Benjamin Franklin Papers

Explanatory Remarks on the Assembly’s Resolves, [29 March 1764]

Explanatory Remarks on the Assembly’s Resolves

Broadside: Library Company of Philadelphia

On March 30, 1764, the day after the Pennsylvania Gazette printed the recent messages between the governor and the Assembly and the twenty-six Assembly “Resolves upon the Present Circumstances,” Joseph Galloway wrote to William Franklin enclosing “a Copy of your worthy Father’s Remarks on our Assembly Resolves. No answer has yet been attempted by the Proprietary Faction, who seem much depressed.”3 Under date of April 12, 1764, the firm of Franklin & Hall charged the province £8 for printing 3000 copies of the “Explanatory Remarks of the Assembly’s Resolves,”4 a folio of two pages. It is undated, but someone wrote in ink on the present copy “March 29, 1764,” just below the “No. 1840” of the heading. Perhaps this writer intended merely to indicate the date of this issue of the Gazette, in which the Resolves were printed, yet the fact that Galloway was able to send a copy of the Remarks to the governor of New Jersey on the 30th makes clear that Franklin had written them before that date.

These Explanatory Remarks must, of course, be read in conjunction with the Resolves to which they refer (above, pp. 126–33), and which, as the introductory paragraph makes clear, they were intended to amplify and explain. This paper is one of many examples of the importance Franklin attached throughout his career to informing the public on issues for which he wanted support.

[March 29, 1764]

published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, No. 1840.

Resolves of Assembly being short Resolutions, formed after Debate and full Consideration of any particular Matter, they are generally very concise, and seldom contain the Reasons at large upon which they are founded; and although they are always so full and expressive, as to be clearly understood by those who have attended to the Subject, yet, to enable others rightly to comprehend their Meaning, an explanatory Account of the Facts seems necessary. It is with this View the following Remarks are submitted to the Consideration of the Publick.

Remarks on Resolve the First. As this Resolve is the first in Order, so it is the most important, and is intended to point out the deepest Wound which has been made, by an undue Attachment to Proprietary Interest, in the original Constitution of this Government. By the Royal Grant, “free, full and absolute Power,” is given to the Proprietary “Lieutenants” and Governors, “to ordain, make, and enact Laws, for the Raising of Money, &c. according to their best Discretion, with the Advice, Consent and Approbation of the Freemen of the Country, or of their Delegates and Deputies.”5 The Powers of Legislature being thus fully granted by the Crown, to the Governor for the Time being, and the Peoples Representatives, ’tis evident the Proprietaries can have no Constitutional Share in Legislation, or Right to give Instructions to their Governor, whereby his “Discretion” must be totally destroyed. And therefore all such Instructions are a manifest Violation of the Royal Favour to the good People of this Province, and a most dangerous Invasion on the Rights of the Subject. They not only destroy the Exercise of Judgment in the Governor, but render the Representative Body of the People mere Cyphers in the Constitution. And vain is it for the People to send their Delegates to the Seat of Representation, as all they can do when met, is to give up their Freedom and Exercise of Judgment, betray those very Rights they were sent to preserve, and servilely submit to Proprietary Will and Pleasure. Much better will it be for the Inhabitants of Pennsylvania to invest the Proprietaries with absolute Power at once, permit them to ordain and enact Laws at Three Thousand Miles Distance, and only transmit them here for Publication and Execution. For whose Interest they will in that Case be calculated, and of what Spirit they will partake, modern Measures have fully demonstrated.

