Origin of the Stamp Act. Franklin's Opposition to it. His Remarks on the Passage of the Act; in a Letter to Charles Thomson. False Charges against him in Relation to this Subject. Dean Tucker. Effects of the Stamp Act in America. Franklin's Examination before Parliament. Stamp Act repealed. Mr. Pitt. Declaratory Act. American Paper Currency. Franklin's Answer to Lord Hillsborough's Report against it. New Scheme for taxing the Colonies by supplying them with Paper Money. Franklin travels in Holland and Germany. His Ideas of the Nature of the Union between Colonies and Great Britain. Plan of a Colonial Representation in Parliament. Franklin visits Paris. His "Account of the Causes of the American Discontents." Change of Ministry. Lord Hillsborough at the Head of the American Department. Rumor that Dr. Franklin was to have an Office under him.
HENCEFORTH we are to pursue the career of Franklin on a broader theatre of action. Although he went to England as a special agent for Pennsylvania, yet circumstances soon led him to take an active and conspicuous part in the general affairs of the colonies. The policy avowed by the British government after the treaty of, Paris, and the fruits of that policy in new restrictions on the colonial trade, had already spread discontent throughout the country. The threatened measure of the Stamp Act had contributed to increase this discontent, and fix it more deeply in the hearts of the people. The colonies were unanimous in remonstrating against this new mode of taxation, as hostile to the liberties of Englishmen, and an invasion of the charter rights, which had been granted to them, and which they had hitherto enjoyed.
The Assembly of Pennsylvania, entertaining this view of the subject, in common with all the other assemblies on the continent, instructed Dr. Franklin to use his efforts, in behalf of the province, to prevent the passage of the act. The first steps he took for this object, as well as the origin of the measure itself; are briefly explained by him in a letter written some years afterwards to Mr. William Alexander. It is dated at Passy, March 12th, 1778.
"In the pamphlet you were so kind as to lend me, there is one important fact misstated, apparently from the writer's not having been furnished with good information; it is the transaction between Mr. Grenville and the colonies, wherein he understands, that Mr. Grenville demanded of them a specific sum, that they refused to grant any thing, and that it was on their refusal only, that he made the motion for the Stamp Act. No one of these particulars is true. The fact was this.
"Some time in the winter of 1763 4, Mr. Grenville called together the agents of the several colonies, and told them, that he proposed to draw a revenue from America, and to that end his intention was to levy a stamp duty on the colonies by act of Parliament in the ensuing session, of which he thought it fit that they should be immediately acquainted, that they might have time to consider, and, if any other duty equally productive would be more agreeable to them, they might let him know it. The agents were therefore directed to write this to their respective Assemblies, and communicate to him the answers they should receive; the agents wrote accordingly.
"I was a member in the Assembly of Pennsylvania when this notification came to hand. The observations there made upon it were, that the ancient, established, and regular method of drawing aids from the colonies was this. The occasion was always first considered by their sovereign in his privy council, by whose sage advice he directed his secretary of state to write circular letters to the several governors, who were directed to lay them before their Assemblies. In those letters the occasion was explained for their satisfaction, with gracious expressions of his Majesty's confidence in their known duty and affection, on which he relied, that they would grant such sums as should be suitable to their abilities, loyalty, and zeal for his service. That the colonies had always granted liberally on such requisitions, and so liberally during the late war, that the King, sensible they had granted much more than their proportion, had recommended it to Parliament, five years successively, to make them some compensation, and the Parliament accordingly returned, them two hundred thousand pounds a year, to be divided among them. That the proposition of taxing them in Parliament was therefore both cruet and unjust. That, by the constitution of the colonies, their business was with the King, in matters of aid; they had nothing to do with any financier, nor he with them; nor were the agents the proper channels through which requisitions should be made; it was therefore improper for them to enter in an stipulation, or make any proposition, to Mr. Grenville about laying taxes on their constituents by Parliament, which bad really no right at all to tax them, especially as the notice he had sent them did not appear to be by the King's order, and perhaps was without his knowledge; as the King, when he would obtain any thing from them, always accompanied his requisition with good words; but this gentleman, instead of a decent demand, sent them a menace, that they should certainly be taxed, and only left them the choice of the manner. But, all this notwithstanding, they were so far from refusing to grant money, that they resolved to the following purpose; That, as they always had, so they always should think it their duty to grant aid to the crown, according to their abilities, whenever required of them in the usual constitutional manner.'
