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CCCXCVII: TO MRS. JANE MECOM - Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. V Letters and Misc. Writings 1768-1772 
The Works of Benjamin Franklin, including the Private as well as the Official and Scientific Correspondence, together with the Unmutilated and Correct Version of the Autobiography, compiled and edited by John Bigelow (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). The Federal Edition in 12 volumes. Vol. V (Letters and Misc. Writings 1768-1772).
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TO MRS. JANE MECOM
London, 30 December, 1770.
This ship staying longer than was expected, gives me an opportunity of writing to you, which I thought I must have missed when I desired cousin Williams to excuse me to you. I received your kind letter of September 25th, by the young gentlemen, who, by their discreet behaviour, have recommended themselves very much to me and many of my acquaintance. Josiah has attained his heart’s desire, of being under the tuition of Mr. Stanley, who, though he had long left off teaching, kindly undertook, at my request, to instruct him, and is much pleased with his quickness of apprehension and the progress he makes; and Jonathan appears a very valuable young man, sober, regular, and inclined to industry and frugality, which are promising signs of success in business. I am very happy in their company.
As to the rumor you mention (which was, as Josiah tells me, that I had been deprived of my place in the post-office on account of a letter I wrote to Philadelphia), it might have this foundation, that some of the ministry had been displeased on my writing such letters, and there were really some thoughts among them of showing that displeasure in that manner. But I had some friends too, who, unrequested by me, advised the contrary. And my enemies were forced to content themselves with abusing me plentifully in the newspapers, and endeavoring to provoke me to resign. In this they are not likely to succeed, I being deficient in that Christian virtue of resignation. If they would have my office, they must take it.
I have heard of some great man whose rule it was, with regard to offices, never to ask for them, and never to refuse them; to which I have always added, in my own practice, never to resign them. As I told my friends, I rose to that office through a long course of service in the inferior degrees of it. Before my time, through bad management, it never produced the salary annexed to it; and when I received it, no salary was to be allowed if the office did not produce it. During the first four years it was so far from defraying itself, that it became nine hundred and fifty pounds sterling in debt to me and my colleague. I had been chiefly instrumental in bringing it to its present flourishing state, and therefore thought I had some kind of right to it. I had hitherto executed the duties of it faithfully, and to the perfect satisfaction of my superiors, which I thought was all that should be expected of me on that account. As to the letters complained of, it was true I did write them, and they were written in compliance with another duty, that to my country; a duty quite distinct from that of postmaster.
My conduct in this respect was exactly similar to that I held on a similar occasion but a few years ago, when the then ministry was ready to hug me for the assistance I afforded them in repealing a former revenue act. My sentiments were still the same, that no such acts should be made here for America; or, if made, should as soon as possible be repealed; and I thought it should not be expected of me to change my political opinions every time his Majesty thought fit to change his ministers. This was my language on the occasion; and I have lately heard that, though I was thought much to blame, it being understood that every man who holds an office should act with the ministry, whether agreeable or not to his own judgment, yet, in consideration of the goodness of my private character (as they were pleased to compliment me), the office was not to be taken from me.
Possibly they may still change their minds, and remove me; but no apprehension of that sort will, I trust, make the least alteration in my political conduct. My rule, in which I have always found satisfaction, is, never to turn aside in public affairs through views of private interest; but to go straight forward in doing what appears to me right at the time, leaving the consequences with Providence. What in my younger days enabled me more easily to walk upright was, that I had a trade, and that I knew I could live upon little; and thence (never having had views of making a fortune) I was free from avarice, and contented with the plentiful supplies my business afforded me. And now it is still more easy for me to preserve my freedom and integrity, when I consider that I am almost at the end of my journey, and therefore need less to complete the expense of it; and that what I now possess, through the blessing of God, may, with tolerable economy, be sufficient for me (great misfortunes excepted), though I should add nothing more to it by any office or employment whatsoever.
I send you by this opportunity the two books you wrote for. They cost three shillings apiece. When I was first in London, about forty-five years since, I knew a person who had an opinion something like your author’s. Her name was Ilive, a printer’s widow. She died soon after I left England, and by her will obliged her son to deliver publicly, in Salters’ Hall, a solemn discourse, the purport of which was to prove that this world is the true Hell, or place of punishment for the spirits who had transgressed in a better state, and were sent here to suffer for their sins in animals of all sorts. It is long since I saw the discourse, which was printed. I think a good deal of Scripture was cited in it, and that the supposition was that, though we now remembered nothing of such a preëxistent state, yet after death we might recollect it, and remember the punishments we had suffered, so as to be the better for them; and others, who had not yet offended, might now behold and be warned by our sufferings.
In fact, we see here that every lower animal has its enemy, with proper inclinations, faculties, and weapons, to terrify, wound, and destroy it; and that men, who are uppermost, are devils to one another; so that, on the established doctrine of the goodness and justice of the great Creator, this apparent state of general and systematical mischief seemed to demand some such supposition as Mrs. Ilive’s, to account for it consistently with the honor of the Deity. But our reasoning powers, when employed about what may have been before our existence here, or shall be after it, cannot go far, for want of history and facts. Revelation only can give us the necessary information, and that, in the first of these points especially, has been very sparingly afforded us.
I hope you continue to correspond with your friends at Philadelphia. My love to your children; and believe me ever your affectionate brother,
TO THOMAS CUSHING
London, 5 February, 1771.
Since mine of December 24th, I have been honored by the letter from the Committee, dated December 17th, which, with yours of November 6th, now lies before me.
