Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to the Pennsylvania Assembly Committee of Correspondence, 12 April 1766

To the Pennsylvania Assembly Committee of Correspondence

ALS: The Rosenbach Foundation

London, April 12. 1766


I received your Letters of Jan. 13. and 20.6 and communicated them to Mr. Jackson. The Petition, praying a Repeal of the Act of Parliament prohibiting the Paper Money of the Colonies being a lawful Tender, was immediately presented according to your Directions, and referred to a Committee.7 We have for a long time been extreamly busy with our general American Affairs. I sometime since advis’d the Speaker of the Repeal of the Stamp Act.8 The Regulations of our Trade came next under Consideration. On Monday next the Committee are to report on the American Commerce.9 A Number of good Evidences have been thoroughly examined on that head before the House, and it is now seen in a Light much more favourable for us than ever heretofore. We have a Ministry extreamly well dispos’d towards us, from whom, if they continue, and become firmly established, we may hope every thing we can reasonably expect. But there is a strong Opposition against them, which makes them cautious of going all the Lengths at once which they wish to go in our Favour. It is now intended to reduce the Duty on foreign Mellasses to 1d. per Gallon; to permit Duty-free the Importation into North America as Articles of Commerce, to be stored in King’s Warehouses, and afterwards exported to Europe, all foreign Sugars, Coffee, &c. and to Britain, Cotton, Indigo, &c.—and such Sugars as are consum’d in America, tho’ clay’d and fine, to pay a Duty of 5s. per hund. only. The Reducing the Muscovado Duty to 2s. 6d. was talk’d of; but that is yet doubted.1 A free Port is also intended at Dominica, and if it succeeds, another or two more may be made next Year, at Jamaica and Pensacola.2 The direct Importation of Wine, Oil and Fruits from Portugal and Spain to America is also to be allow’d, if it can be carried in the House; but that meets with particular Opposition, and may possibly fail, tho’ I rather think it will be carried,3 as Mr. Grenville’s Party seem daily diminishing. As to the Paper Currency I last Week at the Request of one of the Members drew a Bill for Repealing the Act of 1763 relating to legal Tender, which he intends to bring in after considering it with Mr. Townsend.4 The principal Point was to satisfy the Merchants, who obtain’d that Restraining Act, they having suffer’d in Virginia by the Depreciation of the Currency there in which their Debts were paid: I therefore inserted a Clause to make Sterling Debts due to British Merchants and payable here, recoverable according to the Rate of Exchange at the Time, which I think is no more than we have always practis’d in the Courts of our Province. What Alteration will be made in the Draft it is impossible to say; and I doubt whether if a Bill be brought in, it will be compleated this Session; the Ministry being inclin’d to consider the Affair of Paper Money more extensively, and therefore to leave it to another Year; which, if they do, I hope will not be attended with any great Inconvenience, as we have still a considerable Sum extant that is legal Tender. I shall however use my best Endeavours to get it compleated now.5 There is a Bill also under Consideration relating to Admiralty Courts and other Admiralty Affairs in America, on which I have had several Conferences with the Ministry: It is among other Things propos’d that the Act made 19 Geo. II. to prevent the Impressing of Seamen in the Sugar Colonies for the King’s Ships, unless with Consent of Governor and Council, be extended to North-America.6 And on a Suggestion that had been made to the Admiralty, that the Men were entic’d from the King’s Ships by the Merchants, and that the Governors and Councils of some North American Colonies would probably refuse to give their Consent, whatever might be the Necessity, a Clause was drawn to direct an Application to be made to them for Men when wanted, and that in case of their Refusal or Neglect to provide a sufficient Number, it should be lawful for the Officers of the King’s Ships to impress, &c. I oppos’d this strongly, in a long Conversation with my Lord Egmont, who is at the Head of the Admiralty Board; and he was so obliging as to say he was satisfy’d with my Reasons, and the Power of Impressing should be omitted. It appear’d to me a terrible Thing to establish such Violence by a Law, however necessary it may be in some Cases; and I conceiv’d it a Power not fit to be given the Officers of the Navy, who might use it greatly to the Oppression and Injury of particular Colonies.

The Merchants trading to America have been of great Service to us in all our late Affairs, and deserve the Thanks of the Colonies.7 I hope the Behaviour of the Colonists on the Repeal, will be decent and grateful to Government here, which will greatly strengthen the Hands of their Friends the present Ministry, as very different Things are prognosticated. I send you the Lords Protests;8 and also the best Account we have of the Debates on the Repeal; but it is very short and imperfect, Mr. Pitt having spoke in the whole near three Hours. Our particular Provincial Petitions remain ready to be proceeded on, as soon as these other Affairs are out of hand.

