Papers of John Adams, volume 8

From Peter Frederick Dobrée

From Ralph Izard

41 From Benjamin Franklin, 24 April 1779 Franklin, Benjamin JA


From Benjamin Franklin, 24 April 1779 Franklin, Benjamin Adams, John
From Benjamin Franklin
Sir Passy, April 24. 1779

By the enclosed Letter from M. De Sartine1 expressing his Majestys Desire that the Alliance should be retained here a little longer, you will see that I am under a kind of Necessity of disappointing you in your Intentions of making your Passage immediately2 in that Vessel; which would be more unpleasing to me but for these Considerations, that possibly it may be safer for you to go in a Ship where the Crew not being so mixed can be better depended on, where you will not be incommoded by the Misunderstandings subsisting between the Officers and their Captain, and where you will have the Society of the French Ambassador, M. le Chevalier de la Luzerne, who appears to me a most amiable Man and of very sensible and pleasing Conversation. I hope this will in some Measure compensate for the Inconvenience of shifting your Stores from one Ship to the other. And as I shall order the Alliance to l'Orient where the King's Frigate is, that carries the Ambassador, the removal of your Things from one Ship to the other will be more easy. You can even go thither in the Alliance if you chuse it. The Ships in the American Trade which were at Nantes when I offered them the Convoy, of the Alliance, having declined that Offer, and sailed, as I understand, under another and perhaps safer Convoy, makes her immediate Departure for America less necessary; and perhaps she may now make a Cruize in these Seas, for which I understand she will have time; which will be probably more advantageous and therefore more Satisfactory to her People than a direct Return. I hope she may procure us some more Prisoners to exchange the rest of our Countrymen, and at the same time reimburse us the Charges of her Refitting, which you know we stand much in need of.

M. Dumas writes me from the Hague of the 19th “Je sçais sais depuis hier, de bonne part que l'Espagne s'est enfin declarée. Cela fera un bon Effet ici, et partout.”3 I hope his Intelligence is good; but nothing of it has yet transpired here.

Inclosed I send you a Cover which I have just received from Martinique, directed to me but containing only a Letter for you. The Cover being unskilfully sealed, over the Seal of your Letter, was so attached to it that I had like to have broken open the one in opening the other. I send you also another Letter which came from Spain.4

I am obliged by your offer of taking Charge of my Dispatches for America. I shall send them down to you by M. De la Luzerne, who is to set off in a few Days.

42 With great Esteem, I have the honour to be, Sir, Your most obedient & most humble Servant B Franklin

RC with one enclosure (Adams Papers); docketed: “Dr Franklin. Ap. 24. ans. Ap. 29. 1779.”


The letter, dated 20 April, informed Franklin that since a frigate was being prepared to carry La Luzerne to America, there was no need for the Alliance to go. It was to be sent to Lorient, where it could attend to whatever instructions Franklin might give. JA and his suite would be accorded, with pleasure, passage on the French warship (Adams Papers; JA, Works , 7:94).

In accordance with the letter, Franklin ordered Pierre Landais, captain of the Alliance, to proceed to Lorient to join the squadron forming under the command of John Paul Jones. This force, composed of the Alliance, Bonhomme Richard, Pallas, Vengeance, and Le Cerf—the latter three vessels supplied by the French government and under French commanders with American commissions—was to enter the Irish Sea and undertake landings, using French troops under Lafayette's command, at various points on the coasts of England and Ireland. By mid-May, with the failure of the Spanish mediation and the imminent entry of Spain into the war, the troops and ships intended for the expedition were needed for the much larger effort by France and Spain to effect an invasion of southern England. The squadron was not wasted, however, for after doing escort duty in June and July, it departed Lorient on 14 Aug. to begin the celebrated cruise around the British Isles that ended in the battle between the Bonhomme Richard and the Serapis on 23 Sept. (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev. , 3:187, 145–146; Louis Gottschalk, Lafayette and the Close of the American Revolution, Chicago, 1942, p. 9–16; Morison, John Paul Jones , p. 186–199).

Lafayette was the principal advocate of the plan for the landings and the addition of the Alliance to the Bonhomme Richard squadron. Benjamin Franklin, responding to Lafayette's proposal, wrote him on 22 March that while it promised great benefits, there were also great dangers and he had “not enough of Knowledge in such matters to presume upon Advising it.” By the following day Lafayette had persuaded Franklin to raise the issue with Vergennes, but while Franklin now approved the plan, he was reluctant to attach the Alliance because of the resulting delay in JA's departure. To overcome this obstacle, Lafayette wrote Sartine on [16–20? April], requesting that a letter be sent to Franklin that could be used after the expedition had departed to justify his attachment of the Alliance to that squadron, for without such a letter Franklin would not give his approval (Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776–1790, ed. Stanley Idzerda and others, 5 vols., Ithaca, N.Y., 1977–1983, 2:243–247, 255). From this request came Sartine's letter of 20 April. The fortunate coincidence of the departure of La Sensible permitted the offer of passage on that vessel and allowed Franklin to send the letter to JA upon its arrival, rather than after Lafayette's expedition had departed. Despite this, the delay was a bitter blow to JA. On the day Franklin's letter was received, JA wrote in his Diary that “this is a cruel disappointment.—To exchange May for July, and the Alliance for another Frigate, is too much” ( Diary and Autobiography , 2:363).

JA made no further entries until 7 May, and then on the 12th, he wrote of his suspicions as to the real reason for the delay. He believed it was an effort to collect a force over which John Paul Jones could act as commodore or, at the least, was owing to Franklin's desire to keep JA in France. JA asked whether “the old Conjurer dreaded my Voice in Congress? He has some Reason for he has often heard it there, a Terror to evil doers.” He added, “I may be mistaken in these Conjectures, they may be injurious to J. and to F. and therefore I shall not talk about them, but I am determined to put down my Thoughts and see which turns out” (same, 2:369).

JA's suspicion that Franklin had some nefarious motive for transferring the Alliance and thus delaying his return to America was groundless; but the unex-43plained naval preparations and their sudden cancellation did encourage suspicions in other minds. See letters from Jenings and Arthur Lee of 2 June (below).


Franklin inserted this word above the line.


Cal. Franklin Papers, A.P.S. , 2:64. Translation: I learn since yesterday, from a good source, that Spain has finally declared itself. This will have a good effect here and everywhere.


The cover and the enclosed letter have not been identified, but they may have been from William Bingham. The letter from Spain was likely that of 6 March from Robert Montgomery (above).