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Hartley spoke of him as “the most ungracious man he ever saw.” Arriving in Paris on his second mission in February, 1780, Adams soon found himself uncomfortable at the French court, having given offence to Vergennes in his correspondence. Franklin had confidence in the upright and generous intentions of the court, and wrote to the president of Congress, – “Mr. Adams, on the contrary, who, at the same time, means our welfare and interest as much as I or any man can do, seems to think a little apparent stoutness, and a greater air of independence and boldness in our demands, will procure us more ample assistance.” Finding that he could bring little to pass in Paris, Adams proceeded to Holland, where he had been authorized to negotiate a loan, but where he at first failed in his object, and was obliged to resort to Franklin's influence with the French court to provide for the heavy drafts which Congress had made on their commissioner for a peace, in the expectation of the success of his financial application to the Dutch. There can be little doubt that the liberal and timely aid rendered by France to the United States was due, in a great measure, to the personal influence and the diplomatic address of Franklin. Hostility to Great Britain was an element that entered largely into the policy which supplied this aid; but that hostility would not have availed to induce that policy, had it not been that the United States had an envoy on the spot, who personally commended his country's cause to the French court and people, in a manner the most ample and impressive. We have Franklin's own testimony to the fact that Vergennes never promised him anything & which he did not punctually perform.” Franklin accordingly carried into his diplomatic intercourse the unsuspicious manners which his conviction of the sincerity of the party with which he was dealing made easy; and he obtained, through the personal regard of the king and ministry for himself, concessions and loans for his country which would not have been granted to him in his public capacity, unsustained by the influences which his private reputation and demeanor had created. He seems to have been deeply impressed with “the noble and generous manner” in which France, “without stipulating for a single privilege,” had “afforded us aid in our distress;”
and though there were many then who undervalued our obligations, and though there are many still who speak slightingly of them, no one can study intimately the history of those times without admitting that the aid of France was most timely and important, and that the news of her alliance was better than an army in sending confidence and joy through our dwindling ranks. It was reported to his prejudice, in the United States, that Franklin had been so flattered in France that he was ready to favor that country at the expense of his own. But time has fully exposed the absurdity of the suspicion, and justified him in his unwavering confidence in the good faith of our allies. In the summer of 1780, Count Rochambeau arrived at Newport, Rhode Island, with a French army of six thousand men; and, in 1781, Franklin procured from France an additional loan of three millions of livres, and the sum of six millions, not as a loan, but as a free gift. On the 12th of March, 1781, being then in his seventy-sixth year, he wrote to the President of Congress, requesting his recall. John Adams speaks of this as a “pretended request;” but there is no evidence to sustain the idea of simulation. “I do not know,” writes Franklin, “that my mental faculties are impaired; perhaps I shall be the last to discover that; but I am sensible of great diminution in my activity, a quality I think particularly necessary in your minister for this court. I find, also, that the business is too heavy for me, and too confining. . . . . I purpose to remain here at least till the peace; perhaps it may be for the remainder of my life.” To a friend, who wrote, urging him, in complimentary terms, to continue at his post, Franklin, who was never at a loss for an illustrative story, replied: “Your comparison of the key-stone of an arch is very pretty, tending to make me content with my situation. But I suppose you have heard our story of the harrow : if not, here it is: — A farmer in our country sent two of his servants to borrow one of a neighbor, ordering them to bring it between them on their shoulders. When they came to look at it, one of them, who had much wit, said, ‘What could our master mean by sending only two men to bring this harrow? No two men upon earth are strong enough to carry it.” “Poh!” said the other, who was vain of his strength, ‘what do
you talk of two men, – one man may carry it; help it upon my shoulders, and you shall see.” As he proceeded with it, the wag kept exclaiming, ‘Zounds ! how strong you are I could not have thought it! Why, you are a Samson There is not such another man in America. What amazing strength God has given you! But you will kill yourself! Pray put it down and rest a little, or let me bear a part of the weight.’ ‘No, no,” said he, being more encouraged by the compliments than oppressed by the burden; ‘you shall See I can carry it quite home.’ And so he did. In this particular I am afraid my part of the imitation will fall short of the original.” But to Franklin's application for a release, Congress replied, the following June, by appointing him one of a commission of five, including John Adams, Jay, Jefferson * and Laurens, to negotiate a treaty of peace. Finding his health “considerably reëstablished,” Franklin accepted the new appointment. The preliminary conditions, which he laid down, as essential to any treaty with Great Britain, were, the independence of the United States full and complete, a satisfactory boundary, and a participation in the Newfoundland fisheries. It has been stated that he was not decided in regard to the last-named condition. But the evidence to the contrary is most explicit. Both Mr. Adams and Mr. Oswald, the British negotiator, testify that Franklin insisted on the condition as essential; and Mr. Jay, in a letter to Franklin, says, “I do not recollect the least difference of sentiment between us respecting the boundaries or fisheries.” Notwithstanding the liberal conduct of France towards the United States, and the fact that the American commissioners had positive instructions to undertake nothing without her concurrence in negotiating a peace, a treaty with Great Britain was signed on the 30th of November, 1782, without the cošperation or knowledge of our generous ally. In a letter, dated the 5th of the following month, and addressed to Robert R. Livingston, Franklin writes: “The arrival of Mr. Jay, Mr. Adams and Mr. Laurens, relieved me
from much anxiety, which must have continued if I had been left to finish the treaty alone; and it has given me the more satisfaction, as I am sure the
* In consequence of his wife's illness, Jefferson did not go to France till after the treaty of peace was signed.