Remark on the Second and Third Resolves. The first Attempt to enforce this mischievous Claim, happened about Fifty Years past, when William Penn, in Governor Evans’s Commission, inserted a Clause, reserving “to himself and his Heirs, their final Assent to the Laws” which should be passed; and thus assumed the Royal Power, which by the original Charter was reserved to the Crown. How evidently does this demonstrate, that Men of the fairest Characters are not to be trusted, when under the Influence of private Interest. A virtuous Opposition, however, both in the Proprietary Council, and Assembly, repelled this Invasion of their Rights, and the Reservation was declared illegal and void.6 And from this Time Proprietary Instructions never appeared, till in the Beginning of the late War.7 A Time when the Frontiers were bleeding in every Quarter, and the unhappy Inhabitants reduced to every Kind of Misery and Distress that the deepest Want, and the most relentless Barbarities of a savage Enemy could devise and inflict. This it seems was thought the most convenient Time to enforce those Claims, and reduce the People to a Subjection to them. And certainly a Time like this was necessary to their Success. For, upon their being laid before the Assembly, they plainly appeared to be formed solely with a View to increase the immense Wealth of the Proprietaries, and to oblige the People to bear their Burthens; and were found equally regardless of the Orders of the Crown, as of the Good and Safety of the distressed Inhabitants.8

Influenced by these illegal Instructions, what unjust Claims have the Governors of this Province made in Favour of their Principals! They first insisted that the Proprietaries should not be taxed at all, although their Property was to receive equal Protection from it; then that their Quitrents should not be rated; next that their located and uncultivated Lands should be exempted; and lastly, that the Bills of Credit, issued as well for the Protection of their Property as that of the Inhabitants, should not be a Tender in the Payment of their Rents, contrary to all Justice and good Conscience. The Assembly, consistent with that Duty they indispensably owed to their Constituents, could not agree to these unjust Demands. This created Disputes; those Disputes created Delays, which greatly obstructed His Majesty’s Measures; and whether the Proprietary Pretensions, or the Assembly’s Opposition, were most just and well founded, is submitted to the Candid and Impartial.

Resolve the Fourth. It is certainly an high Presumption in the Proprietaries, to give Instructions inconsistent with the Royal Grant; to take Bonds to enforce a strict Execution of them, and to adhere to them without the least Abatement, when His Majesty’s Subjects are in the greatest Danger and Distress from the Incursions of a savage Enemy; and especially, by those Instructions, to delay and prevent those Aids His Majesty demands of this Province, for the Preservation of his Colonies, and the Safety of his People.

Resolve the Fifth. In the Year One Thousand Seven Hundred and Sixty-one, an Enquiry was made, by Order of Assembly, into the State of the Provincial Taxes. And it appeared that the Proprietaries whole Estate paid no more than Five Hundred Sixty-six Pounds, Four Shillings and Ten-pence, when the Tax of one of the Members amounted to more than One Third of that Sum, though not possessed of a One-fiftieth Part of the Property owned by them; although it was asserted before the Privy Council, in a Debate on that very Bill by which the Tax was laid, that the Proprietaries would be obliged to pay more than all the People of Pennsylvania together.9

Resolve the Sixth. By Contract with the first Adventurers, the Quitrents were settled, as the certain Support of the Government, as is the Case in those Colonies immediately under the King.1 On this Income the Governor was supported many Years. When the Proprietor returned to England, he had Occasion for those Rents to support his Family there; to which Purpose, and to distress the Province, they have been ever since carefully applied. Upon this Misapplication of the first Revenues of the Government, the Assembly were at that Time, by the most artful Management, and undue Influence, prevailed on to grant the Monies arising by Tavern Licences to support his Deputy. The Monies received from this Source, and the Sums given to the Governors for Forty Years past, will amount to more than the Sum mentioned in the Resolve.

Resolve the Seventh, appears to be just, from many of the other Resolves.

