Return to The Tory Lover -- Contents . from The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin
by James Parton
Boston: James R. Osgood, 1864.
This selection from Parton's biography appears here as background for Sarah Orne Jewett's The Tory Lover (1901). Benjamin Franklin and some of his associates and contacts during his service in the first years of the American Revolution (1775-1777) appear or are mentioned in this historical novel. It is likely that Jewett drew in part upon this detailed popular biography from the publisher of her own works for some of her information about these people.
Franklin in Paris
Illustration from Volume 2.
Contents of this Selection
Volume II, Part 5
Chapter 3 - In Congress again
Chapter 4 - July, 1776
Chapter 5 - The conference with Lord Howe
Chapter 6 - A long letter arrives from France
Chapter 7 - How France came to help America
Chapter 8 - Silas Deane in Paris
Volume II, Part 6
Chapter 1 - Arrival of Dr. Franklin
Chapter 2 - Dr. Franklin at work
Chapter 3 - Beginning of the Arthur Lee mischief
Chapter 4 - The dark hour before dawn
Chapter 5 - The alliance with France
Chapter 6 - The treaties avowed and celebrated
Chapter 7 - English emissaries in Paris
Chapter 8 - Paul Jones
Chapter 9 - The fate of Silas Deane
Chapter 10 - Franklin sole plenipotentiary
In Congress Again.
DR. FRANKLIN returned from Perth Amboy to Philadelphia, and resumed his duties in Congress, a quorum of which assembled on the thirteenth of September. The city was all astir with war-like preparations. Twice a day the most zealous of the military companies drilled in the square. The saltpeter works were beginning to produce a little of that anxiously-sought commodity. Of six powder mills designed, two were nearly ready to go into operation; which, in the following spring, delivered twenty-five hundred pounds of powder a week. A manufactory of muskets as about to open, and turn out twenty-five muskets a day, with all the appendages complete. The fortifications upon the Delaware were advancing toward completion. Congress, the Committee of Safety, and numerous subordinate bodies, were in session every day. Arrests of suspected persons were frequent, and Sub-Committees of Safety boarded arriving vessels, to pick out treason from the letter-bags. Occasionally, there was tarring and feathering of tories; but oftener, the obnoxious person chose the alternative of mounting a cart, “publicly acknowledging his errors, and asking pardon of the crowd.” The ladies, of course, were scraping lint and preparing bandages, in compliance with the published request of the Committee of Safety: Mrs. Bache among the busiest. Exciting news from Boston every week: the enemy re-enforced; General Washington strangely inactive; New England still unanimous for resistance.
Again Dr. Franklin was chosen to serve on most of the working committees of Congress. He was a member who wrote little, spoke less, and worked always. We find him very busy this autumn at such employments as arranging a system of posts and expresses for the swift conveyance of dispatches; forming a line of packet vessels to sail between Europe and America; promoting the circulation of the Continental money, and drafting instructions for the generals in the field. H was still an active member of the Committee of Safety; and, as if these duties were not enough for an old man, he was elected in October a member of the Assembly of Pennsylvania. He was then a member of three bodies, each of which was in session daily, and upon each devolved duties which were novel, difficult, and absorbing.
Ill news from General Washington reached Congress a few days after the session opened. His extemporized army was falling to pieces; terms of enlistment were expiring, and most of the men were mad to get home; winter approaching, and no proper shelter for the troops; no winter clothing, no fuel, no money, small supply of provisions, scarcely any gunpowder; no adequate system of discipline, no provision made for raising new regiments, no well-defined limits to the authority of the governors of colonies; the entire system in need of revision and exact regulation. Glad, indeed, would the timid Dickinsonians have been to make no further hostile movement until news arrived of the effect upon a gracious king of that second petition which Richard Penn had carried to England. But General Washington’s dispatch, written from the midst of an agonizing chaos, could not be disregarded. On the last day of September Congress elected a committee of three: Benjamin Franklin, of Pennsylvania, Thomas Lynch, of South Carolina, and Benjamin Harrison, of Virginia, to go to Cambridge, and there confer with General Washington, and with delegates from the New England colonies, and arrange a plan for raising, supplying, and governing the Continental Army.
Before setting out upon this important mission Dr. Franklin resigned his seat in the Assembly, and asked to be excused from further attendance upon the Committee of Safety. “It would be a happiness to me,” he wrote, “if I could serve the public duly in all those stations; but, aged as I now am, I feel myself unequal to so much business, and on that account think it my duty to decline a part of it." The day before his departure for the camp he wrote to Dr. Priestley that humorous summing up of the grand result of the first campaign, the substance of which was a standing paragraph in the liberal newspapers during the early years of the war: "Britain, at the expense of three millions, has killed one hundred and fifty Yankees this campaign, which is twenty thousand pounds a head; and at Bunker's Hill she gained a mile of ground, half of which she lost again by our taking post on Ploughed Hill. During the same time sixty thousand children have been born in America. From these data Dr. Price's mathematical head will easily calculate the time and expense necessary to kill us all, and conquer our whole territory."
The commissioners left Philadelphia on the fourth of October, and reached Cambridge after a ride of thirteen days. Franklin trod once more his native soil, and saw, but only saw, the city in which he was born. Joyful, indeed, was the meeting with his sister, his nephews, nieces and old friends: of whom there were many near Cambridge. The army and its chiefs, the people and their leaders, welcomed, with peculiar respect, their venerable and illustrious countryman. A single sentence from a letter of General Greene flashes light upon an evening scene at head-quarters. Greene, too, had the blood of blacksmiths in his veins. He had been one of those book-devouring boys of New England, who eat their dinner in ten minutes in order to get the other fifty for reading; who secrete candle-ends for a midnight debauch upon Euclid; who hoard their pence to buy an old Latin dictionary, and their minutes, to study it; who play deep tricks to balk the paternal dunce who does not mean to be put out of countenance by a son knowing more than himself; who work their way to education against every conceivable adverse influence; and astonish their relations, who foretold ruin from such wasting of time, by becoming the great men of their families before they are thirty-five. General Greene had now the felicity of seeing the founder of that noble New England Order – the first and greatest of the candle-end stealers and furtive book-absorbents. The young enthusiast gazed with rapture upon his aged chief. "During the whole evening," he wrote, "I viewed that very great man with silent admiration." (1)
Mrs. John Adams now saw Dr. Franklin for the first time and recorded, but too briefly, her impressions: “I had the pleasure of dining with Dr. Franklin, and of admiring him, whose character from my infancy I had been taught to venerate. I found him social but not talkative; and, when he spoke, something useful dropped from his tongue. He was grave, yet pleasant and affable. You know I make some pretensions to physiognomy, and I thought I could read in his countenance the virtues of his heart, among which, patriotism shone in its full luster: and with that is blended every virtue of a Christian."
