Indeed, the whole letter is one of the best specimens of the writer's peculiar clearness and vigor of thought and felicity of style. Having now been in France eighteen months, Dr. Franklin had attracted around him a large number of personal friends. He was often present at the meetings of the Academy, where he was honored with every mark of consideration and respect. When Voltaire came to Paris for the last time, to be idolized and to die, he expressed a desire to see the American philosopher.
An interview took place. Voltaire accosted him in English, and pursued the conversation in that language. Madame Denis interrupted him by saying, that Dr. Franklin understood French, and that the rest of the company wished to know the subject of their discourse. The business of the commissioners continued nearly the same as it had been before the treaty of alliance.
There was more to be done in maritime affairs, because American vessels were then freely admitted into the French ports. Cases of capture and of the sale of prizes were referred to them for their decision. With the loans obtained from the French government and comparatively small remittances from America, they were enabled to refit public vessels, purchase military supplies for the army and navy of the United States, contribute to the relief of American prisoners in England, and pay the drafts of Congress.
In all these transactions Dr. Franklin found an able, zealous, and active coadjutor in Mr. Both Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams had represented to Congress the inexpediency of employing three commissioners in a service, the duties of which might be discharged with equal facility and at less expense by one. In conformity with this suggestion, Dr. Franklin was appointed minister plenipotentiary to the court of France on the 14th of September. The commission was dissolved, and Mr. Adams returned to America.
Lee stayed some time longer, holding nominally a commission to Spain, but never going to that court. It is not the design of this narrative, nor is it possible within the limits prescribed, to write a history of the public transactions in which Dr. Franklin was concerned. Some of the more prominent incidents, and those of a personal nature, are all that can be introduced. But justice to his memory, as well as gratitude for the great services he rendered to his country, require, that some of the particulars should be stated in regard to the means that were used to embarrass his proceedings and injure his character.
Among those, who took upon themselves this unworthy task, the most active and persevering was Mr. This gentleman was a Virginian by birth, a brother of Richard Henry Lee. A few years before the war broke out, he went to London, studied law in the Temple, and commenced practice.
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His talents and attainments were respectable, he was a good writer, and supported the cause of his country with ardor and a uniform consistency. But his temper was restless and vehement. Jealous of his rivals and distrustful of everybody, he involved himself, and those connected with him, in a succession of disputes and difficulties. His hostility to Franklin showed itself at an early date. It has been seen above, that, when Dr. Franklin was appointed agent for Massachusetts at the court of London, Mr.
Lee was nominated to be his successor whenever he should retire. Circumstances detained him longer in England than he had expected. Lee grew impatient, and fearing, as he said, that Dr. Franklin would never depart "till he was gathered to his fathers," be resorted to the dishonorable artifice of writing letters to one of the principal members of the Massachusetts legislature, filled with charges against him in regard to his official conduct, as destitute of foundation in point of fact as they were of candor and propriety.
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This was the more reprehensible, as Dr. Franklin consulted him on proper occasions respecting the affairs of the colony, treated him as a friend and considered him as such, and spoke favorably of him in his correspondence. It is true, that these charges did not then produce the effect desired by Mr. Lee; yet they gave rise to suspicions, which long existed in the minds of the prominent men of Massachusetts, and which were utterly without any just cause. Before Dr. Franklin's arrival in France, Mr. Lee had fallen into a quarrel with Mr. Some months previously, Beaumarchais had consulted him in London with respect to the best mode of forwarding secret aids to the United States.
A plan was partly matured, in which Mr. Lee supposed he was to be a principal actor. But, when Mr. Deane appeared in Paris, as an agent from Congress, the plan was changed, and Beaumarchais completed his arrangements directly with him, because be was the only person in Europe authorized by Congress to enter into contracts on their account.
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Lee, hearing of this change, hastened over to Paris, accused Mr. Deane of interfering in his affairs, and endeavoured to stir up a contention between him and Beaumarchais. Failing in this attempt, he returned to London, vexed at his disappointment and angry with Mr. Such was the disposition of Mr.