"I went soon after to England, and took with me an authentic, copy of this resolution, which I presented to Mr. Grenville before he brought in the Stamp Act. I asserted in the House of Commons (Mr. Grenville being present), that I had done so, and he did not deny it. Other colonies made similar resolutions. And, had Mr. Grenville, instead of that act, applied to the King in Council for such requisitional letters to be circulated by the secretary of state, I am sure he would have obtained more money from the colonies by their voluntary grants, than he himself expected from his stamps. But he chose compulsion rather than persuasion, and would not receive from their good will what he thought he could obtain without it. And thus the golden bride, which the ingenious author thinks the Americans unwisely and unbecomingly refused to hold out to the minister and Parliament, was actually held out to them, but they refused to walk over it. This is the true history of that transaction; and, as it is probable there may be another edition of that excellent pamphlet, I wish this may be communicated to the candid author, who, I doubt not, will correct that error."
It is here to be observed, that the alternative allowed by the minister was, that the colonists might either submit to a stamp duty, or suggest some other tax, which should yield an equal amount to the revenue. At all events, the tax was to be levied by Parliament. The proposal in both forms was universally rejected by the colonists, who denied that Parliament had any right to tax them, since they were not represented in that body; it being a fundamental principle of the British Constitution, that no man shall be taxed except by himself or his representatives. It was affirmed, that this principle, constituting the bulwark of British freedom, recognised in the colonial charters, and confirmed by numerous laws which bad received the King's assent, could not now be violated without an exercise of power, as unjust and tyrannical as it was unprecedented. But the ministry had formed their plans, and were not in a humor to recede. The Stamp Act was passed, notwithstanding the remonstrances of the American Assemblies, and the strenuous opposition of all their agents in London.
Some time after this event, Dr. Franklin wrote as follows to Charles Thomson. "Depend upon it, my good neighbour, I took every step in my power to prevent the passing of the Stamp Act. Nobody could be more, concerned and interested than myself to oppose it sincerely and heartily. But the tide was too strong against us. The nation was provoked by American claims of independence, and all parties joined by resolving in this act to settle the point. We might as well have hindered the sun's setting. That we could not do. But since it is down, my friend, and it may be long before it rises again, let us make as good a night of it as we can. We may still light candles. Frugality and industry will go a great way towards indemnifying us. Idleness and pride tax with a heavier band than kings and parliaments. If we can get rid of the former, we may easily get rid of the latter."×
Dr. Franklin's political enemies in Pennsylvania spread a rumor, that he approved the Stamp Act. A gentleman in London hearing of this report, wrote to his correspondent in Philadelphia; "I can safely assert, from my own personal knowledge, that Dr. Franklin did all in his power to prevent the Stamp Act from passing; that he waited, on the ministry to inform them fully of its mischievous tendency; and that he has uniformly opposed it to the utmost of his ability." This rumor was set afloat for party purposes, and was propagated by those, who wished to lessen his credit and growing popularity in the province. The end was not gained. On the contrary, when his exertions against this "mother of mischief's," as he called the Stamp Act, became known, and the motives of his enemies in giving countenance to such a charge were understood, the popular voice was more loud than before in his favor, and the public confidence in his character and patriotism was increased. Dr. Tucker, Dean of Gloucester, in a treatise published by him on the colonial troubles, reiterated the same false charge, and added, that Dr. Franklin even solicited for himself the office of stamp-distributor in America. When this strange assertion fell under the eyes of Franklin, he wrote to the Dean, demanding an explanation. The Dean's reply was awkward and unsatisfactory. He had heard it often reported, that Dr. Franklin applied for a place in the distribution of stamps; he drew the inference, that the place was solicited for himself; and this inference he had converted into a fact. So much he was constrained to confess; whereas, upon further inquiry, he could find no positive proof of the charge, though there was evidence of Dr. Franklin's having applied in favor of an other person. This latter circumstance, in the Dean's opinion, was a sufficient vindication of his conduct, since it appeared to him very immaterial to the general merits of the question," whether he bad solicited for himself or for a friend.