Resolve the Eighth. It is notorious, the Number of Taverns, Alehouses and Dram-shops, have encreased beyond all Measure or Necessity. That they are placed so near to each other, that they ruin one another; and Two Thirds of them are not merely useless, but are become a Pest to Society. There are very few of them that are able to provide the necessary Conveniences for entertaining Travellers, or accommodating the People either in Country or City; and this is entirely owing to that weak Policy in a former Assembly, of making it the Interest of a Governor to encourage and promote Immorality and Vice among the People. Many Bills have been presented to the late Governors, to lessen the Number, and to regulate those Nurseries of Idleness and Debauchery, but without Success. From whence it seems evident, that so long as the Proprietaries are interested in our Ruin, ruined we must be: For no Deputy will dare to regulate this Mischief, because it will lessen the Revenue; nor accept a Compensation for this Revenue, as it will affect his Successor; nor even accept a greater Annuity, because it may, in Time, encrease to an higher Sum.

Resolve the Ninth. The purchasing or taking up large Tracts of Land on the Frontiers, to lay by for a future Market, must prevent a compact Settlement of the People, render them less defensible, and of Course encrease the Taxes necessary for their Protection.

Resolve Tenth and Eleventh. In Virginia and Carolina the People pay no Purchase Money for their Lands, and in the former only Two Shillings, and in the latter Four Shillings and Two-pence Sterling Quit-rent per Hundred Acres. In Pennsylvania the Proprietaries Waste Lands are sold for Fifteen Pounds Ten Shillings per Hundred Acres; their Manor Lands from Fifty to Sixty times that Value, with an annual Quit-rent reserved of Four Shillings and Two-pence Sterling per Hundred Acres. This exorbitant Price, with the great Difficulty of obtaining Justice at the Land Office,2 and the continued public Disputes, occasioned by Proprietary Exactions and Instructions, have driven a great Number of wealthy Settlers into the Southern Colonies.

Resolves Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen and Fifteen [12, 13, 14],3 being fully explained by what is said before, and in the Assembly’s Messages, they can need no further Explanation.

Resolve the Sixteenth [15]. The People of our Mother Country, under the immediate Government of a Sovereign who had little private Interest in the Kingdom to influence him, have thought that they had no Security in their Lives, Liberties and Properties, while the Judges of the several Courts held their Commissions during the Pleasure of the Crown. If they were right, how much more precarious and insecure are those invaluable Blessings in this Province, where so great and unjust an Attachment to the Interest of the Proprietaries is discovered, who are not only consulted in the Nomination of the Judges, but can, and often have, from Reasons of Policy only, removed them at their Pleasure? The Time may come, when the People of Pennsylvania may experience the arbitrary Policy of a Richard the Second, and a James the Second, and the unjust and cruel Determinations of the servile Belknap, and the blood-thirsty Jeffries.4

Resolve the Seventeenth [16]. Nothing was too unjust, nothing too dishonest and false to be alledged against the Assembly and People of Pennsylvania, in the late Pleadings before their Lordships of the Privy Council, and we all know by whom the Pleaders were instructed. The Pleadings themselves having been taken in Short Hand, will soon be published, and fully demonstrate the Truth of this Resolve.

Resolve the Nineteenth [17]. However safe it may be to entrust an immediate Governor under the Crown with the Nomination of Militia Officers, who has no private Interest or Schemes of his own to promote, it certainly never can be safe to commit that Power into the Hands of a Deputy of the Proprietaries, bound by penal Obligations to obey Instructions wholly calculated to promote their private Interest. If we may judge from what we have seen, they would, no doubt, commission none but those who would implicitly obey their Orders, and pursue their Schemes for enslaving the People. This would create a vast Number of New Relations and Dependencies in the Government, all under the Controul of the Proprietaries and their Governors, who holding their Offices during their Pleasure, would no doubt conform to that Pleasure. The Officers would influence the private Men, and the whole would influence our Elections in Favour of the Proprietary System, and by these Means render their Will the sole Rule, in both the Executive and Legislative Parts of Government.

Resolve Twenty, Twenty-one and Twenty-two [18, 19, 20]. These Resolves on the proposed Amendments to the Militia Bill, are so full and easily understood, that they carry Conviction with them, upon the least Attention.

