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DLIX: TO THOMAS CUSHING - Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. VI Letters and Misc. Writings 1772-1775 
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. VI (Letters and Misc. Writings 1772-1775).
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TO THOMAS CUSHING
London, 15 February, 1774.
I wrote a line to you by the last packet, just to acquaint you there had been a hearing on our petition. I shall now give you the history of it as succinctly as I can.
We had long imagined that the king would have considered that petition, as he had done the preceding one, in his cabinet, and have given an answer without a hearing, since it did not pray punishments or disabilities on the governors. But on Saturday, the 8th of January, in the afternoon, I received notice from the clerk of the council that the Lords of the Committee for Plantation Affairs would, on the Tuesday following at twelve, meet at the Cockpit, to take into consideration the petition referred to them by his Majesty, and that my attendance was required.
I sent directly to Mr. Arthur Lee, requesting a meeting, that we might consult upon it. He was not at his chambers, but my note was left for him. Sunday morning I went to Mr. Bollan and communicated the affair to him. He had received a similar notice. We considered whether it was best to employ other counsel, since Mr. Lee, he said, could not be admitted as such, not being yet called to the bar. He thought it not advisable. He had sometimes done it in colony cases and found lawyers of little service. Those who are eminent, and hope to rise in their profession, are unwilling to offend the court, and its disposition on this occasion was well known. But he would move to be heard in behalf of the council of the province, and thence take occasion to support the petition himself.
I went and sent again to Mr. Lee’s chambers in the Temple, but could not meet with him, and it was not till near the end of the week that I learnt he was at Bath. On Monday, very late in the afternoon, I received another notice, that Mr. Mauduit, agent for the governor and lieutenant-governor, had asked and obtained leave to be heard by counsel on the morrow in their behalf. This very short notice seemed intended to surprise us. On Tuesday we attended at the Cockpit, and, the petition being read, I was called upon for what I had to offer in support of it, when, as had been concerted between us, I acquainted their Lordships that Mr. Bollan, then present, in pursuance of their notice, would speak to it.
He came forward and began to speak; but objection was immediately made by some of the Lords, that he, being only agent for the council, which was not a party to this petition, could not properly be heard on it. He, however, repeatedly endeavored to obtain leave to speak, but without effect; they would scarce hear out a sentence, and finally set him aside. I then said that, with the petition of the House of Representatives, I had received their resolutions which preceded it, and a copy of the letters on which those resolutions were founded, which I would lay before their Lordships in support of the petition.
The resolutions were accordingly read; but, when the letters were taken up, Mr. Wedderburn, the solicitor-general, brought there as counsel for the governors, began to object, and inquire how they were authenticated, as did also some of the Lords. I said the authentications were annexed. They wanted to know the nature of them. I said that would appear when they were read, and prayed they would hear them. Lord Chief-Justice De Grey asked whom the letters were directed to; and, taking them in his hand, observed there was no address prefixed to any of them. I said that, though it did not appear to whom they were directed, it appeared who had written them; their names were subscribed; the originals had been shown to the gentlemen themselves, and they had not denied their handwriting; and the testifications annexed proved these to be true copies.
With difficulty I obtained leave to have the authentications read; and the solicitor-general proceeding to make observations as counsel for the governors, I said to their Lordships that it was some surprise to me to find counsel employed against the petition; that I had no notice of that intention till late in the preceding day; that I had not purposed troubling their Lordships with the hearing of counsel, because I did not conceive that any thing could possibly arise out of the petition, any point of law or of right, that might require the discussion of lawyers; that I apprehended this matter before their Lordships was rather a question of civil or political prudence, whether, on the state of the fact that the governors had lost all trust and confidence with the people, and become universally obnoxious, it would be for the interest of his Majesty’s service to continue them in those stations in that province; that I conceived this to be a question of which their Lordships were already perfect judges, and could receive no assistance in it from the arguments of counsel; but, if counsel was to be heard on the other side, I must then request leave to bring counsel in behalf of the Assembly, and that their Lordships would be pleased to appoint a further day for the hearing, to give time for preparing the counsel.
