assigning a passage in the vessel to Arthur Lee; and the French government dispatched an order for the arrest of Captain Landais; but before the documents reached the coast, the Alliance had sailed.
The vessel had not been many days at sea before Landais gave such alarming evidences of flightiness and incompetency, that the passengers deposed him from the command, and the ship was taken into port by the first lieutenant. Beyond all question, Jones was right when he wrote to Mr. Robert Morris, that "Mr. Lee has acted in this manner merely because I would not become the enemy of the venerable, the wise, and good Franklin, whose heart and head does, and always will do, honor to human nature." The honest sailor added: "I know the great and good in this kingdom better, perhaps, than any other American who has appeared in Europe since the treaty of alliance; and if my testimony would add any thing to Franklin's reputation, I could witness the universal veneration and esteem with which his name inspires all ranks, not only at Versailles, and all over this kingdom, but also in Spain and in Holland; and I can add, from the testimony of the first characters of other nations, that envy itself is dumb when the name of Franklin is but mentioned."
On his arrival in America, Arthur Lee assured Gen. Wayne, on his honor as a gentleman, that Dr. Franklin was alone responsible for the delay of the supplies, which, he said, were wantonly and causelessly held back by Franklin for the space of four months. The plausible, lying villain, added: "Dr. Franklin and his agents have given no explanation of their conduct. Perhaps they may, and it is fit they should be heard. But while there is a tory party here strong enough to prevent Dr. Franklin from being called to answer for what is charged against him, I do not see how it can be expected but that the impunity of the past will encourage new and greater crimes against the public."
Izard, too, railed against Franklin on every occasion, and in all companies, "filling the country with jealousies." All the agents which Congress had in Europe, he would say, were corrupt, excepting only the Lees and himself; and the reason why Franklin procured their recall was, simply, because he found it inconvenient to have near him such honest and clear-sighted witnesses of his faithless conduct. Graydon records, that when this irascible Carolinian visited Carlisle (Pennsylvania), in 1783, his abhorrence of Franklin was still an active principle within him. "Izard's manner," reports Graydon, "though blunt, announced the style of the best company; and, though one of those who deliver their opinions with freedom and decision, he seemed untinctured with asperity upon every subject but one; but this never failed to produce some excitement, and his tone ever derived some animation from the name of Dr. Franklin. When, therefore, the Doctor's daughter, Mrs. Bache, in speaking of the Carolinians, said that she hated them all, from B. to Izard, the saying, I presume, must be taken inclusively; since, though I know nothing of the sentiments of Mr. Bee, I am enabled to pronounce those of Mr. Izard to have been anti-Franklinian in the extreme."
And now, I trust, we may leave these angry gentlemen to vent their fury at their leisure. It may fall to the lot of others to trace the effects of this quarrel upon the politics of the country, and to show whether or not John Adams ever could have been President of the United States, if in France he had not sided with the Lees against Franklin. But, for our part, we are not at liberty to turn to topics more congenial.
1. Bancroft's "History of the United States," viii., 309.
2. Works of John Adams, iii., 189.
3. "Morning Post," Jan. 12, 1779, in Upcott Collection, v., 173. N. Y. Hist. Society.
4. Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution, ii., 164.
5. I see by Franklin's later letters, that the change of agents proved to be a very costly one to Congress. Mr. Williams, on all the public business done by him, charged a uniform commission of two percent.; but several of the agents appointed by William Lee were far less reasonable. "For instance," wrote Dr. Franklin in May, 1779, "Mr. Schweighauser, in a late account, charges five percent. on the simple delivery of the tobaccos to the officer of the farmers-general in the port, and by that means makes the commission on the delivery of the two last cargoes amount to about six hundred and thirty pounds sterling. As there was no sale in the case, he has, in order to calculate the commission, valued the tobacco at ninety livres the hundred weight; whereas, it was, by our contract with the farmers, to be delivered at about forty livres. I got a friend, who was going upon change, to inquire among the merchants what was the custom in such cases of delivery. I send inclosed the result he has given me of his inquires. In consequence, I have refused to pay the commission of five percent. on this article, and I know not why it was, as is said, agreed with him at the time of his appointment, that he should have five percent. on his transactions, if the custom is only two percent., as by my information."
6. Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution, iv., 269.
7. "Beaumarchais and his Times," p. 320.
8. i. e., he might have paid Izard the compliment of consulting him during the negotiations of 1778, vol. ii., 17.
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