The Council met at head-quarters on the eighteenth of October, and sat four days, General Washington presiding. The conference was harmonious and successful, and the colonies, from that time, began to have a military system. It was agreed that a new army of twenty-six regiments should be raised; that officers should be immediately required to report whether they intended to retire at the end of the year, or not; that preparations should at once be made for recruiting. The articles of war were revised. Rules for the exchange of prisoners and for the disposal of sea prizes were drawn up. A plan was settled for the employment of the Indians. The wants of the army were ascertained, and arrangements planned for its supply. And, above all, General Washington and the New England delegates acquired an additional assurance that America adopted and would sustain the forces employed about Boston; and that the colonies most remote from the scene, charged themselves willingly with their share of the burden. The Council over, Dr. Franklin remained a few days longer in the camp, conversing continually with General Washington, and confirming that mutual regard begun, long ago, in the camp of General Braddock. The commissioners returned to Philadelphia, after an absence of about six weeks. The reader may be amused to learn, that the whole expense of the long journey of the three members and their three servants, was $581.90.
Dr. Franklin returned to Philadelphia in an altered mood. Bitterness was in his heart, and words of fury on his tongue. It was long before he could pen any more jokes upon the war. As he was about to leave camp, news had arrived of the wanton bombardment and burning of defenseless Falmouth (now Portland), by a British man-of-war. The church, the public buildings, the ships, and one hundred and thirty houses were consumed; the rest were half destroyed by shot and shell. On the edge of a Maine winter, which is polar in every thing but length, this dastardly deed was done; and done with every aggravation which the evil genius of the captain could devise. Marines landed to fire the buildings which the shells could not ignite, and the complete destruction of the vessels deprived the homeless people of occupation, and placed them a month further from effective succor. As this news spread over the continent, then it was that that abhorrence of England struck to the heart of America, which it required two entire generations to eradicate. A dark shade falls upon the letters of the period after the burning of Falmouth. “I could not join to day,” wrote Mrs. Adams, a few days after, "in the petitions of our worthy pastor for a reconciliation between our no longer parent, but tyrant state, and these colonies. Let us separate; they are not worthy to be our brethren. Let us renounce them, and instead of supplications, as formerly, for their prosperity and happiness, let us beseech the Almighty to blast their counsels, and bring to naught all their devices." These words, penned by the most gifted woman of the revolutionary period, expressed the heart of America in November 1775.
The news from England was worse and worse, after Franklin's return to Congress. Richard Penn and Arthur Lee conveyed the Dickinson petition to Lord Dartmouth, who returned the brief reply that no answer to it would be given. But an answer was given; for, two days after, appeared a royal Proclamation declaring the colonies to be in rebellion, and pledging all the power and resources of the kingdom for its suppression. Lord North's prohibitory bill soon followed, which legalized whatever warlike acts had been, or might be done against the colonies on land and sea.
Franklin, who was now prepared to go all lengths in opposition to the king, drew up a series of resolves, to shut up the British custom-houses, and open the ports of America to the commerce of all the world except Great Britain. These resolves concluded with this truly revolutionary paragraph:
"And whereas, whenever kings, instead of protecting the lives and properties of their subjects, as is their bounden duty, do endeavor to perpetrate the destruction of either, they thereby cease to be kings, become tyrants, and dissolve all ties of allegiance between themselves and their people we herby further solemnly declare, that, whenever it shall appear clearly to us, that the king’s troops and ships now in America, or hereafter to be brought there, do, by his Majesty’s orders, destroy any town or the inhabitants of any town or place in America, or that the savages have been by the same orders hired to assassinate our poor out-settlers and their families, we will from that time renounce all allegiance to Great Britain, so long as that kingdom shall submit to him, or any of his descendants, as its sovereign.”
Whether these resolutions were introduced or not is unknown; they were found among Franklin’s papers in his own hand-writing.
Another undated fragment in his hand-writing was, probably, elicited by the Prohibitory Bill. Mr. Dickinson, I trust, heard it read in the House; Mr. Adams would have enjoyed seeing him wince under it:
“WHEREAS, the British nation, through great corruption of manners and extreme dissipation and profusion, both private and public, have found all honest resources insufficient to supply their excessive luxury and prodigality, and thereby have been driven to the practice of every injustice which avarice could dictate or rapacity execute; And whereas, not satisfied with the immense plunder of the East, obtained by sacrificing millions of the human species, they have lately turned their eyes to the West, and grudging us the peaceable enjoyment of the fruits of our hard labor and virtuous industry, have for years past been endeavoring to extort the same from us, under color of laws regulating trade, and have thereby actually succeeded in draining us of large sums, to our great loss and detriment; And whereas, impatient to seize the whole, they have at length proceeded to open robbery, declaring by a solemn act of Parliament that all our estates are theirs, and all our property found upon the sea divisible among such of their armed plunderers as shall take the same; and have even dared in the same act to declare, that all the spoilings, thefts, burnings of houses and towns, and murders of innocent people, perpetrated by their wicked and inhuman corsairs on our coasts, previous to any war declared against us, were just actions, and shall be so deemed, contrary to several of the commandments of God (which by this act they presume to repeal), and to all the principles of right, and all the ideas of justice, entertained heretofore by every other nation, savage as well as civilized; thereby manifesting themselves to be hostes humani generis; And whereas it is not possible for the people of America to subsist under such continual ravage without making some reprisals; Therefore, RESOLVED" ?- no man will ever know what; for at this point the writer paused, and concluded to waste no more labor. Several persons this winter applied to Congress for letters of marque and reprisal; but “Congress could not feel bold enough" to grant them, wrote Joseph Reed to General Washington.