Mr. Mauduit was then asked if he would waive the leave he had, of being heard by counsel, that their Lordships might proceed immediately to consider the petition. He said he was requested by the governors to defend them, and they had promised to defray the expense, by which he understood that they expected he should employ counsel; and then, making me some compliments, as if of superior abilities, said he should not against me, hazard the defence of his friends by taking it upon himself. I said I had intended merely to lay the papers before their Lordships, without making a single comment on them. But this did not satisfy; he chose to be heard by counsel. So finally I had leave to be heard by counsel also in behalf of the petition. The solicitor-general, finding his cavils against the admission of the letters were not supportable, at last said that, to save their Lordships’ time, he would admit the copies to be true transcripts of the originals, but he should reserve to himself a right, when the matter came on again, of asking certain questions, such as how the Assembly came into possession of them, through what hands, and by what means they were procured. “Certainly,” replied Lord Chief-Justice De Grey, somewhat austerely, “and to whom they were directed; for the perfect understanding of the passages may depend on that and other such circumstances. We can receive no charge against a man founded on letters directed to nobody, and perhaps received by nobody. The laws of this country have no such practice.” Lord President, near whom I stood, as I was putting up my papers, asked me if I intended to answer such questions. In that, I said, I shall take counsel. The day appointed for the hearing was the 29th of January.
Several friends now came to me and advised me to retain Mr. Dunning, formerly solicitor-general, and very able in his profession. I wished first to consult with Mr. Lee, supposing he might rather be for his friend, Mr. Sergeant Glynn. I found Mr. Lee was expected in town about the latter end of the week, and thought to wait his coming; in the meantime I was urged to take Mr. Dunning’s advice as to my own conduct if such questions should be asked me. I did so, and he was clear that I was not and could not be obliged to answer them if I did not choose it, which I informed him was the case, being under a promise not to divulge from whom I received the letters. He said he would attend, however, if I desired it, and object in my behalf to their putting such questions.
A report now prevailed through the town that I had been grossly abused by the solicitor-general at the council board. But this was premature. He had only intended it, and mentioned that intention. I heard, too, from all quarters, that the ministry and all the courtiers were highly enraged against me for transmitting those letters. I was called an incendiary, and the papers were filled with invectives against me. Hints were given me that there were some thoughts of apprehending me, seizing my papers, and sending me to Newgate. I was well informed that a resolution was taken to deprive me of my place; it was only thought best to defer it till after the hearing, I suppose, because I was there to be so blackened that nobody should think it injustice. Many knew, too, how the petition was to be treated, and I was told, even before the first hearing, that it was to be rejected with some epithets, the Assembly to be censured, and some honor done the governors. How this could be known one cannot say. It might be only conjecture.
The transactions relating to the tea had increased and strengthened the torrent of clamor against us. No one had the least expectation of success to the petition, and, though I had asked leave to use counsel, I was half inclined to waive it, and save you the expense, but Mr. Bollan was now strongly for it, as they had refused to hear him. And, though fortified by his opinion, as he had long experience in your affairs, I would at first have ventured to deviate from the instructions you sent me in that particular, supposing you to allow some discretionary liberty to your agents; yet, now that he urged it as necessary, I employed a solicitor and furnished him with what materials I could for framing a brief; and Mr. Lee, coming to town, entered heartily into the business, and undertook to engage Sergeant Glynn, who would readily have served us, but being in a fit of the gout, which made his attendance uncertain, the solicitor retained Mr. Dunning and Mr. John Lee, another able man of the profession.
While my mind was taken up with this business, I was harassed with a subpœna from the chancellor to attend his court the next day, at the suit of Mr. William Whately concerning the letters. This man was under personal obligations to me, such as would have made it base in him to commence such a suit of his own motion against me, without any previous notice, claim, or demand; but if he was capable of doing it at the instance of the ministry, whose banker he is, for some pension money, he must be still baser.
