That Time Ben Franklin and John Adams Slept Together and the Hilarity That Ensued

While Ben Franklin was remarkably successful in keeping elements of his private life very private to the point that historians can only speculate about much of it, despite having a common law marriage, he was, shall we say, noted for his overt and unabashed love of women and their company, particularly if they were educated- something he even used in argument for why women should be encouraged in education, not restricted as was so often the case in his time. In his view, women were simply even more fun to talk to and spend time with this way. Unshy about any of this, he even once penned an exceptionally detailed letter outlining why older women are much more preferable to sleep with than their younger counterparts. And that any young man seeking a lover to help with difficult to deal with urges before marriage would be wise to find himself an elderly woman to help meet these needs. Much more on this and Franklin’s rather humorous and well thought out reasoning in the Bonus Facts later. Brilliant, charming, funny, extremely sociable, Franklin was beloved by most who met him, knew how to have a good time, and seemed inclined to cast off his puritan upbringing and enjoy life to its fullest… despite also occasionally penning wise proverbs on how to live a good life that seemed to starkly contrast with some of his actual behaviors. British politician William Corbett would sum up that Franklin was “A crafty and lecherous old hypocrite whose very statue seems to gloat on the wenches as they walk the State House Yard.”

John Adams, in contrast, couldn’t have been more the polar opposite in many respects- a bastion of puritanical rigid morals, he did a much better job at living by some of the proverbs espoused by Poor Richard than the author himself, who just so happened to be Ben Franklin. Adams was also noted for his bluntness, tactlessness, occasional awkwardness in social settings, and complete inflexibility when it came to his deeply considered principles. If the world tried to force him to do one thing, but his principles said another, he’d unapologetically stick with his principles… And then likely pen a lengthy and rather scathing letter outlining why the world was wrong. In a letter explaining why Thomas Jefferson, not himself, should write the Declaration of Independence, Adams would sum up of himself, “I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular.”

To be fair, he left out that, while he may not have been liked by many of his peers, Adams was extremely respected by them. He was also perhaps just as brilliant as Franklin and every bit as much of a philosopher, though seemingly better at shaping his life to align with his philosophies. Regardless, above all, both men shared a deep seated love of their cause and the nation they played such critical roles in creating.

While the two men largely worked semi-independently towards the cause in their respective roles, in a few very noted instances, they were forced to team up and figure out how to work together despite their rather contrasting personalities, even in one instance forced to sleep together, with a rather humorous and lengthy argument ensuing while lying in bed.

So what happened? Well, let’s dive into it all, shall we?

To begin with, mere days after the Declaration of Independence was announced to the world on July 4, 1776, British troops under command of the Howe brothers sailed into Staten Island. Both Admiral Richard Howe and General William Howe had previously strongly sympathized with the colonists’, with William Howe even before the war at various points arguing for fairer treatment of the American colonies in Parliament. The pair also delayed their departure for the colonies a considerable amount of time to try to acquire powers to negotiate a peace, rather than simply subjugating the colonists with force. However, while they may have sympathized with their former compatriots, their goal upon arriving in the New World was to put an end to the rebellion by any means necessary. Towards this end, they brought with them an army of around 32,000 soldiers and seamen, along with a whopping 400 ships, including nearly 100 warships.

On the other side, the relatively newly minted General George Washington had been preparing defenses of the region, correctly guessing that it was in New York that the British would strike with these invading forces.

While there were initial overtures from the British side to Washington to attempt a peaceful resolution before any blood could be shed between the two armies now stationed there, Washington refused to even respond at all at first, despite the superior forces leveled against him and his tenuous position. As to why, well, in the initial correspondence, Howe had simply addressed Washington as “George Washington, Esq.”, not so subtly refusing to acknowledge Washington’s rank and position. After consulting with his officers over the slight, Washington decided not even to receive the correspondence. Instead, one Joseph Reed simply replied to British Lieutenant Philip Brown who was delivering the letter that there was no one in the Continental Army that answered to that address.

Howe then upped the ante, trying at a compromise, but still not giving in, sending the letter to George Washington, Esq., etc., etc.”. But this, too, was refused.

Not getting anywhere with letters owing to this issue and being unwilling to compromise on it, Howe attempted a different tack- asking via one Captain Nisbet Balfour if Washington would instead be willing to meet with one of his representatives, Colonel James Patterson, in person to discuss things.

Washington agreed and a meeting was set for July 20th. However, upon learning from Colonel Patterson at the meeting that Howe had only been granted the power to offer pardons in negotiations for peace, Washington famously replied, “Those who have committed no fault want no pardon.”

