Benjamin Franklin Papers

Pennsylvania Assembly: Resolves upon the Present Circumstances, [24 March 1764]

Pennsylvania Assembly: Resolves upon the
Present Circumstances

Printed in Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives, 1763–1764 (Philadelphia, 1764), pp. 72–4.

As soon as the Assembly had considered on March 10 the governor’s message of the 7th rejecting the £50,000 supply bill and had appointed a committee to bring in a new £55,000 bill,6 it named a second committee of eight members, including Franklin, “to draw up and bring in certain Resolves upon the present Circumstances of this Province, and the Aggrievances of the Inhabitants thereof.”7 The committee reported on March 24 immediately after the Assembly had approved the reply to the governor of that date (see immediately above). The House “deliberately considered” the draft resolutions and “after some Alterations” adopted them, in each case, according to the record, without a dissenting voice. Soon afterwards the Assembly adjourned to May 14.

This “Necklace of Resolves,” as Franklin called it to his friend William Strahan a few days after its adoption,8 encompassed virtually all the major complaints of the Assembly against the proprietary government. Some of the grievances were of long standing, others of more recent origin; some were solidly grounded in frustrating experience, others were trivial or perhaps unjustified on the basis of any impartial examination of the circumstances. Taken together, however, they summarize the case which the party dominant in the elective body proposed to make against proprietary authority in the existing system of government of Pennsylvania. To use a modern analogy, they constituted a platform for the Assembly election of 1764.

That this dominant party did not necessarily represent the views of a majority of the inhabitants is obvious from any examination of the distribution of seats in the Assembly. The city of Philadelphia with two seats, and the three counties of Philadelphia, Bucks, and Chester with eight each, together held twenty-six of the thirty-six seats in the House of Representatives, although they included only a little more than half the taxable inhabitants of the colony in 1760.9 That such a distribution of seats, however fair it had once been, was no longer equitable in a truly democratic sense after the five newer counties had attained substantial populations, can hardly be debated. It may be remarked in passing, however, that equality of representation was far from being a generally accepted principle at this time in the English-speaking world. Pennsylvania’s system was at least as fair at this period as were the systems of several other rapidly growing colonies, and its basis of representation was much more equitable than that of the British House of Commons before 1832.1

At the same time, an objective analysis of the political system in Pennsylvania leads to the conclusion that control of the executive branch of government by a private (and nonresident) family which was also vested with extensive rights to the soil as a source of personal income was no longer an appropriate basis of operation in the 1760s, however useful it had been for the first settlement of the colony eighty years before. Conflict of public and private interest on the part of the Penns was virtually inescapable. In this respect the Assembly’s position was fundamentally sound.2

These two undesirable conditions, both long in development, reached crisis proportions simultaneously in 1764, largely as the result in both cases of the Indian uprising that demanded active measures of defense and consequent expenditures of money. A paradoxical alignment of political forces ensued. The “democratic” inhabitants of the more exposed counties rose up against the dominant group whose chief political strength lay in the old eastern counties. They accused the Assembly and its leaders of a selfish indifference to the needs of the frontier areas, and in consequence formed a political alliance with the supporters of the essentially obsolete and undemocratic proprietary regime. The dominant party in the east, believing itself to be the champion of the “people’s” rights against the “self-interested” proprietary family, saw the colony in danger of losing the gains the party had so long struggled to obtain, and the party itself in danger of losing its position of political leadership.3

The apparent solution, from the Assembly party’s point of view, however naive it may seem in retrospect, was to seek the elimination of the Proprietors from the scene and the assumption of governmental control directly by the Crown. This idea had been privately discussed among the leaders, including Franklin, for about six years.4 With substantial experience in London, Franklin may not have been as optimistic as some of his fellow assemblymen that royal government would bring Utopia to Pennsylvania. He apparently believed, however, that his colony suffered under special disadvantages experienced nowhere else except in Maryland and that the removal of the Proprietors from a share in the government of Pennsylvania would be a permanent advantage to its people, placing them for the first time in a position of equality with the inhabitants of a majority of the English colonies. In his opinion, we may conclude from his writings of this period, the matter of the claims of the western settlers to political equality with the east was a secondary issue that could be ignored while the more pressing question was being resolved.5

[March 24, 1764]

Resolved, N.C.D.

1. That it is the Opinion of this House, that the Proprietaries of this Province, after having delegated their Powers of Government, can be justly or legally considered in no other Light than as private Owners of Property, without the least Share or constitutional Power of Legislation whatever.6

Resolved, N.C.D.

