Today, the Jefferson Nickel Five-Cent Coin remembers the day Franklin’s successor as Plenipotentiary to France was chosen 232 years ago.
From the Safeguards of Liberty by William Bentley Swaney, published in 1920:
On the 7th of May, 1784, Mr. Jefferson was unanimously elected a Minister Plenipotentiary to assist Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams, then in Europe, in negotiating treaties of commerce with foreign nations.
After considerable delay, which enabled him to pay his first and only visit to New England, where he gained much valuable information at first hand in regard to the commerce of that section, he arrived at Paris on the 6th of August.
The draft of instructions given these Commissioners by Congress was prepared by Mr. Jefferson, and it covered many important matters, and especially some rather original suggestions concerning privateering, blockades, contraband, and freedom of fisheries; but Mr. Jefferson admitted thereafter that Dr. Franklin was entitled to the credit due on account of these.
It is safe to say that no country in the world at that time had abler or more broad-minded representatives.
France had already made a satisfactory treaty with the United States.
The Commissioners negotiated with Prussia, Denmark, Tuscany, and other powers and concluded a treaty with Prussia; but were not willing to press their claims with other nations under such disadvantageous circumstances.
About this time Mr. Jefferson and John Adams visited England on a like errand and were granted an audience by George III, but their reception was so cool and embarrassing that they did not attempt to negotiate a treaty.
On March 10, 1785, Mr. Jefferson was elected Minister Plenipotentiary to France to succeed Dr. Franklin, and filled that important post until October, 1789.
Dr. Franklin was exceedingly popular with the French, and it was no easy task to fill his place.
Mr. Jefferson paid a distinguished compliment to his old friend and fellow-countryman when, asked if he was going to fill Dr. Franklin’s place, he said: “No one can fill Dr. Franklin’s place. I merely succeed him.”
Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Adams continued as joint representatives of the United States in endeavoring to make commercial treaties and looking after the finances of the United States in Europe, and distinguished themselves by introducing plain dress and speech as our representatives.
They were especially opposed to paying tribute to the Barbary pirates, so common then in Europe among all nations.
It was on this occasion that Mr. Jefferson went so far as to recommend that the United States join with the European nations in a war for the subjugation of this piratical power.
Mr. Jefferson proved himself to be a most practical, powerful, and popular minister.
He was a close student of European politics and especially of the French nation, which he admired very much.
He won the confidence of all classes and never failed, on all proper occasions, to advocate his ideas of government and show his devotion to the cause of freedom for mankind.
While in France he had his “Notes on Virginia” published for distribution among his friends, and in that way gave a clear and candid expression of his views on all of the most important questions pertaining to our republican institutions, and a brief description of the resources of his native State and its government and certain improvements suggested by him.
This is a masterpiece, and deserves careful study.
Mr. Jefferson’s correspondence with friends in this country while in France shows his impressions and opinions of persons, society, politics, literature, science, the resources of the country, royalty, and, in fact, everything coming under his observation.
There is found running through all of his voluminous correspondence his abhorrence of the abuses of the rights of the people, and a warning to his countrymen to cherish and preserve our free institutions.
He kept himself fully advised about everything in a political way that was transpiring at home, and was especially solicitous about the inefficiency of the general government under the Articles of Confederation.
He was in thorough accord with General Washington, Mr. Madison, and others, who favored a Constitutional Convention as to the necessity for one, as is fully shown by his letters to them.
He had the highest esteem for the ability and character of the men who attended the Convention and framed the Constitution, and expressed great admiration for the Constitution; but he did not agree in principle with some of its provisions, and always lamented the fact that the Convention was held behind closed doors.
He deeply regretted that there was no bill of rights ensuring freedom of religion, freedom of press, freedom of the person under the writ of habeas corpus, and trial by jury in civil as well as in criminal cases, and provisions against monopolies and standing armies.
He advised his friends to vote for the ratification of the Constitution and trust to the good sense of the citizens to see that it was amended in the respects named; which was later done by the adoption of the first ten amendments, which he aided in having accomplished.
The Jefferson Nickel Five-Cent Coin shows with an artist’s image of Benjamin Franklin as the Plenipotentiary to France.