Getting nowhere with Washington, Admiral Howe also wrote to Ben Franklin, similarly offering pardons to most involved with the rebellion if a peace could be had, to which Franklin replied on July 21st:

“Directing Pardons to be offered the Colonies, who are the very Parties injured… can have no other Effect than that of increasing our Resentment. It is impossible we should think of Submission to a Government, that has with the most wanton Barbarity and Cruelty, burnt our defenceless Towns in the midst of Winter… and is even now bringing foreign Mercenaries to deluge our Settlements with Blood. These atrocious Injuries have extinguished every remaining Spark of Affection for that Parent Country we once held so dear…”

Diplomacy having failed. The Howe brothers decided to attack, and a few weeks later, the then largest known battle ever fought in North America, involving close to 40,000 troops, including naval forces, was game on.

What followed was a sweeping British victory which was almost catastrophic for the traitors to the British Crown. You see, during the fighting, Howe managed to corner nearly half of Washington’s army. But for reasons still not totally clear today, Howe decided to cease pressing the attack at that point and instead ordered his soldiers to dig into their position. Speculations as to why are anything from that he thought Washington was surrounded and was giving him a chance to surrender without further loss of life to that he simply thought pressing the attack, while likely to succeed, would have cost too many lives he could not easily replace. And as he felt his enemy couldn’t escape, there was little lost in taking the time to fortify his position.

Whatever Howe was thinking here, Washington did not have surrender on his mind. Instead, in part aided by seemingly history changing fog, Washington was able to slip the some 9,000 soldiers he had in that position away into Manhattan, all without the British realizing their enemy was escaping. Thus, what could have been a blow to the Continental Army that may well have ended any real chance at Independence while the ink on the Declaration of Independence was barely dry, instead saw the demoralized Continental Army having suffered a major defeat, with over 1,000 troops captured and a significant position lost, but, they, at least, mostly survived to fight another day.

So what does any of this have to do with two Titans of history in the then 70 year old Ben Franklin and 41 year old John Adams sleeping together one fall night in 1776?

Well, while the rebels had avoided disaster, their position was still extremely tenuous, and the might of the British military was now even more firmly entrenched than they already had been, with little immediate hope of doing anything about it. In the aftermath, let’s just say many were concerned, to put it mildly. However, John Adams would steadfastly write on September 5, 1776, “Affairs are… delicate and critical. The panic may seize whom it will. It will not seize me.”

On the British side, after the victory, Lord Howe reached out to the Continental Congress via parolling General John Sullivan, who had been one of over 1,000 of the Continental Army captured during the Battle of Long Island. Sullivan thus took a message to congress that the British wished to discuss ending the hostilities and had been empowered to an extent to treat with the colonists.

Adams would recount in his journal entry, dated September 3, 1776, the message Sullivan delivered, stating,

“[Howe] was very desirous of having a Conference, with some of the members, whom he would consider for the present only as private Gentlemen, and meet them himself as such, at such place as they should appoint. That he in conjunction with General Howe, had full Powers, to compromise the dispute between Great Britain and America upon terms Advantageous to both; the Obtaining of which delayed him near two months in England, and prevented his Arrival at this place, before the declaration of Independancy took place… That he wished a compact might be settled at this time, when no decisive blow was struck, and neither party could say they were compelled to enter into such Agreement. That in case Congress were disposed to treat, many Things, which they had not as yet asked, might and ought to be granted them; and that, if, upon the Conference, they found any probable ground of Accommodation, the Authority of Congress must be afterwards Acknowledged, otherwise the Compact would not be compleat.”

Fellow Founding Father Benjamin Rush would state that during this little speech, Adams “whispered to me a wish ’that the first ball that had been fired on the day of the defeat of our army, had gone through [Sullivan’s] head.”

Once Sullivan had delivered the message, Adams’ bluntness came to the forefront more overtly when he publicly denounced Sullivan as “a decoy duck, whom Lord Howe has sent among us to seduce us into a renunciation of our independence.” Needless to say, he didn’t think much of the message, Sullivan advocating for it, nor of such a conference.

That said, when your enemy agrees to meet, even somewhat informally, to talk about ceasing killing each other and instead see if something can be worked out, it’s generally advisable to at least see what the other side has to say. Thus, the Continental Congress decided to appoint a trio of representatives to meet with Howe, granting them no real power to negotiate anything, but instead sent to gather information.

And so it was that the two titans of history in John Adams and Ben Franklin, along with their third wheel, the oft forgotten founding father and the youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence, 27 year old Edward Rutledge, were selected to meet with Howe. And on September 9th, they set out on their journey from Philadelphia to Staten Island, a trip of around 80 miles- Franklin and Rutledge aboard a carriage, while John Adams rode beside them on his horse.

