From David Hartley
Reprinted from William Temple Franklin, ed., Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin … (3 vols., 4to, London, 1817–18), II, 287–9.
London, March 12, 1782.
My Dear Friend,
Enclosed with this I transmit to you the public parliamentary proceeding respecting the American war.9 If you will compare these proceedings with some others in several of the counties of this kingdom about two years ago, you will at once see the reason why many persons who from principles of general and enlarged philanthropy do most certainly wish universal peace to mankind yet seem restrained in their mode of endeavouring to obtain that object.1 We must accommodate our endeavours to practicabilities, in the strong hope that if the work of peace was once begun, it would soon become general. Parliament having declared their sentiments by their public proceedings; a general bill will soon pass to enable administration to treat with America and to conclude.2 As to the sincerity of ministry that will be judged of by their conduct in any treaty. The first object is to procure a meeting of qualified and authorized persons. You have told me that four persons are empowered by a special commission to treat of peace.3 Are we to understand that each separately has power to conclude, or in what manner? The four persons whom you have mentioned are in four different parts of the world, viz. three of them in hostile states, and the fourth under circumstances very peculiar for a negociator. When I told Mr. Laurens that his name was in the commission I found him entirely ignorant of every circumstance relating to it. I understand that the ministry will be ready to proceed towards opening a negociation as soon as the bill shall pass, and therefore it is necessary to consult of time, and place and manner and persons on each side. The negociation itself will speak the rest. I have been informed that some gentlemen in this country (not in administration) have lately entered into a correspondence with Mr. Adams relating to his commission of treating for peace, and that their previous enquiries having been spoken of in public, the ministry have been induced to make some enquiry themselves from Mr. Adams on that subject.4 In whatever way a fair treaty may be opened, by whomsoever or with whomsoever, I shall heartily wish good success to it for the common good and peace of mankind. I know these to be your sentiments, and I am confident that they will ever remain so, and hope that you will believe the same of me. I am ever, your most affectionate,
9. He enclosed the resolution of Feb. 27–28, the King’s response to it, and Conway’s motion of March 4 (for which see Hartley’s letter of March 11): WTF, Memoirs, II, 287–9.
1. A reference to the abortive Associated Counties movement of 1779, which by the end of 1781 had declined considerably in strength: XXXI, 469n; XXXII, 26, 40, 122–3, 218–19, 251, 302, 381; Eugene C. Black, The Association: British Extraparliamentary Political Organization, 1769–1793 (Cambridge, Mass., 1963), pp. 31–82.
2. The so-called Enabling Act (“An Act to enable His Majesty to conclude a Peace or Truce with certain Colonies in North America.” 22 Geo. III, cap. 46) was introduced in the Commons by Attorney General James Wallace (XXXIII, 254n) on March 5. It authorized the King “to treat, consult of, agree, and conclude, with any body or bodies corporate or politic, or any assembly or assemblies or description of men, or any person or persons whatever, a Peace or Truce with the said colonies or plantations.” Furthermore it gave him “full power and authority … to repeal, annul, and make void, or to suspend, for any time or times, the operation and effect of any act or acts of parliament, which relate to the said colonies or plantations.” A printed copy of the bill is among BF’s papers at the Library of Congress. Although Charles James Fox mocked the ministry for its inconsistency, the opposition did not contest the bill: Cobbett, Parliamentary History, XXII, 1101–9; Ian R. Christie, The End of North’s Ministry, 1780–1782 (London and New York, 1958), pp. 343–4. The bill received its first reading in the Commons on March 14: London Courant, Morning Gazette, and Daily Advertiser, March 15.
3. In BF’s letter of Jan. 15, above.
4. Using Thomas Digges; see Hartley to BF, March 11.