Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ben Franklin's Wikileaks

Benjamin Franklin
(Venice, Italy) During the holidays, I had the good fortune to stumble upon a two-volume set of books called Franklin in France - From Original Documents Most of Which Are Now Published for the First Time by Edward E. Hale and Edward E. Hale, Jr. The first volume was published in 1886 by the Roberts Brothers in Boston; the second volume was published in 1887. The books were on a shelf in a personal library. It appeared that they had not been read by anyone before because I had to slice open many of the pages.

Just think, Ben Franklin's Wikileaks had not been published until more than 100 years after they were originally written. And there I was, happily nestled in the Veneto, more than 250 years later, all snuggled up and reading about what went on behind the scenes when the United States of America was actually being created. It was such a thrill, and surprising to learn that all the intrigues and schemes and plots and disinformation that we can read about today on Wikileaks are nothing new at all. Please forgive the formatting (once again) because I am transferring data from PDF files, occasionally with success -- that in itself is a bit of a miracle, that today we can freely share information all over the world. Here are the opening paragraphs:




THE Declaration of Independence made the United
States a nation. It was a nation which had power
to make war or peace, and to contract alliances.
The Continental Congress, which by misfortune was at
once the executive and the legislature of this nation,
addressed itself immediately to this business of making
alliance with any European power which could aid it
against England. 

By the agency of a secret committee,
of which Benjamin Franklin was the most important
member, it had opened correspondence with many persons
in Europe. Among these was Dr. Arthur Lee, — a Vir-
ginian who had been made a Doctor of Medicine by the
University of Edinburgh, had afterwards studied law, and
was at the time of the outbreak of hostilities agent in
London for Massachusetts. The secret committee had
also recommended that Silas Deane should be sent to
France, to try if it were possible to obtain assistance for
the colonies. Almost immediately after the Declaration
of Independence, Congress named these two, with Frank-
lin, as its commissioners in Europe for making such
alliances as might be possible. Congress gave these
commissioners full powers for contracting treaties with
France and Spain.

Pierre Landis
A furious exchange of letters between Benjamin Franklin and Captain Pierre Landais, a former officer of the French Navy and the first commander of the American ship, Alliance, and who had dreams of being the naval counterpart of General Lafayette, are a highpoint of the books. If you like, you can first read the Wikipedia version of events at USS Alliance so you get some background. In brief, Landais simply refused to follow orders, infuriating John Paul Jones and Benjamin Franklin. Here is an excerpt from a letter to Landais, who was in Paris, from Franklin, who was in Passy, dated March 12, 1780:

No one has ever learnt from me the opinion I formed 
of you from the enquiry made into
your conduct. I kept it entirely to myself. I have not
even hinted it in my letters to America, because I would
not hazard giving any one a bias to your prejudice. By
communicating a part of that opinion privately to you it
can do you no harm, for you may burn it. I should not
give you the pain of reading it if your demand did not
make it necessary.

I think you, then, so imprudent, so

litigious, and quarrelsome a man, even with your best

friends, that peace and good order, and consequently the
quiet and regular subordination so necessary to success,
are, where you preside, impossible. These are matters
within my observation and comprehension; your military
operations I leave to more capable judges. If, therefore,
I had 20 ships-of-war in my disposition, I should not give
one of them to Captain Landais. The same temper which
excluded him from the French Marine would weigh equally
with me. Of course I shall not replace him in the
"Alliance." I am assur'd, however, that as captain of a merchant-
ship you have two very good qualities, highly useful to
your owners, viz., economy and integrity. For these I
esteem you, and have the honour to be, Sir, &c.
Benjamin Franklin.

P. S. I have passed over all the charges made or insin-
uated against me in your letters and angry conversations,
because I would avoid continuing an altercation for which
I have neither time nor inclination. You will carry them
to America, where I must be accountable for my conduct
towards you, and where it will be my duty, if I cannot
justify myself, to submit to any censures I may have
merited. Our correspondence, which cannot be pleasant to 
either of us, may therefore, if you please, end here.

The Alliance eventually did set off for America with Landais commanding the ship. According to Wikipedia, here is what happened on that journey:

Alliance was allowed to leave France unmolested. Her homeward voyage proved to be anything but routine. Landais quarreled with his officers, abused his men, and made life miserable for his passengers. The ship had hardly lost sight of land when he locked up Capt.Matthew Parke because the commanding officer of the embarked Marine Corps contingent refused to swear unconditional obedience under all possible circumstances. Any seamen who had joined the frigate after Bonhomme Richard had sunk were suspected of disloyalty, many were shackled and imprisoned in the ship's rat-infested hold. Even Arthur Lee, who had urged the Frenchman to take command, came close to being stabbed with a carving knife for taking the first slice of roast pig at dinner. In operating and navigating the ship Landais gave orders which violated the rules of safe and sensible seamanship.

The fearful and exasperated officers and passengers finally agreed that the commanding officer must be insane, and they forcibly relieved him of command on 11 August. Alliance continued on to America in a happier and more orderly fashion under the command of Lt. James A. Degge. She arrived at Boston on 19 August 1780.

Marchese de La Fayette
One of my personal favorites is a letter from Lafayette, who was in Paris, to John Adams dated February 7, 1780. It surprised me how much passion Lafayette, a Frenchman, had for the new country he was helping to create. I was especially heartened to learn that Lafayette was firmly against the weapons of treachery and falsehood being used by the British, and deeply believed in never deceiving the free citizens of America. Here it is in its entirety:

Dear Sir, — As I came but this morning from Ver-

sailles it was not in my power sooner to answer to the

letter you have honored me with, and this duty I now
perform with the more pleasure that it is of some impor-
tance to the interest of America.