Of the journey, Adams wrote the sights didn’t exactly inspire confidence, “We saw such Numbers of Officers and Soldiers, struggling and loytering, as gave me at least, but a poor Opinion of the Discipline of our forces and excited as much indignation as anxiety… Such thoughtless dissipation at a time so critical, was not calculated to inspire very sanguine hopes or give great Courage to Ambassadors: I was nevertheless determined that it should not dishearten me.”

Also along the way, the trio stopped for the night at the Indian Queen Tavern in Piscataway, New Jersey. Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for mildly humorous history, they found lodgings hard to come by, with only two rooms available, one of which was, according to Adams, barely larger than the single small bed it contained.

With nothing to be done about it, Franklin and Adams decided to bed down for the night together.

But this wasn’t the end of the story.

You see, Franklin was adamant that the window in the tiny room should be opened for the night, while Adams was just as adamant that it should be closed to avoid catching a cold. Adams describes their argument in his September 9, 1776 journal entry, which by the way also contains the interesting note that the Continental Congress had recently resolved to rebrand itself from United Colonies to United States. But in any event, Adams thusly recounts,

“Dr. Franklin replied, the Air within this Chamber will soon be, and indeed is now worse than that without Doors: come! open the Window and come to bed, and I will convince you: I believe you are not acquainted with my Theory of Colds?… Opening the Window and leaping into Bed, I said I had read his Letters to Dr. Cooper in which he had advanced, that Nobody ever got cold by going into a cold Church, or any other cold Air: but the Theory was so little consistent with my experience, that I thought it a Paradox: However I had so much curiosity to hear his reasons, that I would run the risque of a cold.”

Adams goes on, “The Doctor then began an harrangue, upon Air and cold and Respiration and Perspiration… I remember little of the Lecture, except, that the human Body, by Respiration and Perspiration, destroys a gallon of Air in a minute: that two such Persons, as were now in that Chamber, would consume all the Air in it, in an hour or two: that by breathing over again the matter thrown off, by the Lungs and the Skin, We should imbibe the real Cause of Colds, not from abroad but from within… There is much Truth I believe, in some things he advanced: but they warrant not the assertion that a Cold is never taken from cold air. I have often conversed with him since on the same subject: and I believe with him that Colds are often taken in foul Air, in close Rooms: but they are often taken from cold Air, abroad too. I have often asked him, whether a Person heated with Exercise, going suddenly into cold Air, or standing still in a current of it, might not have his Pores suddenly contracted, his Perspiration stopped, and that matter thrown into the Circulations or cast upon the Lungs which he acknowledged was the Cause of Colds. To this he never could give me a satisfactory Answer. And I have heard that in the Opinion of his own able Physician Dr. Jones he fell a Sacrifice at last, not to the Stone but to his own Theory; having caught the violent Cold, which finally choaked him, by sitting for some hours at a Window, with the cool Air blowing upon him.”

In the end, Adams sarcastically concludes, “I was so much amused that I soon fell asleep, and left him and his Philosophy together: but I believe they were equally sound and insensible, within a few minutes after me, for the last Words I heard were pronounced as if he was more than half asleep.”

And so it was, the world famous scientist, writer, and statesmen in Ben Franklin ultimately won the argument via getting his opponent to do the thing he wanted first, then utilize the age old classic debate tactic of boring said opponent to sleep.

The next morning, the pair, having apparently avoided catching cold, rose and continued along to Perth Amboy. Here a barge dispatched by Admiral Howe was waiting for them, along with one British officer meant to be used as a hostage to ensure the safe return of the delegates. However, the trio decided that such a hostage was silly, and they declined to detain him, allowing him to return with them. Thus, they continued on, meeting with Howe on September 11 at the home of loyalist Colonel Christopher Billop. Given the war would last another 7 years or so, you’ll not be surprised to learn the meeting was not a success. While there are slightly differing accounts of exactly what was said between the men, minutes were kept by one Henry Strachey and are presumed to be accurate on the whole.

Strachey would note that they would begin by Howe simply expressing his compliments for the confidence the men had shown in his honor by placing themselves in his power in such a meeting. They then apparently engaged in all manner of small talk from discussing, to quote, “the Beach to the House”, and then ate dinner which, according to Adams, included ham, mutton, tongue, and claret.

After dinner, they dove into it, with Howe stating he had no power to consider the colonies independent as they had declared themselves when he was en route. And, thus, he could not even acknowledge them as such even in such an informal meeting. And if they objected on this point, there was no point in proceeding any further. He instead proposed he could otherwise consider them “Gentlemen of great Ability, and Influence in the Country”, and that for his part he also considered them British subjects.

