Benjamin Franklin Papers

James Alexander to Cadwallader Colden, 9 June 1754

James Alexander to Cadwallader Colden

Copy: New-York Historical Society; 5also transcripts: Library of Congress and Harvard College Library (Sparks)

New York May [June] 9th 17546

Dear Sir

I communicated yours of May 16th and 28th7 and my Answers to Mr. Pownal8 Mr. Peeters and Mr. Franklin.

Before I communicated them to Mr. Pownal, he had thought of forewith building one Vessel of force and sundry small Vessels to attend her, to prevent the boarding of the larger by Cannoes and Pereagoes upon Lake Ontario, and on the many good Consequences of that scheme, when I told him you had thought on nearly the same thing, which introduced the communicating them to him.

I had some conversation with Mr. Franklin and Mr. Peeter, as to the Uniting the Colonies, and the Difficulties thereof by effecting our liberties on the one hand, or being ineffectual on the other. Whereon Mr. Franklin promised to set down some hints of a scheme that he thought might do which accordingly he sent to me to be transmitted to you and it’s inclosed.9

To me it seems extreamly well digested, and at first sight avoids many difficulties that had accur’d to me.

Some difficulties still remain. For Example there cannot be found men tolorably skilled in Warlike affairs to be chosen for the Grand Council. And there’s danger in communicating to them the Schemes to be put in execution for fear of a discovery to the Enemy. Whether this may not be in some measure remedied by a Council of State of a few persons to be chosen by the Grand Council at their stated meetings which Council of State to be allways attending the Governour General, and with him to degest before hand all matters to be laid before the next Grand Council, and only the General but not the particular plans of Operation.

That the Governour General and that Council of State issue the Orders for the payment of Monies so far as the Grand Council have before hand agreed may be issued for any General plan to be executed. That the Governour General and Council of State at every meeting of the Grand Council Lay before them their Accounts and Transactions since the last meeting, at least so much of their Transactions as is safe to be made Publick. This Council of State to be something like that of the United provinces, and the Grand Council to resemble the States General. That the Capacity and Ability of the persons to be chosen of the Council of State and Grand Council be their only Qualifications whether members of the respective bodies that chuse them or not. That the Grand Council with the Governour Generall have power to encrease but not to decrease the Duties laid by Act of Parliament And have power to issue bills of Credit on Emergencies to be Sunk by the encreas’d funds bearing a small interest but not to be tenders. I am Dear Sir Your most Obedient and most humble Servant

Ja: Alexander

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

5The copy is in David Colden’s hand.

6Incorrectly dated May 9 in the copy.

7Not found.

8Thomas Pownall (1722–1805), descendant of an old Cheshire family; A.B., Cambridge, 1743; soon afterwards entered the employ of the Board of Trade, of which his brother John was secretary. He went to New York, 1753, as secretary to the newly appointed governor Sir Danvers Osborn, but when Osborn committed suicide almost immediately after assuming office Pownall became, in effect, a free-lance observer for the Board of Trade and its president, Lord Halifax, traveling about the colonies and reporting his findings and opinions. It was probably on a visit to Philadelphia in April 1754 that he met BF and formed what proved to be a lifelong friendship. DeLancey invited him to attend the Albany Congress and, although he was present in a wholly unofficial capacity, he was allowed to present a plan for British control of the Great Lakes. He returned to England early in 1756 but was again in America briefly later in the same year as secretary extraordinary to Lord Loudoun, the commander-in-chief. He had been named lieutenant governor of New Jersey in 1755, a purely nominal office until Governor Belcher died in August 1757. Meanwhile he attracted the attention of William Pitt, who appointed him governor of Massachusetts in 1757. In the three years he held this position he displayed great energy and zeal, but incurred the dislike of the conservatives, including Thomas Hutchinson, by his cultivation of the “antiprerogative” party in order to gain the maximum of participation from the province for the war effort.

Pownall returned to England in the summer of 1760, having been transferred to the governorship of South Carolina, but he never assumed that office. He served as first commissary general of the British-Hanoverian army on the Rhine, 1761–63, and was M.P. for Tregony and later for Minehead, 1767–80. In 1765 he published the first edition of The Administration of the Colonies; the last of five revised editions appeared in 1777. Based on his long experience in America, it is the ablest and most discerning treatise on the major colonial problems written by an Englishman in the years of conflict before the Revolution. Though speaking as an Englishman, Pownall showed a broader understanding of the colonial point of view than almost any other British public man could display. In retrospect, and writing as an American, John Adams called him, with considerable justice, “the most constitutional and national Governor, in my opinion, who ever represented the crown in this province.” DAB; John A. Schutz, Thomas Pownall (Glendale, Cal., 1951).

9See the document immediately above.

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