Front Page Titles (by Subject) DLXIII: ON THE RISE AND PROGRESS OF THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN GREAT BRITAIN AND HER AMERICAN COLONIES 1 - The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. VI Letters and Misc. Writings 1772-1775
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DLXIII: ON THE RISE AND PROGRESS OF THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN GREAT BRITAIN AND HER AMERICAN COLONIES 1 - 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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ON THE RISE AND PROGRESS OF THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN GREAT BRITAIN AND HER AMERICAN COLONIES1
To the Printer of the Public Advertiser:
The enclosed paper was written just before Lord Hillsborough quitted the American department. An expectation then prevailing, from the good character of the noble lord who succeeded him, that the grievances of the colonies would, under his administration, be redressed, it was laid aside; but, as not a single measure of his predecessor has since been even attempted to be changed, and, on the contrary, new ones have been continually added, further to exasperate these people, render them desperate, and drive them, if possible, into open rebellion, it may not be amiss now to give it to the public, as it shows in detail the rise and progress of those differences which are about to break the empire in pieces.
I am, sir, yours, etc.,
It is a bad temper of mind that takes a delight in opposition, and is ever ready to censure ministry in the gross, without discrimination. Charity should be willing to believe that we never had an administration so bad, but there might be some good and some wise men in it, and that even such is our case at present. The Scripture saith: “By their works shall ye know them.” By their conduct, then, in their respective departments, and not by their company or their party connections, should they be distinctly and separately judged.
One of the most serious affairs to this nation that has of late required the attention of government is our misunderstanding with the colonies. They are in the department of Lord Hillsborough, and, from a prevailing opinion of his abilities, have been left by the other ministers very much to his management. If, then, our American business has been conducted with prudence, to him chiefly will be due the reputation of it.
Soon after the commencement of the last war, it became an object with the ministers of this country to draw a revenue from America. The first attempt was by a Stamp Act. It soon appeared that this step had not been well considered; that the rights, the ability, the opinions, and temper of that great people had not been sufficiently attended to. They complained that the tax was unnecessary, because their Assemblies had ever been ready to make voluntary grants to the crown in proportion to their abilities when duly required so to do; and unjust, because they had no representative in the British Parliament, but had Parliaments of their own, wherein their consent was given, as it ought to be, in grants of their own money. I do not mean to enter into this question. The Parliament repealed the act as inexpedient, but in another act asserted a right of taxing America, and in the following year laid duties on the manufactures of this country exported thither. On the repeal of the Stamp Act, the Americans had returned to their wonted good-humor and commerce with Britain, but this new act for laying duties renewed their uneasiness. They were long since forbidden by the Navigation Act to purchase manufactures of any other nation; and, supposing that act well enforced, they saw that by this indirect mode it was in the power of Britain to burthen them as much as by any direct tax, unless they could lay aside the use of such manufactures as they had been accustomed to purchase from Britain, or make the same themselves.
In this situation were affairs when my Lord —— entered on the American administration. Much was expected from his supposed abilities, application, and knowledge of business in that department. The newspapers were filled with his panegyrics, and our expectations raised perhaps inconveniently.
The Americans determined to petition their sovereign, praying his gracious interposition in their favor with his Parliament, that the imposition of these duties, which they considered as an infringement of their rights, might be repealed. The Assembly of the Massachusetts Bay had voted that it should be proposed to the other colonies to concur in that measure. This, for what reason I do not easily conceive, gave great offence to his Lordship; and one of his first steps was to prevent these concurring petitions. To this end he sent a mandate to that Assembly (the Parliament of that country), requiring them to rescind that vote, and desist from the measure, threatening them with dissolution in case of disobedience. The governor communicated to them the instructions he received to that purpose. They refused to obey, and were dissolved! Similar orders were sent at the same time to the governors of the other colonies, to dissolve their respective Parliaments if they presumed to accede to the Boston proposition of petitioning his Majesty, and several of them were accordingly dissolved.
Bad ministers have ever been averse to the right subjects claim of petitioning and remonstrating to their sovereign; for through that channel the prince may be apprised of the mal-administration of his servants; they may sometimes be thereby brought into danger; at least such petitions afford a handle to their adversaries, whereby to give them trouble. But, as the measure to be complained of was not his Lordship’s, it is rather extraordinary that he should thus set his face against the intended complaints. In his angry letters to America, he called the proposal of these petitions “a measure of most dangerous and factious tendency, calculated to inflame the minds of his Majesty’s subjects in the colonies, to promote an unwarrantable combination, and to excite and encourage an open opposition to, and denial of, the authority of the Parliament, and to subvert the true spirit of theconstitution”; and directed the governors, immediately on the receipt of these orders, to exert their utmost influence to defeat this flagitious attempt.
