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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

To Robert Morris, On the State of American Credit in Europe

By Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790)

THE SENTIMENT you express “that no country is truly independent, until with her own credit and resources she is able to defend herself and correct her enemies,” appears to me perfectly just. And the resolutions you have taken of endeavoring to “establish our credit, by drawing out our resources in such a manner, that we may be little burthensome and essentially useful to our friends,” are such as all good patriots ought to wish you may succeed in, and should hold themselves ready to afford you every assistance in their power.

As in taking your measures it will be useful to you to know what aids you may expect from Europe, I think it right to give you my opinion that you cannot rely on such as may be called very considerable. If Europe was in peace, and its governments therefore under no necessity of borrowing, much of the spare money of private persons might then be collectible in a loan to our States. But four of the principal nations being already at war, and a fifth supposed to be preparing for it, all borrowing what they can, and bidding from time to time a higher interest, it is to be supposed that moneyed men will rather risk lending their cash to their own governments, or to those of their neighbors, than to hazard it over the Atlantic with a new state, which to them hardly appears to be yet firmly established. Hence all our attempts to procure private loans have hitherto miscarried, and our only chance of pecuniary aids is from the governments of France or Spain, who being at war with our enemy are somewhat interested in assisting us. These two governments have indeed great revenues. But, when it is considered that the abilities of nations to assist each other are not in proportion to their incomes, but in proportion to their economy, and that saving and treasuring up in time of peace is rarely thought of by Ministers, whence the expenses of the peace establishment equal if they do not exceed the incomes; therefore when a war comes on, they are, with regard to the means of carrying it on, almost as poor as we, being equally obliged to borrow. The difference only is, that they have a credit which we want; which we had indeed with our own people, but have lost it by abusing it. Their credit, however, can only procure the moneys that are to spare, and those in so general a demand are few. Hence it is, and because her treasures have been long detained in America, that Spain has been able to help us very little; and though France has done for us much more, it has not been equal to our wants, although I sincerely believe it equal to her abilities, the war being otherwise exceedingly expensive to her and her commerce much obstructed. If the ten million loan in Holland is all applied to our purposes, we shall this year have obtained near twenty million of livres; and I think there is no probability of our obtaining the same for the next: nothing can therefore be more apropos or more necessary than your purpose of endeavoring that “our revenues should be expended with economy.” Would to God that economy could also be introduced into our private affairs! the money our foolish people spend in superfluities and vanities would be nearly equal to the expense of the war. But that is wishing mankind more sense than God has been pleased to give them and more than they desire, for they have not enough to know they want it, and one may as well wish them more money.

It is true that Spain has now got great part of her treasure home, and may possibly grant more than she has hitherto done to Mr. Jay’s applications. But though the sums arrived are considerable upon paper, the king’s part is not very great, and much of it has been anticipated; so that our expectations should not be sanguine from that quarter neither.

I have not proposed to any banker here, as yet, to have the connection you mention with our Bank. The opinion of our general poverty and inability, which the enormous depreciation of our paper among ourselves has impressed on the minds of all Europe, give me no hopes of success in such a proposition. I clearly see, however, the advantages that you show would arise from the operations; and as soon as any favorable circumstances in our affairs may give a probable chance of succeeding, I shall seize the opportunity and propose it. Perhaps I may sooner venture to ask privately the sentiments of our banker (who is a judicious man) on such a proposition and let you know what he thinks of it….

Thus you see, my dear friend, I have not endeavored to flatter you with pleasing expectations of aids that may never be obtained; and thereby betray you into plans that might miscarry and disgrace you. Truth is best for you and for us all. When you know what you cannot depend on, you will better know what you can undertake. I shall certainly do what may lie in my power to help you: but do not expect too much of me. If you can succeed in executing the engagement I entered into with Mr. Necker, that will augment my credit, and of course my power of being useful to you. At present it is very good. My acceptances having always been punctually paid, now pass on any exchange in Europe for money; but if I should be obliged to fail in discharging any of them it is gone forever, and may be thrown by as a broken instrument of no farther service. You are so sensible of this and possess so much innate honor that I shall not have the least doubt, in accepting your drafts or your enabling me to pay them duly….

With the most sincere esteem and affection, I am, &c.

PASSY, 5 November, 1781.