Resolve the Twenty-third [21] is fully explained by the Messages between the Governor and Assembly, lately published.5

Resolve the Twenty-fourth [22, 23].6 No sooner did the Proprietaries obtain the Opinion of our Superiors, that the Bills of Credit should not be a Tender in the Payment of their Rents, than they laid a new Scheme for putting their Purchase Money, and other Contracts, under the same Circumstances, that thereby they might not, in common with the People of this Province, suffer by a Depreciation, in case it should happen, though in common with the People they reaped all the Advantages of those Bills, and though the Protection of their Estates, in common with the Peoples, rendered the emitting them necessary. They accordingly gave Orders to their Commissioners of Property, to make their future Contracts for the Sale of Lands in Sterling; and by their Instructions to their Governor, positively forbid him to pass any Supply Bill, unless those Contracts are also exempted from being discharged by the said Bills. This seems, in the Opinion of the House, to have been one of the Causes of the Failure of the Supply Bill.7 To which may be added, that by the Bill, had it passed, the Proprietary Agents would be obliged to give an honest Account of their Estates, under a Penalty of Four-fold the Tax for all Property by them wittingly concealed.8 And when we consider the many Instances of the most unjust Claims of Exemption from Taxes by the Proprietaries, this alone will appear an Objection likely to be strong enough with their Deputy to reject the Bill, the House having complied fully with the Stipulations their Agents had entered into before the Council.

Resolve the Twenty fifth [24]. Power, when separate from great Property, and properly restrained by salutary Laws, is so far from being prejudicial to Society, that it cannot well exist or continue without it. But Power united with great Wealth, is all that is necessary to render its Possessor absolute, and every thing, under him, at his own Disposal. Great Riches alone, says a late Writer, in a private Person, are as dangerous to the Prerogatives of the Crown as to the Rights of the Subject.9 It enables him to form a great Number of Dependants, much greater than is consistent with the Safety of either. They place the Subject too near a Level with his Sovereign. They form in the Mind ambitious Designs, and not only give the Hope, but create the Power, of carrying them into Execution. And if this be the Case of great Wealth alone, how much more must the Addition of all the Powers of Government in the same Persons (Three Thousand Miles distant from the Eye of the Sovereign) render the Rights of the Crown and the Privileges of the People precarious, and at the Disposal of the Proprietaries? Look through all History, and the Experience of Ages will demonstrate this Truth.

Resolve the Twenty sixth [25]. The Reason of this Resolve is fully shewn in the Explanation of the last.

Resolve the last [26]. By this Resolve it appears all Hopes of serving the People, or the least Degree of Happiness, under a Proprietary Government, are wholly given up by the Assembly. And that, in their Opinion, no Asylum from arbitrary Power and its mischievous Effects remains, but that of a Change of Government. And nothing is now left for the People to determine, but to inform their Representatives, whether they had rather submit to the most unjust Proprietary Instructions, subversive, and indeed effectually destructive, of their essential Privileges, and of Course become Slaves to the usurped and arbitrary Power of private Subjects; or implore the immediate Protection of a Sovereign, justly celebrated for his tender Regard to the constitutional Rights of Englishmen.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3Quoted by Paul L. Ford in “Franklin’s ‘Explanatory Remarks,’” The Nation, LIX (July 26, Aug. 2, 1894), 60–1, 76–7. Ford printed in parallel columns the full texts of eight of the most important Assembly Resolves and the corresponding passages of the “Explanatory Remarks.” He interspersed these quotations with commentary of his own, which shows that his sympathies lay almost completely with the Assembly’s position.

4George Simpson Eddy, A Work-Book of The Printing House of Benjamin Franklin & David Hall 1759–1766 (N.Y., 1930), p. 8. This entry accompanies the charge to the province for printing 3000 copies of the documents relating to the Supply Bill with the text of the Resolves. Apparently the Assembly leaders intended to distribute the two broadsides together.

