Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Thomas Cushing, 5 January 1773

To Thomas Cushing

ALS and copy: Public Record Office; letterbook draft: Library of Congress

London, Jan. 5. 1773


I did myself the Honour of Writing to you on the 2d of December past inclosing some news papers to 30th november last5 which I hope got safe to hand. I have since received your Favour of Oct. 27. which containing in a small Compass so full an Enumeration of our Grievances, the Steps necessary to a Removal of them, and the happy Effects that must follow, I thought that tho’ a private Letter,6 it might be of Use to communicate it to Lord Dartmouth, the rather too, as he would there find himself occasionally mentioned with proper Respect, and learn that his Character was esteemed in the Colonies. Accordingly I wrote him a few Lines and enclos’d it,7 a Day or two before I was to wait on his Lordship, that he might have a little time to consider the Contents. When I next attended him, he return’d me the Letter with much Complacence in his Countenance, said he was glad to find that People in America were dispos’d to think so favourably of him; that they did him but Justice in believing he had the best Dispositions towards them, for he wish’d sincerely their Welfare, tho’ possibly he might not always think with them as to the means of obtaining that End. That the Heads of Complaint in your Letter were many, some of them requiring much Consideration, and therefore it could scarce be expected that a sudden Change should be made in so many Measures, supposing them all improper to be continued, which perhaps might not be the case. It was however his Opinion that if the Americans continued quiet, and gave no fresh Offence to Government, those Measures would be reconsidered and such Relief given as upon Consideration should be thought reasonable. I need not remark that there is not much in such general Discourse; but I could then obtain nothing more particular, except that his Lordship express’d in direct Terms his Disapprobation of the Instruction for exempting the Commissioners from Taxation; which, however, was, he said, in Confidence to me, relying that no publick Mention should be made of his Opinion on that head.8

In the meantime some Circumstances are working in our favour with regard to the Duties. It is found by the last Years Accounts transmitted by the Commissioners, that the Ballance in favour of Britain is but about £85 after Payment of Salaries, &c. exclusive of the Charge of a Fleet to enforce the Collection. Then it is observ’d that the India Company is so out of Cash, that it cannot pay the Bills drawn upon it, and its other Debts; and at the same time so out of Credit, that the Bank does not care to assist them, whence they find themselves obliged to lower their Dividend; the Apprehension of which has sunk their Stock from 280 to 160, whereby several Millions of Propery are annihilated, occasioning private Bankrupcies and other Distress, besides a Loss to the Publick Treasury of £400,000 per Annum which the Company by Agreement are not to pay into it as heretofore, if they are not able to keep up their Dividend at 12½. And as they have at the same time Tea and other India Goods in their Warehouses to the Amount of Four Millions as some say, for which they want a Market, and which if it had been sold would have kept up their Credit, I take the Opportunity of remarking in all Companies, the great Imprudence of losing the American Market, by keeping up the Duty on Tea, which has thrown that Trade into the Hands of the Dutch, Danes, Swedes and French, who (according to the Reports and Letters of some Custom-House Officers in America) now supply by Smuggling the whole Continent, not with Tea only, but accompany that Article with other India Goods, amounting as suppos’d in the whole to £500,000 Sterling per Annum. This gives some Alarm, and begins to convince People more and more, of the Impropriety of Quarrelling with the Americans, who at that Rate might have taken off two Millions and a Half of those Goods within these 5 Years that the Combination has subsisted, if the Duty had not been laid, or had been speedily repealed.9

But our great Security lies, I think, in our growing Strength both in Wealth and Numbers, that creates an increasing Ability of Assisting this Nation in its Wars, which will make us more respectable, our Friendship more valued, and our Enmity feared; thence it will soon be thought proper to treat us, not with Justice only, but with Kindness; and thence we may expect in a few Years a total Change of Measures with regard to us; unless by a Neglect of military Discipline we should lose all our martial Spirit, and our western People become as tame as those in the eastern Dominions of Britain, when we may expect the same Oppressions:1 For there is much Truth in the Italian Saying, Make yourselves Sheep and the Wolves will eat you.2 In confidence of this coming Change in our favour, I think our Prudence is mean while to be quiet, only holding up our Rights and Claims on all Occasions, in Resolutions, Memorials, and Remonstrances, but bearing patiently the little present Notice that is taken of them. They will all have their Weight in Time, and that Time is at no great Distance. With the greatest Esteem, I have the Honour to be, Sir, Your most obedient and most humble Servant

B Franklin

Honble Thomas Cushing, Esqr

Endorsed: Dr Franklin  Jany 5 17733

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

5In the ALS “news papers to 30th november last” is in another hand and replaces words erased, which in BF’s draft were “original Letters from Persons in Boston.” Cushing was presumably responsible for the alteration, before he circulated this letter, to conceal BF’s having sent the Hutchinson correspondence with his earlier letter of Dec. 2. See above, XIX, 403, 411.

6Instead of “a private Letter” the draft reads “mark’d private.” The letter itself is missing, but the grievances must have had to do with the crown’s paying the salaries of local officials. See the headnote on BF’s preface to the declaration of the Boston town meeting below, under the end of February.

7Above, XIX, 422–3.

8The issue of taxing the customs commissioners’ salaries had begun in 1768, and remained alive into the summer of 1773. See above, XVIII, 177–8; below, Cushing to BF, April 20, and BF’s reply, July 7. This conversation with Dartmouth raises the fascinating question of what would have happened if the Americans had remained quiet. The administration, or at least the new Secretary, was reviewing American policy and considering more conciliatory measures; but developments in Massachusetts soon rendered such a course politically impossible. See Hutchinson, History, III, 276–7, and the second paragraph of BF to Cushing below, May 6.

9In this paragraph BF is making substantially the same points that he had made a month earlier to Galloway: above, XIX, 419–20. He is greatly exaggerating the decline of the American tea market as a cause of the Company’s troubles; a contributor to the London Chron. of Jan. 19–21 advanced the same argument, in such similar terms that it may have been part of BF’s campaign. The government soon decided, as will appear later in this volume, that the situation could be remedied by reducing the price of tea while retaining the duty; and the remedy proved to be worse than the disease.

1BF had once regarded the rising population and military potential of the colonies as a source of greater and greater strength to the empire, and had satirized the argument that such growth would endanger the mother country. See above, IV, 233; IX, 78–9; XIV, 131. Recently his position had been shifting closer to that which he had ridiculed; he was coming to believe that America would soon have the power to coerce Britain if need be. See also above, XVII, 7; XVIII, 27, 123. He clearly thought, along with many Englishmen, that India was powerless because its armies, in battles such as Plassey, had proved completely ineffectual.

2This Italian proverb first appeared in English, as far as we know, in John Florio, Florio’s Second Frutes … (London, 1591), p. 21.

3The ALS was seized by the British in 1775, along with other letters to Cushing, and passed through the hands of Thomas Moffatt. The Loyalist appended his comment: “This opens with a Conference between the Earl of Dartmouth and him concluding with a malignant Instigating Depretiation of Great Britain compard with the Rising Power of America.”

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