The briefs being prepared and perused by our counsel, we had a consultation at Mr. Dunning’s chambers in Lincoln’s Inn. I introduced Mr. Arthur Lee as my friend and successor in the agency. The brief, as you will see by a copy I send you, pointed out the passages of the letters which were applicable in support of the particular charges contained in the resolutions and petition. But the counsel observed, we wanted evidence to prove those passages false; the counsel on the other side would say, they were true representations of the state of the country; and, as to the political reflections of the writers, and their sentiments of government, their aims to extend and enforce the power of Parliament and diminish the privileges of their countrymen, though these might appear in the letters and need no other proof, yet they would never be considered here as offences, but as virtues and merits. The counsel therefore thought it would answer no good end to insist on those particulars; and that it was more advisable to state as facts the general discontent of the people, that the governors had lost all credit with them, and were become odious etc.; facts of which the petition was itself full proof, because otherwise it could not have existed; and then show that it must in such a situation be necessary for his Majesty’s service, as well as the peace of the province, to remove them. By this opinion, great part of the brief became unnecessary.
Notwithstanding the intimations I had received, I could not believe that the solicitor-general would be permitted to wander from the question before their Lordships into a new case, the accusation of another person for another matter, not cognizable before them, who could not expect to be there so accused, and therefore could not be prepared for his defence. And yet all this happened, and in all probability was preconcerted; for all the courtiers were invited, as to an entertainment, and there never was such an appearance of privy councillors on any occasion, not less than thirty-five, besides an immense crowd of other auditors.
The hearing began by reading my letter to Lord Dartmouth, enclosing the petition, then the petition itself, the resolves, and lastly the letters, the solicitor-general making no objections, nor asking any of the questions he had talked of at the preceding board. Our counsel then opened the matter, upon their general plan, and acquitted themselves very handsomely; only Mr. Dunning, having a disorder on his lungs that weakened his voice exceedingly, was not so perfectly heard as one could have wished. The solicitor-general then went into what he called a history of the province for the last ten years, and bestowed plenty of abuse upon it, mingled with encomium on the governors. But the favorite part of his discourse was levelled at your agent, who stood there the butt of his invective ribaldry for near an hour, not a single Lord adverting to the impropriety and indecency of treating a public messenger in so ignominious a manner, who was present only as the person delivering your petition, with the consideration of which, no part of his conduct had any concern. If he had done a wrong in obtaining and transmitting the letters, that was not the tribunal where he was to be accused and tried. The cause was already before the chancellor. Not one of their Lordships checked and recalled the orator to the business before them, but, on the contrary, a very few excepted, they seemed to enjoy highly the entertainment, and frequently burst out in loud applauses. This part of his speech was thought so good, that they have since printed it, in order to defame me everywhere, and particularly to destroy my reputation on your side of the water; but the grosser parts of the abuse are omitted, appearing, I suppose, in their own eyes, too foul to be seen on paper; so that the speech, compared to what it was, is now perfectly decent. I send you one of the copies. My friends advise me to write an answer, which I purpose immediately.
The reply of Mr. Dunning concluded. Being very ill, and much incommoded by standing so long, his voice was so feeble as to be scarce audible. What little I heard was very well said, but appeared to have little effect.