To correct this distorted and disingenuous view of the subject, Dr. Franklin communicated to him the particulars of the transaction, which are briefly these. Not long after the Stamp Act was passed, Mr. Grenville called the colonial agents together, and, by his secretary, requested them to name such persons in the respective colonies, as they thought were qualified for the office of stamp-distributor, and as would be acceptable to the inhabitants, saying, that he did not design to send these officers over from England, but to select them from among the people, who were to pay the tax. Each agent accordingly nominated an individual for the province he represented. Dr. Franklin named for Pennsylvania Mr. John Hughes, who received the appointment.
Here we have the substance of all that he did in this business, which was misrepresented at the time, and artfully turned to his disadvantage. Neither he, nor any of the agents, had the least suspicion, that they were to be considered as approving the Stamp Act, because they had complied with the minister's request in making these nominations. In fact, they had opposed it at every step, and, the act being passed, they could not foresee the hostility it was destined to encounter in America; nor could they, with common prudence, set up a resistance against it without knowing the will of their constituents, thereby weakening, if not destroying, their influence at the British court at a time when it was most needed, and jeopardizing the interests they were bound to protect.×
The news of the passage of the Stamp Act produced a universal excitement in America. The Assemblies, as soon as they came together, passed resolutions in which the act was declared to be iniquitous, oppressive, and without precedent in the annals of British legislation. The same tone and temper, the same firmness of purpose, and the same enthusiastic attachment to their liberties, pervaded them all. Yet their public proceedings were marked with decorum and moderation. They were resolute in proclaiming their rights, and their determination to preserve them unimpaired. The authority of the British government, within its former just limits, was acknowledged. Their resolves were pointed and strong, but respectful in temper and language. To procure a repeal of the Stamp Act was the immediate object, and, to effect this, petitions were sent from all quarters to the agents in London, with instructions to have them laid before the King and Parliament.
While the Assemblies were thus engaged, the people testified their sentiments in a different manner. They showed their resentment particularly against the distributors of stamps, officers odious in their sight, as having consented to be agents in executing the detested act. By riots, mobs, burning in effigy, threats, and violent assaults, they compelled every stamp officer in the country to resign his commission, and, to declare publicly, that he would not act in his office. The people's wrath was kindled against the stamped paper, as if it were fraught with the seeds of a pestilence, or a contagious poison. They resolved, that the American soil should never be contaminated by its touch ; and, when it arrived, the governors and other principal officers were forced to keep it on board armed vessels in the harbours, till it was finally all sent back to England.
Such was the state of things in America, when the subject was again brought before Parliament, at the beginning of the year 1766. In the mean time, there had been a change of ministry, Mr. Grenville giving place to the Marquis of Rockingham. The petitions of the colonies were laid on the table, and left there unnoticed; but, as they had generally been published, their contents were well known, and the new ministry came to a resolution to advise a repeal of the act.
The subject was discussed with great warmth on both sides of the House. While the debates were in progress, Dr. Franklin was called before Parliament, to be examined respecting the state of affairs in America. This motion probably originated with the ministers, who were now striving for a repeal of the act, and was seconded by Dr. Franklin's friends, who had confidence in the result; but he was questioned in the presence of a full House by various individuals of both parties, including the late ministers; and his answers were given without Premeditation, and without knowing beforehand the nature or form of the question that was to be put. The dignity of his bearing, his self possession, the promptness and propriety with which he replied to each interrogatory, the profound knowledge he displayed upon every topic presented to him, his perfect acquaintance with the political condition and internal affairs of his country, the fearlessness with which he defended the late doings of his countrymen, and censured the measures of Parliament, his pointed expressions and characteristic manner; all these combined to rivet the attention, and excite the astonishment, of his audience. And, indeed, there is no event in this great man's life, more creditable to his talents and character, or more honorable to his fame, than this examination before the British Parliament. It is an enduring monument of his wisdom, firmness, sagacity, and patriotism.