Franklin would no longer, even as a formality, acknowledge allegiance to the king. He had been elected, as we have seen, a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly, a body of which Mr. Dickinson was still the lord paramount. From of old, it had been required of members, on taking their seats, that they should promise allegiance to the king, and this odious preliminary Mr. Dickinson's majority refused to abolish. Dr. Franklin, consequently, would not take his seat in the House; and this was probably the true reason of his resigning his seat. Not the less, however, did the inconsistent Assembly re-elect him to Congress; he alone of their nine delegates being decided for Independence.
It now appeared that Pennsylvania was to be the battle-ground of Independence; since, not the insolent rejection of the petition, nor the king's insulting proclamation, nor the vindictive acts of Parliament, nor the burning of Falmouth, had produced a practicable breach in the dense prejudices of the Dickinsonians. In these circumstances, the liberal party fell back upon Franklin's old expedient, an appeal to the People through the printing press. Overwhelmed with a multiplicity of business, Dr. Franklin did not attempt the execution of the task himself. His protégé, Thomas Paine, was at hand to undertake it; a man who wrote in epigrams, and went to the root of a matter. The pamphlet which he now produced was an attack upon the prejudices, and a reply to the arguments of the proprietary party of Pennsylvania. It had little to say of the colonial grievances; that topic had been exhausted, and there was no difference of opinion upon it. Paine's object was to break the spell of the name of England, to destroy the preposterous veneration for the person and throne of the king, and expose the imperfections of the idolized British Constitution. Grievances or no grievances, the time had come, he maintained, when an island should cease the attempt to govern a continent. The best government was but a necessary evil, and monarchy was a very bad government by necessity. The absurdity and the evil of hereditary succession was the subject of one section of the pamphlet; in which he expressed what two-thirds of the colonists were prepared to accept. Now was the priceless moment to cut the tie which bound the young and vigorous communities of America to the cumbrous, trammeling, corrupt institutions of the past.
“Now is the seed-time of continental union, faith, and honor. The least fracture now will be like a name engraved with the point of a pin on the tender rind of a young oak: the wound will enlarge with the tree, and posterity read it in full-grown characters. By referring the matter from argument to arms, a new era for politics is struck, a new method of thinking hath arisen. All plans, proposals, prior to the nineteenth of April, i.e.,to the commencement of hostilities, are like the almanacks of the last year; which, though proper then, are superseded and useless now." England, he declared, was not the mother-country of America; not more than a third of the people even of Pennsylvania were of English lineage; the mother-country of America was EUROPE! “To be always running three or four thousand miles with a tale or a petition, waiting four or five months for an answer, which, when obtained, requires five or six more to explain it in, will in a few years be looked upon as folly and childishness -- there was a time when it was proper, and there is a proper time for it to cease."
Paine assailed with great effect the Dickinsonian idea that the connection with England was a source of security to the colonies: "Europe is too thickly planted with kingdoms to be long at peace, and whenever a war breaks out between England and any foreign power, the trade of America goes to ruin, because of her connection with Britain. The next war may not turn out like the last; and should it not, the advocates for reconciliation now, will be wishing for separation then, because neutrality in the case would be a safer convoy than a man of war. Every thing that is right or natural pleads for separation. The blood of the slain, the weeping voice of nature cries, IT IS TIME TO PART." There never was a better pamphlet. Nothing was omitted that could help the argument, and not a line was really superfluous, considering all the circumstances. It expressed with such simple exactness the opinions and wishes of the liberal party, that Dr. Rush, of Philadelphia, after he had read the still unnamed production, advised the author to entitle it COMMON SENSE. (2)
Every one knows what a startling success it had with the public; what editions were sold; what converts it made; what replies it provoked. The letters of the time contain numberless allusions to it, all tending to show that the staymaker's son had spoken the word which America had been longing to hear. After reading Common Sense (borrowing for the purpose eyes of 1776) we see why it was that General Washington cherished to the last a tender respect for Thomas Paine, and why President Jefferson thought it due to him to bring him back from France in a national ship. But for that short tract upon Miracles (Age of Reason) which he afterwards wrote to relieve the tedium of a French exile, the man would have been held in only honorable remembrance who had the genius to put into a pamphlet of thirty pages the quintessence of George Fox, Turgot, Adam Smith, Franklin, Jefferson, and Thomas Paine, and give the whole such compact and vivid expression as to thrill a continent, and quicken the march of events. It is not dull reading now, though it convinced us all years before we were born. America has absorbed and incorporated the doctrines of this pamphlet. At the present day it is like a battering-ram, which, having battered down the enemy's wall, still swings in the air, the victors no longer regarding the mighty engine which let them into conquest and to glory. (3)
The representatives of a people are more slowly convinced than the people themselves, and ought to be. The conservatives in Congress still shrank with terror from the brink of independence, and proposed to unite in a formal declaration that independence was not their aim. A resolution to this effect was carried by the aid of members from New England. At this unexpected and disheartening crisis, Samuel Adams sought consolation and counsel from Dr. Franklin. They were both of opinion that the colonies should be united in a confederacy without delay, even if some of them should refuse to concur. Mr. Adams went so far as to say, that, though none of the other colonies should join, he would endeavor to form the New England provinces into a confederacy. "I approve your proposal," said Franklin, “and if you succeed I will cast in my lot among you." Happily this extreme measure was not necessary. The leaven of Common Sense was working among the people; its effect quickened by the king's speeches to Parliament and by the progress of events at the seat of war. Mr. Dickinson's majority dwindled, and some of the Pennsylvania members of Congress began to waver. It was in January, 1776, that Samuel Adams proposed this desperate measure to Franklin; only six months before the Fourth of July.