2. That the Obstructions and Delays the Measures of the Crown have so repeatedly met with in this Province, during the late War, were solely owing to Proprietary Instructions, respecting the private Interest of the Proprietaries.7

Resolved, N. C.D.

3. That all the Mischiefs to the Province, which the Governor mentions in his late Messages, as occasioned by those Obstructions, are therefore chargeable wholly to the Proprietaries.

Resolved, N.C.D.

4. That it is high Presumption in any Subject to interfere between the Crown and the People; and by his private Instructions to a Deputy Governor, enforced by penal Bonds,8 prevent the Crown’s receiving, and the Peoples granting, the Supplies required, and necessary for the Defence of His Majesty’s Province.

Resolved, N.C.D.

5. That it has appeared fully to the Assemblies of this Province, on due Enquiry made, that no Injustice has been done the Proprietaries in the Taxation of their Estates, and that not the least Cause has been given them to apprehend any such Injustice.9

Resolved, N.C.D.

6. That the Assemblies of Pennsylvania have, in many Instances, and for a long Course of Years, shewn their affectionate Regard for the Proprietary Family; that Family and its Deputies having received from the mere Benevolence of the People, within these last Forty Years, near Four-score Thousand Pounds.1

Resolved, N.C.D.

7. That in return for this Goodness of the People of Pennsylvania, the present Proprietaries have, ever since their Accession, been endeavouring to diminish and annihilate the Privileges granted by their Honourable Father, to encourage the Settlement of the Province.2

Resolved, N.C.D.

8. That from an Attachment to Proprietary Interest, and to increase the Revenue of their Deputies arising from Licences, the Benevolence of the People in granting the same has been grosly abused, and publick Houses and Dram-shops have been encreased to an enormous Degree, to the great Corruption of Morals in the Populace, and Scandal of the Government; and that, from the same Causes, reasonable Bills presented to Proprietary Governors, for restraining or preventing this Evil, have been from time to time refused.3

Resolved, N.C.D.

9. That after Indian Purchases made by the Proprietaries, their causing to be located and surveyed the best Tracts of Land for themselves and their Dependants, to lie waste in great Quantities for a future Market, is the Cause that our Frontiers are so thinly and scatteringly settled, whereby the poor Inhabitants there have been rendered less able to defend themselves, and become a more easy Prey to the small skulking Parties of the Enemy.4

Resolved, N.C.D.

10. That the Proprietaries having a Monopoly of the Lands of this Province, has enabled them to hold up the vacant unlocated Lands at exorbitant Prices, and the more, as they pay no Quitrent, but a small Acknowledgment only to the Crown, pay no Taxes for those Lands, and are under no Obligation of settling them in any limited Time.5

Resolved, N.C.D.

11. That their exorbitant Demands in the Price of Lands, have driven many Thousands of Families out of this Province into Maryland, Virginia, North and South-Carolina, where Lands are to be had reasonably; the Frontiers of all those Provinces being chiefly settled with People from Pennsylvania, who likewise carried away with them great Sums of Money, and thereby this Province has been doubly weakened, in the Loss of People to defend it, and of Substance and Improvements taxable towards its Defence.6

Resolved, N.C.D.

12. That it was therefore the more unreasonable in the Proprietaries to contend as they have done, first, that they should not be taxed at all; then that their Quit-rents should not be taxed; then that their located uncultivated Lands should be exempted; and put the Province to great Expence, in getting those Points decided against them at Home;7 while their Estate was equally to be defended with others, and the Province, on whom they would throw the Burden, was at the same Time so greatly weakened by Proprietary Avarice only.

Resolved, N.C.D.

13. That the present Proprietary Demand, of having the best and most valuable of their located uncultivated Lands, rated and assessed no higher than the worst and least valuable of the located uncultivated Lands belonging to the Inhabitants, is equally unreasonable and unjust with any of their former Claims.8

Resolved, N.C.D.

14. That the Proprietaries taking Advantage of Times of public Calamity to extort Privileges from the People, or enforce Claims against them, with the Knife of Savages at their Throat, not permitting them to raise Money for their Defence, unless the Proprietary arbitrary Will and Pleasure is complied with, is a Practice dishonourable, unjust, tyrannical and inhuman.

Resolved, N.C.D.

