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TO ROBERT MORRIS.
Difficulty of meeting Drafts on the public Account. —
Salaries of the American Ministers in Europe. —
Contingent Expenses. — Taxation. — JYalure of
Property in Civil Society. — The Marquis de La
Passy, 25 December, 1783.
I have received your favor of the 20th of September, for which I thank you. My apprehension, that the union with France might be diminished by accounts from home, was occasioned by the extravagant and violent language held here by a public person, in public company, which had that tendency; and it was natural for me to think his letters might hold the same language, in which I was right; for I have since had letters from Boston informing me of it. Luckily here, and I hope there, it is imputed to the true cause, a disorder in the brain, which, though not constant, has its fits too frequent. I will not fill my letter with an account of those discourses. Mr. Laurens, when you see him, can give it to you; I mean such as he heard in company with other persons, for I would not have him relate private conversations. They distressed me much at the time, being then at your earnest instance soliciting for more aids of money; the success of which solicitation such ungrateful and provoking language might, I feared, have had a tendency to prevent . Enough of this at present.
I have been exceedingly hurt and afflicted by the difficulty some of your late bills met with in Holland. As soon as I received the letter from Messrs. Willinck & Co., which I enclose, I sent for Mr. Grand, who brought me a sketch of his account with you, by which it appeared that the demands upon us, existing and expected, would more than absorb the funds in his hands. We could not indulge the smallest hope of obtaining further assistance here, the public finances being in a state of embarrassment, private persons full of distrust occasioned by the stoppage of payment at the Caisse eP Escompte, and money in general extremely scarce. But he agreed to do what I proposed, and lend his credit in the way of drawing and redrawing between Holland and Paris, to gain time till you could furnish funds to reimburse Messrs. Willinck & Co. I believe he made this proposition to them by the return of the express. I know not why it was not accepted. Mr. Grand will himself, I suppose, give you an account of all the transaction, and of his application to Messrs. Couteulx & Co.; therefore, I need not add more upon this disagreeable subject .
I have found difficulties in settling the account of salaries with the other ministers, that have made it impracticable for me to do it . I have, therefore, after keeping the bills that were to have been proportioned among us long in my hands, given them up to Mr. Grand, who, finding the same difficulties, will, I suppose, return them to you. None has come to hand for the two or three last quarters, and we are indebted to his kindness for advancing us money, or we must have run in debt for our subsistence. He risks in doing this, since he has not for it your orders.
There arise frequently contingent expenses, for which no provision has yet been made. In a former letter to the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, I gave a list of them, and desired to know the pleasure of Congress concerning them. I have only had for answer, that they were under consideration, and that he believed house-rent would not be allowed; but I am still in uncertainty as to that and the rest. I wish some resolutions were taken on this point of contingences, that I may know how to settle my accounts with Mr. Barclay. American ministers in Europe are too remote from their constituents to consult them, and take their orders on every occasion, as the ministers here of European courts can easily do. There seems, therefore, a necessity of allowing more to their discretion, and of giving them a credit to a certain amount on some banker, who may answer their orders; for which, however, they should be accountable. I mention this for the sake of other ministers, hoping and expecting soon to be discharged myself, and also for the good of the service.
The remissness of our people in paying taxes is highly blamable; the unwillingness to pay them is still more so. I see, in some resolutions of town meetings, a remonstrance against giving Congress the power to take, as they call it, the people's money out of their pockets, though only to pay the interest and principal of debts duly contracted. They seem to mistake the point. Money, justly due from the people, is their creditors' money, and no longer the money of the people, who, if they withhold it, should be compelled to pay by some law.
All property, indeed, except the savage's temporary cabin, his bow, his matchcoat, and other little acquisitions, absolutely necessary for his subsistence, seems to me to be the creature of public convention. Hence the public has the right of regulating descents, and all other conveyances of property, and even of limiting the quantity and the uses of it . All the property that is necessary to a man, for the conservation of the individual and the propagation of the species, is his natural right, which none can justly deprive him of; but all property superfluous to such purposes is the property of the public, who, by their laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other laws dispose of it, whenever the welfare of the public shall demand such disposition. He that does not like civil society on these terms, let him retire and live among savages. He can have no right to the benefits of society, who will not pay his club towards the support of it .
The Marquis de Lafayette, who loves to be employed in our affairs, and is often very useful, has lately had several conversations with the ministers and persons concerned in forming new regulations, respecting the commerce between our two countries, which are not yet concluded. I therefore thought it well to communicate to him a copy of your letter, which contains so many sensible and just observations on that subject . He will make a proper use of them, and perhaps they may have more weight, as appearing to come from a Frenchman, than they would have if it were known that they were the observations of an American. I perfectly agree with you in all the sentiments you have expressed on this occasion.*
I am sorry- for the public's sake, that you are about to quit your office, but on personal considerations I shall congratulate you; for I cannot conceive of a more happy man, than he, who having been long loaded with public cares, finds himself relieved from them, and enjoying repose in the bosom of his friends and family. With sincere regard and attachment, I am ever, dear Sir, &c. B. Franklin.
* Many particulars respecting the interest taken by Lafayette in the commercial relations between France and the United States, and his endeavours to promote and extend them, are contained in hia letters to the President of Congress. See Diplomatic Correspondence, Vol. X. pp.
FROM JOHN JAY TO B. FRANKLIN.
Bath, 26 December, 1783.
Since we parted, I have been so much and so long indisposed, as that, except short letters to Mrs. Jay, I have denied myself the pleasure of writing to my friends. The kindness you have shown to us both has, nevertheless, not been forgotten, nor has my disposition to acknowledge and be influenced by it in the least abated.
We have lately had a report here, that you were very ill with the stone; and some have said that you intended to seek relief from an operation. This report has alarmed your friends, and I am anxious to know how far it may be well founded. It would give me sincere satisfaction to have it contradicted under your own hand.
I decline saying any thing about politics for obvious reasons. The public papers afford you the means of forming a judgment of them, especially as your long experience and knowledge of this country enable you to see further than ordinary observers.' There are many in this country, who speak of you with great respect. The honest Whig Club drank your health very affectionately. There are others, who like you as little as the eagle did the cat, and probably for the same reasons. When we meet, we will talk these matters over with less reserve than I can write. Present my affectionate compliments to your two grandSons, and believe me to be, with great esteem and regard, dear Sir, &c.