Without entering into the particular motives to this piece of his Lordship’s conduct, let us consider a little the wisdom of it. When subjects conceive themselves oppressed or injured, laying their complaints before the sovereign, or the governing powers, is a kind of vent to griefs, that gives some ease to their minds; the receiving with at least an appearance of regard their petitions, and taking them into consideration, gives present hope, and affords time for the cooling of resentment; so that even the refusal, when decently expressed and accompanied with reasons, is made less unpleasant by the manner, is half approved, and the rest submitted to with patience. But when this vent to popular discontents is denied, and the subjects are thereby driven to desperation, infinite mischiefs follow. Many princes have lost part, and some the whole of their dominions, and some their lives, by this very conduct of their servants. The Secretary for America, therefore, seems in this instance not to have judged rightly for the service of his excellent master.
But supposing the measure of discouraging and preventing petitions a right one, were the means of effecting this end judiciously chosen? I mean, the threatening with dissolution and the actual dissolving of the American Parliaments. His Lordship probably took up the idea from what he knows of the state of things in England and Ireland, where, to be re-chosen upon a dissolution, often gives a candidate great trouble, and sometimes costs him a great deal of money. A dissolution may therefore be both fine and punishment to the members, if they desire to be again returned. But, in most of the colonies, there is no such thing as standing candidate for election. There is neither treating nor bribing. No man ever expresses the least inclination to be chosen. Instead of humble advertisements, entreating votes and interest, you see, before every new election, requests of former members, acknowledging the honor done them by preceding elections, but setting forth their long service and attendance on the public business in that station, and praying that, in consideration thereof, some other person may be chosen in their room. Where this is the case, where the same representatives may be, and generally are, after a dissolution, chosen, without asking a vote or giving even a glass of cider to an elector, is it likely that such a threat could contribute in the least to answer the end proposed? The experience of former governors might have instructed his Lordship, that this was a vain expedient. Several of them, misled by their English ideas, had tried this practice to make Assemblies submissive to their measures, but never with success. By the influence of his power in granting offices, a governor naturally has a number of friends in an assembly; these, if suffered to continue, might, though a minority, frequently serve his purpose, by promoting what he wishes, or obstructing what he dislikes. But if, to punish the majority, he in a pet dissolves the House, and orders a new election, he is sure not to see a single friend in the new assembly. The people are put into an ill humor by the trouble given them, they resent the dissolution as an affront, and leave out every man suspected of having the least regard for the governor. This was the very effect of my Lord’s dissolutions in America, and the new assemblies were all found more untractable than the old ones.
But besides the imprudence of this measure, was it constitutional? The crown has doubtless the prerogative of dissolving parliaments, a prerogative lodged in its hands for the public good, which may in various instances require the use of it. But should a king of Great Britain demand of his Parliament the recision of any vote they had passed, or forbid them to petition the throne, on pain of dissolution, and actually dissolve them accordingly, I humbly conceive the minister who advised it would run some hazard—of censure at least,—for thus using the prerogative to the violation of common right, and breach of the constitution. The American Assemblies have no means of impeaching such a minister; but there is an Assembly, the Parliament of England, that have that power, and in a former instance exercised it well, by impeaching a great man, Lord Clarendon, for having, though in one instance only, endeavored to introduce arbitrary government into the colonies.
The effect this operation of the American Secretary had in America, was not a prevention of those petitions, as he intended, but a despair in the people of any success from them, since they could not pass to the throne but through the hands of one who showed himself so extremely averse to the existence of them. Thence arose the design of interesting the British merchants and manufacturers in the event of their petitions, by agreements not to import goods from Great Britain till their grievances were redressed. Universal resentment occasioned these agreements to be more generally entered into, and the sending of troops to Boston, who daily insulted the Assembly1 and townsmen, instead of terrifying into a compliance with his measures, served only to exasperate and sour the minds of the people throughout the continent, make frugality fashionable, when the consumption of British goods was the question, and determine the inhabitants to exert every nerve in establishing manufactures among themselves.