15. That the Proprietaries contending for the Power of appointing Judges during their Pleasure, who are to determine in all Causes between the Proprietaries and their Tenants, the Inhabitants of the Province, is unjust, renders the Liberties and Properties of the Subject precarious, and dependant on the Proprietary Will and Pleasure, and is by no Colour of Reason supportable.9

Resolved, N.C.D.

16. That the bad Light this Province unhappily stands in with our gracious Sovereign and His Ministers, has been owing to Proprietary Misrepresentations and Calumnies.

Resolved, N.C.D.

17. That it is the Opinion of this House, that the late Militia Bill offered to the Governor was equal and just, with regard to the Freemen of the Province, and sufficient for all good Purposes. And that the sole Appointment of the Officers, insisted on by the Governor, however willing the House might be to comply with the same under a Royal Government, would be an Addition to the Proprietary Power, that by no Means can be safely trusted by the People in their Hands.1

Resolved, N.C.D.

18. That the Fines proposed by the Governor, for Offences in the Militia, are enormously high, and calculated to enslave the good People of this Province.

Resolved, N.C.D.

19. That the Power insisted on by the Governor, of marching any Number of the Militia to any Part of the Province, and keeping them there during any Time, at Pleasure, without the Advice and Consent of the Commissioners, who are to pay them, is a Power that may be used so as greatly and unnecessarily to harrass the Freemen of the Province, and cannot safely be trusted in the Hands of a Proprietary Governor.

Resolved, N.C.D.

20. That Courts-martial proposed in the Governor’s Amendments to the Militia Bill, to be held by Officers of the sole Appointment of a Proprietary Governor, with the Power of Life and Death over the Inhabitants of the Province, may be used greatly to their Prejudice, as a destructive Engine of Proprietary Power.

Resolved, N.C.D.

21. That the House, in the present Supply Bill, from a dutiful Respect to the Judgment of their Lordships of the Privy Council, and an earnest Desire of promoting His Majesty’s Measures, wisely concerted for the Protection of this Province, have fully complied with the same: And that the Sense in which some of the Articles of their Lordships Report is understood and explained by the Governor, is inconsistent with Reason and Justice, and what therefore their Lordships cannot be supposed ever to have meant or intended.2

Resolved, N.C.D.

22. That it is the Opinion of this House, that the Governor’s rejecting the said Bill does not arise from its not being conformable to that Report, but because it is not formed agreeable to Proprietary Instructions.

Resolved, N.C.D.

23. That the House having fully complied with their Duty to His Majesty, and the good People of this Province, in offering an equitable Supply Bill to the Governor for his Assent, all the Distresses and Mischiefs that shall happen on the Failure of the said Bill, are justly imputable to an undue Influence of the Proprietary Interest and Instructions on the Governor.

Resolved, N.C.D.

24. That the sole executive Powers of Government being in the Hands of the Proprietaries, together with the very extensive and growing Power arising naturally from their vast and daily increasing Property, must in future Times, according to the natural Course of human Affairs, render them absolute, and become as dangerous to the Prerogatives of the Crown as to the Liberties of the People.

Resolved, N.C.D.

25. That it is therefore the Opinion of this House, that the powers of Government ought, in all good Policy, to be separated from the Power attending that immense Property, and lodged, where only it can be properly and safely lodged, in the Hands of the Crown.

And as all Hope of any Degree of Happiness, under the Proprietary Government, is, in our Opinion, now at an End,

Resolved, N.C.D.

26. That this House will adjourn, in order to consult their Constituents, whether an humble Address should be drawn up, and transmitted to His Majesty, praying that he would be graciously pleased to take the People of this Province under His immediate Protection and Government, by compleating the Agreement heretofore made with the first Proprietor for the Sale of the Government to the Crown, or otherwise, as to His Wisdom and Goodness shall seem meet.3


That the foregoing Resolves be made public.4

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6See above, p. 111.

7Votes, 1763–64, p. 60. Six men were named to both committees appointed this day; BF and one other were on only the committee on resolves.

8See below, p. 149. John Penn, by contrast, called the document “this dirty piece of Scurrility.” To Thomas Penn, May 5, 1764, Penn Papers, Hist. Soc. Pa.

