Front Page Titles (by Subject) DXCII: ON A PROPOSED ACT OF PARLIAMENT FOR PREVENTING EMIGRATION - The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. VI Letters and Misc. Writings 1772-1775
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DXCII: ON A PROPOSED ACT OF PARLIAMENT FOR PREVENTING EMIGRATION - 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 A PROPOSED ACT OF PARLIAMENT FOR PREVENTING EMIGRATION
To the Printer of the Public Advertiser:
You give us in your paper of Tuesday, the 16th of November, what is called “The Plan of an Act to be Proposed at the Next Meeting of Parliament to Prevent the Emigration of Our People.” I know not from what authority it comes, but as it is very circumstantial, I suppose some such plan may be really under consideration, and that this is thrown out to feel the pulse of the public. I shall, therefore, with your leave give my sentiments of it in your paper.
During a century and a half that Englishmen have been at liberty to remove if they pleased to America, we have heard of no law to restrain that liberty, and confine them as prisoners in this island. Nor do we perceive any ill effects produced by their emigration. Our estates, far from diminishing in value through a want of tenants, have been in that period more than doubled; the lands in general are better cultivated; their increased produce finds a ready sale at an advanced price, and the complaint has for some time been, not that we want mouths to consume our meat, but that we want meat for our number of mouths.
Why then is such a restraining law now thought necessary? A paragraph in the same paper from the Edinburgh Courant, may perhaps throw some light upon this question. We are there told, “that one thousand five hundred people have emigrated to America from the shire of Sutherland within these two years, and carried with them seven thousand five hundred pounds sterling, which exceeds a year’s rent of the whole county; that the single consideration of the misery which most of these people must suffer in America, independent of the loss of men and money to the mother country, should engage the attention, not only of the landed interest, but of administration.” The humane writer of this paragraph may, I fancy, console himself with the reflection that perhaps the apprehended future sufferings of those emigrants will never exist; for that it was probable the authentic accounts they had received from friends already settled there, of the felicity to be enjoyed in that country, with a thorough knowledge of their own misery at home, which induced their removal. And, as a politician, he may be comforted by assuring himself that if they really meet with greater misery in America, their future letters lamenting it will be more credited than the Edinburgh Courant, and effectually, without a law, put a stop to the emigration. It seems some of the Scottish chiefs, who delight no longer to live upon their estates in the honorable independence they were born to, among their respecting tenants, but choose rather a life of luxury, though among the dependants of a court, have lately raised their rents most grievously to support the expense. The consuming of those rents in London, though equally prejudicial to the poor county of Sutherland, no Edinburgh newspaper complains of; but now that the oppressed tenants take flight and carry with them what might have supported the landlord’s London magnificence, he begins to feel for the mother country, and its enormous loss of seven thousand five hundred pounds carried to her colonies! Administration is called upon to remedy the evil by another abridgment of English liberty. And surely administration should do something for these gentry, as they do any thing for administration.
But is there not an easier remedy? Let them return to their family seats, live among their people, and, instead of fleecing and skinning, patronize and cherish them, promote their interest, encourage their industry, and make their situation comfortable. If the poor folks are happier at home than they can be abroad, they will not lightly be prevailed with to cross the ocean. But can their lord blame them for leaving home in search of better living, when he first set them the example?
I would consider the proposed law—
Pray spare me room for a few words on each of these heads.
As to the Necessity of it
If any country has more people than can be comfortably subsisted in it, some of those who are incommoded may be induced to emigrate. As long as the new situation shall be far preferable to the old, the emigration may possibly continue. But when many of those who at home interfered with others of the same rank (in the competition for farms, shops, business, offices, and other means of subsistence) are gradually withdrawn, the inconvenience of that competition ceases; the number remaining no longer half starve each other; they find they can now subsist comfortably, and though perhaps not quite so well as those who have left them, yet the inbred attachment to a native country is sufficient to overbalance a moderate difference; and thus the emigration ceases naturally. The waters of the ocean may move in currents from one quarter of the globe to another, as they happen in some places to be accumulated and in others diminished; but no law, beyond the law of gravity, is necessary to prevent their abandoning any coast entirely. Thus the different degrees of happiness of different countries and situations find, or rather make, their level by the flowing of people from one to another; and where that level is once found the removals cease. Add to this that even a real deficiency of people in any country, occasioned by a wasting war or pestilence, is speedily supplied by earlier and more prolific marriages, encouraged by the greater facility of obtaining the means of subsistence. So that a country half depopulated would soon be repeopled, till the means of subsistence were equalled by the population. All increase beyond that point must perish, or flow off into more favorable situations. Such overflowings there have been of mankind in all ages, or we should not now have had so many nations. But to apprehend absolute depopulation from that cause, and call for a law to prevent it, is calling for a law to stop the Thames, lest its waters, by what leave it daily at Gravesend, should be quite exhausted. Such a law, therefore, I do not conceive to be necessary.
As to the Practicability
When I consider the attempts of this kind that have been made, first in the time of Archbishop Laud, by orders of council, to stop the Puritans, who were flying from his persecutions into New England, and next by Louis the Fourteenth, to retain in his kingdom the persecuted Huguenots; and how ineffectual all the power of our crown, with which the archbishop armed himself, and all the more absolute power of that great French monarch, were, to obtain the end for which they were exerted; and when I consider, too, the extent of coast to be guarded, and the multitude of cruisers necessary effectually to make a prison of the island for this confinement of free Englishmen, who naturally love liberty, and would probably by the very restraint be more stimulated to break through it, I cannot but think such a law impracticable. The offices would not be applied to for licenses, the ports would not be used for embarkation. And yet the people disposed to leave us would, as the Puritans did, get away by shipsfull.