When he was asked, whether the Americans would pay the stamp duty if it were moderated, he answered; "No, never, unless compelled by force of arms." Again, when it was inquired how the Americans would receive another tax, imposed upon the same principles, he said, "Just as they do this; they will never pay it." And again, he was asked whether the Americans would rescind their resolutions, if the Stamp Act were repealed. To this he replied; "No, never; they will never do it unless compelled by force of arms." He was also questioned, as to the non-importation agreements, and asked whether the Americans would not soon become tired of them, and fall back to purchasing British manufactures as before. He said he did not believe they would; that be knew his countrymen; that they had materials, and industry to work them up; that they could make their own clothes, and would make them; that they loved liberty, and would maintain their rights. The examination was closed with the two following questions and answers. What used to be the pride of the Americans?" He answered; "To indulge in the fashions and manufactures of Great Britain." "What is now their pride?" Answer; "To wear their old clothes over again till they can make new ones."
After much stormy debate in Parliament, the Stamp Act was repealed; but, as if unwilling to do their work thoroughly, or fearing that they should concede too much, they accompanied the repeal with a declaration, which never ceased to rankle in the hearts of the colonists. They passed what was called a Declaratory Act, in which it was affirmed, that "Parliament had a right to bind the colonies in all cases whatsoever." It was said at the time, that the partisans of the ministers were driven to this act by the indiscreet warmth of Mr. Pitt, who openly denied the right of Parliament to tax the colonies in any manner, and said, in the course of his speech, I am glad .America has resisted." Such a doctrine as this, from so high a source, was not to be tolerated; and, to make amends for its having been uttered in Parliament, the members opposed to him bit upon the device of declaring solemnly, that they ad a right, not only to tax, but to do what else they pleased. Lord Mansfield, who was against, the repeal of the Stamp Act, said in the House of Lords, that this declaration amounted to nothing, and that it was a poor contrivance to save the dignity of Parliament.
But, whatever may have been the origin or design of the Declaratory Act, it was looked upon as a sober reality and with , great concern by the colonists. If Parliament could declare, it was natural to suppose, that, when occasion offered, they would act accordingly; and taxing was one of the least evils they night inflict, if they chose to exercise their assumed sovereign power. What should prevent them from putting an end to the very existence of the colonial governments, and annihilating every right they possessed? According to this doctrine, not only the property, but the liberty, and even the life, of every American were held at the will of Parliament; a body always agitated by party strifes, moving at the beck of a minister, and irresponsible to any power for the tyranny it might exercise over distant colonists, who had no representatives in Parliament to defend their cause or vindicate their rights.
It is no wonder, that such a doctrine, maintained with great unanimity by the British lawgivers, should excite the astonishment and indignation of the Americans. The result proved, that their fears were not groundless; for they were soon taught to understand and to feel, that the Declaratory Act was meant to be more than a form of words, or a mere expression of opinion.
The joy diffused by the repeal of the Stamp Act, however, quieted for a time all uneasiness. No one, who reads Dr. Franklin's Examination, as it was afterwards published, can doubt, that he performed a very important and effective part in promoting this measure. The facts he communicated, drawn from his long experience and knowledge of American affairs, and the sentiments he expressed concerning the designs and character of his countrymen, were many of them new to his bearers, and were conveyed in language so clear and forcible, as to make a deep impression. Moreover, his personal endeavours with men in power and men of influence, wherever he met them, were unremitted. His services were well known and properly valued in London, by those who sought to bring about the repeal. Letters were written to his friends by gentlemen acquainted with the particulars, acknowledging and applauding these services; and when the repeal of the Stamp Act was celebrated by a public festivity at Philadelphia, his name was honored with unusual expressions of respect and gratitude.
Another subject engaged much of his attention for some time after his arrival in England. The late war had occasioned derangement in the American paper currency, and the British merchants had raised a clamor against it, which was sustained by a Report of the Board of Trade, written by Lord Hillsborough, recommending that any further emission of paper bills of credit in the colonies, as a legal tender, should be prohibited. Franklin answered this Report by a series of cogent arguments, interspersed with illustrative facts and remarks respecting the American paper money, and its effects on the trade and internal prosperity of the country. He bad written a tract on this subject when he was twenty-three years old, in which he advanced some of the doctrines in political economy, that were afterwards more fully unfolded by Adam Smith, as essential elements of his theory.
The history of the colonial paper currency is curious and interesting. Before the Revolution there were no banks in the country, resembling the institutions since known by that name. Bills of credit, issued from time to time by the Assemblies, constituted the only paper medium in use for circulation. The gold and silver coin found its way to England, as a remittance for British manufactures, and its place was supplied by these bills, which were sometimes necessary and always convenient. Indeed, when an emergency came, such as a French or an Indian war, there was no other way of raising large sums of money than by emissions of paper.