Their Lordships’ Report, which I send you, is dated the same day. It contains a severe censure, as you will see, on the petition and the petitioners; and, as I think, a very unfair conclusion from my silence, that the charge of surreptitiously obtaining the letters was a true one; though the solicitor, as appears in the printed speech, had acquainted them that the matter was before the chancellor; and my counsel had stated the impropriety of my answering there to charges then trying in another court. In truth I came by them honorably, and my intention in sending them was virtuous, if an endeavor to lessen the breach between two states of the same empire be such, by showing that the injuries complained of by one of them did not proceed from the other, but from traitors among themselves.1
It may be supposed that I am very angry on this occasion, and therefore I did purpose to add no reflections of mine on the treatment the Assembly and their agent have received, lest they should be thought the effects of resentment and a desire of exasperating. But, indeed, what I feel on my own account is half lost in what I feel for the public. When I see that all petitions and complaints of grievances are so odious to government, that even the mere pipe which conveys them becomes obnoxious, I am at a loss to know how peace and union are to be maintained or restored between the different parts of the empire. Grievances cannot be redressed unless they are known; and they cannot be known but through complaints and petitions. If these are deemed affronts, and the messengers punished as offenders, who will henceforth send petitions? And who will deliver them? It has been thought a dangerous thing in any state to stop up the vent of griefs. Wise governments have therefore generally received petitions with some indulgence, even when but slightly founded. Those who think themselves injured by their rulers are sometimes, by a mild and prudent answer, convinced of their error. But where complaining is a crime, hope becomes despair.
The day following I received a written notice from the secretary of the general post-office, that his Majesty’s postmaster-general found it necessary to dismiss me from my office of deputy postmaster-general in North America. The expression was well chosen, for in truth they were under a necessity of doing it; it was not their own inclination; they had no fault to find with my conduct in the office; they knew my merit in it, and that if it was now an office of value it had become such chiefly through my care and good management; that it was worth nothing when given to me; it would not then pay the salary allowed me, and unless it did I was not to expect it; and that it now produces near three thousand pounds a year clear to the treasury here. They had besides a personal regard for me. But as the post-offices in all the principal towns are growing daily more and more valuable by the increase of correspondence, the officers being paid commissions instead of salaries, the ministers seem to intend, by directing me to be displaced on this occasion, to hold out to them all an example, that if they are not corrupted by their office to promote the measures of administration, though against the interests and rights of the colonies, they must not expect to be continued. This is the first act for extending the influence of government in this branch. But as orders have been some time since given to the American postmaster-general, who used to have the disposition of all places under him, not to fill vacancies of value till notice of such vacancies had been sent hither and instructions thereupon received from hence, it is plain that such influence is to be a part of the system, and probable that those vacancies will for the future be filled by officers from this country. How safe the correspondence of your Assembly committees along the continent will be through the hands of such officers may now be worth consideration, especially as the post-office act of Parliament allows a postmaster to open letters if warranted so to do by the order of a secretary of state, and every provincial secretary may be deemed a secretary of state in his own province.
It is not yet known what steps will be taken by government with regard to the colonies, or to our province in particular. But as inquiries are making of all who come from thence concerning the late riot and the meetings that preceded it, and who were speakers and movers at these meetings, I suspect there is some intention of seizing persons, and perhaps of sending them hither. But of this I have no certainty. No motion has yet been made in the House of Commons concerning our affairs, and that made in the House of Lords was withdrawn for the present. It is not likely, however, that the session will pass over without some proceeding relating to us, though perhaps it is not yet settled what the measures shall be.
With my best wishes for the prosperity of the province, I have the honor to be, sir, etc.,
While acting as agent for the colonies in London, certain letters were placed in Franklin’s hands, which had been written in Boston by Governor Hutchinson, Lieutenant-Governor Oliver, Charles Paxton, Nathaniel Rogers, and G. Rome, to Thomas Whately, at the time a member of Parliament and private secretary to Mr. Grenville, one of the cabinet. After Mr. Whately’s death, these letters were handed, by some person still unknown, to Dr. Franklin, with permission to show them to some of his correspondents in Boston, but upon the conditions that they were not to be printed, that no copies should be taken of them; that they should be shown only to a few leading people of the government; and that they should be carefully returned. The Doctor, finding they were in no sense private letters, but were from an official source and designed and calculated to exert an important influence upon the government, to the manifest prejudice of the colonies, sent them to Thomas Cushing, the Speaker of the House of Representatives of Massachusetts, who exhibited them to a few confidential friends.