As to the Policy of the Law
Since I have shown there was no danger of depopulating Britain, but that the place of those that depart will soon be filled up equal to the means of obtaining a livelihood, let us see whether there are not some general advantages to be expected from the present emigration. The new settlers in America, finding plenty of subsistence, and land easily acquired whereon to seat their children, seldom postpone marriage through fear of poverty. Their natural increase is therefore in proportion far beyond what it would have been if they had remained here. New farms are daily everywhere forming in those immense forests; new towns and villages rising; hence a growing demand for our merchandise, to the greater employment of our manufacturers, and the enriching of our merchants. By this natural increase of people, the strength of the empire is increased; men are multiplied, out of whom new armies may be formed on occasion, or the old recruited. The long-extended sea-coast, too, of that vast country, the great maritime commerce of its ports with each other, its many navigable rivers and lakes, and its plentiful fisheries, breed multitudes of seamen, besides those created and supported by its voyages to Europe; a thriving nursery this, for the manning of our fleets in time of war, and maintaining our importance among foreign nations by that navy, which is also our best security against invasions from our enemies. An extension of empire by conquest of inhabited countries is not so easily obtained; it is not so easily secured; it alarms more the neighboring states; it is more subject to revolts, and more apt to occasion new wars.
The increase of dominion by colonies proceeding from yourselves, and by the natural growth of your own people cannot be complained of by your neighbors as an injury; none have a right to be offended with it. Your new possessions are therefore more secure, they are more cheaply gained, they are attached to your nation by natural alliance and affection; and thus they afford an additional strength more certainly to be depended on than any that can be acquired by a conquering power, though at an immense expense of blood and treasure. These, methinks, are national advantages that more than equiponderate with the inconveniences suffered by a few Scotch or Irish landlords, who perhaps may find it necessary to abate a little of their present luxury, or of those advanced rents they now so unfeelingly demand. From these considerations, I think I may conclude, that the restraining law proposed would, if practicable, be impolitic.
As to the Justice of it
I apprehend that every Briton who is made unhappy at home, has a right to remove from any part of his king’s dominions into those of any other prince, where he can be happier. If this should be denied me, at least it will be allowed that he has a right to remove into any other part of the same dominions. For by this right so many Scotchmen remove into England, easing its own country of its supernumeraries, and benefiting ours by their industry. And this is the case with those who go to America. Will not these Scottish lairds be satisfied unless a law passes to pin down all tenants to the estate they are born on (adscripti glebæ), to be bought and sold with it? God has given to the beasts of the forest, and to the birds of the air, a right, when their subsistence fails in one country, to migrate to another, where they can get a more comfortable living; and shall man be denied a privilege enjoyed by brutes, merely to gratify a few avaricious landlords? Must misery be made permanent, and suffered by many for the emolument of one; while the increase of human beings is prevented, and thousands of their offspring stifled, as it were, in the birth, that this petty Pharaoh may enjoy an excess of opulence? God commands to increase and replenish the earth; the proposed law would forbid increasing, and confine Britons to their present number, keeping half that number, too, in wretchedness. The common people of Britain and of Ireland contributed by the taxes they paid, and by the blood they lost, to the success of that war which brought into our hands the vast unpeopled territories of North America,—a country favored by Heaven with all the advantages of climate and soil. Germans are now pouring into it, to take possession of it, and fill it with their posterity; and shall Britons and Irelanders, who have a much better right to it, be forbidden a share of it, and, instead of enjoying there the plenty and happiness that might reward their industry, be compelled to remain here in poverty and misery? Considerations such as these persuade me that the proposed law would be both unjust and inhuman.
If then it is unnecessary, impracticable, impolitic, and unjust, I hope our Parliament will never receive the bill, but leave landlords to their own remedy,—an abatement of rents, and frugality of living; and leave the liberties of Britons and Irishmen at least as extensive as it found them. I am, sir, yours, etc.,
A Friend to the Poor.
TO THOMAS CUSHING
London, 28 January, 1775.
It gives my mind some ease to learn that such good care is taken both by the general and the town to prevent mischief. I hope that care will continue and be effectual, and that people will be persuaded to wait with patience the event of the application of the Congress to the king, and the subsequent result of the ensuing Congress thereupon.
Lord Chatham moved last week in the House of Lords that an address be presented to his Majesty, humbly beseeching him to withdraw the troops from Boston, as a step towards opening the way to conciliatory measures; but, after a long and warm debate, the motion was rejected by a majority of seventy-seven to eighteen; and open declarations were made, by the ministerial side, of the intention to enforce the late acts. To this end, three more regiments of foot and one of dragoons, seven hundred marines, six sloops of war, and two frigates, are now under orders for America.
Petitions, however, are thronging into the House from all quarters, praying that healing measures may be taken to restore the commerce. The petition from the Congress was brought into each House, among other papers by the ministers, without any particular recommendations from his Majesty that they should be considered.
General Gage’s letters being read in the House of Commons, it appears from one of them that it had been recommended to him by Lord Dartmouth to disarm some of the colonies; which he seems to approve, if it had been practicable, but says it is not, till he is master of the country.
It is impossible to say what turn the Parliament may take before the session is over. All depends on the ministers, who possibly may change their minds when they find the merchants and manufacturers universally dissatisfied with their present conduct; but you cannot rely upon this, and your chief dependence must be on your own virtue and unanimity, which, under God, will in time bring you through all difficulties. I am with great respect, sir, etc.,