Various methods were adopted by the different colonies, but the one practised in Pennsylvania was considered the best. A certain amount of paper was emitted for a given time, say ten years, at the expiration of which it was all to be redeemed. The paper was put into circulation in the form of loans to individuals, secured by mortgages on land. One tenth of each loan was to be paid back annually by the borrower, with the interest at five per cent. Thus, at the end of the ten years, the whole had been returned to the loan, offices and redeemed; the government having gained the interest during that time, and the community having received the benefit of the circulation. The paper was made a legal tender for, the payment of debts, and it generally maintained its original value, with slight fluctuations caused by the rise of gold and silver, when a larger quantity of these metals than usual was wanted for exportation.
In some of the other colonies the paper was emitted merely on the credit of the government, certain taxes being pledged for redeeming it within a limited time. This security was not sufficient to gain the public confidence, although supported by the legal tender, and the bills fell in value. The evil was increased by forced emissions beyond the quantity required as a circulating medium, and also by the remissness of the Assemblies in collecting the taxes, or by their appropriating these taxes to other objects. In Virginia, likewise, the value of the bills fluctuated according to the more or less abundant crops of tobacco, which was the chief commodity of trade in that province. At length the British merchants, finding it difficult to collect their American debts, ascribed the cause to the depreciation of the local currency, and used their influence with the ministers to procure an act of Parliament restraining emissions, with a legal tender, in all the colonies. They carried their point, and such an act was passed.
The restraint was considered onerous and inequitable in Pennsylvania, where the paper money had always been so managed as to keep its value nearly at par, and the Assembly petitioned Parliament for a repeal of the act. Dr. Franklin presented the petition, and, having brought over the merchants to join with him in the application, he urged it so effectively, that the ministers agreed to favor the measure.
He found it necessary, however, first to dispossess them of a notion, which they had taken up, and which he looked upon as threatening more mischief to the colonies, than the prohibition of the legal tender. They were meditating a project for drawing a revenue from the colonial paper money, by retaining the interest derived from it to be appropriated by Parliament., He assured them, that no colony would emit money on such terms, and advanced other reasons against the plan, which seemed to convince them, that it was impolitic if not impracticable. But when Parliament assembled, the subject was introduced in a new and still more objectionable form. The chancellor of the exchequer, Mr. Townshend, after be had proposed an American revenue by duties on glass, paper, tea, and some other articles, said he had another proposition to offer, and that a bill would be prepared for the purpose. By his scheme all the paper money for the colonies was to be made by the British government in London, sent over to America, deposited in loan offices there, and then issued on interest precisely according to the Pennsylvania method. The whole amount of the interest was to be paid into the British treasury.
In its principles this scheme was exactly the same as the Stamp Act. It aimed to impose a direct tax on the colonies by a law of Parliament, and also to take away from the Assemblies all power over their currency. Foreseeing the consequences, and wishing to remove every ground for such a proceeding on the score of complaints from the colonies, Dr. Franklin thought it prudent not to press the petition any further at that time.
Shortly afterwards he wrote, "I am not for applying here again very soon for a repeal of the restraining act. I am afraid an ill use will be made of it. The plan of our adversaries is, to render Assemblies in America useless, and to have a revenue, independent of their grants, for all the purposes of their defence and supporting governments among them. It is our interest to prevent this. And, that they may not lay hold of our necessities for paper money, to draw a revenue from that article whenever they grant us the liberty we want, of making it a legal tender, I wish some other method may be fallen upon of supporting its credit." He therefore recommended the experiment of paper money not a legal tender, which had been already begun by the Pennsylvanians upon a small scale; and be also intimated, that a bank might be established, which would answer the desired purpose. This latter plan, however, was never resorted to, either by Pennsylvania or any other province. Mr. Townshend's project was dropped. If the new duties had been submitted to, the tax on paper money would probably have followed.