The sentiments expressed in them were about as unpalatable on this side of the Atlantic at that time as any thing they could have written. “There must be an abridgment,” Hutchinson wrote, “of what are called English liberties; for a colony cannot enjoy all the liberty of a parent state.” He recommended not only coercive measures, but also a material change in the system of chartered government. He expressed “hopes that provisions for dissolving commercial combinations, and for inflicting penalties upon those who do not renounce them, would be made by Parliament.”
These communications were deemed to be of such a treacherous character, the principal, if not all the writers, being native-born Americans, that no efforts on the part of Mr. Cushing were sufficient to prevent their being made public. As Hutchinson afterwards told the king, “the people abroad compelled their publication, or would not be satisfied without it.” The Massachusetts legislature promptly sent to Franklin a petition addressed to the king for the removal of the governor and lieutenant-governor. The presentation of this petition before the council placed Franklin in what was probably the most painful and embarrassing position of his life. Franklin’s account of the foul treatment which he received at the hands of the privy council, as set forth in his correspondence, is confirmed by witnesses interested in extenuating the conduct of the council to the utmost.
The report of the “Examination” here given, was made by Mr. Israel Mauduit, the counsel for Hutchinson and his friends. He was the petitioner against the application of the Massachusetts Assembly to have them recalled.
Examination of Dr. Franklin at the Council-Chamber, January 11, 1774. Present: Lord President, the Secretaries of State, and many other Lords.
Dr. Franklin’s letter and the address, Mr. Pownall’s letter, and Mr. Mauduit’s petition were read.
The address mentions certain papers; I could wish to be informed what are those papers.
They are the letters of Mr. Hutchinson and Mr. Oliver.
Have you brought them?
No; but here are attested copies.
Do you mean to found a charge upon them? If you do, you must produce the letters.
These copies are attested by several gentlemen at Boston, and a notary public.
My Lords, we shall not take advantage of any imperfection in the proof. We admit that the letters are Mr. Hutchinson’s and Mr. Oliver’s handwriting; reserving to ourselves the right of inquiring how they were obtained.
I did not expect that counsel would have been employed on this occasion.
Had you not notice sent you of Mr. Mauduit’s having petitioned to be heard by counsel, on behalf of the governor and lieutenant-governor?
I did receive such notice; but I thought this had been a matter of politics, not of law, and have not brought my counsel.
Where a charge is brought, the parties have a right to be heard by counsel or not, as they choose.
My Lords, I am not a native of that country, as these gentlemen are. I know well Dr. Franklin’s abilities, and wish to put the defence of my friends upon a parity with the attack; he will not, therefore, wonder that I choose to appear before your Lordships with the assistance of counsel. My friends, in their letters to me, have desired (if any proceedings, as they say, should be had upon this address) that they may have a hearing in their own justification, that their innocence may be fully cleared, and their honor vindicated; and have made provision accordingly. I do not think myself at liberty, therefore, to give up the assistance of my counsel, in defending them against this unjust accusation.
Dr. Franklin may have the assistance of counsel, or go on without it, as he shall choose.
I desire to have counsel.
What time do you want?
Ordered, that the further proceedings be on Saturday, 29th instant.
The Privy Council met on the day appointed; and Mr. Vaughan tells us: “It was in consequence of the letter which Dr. Franklin wrote about the letters to the Public Advertiser after the duel, that Mr. Wedderburn ventured to make the most odious personal allusions.” Mr. Mauduit, he continues, has prudently omitted part of them in his account of the proceedings before the Privy Council. They are given here altogether, however (as well as they could be collected), and the nature of the censures passed in English upon Dr. Franklin’s character.
