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Benjamin Franklin Orders David Rittenhouse to Pay William Bingham for Representing Pennsylvania in the Confederation Congress in New York
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Franklin, as President of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Executive Council (i.e., governor), orders Treasurer David Rittenhouse to pay William Bingham for representing Pennsylvania in the Confederation Congress from Nov. 1786 to March 28, 1787.  This is noted as a replacement, with the first payment having been lost. On the reverse, Bingham signs acknowledging that this time he received the payment. Bingham, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania made a fortune through shipping, privateering, and land development. In the early 1780s, he may have been the wealthiest man in America.

Among the accomplishments of the Eighth Continental Congress, held in New York City through Oct. 1787, was the calling of a Convention of the States to consider amendments to the Articles of Confederation, passage of the Northwest Ordinance, the ratification of a peace treaty with Morocco and the redemption of Barbary Pirates’ captives.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. Document Signed, April 3, 1787. 1 p. plus docketing on verso, 7¾ x 6¼ in.

Inventory #24498       ON HOLD

Historical Background

The Articles of Confederation established a federal government for the American colonies. From 1781 to 1789, a one-house legislature known as the Congress of the Confederation or Continental Congress exercised legislative and executive functions of a national government. In all, approximately fifty delegates represented the thirteen states.

The Eighth Confederation Congress met from November 6, 1786, to October 30, 1787, in New York City. Five delegates represented Pennsylvania: William Bingham, Arthur St. Clair, Samuel Meredith, William Irvine, and Charles Pettit. Although the new members presented their credentials in November 1786, Congress did not reach a quorum and reassemble until mid-January 1787 with seven states represented.

Among the accomplishments of this Congress were the calling of a Convention of the States to meet and consider amendments to the Articles of Confederation, the Northwest Ordinance for the governance of the Northwest Territory, the ratification of a treaty of peace with Morocco, the redemption of captives in Algiers, and a variety of other issues occupied their attention.

On February 12, Congress received notice from Secretary of War Henry Knox that “the rebellion in Massachusetts is in a fair train of being speedily and effectually suppressed.” In March, Congress considered moving the national armory from Springfield, Massachusetts, but Knox convinced them that it was unnecessary.[1]

In debate on February 21, regarding a convention of the states to modify the Articles of Confederation, Bingham expressed his wish that the nation be divided into several distinct confederacies because its great extent and varied interests were incompatible with a single government. In March, he met with Diego Maria de Gardoqui, the Spanish chargé d’affaires, regarding free navigation of the Mississippi River by the United States, to which Gardoqui would not agree. Later in March, he submitted a letter to Congress regarding advances he received from the French government of Martinique during the war. The committee appointed to consider the matter responded that Bingham had submitted it in his public accounts, and it had been “discharged by the United States, who are therefore, in no wise responsible for the same.” In addition, they objected to the “mode of Certifying the Balance due by Mr. Bingham” as creating a debt due to a foreign country, because it would be “improper, on a private Application, and for purposes not of a Public nature, to Transfer any part of the Domestic Debt of the United States, in such a manner as to make the Capital and Interest accruing on it, demandable abroad.”[2]