Boston having grievously offended his Lordship, by the refractory spirit they had shown in re-choosing those representatives whom he esteemed the leaders of the opposition there, he resolved to punish that town by removing the Assembly from thence to Cambridge, a country place about four miles distant. Here too his Lordship’s English and Irish ideas seem to have misled him. Removing a Parliament from London or Dublin, where so many of the inhabitants are supported by the expense of such a number of wealthy lords and commoners, and have a dependence on that support, may be a considerable prejudice to a city deprived of such advantage; but the removal of the Assembly, consisting of frugal, honest farmers, from Boston, could only effect the interest of a few poor widows, who keep lodging-houses there. Whatever manufactures the members might want, were still purchased at Boston. They themselves indeed suffered some inconvenience, in being perhaps less commodiously lodged, and being at a distance from the records; but this, and the keeping them before so long prorogued, when the public affairs required their meeting, could never reconcile them to ministerial measures; it could serve only to put them more out of humor with Britain and its government so wantonly exercised, and to so little purpose. Ignorance alone of the true state of that country can excuse (if it may be excused) these frivolous proceedings.
To have good ends in view, and to use proper means to obtain them, shows the minister to be both good and wise. To pursue good ends by improper means argues him, though good, to be but weak. To pursue bad ends, by artful means, shows him to be wicked, though able. But when his ends are bad, and the means he uses improper to obtain these ends, what shall we say of such a minister? Every step taken for some time past in our treatment of America, the suspending their legislative powers for not making laws by direction from hence; the countenancing their adversaries by rewards and pensions, paid out of the revenues extorted from them by laws to which they have not given their assent; the sending over a set of rash, indiscreet commissioners to collect that revenue, who by insolence of behavior, harassing commerce, and perpetually accusing the good people (out of whose substance they are supported) to government here, as rebels and traitors, have made themselves universally odious there, but here are caressed and encouraged; together with the arbitrary dissolution of Assemblies, and the quartering troops among the people, to menace and insult them; all these steps, if intended to provoke them to rebellion, that we might take their lives and confiscate their estates, are proper means to obtain a bad end. But if they are intended to conciliate the Americans to our government, restore our commerce with them, and secure the friendship and assistance which their growing strength, wealth, and power may, in a few years, render extremely valuable to us, can any thing be conceived more injudicious, more absurd! His Lordship may have in general a good understanding; his friends say he has; but in the political part of it, there must surely be some twist, some extreme obliquity.
A Well-wisher to the King and all his Dominions.
To the Printer of the Public Advertiser:
Your correspondent Britannicus inveighs violently against Dr. Franklin for his ingratitude to the ministry of this nation, who have conferred upon him so many favors. They gave him the post-office of America; they made his son a governor; and they offered him a post of five hundred a year in the salt-office, if he would relinquish the interests of his country; but he has had the wickedness to continue true to it, and is as much an American as ever. As it is a settled point of government here, that every man has his price, it is plain they are bunglers in their business, and have not given him enough. Their master has as much reason to be angry with them, as Rodrigue, in the play with his apothecary, for not effectually poisoning Pandolpho, and they must probably make use of the apothecary’s justification, viz.:
Rodrigue and Fell, the Apothecary.
You promised to have this Pandolpho upon his bier in less than a week; ’t is more than a month since, and he still walks and stares at me in the face.
True; and yet I have done my best endeavors. In various ways I have given the miscreant as much poison as would have killed an elephant. He has swallowed dose after dose; far from hurting him, he seems the better for it. He hath a wonderfully strong constitution. I find I cannot kill him but by cutting his throat, and that, as I take it, is not my business.
Then it must be mine.”
To the Printer of the Public Advertiser:
Nothing can equal the present rage of our ministerial writers against our brethren in America, who have the misfortune to be whigs in a reign when whiggism is out of fashion, who are besides Protestant dissenters and lovers of liberty. One may easily see from what quarter comes the abuse of those people in the papers; their struggle for their rights is called rebellion, and the people rebels; while those who really rebelled in Scotland (1745) for the expulsion of the present reigning family, and the establishment of Popery and arbitrary power, on the ruins of liberty and Protestantism, who entered England and trampled on its belly as far as Derby, to the astonishment of this great city, and shaking the public credit of the nation, have now all their sins forgiven on account of their modish principles, and are called, not rebels, but by the softer appellation of insurgents! These angry writers use their utmost efforts to persuade us that this war with the colonies (for a war it will be) is a national cause, when in fact it is a ministerial one. Administration wants an American revenue to dissipate in corruption. The quarrel is about a paltry three-penny duty on tea. There is no real clashing of interests between Britain and America. Their commerce is to their mutual advantage, or rather most to the advantage of Britain, which finds a vast market in America for its manufactures, and as good pay, I speak from knowledge, as in any country she trades to upon the face of the globe. But the fact needs not my testimony; it speaks for itself; for if we could elsewhere get better pay and better prices, we should not send our goods to America.