In the summer of 1766, Dr. Franklin went over to German accompanied by Sir John Pringle, who spent some time at Pyrmont for the benefit of the waters. Franklin made a more extended journey; but little is known of it, except that he visited Gottingen, Hanover, and some of the principal cities and universities on the continent, and returned to London after an absence of eight weeks. During this tour he learned from the boatmen in Holland, that boats propelled by an equal force move more slowly in shoal than in deep water. He afterwards performed a variety of experiments to prove and illustrate this fact, which he considered important in the construction of canals. The results of these experiments, with an explanation of them on philosophical principles, he communicated in a letter to Sir John Pringle.
The main business of his mission to England, which was to prosecute the petition for a change of the government in Pennsylvania, received his early and continued attention. The ministers listened to the application so far, as to raise encouraging hopes of its ultimate success. As the change, desired by the Pennsylvanians, was such as to enlarge the authority of the crown in that province, there was no reluctance on the part of the administration to agree to an arrangement, whenever it could be done consistently with the proprietary claims. It was proposed, that the government should purchase of the Proprietaries their right of jurisdiction, leaving them in possession of the lands and other property belonging to them in the province. The affair was discussed from time to time; but the increasing disorders in the colonies, and the resistance to acts of Parliament, in which the Pennsylvanians joined as heartily as any of their neighbours, prevented its being brought to an issue till the war broke out. If quiet had been restored, by establishing the relations between the two countries on the old footing, as they stood before the, Stamp Act, which was demanded by the colonists, the change would doubtless have been effected.
Recent events led to the investigation of a subject, which had hitherto been little considered, because no occasion had arisen for calling it into notice. An inquiry began to be made, on both sides of the Atlantic, into the principles by which the people of the two countries were bound together, and the reciprocal duties involved in this union. Franklin devoted his thoughts with great earnestness to this inquiry, and, after a full examination, expressed his sentiments decidedly and without reserve. The first settlers came to America by permission of the King; certain rights and privileges were granted to them by royal charters; they were allowed to have Assemblies of their own, and to pass laws not repugnant to the laws of England; these laws might be confirmed or annulled by the King; suits arising in the colonies, whenever transferred to the mother country, were decided by the King in Council. Parliament bad never been consulted in making the charters, nor had any authority been reserved to that body over them, in regard .to the terms upon which they were conferred; and, indeed, Parliament had taken no notice of the colonies, till a long time after their settlement. Besides, the emigrants did not remove to a conquered country; they purchased the soil of the natives with their own means; nor did they ever put the British government to the expense of a farthing, either for their removal or their establishment in an unexplored wilderness.
The power over commerce was naturally lodged in Parliament, because the laws regulating commerce necessarily extended to the whole empire; and for this reason the colonists had yielded obedience to the commercial restrictions, although they had sometimes been oppressive. But the internal affairs of the colonies were under the control of the laws passed by the Assemblies, subject only to the King's negative; and, whenever Parliament had meddled with these affairs, it was a usurpation, exercised contrary to justice and to early usage. He considered the mother country and colonies to be connected as England and Scotland, were before the union, each having its Assembly, or Parliament, under the King as a common sovereign. "The British empire," said he, "is not a single state; it comprehends many; and, though the Parliament of Great Britain has arrogated to itself the power of taxing the colonies, it has no more right to do so, than it has to tax Hanover. We have the same King, but not the same legislatures."
These doctrines he sustained by arguments drawn from history, and from well established principles in the British and. colonial constitutions. He communicated them freely to his friends in both countries. Governor Hutchinson complains, that they produced an influence in Massachusetts unfavorable to the ministerial schemes; that "he corresponded with the principal advocates of the controversy with Parliament in Boston, from the first stir about the Stamp Act, and they professed, in all the. important parts of it, to govern themselves by his advice." This is doubtless true; and they had no reason to regret, that they followed such advice, or were guided by such a counsellor.
Another topic, nearly allied to this, occupied public attention at the same time. It became a question, whether all difficulties might not be adjusted, and a permanent union be established between the two countries, by admitting representatives in Parliament from the colonies. Politicians invented theories and suggested plans. Dr. Franklin thought that such a representation, on fair and equal terms, afforded the only basis of a union, which could be expected to endure. But the proposal must first come from England; he was persuaded this would never be done, and he hoped little from the project. "The time has been," said he, in a letter to Lord Kames, "when the colonies might have been pleased with it; they are now indifferent about it; and, if it is much longer delayed, they too will refuse it. But the pride of this people cannot bear the thought of it, and therefore it will be delayed. Every man in England seems to consider himself as a piece of a sovereign over America; seems to jostle himself into the throne with the King, and talks of our subjects in the colonies. The Parliament cannot well and wisely make laws suited to the colonies, without being properly and truly informed of their circumstances, abilities, temper, &c. This it cannot be without representatives from thence; and yet it is fond of this power, and averse to the only means of acquiring the necessary knowledge for exercising it; which is desiring to be omnipotent, without being omniscient."