A strange incident had occurred in November, 1775, which led to consequences of the utmost importance. A message was conveyed to Congress, that a foreign gentleman had arrived at Philadelphia, who desired to make to Congress a confidential communication. No notice being taken of the message, it was repeated several times. A committee was, at length, appointed, consisting of John Jay, Dr. Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, to meet the mysterious foreigner, and hear what he had to offer. At an appointed time the committee met in one of the rooms of Carpenters' Hall, where they found waiting for them a lame, elderly man of dignified military bearing, whose accent was that of a Frenchman, and who had the appearance of a retired French officer. He received the committee with the politeness of his profession; and they informed him that they were authorized to receive his communication. He then said that his most Christian majesty, THE KING OF FRANCE, had heard with pleasure of the exertions made by the American colonies in defense of their rights and privileges; that his majesty wished them success, and would, whenever it should become necessary, manifest more openly his friendly sentiments toward them. The committee desired to know his authority for giving them these assurances. He replied by drawing his hand across his throat, and saying, “Gentlemen, I shall take care of my head." The committee inquired what evidences of the friendship of the king Congress might expect. The stranger answered: "Gentlemen, if you want arms, you shall have them; if you want ammunition, you shall have it; if you want money, you shall have it." The committee remarked that these offers were, indeed, most important, but it was not less important that they should know by what authority they were made. Again the wary old gentleman [gentlemen] drew his hand across his throat, and said, “Gentlemen, I shall take care of my head.” No other answer could be got from him. The conference ended, the stranger retired, and was seen in Philadelphia no more. (4)
The manner and aspect of the man went far toward convincing the committee that he really was an emissary from the French government, and the general expectation of such offers from France strengthened the impression. Among the leaders of the revolutionary movement, it had been some time a familiar opinion, that the allied governments of France and Spain would not fail to embrace the coming opportunity of undoing some of the work of the Seven Years' War, and weakening the Power which they supposed to be their "natural enemy." Mr. Wirt relates that Patrick Henry, in 1774, being asked whether he thought an infant nation like America could wage a successful war against the fleets and armies of Great Britain, made this reply: "I doubt whether we shall be able, alone, to cope with so powerful a nation. But (rising from his chair with great animation) where is France? Where is Spain? Where is Holland? -- the natural enemies of Great Britain. Do you suppose they will stand by idle and indifferent spectators to the contest? Will Louis XVI. be asleep all this time? Believe me, No. When Louis XVI. shall be satisfied of our serious opposition, and by our Declaration of Independence, that all prospect of a reconciliation is gone, then, and not till then, will he furnish us with arms, ammunition, and clothing; and not with these only, but he will send his fleets and armies to fight our battles for us; he will form with us a treaty, offensive and defensive, against our unnatural mother. Spain and Holland will join the confederation. Our independence will be established, and we shall take our stand among the nations of the earth!" (5) This prophecy was, perhaps, improved after the war by mingling a little history with it; nevertheless, it was like Patrick Henry to have performed a flight of that kind, in a group of admiring friends.
Upon hearing the report of the committee, Congress acted with its usual caution. A motion to send envoys to France was made and lost. On the twenty-ninth of November a committee was appointed "to correspond secretly with friends in Great Britain, Ireland, and other parts of the world." The committee consisted of five members, Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Harrison, John Dickinson, Thomas Johnson, and John Jay. They were empowered to take confidential agents into their pay in foreign countries, and to send agents abroad. To Dr. Franklin, from his extensive acquaintance with Europe and its diplomacy, fell the greater part of the first labors of this committee; and he entered upon those labors, without delay.
During one of his visits to Holland, he had become acquainted with Professor Charles W. F. Dumas, a native of Switzerland, who had long resided at the Hague, and much frequented the circle of diplomatists who dawdled away existence at that sedate capital.
Mr. Dumas, who had made international law his specialty, recalled himself very acceptably to Dr. Franklin in the autumn of 1775, by sending him copies of Vatel, edited and annotated by himself; a most timely gift, which was pounced upon by studious members of Congress, groping their way without the light of precedents. To him Dr. Franklin addressed the first letter authorized by the Committee of Secret Correspondence. Mr. Dumas was requested to sound the embassadors residing at the Hague, and ascertain if any of the powers were inclined to assist the colonies, or form an alliance with them. "We only recommend to your discretion," wrote Franklin, "that you proceed therein with such caution, as to keep the same from the knowledge of the English embassador, and prevent any public appearance, at present, of your being employed in any such business.” Mr. Dumas was desired to suggest confidentially to merchants that arms, gunpowder, and saltpeter were in active demand in the colonies, and brought very high prices. He was requested also to send to America two engineer officers competent to direct sieges, construct forts and field-works, and command artillery. Finally, Mr. Dumas was to be the channel through which the European friends and agents of America were to correspond with the Secret Committee. To compensate Mr. Dumas, who was not a man of fortune, for his services, the committee enclosed him a draft for one hundred pounds sterling, and gave him an assurance that his labors in behalf of America would be "considered and honorably rewarded by Congress." Mr. Dumas accepted the appointment, and served Congress with zeal and ability to the end of the war. "I shall die content," he wrote in his first letter, "if the remainder of my life can be devoted to the service of so glorious and just a cause."
A letter of similar purport was sent to Mr. Arthur Lee in London: "It would be agreeable to Congress to know the disposition of foreign powers towards us," and, "we remit you for the present two hundred pounds.”
By the same ship Dr. Franklin wrote to a Spanish prince, Don Gabriel de Bourbon, who had lately sent him a copy of the splendid Sallust, printed at the royal press of Madrid, in 1772. In this letter Franklin blended thanksgiving and diplomacy very neatly: "I am extremely sensible of the honor done me, and beg you would accept my thankful acknowledgments. I wish I could send hence any American literary production worthy of your perusal; but as yet the Muses have scarcely visited these remote regions. Perhaps, however, the proceedings of our American Congress, just published, maybe a subject of some curiosity at your court. I, therefore, take the liberty of sending your Highness a copy, with some other papers, which contain accounts of the successes wherewith Providence has lately favored us. Therein your wise politicians may contemplate the first efforts of a rising state, which seems likely soon to act a part of some importance on the stage of human affairs, and furnish materials for a future Sallust. I am very old, and can scarce hope to see the event of this great contest; but, looking forward, I think I see a powerful dominion growing up here, whose interest it will be to form a firm and close alliance with Spain (their territories bordering), and who, being united, will be able, not only to preserve their own people in peace, but to repel the force of all the other powers in Europe. It seems, therefore, prudent on both sides to cultivate a good understanding, that may hereafter be so useful to both; towards which a fair foundation is already laid in our minds, by the well-founded popular opinion entertained here of Spanish integrity and honor. I hope my presumption in hinting this will be pardoned. If in any thing on this side the globe I can render either service or pleasure to your Royal Highness, your commands will make me happy."