Lee towards his associates, when the commissioners met in Paris. For seven or eight months there was an apparent harmony, for Mr. Lee was absent the most of the time in Spain and Germany, and the business was transacted by Franklin and Deane. But no sooner bad he again joined his colleagues, than his suspicious temper and aspiring ambition raised up new troubles, and he began to foment discords both in Europe and America, which ultimately threatened alarming consequences to the foreign affairs of the United States.
He was dissatisfied with all that his colleagues had done, found fault with their contracts, and more than insinuated that they had been heedlessly extravagant, partial to friends, and indulgent to themselves, in the expenditure of public money. This was not the worst. His 'letters to members of Congress teemed with charges and insinuations, which, although they were not sustained by any positive evidence, could not fail to produce impressions as erroneous, as they were unjust to those, whom he chose to consider his enemies, and 'whom he believed to stand in his way.
As early as October, , his designs were unfolded in letters to his brothers, and to Samuel Adams, who were then members of Congress. He represents the American affairs in France to be in the utmost disorder and confusion, by the negligence and faithlessness of his associate commissioners, who would pay no regard to his counsels and admonitions, and whom it was impossible for him to control; and he then begs his friends to remember, that, if there should be a question in Congress about his destination, he should "prefer being at the court of France," for he had discovered that court to be "the great wheel," by which all the others were moved.
He recommended that Dr. Franklin should be sent to Vienna, and Mr. Deane to Holland. If this scheme can be executed, it will disconcert all the plans at one stroke, without an appearance of intention, and save both the public and me.
He continued the same manoeuvres for several months. At one time he intimated, that Dr. Franklin had sent out a public vessel on a "cruising job," in the profits of which he was to share; and, at another, that be and the American banker in Paris, were in a league to defraud the public, and to put money into their own pockets.
It is needless to say, that there was not one word of truth in these charges, nor any grounds for them, except in Mr. Lee's heated passions, distempered imagination, and ambitious hopes. He did not succeed in his schemes, but he was not the less pertinacious in pursuing them.
His letters produced a mischievous influence, fanning the flame of party, and exciting suspicions of almost every public agent abroad, whom he did not regard as subservient to his views. It is scarcely too much to say, that the divisions and feuds, which reigned for a long time in Congress, with respect to the foreign affairs of the United States, are to be ascribed more to this malign influence, than to all other causes.
Another individual, who placed himself among the foremost of Dr. Franklin's enemies, was Mr. He imbibed his prejudices in the first instance from Mr.
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He resided nearly two years in Paris as commissioner from the United States to the court of Tuscany; but, having no direct intercourse with that court, and no encouragement that he would be received there, it was not in his power to render any public service, and he was at length recalled.
There were two causes of his enmity to Franklin.
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Whilst the treaties were negotiating with France, he conceived that he ought to be consulted, in virtue of his commission to another court; he complained of being overlooked, and demanded an explanation. Not recognising his authority to make such a demand, Dr. Franklin was tardy in answering it; and Mr. Izard chose to took upon this remissness as a slight, and to assume it as the ground of a quarrel. On this point it is enough to say, that he was not in the commission for treating, with France, and could not, with the least propriety, claim to be consulted, in the negotiation.
Again, after Dr. Franklin became minister plenipotentiary, the drafts for public money expended in Europe passed through his hands. He was to pay the salaries of the American commissioners at other courts. He paid to Mr.
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Izard about twelve thousand dollars, and, there being no prospect of his going to the court of Tuscany, he declined accepting further drafts, till he should receive such instructions from Congress as would meet the case. Izard's pride was wounded by this refusal. He neither suppressed nor concealed his resentment; and he never practised any reserve in avowing his settled hostility to Dr.
The amputations of these gentlemen, and of some others with whom they were allied in opinions and sympathy, reiterated in letters to members of Congress, would necessarily produce a strong impression, especially as Dr. Franklin took no pains whatever to vindicate himself, or to counteract the arts of his enemies.
He was not ignorant of their proceedings. The substance of their letters, which the writers seemed not to desire should be kept secret, was communicated to him by his friends. This apparent apathy on his part contributed to give countenance to the suspicions, which had been infused into the minds of many, by the persevering industry of his adversaries.
At one time those suspicions had gained so much ascendancy, that his recall was proposed in Congress.