Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Benjamin Franklin the Diplomat

Benjamin Franklin
As an American ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin worked diplomatically to garner support for the American fight for freedom from the British.  Franklin was quite finesse with the French; however, diplomacy was sometimes difficult even for this great man.  In 1777, many young and aspiring Frenchmen appealed to Franklin for recommendation letters of introduction to fight in the American Revolution.  Franklin may have been impressed by some but his exasperation with the requests is evident in this letter to a friend dated October, 1777:


"You know, my dear Friend, that I am not capable of refusing you any Thing in my Power, which would be a real Kindness to you or any Friend of yours: But when I am certain that what you request would be directly the contrary, I ought to refuse it."


Here we can see Franklin's diplomacy at play:


"I know that Officers going to America for Employment will probably be disappointed: That our armies are full; that [there] are a Number of Expectants unemployed and starving for want of Subsistence; that my Recommendation will not make Vacancies; nor can it fill them to the prejudice to those who have a better Claim; That some of those Officers I have been prevail’d on to recommend have by their Conduct given no favourable Impression of my Judgment in military Merit: and then the Voyage is long, the Passage very expensive, and the Hazard of being taken and imprison’d by the English very considerable."


Nonetheless, he is acutely aware of his own position and points out:


"Permit me to mention to you that in my Opinion the natural Complacence of this Country often carries People too far in the Article of Recommendations. You give them with too much Facility to Persons of whose real Characters you know nothing, and sometimes at the request of others of whom you know as little. Frequently if a Man has no useful Talents, is good for nothing, and burthensome to his Relations, or is indiscreet, profligate and extravagant, they are glad to get rid of him by sending him to the other End of the World; and for that purpose scruple not to recommend him to those they wish should recommend him to others, as a bon sujet plein de merite, &c. &c. In consequence of my crediting such Recommendations, my own are out of Credit, and I cannot advise any body to have the least Dependance on them."


Towards the end, he adds with frustration that "these Applications are my perpetual Torment" because "You can have no Conception how I am harass’d. All my Friends are sought out and teiz’d to teaze me; Great Officers of all Ranks in all Departments, Ladies great and small, besides profess’d Sollicitors, worry me from Morning to Night. The Noise of Every Coach now that enters my Court terrifies me. I am afraid to accept an Invitation to dine abroad, being almost sure of meeting with some Officer, or Officer’s Friend, who as soon as I am put into good Humour by a glass or two of Champaign begins his Attack upon me."
*From Benjamin Franklin to [Barbeu-Dubourg], [after 2 October? 1777],” Founders Online, National Archives ( [last update: 2014-10-23]). Source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 25, October 1, 1777, through February 28, 1778, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1986, pp. 20–22.  Accessed November 12, 2014.

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