Nothing could be better of its kind than this. The mode in which the change of topic is effected from Sallust to Congress, without absolutely losing sight of Sallust, is very happy.
These important dispatches were not intrusted to any of the ordinary modes of conveyance. A special messenger was employed, Mr. Thomas Story, who was ordered to visit London, Holland, and Paris, deliver to Mr. Lee and Mr. Dumas their letters, and receive their replies, forward the Spanish dispatch, confer with certain friends of Dr. Franklin in Paris, and return to America with all speed. Soon after the departure of Mr. Story, a M. Penet left Philadelphia for France, carrying with him from the committee a large contract for supplying arms, ammunition, and clothing for the American army. M. Penet was a merchant of Nantes in France, a man zealous to serve the colonies, but not of great capital or great connections. To him, also, Dr. Franklin intrusted letters to his friends in France, particularly to Dr. Dubourg, of Paris, the translator of his works, his fond and enthusiastic disciple.
Early in 1776, long before the Secret Committee had received any reply from Dr. Dubourg, Mr. Dumas, or Mr. Lee, they resolved upon the bolder measure of sending an agent to France, authorized to treat with the French ministry. Perhaps, as John Adams intimates, the committee were the more easily induced to do this, because a person of some importance happened, just then, to want the employment. Mr. Silas Deane, of Connecticut, a member of the first and second Congresses, had lost his election to the third; but, instead of going home, remained in Philadelphia, and (so says jealous and suspicious John Adams) applied to the Secret Committee for an appointment abroad. Mr. Adams, I should observe, was not well pleased with being left out of so important a committee. It appears that Arthur Lee, true to his character, had sent over a letter to a member of Congress, advising him to look well to John Jay, for he was not to be trusted. This ridiculous letter, having been too freely handed about by Mr. Adams's friends, seems to have been among the causes which led to the selection of John Jay for one of the Secret Committee; also, one of the causes of John Adams's exclusion. Be that as it may, Mr. John Adams's comments upon the committee, their proceedings and their servants, are tinged with ill humor, and are not to be taken as absolute gospel.
Silas Deane was a native of Connecticut and a graduate of Yale College, who began life in the usual New England way, by keeping school; and afterwards subsided from his school to a law office. He practiced law and carried on trade, acquired some property and some consideration in his province. As a member of Congress he appears to have been assiduous and well esteemed, and it was natural the committee should incline to employ one who had become perfectly informed of American affairs by a year's attendance in Congress, and by serving on many leading committees. Congress, also, stood high in the esteem of mankind; there were few circles in Europe (and none worth entering) in which a member of the Congress of 1774 and 1775 would not have been received with homage and enthusiasm. Mr. Deane, we are assured, was man of somewhat striking manners and good appearance, accustomed to live and entertain in liberal style, and fond of showy equipage and appointment. With the usual ignorance of college-bred men at that day, he could not speak French with any fluency, nor write it at all. Of course not. How should he, who had spent his early years in adding the ignorance of the ancients to the ignorance he was born with? The only man of the leading diplomatic agents sent by Congress to Europe during the revolution who could speak French on reaching Paris, was the only man among them who had never been at college.
For the guidance of Mr. Deane, Dr. Franklin prepared a letter of minute instructions; and gave him letters of introduction to several of his own friends in Paris. He was to assume in France the character of a merchant, and actually purchase goods for the Indian trade. On reaching Paris, he was to deliver his letters, which would at once introduce him to a set, all of whom were friends to the Americans, and among whom the true Parisian accent could be acquired. In particular, he was charged to cultivate the acquaintance of M. Dubourg, “a man prudent, faithful, secret, intelligent in affairs, and capable of giving you very sage advice." M. Dubourg, who spoke English, would put him in a way of procuring access to M. de Vergennes, the French minister for foreign affairs. On attaining the presence of the minister, Mr. Deane was to show him his letter of credence, and say that Congress, being unable to procure in America the requisite munitions of war, had dispatched him to apply to some European power for a supply. Of all the nations in Europe, he was to say, Congress preferred the friendship and alliance of France; and to France, therefore, he had come. By granting aid to the struggling colonies, their friendship would be secured, and they would gladly transfer the bulk of their trade from England to France. He was to ask for clothing and arms for twenty-five thousand men, a quantity of ammunition, and one hundred pieces of field artillery; all of which Congress would pay for soon after the resumption of commerce. He was to ask convoy, also, for these articles, as well as for the Indian merchandise which he was to purchase. If he found M. de Vergennes reserved, he should shorten his visit, ask him to consider the matter, leave his address, and say that he would not presume to ask another audience; but if M. de Vergennes should at any time have any commands for him, he would promptly present himself on the slightest notification. At a second audience, if the minister should appear more inclined to listen, he should ask him, with the customary circumlocution, whether, in case the colonies should form themselves into an independent State, France would acknowledge them, receive embassadors from them, and form treaties with them; and if she would, on what conditions. Finally, he was to consult and correspond with Mr. Dumas, Arthur Lee, Dr: Bancroft, M. Garnier, and keep Congress constantly informed of his movements.
For the purchase of the Indian goods Mr. Deane would require money. Cargoes of tobacco and rice, to the value of forty thousand pounds, were to be at once dispatched, so as to begin to arrive at French ports soon after his own arrival. For his present subsistence, he was supplied with a few hundred pounds in gold.
Every precaution was taken to conceal the object of Mr. Deane's mission. Mr. Jay busied himself with providing a quantity of invisible ink, and prepared paper for the correspondence of the emissary, who was to sign his letters “Timothy Jones," and write a common business letter with common ink on part of the sheet, and cover all the rest with the real dispatch written with the invisible fluid. He sailed in April, and reached France in June, having stopped on the way at the Bermudas. As he retained in France his proper name, which had been published in most of the capitals in Europe among the signatures appended to Congressional documents, his mission was soon guessed. He had not been in Paris many weeks before he was spoken of in the English newspapers as “the plenipotentiary of the American Congress."