business has profited by their assistance. Much of the summer was taken up in objecting to the powers given by Great Britain, and in removing those objections. The using any expressions that might imply an acknowledgment of our independence seemed, at first, industriously to be avoided. But our refusing otherwise to treat at length induced them to get over that difficulty: and then we came to the point of making propositions. “The British ministers struggled hard for two points, –that the favors granted to the royalists should be extended, and our fishery contracted. We silenced them on the first, by threatening to produce an account of the mischiefs done by those people ; and as to the second, when they told us they could not possibly agree to it as we required it, and must refer it to the ministry in London, we produced a new article to be referred at the same time, with a note of facts in support of it, which you have, No. 3. Apparently it seemed that, to avoid the discussion of this, they suddenly changed their minds, dropped the design of recurring to London, and agreed to allow the fishery as demanded. “We communicated all the articles, as soon as they were signed, to Mons. le Comte de Vergennes (except the separate one), who thinks we have managed well, and told me that we had settled what was most apprehended as a difficulty in the work of a general peace, by obtaining the declaration of our independence.”
Wergennes was chagrined, not without cause, at the course of the commissioners. “I am at a loss, sir,” he wrote to Franklin, “to explain your conduct and that of your colleagues on this occasion. You have concluded your preliminary articles without any communication between us, although the instructions from Congress prescribe that nothing shall be done without the participation of the king.” To this Franklin replied: “Nothing has been agreed in the preliminaries contrary to the interests of France; and no peace is to take place between us and England till you have concluded yours.” He admitted that the commissioners, in not consulting Wergennes, had been guilty of “neglecting a point of bienséance;” but, as this “was not from want of respect to the king,” he hoped it would be excused. The probability is, that as Jay and Adams were extremely jealous of French influence, and full of suspicions (which turned out chimerical) on the subject, Franklin yielded, against his better judgment and inclinations, to a course, his opposition to which would have been misconstrued, and, perhaps, abortive. Notwithstanding the slight put upon the French court, Vergennes was magnanimous enough, a few days after, to advance another loan of upwards of a million of dollars to the United States. The whole course of the French court towards the people
of the United States shows that Franklin did not err when he pronounced it “noble, generous, and sincere.”
The treaty signed by the commissioners was duly ratified by Congress, and was received with much approbation by the people of the United States.
Franklin now arranged highly favorable terms for the payment of our debt to France; negotiated a treaty with Sweden, the first power to welcome us into the family of nations; and also a treaty with Prussia, in which he incorporated a humane article against privateering, of which practice he always had the greatest abhorrence, denouncing it as “robbery” and “piracy.” On the 13th of May, 1784, the ratifications of a definitive treaty were interchanged between Mr. Hartley on the side of Great Britain, the Count de Vergennes, and Franklin and Jay. In relation to this event, Franklin writes to Charles Thompson, Secretary of Congress: “Thus the great and hazardous enterprise we have been engaged in is, God be praised, happily completed; an event I hardly expected I should live to see. A few years of peace, well improved, will restore and increase our strength; but our future safety will depend on our union and our virtue. Britain will be long watching for advantages, to recover what she has lost. If we do not convince the world that we are a nation to be depended on for fidelity in our treaties, if we appear negligent in paying our debts, and ungrateful to those who have served and befriended us, our reputation, and all the strength it is capable of procuring, will be lost, and fresh attacks upon us will be encouraged and promoted by better prospects of success.”
At length, to Franklin's repeated applications for a recall, — applications which had long been unheeded, because Congress was well aware of his profound skill in diplomacy, his influence and his patriotic devotion,- a substitute at the French court was, in March 1785, appointed in Mr. Jefferson. “You have come to fill Dr. Franklin's place " '' some one asked. “O, no, sir!” replied Jefferson; “no man living can do that; but I am appointed to succeed him.”