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faithful, active, and able minister, who, to my knowledge, has done in various ways great and important services to his country, whose interests I wish may always, by every one in her employ, be as much and as effectually promoted. With my dutiful respects to the Congress, I have the honor to be, &c. B. FRANKLIN.
TO ARTHUR LEE.
On the Settlement of the Commissioners’ Accounts. Passy, 1 April, 1778. SIR,
There is a style in some of your letters, I observe it particularly in the last, whereby superior merit is assumed to yourself in point of care and attention to business, and blame is insinuated on your colleagues without making yourself accountable, by a direct charge of negligence or unfaithfulness, which has the appearance of being as artful as it is unkind. In the present case I think the insinuation groundless.
I do not know that either Mr. Deane or myself ever showed any unwillingness to settle the public accounts. The banker's book always contained the whole. You could at any time as easily have obtained the account from them as either of us, and you had abundantly more leisure. If, on examining it, you had wanted explanation of any article, you might have called for it and had it. You never did either. As soon as I obtained the account, I put it into your hands, and desired you to look into it, and I have heard no more of it since till now, just as Mr. Deane was on the point of departing. Mr. Deane, however, left with me before the receipt of your letter both the public papers, and explications of the several articles in the account that came within his knowledge. With these materials, I suppose we can settle the account whenever you please. You have only to name the day and place, and I will attend to the business with you. I have the honor to be, with great esteem, Sir, &c. B. FRANKLIN.
TO ARTHUR LEE.
Respecting JMr. Lee's extraordinary Conduct in Regard to the personal Intercourse of the Commissioners.
Passy, 4 April, 1778. SIR,
Mr. Deane communicated to me his intention of setting out for America immediately, as a secret, which he desired I would mention to nobody. I complied with his request. If he did not think fit to communicate it to you also, it is from him you should demand his reasons.”
* The contents of the letter, to which this is an answer, are so remarkable, and they are so pointedly alluded to in the answer itself, that, in justice to both parties, it seems proper that they should accompany each other. The following is Mr. Lee's letter. “Chaillot, 2 April, 1778. “SIR, “It was with the utmost surprise, that I learned yesterday that M. Gérard was to set out in the evening for America, in a public character, and that Mr. Deane was to accompany him, without either you or he having condescended to answer my letter of the preceding day. “That a measure of such moment, as M. Gérard's mission, should have been taken without any communication with the Commissioners is hardly credible. That, if it was communicated, you should do such violence to the authority that constituted us, together with so great an injury and injustice to me, is equally astonishing. If success to the mission, and unanimity on the subject in Congress, were your wish, with
WOL. VIII. 17
This court has an undoubted right to send as ministers whom it pleases, and where it pleases, without advising with us, or desiring our approbation. The measure of sending M. Gérard as a minister to Congress was resolved on without consulting me; but I think it a wise one, and, if I did not, I do not conceive that I have any right to find fault with it. France was not consulted when we were sent here. Your angry charge, therefore, of our “making a party business of it,” is groundless; we had no hand in the business. And, as we neither “acted nor advised” in it, which you suppose, your other high-sounding charge of our doing, thereby, violence to the authority that constituted us, and a great injury and injustice to you, is equally without foundation. As to the concealing it from you, reasons were given by Mr. Deane, that appeared to me satisfactory, and founded entirely on views of public good. I promise to communicate them to you hereafter, if you desire it, that you may have an opportunity of refuting them, if you can. At present, it is not proper. Your third paragraph, therefore, containing a particular account of what passed between you and me at my house on Monday, seems not to require any answer. I am still of the same opinion, that, after having sent the treaties themselves by different good conveyances, in which treaties our public character was acknowledged in the most authentic manner, and the avowal of the transaction by the French ambassador to the King of England, which was in all the papers of Europe, the sending a vessel express to carry the news of paying our respects to court, which was likewise in the papers, was an expensive and altogether unnecessary operation. I received your letter directed to Mr. Deane and myself relating to the accounts. I had no opportunity of showing it to him till the evening of his departure, and then he was in too much of a hurry to peruse it. I could not, therefore, sooner answer it. But I then wrote an answer, acquainting you that he had put into my hands the public papers, with all the information he could give relating to the accounts. It was