While the Secret Committee was employed in dispatching Silas Deane, the public mind was occupied with affairs in Canada. News had reached Congress that the assault upon Quebec on the thirty-first of December, 1775, had failed; that General Montgomery had been left dead on the snowy heights [hights], and General Benedict Arnold borne wounded from the field; that cold, small-pox, and hunger were wasting the army; that discipline was forgotten, the credit of Congress diminished, and the people indifferent or inimical. On this occasion Congress resorted to the expedient which had answered so well in the case of General Washington and the chaos around Boston; they appointed three commissioners to go to Montreal, confer with General Arnold, and arrange a plan for rectification of Canadian affairs. The commissioners selected were Dr. Franklin, Samuel Chase, of Maryland, and Charles Carroll of Carrollton, in the same province. Mr. Carroll was requested by Congress to endeavor to prevail upon his brother John, a Catholic priest, who had been educated in France, and spoke French like a native, to accompany the commissioners, for the purpose of bringing over the clergy of Canada to the side of Congress. The worthy priest consented to go. The sending of this gentleman was regarded as “a master-stroke of policy,” Mrs. Adams records. But the policy of selecting an old man of seventy to head the commission, was open to objection, in view of the journey to be made before the commissioners could begin the execution of their task. The other commissioners were in the prime of life, and were all destined to rise high in the service and estimation of their country.
'The commissioners were clothed with extraordinary powers. They were authorized to receive Canada into the union of colonies, and organize their government on the republican system of the thirteen; they were empowered to suspend military officers, decide disputes between the civil and military authorities, vote at councils of war, draw upon Congress to the amount of one hundred thousand dollars, raise additional troops, and issue military commissions. Whatever authority Congress itself could be supposed to exercise over Canada was conferred upon the three commissioners. Chiefly, however, they were charged to convince, conciliate, and win the Canadians by appeals to their reason and interest; in aid of which, they were to take measures for establishing a newspaper to be conducted by a friend to Congress.
Fully equipped for a journey of five hundred miles, the commissioners, their priestly companion, and their servants, left Philadelphia at the end of March, and reached in two days the city of New York. "It was no more," wrote Mr. John Carroll to his mother, "the gay, polite place it used to be esteemed, but it was become almost a desert, unless for the troops. The people were expecting a bombardment, and had therefore removed themselves out of town; and on the other side the troops were working on the fortifications with the utmost activity.” (6) The commissioners spent “some disagreeable days" at the deserted town. On the second of April, at five in the afternoon, they all embarked on board the sloop engaged for them by Lord Stirling, and sailed towards Albany; they made thirteen miles in the course of the evening, and then comfortably dropped anchor for the night. At one o'clock in the morning, an alarm! A great fire in the harbor, off New York; perhaps on Bedloe's Island, from which “our generals" had determined to drive the British. Dr. Franklin came on deck, and thought “our generals" had made the attempt, as the flashes of light looked like musketry. The next day a northeast storm of wind and rain kept the sloop at anchor till five in the afternoon, when "the wind breezed up from the south," and bore the vessel onto the beginning of the Highlands, forty miles from the city. Now behold the perils of river navigation! “The river here," journalized Mr. Charles Carroll, (7) "is greatly contracted, and the lands on each side very lofty. When we got into this strait the wind increased and blew in violent flaws; in doubling one of these steep, craggy points, we were in danger of running on the rocks: endeavored to double the cape called St. Anthony's Nose, but all our efforts proved ineffectual; obliged to return some way back in the straits to seek shelter; in doing which, our mainsail was split to pieces by a sudden and most violent blast of wind off the mountains. Came to anchor." Let us no longer discourse lightly of the "raging canal."
All that night and all the next day the storm continued, and the sloop remained at anchor; the crew mending the mainsail, and the commissioners marveling at the scene around them, as hundreds of thousands of us have since marveled. "St. Anthony's Nose is said to be full of sulphur," wrote our journalizer. At noon of the third day of the voyage, the mainsail being repaired, the anchor was heaved, and the sloop slowly wound its way through the sublime defile. Mr. Chase and Mr. Charles Carroll rowed ashore to examine a waterfall, leaving a leg of mutton boiling in the galley for the commissioners' dinner. "Mr. Chase, very apprehensive of the leg of mutton being boiled too much, was impatient to get on board," and so the waterfall was not examined with the attention which Mr. Carroll desired. At five that afternoon the sloop anchored off West Point, and the two younger commissioners went to the opposite shore and inspected Constitution Fort, upon which Congress relied for the defense of the river. Finding it inadequate for the purpose, and having heard of the arrival of the British fleet at Sandy Hook, the commissioners sent an express to Congress, telling them that the Hudson River was open to the ascent of a vigorous enemy. “In the Highlands," remarked Mr. Charles Carroll, “are many convenient spots to construct batteries on; but in order to make them answer the intended purpose, weighty metal should be placed on those batteries, and skillful gunners should be engaged to serve the artillery." Congress will look to the Highlands.
Weighing anchor at seven in the morning of the fourth day, their luck turned, and they had a splendid run of ninety miles, which brought them within four miles of Albany; and there they cast anchor for the night. At half-past seven the next morning the commissioners stepped on shore at Albany. General Schuyler met them at the landing “to receive us and invite us to dine with him; he behaved to us with great civility; lives in pretty style; has two daughters (Betsey and Peggy), lively, agreeable, black-eyed gals." Two days at Albany, conferring with General Schuyler and General Thomas, and chatting with the good Mrs. Schuyler and her lively black-eyed girls. “General Schuyler informed me," records Mr. Carroll, “that an uninterrupted water-carriage between New York and Quebec might be perfected at fifty thousand pounds sterling expense."
April 9th. The commissioners, the priest, Mrs. Schuyler, her two daughters, General Schuyler, and General Thomas, all set off together for Saratoga, thirty-two miles from Albany, where General Schuyler had a country seat. A rough ride over muddy, bad roads, in a large country wagon, added to the extreme fatigue and constant exposure of the river voyage, was almost too much for Dr. Franklin. “At Saratoga," he wrote, “I begin to apprehend that I have undertaken a fatigue, which, at my time of life, may prove too much for me; so I sit down to write to a few friends by way of farewell." They had caught up, too, with retreating winter; the ice in the lakes had not budged, and six inches of snow lay upon the ground as late as the thirteenth of April. A week's rest at the hospitable and well-appointed abode of General Schuyler, with such nursing and attendance as the noble lady of that noble mansion knew how to bestow upon an aged philosopher, brought him round again, and he was ready to start before the ice had started. The commissioners moved towards Lake George on the sixteenth -- snow still on the ground. “I parted with regret," wrote Mr. Carroll, "from the amiable family of General Schuyler; the ease and affability with which we were treated, and the lively behavior of the young ladies, made Saratoga a most pleasing séjour, the remembrance of which will long remain with me." Two days and a half of hard traveling brought them to that pleasing and now familiar spot, the southern end of Lake George. The ice had broken up, and they determined to make an effort the next day to push their way through the floating masses.
