Resolutions on Trade Submitted to Congress
AD: National Archives; draft:6 American Philosophical Society
News of the second Restraining Act infuriated and alarmed Congress. On July 12, 1775, it appointed a committee, of which Franklin was a member, to formulate a program for protecting the colonies’ trade.7 Three days later, on Franklin’s motion, the nonexportation agreement was modified to permit paying in produce for imported war material;8 but this concession solved only one of the problems that the agreement posed. The committee addressed the others in two closely similar sets of resolutions, reported on the 21st by Franklin and Richard Henry Lee. Both proposed opening American commerce to the world outside the empire.9
Franklin had long disapproved, both in practice and principle, of Parliamentary constraints on American trade;1 he was ready for a clean sweep. The content of his proposals showed his daring, and the method of implementing them showed his moderation. The ports would not be opened if the Restraining Act was repealed at any time before July 20, 1776; once opened on that date they would remain so, come what might, for two years at the least. Just as Franklin had acquiesced in the Olive Branch Petition to explore the last hope of compromise,2 so he now offered the British government a year in which to reconsider its course. His fellow delegates, however, were not yet ready to commit themselves, even conditionally and in the future, to a declaration of commercial independence. They had lived so long within the closed system of the Navigation Acts that few could envisage dispensing with it. The resolutions were shelved, and the idea that underlay them was not adopted until almost nine months later.3
At some time during those months Franklin’s resolutions were apparently reintroduced. Someone brought them up to date by adding to the AD, in an unidentifiable hand, an introductory clause about the abundance of grain after the harvest of 1775, and by making other minor changes. These have understandably confused modern editors about both the wording and the date of what Franklin submitted.4 His draft, which except for a few phrases noted below is identical with our text, permits us to delete silently the words added later, and to supply in brackets those later effaced.
[On or before July 21, 1775]
Resolved, That from and after the 20th of July [1776 being one full Year after] the Day appointed by a late Act of the Parliament of Great Britain for restraining the Trade of the Confederate Colonies,5 all the Custom-Houses therein (if the said Act be not first repealed) shall be shut up, and all the Officers of the same discharged from the Execution of their several Functions; and all the Ports of the said Colonies are hereby declared to be thenceforth open to the Ships of every State in Europe that will admit our Commerce and protect it; who may [bring in] and expose to Sale free of all Duties their respective Produce and Manufactures, and every kind of Merchandise, excepting Teas, and the Merchandize of Great Britain, Ireland, and the British West India Islands.6
Resolved, That we will to the utmost of our Power maintain and support this Freedom of Commerce for two7 Years certain after its Commencement, any Reconciliation between us and Britain notwithstanding;8 and as much longer beyond that Term, as the late Acts of Parliament for Restraining the Commerce and Fisheries, and altering the Laws and Charters of any of the Colonies, shall continue unrepealed.
Endorsed by Charles Thomson: a proposal for opening the ports of N.A. brot. in by Committee read. July 21. 1775, on motion postponed for future Consideration.
6. On the verso of the draft BF made unrelated jottings. First are several columns of figures, apparently British currency. Second are the sketch and Latin mottoes reproduced below, for reasons explained there, in the editorial note on BF’s design for currency, Feb. 21. Third are notes, apparently written in pencil and for the most part overwritten in ink: “Ready to receive Irish Woollens whenever they shall ascertain Methods of sending them, free of all Imposition. / Resolve Not to treat separately. / Resolve concerning the Power of Parliament to alter Constitutions. Lord Chatham’s Resolution. / Difference has been whether we shall give our Money, or have it taken from us by Force, contrary to our Rights.”
7. See JCC, II, 125, 177.
8. See the draft resolution above, July 14.
9. JCC, II, 200–1.
1. See above, XXI, 175–7.
2. See the editorial note on the petition above, July 8.
3. The proposal was debated in October, December, January, and February, 1775–76; but it was not finally adopted until April 6, 1776, and then with the proviso that colonies might levy their own import duties. JCC, III, 457, 477–80; IV, 59, 62, 159, 258–9.
4. Worthington Ford printed the text in the JCC, already cited, under July 21 as if the alterations were then a part of it; they appear in comparing that text with ours. Burnett and Smith assigned the draft, which we are convinced preceded the final version, to 1776 when the resolutions were reintroduced in their altered form: Burnett, Letters, I, 364; Smith, Letters, III, 305.
5. The second Restraining Act, 15 Geo. III, c. 18, incorporated and expanded the first.
6. The comma after “Teas” obscures the meaning, which is that they and British merchandise are excluded. This paragraph would have closed, along with the customs houses, the loophole in the nonexportation agreement whereby rice could be cleared for Britain to be re-exported from there.
7. BF first wrote “one,” then “three,” before settling for two.
8. The draft omits this prepositional clause.