what propriety could you make it a party business, and not unite all the Commissioners in the advising and approving a measure, in which you desired their friends and constituents might be unanimous? “I do not live ten minutes' distance from you. The communication, therefore, could not be attended with delay or difficulty. Within these few days, I have seen you frequently, as usual. Particularly, on Monday I was with you at your house for some time. I asked you about the sailing of the ships at Nantes, expressing my desire to know when we should have an opportunity of writing. You said you did not know when they sailed. I asked if there were no letters, none but one from M. Dumas having been shown to me for some time. You answered, No. I had, at a former meeting, asked you whether it was not proper for us to send an express to give intelligence of such consequential events as our being acknowledged here, and the treaty avowed. You told me, it would be sufficient to write by the ship from Nantes, (for it was afterwards you mentioned there were two,) as the news being public would find its way fast enough. “Upon M. Amiel, who came from your house to mine, mentioning, on Tuesday, that Mr. Deane was to go away in a few days, I wrote to you and him to repeat what I have so often requested, that the public accounts might be settled, for which Mr. Deane had taken possession of all the vouchers, and that the public papers might be delivered to us before his departure. You made no answer. I sent my secretary again yesterday to desire an answer. You sent me a verbal one, that you would settle the accounts with me any day after tomorrow. Your reason for not doing it before was, that it was not your business. Now it seemed your business only, and Mr. Deane had no concern with it. The delivery of the public papers, which are the property of all, not of any one of the Commissioners, though you and Mr. Deane have constantly taken them to yourselves, was too immaterial to answer. “During all this time, and with these circumstances, you have been totally silent to me about the present opportunity of writing to Congress, about the important public measure in agitation, and about Mr. Deane's departure. Nay, more, what you have said, and the manner in which you acted, tended to mislead me from imagining that you knew of any such thing. Had you studied to deceive the most distrusted and dangerous enemy of the public, you could not have done it more effectually. “I trust, Sir, that you will think with me, that I have a right to know your reasons for treating me thus. If you have any thing to accuse me of, avow it, and I will answer you. If you have not, why do you act so inconsistently with your duty to the public, and injuriously to me? Is the present state of Europe of so little moment to our constituents, as not to require our joint consideration, and information to them 2 Is the character of the court here, and of the person sent to negotiate with our constituents, of no consequence for them to be apprized of 2 Is this the example, you in your superior wisdom think proper to set, of order, decorum, confidence, and justice 2 “I trust too, Sir, that you will not treat this letter, as you have done many others, with the indignity of not answering it. Though I have been silent, I have not felt the less the many affronts of this kind, which you have thought proper to offer me. I have the honor to be, with great respect, “ARTHUR LEE.”
When Mr. Lee wrote this letter he was ignorant of the cause of the complaint contained in the first part of it. Count de Vergennes had been informed, that intelligence had been communicated to England through the agency of Mr. Lee's secretary, which created an unfavorable suspicion. The facts are these. Mr. Lee sent his secretary to England, with the view of ascertaining the nature of the preparations, that were making to fit out a fleet at Portsmouth. This secretary betrayed his trust, and revealed certain particulars in London for stockjobbing purposes. Mr. Lee dismissed him, as soon as his unfaithfulness was discovered. It was important, that the intention of sending M. Gérard as minister to the United States, and a fleet to America, under Count d'Estaing, should remain a secret as long as possible, that the British government might not take measures to counteract the objects for which they were designed. Count de Vergennes was apprehensive, that, if the intelligence were made known to Mr. Lee, it would get to the ears of the British ministry through the above suspected channel. He enjoined it, therefore, on Dr. Franklin and Mr. Deane, not to mention the subject to their colleague. This injunction they were of course bound to observe. Whatever may have been the circumstances, however, there does not appear to have been any just grounds of suspicion against Mr. Lee, so far at least as his intentions were concerned. He was ardently devoted to the cause of his country, and friendly to the alliance between France and the United States. It is to be regretted, that his moderation, judgment, and prudence, were not equal to his zeal and patriotism.