5BF’s quotation from the royal charter is incomplete and perhaps disingenuous. Charles II had granted the legislative power both to William Penn and his heirs and “to his and their Deputies and Lieutenants.” The “their” in the charter phrase “according to their best Discretion” clearly refers to the first Proprietor and his heirs as well as to the lieutenant governors. BF’s phraseology suggests, incorrectly, that the charter conferred “Power” and “Discretion” in legislative matters solely upon the lieutenant governor, when there was such an officer, to the exclusion of William Penn and his heirs. From this premise followed BF’s conclusion in the following sentences that the Proprietors had no constitutional right “to give Instructions to their Governors” or in any way limit these deputies’ discretion.

6This incident occurred in May 1704, about two months after John Evans had assumed office as lieutenant governor. The Assembly took notice of a clause in William Penn’s commission to Evans under which measures passed by the Assembly and assented to by the governor would, as the Assembly put it, “be of no use till sent to England, where they were either to be passed or rejected” by the Proprietor. The House contended that the royal charter “would allow of no such Reserve.” After conferences between the Assembly and Council, ten members of the Council, including William Penn, Jr., then in the province, signed a paper at the Assembly’s request agreeing that this reserve clause was “void in it self,” but declaring that this fact did not invalidate the rest of Evans’ commission. They stated that “those Bills, which the present Lieut. Govr. shall think Fitt to pass into Laws, and cause the said Propr[ietor]s great Seal to be affixed, cannot afterwards be vacated or annull’d by the Proprietor without assent of the assembly of this Province.” William Penn was forced to yield on his reservation of a veto on legislation after it had received his deputy’s approval. Pa. Col. Recs., II, 144–7; William R. Shepherd, History of Proprietary Government in Pennsylvania (N.Y., 1896), pp. 483–5.

7This statement is incorrect. William Penn and his successors continued to give instructions regularly to their governors, although in 1724 Sir William Keith, anxious to curry favor with the Assembly, agreed that he was not bound by them. In consequence he was removed from office two years later. Ibid., pp. 485–7.

8For documents relating to the matters summarized here and in the next paragraph, see the indexes to earlier volumes in this series, especially vols. V–VII, under “Instructions, proprietary.”

9The figures on the total proprietary tax under the Supply Act of 1759 are taken from the report of an investigative committee of the Assembly, which reported March 12, 1761. The Committee also reported that the total tax paid by the inhabitants amounted to £27,103 12s. 8d. 8 Pa. Arch., VI, 5216. No details are recorded of the debate in the Privy Council, Aug. 27–28, 1760, at which the Supply Act of 1759 was considered and which led to the order in council of Sept. 2, 1760; above, IX, 196–211.

1As early as the first years of the century the Assembly had asserted that Penn intended the quitrents to be used for the support of government and that such an arrangement had been a contract between him and the early purchasers of land. Governor Evans denied that any such compact existed and declared that quitrents and government were completely unrelated. Pa. Col. Recs., II, 416, 418. The tradition persisted, however, and was reasserted from time to time, as, for example, in Richard Jackson’s An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pensylvania (London, 1759), p. 14, where it was stated, undoubtedly on a suggestion by BF, that Penn had justified the imposition of quitrents on the ground that “by this Expedient they [the inhabitants] would be exempt from other Taxes.” William R. Shepherd, a leading authority, states flatly that “the claim of the assembly is not substantiated by any law, instrument, or act which was sanctioned by Penn or his successors.” Proprietary Government, p. 68. Quitrents were indeed used, as BF states, as a source of salaries for governors of several of the royal colonies in the South, although inefficient collection in the Carolinas caused difficulties for the governors.

2For an illustration of such alleged injustice, see above, VIII, 374–9, for the “genuine Account” of John Fisher’s experience in 1747, when he received a patent for two pieces of land and was charged £91 11s.:d. more than the “legally” correct total of £120 12s.d.

