Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Thomas Cushing, 6 October 1774

To Thomas Cushing

ALS: New York Public Library

London, Oct. 6. 1774.


Since my last to you, which went per Capt. Foulger,2 the Parliament, by a sudden and unexpected Resolution in the Cabinet, has been dissolved. Various are the Conjectures as to the Motives; among which one is, that some Advices from Boston, importing the Impossibility of carrying on Government there under the late Acts of Parliament, have made it appear necessary that a new Election should be got through before any Ferment arises here among the Manufacturers, which if it happen’d during the Elections (as might be expected if the old Parliament had gone on to finish its Term,) would probably have been a means of Outing many of the Court Candidates.3 As yet it does not appear that there is any Intention of Changing Measures: But all intelligent Men are of Opinion, that if the American Congress should resolve on the Non-consumption of the Manufactures of Britain, this Ministry must go out, and their late Measures be all reversed. As such a Resolution, firmly adher’d to, would in a peaceable and justifiable way do everything for us that we can wish, I am griev’d to hear of Mobs and Violence, and the pulling down of Houses,4 which our Friends cannot justify, and which give great Advantage against us to our Enemies.

The Electors of the Cities of London and Westminster, the Borough of Southwark, the County of Middlesex, and some other Places, have exacted of their Candidates Engagements under their Hands that they will among other things endeavour a Repeal of the late iniquitous Acts against America; and tis suppos’d the Example of the Metropolis will be follow’d in other Places, and would have been nearly general if the Election had not been thus precipitated.5 The Bishop of St. Asaph’s intended Speech, several Copies of which I sent you, and of which many Thousands have been printed and distributed here, has had an extraordinary Effect, in changing the Sentiments of Multitudes with regard to America.6 And when the Result of the Congress arrives, and the Measures they resolve to pursue (which I confide will be wise and good, enter’d into with Unanimity, and persisted in with Firmness) come to be known and consider’d here, I am persuaded our Friends will be multiplied, and our Enemies diminish’d, so as to bring on an Accommodation in which our undoubted Rights shall be acknowledg’d and establish’d.7 This, for the common Welfare of the British Empire, I most ardently wish. But I am in perpetual Anxiety lest the mad Measure of mixing Soldiers among a People whose Minds are in such a State of Irritation, may be attended with some sudden Mischief: For an accidental Quarrel, a personal Insult, an imprudent Order, an insolent Execution of even a prudent one, or 20 other things, may produce a Tumult, unforeseen, and therefore impossible to be prevented, in which such a Carnage may ensue, as to make a Breach that can never afterwards be healed. I pray God to govern every thing for the best; and am with the greatest Esteem and Respect, Sir, Your (and the Committee’s) most obedient and most humble Servant

B Franklin

Honble. Thomas Cushing Esqr

Endorsed: Benja Franklin Esqr  London oct. 6. 1774

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2The letter of Sept. 27, for Folger in the Nicholas was at Deal on Oct. 3: London Chron., Oct. 4–6, 1774.

3The decision to dissolve while the old Parliament still had months to run was unexpected but not sudden. It had apparently been reached soon after the prorogation in June, although it remained a well kept secret until it was announced on Sept. 30. Namier and Brooke, House of Commons, I, 73–4. The motive was less to forestall manufacturers’ opposition than to catch the existing opposition off guard (which indeed it did) and to obtain a long-term Parliamentary base for such further coercive measures against America as might be needed. See Donoughue, British Politics, pp. 177–81.

4We do not know what BF had heard. The London Chron. had reported commotions in Boston and the killing of Gage, and had then denied the rumor in its next issue: Sept. 29–Oct. 1, Oct. 1–4, 1774. The papers had recently been full of the events described in Bowdoin’s and Cooper’s letters above, Sept. 6, 9, but had not mentioned violence or pulling down houses.

5Radicalism was spreading in the metropolitan area and in other cities; the decision to dissolve may well have been designed in part, as BF suggests, to nip this political unrest in the bud. Wilkes had recently subscribed to a declaration of principles—shorter parliaments, more equitable representation, free elections, and the repeal of the Coercive Acts—and Wilkesite candidates had agreed to them; but in the actual campaign the American issue played a negligible part. Donoughue, British Politics, pp. 196–7; Namier and Brooke, House of Commons, I, 76–7.

6See BF to Shipley above, Sept. 28.

7Cushing read this part of the letter to a young man he met on the street, who promptly carried word of it to England. The new Parliament would have as great a majority in favor of America as the old had had against it, BF was reported as saying, and the ministry would then be replaced by one that favored the colonies. Hutchinson to the Earl of Hardwicke, Jan. 5, 1775 (letterbook copy), Mass. Hist. Soc.

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