Fine. Overall toning. Old smoothed folds, and evidence of vertical creases through Franklin’s signature (two of which are very subtle), without loss to the ink. A handful of words in the document exhibit haloing from contact with moisture. Professionally conservation treated.  Franklin’s signature exceptionally bold and strong.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was one of the first great American renaissance men, succeeding as a statesman, scientist, writer, printer and diplomat. Born in Boston, he received only two years of formal education, before being apprenticed to his brother who had founded a newspaper. After spending a short time in London, Franklin settled in Philadelphia and established his own printing business in 1728. In 1732, he published the first edition of his Poor Richard’s Almanac, an entertaining combination of traditional almanac material and maxims taken from around the world. During the 1740s, he developed an interest in science, invented the Franklin stove, and performed a series of key experiments on electricity.  In 1757, he returned to England as Pennsylvania’s representative in a tax dispute and successfully negotiated a settlement. In 1764, he again went to England to argue (unsuccessfully) against a proposed Stamp Act.  In the following years, he was retained as a colonial agent in London by Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. When the tension between England and the American colonies increased, he returned home and served as a member of the Second Continental Congress, where he organized a new postal system and helped draft the Declaration of Independence.  He negotiated for military and financial assistance in France during the War for Independence, and arranged the commercial and strategic alliance with that country in 1778.  Franklin played an integral role in the Treaty of Paris (September 3, 1783), settling peace between the U.S. and Britain. He remained active into his old age, serving as Ambassador to France (1776-1785), President of Pennsylvania (1785-1788), and host, delegate, and elder statesman to the Constitutional Convention (1787). He continued his scientific investigations: at the age of 83, he invented bifocal glasses.

William Bingham (1752-1804) was born into a prominent Philadelphia family and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1768. After his father died in 1769, he entered a partnership with Thomas Willing and Robert Morris and made a fortune through shipping, privateering, and land development. During the Revolutionary War, he obtained from French Martinique produce and weapons for the American Army. Bingham married Anne Willing, the daughter of Thomas Willing, his former business partner and the President of the First Bank of the United States. They lived in England for most of the 1780s, but he represented Pennsylvania in the Continental Congress from 1786 to 1788 and in the US Senate from 1795 to 1801. In the first half of the 1780s, Bingham may have been the wealthiest man in America.

David Rittenhouse (1732-1796) was born in Philadelphia, and he began an early career as an inventor. As surveyor for Great Britain and later for Pennsylvania, he was known for the precision of his surveys, including parts of the boundaries of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. He conducted astronomical studies, particularly on the path of Venus. A close friend of Benjamin Franklin, Rittenhouse was elected in 1768 to membership in the American Philosophical Society, which he served as librarian, secretary, and later president (1791-1796). He served as treasurer of Pennsylvania from 1777 to 1789, and he became the first director of the United States mint in 1792. He was also a professor of astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania from 1779 to 1782.

John Nicholson (1757-1800) was the Comptroller General of Pennsylvania from 1782 to 1794. Born in Wales, he emigrated to Philadelphia before the American Revolution. In 1778, he became a clerk to the Board of Treasury of the Continental Congress, a position he resigned in 1781, when he began work for Pennsylvania. In 1792, he exchanged $60,000 of New Loan certificates for federal securities. He acquired them for little, and they were not regarded as state debt to be redeemed. In 1793, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives impeached Nicholson to recover the funds he had allegedly diverted. However, on trial in the state Senate, the prosecutors could not get a two-thirds vote against him on any of the seven counts. Though acquitted, Nicholson resigned his public offices in 1794 and partnered with Robert Morris in land speculation and development, including that of Washington, D.C. Early in the winter of 1799-1800, he was imprisoned for debt and died in prison, leaving a wife, eight children, and more than $4 million in debts. Legal proceedings continued for almost half a century after his death.

Complete Transcript

For £178"2"0                                                 In Council

Philadelphia April 3rd 1787


Pay to The Honorable William Bingham Esquire or order the Sum of one hundred and seventy eight pounds two Shillings in full of his account for his attendance in Congress until the 28th day of March 1787 inclusively, and his mileage—according to the Comptroller Generals Report

Note, This is a second for the same Sum, the first being lost.

                                                                                    B. Franklin

To David Rittenhouse Esquire / Treasurer

[Endorsement vertically in left margin:] Entd for Jno Nicholson Esqr / James Dundas

<2> [File Note:]  William Bingham Esqr £178.2/ Order on Treasurer for wages / £178

[Endorsement:] Recd the amount /                  Wm Bingham

[1] Roscoe R. Hill, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, 34 vols. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1904-1937), 32:39, 109-14, 33:725.

[2] Ibid., 32:135.

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