Franklin had no problem with this, noting, “His Lordship might consider the Gentlemen present in any view he thought proper, that they were also at liberty to consider themselves in their real Character, that there was no necessity on this occasion to distinguish between the Congress and Individuals, and that the Conversation might be held as amongst friends.”

On the other side, Adams would more abrasively state, “Your lordship may consider me in what light you please,… except that of a British subject.”

Back and forth they went, with the sticking point being Howe had no authority, nor did he expect to ever get such, to treat on the grounds of acknowledging the Colonies’ independence. And on the other side, the Continental Congress had no interest in negotiating anything if that wasn’t on the table.

In the end, after approximately 3 hours, absolutely nothing of importance was accomplished other than the perception that the British side, in the Colonists’ perspective, had no interest in anything but unconditional submission of the colonists. That said, in the meeting minutes when Franklin used the phrase “unconditional submission”, Howe apparently interrupted him to state that that while he couldn’t treat on the grounds of independence, it was not accurate to say that Britain required unconditional submission and that he “desired the Gentlemen would not go away with such an Idea.”

But go away they did, seemingly with just such an impression firmly in place.

As for the starkly contrasting Adams and Franklin, as alluded to, this would not be the only time they teamed up in such a way. Not long after this, they both would be appointed to represent the U.S. in France, a critical posting given that without French aid, very likely the Colonies’ bid for independence would have failed.

As for Adams, he would initially turn down the appointment, but later accept, writing, “I have abandoned myself and mine . . . to engage in a new scaene, for which I fear I am very ill qualified. However . . . if I cannot do much Good in this new Department, I may possibly do less Harm, than some others.”

The much more experienced in matters of this foreign court, Franklin, on the other hand, would embrace the assignment and in so doing perhaps more than any other single man, helped insure the Revolution’s success, albeit in a rather unorthodox way as we’ll get into in a bit.

Thankfully for the pair, during this one, they were not forced to share a bed, though did for a time share lodgings near Paris, much to the chagrin of both.

As for Franklin, upon his extremely celebrated entrance into France, he would seemingly do absolutely nothing but meet with women who wanted to meet one of the most famous men in the world at the time in himself, and otherwise attend parties to all hours.

Observing this behavior in Franklin who, as Poor Richard, had once written the famous “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise”, confounded and frustrated Adams to an extreme degree.

As Adams would lament in his journal on May 27, 1778,

“I found that the Business of our Commission would never be done, unless I did it. My two Colleagues [Franklin and Lee] would agree in nothing. The Life of Dr. Franklin was a Scene of continual dissipation. I could never obtain the favour of his Company in a Morning before Breakfast which would have been the most convenient time to read over the Letters and papers, deliberate on their contents, and decide upon the Substance of the Answers. It was late when he breakfasted, and as soon as Breakfast was over, a crowd of Carriges came… to his Lodgings, with all Sorts of People; some Phylosophers, Accademicians and Economists . . . but by far the greater part were Women and Children, come to have the honour to see the great Franklin, and to have the pleasure of telling Stories about his Simplicity, his bald head and scattering strait hairs, among their Acquaintances. . . These Visitors occupied all the time, commonly, till it was time to dress to go to Dinner . . . and after that went sometimes to the Play, sometimes to the Philosophers but most commonly to visit those Ladies who were complaisant enough to depart from the custom of France so far as to procure Setts of Tea Geer as it is called and make Tea for him. . . . After Tea the Evening was spent, in hearing the Ladies sing and play upon their Piano Fortes . . . and in various Games as Cards, Chess, Backgammon, &c. &c. Mr. Franklin I believe however never play’d at any Thing but Chess or Checquers. . . . In these Agreable and important Occupations and Amusements, The Afternoon and Evening was spent, and he came home at all hours from Nine to twelve O Clock at night.”

Adams would also lament, “Our affairs in this Kingdom, I find in a state of confusion and darkness, that suprizes me. Prodigious Sums of money have been expended and large Sums are yet due. But there are no Books of Account, or any Documents, from whence I have been able to learn what the United States have received as an Equivalent.”

Going back to their contrasting personalities, Adams, as alluded to, was a man who rigidly controlled himself in all ways he deemed moral, noting that a man is “unfit to fill any important station in society, that has left one passion in his soul unsubdued.” He would also write, “The love of fame naturally betrays a man into several weaknesses and fopperies…”

In contrast, the world-famous Franklin, who seemingly loved every second of the attention he got from this… Well, also as alluded to, let’s just say subduing his passions doesn’t appear to have been his thing either. For example, he would write, “The French ladies have however 1000 other ways of rendering themselves agreeable by their various Attentions and Civilities, & their sensible Conversation. ‘Tis a delightful People to live with.”