“The letters could not have come to Dr. Franklin,” said Mr. Wedderburn “by fair means. The writers did not give them to him; nor yet did the deceased correspondent, who from our intimacy would otherwise have told me of it. Nothing, then, will acquit Dr. Franklin of the charge of obtaining them by fraudulent or corrupt means, for the most malignant of purposes, unless he stole them from the person who stole them. This argument is irrefragable.
“I hope, my Lords, you will mark and brand the man, for the honor of this country, of Europe, and of mankind. Private correspondence has hitherto been held sacred, in times of the greatest party rage, not only in politics but religion.” “He has forfeited all the respect of societies and of men. Into what companies will he hereafter go with an unembarrassed face, or the honest intrepidity of virtue? Men will watch him with a jealous eye; they will hide their papers from him, and lock up their escritoires. He will henceforth esteem it a libel to be called a man of letters; homotrium1literarum!
“But he not only took away the letters from one brother, but kept himself concealed till he nearly occasioned the murder of the other. It is impossible to read his account, expressive of the coolest and most deliberate malice, without horror” [Here he read the letter dated December 25, 1773; Dr. Franklin being all the time present.] “Amidst these tragical events, of one person nearly murdered, of another answerable for the issue, of a worthy governor hurt in his dearest interests, the fate of America in suspense; here is a man who, with the utmost insensibility of remorse, stands up and avows himself the author of all. I can compare it only to Zanga, in Dr. Young’s Revenge.
I ask, my Lords, whether the revengeful temper attributed, by poetic fiction only, to the bloody African, is not surpassed by the coolness and apathy of the wily American?”
Mr. Vaughan adds: “Unfortunately for Mr. Wedderburn, the events of the war did not correspond with his systems. Unfortunately, too, for his ‘irrefragable argument,’ Dr. Franklin afterwards took an oath in chancery that, at the time that he transmitted the letters, he was ignorant of the party to whom they had been addressed, having himself received them from a third person, and for the express purpose of their being conveyed to America. Unfortunately, also, for Mr. Wedderburn’s ‘worthy governor,’ that governor himself, before the arrival of Dr. Franklin’s packet in Boston, sent over one of Dr. Franklin’s own ‘private’ letters to England, expressing some little coyness, indeed, upon the occasion, but desiring secrecy, lest he should be prevented from procuring more useful intelligence from the same source. Whether Mr. Wedderburn, in his speech, intended to draw a particular case and portraiture, for the purpose only of injuring Dr. Franklin, or meant that his language and epithets should apply generally to all, whether friends or foes, whose practice should be found similar to it, is a matter that must be left to be adjusted between Governor Hutchinson and Mr. Wedderburn.
“It was not singular, perhaps, that, as a man of honor, Dr. Franklin should surrender his name to public scrutiny in order to prevent mischief to others, and yet not betray his coadjutor (even to the present moment) to relieve his own fame from the severest obloquy; but perhaps it belonged to few besides Dr. Franklin, to possess mildness and magnanimity enough, to refrain from intemperate expressions and measures against Mr. Wedderburn and his supporters, after all that had passed.”
Dr. Priestley gave the following account of Wedderburn’s speech, in a communication to the editor of the Monthly Magazine, dated at Northumberland, November 10, 1802:
“On the morning of the day on which the cause was to be heard, I met Mr. Burke in Parliament Street, accompanied by Dr. Douglas, afterwards Bishop of Carlisle; and after introducing us to each other, as men of letters, he asked me whither I was going; I said I could tell him whither I wished to go. He then asked me where that was; I said to the Privy Council, but that I was afraid I could not get admission. He then desired me to go along with him. Accordingly I did; but, when we got to the anteroom, we found it quite filled with persons as desirous of getting admission as ourselves. Seeing this, I said we should never get through the crowd. He said, ‘Give me your arm,’ and, locking it fast in his, he soon made his way to the door of the Privy Council. I then said: ‘Mr. Burke, you are an excellent leader’; he replied: ‘I wish other persons thought so too.’