9Charles H. Lincoln used the number of taxable inhabitants in each county in 1760 (the best available evidence of total population) to prepare a reapportionment table for the Assembly. With Philadelphia County’s eight seats taken as a standard, the city of Philadelphia and the three oldest counties would, according to this table, have been entitled to a combined representation of 23; the five newer counties to a fraction under the same number. The Revolutionary Movement in Pennsylvania, 1760–1776 (Phila., 1901), p. 47. The assumption that the proprietary party would have controlled the Assembly if the counties had been represented on this basis of population is, however, not necessarily true. Using Lincoln’s figures, Theodore Thayer recomputed the results of the bitterly contested election of 1764, when, if ever during this time, the proprietary party might have been expected to win. He allowed each of the two parties the same proportion of each county’s new number of seats that it actually won under the existing apportionment and found that the so-called Quaker party would still have held approximately 60 percent of the seats in the House. “The Quaker Party of Pennsylvania, 1755–1765,” PMHB, LXXI (1947), 30–1.

1And after the under-represented Pennsylvanians launched their attack on the Assembly in 1764 nearly two centuries went by before the United States Supreme Court established the “one-man-one-vote” principle as the only valid basis for representation in American state legislatures. It is always dangerous to apply too rigidly the standards of one age to the conditions of an earlier time.

2Thomas Penn and some of his supporters in England and America contended, and a recent writer seems to agree with their contentions, that the proprietary family was useful to Pennsylvania in that it offered a “buffer” between the colony and “the Ministry’s plans for reform.” William S. Hanna, Benjamin Franklin and Pennsylvania Politics (Stanford, Calif., 1964), pp. 162, 163–4. An over-all view of the relations between the American colonies and the British government between 1763 and the Revolution provides little or no evidence that Pennsylvania, the Delaware counties, or Maryland, the surviving proprietorships, received either better or worse treatment from the ministry and Parliament than did the other colonies as a result of having such “buffers” in England.

3A division along religious lines further complicated these political alignments. While there were many individual exceptions, the Quakers in the old counties and members of the German pietistic sects generally supported the party that controlled the Assembly; Anglicans and Presbyterians (including many of the Scotch-Irish in the interior counties) formed a large part of the opposition.

4See for example, above, VIII, 6–7, 20–1, 157–8, 228, 236, 299–300.

5In connection with the resolves that follow, reference should be had to the “Explanatory Remarks” printed below, pp. 134–44.

6In his “Explanatory Remarks” BF called this the “most important” of the resolves, but its legal and historical bases are highly questionable. The contention here is that, if the Proprietors did not reside in the colony and exercise in person the powers of government conferred by the charter, but delegated authority to a lieutenant governor, they should have nothing to say about the government of the colony. The lieutenant governor, by the terms of the royal charter and by the nature of his office, became empowered to act in legislative matters according to his own discretion. Thirty-nine years earlier David Lloyd, leader of the opposition to proprietary authority, had published a small pamphlet asserting this principle: A Vindication of the Legislative Power, Submitted to the Representatives of All the Free-men of the Province of Pennsylvania, now sitting in Assembly (Phila., 1725). From time to time thereafter assemblies of Pa. had tried to establish the principle, but without success. William R. Shepherd, History of Proprietary Government in Pennsylvania (N.Y., 1896), pp. 474–94; above, VII, 251; VIII, 181. The history of proprietary government in the American colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries shows no instance of a successful challenge of the right of nonresident proprietors to direct their deputies in the carrying out of the political authority delegated to them, except at various times in Pa., Md., So. Car., and the Bahamas, when for one reason or another the Crown itself had assumed the powers of government. The British officials certainly regarded the Proprietors of Pa. as still holding the rights and responsibilities granted to William Penn. This attitude is shown in the Board of Trade report of June 24, 1760, which severely criticized the Penns because “they seem to have Consider’d themselves only in the narrow and Contracted view of Landholders in the Province, and to have been regardless of their Prerogatives as long as their Property remained secure.” above, IX, 171. The present Assembly resolve completely reverses that basis for criticizing the Proprietors.

7Many documents and references in previous volumes relate to the disputes over supply bills “during the late War” that had been proposed to support the military operations planned by the British government.

8On the effort of the Assembly to protect Governor Denny from forfeiture of his bond for violation of his proprietary instructions, see above, IX, 136–7, 137 n, 226 n.

9On the proprietary officials’ complaints of injustice in the assessments in Cumberland Co. in 1759–60, and the Assembly’s inquiry, see Shepherd, Proprietary Government, pp. 465–8, and above, IX, 192–3 n, 233–4, 238.

1This figure seems to have been calculated on the basis that lieutenant governors had received on the average about £2000 a year in salary and perquisites. See above, V, 57. On the arrangement by which Gov. George Thomas had agreed with the Penns in 1736–38 to turn over to them secretly part of his receipts, see Shepherd, Proprietary Government, pp. 206–8.