The gross calumniators of that people, who want us to imbrue our hands in brother’s blood, have the effrontery to tell the world that the Americans associated in resolutions not to pay us what they owe us, unless we repealed the Stamp Act. This is an infamous falsehood; they knew it to be such. I call upon the incendiaries, who have advanced it, to produce their proofs. Let them name any two that entered into such an association, or any one that made such a declaration. Absurdity marks the very face of this lie. Every one acquainted with trade knows that a credited merchant, daring to be concerned in such an association, could never expect to be trusted again. His character on the Exchange of London would be ruined forever. The great credit given them since that time, nay, the present debt due from them, is itself a proof of the confidence we have in their probity. Another villainous falsehood advanced against the Americans is that though we have been at such expense in protecting them, they refuse to contribute their part to the public general expense of the empire. The fact is that they never did refuse a requisition of that kind. A writer, who calls himself Sagittarius (I suppose from his flinging about, like Solomon’s fools, firebrands, arrows, and death), in the Ledger of March 9th, asserts that the “experiment has been tried, and that they did not think it expedient to return even an answer.” How does he prove this? Why, “the colony agents were told by Mr. Grenville that a revenue would be required from them to defray the expenses of their protection.” But was the requisition ever made? Were circulars ever sent, by his Majesty’s command, from the Secretary of State to the several colony governments, according to the established custom, stating the occasion and requiring such supplies as were suitable to their abilities and loyalty? And did they then refuse, not only compliance, but an answer? No such matter; agents are not the channel through which requisitions are made. If they were told by Mr. Grenville that “a revenue would be required, and yet the colonies made no offer, no grant, nor laid any tax,” does it follow that they would not have done it if they had been required? Probably they thought it time enough when the requisition should come, and in fact it never appeared there to this day. In the last war they all gave so liberally, that we thought ourselves bound in honor to return them a million. But we are disgusted with their free gifts; we want to have something that is obtained by force, like a mad landlord who should refuse the willing payment of his full rents, and choose to take less by way of robbery.
This shameless writer would cajole the people of England with the fancy of their being kings of America, and that their honor is at stake by the Americans disputing their government. He thrusts us into the throne cheek-by-jole with majesty, and would have us talk, as he writes, of our subjects in America, and our sovereignty over America; forgetting that the Americans are subjects of the king, not our subjects, but our fellow-subjects; and that they have Parliaments of their own, with the right of granting their own money by their own representatives, which we cannot deprive them of but by violence and injustice.
Having by a series of iniquitous and irritating measures provoked a loyal people almost to desperation, we now magnify every act of an American mob into rebellion, though the government there disapprove it and order prosecution, as is now the case with regard to the tea destroyed. And we talk of nothing but troops and fleets, and force, of blocking up ports, destroying fisheries, abolishing charters, etc., etc. Here mobs of English sawyers can burn sawmills; mobs of English laborers destroy or plunder magazines of corn; mobs of English coal-heavers attack houses with fire-arms; English smugglers can fight regularly the king’s cruising vessels, drive them ashore, and burn them, as lately on the coast of Wales and on the coast of Cornwall; but upon these accounts we hear no talk of England’s being in rebellion; no threats of taking away its Magna Charta, or repealing its Bill of Rights; for we all know that the operations of a mob are often unexpected, sudden, and soon over, so that the civil power can seldom prevent or suppress them, not being able to come in before they have dispersed themselves; and therefore it is not always accountable for their mischiefs.
Surely the great commerce of this nation with the Americans is of too much importance to be risked in a quarrel which has no foundation but ministerial pique and obstinacy.
To us in the way of trade comes now, and has long come, all the superlucration arising from their labors. But will our reviling them as cheats, hypocrites, scoundrels, traitors, cowards, tyrants, etc., etc., according to the present court mode in all our papers, make them more our friends, more fond of our merchandise. Did ever any tradesman succeed, who attempted to drub customers into his shop? And will honest John Bull, the farmer, be long satisfied with servants that before his face attempt to kill his plough-horses?
[1 ]The following papers, first printed in the Public Advertiser in London, are supposed by William Temple Franklin to have been written about the time of the author’s departure for America.—Editor.
[1 ]They mounted a numerous guard daily round the Parliament House, with drums beating and fifes playing, while the members were in their debates, and had cannon planted and pointed at the building.