After waiting a short time, the door of the Privy Council opened, and we entered the first; when Mr. Burke took his stand behind the first chair next to the president, and I behind that next to his. When the business was opened, it was sufficiently evident, from the speech of Mr. Wedderburn, who was counsel for the governor, that the real object of the court was to insult Dr. Franklin. All this time, he stood in a corner of the room, not far from me, without the least apparent emotion.
Mr. Dunning, who was the leading counsel on the part of the colony, was so hoarse that he could hardly make himself heard; and Mr. Lee, who was the second, spoke but feebly in reply; so that Mr. Wedderburn had a complete triumph. At the sallies of his sarcastic wit, all the members of the council, the president himself (Lord Gower) not excepted, frequently laughed outright. No person belonging to the council behaved with decent gravity, except Lord North, who, coming late, took his stand behind the chair opposite to me.
When the business was over, Dr. Franklin, in going out, took me by the hand in a manner that indicated some feeling. I soon followed him, and, going through the anteroom, saw Mr. Wedderburn there, surrounded by a circle of his friends and admirers. Being known to him, he stepped forward, as if to speak to me; but I turned aside, and made what haste I could out of the place.
The next morning, I breakfasted with the Doctor, when he said he had never before been so sensible of the power of a good conscience; for that if he had not considered the thing for which he had been so much insulted, as one of the best actions of his life, and what he should certainly do again in the same circumstances, he could not have supported it. He was accused of clandestinely procuring certain letters, containing complaints against the governor, and sending them to America, with a view to excite their animosity against him, and thus to embroil the two countries; but he assured me, that he did not even know that such letters existed, until they were brought to him as agent for the colony, in order to be sent to his constituents; and the cover of the letters, on which the direction had been written, being lost, he only guessed at the person to whom they were addressed, by the contents.
That Dr. Franklin, notwithstanding he did not show it at the time, was much impressed by the business of the Privy Council, appeared from this circumstance. When he attended there, he was dressed in a suit of Manchester velvet; and Silas Deane told me that, when they met at Paris to sign the treaty between France and America, he purposely put on that suit.”
In reference to this account, after it appeared in print, the following particulars were communicated to William Temple Franklin by Dr. Bancroft:
“Dr. Franklin did not ‘stand in a corner of the room,’ ” says Dr. Bancroft, who was for many years one of Dr. Franklin’s intimate friends, and was present during the whole transaction before the Privy Council; “he stood close to the fireplace, on that side which was at the right hand of those who were looking toward the fire; in front of which, though at some distance, the members of the Privy Council were seated at a table. I obtained a place on the opposite side of the fireplace, a little farther from the fire; but Dr. Franklin’s face was directed towards me, and I had a full, uninterrupted view of it, and his person, during the whole time in which Mr. Wedderburn spoke. The Doctor was dressed in a full-dress suit of spotted Manchester velvet, and stood conspicuously erect, without the smallest movement of any part of his body, The muscles of his face had been previously composed, so as to afford a placid, tranquil expression of countenance, and he did not suffer the slightest alteration of it to appear during the continuance of the speech, in which he was so harshly and improperly treated. In short, to quote the words which he employed concerning himself on another occasion, he kept his ‘countenance as immovable as if his features had been made of wood.’ This was late on Saturday afternoon. I called on him in Craven Street at an early hour on Monday morning, and, immediately after the usual salutation, he put into my hands a letter which had just been delivered to him. It was from the postmaster-general, and informed him that the king had no further occasion for his (Dr. Franklin’s) services, as deputy postmaster-general in America.