General Schuyler, who had gone before them to prepare the means of transportation, had a batteau ready for them, thirty-six feet long, eight broad, and one deep, with a mast, a blanket-sail, and awning, in lieu of a cabin. At one o'clock in the afternoon of April 19th they embarked, accompanied by the indefatigable Schuyler. When they had accomplished four miles, they went ashore to take tea and rearrange their boat; after which they again embarked, and made three or four miles more. And so they pushed their way, often delayed by the ice, and achieved the thirty-six miles of Lake George in about thirty-six hours. Mr. Carroll regretted that the earliness of the season prevented their catching any of the famous fish of this translucent lake; and the more, “as one of our company is so excellent a judge in the science of good eating;" a hit for the gentleman who thought more of his leg of mutton than of Mr. Carroll's waterfall. Six yoke of oxen drew their batteau on wheels across the four-mile neck of land which separates the two lakes; and, after a delay of five days, they were afloat on Lake Champlain. Sailing when they could, rowing when they must, hauling up at night, and generally stopping for breakfast, dinner, and tea, delayed sometimes by ice and sometimes by head winds, they reached St. John's, near the upper end of the lake, in three days and a half, and thought they had done very well. Another day of most laborious travel brought them to Montreal, half dead with fatigue. No wonder; for they performed the last day's journey in Montreal caleches, which appear to have been similar to the torturing vehicles which swarm still in Montreal, and are called by the same name.
The commissioners were received with distinction. Mr. John Carroll reports: “We were received at the landing by General Arnold, and a great body of officers and gentry, and saluted by the firing of cannon, and other military honors. Being conducted to the General's house, we were served with a glass of wine; while people were crowding in to pay their compliments; which ceremony being over, we were shown into another apartment, and, unexpectedly, met in it a large number of ladies, most of them French. After drinking tea, and sitting some time, we went to an elegant supper, which was followed with the singing of the ladies, which proved very agreeable, and would have been more so if we had not been so much fatigued with our journey. The next day we spent in receiving visits, and dining with a large company." Mr. John Carroll may have spent the next day in that manner, but not the three commissioners; for whom there was sterner work. They sat at a council of war, of which General Arnold was president, and heard the whole of the dismal truth with regard to the affairs of Congress in Canada.
Canada was lost. The first dispatch of the commissioners informed Congress that their credit in Canada was not merely impaired, but destroyed. “Not the most trifling service can be procured without an assurance of instant pay in silver or gold. The express we sent from St. Johns, to inform the General of our arrival there, and to request carriages for La Prairie, was stopped at the ferry, till a friend passing changed a dollar bill for him, into silver; and we are obliged to that friend for his engagement to pay the calashes, or they would not have come for us." Disasters in the field, violated promises to pay, depreciated paper, and the expectation of a British army, had caused this deplorable state of things.
The commissioners were plunged into a fathomless sea of embarrassment. “We have tried in vain," they wrote to Congress, at the end of their first week, to borrow some hard money here, for the immediate occasion of the army, either on the public, or on our own private credit. We cannot even sell sterling bills of exchange, which some of us have offered to draw. It seems it had been expected, and given out by our friends, that we should bring money with us. The disappointment has discouraged everybody, and established an opinion that none is to be had, or that the Congress has not credit enough in their own colonies to procure it. Many of our friends are drained dry; others say they are so, fearing, perhaps, we shall never be able to reimburse them. They show us long accounts, no part of which we are able to discharge, of the supplies they have furnished to our army, and declare that they have borrowed and taken up on credit so long for our service, that they can now be trusted no longer, even for what they want themselves. The tories will not trust us a farthing, and some who, perhaps, wish us well, conceiving that we shall, through our own poverty, or from superior forces, be soon obliged to abandon the country, are afraid to have any dealings with us, lest they should hereafter be called to account for abetting our cause. Our enemies take the advantage of this distress to make us look contemptible in the eyes of the Canadians, who have been provoked by the violence of our military in exacting provisions and services from them without pay, which makes them wish our departure; and, accordingly, we have daily intimations of plots hatching, and insurrections intended, for expelling us, on the first news of the arrival of the British Army.
“You will see from hence, that your commissioners themselves are in a critical and most irksome situation, pestered hourly with demands, great and small, that they cannot answer, in a place where our cause has a majority of enemies, the garrison weak, and a greater would, without money, increase our difficulties. In short, if money cannot be had to support your army here with honor, so as to be respected, instead of being hated by the people, we report it, as our firm and unanimous opinion, that it is better immediately to withdraw it. The fact before your eyes, that the powerful British nation cannot keep an army in a country where the inhabitants are become enemies, must convince you of the necessity of enabling us immediately to make this people our friends. Exclusive of a sum of money to discharge the debts already contracted, which General Arnold informs us amounts to fourteen thousand pounds, besides the account laid before Congress by Mr. Price, a further sum of hard money, not less than six thousand pounds, will be necessary to re-establish our credit in this colony. With this supply, and a little success, it may be possible to regain the affections of the people, to attach them firmly to our cause, and induce them to accept a free government, perhaps to enter into the Union; in which case the currency of our paper money, we think, follows as a certain consequence.”
Two days after this letter was written, a messenger reached Montreal with the news that a British fleet with troops on board had arrived at Quebec, had landed a large force which had attacked the little disheartened American army, and put it to flight. A council of war, attended by the commissioners, at once decided that nothing remained but to withdraw the troops to St. John’s; fortify, supply, and re-enforce them there; and there endeavor to stay the southward progress of the British army. The requisite orders were issued immediately. The next morning Dr. Franklin, accompanied by Mr. John Carroll, set out on his return homeward, to expedite the necessary measures, and give Congress complete information respecting their affairs in the north. He left his brother commissioners to superintend the retreat and the erection of the defensive works at the head of Lake Champlain.