Thomas Jefferson would remark of Franklin around women, “I have marked him particularly in the company of women where he loses all power over himself and becomes almost frenzied. His temperance would not be proof against their allurements were such to be employed as engines against him. This is in some measure the vice of his age, but it seems to be increased also by his peculiar constitution.”

And on his seeming universal success with women, one married object of his affection was famed composer Anne-Louise Brillon de Jouy, who would state of Franklin he possessed “that gaiety and that gallantry that cause all women to love you, because you love them all.” And while the two seemingly never consummated any affair, they didn’t seem to mind playing at it occasionally. With Franklin writing to her,

“I often pass your house; it appears desolate now to me. I broke the Commandments by coveting it, along with the wife of my neighbor. Now, I do not covet it any more, so I am a bit less sinful. But, as regards my neighbor`s wife, I find the Commandments very inconvenient and I am sorry they were made. If, in your travels, you happen to see the Holy Father, you might ask him to repeal them, as having been given only to Jews and too hard for good Christians to keep.’”

Madame Brillon would in turn write to Franklin, “Do you know, my dear papa, that people have criticized the sweet habit I have of sitting on your lap, and your habit of soliciting from me what I always refuse?’”

And when Franklin proposed that if they couldn’t be together in this life, perhaps in the next she would become his wife, she replied that she would, “on condition, however, that you will not ogle the virgins too much while you wait for me.”

All that said, while the two were very flirtatious at times, historians note on the whole they had more of a father/daughter type relationship in practice, and one that helped the colonists cause considerably given Madame Brillon’s many elite connections in the nation, which she was happy to help Franklin become acquainted with. Franklin noted of this, “the purest and most useful friend a man could possibly procure, was a Frenchwoman of a certain age who had no designs on his person. They are so ready to do you service, and from their knowledge of the world know well how to serve you wisely.”

But going back to Adams, he didn’t exactly approve of any of this behavior, to put it mildly. And as for Franklin, he didn’t seem to appreciate Adams’s either. Stating of the man, “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.”

Adams would not be so succinct in his own musings about Franklin. Writing a rather scathing letter about Franklin to Massachusetts Patriot James Warren on April 13, 1783. Not pulling punches and demonstrating his famous ability at razor sharp insults (we’ll have a few more in the Bonus Facts later), he stated,

“It is a Saying of Algernoon Sidney concerning Sir Walter Rawleigh, that “his Morals were not sufficiently exact for a great Man”—And the Observation can never be applied with more propriety than to Dr. Franklin.— His whole Life has been one continued Insult to good Manners and to Decency… which would never have been forgiven in any other American— These things however are not the worst of his Faults— They shew however the Character of the Man; in what Contempt he holds the Opinions of the World, and with what Haughtiness he is capable of persevering through Life in a gross & odious System of Falsehood and Imposture… It would be Folly to deny, that he has had a great Genius, and that he has written several things in Philosophy and in Politicks, profoundly— But his Philosophy and his Politicks have been infinitely exaggerated, by the studied Arts of Empiricism, until his Reputation has become one of the grossest Impostures, that has ever been practised upon Mankind since the Days of Mahomet… I wish with all my Soul he was out of public Service, and in Retirement, repenting of his past Life, and preparing, as he ought to be, for another World…. But at least Congress should firmly and steadily support their other Ministers against his insidious Manœuvres— They should add no more Feathers to his Cap. This will however be difficult. He will watch Opportunities, and French Influence will forever aid him, and both will be eternally attacking openly and secretly every other Minister—so that I am persuaded he will remain as long as he lives, the Demon of Discord among our Ministers, and the Curse and Scourge of our foreign Affairs.”

As to this seeming duplicity, while much has been written about Franklin’s dealings here, as teacher and historian Geoff Smock in the Journal of the American Revolution would clarify, “What Franklin accepted as the nuances and subtleties of European diplomacy were, to Adams, duplicitous evasions and double-speak.” Thus, while brilliant in his own right, Adams’ much more rigid morals and occasionally abrasive personality was seemingly not as well suited for the French Court as Franklin’s more worldly, morally flexible, and extremely personable demeanor was.

