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“I go with you as far as you go, in Proposals for diminishing the Occasions & Mischiefs of War, & perhaps a little farther.—By the Original Law of Nations, War & Extirpation was the Punishment of Injury. Humanizing by degrees, it admitted Slavery instead of Death. A farther Step was, the Exchange of Prisoners instead of Slavery…”
In this early example of a copy press letter, Franklin discusses peace negotiations to end the Revolutionary War and outlines his thoughts on the laws of nations for war and peace. A few years later, Franklin used a copy press to make a duplicate of his Autobiography, which he also sent to Vaughan. Copy pressing remained rare until well into the 19th century. This letter, therefore, reflects not only Franklin’s humanitarian views on the conduct of war, but his tireless curiosity for new technologies. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.
Copy-press letter of Autograph Letter Signed as American Peace Commissioner, to Benjamin Vaughan. Passy, France, July 10, 1782. 3 pp. folio, on absorbent paper watermarked “J Watt & Co Patent Copying.” 8¼ x 12½ in.
Passy, July 10, 1782
I have before me your several favours of June 7, June 17, & July 9. The Box sent to Mr. Bowens at Ostend is also come to hand. It contain’d a Dozen 4to Vols. of my Writings, and a Number of Pamphlets which you have been so good as to chuse for me; but the Remembrances, & Registers bought for me by Mr Young, and left by him as he tells me with Mr Johnson, to be sent me, were not included, & I hear nothing of them. I beg you would inquire about them.
I wish you all kinds of good Fortune in your Speculations for America. I think you will be well serv’d by Mr Young, who appears to be [illegible].
Mr Laurens is gone to the South of France, and has declined acting in the Commission for making Peace. Mr Oswald has not given me the Acct you suppose he may have given, of a certain Person’s strange Behaviour. When you have Leisure, acquaint me with it.-
I shall confer with Mr Jay concerning the Bills. There will be no Difficulty in getting them paid if he approves of it. Should his first Opinion [illegible], I cannot interfere, the Bills being drawn on him. What you tell me, of the first Indorser’s going out with a Passport from me, and that these Bills were remitted as part Payment, shows me that I was imposed on by that man [illegible] my Passport was obtained on Assurance that the Goods to be carried over were bona fide the Property of the intended Settler; and should not have been used  as a Cover for the Goods of an English Merchants instrusted to him, to carry on a contracted Commerce. The Bills of Harley & Drummond which you mention as having been enclosed in the same Letter, afford farther Suspicion of his Station in that Country, & that the Bills have not been fairly come by.-
Your Sentiments relating to Privateers appears to me very just, & those concerning Arbitrators not less so, tho perhaps less likely to be adopted. I go with you as far as you go, in Proposals for diminishing the Occasions & Mischiefs of War, & perhaps a little farther. --By the Original Law of Nations, War & Extirpation was the Punishment of Injury. Humanizing by degrees, it admitted Slavery instead of Death. A farther Step was, the Exchange of Prisoners instead of Slavery. Another to respect more the property of private Persons under Conquest, [&] be content with acquir’d Dominion. Why should not this Law of Nations go on improving? Ages have interven’d between its several Steps; but as Knowledge of late encreases rapidly, why should not those Steps be quicken’d? Why should it not be agreed to as the future Law of Nations that in any War hereafter the following Descriptions of Men should be undisturbed, have the Protection of both sides, & be permitted to follow their Employments in Surety, viz
1. Cultivators of the Earth, because they Labour for the Subsistance of Mankind.
2. Fishermen, for the same Reason.
3. Merchants & Traders, in unarm’d Ships;  who accommodate different Nations by communicating & exchanging the Necessaries and Conveniencies of Life.
4. Artists & Mechanics, inhabiting & working in open Towns.
It is hardly necessary to add that the Hospitals of Enemies should be unmolested; they ought to be assisted.
In short, I would have nobody fought with but those who are paid for Fighting. If obliged to take Corn from the Farmer, Friend or Enemy, I would pay him for it; the same for the Fish or Goods of the others.
This once established, the Encouragement [to war which arises from a Spirit of Rapine]would be taken away, and Peace therefore more likely to continue & be lasting.-
I send you the Passport you desire for the young Man. His Talents may be useful in a new Country.
Your Brother John is arrived in New York, the Vessel being taken. I have heard nothing more of him since.
The Persons you mention to have recommended to me, are not yet arriv’d. I am ever, my dear Friend,
Yours most affectionately
Franklin himself put these principles into practice. “The most famous example,” writes biographer Ronald W. Clark, “is probably his call to commanders of armed ships on commission from Congress to treat Captain Cook and his crew ‘with all civility and kindness, affording them, as common friends to mankind, all the assistance in your power which they may happen to stand in need of.’”
This letter was made on a copy press by Franklin from his original immediately after it was written. Franklin sent this duplicate, along with another letter, to Vaughan the next day. In an era of uncertain mail delivery, several copies of important letters were often sent to the same recipient.
The letter copying press was invented by James Watt, noted for his significant work on steam engines. He invented the process of press-copying in 1779 (also referred to as sponge-paper copying) and received a patent for it in 1780. His invention “revolutionised office practice in a way probably not to be matched until the advent of the typewriter.” The inked page was placed upon a dampened sheet of a special, absorbent tissue paper, or “flimsy paper.” The sheets were pressed together so that a “true” copy of the writing was transferred to the back of the tissue, which could then be read through the papers from the front. In addition to Franklin, Washington and Jefferson both frequently used the invention.
Copy-press letters are by their nature very rare. They are valued based on both their content and their creator. An original letter written and signed by Franklin would be valued at $150,000 or more. As a copy-press letter, we value it at one-third of the original.
Benjamin Vaughan (1751-1835), was a British merchant and a close friend of Benjamin Franklin. Their correspondence is of particular importance because it continued uninterrupted despite the start of the Revolutionary War. In 1779, at the height of the Revolutionary War, Vaughan published a selection of his friend’s works, including letters, under the title Political, Philosophical, and Miscellaneous Pieces by Benjamin Franklin. This may be the publication to which Franklin refers in the present letter, and the “Mr. Johnson” mentioned is almost certainly the radical bookseller, Joseph Johnson, who published it. In 1806, Vaughan also supervised the publication of the Complete Works of Benjamin Franklin. In addition to his friendship with Franklin, Vaughan had close ties with Lord Shelburne, the British Prime Minister, to whom this correspondence was evidently forwarded.