The same letter, written only a year after the repeal of the Stamp Act, contains the following remarkable passage, which would seem almost to have been penned in the spirit of prophecy. "America, an immense territory, favored by nature with all advantages of climate, soils, great navigable rivers, and lakes, must become a great country, populous and mighty; and will, in a less time than is generally conceived, be able to shake off any shackles that may be imposed upon her, and perhaps place them on the imposers. In the mean time, every act of oppression will sour their tempers, lessen greatly, if not annihilate, the profits of your commerce with them, and hasten their final revolt; for the seeds of liberty are universally found there, and nothing can eradicate them. And yet there remains among that people so much respect, veneration, and affection for Britain, that, if cultivated prudently, with a kind usage and tenderness for their privileges, they might be easily governed still for ages, without force or any considerable expense. But I do not see here a sufficient quantity of the, wisdom, that is necessary to produce such a conduct, and I lament the want of it."×
The temporary tranquility in the colonies, which followed the repeal of the Stamp Act, afforded Dr. Franklin a respite from the public duties in which he was constantly engaged before that event, and again afterwards when the controversy was revived. A portion of this period be devoted to travelling. In September, 1767, he visited Paris, accompanied, as he had been the year preceding in Germany, by his "steady, good friend, Sir John Pringle." The French ambassador in London, who had been particularly civil to him of late, gave him letters of introduction to several eminent persons. His papers on electricity had long before been translated and published in Paris, and his philosophical discoveries were probably better known and more highly estimated there, than in any other part of Europe. The reception he met with was in all respects gratifying to him. He was introduced to the King and royal family, and formed an acquaintance with the distinguished men in the scientific and political circles. These advantages, and the knowledge he gained by his observations and inquiries in France, were not only serviceable to him at the time, but they prepared the way for the successful execution of the important trust, which he was destined to hold in that country at a later period, as minister plenipotentiary from the American States.
Scarcely had he returned to London, when the news arrived of commotions in Boston, occasioned by Mr. Townshend's revenue act, and by the laws for establishing commissioners of the customs in America, and making the salaries of governors, judges, and other officers, dependent on the crown. These acts of Parliament the Bostonians regarded as a continuation of the same oppressive system, which had commenced with the Stamp Act, and which it had been fondly hoped would cease with its repeal. Disappointed and indignant, they assembled in town meeting, and passed a series of spirited resolutions, recommending that all prudent and lawful measures should be taken for the encouragement of industry, economy, and domestic manufactures. A paper was drawn up, and circulated among the inhabitants for their signature, by which they engaged to promote the use and consumption of American manufactures, and, after a stated time, not to purchase certain enumerated articles, which had been imported from abroad.
These proceedings gave great offence to the ministerial party in England, and some uneasiness to the friends of the colonies. The former represented them as intentionally disrespectful to Parliament, and little short of rebellion; and the latter thought them ill timed and injudicious. They were generally condemned by all parties. To calm the excitement, and to draw public attention to the true grounds of the controversy, Dr. Franklin wrote a paper, entitled Causes of the America Discontents before 1768. This was published in, the London Chronicle. But the editor took great liberties with the manuscript, omitting and altering to suit his humor. "He has drawn the teeth and pared the nails of my paper," said Franklin, "so that it can neither scratch nor bite; it seems only to paw and mumble."
It was, nevertheless, extremely well adapted to the occasion, being written with the author's peculiar felicity of style, and in a tone of moderation and fairness, which could not fail to win the favorable opinion even of those, who were resolved not to be convinced. The causes of all the late troubles in the colonies are traced from their origin, and stated with so much clearness and method, as to place the subject in its full force before the reader's mind. The Boston resolutions are not directly brought into view; yet the complaints of the colonists and the reasons for those complaints are so explained, as to make it evident, that the conduct of the Bostonians was a natural consequence of the aggressions of the British government, and such as ought to have been expected from a people jealous of their rights, and nurtured in the atmosphere of freedom. The example of Boston was speedily followed by the whole continent.