On this note, for as much as on the outside it appeared to Adams that Franklin was doing little but leering at women and attending random parties, it would seem there was method to Franklin’s madness, and in all of this, his influence in French Court became extreme and the nation as a whole, including the elite among them, came to adore the man. In fact, upon Franklin’s death in 1790, the Constitutional Assembly in Revolutionary France declared a 3 day period of mourning in Franklin’s honor, and memorial services for Franklin were held across the country.

In short, in all this, the French came to love Franklin, and did their best to ignore and marginalize Adams as much as possible. Something Franklin himself would briefly lament, writing, “To be sure, the excessive Respect shown me here by all Ranks of People, & the little Notice taken of them, was a mortifying Circumstance, but it was what I could neither prevent or remedy.”

As for being marginalized, Adams would humorously write in his February 11, 1779 journal entry, remembering back to his arrival in France in 1777:

“When I arrived in France, the French Nation had a great many Questions to settle. The first was—Whether I was the famous Adams… When I arrived at Bourdeaux, All that I could say or do, would not convince any Body, but that I was the fameux Adams… My Answer was—it is another Gentleman, whose Name of Adams you have heard. It is Mr. Samuel Adams… I behaved with as much Prudence, and Civility, and Industry as I could. But still it was a settled Point at Paris and in the English News Papers that I was not the famous Adams, and therefore the Consequence was settled absolutely and unalterably that I was a Man of whom Nobody had ever heard before, a perfect Cypher, a Man who did not understand a Word of French—awkward in his Figure—awkward in his Dress—No Abilities—a perfect Bigot—and fanatic.”

Not just marginalized in his role, Adams also came to rub the French court the wrong way on a number of occasions. On one such instance, Franklin would write to the President of Congress Samuel Huntington on August 9, 1780,

“Mr Adams has given Offence to the Court here by some Sentiments and Expressions contained in several of his Letters written to the Count de Vergennes. I mention this with Reluctance, tho’ perhaps it would have been my Duty to acquaint you with such a Circumstance, even were it not required of me by the Minister himself. . . . It is true that Mr Adams’s proper Business is elsewhere, but the Time not being come for that Business, and having nothing else here wherewith to employ himself, he seems to have endeavour’d supplying what he may suppose my Negociations defective in. He thinks as he tells me himself, that America has been too free in Expressions of Gratitude to France; for that she is more obliged to us than we to her; and that we should shew Spirit in our Applications. I apprehend that he mistakes his Ground, and that this Court is to be treated with Decency & Delicacy… Mr Adams, on the other Hand, who at the same time means our Welfare and Interest as much as I, or any Man can do, seems to think a little apparent Stoutness and greater Air of Independence & Boldness in our Demands, will procure us more ample Assistance. It is for the Congress to judge and regulate their Affairs accordingly. [French Foreign Minister] M. De Vergennes, who appears much offended, told me yesterday, that he would enter into no further Discussions with Mr Adams, nor answer any more of his Letters…”

In the end, partially at the suggestion of Adams himself given Adams’ ineffectiveness and how beloved Franklin was in France, Franklin was appointed sole Minister Plenipotentiary to France and Adam’s reduced to private citizen, temporarily returning home. On the major plus side for the U.S., while Adams may have been ineffective in his efforts in France at this point, he would not only make up for it later in huge ways as we’ll soon get to, but while briefly back home in late 1779, Adams drafted a new constitution for Massachusetts which ultimately would serve as a partial template for the later much more significant U.S. Constitution.

Going back to France, Franklin would smooth things over with Vergennes with regards to the offense Adams had caused, which was critical at this point. As General Washington stated in a letter to Franklin a mere two months later in October of 1780, “If I were to speak on topics of the [political and military] kind it would be to show that our present situation makes one of two things essential to us. A Peace, or the most vigorous aid of our Allies particularly in the article of money.”

At the same time, the United States’ greatest ally in France was themselves suffering mounting debts and other issues, with Lieutenant General Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, who was leading 7,000 French troops alongside the Continental Army, lamenting at this point their combined forces were in “a Moment of Crisis.” And that this year would likely be the “last struggle of an expiring patriotism.”

Luckily for the rebellion, when it came time to actually ask for something from the French instead of just partying with them, Franklin continually came through, even at this stage of the game when all seemed dark for both sides. For example, in Franklin’s letter to Vergennes on February 13, 1781, he outlined why it was critical for France to stay the course and do everything possible to ensure that the revolution in the colonies was a success. He argued, “That if the English are suffer’d once to recover that Country [United States], such an Opportunity of effectual Separation as the present, may not occur again in the Course of Ages; and that the Possession of those fertile and extensive Regions, and that vast Sea Coast, will afford them so broad a Basis for future Greatness, by the rapid Growth of their Commerce: and Breed of Seamen and Soldier, as will enable them to become the Terror of Europe, and to exercise with Impunity that Insolence which is so natural to their Nation, and which will increase enormously with the Increase of their Power.”

