Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Thomas Cushing, 12 September 1773

To Thomas Cushing

Reprinted from William Duane, ed., The Works of Benjamin Franklin … (6 vols., Philadelphia, 1808–18), VI, 331–2.

London, Sept. 12, 1773.


The above is a copy of my last, per packet. Inclosed is the original letter therein mentioned.9 His lordship continues in the country, but is expected (secretary Pownall tells me) the beginning of next month.

To avoid repealing the American tea duty, and yet find a vent for tea, a project is executing to send it from hence, on account of the East India company to be sold in America, agreeable to a late act, impowering the lords of the treasury to grant licences to the company to export tea thither, under certain restrictions, duty free. Some friends of government (as they are called) of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, &c. are to be favored with the commission, who undertake by their interest to carry the measure through in the colonies.10 How the other merchants thus excluded from the tea trade will like this, I cannot foresee. Their agreement, if I remember right, was not to import tea, till the duty shall be repealed. Perhaps they will think themselves still obliged by that agreement, notwithstanding this temporary expedient; which is only to introduce the tea for the present, and may be dropped next year, and the duty again required, the granting or refusing such license from time to time remaining in the power of the treasury. And it will seem hard, while their hands are tied, to see the profits of that article all engrossed by a few particulars.11

Enclosed I take the liberty of sending you a small piece of mine, written to expose, in as striking a light as I could, to the nation, the absurdity of the measures towards America, and to spur the ministry if possible to a change of those measures.1

Please to present my duty to the house, and respects to the committee. I have the honor to be, with much esteem, sir, your most obedient humble servant,

B. Franklin.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

9The duplicate of BF to Cushing above, Sept. 1, is now missing. With that letter he enclosed copies of Dartmouth to Bollan, also missing, and to BF of Aug. 25. The latter must have been the original that he now enclosed.

10For the background and development of the project that was “executing” see above, BF to Galloway, Feb. 14, to Cushing and to Williams, June 4. The Tea Act imposed certain restrictions on export, which were repeated in the licenses issued by the Treasury; see Francis S. Drake, ed., Tea Leaves: Being a Collection of Letters and Documents Relating to the Shipment of Tea … in the Year 1773 … (Boston, 1884), pp. 249–51.

11Is BF suggesting, in this guardedly obscure passage, that merchants should resist for economic reasons? He was well aware of other reasons: a saving of 3d. a pound would never serve “to overcome all the Patriotism of an American!” To Cushing above, June 4. Yet he gives no hint here of anticipating the duty, dormant since the collapse of the nonimportation agreements in 1770, was reviving throughout the colonies; and the uproar in Boston began at about the time when BF’s letter must have arrived there. See Labaree, Tea Party, pp. 50, 104–9.

1Earlier editors assumed that the enclosure was the “Edict by the King of Prussia,” which may not have been written yet and was certainly not in print. BF must have sent the “Rules,” the preceding document; the “Edict” went with his note to Cushing below, Sept. 23.

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