Benjamin Franklin Meets John Adams

I am persuaded, however, that he means well for his Country, is always an honest Man, often a wise one, but sometimes, and in some things, absolutely out of his senses.

Benjamin Franklin describing John Adams.

One of the finest scenes from the brilliant John Adams miniseries.  The portrayal of Franklin is quite on target:  extroverted, witty, a tad bit off-color, and never doing anything without knowing the impact on his audience.  Although Franklin and Adams developed an appreciation for the talents of each other and  worked well together towards the common goal of American Independence, they were never friends, although perhaps they could best be described as friendly enemies.  Benjamin Franklin gave his candid opinion of Adams in a letter to Robert Livingston, American Secretary for Foreign Affairs on July 22, 1783 in which he tells Livingston of Adams’ fears of the French:

I ought not, however, to conceal from you, that one of my Colleagues is of a very different Opinion from me in these Matters. He thinks the French Minister one of the greatest Enemies of our Country, that he would have straitned our Boundaries, to prevent the Growth of our People ; contracted
our Fishery, to obstruct the Increase of our Seamen; and retained the Royalists among us, to keep us divided; that he privately opposes all our Negociations with foreign Courts, and afforded us, during the War, the Assistance we receiv’d, only to keep it alive, that we might be so much the more
weaken ‘d by it ; that to think of Gratitude to France is the greatest of Follies, and that to be influenced by it would ruin us. He makes no Secret of his having these Opinions, ex- presses them publicly, sometimes in presence of the English Ministers, and speaks of hundreds of Instances which he could produce in Proof of them. None of which however, have yet appear’d to me, unless the Conversations and Letter above-mentioned are reckoned such.

If I were not convinc’d of the real Inability of this Court to furnish the further Supplys we ask’d, I should suspect these Discourses of a Person in his Station might have influenced the Refusal; but I think they have gone no farther than to occasion a Suspicion, that we have a considerable Party of
Antigallicans in America, who are not Tories, and consequently to produce some doubts of the Continuance of our Friendship. As such Doubts may hereafter have a bad Effect, I think we cannot take too much care to remove them ; and it is, therefore, I write this, to put you on your guard,
(believing it my duty, tho’ I know that I hazard by it a mortal Enmity), and to caution you respecting the Insinuations of this Gentleman against this Court, and the Instances he supposes of their ill will to us, which I take to be as imaginary as I know his Fancies to be, that Count de V. and myself are
continually plotting against him, and employing the News- Writers of Europe to depreciate his Character, &c. But as Shakespear says, “Trifles light as Air,” 1 &c. I am persuaded, however, that he means well for his Country, is always an honest Man, often a wise one, but sometimes, and
in some things, absolutely out of his senses.

As for Adams he fully returned the antipathy of Dr. Franklin: 

“That I have no friendship for Franklin I avow. That I am incapable of having any with a man of his moral sentiments I avow.”

It is a tribute to both men that, with the unfriendliness they felt for each other, they accomplished so much working together, both in Congress and in France as diplomats during the Revolution.

Published in: on June 2, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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