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DAVID HARTLEY TO B. FRANKLIN.
London, April 22d, 1779. My Dear Friend, The bearer of this, and some other papers, is a very sensible and worthy gentleman, with whom I had the pleasure of contracting an acquaintance since the commencement of the American troubles, originally upon the business of the American prisoners. It is a satisfaction to me at all times to have found him a friend to the restoration of peace between the two countries. It has likewise been an additional satisfaction and confirmation to me in my own thoughts upon that subject, to find that his sentiments, I think upon most, or all of the subjects upon which we have conversed, have coincided with mine. We both seem possessed of the opinion, that some plan of opening à negotiation upon preliminaries, which each side might find to be a sufficient 'security to itself, might be practicable ; and then your sentiment, which you gave me in a letter some years ago, might have its free scope and effect, viz, A little time given for cooling might have excellent effects.
The sentiments I have opened to you in my late letters for some months past, and which I have reduced in an enclosed paper into a more specific shape, seem to me, upon very repeated reflection, to promise the fairest ground of good expectation. These propositions originate from myself, as a mediator; I have communications with both sides, but certainly no authority to make proposals from either; and perhaps neither side, if I were to make the propositions separately to each, (being myself unauthorised) might give me positive consent. Each side
separately might say, No, from what is called political prudence; and yet each side might secretly wish that the offer could be made, with a done first, from the other party. I think the proposition of a truce for five or seven years, leaving all things in the present dispute in statu quo, must be advantageous to all parties, if it were only in consideration that a general satisfactory peace to all parties may come among the eccellent effects of time given for cooling. We can but fight it out at last. War never comes too late ; wisdom may step in between. These matters bave stolen upon us, and have arisen to great and formidable consequences, from small and unexpected beginnings ; but henceforward, we should know by experience what to expect. If the rage of war could but be abated for a sufficient length of time for reason and reflection to operate, I think it would never revive. I cannot pretend to forecast the result of any negotiation, but I think war would not revive; which is all that I want for my argument. Peace is a bonum in se; whereas the most favorable events of war are but relatively lesser evils ; certainly they are evils ; mala in se, not bona in se.
I hope that a cessation of hostilities would produce a renewal of reflection ; but even to take the argument at the worst advantage, the two parties are at a cooling distance of three thousand miles asunder. If the flames of war could be but once extinguished, does not the Atlantic ocean contain cold water enough to prevent their bursting out again? I am very strongly of opinion that the two nations of Great Britain and North America, would accord to the proposition of a truce for cooling. I cannot say whether a British ministry would accord to it, because they will not tell me; nor can I say whether an American
Plenipotentiary would accord to it, because, probably, you will not tell me. I put myself into your hands, however, when I tell you frankly, I am of opinion that both would accord to it, if there could be a done first on either side, to bind the bargain fast. You have the odds of me in this matter, because you know one half of the question; and I cannot give you any proof on the other side, but only my own presumptive judgment upon observation, and upon a course of reasoning in my own thoughts. : * But for France. My judgment would be, that if the proposition of the proposed preliminaries should be agreeable to America, France would do very unhandsomely to defeat it by their refusal. I likewise think it the interest of France, because their interest leads them to go to a certain point, and no further. There is a disparity in the operation of the terms of the alliance on the part of France, and on the part of America. The more vigorously France interposes, the better for America; in proportion to their exertions, they create, less or more, a diversion of the British force; this reasoning goes straight forward for America ; but it is not so with France. There is a certain point to France, beyond which their work would fail, and recoil upon themselves ; if they were to drive the British Ministry totally to abandon the American war, it would become totally a French war. The events of a twelvemonth past seem to bear testimony to this course of reasoning. The disadvantage upon the bargain to America is, that the efficacy of the French alliance to them presupposes their continuance in the war. The demur to France is, that the liberation of their new ally recoils with double weight of the war upon themselves, without any ulterior points of advantage in view, as dependent upon that alliance. I think the interest of all parties coincides with the proposition of preliminaries.
The proposed preliminaries appear to me to be just and equitable to all parties; but the great object with me is to come to some preliminaries. I could almost add, whatever those preliminaries might be, provided a suspension of arins for an adequate term of years were one, I think it would be ten thousand to one against any future renewal of the war. It is not necessary to enter at large into the reasons which induce me to think, that the British Ministry, as well as the American Plenipotentiary, would consent to the terms of the proposed preliminaries ; for indeed I do not know that I am founded in that opinion with respect to either, but still I believe it of both. But what can a private person do in such a case, wishing to be a mediator for peace, having access to both parties, but equally uncertain of the reception of his mediation on either side? I must hesitate to take any public step, as by a proposition in Parliament, or by any other means to drive the parties to an explanation upon any specific proposals ; and yet I am very unwilling to let the session pass without some proposition, upon which the parties may meet, if they should be so inclined, as I suspect them to be. I have been endeavoring to feel pulses for some months, but all is dumb show. I cannot say that I meet with anything discouraging, to my apprehension, either as to equitableness or practicability of the proposition for preliminaries. If I could but simply receive sufficient encouragement, that I should not run any hazard of obstructing any other practicable propositions by obtruding mine, I should be very much satisfied to come forward in that
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case with mine, to furnish a beginning at least, which might lead to peace.
There is nothing that I wish so much as to have an opportunity of seeing and conversing with you, having many things to say to you; but if that cannot yet happen, I have only to say, that whatever communication you may think proper to make to me, which may lead to peace, you may be assured that I shall be most strenuous in applying it to that end. In all cases of difficulty in human life, there must be confidence somewhere, to enable us to extricate nations from the evils attendant upon national disputes, as they arise out of national passions, jealousies, and points of hopor. I am not sure whether the extreme caution and diffidence of persons in political life be not the cause, almost as frequently, of the unnecessary protraction of the miseries of war, as of the final production of any superior good to any State. Peace now is better than peace a twelvemonth hence, at least by all the lives that may be lost in the meanwhile, and by all the accumulated miseries that may intervene by that delay. When I speak of the necessity of confidence, I would not have you to think, that I trust to all professions, promiscuously, with confidence; my thoughts are free respecting all parties; and for myself, if I thought it necessary for the end of attaining any additional confidence in your esteem, to enable me to co-operate the more effectually towards the restoration of peace, there is nothing that I would wish you to be assured of but this ; that no fallacious offers of insincerity, nor any pretexts for covering secret designs, or for obtaining unfair advantages, shall ever pass through my hands.