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Howe, Richard Howe, Earl (1726-1799) Official French copy of Benjamin Franklin-Richard Howe letters [in French]

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC01670 Author/Creator: Howe, Richard Howe, Earl (1726-1799) Place Written: Sandy Hook, New Jersey Type: Manuscript document Date: 20 June 1776 - 30 July 1776 Pagination: 8 p. ; 32 x 21 cm.

First letter dated 20 June 1776, written aboard the Eagle off of Sandy Hook, New Jersey, is from Admiral Richard Howe to Benjamin Franklin. Encloses official dispatches (not present) outlining his mission of peace with the colonies. Mentions in his postscript that his brother, General William Howe, will act as a fellow peace commissioner. Franklin replies on 30 July 1776 from Philadelphia. Refuses the offers of a pardon in the case of the colonies' surrender, as outlined in the official documents referred to by Howe. Rejects the idea of surrender and excoriates the British Empire for what he describes as its brutal treatment of the colonies. Would accept a peace agreement only if the colonies were to be considered a separate state. Regrets Howe's decision to embark upon war and to block America's trade routes. Considers the war against the colonies unjust. Ends by reiterating the impossibility of accepting Howe's terms.

Letter from Lord Howe to Dr. Franklin
On board the Eagle, the 20th of June 1776.

I cannot bring myself, my distinguished friend, to let go of the letters and packages I send and receive, without adding a word regarding the calamitous extremes into which our unfortunate disagreements have thrown us.
The official dispatches that I am attaching to this mailing will lay out for you the nature of my mission. Persisting in the wish that I have always expressed to see the divisions that divide us healed, if I were to find that the colonies were, as I once expected, of a peaceful disposition, I could then humbly entertain my wish to be useful in winning the paternal solicitude of the King regarding establishing a peace and a durable union with the colonies. Yet, if the prejudices of America remain too deeply rooted, and if the task of blocking its commerce from foreign channels persists in keeping us a people divided over the long term, I would sincerely regret, [2] for a range of public and private reasons, that the moment for accomplishing my most cherished goal has not yet arrived, and that I remain once again in the position of being unable to personally inform you of the great regard, with which I remain your sincere and faithful servant. Signed


P: S: I missed the chance to send this letter at the time it was written, and alternating calm seas and contrary winds have kept me up until our arrival here from informing General Howe that he will be part of the Commission of which I am in charge.
From offshore of Sandy Hook 12 July

Philadelphia 30 July 1776

[Margin: Doctor Franklin's reply]

I received the letters that you so kindly sent me, and I implore you to accept my thanks. The official documents to which you referred contained nothing [3] that we had not already seen in the Act of Parliament, namely offers of pardon in the case of surrender. I was even more perturbed to see that this offer represents the limits of your powers and know that it must have been a great annoyance for you to have been sent so far on a mission so clearly empty of any promise.
To command that pardons be offered to the colonies, which are the wronged parties, is a certain sign of the proud and ill-informed opinion that your Nation formed long ago regarding our ignorance, our low status, and our lack of resolve. Yet, such an approach only serves to augment our resentment. It would be impossible to even consider surrendering to a government that manifested the cruelty and shameful barbarity in burning down our defenseless towns in the middle of winter, incited the savages to massacre our peaceful farmers, our slaves to kill their masters, and that, at the same time, sent a wave of foreign mercenaries to drown our inhabitants in blood. [4] An act this atrocious serves only to extinguish the last spark of affection we might hold for this Motherland that was once so dear to us.
But, even so, we could forget these offenses or even pardon them, if you, on your part, were to pardon those whom you have so deeply offended. From now on, you can no longer place them in the category of compatriots, nor can you allow those against whom you have given just cause for an eternal hatred to enjoy a freedom equal to your own. If we were still under the power of your rule, this circumstance would of necessity force you to exercise an even greater tyranny in order to quell the spirit that moves us and to block by all means necessary the progress of our strength and our prosperity.
You talk, Milord, about the King's paternal solicitude regarding establishing a peace and a more durable union with the colonies. If, by the word peace, we mean a peace concluded between two separate states, currently at war, [5] and that His Majesty had given you the power to deal with us on such a footing, I would hazard to suggest that, even if this were to be authorized, that such a treaty would be completely impractical in advance of our having forged foreign alliances. Yet, I believe, Milord, that you do not possess such an authority. By punishing the Governors of America who fomented the discord, by re-building the burned-down villages, and in repairing, as much as is possible, the wrongs that have been visited upon us, your Nation could still redeem a considerable portion of your image in our esteem, along with the most significant portion of our trade and all of the advantages that this additional power would accord. Yet, I know too well her pride and her lack of wisdom to believe that she would ever adopt such salutary measures. Her love of conquest as a warrior Nation, her passion for domination as an ambitious Nation, [6] and her thirst for a lucrative monopoly as a commercial Nation, none of which provides a legitimate cause for war. Rather she employs all of her resources toward these far away missions that are so destructive to her people as well as to her own finances, all of which will end up bankrupting her just as surely as the Crusades once did to most of the nations of Europe.
I do not possess the vanity, Milord, to pretend to be able to forecast the effects of this war inasmuch as I realize that, in England currently, my predictions would not be believed until the actual event were verified.
I have long labored sincerely and indefatigably to maintain the integrity of this beautiful and superb porcelain vase, otherwise known as the British Empire, because I know that, once shattered, the individual shards could never retain the same power and value as the entity as a whole. Perhaps you will remember the tears of joy that streamed down my face while visiting your sister in London when you gave me the hope of a prompt reconciliation. I then had the misfortune of becoming frustrated in awaiting this outcome as well as seeing myself [7] be blamed as the cause of all the troubles that I had worked to prevent. My only consolation for this ill-deserved treatment was that I was able to maintain the friendship of several dignified and wise individuals in that country and also to remain in good standing with Lord Howe.
Permit me to express, Milord, that the well-founded esteem in which I hold you, and the affection that I will always have for you, lead me to deeply regret your decision to embark on the path of war as a first step, as you make clear in your letter, as well as your decision to block America's foreign trade. For my part, it seems that men can never be justified in cutting each other's throats, be it for acquisitions or for the maintenance of any sort of commerce, as important as it may be. It seems to me that the only true means of extending or preserving trade is through the sizable quantity and low prices of the merchandise, and that the profits of any forced trade cannot be used to fund the expenses necessary to maintain this same trade via a naval blockade. I therefore consider this war against us as absolutely unjust and unwise. I am persuaded that those who have convinced you of this path will be condemned to infamy in the future, and that even your successes will not guaranty [8] the erasure of the stain of dishonor wrought upon those who have voluntarily decided to embark upon this task.
I understand that your principle motive in sending me these missives was the hope of achieving reconciliation; I believe that when you recognize the impossibility of the terms that you have proposed you will abandon your odious orders and find a way to take up a more honorable post for yourself in the private sphere.

Notes: Translated from French

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