It is a fact that he, as Dr. Priestley mentions, signed the treaties of commerce and eventual alliance with France, in the clothes which he had worn at the Cockpit, when the preceding transaction occurred. It had been intended, as you may recollect, that these treaties should be signed on the evening of Thursday, the 5th of February, and when Dr. Franklin had dressed himself for the day, I observed that he wore the suit in question; which I thought the more extraordinary, as it had been laid aside for many months. This I noticed to Mr. Deane; and soon after, when a messenger came from Versailles, with a letter from Mr. Gerard, the French plenipotentiary, stating that he was so unwell, from a cold, that he wish to defer coming to Paris to sign the treaties until the next evening, I said to Mr. Deane, ‘Let us see whether the Doctor will wear the same suit of clothes to-morrow; if he does, I shall suspect that he is influenced by a recollection of the treatment which he received at the Cockpit.’ The morrow came, and the same clothes were again worn, and the treaties signed. After which these clothes were laid aside, and, so far as my knowledge extends, never worn afterwards. I once intimated to Dr. Franklin the suspicion which his wearing these clothes on that occasion had excited in my mind, when he smiled, without telling me whether it was well or ill founded. I have heard him sometimes say that he was not insensible to injuries, but that he never put himself to any trouble or inconvenience to retaliate.”
The profound sensation produced by the publication of the Hutchinson letters, and the unmerited obloquy which his part in the matter brought upon Dr. Franklin, decided him, before leaving England, to prepare the detailed account of his connection with these letters, which will be found farther on. He does not reveal the source from which the letters came to him, but Mr. C. Francis Adams, upon the authority of his grandfather, President John Adams, says: “Scarcely a doubt can remain that Sir John Temple was the man who procured the Hutchinson letters and had them delivered to Franklin.”1 This account was not published till it appeared in William Temple Franklin’s edition of his grandfather’s works, in 1817. Franklin probably found it would do no good to make any such defence in the fury of the storm; and before it had subsided, he had left England, the rupture between the countries had become complete, and the press of England was closed against any thing he might write in vindication of himself or the colonies, until after time and events had given him a far more effective vindication than any he could have penned.2
From whom Franklin really received these letters, is one of those historical puzzles which has exercised the ingenuity of eminent scholars on both sides of the Atlantic. The most satisfactory theory that has yet been presented may be found in a minute furnished by Mr. Bancroft to Mr. Robert C. Winthrop, and read by the latter at a meeting of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Feb. 14, 1878.3 Mr. Bancroft’s conclusion, in which Mr. Winthrop expressed his concurrence, is that the Hutchinson letters referred to “were written to produce an effect on George Grenville; that they were sent by Thomas Whately to George Grenville; that they were shown by George Grenville to Lord Temple, and that at Grenville’s death they remained among his papers. The custody of the letters under any hypothesis belonged to the executor of Grenville or to the executor of T. Whately. It came to be agreed by all that the letters were never in the hands of the executor of T. Whately. There remains, then, no other place in which to search for them except among the papers left by Grenville. John Temple, as I believe from his own repeated assertions, ferreted out the matter, and formed the plan of sending them to be read in Boston. But the communication of the papers was made to Franklin by a member of Parliament. For this, the consent of the executor or executors of George Grenville must have been gained. Perhaps Lord Temple was Grenville’s executor; I know not; but whoever was charged with the custody of the papers would hardly have suffered them to be used without Lord Temple’s consent.”
The Diary and Letters of Governor Hutchinson, recently edited by one of his great-grandsons, though it does not furnish any thing decisive of this question, nor even show what was Hutchinson’s own impression, goes far to confirm Mr. Bancroft’s view, which, as we understand it, is, that John Temple procured the papers to be given to Franklin, and “the member of Parliament” was merely a passive instrument in the matter, and brought upon the stage merely to screen the principal.
The letters had not long been before the public before Hutchinson discovered that his native country could no longer be a home to him; he took refuge in England, where a small pension was assigned him. He died at Brompton in 1780.—Editor.
[1 ]For other particulars relating to this affair, see infra, pp. 370-411.
[1 ]That is, fur, or thief.
[2 ]Bigelow’s Life of Franklin.
[3 ]Addresses and Speeches by Robert C. Winthrop between 1878 and 1886, Boston.