Please to present my Duty to the Assembly and believe me, with particular Esteem, Gentlemen, Your most obedient humble Servant

B Franklin

Committee of Correspondence.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6The first of these letters not found; for the second and the dating of both of them, see above, pp. 51–2, and the first note to that document.

7The text of the petition is printed in 8 Pa. Arch., vii, 5824–7. It was presented to the House of Commons on March 20 and referred to the Committee of the Whole. Commons Journal, xxx, 676.

8BF had written Speaker Fox on February 24 and March 1 reporting the progress and almost certain passage of the repealing bill (above, pp. 168–9, 186–7), but no letter to the speaker announcing its final enactment has been found or is reported in the Votes.

9While discussion of the repeal of the Stamp Act was going on during January and February, the Commons had referred to its Committee of the Whole numerous petitions from British merchants relating to colonial trade. After the repeal of the Stamp Act the Committee continued to sit from time to time to consider what ought to be done to improve this trade and to modify the existing legislation controlling it. The Committee was scheduled to sit (and, according to BF, to report) on Monday, April 14. On that day, however, the sitting was postponed for a week, and later postponed again. Commons Journal, xxx, 724, 759. Five sessions of the Committee did take place in late April and early May, however, at which additional petitions were considered and witnesses heard, before the Committee reported on May 9. Ibid., pp. 783, 800–1, 804, 805, 811.

1The first three of these changes were included in the resolutions of the Committee of the Whole reported to the Commons on May 9, and in An Act for repealing certain Duties. . ., 6 Geo. III, c. 52, which received the royal assent on June 6, 1766. The proposal BF mentions regarding muscovado sugar was not mentioned in the resolutions or the act. The important change in the duty on molasses was that, in contrast to previous legislation, it was to apply to all molasses and syrup imported into a British colony, that produced in another British colony as well as that of foreign origin. This general application of the duty was intended to simplify the enforcement of the duty. In return the British West Indies received concessions on the direct exportation of sugar to Europe. For this act and the part played by the Rockingham Ministry in initiating and passing it, see Dora Mae Clark, The Rise of the British Treasury Colonial Administration in the Eighteenth Century (New Haven, 1960), pp. 151–4.

2The resolutions of the Committee of the Whole proposed the establishment of such free ports, and An Act for opening and establishing certain Ports in the Islands of Jamaica and Dominica. . ., 6 Geo. III, c. 49, also enacted June 6, 1766, provided for two free ports in Dominica and four in Jamaica. The purpose of this measure was to legalize and encourage trade with the Spanish Caribbean possessions that provided a mutually beneficial exchange of commodities and was the major source of the importation of bullion into the British colonies. Grenville’s attempted strict enforcement of earlier laws had hampered this trade. Ibid., pp. 151–2, 159.

3No legislation on this trade was adopted in 1766.

4See above, pp. 204–7. “Mr. Townsend” was probably Charles Townshend, at this time paymaster general, who became chancellor of the Exchequer in July 1766. BF’s “1763” for the Currency Act was a slip of the pen; the act was 1764.

5As stated in the headnote to BF’s outline of the bill, the House of Commons refused on May 14 to permit the introduction of such a measure at that time.

6No legislation relating to the colonial Admiralty Courts or to the impressment of seamen in the colonies was enacted at this time. An act of 1708 had forbidden naval officers to impress seamen in the colonies, but in 1740 the law officers of the Crown declared that it had expired at the conclusion of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713. Colonists and some people in Great Britain denied the validity of this interpretation, but naval officers resumed their activity whenever circumstances seemed to require it. When maritime warfare, especially in the West Indies, resumed in the 1740s, British merchants and planters complained so strongly at the resulting interference with their commerce, that in 1746 Parliament passed an act, 19 Geo. II, c. 30, forbidding naval officers to impress seamen in the Sugar Islands. The mainland colonies received no such protection, then or later, and the issue remained one of their grievances until the Revolution. Dora Mae Clark, “The Impressment of Seamen in the American Colonies,” Essays in Colonial History Presented to Charles McLean Andrews by his Students (New Haven, 1931), pp. 204–24.

7All accounts, contemporary and recent, of efforts to repeal the Stamp Act and bring about remedial legislation emphasize the close cooperation between the colonial agents and the British merchants interested in American trade. On some issues, however, differences developed between those concerned with the continental colonies and the “West India interest.”

8See above, pp. 207–32.

Index Entries