2See above, VII, 360–2, 363–4 n.

3Licenses of various sorts, and especially those of public houses, were perquisites of government, usually assigned to the lieutenant governor as part of his income. The selection of men to receive such licenses and the number to be issued were subjects of repeated dispute. In 1763 Thomas Penn contended that efforts to limit them were intended as much “to distress a governor as to preserve the morals of the people,” but he acknowledged two years later that these and other perquisites had become so large as to be sufficient to support the governor without any salary from the Assembly. Pa. Col. Recs., II, 159–60; Shepherd, Proprietary Government, pp. 77, 80–1, 294, 377–8.

4Charges in this and the following resolve that the Proprietors reserved for themselves or for future sale at an advanced price the best tracts in any purchase from the Indians were often made and as often denied.

5William Penn’s charter from Charles II provided that as an acknowledgment of the grant he, his heirs, and successors, should deliver annually at Windsor Castle two beaver skins and should also turn over to the Crown one-fifth of all gold and silver ore found in Pa. No occasion for the second form of payment ever arose. The agreement of Sept. 2, 1760, stipulated that the Proprietors’ “unsurveyed waste land” should not be taxed.

6This charge was entirely valid. The standard purchase price in Pa. of £15 10s., currency, per 100 acres compares with £5 sterling in Md. and with grants requiring fees but no purchase price in the colonies farther south. The Pa. quitrent, normally 1d., sterling, per acre (8s. 4d. per 100 acres) annually in the older counties and varying from ½d. (4s. 2d. per 100 acres) to 1d. in the newer ones, compares with quitrents farther south which ranged generally from 2s. to 4s. 2d., sterling, per 100 acres. In consequence of these disparities there was a great migration from Pa. through the Great Valley to the western sections of the southern colonies. To combat this trend the Penns reduced the purchase price to £5 sterling per 100 acres in 1765. Shepherd, Proprietary Government, pp. 34–5; Beverley W. Bond, Jr., The Quit-Rent System in the American Colonies (New Haven, 1919), passim.

7See above, IX, 199–200.

8See above, pp. 111–12, 114–15, 116–17, 118–21.

9However meritorious this complaint might seem to the members of the committee that drafted it (and to people in other colonies as well as Pa.), BF, at least, was in a position to know how futile it was. The Board of Trade had discussed the issue of judicial tenure at length in its report of June 24, 1760, and had recommended the disallowance of a Pa. act of 1759 because it provided for tenure during good behavior. The Privy Council had followed that recommendation. See above, IX, 160–2, 204–5. Writing to David Barclay & Sons, Sept. 24, 1764, Chief Justice William Allen expressed great resentment at the implication that the judges had ever shown, or even had occasion to show, partiality to the Proprietors in cases before them. Lewis B. Walker, ed., The Burd Papers. Extracts from Chief Justice William Allen’s Letter Book ([Pottsville, Pa.], 1897), p. 57.

1On this militia bill and the issue of the appointment of officers, see above, pp. 74–5, 122, and below, pp. 360–5. Resolves 18, 19, and 20 below relate to the other principal objections the governor and his Council found to the bill: “2dly. That the Governor shall not have the power of ordering a part of the Militia to do duty on the Frontiers, for the defence of the Province, while the Provincial Troops were employed elsewhere, without the advice and consent of the Provincial Commissioners. 3dly. The several Fines to be imposed on the Officers and Soldiers for neglect of Duty, in every instance are too small, and by no means sufficient to answer the purposes intended by them. 4thly. No provision is made for holding Courts Martial, for punishing Capital Crimes, such as Mutiny, &ca., in time of actual Service.” Pa. Col. Recs., IX, 151.

2On this and the next two resolves see above, pp. 7–9, 111–16, 116–22.

3See below, pp. 145–7, 193–200.

4Pa. Gaz., March 29, 1764, printed in full the verbal messages between Penn and the Assembly of March 19, 20, and 21, their written messages of March 22, 23, and 24, and these resolves. Pa. Jour. did not print these documents. Under date of April 12, 1764, the MS Franklin & Hall workbook contains a charge to the province of £6 5s. for 3000 copies of “the Assembly’s Proceedings on the Supply Bill.” George Simpson Eddy, A Work-Book of The Printing House of Benjamin Franklin & David Hall 1759–1776 (N.Y., 1930), p. 8. While no copy of this broadside has been located, it almost certainly consisted of a reprinting of all this material, intended for wide distribution throughout Pa.

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