Since the first day when I had the happiness of making 
myself, and of being considered in the world, as an American, 
I have always observed that among so many ways of attacking 
our liberties, and among them the most ungenerous ones, 
treachery and falsehood have ever been the first weapons on 
which the British nation have the most depended. 

I am glad it is in my power generally to assure you
that the many reports propagated by them, and alluded to

in your letter, are not founded upon truth. These con-

tracts with petty German princes have not, I believe,
taken place. And if any such merchandise was sent to
America it would at most consist of a few recruits.

The troubles in Ireland, if there is the least common
sense amongst the first patriots in that country, are not,
I hope, at an end, and it seems they now begin to raise
new expectations.

The Russian troops so much talked of in their gazette
I take to be more recruits for the thirty thousand Rus-
sians that Mr. Rivington had three years ago ordered to
embark for America.

These intelligences, my dear Sir, be counteracted by letters 
to our friends in America. But as the respect we
owe to the free citizens of the United States makes it a
point of duty for us never to deceive them, and as the
most candid frankness must ever distinguish our side of 
the question from the cause of tyranny and falsehood, I 
intend paying to-morrow morning a visit to the minister
of foreign affairs, and from him get so minuted intelli-
gences as will answer your purpose.

With the most sincere Regard and friendly affection, I
have the honor to be, dear Sir,
Your most obedient humble servant, Lafayette.;

P. S. On my return from Versailles, my dear Sir, where
I will settle the affair of  — that I had undertaken, I will
impart you a project privately, relating to one that is not 
inconsistent with my sentiments for our country —

Abigail Adams
One of the most entertaining exchanges was between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail Adams, the wife of John Adams, the second President of the United States. She was also the mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President. Abigail Adams was actively involved in her husband's affairs, often advising him, and privy to all sorts of confidential information. Mrs. Adams initiated the correspondence with Jefferson, writing to him from the Bath Hotel in London on June 6, 1785. John Adams had just been named as the first US Minister to Great Britain; it appalled many Londoners that the United States actually existed. The newspapers were full of inaccuracies and outright lies. Here are a few excerpts from Mrs. Adams to Jefferson:

I had lived so quietly in that calm retreat [Auteuil] that the noise
and bustle of this proud city almost turned my brain for
the first two or three days. The figure which this city
makes in respect to equipages is vastly superior to Paris,
and gives one the idea of superior wealth and grandeur.
I have seen few carriages in Paris, and no horses
superior to what are used here for hackneys. ...
...Whilst I am writing the papers of this day are
handed me. From the Publick Advertiser I extract
the following. "Yesterday morning a messenger was
sent from Mr. Pitt to Mr. Adams, the American Pleni-
potentiary, with notice to suspend for the present their
intended interview." (Absolutely false.) From the
same paper. "An Ambassador from America! Good
heavens, what a sound! The Gazette surely [never]
announced anything so extraordinary before, nor once
on a day so little expected; — this will be such a
phsenomenon in the Corps Diplomatique that 'tis hard
to say which can excite indignation most, the insolence
of those who appoint the character, or the manners of
those who receive it. Such a thing could never have
happened in any former Administration, not even that
of Lord North. It was reserved, like some other humil-
iating circumstances, to take place
Sub Jove, sed Jove noncom

From the Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, " It is
said that Mr. Adams, the Minister Plenipotentiary from
America, is extremely desirous of visiting Lord North,
whom he regards as one of the best friends the Ameri-
cans ever had." Thus you see, sir, the beginning

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson appeared to be quite happy to hear from Abigail Adams, and promptly replied from Paris to London on June 21, 1785. More excerpts:

Jefferson to Mrs. Adams.
Paris, June 21 [1785].
Dear Madam, — I have received duly the honor of
your letter, and am now to return you thanks for your
condescension in having taken the first step for settling
a correspondence which I so much desired; for I must
consider it as settled and proceed accordingly.

I have always found it best to remove obstacles first. I will
do so, therefore, in the present case, by telling you that
I consider your boasts of the splendor of your city and
of its superb hackney coaches as a flout, and declaring
that I would not give the polite, self-denying, feeling,
hospitable, good-humored people of this country and
their amiability in every point of view (tho' it must
be confessed our streets are somewhat dirty and our
fiacres rather indifferent) for ten such races of rich,
proud, hectoring, swearing, quibbling, carnivorous ani-
mals as those among whom you are: and that I do love
this people with all my heart and think that with a
better religion, a better form of government, and their
present governors, their condition and country would
be most enviable. I pray you to observe that I have
used the noun people, and that this is a noun of the
masculine as well as feminine gender. ...

...The squibs against Mr.
Adams are such as I expected from the polished, mild-
tempered, truth-speaking people he is sent to. It would
be ill policy to attempt to answer or refute them,
but counter-squibs I think would be good policy. ...
After reading that exchange, perhaps we can understand why the State of Texas recently removed Thomas Jefferson from its history books. From the Huffington Post:
In Texas, Thomas Jefferson is set to be removed from the textbook standards explaining how Enlightenment thinkers have influenced revolutions since 1750. Replacing him will be the French theologian John Calvin.
It has taken a lot of time to track down where you, too, can read these books, but I have managed to do it. They are in the public domain, and free online -- even though it often appears otherwise -- it took me a while to actually find them. In my opinion, the best place to get them is at the Hathi Trust. Here is the link:

Happy learning.
Ciao from the Veneto,

1 comment:

  1. THE Declaration of Independence made the United States a nation. It was a nation which had power
    to make war or peace, and to contract alliances.