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change it, and to enforce the rule that free ships shall make free goods, except in the case of contraband. Denmark, Sweden, and Holland have already acceded to the proposition, and Portugal is expected to follow. France and Spain, in their answers, have also expressed their approbation of it. I have, therefore, instructed our privateers to bring in no more neutral ships, as such prizes occasion much litigation, and create ill blood.”
He did not know whether Congress would approve of this new rule of law, but he took his chances. He was not the first person to suggest the principle of “free ships, free goods," nor was he a prominent advocate of it, as has sometimes been implied ; for his letter shows that Russia had suggested this improvement in the rules of international law, and that other nations were accepting it. He, however, urged on a number of occasions that war should be confined exclusively to regularly organized armies and fleets, that privateering should be abolished, that merchant vessels should be free from capture even by men-of-war, and that fishermen, farmers, and all who were engaged in supplying the necessaries of life should be allowed to pursue their avocations unmolested. The world has not yet caught up with this suggestion.
The great difficulty during the last two or three years of the Revolution was the want of money. The supplies sent out by Beaumarchais and Deane in the early part of the struggle merely served to start it. In the long run expenses increased enormously, the resources of the country were drained, the paper money depreciated with terrible rapidity, and we were compelled to continue borrowing from France or Holland. We borrowed principal and
then borrowed more to pay the interest on the principal, and a large part of this business passed through Franklin's hands.
He persuaded the French government to lend, and then to lend again to pay interest.
He was regarded as the source from which all the money was to come. Congress drew on him, John Jay in Spain drew on him, he had to pay salaries and the innumerable expenses appertaining to the fitting out and repairing of ships and the exchange of pris
These calls upon him were made often from a long distance, with a sort of blind confidence that he would in some way manage to meet them. A captain in the West Indies would run his ship into a port to be careened, refitted, and supplied, and coolly draw on him for the expense. It was extremely dangerous sometimes to refuse to accept a bill presented to him, and, as he said to Congress, if a single draft for interest on a loan went to protest there would be “ dreadful consequences of ruin to our public credit both in America and Europe."
He suffered enough anxiety and strain to have destroyed some men. When Jay went to Spain in 1780, Congress was so sure he would obtain money from that monarchy that it drew on him. But as Jay could not get a cent, he forwarded the drafts to Franklin, who in reply wrote, “the storm of bills which I found coming upon us both has terrified and vexed me to such a degree that I have been deprived of sleep, and so much indisposed by continual anxiety as to be rendered almost incapable of writing.” He would have gone under in this storm
if he had not persuaded the French government to come to his rescue.
He was also from time to time receiving all sorts of proposals of peace from emissaries or agents of the British government; and he had a long correspondence on this subject with David Hartley, who helped him to arrange the exchange of prisoners in England. Nearly all these proposals contained a trap of some kind, as that we should break our alliance with France and then England would treat with us, or that there should be a peace without a definite recognition of independence; and some of them may have been intended to entrap Franklin himself. It was, in any event, most dangerous and delicate work, for it was corresponding with the pub
Most men in Franklin's position would have been compelled to drop it entirely, for fear of becoming involved in some serious difficulty ; for it was suspected, if not actually proved, that persons connected with our own embassy in France were using their official knowledge to speculate in stocks in England. But Franklin came through it all unscathed.
He was much annoyed by numerous applications from people who wished to serve in the American army. Most of them had proved failures in France and were burdens on their relations.
In the early years of the embassy many were sent out who gave endless trouble and embarrassment to Washington and Congress. Out of the whole horde, only about three-Lafayette, Steuben, and De Kalb— were ever anything more than a nuisance. But, to avoid
giving offence to the French people, Franklin was often obliged to give these applicants some sort of letter of recommendation, and he drew up a form which he sometimes used in extreme cases :
“The bearer of this, who is going to America, presses me to give him a letter of recommendation, though I know nothing of him, not even his name. This may seem extraordinary, but I assure you it is not uncommon here. Sometimes, indeed, one unknown person brings another equally unknown, to recommend him; and sometimes they recommend one another ! As to this gentleman, I must refer you to himself for his character and merits, with which he is certainly better acquainted than I can possibly be. I recommend him, however, to those civilities, which every stranger, of whom one knows no harm, has a right to; and I request you will do him all the good offices, and show him all the favor, that, on further acquaintance, you shall find him to deserve. I have the honor to be, &c.”
The old man's sense of humor carried him through many a difficulty ; and it is hardly necessary to say that the management of all this multifarious business, the exercise of such large authority and discretion, and the weight of such responsibility required a nervous force, patience, tact, knowledge of men and affairs, mental equipoise, broad, cool judgment, and strength of character which comparatively few men in America possessed. Indeed, it is difficult to name another who could have filled the position. John Adams could not have done it. He would have lost his temper and blazed out at some point, or have committed some huge indiscretion that would have wrecked everything. That Lee, Izard, or even Deane could have held the post would be ridiculous to suppose.
Adams appeared again in Paris in the beginning of the year 1780, having been sent by Congress to await England's expected willingness to treat for peace. He was authorized to receive overtures for a general peace, and also, if possible, to negotiate a special commercial treaty with England. He had nothing to do but wait, and was in no way connected with our embassy in France. But being presented at court and asked by Vergennes to furnish information, he must needs try to make an impression. He assailed Vergennes, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, with numerous reasons why he should at once disclose to the court at London his readiness to make a commercial treaty. He argued about the question of the Continental currency and how it should be redeemed. He urged the sending of a large naval force to the United States; and when told that the force had already been sent without solicitation, he attempted to prove in the most tactless and injudicious manner that it was not without solicitation, but, on the contrary, the king had been repeatedly asked for it, and had yielded at last to importunity.
This conduct was so offensive to Vergennes that he complained of it to Franklin, who was obliged to rebuke Adams; and Congress, when the matter came before it, administered another rebuke. Adams never forgave Franklin for this, and afterwards publicly declared that Franklin and Vergennes had conspired to destroy his influence and ruin him. At the time, however, he had the good sense to take his rebuff in silence, and went off grumbling to Hol