3As printed in the Assembly Votes, the resolves are numbered consecutively from 1 to 26, but the Gazette printing omits this numbering. Here and again a little later BF slipped, and the numbering of his remaining remarks fails to correspond with that of the resolves to which they refer. Bracketed numbers have therefore been inserted at this and similar points throughout the rest of this document to indicate the resolves to which BF’s paragraphs actually relate.

4Sir Robert de Bealknap, or Belknap (d. 1400?), chief justice of the Common Pleas, was one of the judges who, acting under threats of death, as they later alleged, upheld Richard II in his contest with opposing peers in 1387. When the King’s antagonists gained the upper hand these judges were arrested, imprisoned by order of Parliament, and sentenced to death, but the bishops interceded and their punishment was commuted to banishment to Ireland and the forfeiture of their properties. Bealknap was recalled to England in 1397, but died without having his attainder removed. DNB. George, Baron Jeffreys of Wem (1648–1689), lord chief justice, notorious for his prejudicial conduct of politically motivated trials, presided at the “Bloody Assizes” following the Monmouth Rebellion, 1685, and was rewarded by James II by promotion to lord chancellor. During the “Glorious Revolution” he tried to escape, but was captured and died while imprisoned in the Tower of London. DNB.

5In the same issue of the Gazette in which the Resolves appeared.

6While BF cites only one resolve here, his comment seems to apply in general to both Resolves 22 and 23.

7The sixth stipulation embodied in the order in council of Sept. 2, 1760, provided “That the Payments by the Tenants to the Proprietaries of their Rents, shall be according to the terms of their respective Grants, as if such Act had never been passed.” Above, IX, 206. John Penn’s twelfth instruction, which he sent to the Assembly, Jan. 12, 1764, directed him to take care that bills of credit authorized in the future should “not be capable of being made a Tender, or any satisfaction, or discharge for any Quitrents, or other sterling Payments [italics added], due to or to become due to us.” Above, p. 8. While the order in council had forbidden the Assembly to make bills of credit legal tender only in the case of quitrents, the words in the proprietary instruction italicized above expanded the prohibition to include any other payments which the Proprietors might require to be made in sterling. This expansion appears to have been intended primarily as a safeguard for directions to the commissioners of property, who were charged with the sale of proprietary land, ordering them to specify in all future contracts for land sales that payment of the purchase price (usually £15 10s. per 100 acres) be made in sterling rather than in currency, as had certainly been the previous practice (see for example, above, VIII, 374–9; also Shepherd, Proprietary Government, p. 34). On the basis of the 1764 rate of exchange, the effect of this new requirement would be a sudden jump of about 75 percent in the already excessive cost to the buyer of Pa. land. The Assembly ignored the phraseology of Governor Penn’s instruction and worded the £55,000 supply bill to conform to that of the order in council by stipulating that the bills of credit should be legal tender for all purposes, including contracts, “the sterling Rents due, or to become due to the Proprietaries of this Province only excepted.” It may be observed that, although Penn demanded in his message of March 19 that the Assembly insert in the bill the clauses regarding the Proprietors’ located, uncultivated lands and town lots “in the very Words of the Decree” (above, p. 112), he very wisely (from his point of view) never directed them to do the same with the clause regarding payments to the Proprietors.

8The £55,000 supply bill required every property owner to list in detail on a printed form all his taxable property and to deliver this paper to the assessors. Failure to do so subjected him to a penalty of double the normal rate of the tax due, and failure to make “a just and true Account and Report” would result in a penalty of quadruple the tax on any concealed property. This provision remained in the bill as finally enacted on May 30. Statutes at Large, Pa., VI, 348.

9While the author to whom BF refers here has not been certainly identified, some of the ideas expressed in this and the following sentences are very close to those in a passage in one of David Hume’s Essays Moral and Political, first published in 1741 and conveniently reprinted in T. H. Green and T. H. Grose, eds., Essays Moral, Political and Literary by David Hume (London, 1898), I, 123.

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