General Schuyler assisted the travelers on their way down the lakes, entertained them again at his house, and lent them his own chariot and driver for the journey from Albany to New York. From New York, Dr. Franklin wrote back to the other commissioners: “We met yesterday two officers from Philadelphia, with a letter from the Congress to the commissioners, and a sum of hard money. I opened the letter, and sealed it again, directing them to carry it forward to you. I congratulate you on the great prize carried into Boston. Seventy-five tons of gunpowder are an excellent supply, and the thousand carbines with bayonets, another fine article. The German auxiliaries are certainly coming. It is our business to prevent their returning. I shall be glad to hear of your welfare. As to myself, I find I grow daily more feeble, and think I could hardly have got along so far, but for Mr. Carroll's friendly assistance and tender care of me. Some symptoms of the gout now appear, which makes me think my indisposition has been a smothered fit of that disorder, which my constitution wanted strength to form completely."
He reached Philadelphia early in June, having been absent about ten weeks. For the lovers of detail, I will mention that the account presented by Dr. Franklin to Congress of money expended on this journey, showed that he had advanced the sum of $1,221; (8) of which $560 was to be charged to General Arnold, and $124 to Mr. Charles Carroll. The beds and outfits of the party cost $164. The whole expense incurred by Dr. Franklin and his priestly comrade, was $372.
These two, the philosopher and the priest, men most dissimilar in age, vocation, belief, and experience, conceived for each other, during this toilsome journey, a warm regard which they always cherished. A few years later, Dr. Franklin embraced an opportunity of testifying his esteem for Mr. John Carroll in a signal manner.
In the quiet of his own home Dr. Franklin recovered his health, and soon renewed his labors, in Congress and elsewhere, with all his accustomed ardor. The timely arrival of powder relieved his mind from one source of anxiety. The scarcity of this article before his departure for Canada had been such, that he seriously proposed arming some of the troops with bows and arrows. "I still wish with you," he wrote to General Charles Lee, "that pikes could be introduced, and I would add bows and arrows. These were good weapons, not wisely laid aside; 1st. Because a man may shoot as truly with a bow as with a common musket. 2dly. He can discharge four arrows in the time of charging and discharging one bullet. 3dly. His object is not taken from his view by the smoke of his own side. 4thly. A flight of arrows, seen coming upon them, terrifies and disturbs the enemies' attention to their business. 5thly. An arrow striking in any part of a man puts him hors de combat till it is extracted. 6thly. Bows and arrows are more easily provided everywhere than muskets and ammunition.
“Polydore Virgil, speaking of one of our battles against the French in Edward the Third's reign, mentions the great confusion the enemy was thrown into, sagittarumnube, (9) from the English; and concludes, Est res profecto dictu mirabilis, ut tantus ac potens exercitus a solis fere Anglicis sagittariis victus fuerit; adeo Anglus est sagittipotens, et id genus armorum valet. (10) If so much execution was done by arrows when men wore some defensive armor, how much more might be done now that it is out of use."
Not against troops armed with modern muskets, Doctor.
A letter from Dr. Priestley, received soon after his return from Canada, concluded with some pleasant items: "The club of honest Whigs, as you justly call them, think themselves much honored by your having been one of them, and also by your kind remembrance of them. Our zeal in the good cause is not abated; you are often the subject of our conversation. Lord Shelburne and Colonel Barré were pleased with your remembrance of them, and desire their best respects and good wishes in return. Your old servant, Fevre, often mentions you with affection and respect. He is, in all respects, and excellent servant. I value him much, both on his own account and yours. He seems to be very happy. Mrs. Stevenson is much as usual. She can talk about nothing but you.”
1. Bancroft's "History of the United States," viii., 112.2. The following is the original advertisement of this celebrated pamphlet in the Pennsylvania Journal for January 10th, 1776:"This day was published, and is now selling by Robert Bell, in Third Street (price two shillings),
"ADDRESSED TO THE INHABITANTS OF AMERICA,
"On the following interesting subjects:
"I. Of the origin and design of Government in general, with certain remarks on the English Constitution."II. Of Monarchy and hereditary succession."III. Thoughts on the present state of American Affairs.“IV. Of the present ability of America, with some miscellaneous Reflections.
"’Man knows no MASTER save creating Heaven,Or those whom choice and common good ordain.' – THOMSON."3. Theodore Parker has a good word for ‘poor Tom': “I see some one has written a paper on Thomas Paine, in the Atlantic, which excites the wrath of the men who are not worthy to stoop down and untie the latchet of his shoes, or to black his shoes, or even to bring them home to him from the shoe-blacks. Yet Paine was no man for my fancying -- in the latter years of his life he was filthy in his personal habits; there seems to me a tinge of lowness about him. But it mast not be denied that he had less than the average amount of selfishness or vanity; his instincts were human and elevated, and his life mainly devoted to the great purposes of humanity. His political writings fell into my hands in my early boyhood, and still I think they were of immense service to the country. His theological works I know less of, chiefly from his enemies; they are not always in good taste, nor does he always understand the scriptures of Old and New Testaments he comments upon. But I think he did more to promote piety and morality among men than a hundred ministers of that age in America He did it by showing that religion is not responsible for the absurd doctrines taught in its name. For this reason honest but bigoted ministers oppose him. They had a right to; but they misrepresented his doctrines." -- Life and Correspondence, ii., 425.4. Related on the authority of John Jay. -- Life of John Jay, i., 39.5. "It is actually whispered that the King of Prussia has been secretly tampering with the Bostonians, but with what success has not transpired." -- Rivington`sNew York (tory) Gazette. March, 1774, under head of London News.6. “American Archives," Fourth Series, vol. v., p.1169.7. "Journal of Charles Carroll of Carrollton," published by Maryland Historical Society.8, Dr. Franklin himself says, that while in Canada he "advanced to General Arnold, and other servants of Congress, then in extreme necessity, £353, in gold, out of his own pocket, on the credit of Congress, which was of great service at that juncture, in procuring provisions for our army. Sparks, x., 373.9. "By the cloud of arrows."10. "It is indeed a thing wonderful to be related, that an army so great and powerful should have been vanquished almost alone by the English bowmen; truly your Englishman is mighty with the bow, and of a puissant stock."
|Return to The Tory Lover -- Contents .|