The doctrine of the right of Parliament to lay taxes on America is now almost generally given up here, and one seldom meets in conversation with any who continue to assert it. But there are still many who think that the dignity and honor of Parliament, and of the nation, are so much engaged, as that no formal renunciation of the claim is ever to be expected. We ought to be contented, they say, with a forbearance of any attempt hereafter to exercise such right; and this they would have us rely on as a certainty. Hints are also given, that the duties now subsisting may be gradually withdrawn, as soon as a regard to that dignity will permit it to be decently done, without subjecting government to the contempt of all Europe, as being compelled into measures by the refractoriness of the colonies. How far this may be depended on, no one can say. The presumption rather is, that if, by time, we become so accustomed to these, as to pay them without discontent, no minister will afterwards think of taking them off, but rather be encouraged to add others.
Perhaps there was never an instance of a colony so much and so long persecuted with vehement and malicious abuse, as ours has been, for near two years past, by its enemies here and those who reside in it. The design apparently was, by rendering us odious, as well as contemptible, to prevent all concern for us in the friends of liberty here, when the projects of oppressing us further, and depriving us of our rights by various violent measures, should be carried into execution. Of late this abuse has abated; the sentiments of a majority of the ministers are, I think, become more favorable towards us; and I have reason to believe that all those projects are now laid aside. The projectors themselves, too, are, I believe, somewhat diminished in their credit; and it appears not likely that any new schemes of the kind will be listened to, if fresh occasion is not administered from our side the water. It seems, however, too early yet to expect such an attention to our complaints, as would be necessary to obtain an immediate redress of our grievances. A little time is requisite; but no opportunity will be lost by your agents, of stating them where it may be of use, and inculcating the necessity of removing them, for the strength and safety of the empire. And I hope the colony assemblies will show, by frequently repeated resolves, that they know their rights, and do not lose sight of them. Our growing importance will ere long compel an acknowledgment of them, and establish and secure them to our posterity.
In case of my leaving this country, which I may possibly do in the ensuing summer, I shall put into the hands of Dr. Lee1 all the papers relating to your affairs, which I have received from you, or from the son of your late agent, Mr. De Berdt. The present American secretary, Lord Hillsborough, has indeed objected to the Assembly’s appointment, and insists that no agent ought to be received or attended to by government here who is not appointed by an act of the General Court, to which the governor has given his assent. This doctrine, if he could establish it, would in a manner give to his Lordship the power of appointing, or, at least, negativing any choice of the House of Representatives and Council, since it would be easy for him to instruct the governor not to assent to the appointment of such and such men who are obnoxious to him; so that if the appointment is annual, every agent that valued his post must consider himself as holding it by the favor of his Lordship, and, of course, too much obliged to him to oppose his measures, however contrary to the interest of the province.
Of what use such agents would be it is easy to judge, and, although I am assured that notwithstanding this fancy of his Lordship, any memorial, petition, or other address from, or in behalf of, the House of Representatives to the King in Council, or to either House of Parliament, would be received from your agent as usual, yet on this occasion I cannot but wish that the public character of a colony agent was better understood and settled, as well as the political relation between the colonists and the mother country.
When they come to be considered in the light of distinct states, as I conceive they really are, possibly their agents may be treated with more respect, and considered more as public ministers. Under the present American administration they are rather looked on with an evil eye, as obstructors of ministerial measures; and the Secretary would, I imagine, be well pleased to get rid of them, being, as he has sometimes intimated, of opinion that agents are unnecessary, for that whatever is to be transacted between the assemblies of colonies and the government here may be done through and by the governor’s letters, and more properly than by any agent whatever. In truth, your nominations, particularly of Dr. Lee and myself, have not been at all agreeable to his Lordship.
I purpose, however, to draw up a memorial, stating our rights and grievances, and in the name and behalf of the province protesting particularly against the late innovations in respect to the military power obtruded on the civil, as well as the other infringements of the charter, and at a proper time, if Mr. Bollan, on due consideration, approves of it, and will join me in it, to present it to his Majesty in Council. Whether speedy redress is, or is not, the consequence, I imagine it may be of good use to keep alive our claims, and show that we have not given up the contested points, though we take no violent measures to obtain them.
A notion has been much inculcated here by our enemies that any farther concession on the part of Great Britain would only serve to increase our demands. I have constantly given it as my opinion that if the colonies were restored to the state they were in before the Stamp Act, they would be satisfied, and contend no farther. As in this I have been supposed not to know or not to speak the sentiments of the Americans, I am glad to find the same so fully expressed in the Committee’s letter. It was certainly, as I have often urged, bad policy, when they attempted to heal our differences by repealing part of the duties only, as it is bad surgery to leave splinters in a wound which must prevent its healing, or in time occasion it to open afresh.
There is no doubt of the intention to make governors and some other officers independent of the people for their support, and that this purpose will be persisted in if the American revenue is found sufficient to defray the salaries. Many think this so necessary a measure that even if there were no such revenue the money should issue out of the treasury here. But this, I apprehend, would hardly be the case, there being so many demands at home, and the salaries of so many officers in so many colonies would amount to such an immense sum that probably the burden would be found too great, and the providing for the expense of their governments be left to the colonies themselves.
I shall watch every thing that may be moved to the detriment of the province, and use my best endeavours for its service.
No public notice has yet been taken of the inflammatory paper mentioned by the Committee, as stuck up in Boston, and I think the indiscretion of individuals is not now so likely, as it has been of late, to make general impressions to our disadvantage. With the greatest respect, &c.,
[1 ]Arthur Lee had taken the degree of doctor in medicine before he commenced the study of the law; hence he was sometimes called Dr. Lee.