About this time, also, Dr. Franklin published his excellent pieces against Smuggling, and on the Laboring Poor, designed to correct practical, abuses and errors of opinion then prevalent in England.
At the beginning of the year 1768, there was a change in the ministry. The American business had been in the charge of Lord Shelburne, but it was now transferred to Lord Hillsborough, as secretary of State for America, this being made a distinct department. He was likewise placed at the head of the Board of Trade. In these stations he had so large a control over the affairs of the colonies, that almost every thing depended on his dispositions towards them. He was accounted a man of integrity and honest purposes, but too fond of his own opinions, and obstinate in carrying out his schemes. It was not known that be had any special hostility to the colonies, yet the American agents regarded his appointment as by no means auspicious to the interests of their countrymen. His general character gave a countenance to this apprehension, and his conduct in his office proved it not to be groundless.
At first, however, he was courteous to the American agents, and seemed to listen to their representations with some degree of favor. To Dr. Franklin, in particular, he showed much civility, conversed with him often on American affairs, and professed to have great respect for his opinions. This circumstance, probably, gave rise to the report, that some office was to be offered to him in his Lordship's department. Alluding to this subject, Franklin writes; "I am told there has been a talk of getting me appointed undersecretary to Lord Hillsborough; but with little likelihood, as it is a settled point here, that I am too much an American." An indirect overture was made to him, nevertheless, at the instance of the Duke of Grafton, by which it would appear, that there was a project for taking away from him the place of postmaster-general of the colonies, and appointing him to some office under the government.
After speaking, of this overture, in a letter to his son, he adds ; " So great is my inclination to be at home and at rest, that I shall not be sorry, if this business falls through, and I am suffered to retire with my old post; nor, indeed, very sorry, if they take that from me too, on account of my zeal for America, in which some of my friends have hinted to me, that I have been too open. If Mr. Grenville comes into power again, in any department respecting America, I must refuse to accept any thing that may seem to put me in his power, because I apprehend a breach between the two countries; and that refusal might give offence." And he says further; "I am grown so old, as to feel much less than formerly the spur of ambition; and, if it were not for the flattering expectation, that, by being fixed here, I might more effectually serve my country, I should certainly determine for retirement, without a moment's hesitation." This is all that is known of the negotiation. There is no evidence that any office was directly proposed to him. The overture itself evinces a desire on the part of the government to profit by his talents, influence, and knowledge of American affairs.
The scheme was probably laid aside for the reason he suggested. His well known sentiments in regard to the American controversy, and the boldness and constancy with which he had maintained them by his writings and otherwise, left no ground for hope, that he would either support or approve the measures, which it was resolved to pursue. For the same reason he could not accept an appointment, knowing as he did the designs of the ministers, and their determination to carry them out at all hazards.
The rumor, which could scarcely fail to arise from the above transactions, found its way to America, and was industriously circulated to his disadvantage by his political adversaries in Pennsylvania. He was accused of seeking office under the ministers, and of thus betraying the confidence reposed in him by his country. Such a charge needs no refutation. His writings, and the whole tenor of his conduct during his residence in England, are proof alike of its falsehood and of the malicious intent with which it was propagated.
The popular party in Pennsylvania, who sought a change of government, looked to him as the most suitable candidate for governor under the new system, if it should ever go into operation. When his sister hinted this to him in a letter, he replied; "There is no danger of such a thing being offered to me, and I am sure I shall never ask it. But, even if it were offered, I certainly could not accept it to act under such instructions, as I know must be given with it. So you may be quite easy on that head." The appointment would of course be made by the King, and the instructions must have been in conformity with the doctrines then in vogue respecting colonial subordination, which Franklin had opposed from the time they were first promulgated. Some of the principal people in Massachusetts also wished him to become the successor of Sir Francis Bernard, as governor of that province, believing he would be acceptable to all parties, and be able to conciliate the unhappy differences, which Bernard had contrived to stir up and foment. But, even if there had been any serious attempt to place him in this office, the same objections existed as in the former case.