Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Vaughan, Benjamin
(1751–1835), politician and political economist, born in Jamaica on 19 April 1751, was eldest son of Samuel Vaughan, a West India merchant and planter, who settled in London, by his wife Sarah, daughter of Benjamin Hallowell of Boston. William Vaughan (1752–1830) [q. v.] was his younger brother. Benjamin was educated at Newcome's school in Hackney, at the nonconformist academy at Warrington, and at Cambridge University, but was prevented by the system of religious tests from graduating, being a unitarian. He apparently became acquainted with Lord Shelburne through Benjamin Horne, the elder brother of John Horne Tooke [q. v.], and soon gained the confidence of that statesman, by whom he was occasionally employed in confidential political business and as private secretary. He also studied law at the Temple and medicine in Edinburgh; it is said because William Manning, whose daughter Sarah he married on 30 June 1781, had at first refused his consent to the marriage on the ground that he had no profession (Vaughan's wife was aunt of Cardinal Manning). He subsequently returned to mercantile pursuits, and entered into a partnership with his brother-in-law, William Manning. He made acquaintance with Benjamin Franklin, with whom he afterwards contracted a warm friendship and continued to correspond after the outbreak of the war with the colonies. Like all the followers of Lord Shelburne, he sided with the colonists in their struggle with the mother country, and his political as well as his religious sympathies brought him into intimate relations with Price, Priestley, Paine, and Horne Tooke during the American war and the French revolution. In June 1782 he was sent to Paris to give private assurances to Franklin that the death of Lord Rockingham and the accession to power of Lord Shelburne had caused no change of policy in regard to the intention of recognising the independence of the United Colonies. In September of that year he took an active though unofficial part in the negotiations for peace at the secret request of Shelburne, who employed him on account of his intimate friendship with Franklin, and helped to persuade the English ministers to admit the independence of ‘the United States of America’ as a preliminary, and ‘not as depending upon the event of any other part of the treaty.’ He also urged that so great a divergence of views existed between the American and French negotiators in Paris as to give the British government an opportunity of concluding a separate peace with the colonies if this concession to their views were made. Vaughan's activity was resented by the English official negotiators, as appears by a letter of Richard Oswald [q. v.] to Lord Shelburne (Life of Shelburne, iii. 256, 321).
In 1790 Vaughan was in Paris with Lord Wycombe, the eldest son of Lord Shelburne (then Lord Lansdowne), and was in frequent communication with the leaders of the party opposed to the French court. At the ‘fête de la fédération’ of 14 July 1790 in the Champ de Mars he was almost the only stranger, except those belonging to the corps diplomatique, who obtained a place in the covered seats near the royal box. He describes Marie-Antoinette as looking ‘well, fat, and sulky’ (to Lord Lansdowne 15 July 1790). His French sympathies were not abated by the violent turn taken by subsequent events. In February 1792 he became member for Calne. He was very active at this time with his pen on commercial and economic subjects, as well as on politics. A ‘Treatise on International Trade,’ which was translated into French in 1789, and a series of letters to the ‘Morning Chronicle’ condemning the attack of the northern powers on Poland and France in 1792 and 1793, are his principal performances. There is a record of a speech by him in February 1794 on the subject of the negro population in the West Indies. But his active parliamentary career was now abruptly terminated, owing to the arrest of William Stone, brother of John Hurford Stone [q. v.], a well-known supporter of the French revolution and a notorious enemy to the policy of Pitt. J. H. Stone was at the time in Paris. On William Stone a letter from Vaughan was found, apparently intended for J. H. Stone, and in consequence Vaughan was summoned before the privy council on 8 May 1794. Although the letter contained nothing that was in reality compromising, Vaughan, conscious probably that other and more dangerous documents might have fallen into the possession of the government, and aware that he had been introduced to William Jackson (1737?–1795) [q. v.], the Irish conspirator, left the country, and took refuge in France, where he arrived at the commencement of the reign of terror. War had been declared against England, and Vaughan was liable to be seized at any moment as a ‘moderate’ or as a ‘foreigner.’ He lived in hiding at Passy; Robespierre, at that time a member of the committee of public safety and at the height of his power, and Bishop Grégoire being among the few persons cognisant of the secret. In June his hiding-place was discovered, but he escaped with a month's imprisonment at the Carmelites, probably owing to the goodwill of Robespierre, and then left for Geneva. Thence he wrote a long letter to Robespierre, which actually arrived on 9 Thermidor (27 July) at the very moment of the fall of the dictator. It advised him to keep France within her natural limits, and to surround her with a fringe of free and allied states, a sort of anticipation of the Confederation of the Rhine (Journal de la Montagne, August 1794). This letter was alleged by Billaud-Varennes, in a speech on 28 July 1794, to be a proof that Vaughan was a spy of Pitt's. In 1796 he published a pamphlet at Strasburg in defence of the Directory, which he vaunted as a highly successful form of government, and one likely to be permanent. Subsequently he returned to Paris, and, though assured by Pitt, through his brother-in-law, William Manning, that he could safely return to England, he remained in France.
There are numerous allusions to Vaughan and Stone in the despatches of Barthélemy, the French minister in Switzerland, and in one of them Barthélemy describes Vaughan as a man ‘dont le patriotisme, la probité, et les lumières sont infiniment recommandables’ (Papiers de Barthélemy, iv. 593).
Vaughan preserved his good relations with Lord Lansdowne owing to the identity of their views in regard to France. About 1798 he went to America, probably despairing, like Priestley, of the political outlook in England. He joined his brothers and his relatives on the side of his mother at Hallowell, where he lived in a peaceful retirement. His political opinions are said to have adopted a very conservative hue in his later years. He died on 8 Dec. 1835, leaving three sons and four daughters. His descendants still live at Hallowell. In 1779 Vaughan issued the first collective edition of Franklin's works in London, under the title ‘Political, Philosophical, and Miscellaneous Pieces by Benjamin Franklin.’ He also superintended the ‘Complete Works of Benjamin Franklin,’ issued in 1806 (London, 8vo), with a memoir.
[The best account of Vaughan is to be found in Alger's Englishmen in the French Revolution. See also Lord E. Fitzmaurice's Life of Lord Shelburne, vol. iii.; Papiers de Barthélemy, ed. M. Jean Kaulek, Paris, 1889; Appleton's American Biography; Sheppard's Reminiscences of the Vaughan Family; Introductory Narrative to William Vaughan's Tracts on Docks and Commerce, 1835; Diplomatic and Revolutionary Correspondence, Washington, 1887; Archives Nationales, Paris, ii. 221; Doniol's Participation de la France à l'établissement des Etats-Unis, Paris, 1886–92, v. 100, 161.]