Directly after, despite their coffers running bare, France nonetheless lent the U.S. some 6 million livres, which was critical to getting the scrappy young nation to 8 months later and the Battle of Yorktown in which the Continental Army, with French army and naval support, stunned Britain and the world by not only winning the battle, but forcing the total surrender of the entire British army there. This ultimately spurred the Crown to finally sue for peace.

As for the Treaty of Paris which saw Adams and Franklin team up for the last time, along with John Jay and Henry Laurens, while Adams might not have been well suited for French Court dealings, when it came to a formal treaty like this? This was Adams’ turn to shine, being firmly in his element given his extensive legal background and skills as a hard nosed negotiator. He particularly played a key role in the Preliminary Article of Peace officially agreed to on November 30, 1782. Just as significant, before this, Adams convinced Franklin that while Congress had instructed them to make no efforts towards peace that didn’t include France being involved in the negotiations, instead, they should deal directly with the British, as this would increase the odds of a maximally favorable deal for the United States, without any concern for France. This was a slight double cross to a nation who had been critical in helping the colonists win the war. But it also was an accurate assessment of the situation, and Franklin was persuaded.

On this note, the negotiations were extremely successful, with the British not only agreeing to officially acknowledging the United States’ sovereignty, but also giving shockingly favorable terms to the new nation in a variety of history changings ways, including giving up many lands that, had they not, would have seen the young United States surrounded on all sides by the British, instead of only in the North in Canada.

While on the surface some have noted this was an odd move for the British given their still respective might compared to the United States, in the end while the war of independence was a huge deal for the rebelling colonies, it was just one matter the British were attending to, all while getting deeper and deeper in debt over the conflict. In short, it had simply ceased to be worth continuing.

Further, then British Prime Minister Lord William Petty, Earl of Shelburne felt that in granting the United States such favorable terms, they also positioned the U.S. to prosper to a great degree, while simultaneously helping to open up very favorable trade with them which would benefit British merchants, as well as help supply the British Empire with much needed resources. This would also all hopefully foster a decent amount of goodwill towards Britain from the new nation, and potentially help ensure that the relationship between France and the U.S. didn’t continue to mature unchecked at the expense of Britain. And in retrospect, while the now dubbed “special relationship” between the British and Americans wasn’t always smooth in the aftermath, on the whole, such friendly relations with their former colonies has served the U.K. extremely well, and been a boon to the United States as well. So much so that the U.S. Department of States’ webpage on the relationship between the U.S. and the U.K. starts off,

“The United States has no closer Ally than the United Kingdom. Following the end of the American Revolution in 1783… in 1785 our two countries established diplomatic relations. Other than a brief break in relations during the War of 1812, the United States and the United Kingdom have remained durable partners and Allies. Our partnership is a foundation of our mutual prosperity and security.”

Not just teaming up in matters of war and security, the two nations are among each other’s biggest trade partners. They also share the world’s largest foreign investment partnership. And, as UK Foreign Secretary William Hague noted in 2013, “every day almost one million people go to work in America for British companies that are in the United States, just as more than one million people go to work here in Great Britain for American companies that are here.”

From all this, it is interesting to think what would have happened if John Adams had not convinced Benjamin Franklin that they should abandon trying to negotiate the peace with France as a partner, and instead deal directly with Britain, with a key selling point for the generous terms in the treaty being closer ties between Britain and the U.S. and a lessening of relations with France.

In the end, while Adams and Franklin may have had extremely different ways of approaching their lives and efforts in the war, and the two regularly clashed from the issue of windows being opened or closed to how they attempted to advance the revolutionary cause abroad, on September 3, 1783 at the Hôtel d’York in Paris, both of their many years long seminal efforts would come to fruition when they, along with Jay, Hartley, and the ministers of King George III, applied their signatures to the Treaty of Paris, ending the war and seeing the independent United States officially acknowledged by their former overlords.

Instead of “hanging separately” as Franklin once allegedly (but probably not actually) quipped, the contrasting pair instead “hung together”, in this case probably literally, presumably going out after and celebrating the momentous signing… Or, at least, we feel on solid ground assuming Franklin went out and celebrated, with Adams, if along at all, no doubt sitting in the corner silently judging Franklin’s boisterous behavior with any ladies attending the party.

But whether that happened or not, let us not ever forget, upon their first instance of teaming up for peace, for one glorious night, these two titans of history laid together side by side in a small bed, likely at some point in the night butt to butt. And rather than devoting their talk before said abutting to the informal peace conference they were headed to that could change the course of history, they instead argued the night away over whether the window should be opened or not, with that argument only ending when one of them bored the other to sleep.

