Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to the Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly: a Circular Letter from Franklin, William Bollan, and Arthur Lee, 24 December 1774

To the Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly: a Circular Letter from Franklin, William Bollan, and Arthur Lee

ALS: Princeton University Library; draft: Library of Congress3

When four of the seven agents to whom the Congress had entrusted its petition refused to have anything to do with it, the three representatives of Massachusetts faced the problem of how to deliver it; and they decided to depart from their instructions and not put it directly into the hands of the King. The “regular Official Method,” as they explain in this letter, was to present it to the American Secretary to be forwarded;4 and the irregular and unofficial character of the document gave good reason for adhering to a procedure that no one could fault. “It was thought best to carry it forthwith to Lord Dartmouth,” Franklin later told Charles Garth, “by such of the Agents as were upon the Spot,”5 or more accurately those who were willing to act. They delivered it on December 21, but Dartmouth declined to forward it until it had been studied.6 The study was brief and intensive, according to Arthur Lee: the Cabinet met twice before deciding that the petition was sufficiently decent and respectful to be received.7 Thereupon Dartmouth waited upon the King, and in his note of the 23rd invited the agents to his house the next morning to hear the royal response. The Congress had requested them to inform the speakers of the colonial assemblies of “such conduct and designs of ministry or Parliament, as it may concern America to know,”8 and the conduct of the King was their first news. In the circular letter below they sent it on its way.

London, Dec. 24. 1774


This is just to inform you, that having received the Petition of the General Congress to the King, we immediately communicated the same to Lord Dartmouth Secretary of State for the American Department, as the regular Official Method, and that by which only we could have Expectation of obtaining an Answer. His Lordship this Day inform’d us, that he had laid the same before the King, that his Majesty had been pleased to receive it very graciously, and to say, it was of so great Importance, that he should, as soon as they met, lay it before his two Houses of Parliament.9 We can now only add, that we are, with great Respect, Sir, Your most obedient and most humble Servants

W Bollan
B Franklin
Arthur Lee1

Honble. Speaker of the Assembly of Pennsylvania

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3The ALS, which is in BF’s hand, was printed in many colonies, perhaps because the letters to the local speakers did not arrive or were not available: Conn. Jour., March 22; Md. Gaz., March 23; Boston Gaz., March 27; N.-Y. Gaz., and the Weekly Mercury, April 3, 1775. BF’s draft, which he endorsed “Rough of Letter to Speakers Dec. 24. 74,” differs from the final version only in details too inconsequential to be worth noting. MSS of the letters addressed to two other speakers are extant, those of Rhode Island (APS) and Virginia (Va. State Library); each is an LS in the hand of Louis Fevre, BF’s clerk. Two more of the letters are in print, to the lower counties on Delaware and North Carolina: Force, 4 Amer. Arch., II, 127; William L. Saunders, ed., Colonial Records of North Carolina (10 vols., Raleigh, etc., N.C., 1886–90), IX, 1102.

4See above, the letter from the Congress, Oct. 26, and the headnote on BF to Burke, Dec. 19.

5From Garth’s letter cited above, p. 395 n.

6Dartmouth MSS, II, 241; BF to Thompson below, Feb. 5.

7Force, 4 Amer. Arch., 1, 1058; [Anne I. Deas, ed.,] Correspondence of Mr. Ralph Izard ... (2 vols., New York, 1844), I, 35. During the discussions Dartmouth must have summoned the agents to another interview with him, for BF mentioned that they had a total of three: below, p. 569.

8In the letter cited above.

9Where it was promptly buried; see BF to Thomson below, Feb. 5.

1On the letter to the Virginia speaker, cited above, is a note in BF’s hand explaining the other agents’ abstention: “Mr. Garth was at the Devizes. Messrs. Burke, Wentworth and Life declined, as having no Instructions from their Assemblies.” BF repeated this explanation to Thomson below, Feb. 5. It did not fully cover Wentworth, who had additional reasons. One he gave BF: he could not act, he said in a missing letter which he subsequently paraphrased, while the invalid Barlow Trecothick was still titular agent for New Hampshire. Kammen, Rope of Sand, pp. 300–1 n. Wentworth’s principal reason seems to have been that the petition advanced “all their claims in a very high tone and with very offensive expressions.” Dartmouth MSS, I, 372; see also Hutchinson, Diary, I, 339.

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