Bonus Facts:

Going back to Adams’ mildly humorous reputation for razor sharp insults, a few others include leveled at famed Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, in which he stated in a letter in 1806, “I lose all patience when I think of a bastard brat of a Scotch peddler.”

Moving on to George Washington, he wrote, “That Washington was not a scholar is certain. That he is too illiterate, unlearned, unread for his station was equally past dispute.” To be fair on this one, Washington himself would lament his failings as a General during the Revolution. And his reputation for indecision and seemingly not knowing what to do at critical moments of battle has often been pointed out.

Moving on to Thomas Paine’s famous Common Sense, Adams would write to Thomas Jefferson it was a “a poor, ignorant, malicious, crapulous mass.”

The list goes on and on and on. Let’s just say a more eloquent dealer of razor sharp insults you’ll be hard pressed to find amongst the U.S. Founding Fathers.

Moving on from Adam’s razor sharp insults to Franklin’s frequently humorous writings, as promised we are now going to discuss why Ben Franklin states older women make the ideal mistresses. In a letter to an unknown friend struggling with certain urges, Franklin begins by stating that, for a variety of reasons, taking a wife is the preferred method to resolve the issue, along with a number of other benefits, stating,
“It is the Man and Woman united that make the complete human Being. Separate, she wants his Force of Body and Strength of Reason; he, her Softness, Sensibility and acute Discernment. Together they are more likely to succeed in the World. A single Man has not nearly the Value he would have in that State of Union. He is an incomplete Animal. He resembles the odd Half of a Pair of Scissars…”
However, as his unnamed friend had apparently objected to getting married at that point in life, he had also apparently wanted to know if Franklin knew of any medicine that might cure horniness, to which Franklin noted he did not know of one.
And, thus, if his young friend refused to take a wife, he should instead seek a mistress and, in Franklin’s view, “that in all your Amours you should prefer old Women to young ones.”
He then goes on to list his reasons for this advice,
“1) Because as they have more Knowledge of the World and their Minds are better stor’d with Observations, their Conversation is more improving and more lastingly agreable.
2. Because when Women cease to be handsome, they study to be good. To maintain their Influence over Men, they supply the Diminution of Beauty by an Augmentation of Utility. They learn to do a 1000 Services small and great, and are the most tender and useful of all Friends when you are sick. Thus they continue amiable. And hence there is hardly such a thing to be found as an old Woman who is not a good Woman.
3. Because there is no hazard of Children, which irregularly produc’d may be attended with much Inconvenience.
4. Because thro’ more Experience, they are more prudent and discreet in conducting an Intrigue to prevent Suspicion. The Commerce with them is therefore safer with regard to your Reputation. And with regard to theirs, if the Affair should happen to be known, considerate People might be rather inclin’d to excuse an old Woman who would kindly take care of a young Man, form his Manners by her good Counsels, and prevent his ruining his Health and Fortune among mercenary Prostitutes.
5. Because in every Animal that walks upright, the Deficiency of the Fluids that fill the Muscles appears first in the highest Part: The Face first grows lank and wrinkled; then the Neck; then the Breast and Arms; the lower Parts continuing to the last as plump as ever: So that covering all above with a Basket, and regarding2 only what is below the Girdle, it is impossible of two Women to know an old from a young one. And as in the dark all Cats are grey, the Pleasure of corporal Enjoyment with an old Woman is at least equal, and frequently superior, every Knack being by Practice capable of Improvement.
6. Because the Sin is less. The debauching a Virgin may be her Ruin, and make her for Life unhappy.
7. Because the Compunction is less. The having made a young Girl miserable may give you frequent bitter Reflections; none of which can attend the making an old Woman happy.
8. [thusly and Lastly] They are so grateful!!”

Expand for References

Friendship and Sociability: A Reexamination of Benjamin Franklin’s Friendship with Madame Brillon de Jouy

The Declaration of Independence: Did John Hancock Really Say That about his Signature?—and Other Signing Stories

When John Adams Slept With Ben Franklin

In their own words: John Adams and Ben Franklin, Part I

In their own words: John Adams and Ben Franklin, Part IIa

In their own words: Franklin, Adams, and Vergennes (part IIb)

In their own words: Adams, Franklin, and Vergennes (part IIc)

Strange Bedfellows: Adams and Franklin as Diplomatic Duo

Benjamin Franklin’s Battery of Lovers

The American Revolutionary War (April 19, 1775 – September 3, 1783),

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