Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from ——: The Dispute over Commissions for the Militia, [January 1756]

From ———: The Dispute over Commissions for the Militia

Draft (incomplete): American Philosophical Society

The author of this document, which survives among Franklin’s papers, might have been any one of several well-informed members of the anti-proprietary party who was in Philadelphia at the end of December 1755. The handwriting has not been identified. The manuscript consists of three pages, the first two of which are numbered 5 and 6, and the text ends about three lines from the bottom of the last (unnumbered) page. Interlineations and cancellations show the document to have been a draft, but whether it was intended for a personal letter or for some other purpose (such as an account to be sent to England for the use of the Assembly’s agent) is not clear. In any case, its obvious purpose was to describe the obstructive tactics used by Governor Morris and his supporters to circumvent as much as possible the operation of the Militia Act.1 The last of the events described, Morris’ departure for Reading, took place on the morning of Dec. 31, 1755, the same day that Franklin and his fellow commissioners left Bethlehem to meet him there. Presumably the paper was written in Philadelphia soon afterwards.

[January 1756]

[hence?], that next morning2 in several places of the Town the G[overnor] was found hangd in Effigie, one in particular was put in the pillory and underneath it the Governors Name wrote at full length.

After the people were dispersed Mr. Peters sent to John Lawrence (who was Captain of that Ward whose Names Rous had delivered in)3 desiring him with his Lieut. and Ensign to come and secure their Commissions, which were made out for them; But J. Lawrence sent back word that he scorned to receive it on conditions disagreeable to the people and that he would receive his Commission on the same terms the Captains of the other wards did and on none else.4

In the Evening the Trustees of the Academy met at the Coffee house about their Lottery,5 and as the most of them had been concerned in the Public transactions of the day in one way or another the Conversation naturally turned upon that. The opinion generally prevailed that the people ought to have given in a Certificate in writing signed by some of the Inspectors that the Officers were duly elected. (For to the List of Officers names and numbers of Voters delivered to the Governor by John Ross none had signed their names, thinking it unnecessary as above 500 living witnesses appeared in person to testify to the Truth of it. Peters and Cadwalader6 likewise affirmed that had that List been signed by proper persons, the Commissions would have been issued out immediately. Hereupon Wm. Master motioning to T. Bond they withdrew and taking aside Mr. Allen and Tho. Lawrence who was present,7 (being concerned in the Lottery) proposed that Tho. Lawrence should wait on the Governor immediately and in their Names ask his Honour whether a Certificate signd by two or three persons of each ward would satisfy him, assuring him that they were not for enflaming the Minds of the people but it was their Opinion the people would never concent that their Names should be given in as he had desired: But if a Certificate of the Officers being duly elected would satisfy him, they would use their utmost Endeavours to obtain that and would set about it early in the Morning. After a few Hours stay Tho. Lawrence returned and reported, That as the Council had given their Opinion the Governor could not recede from it without their advice but that he would call them in the Morning. Early on Tuesday Morning Wm. Masters and T. Bond met and resolved if possible to have another meeting of the Officers, and according[ly] give Notices for the Officers elect and some of the principal Members of each Ward to convene at the Widow Jones’ at 11’ a Clock.8 At the time appointed a considerable number came, most of them very much disaffected and insensed at the Governor for the Usage they had received the day before. Some declared they would not [serve. When?] their warmth was a little abated a Certificate was drawn up and signed by two or three persons of each ward, setting forth That agreeable to an Act of Assembly of this Province the freemen of the City of Philadelphia had chosen such persons (naming them) Officers for their respective wards. This was sent up to the Governor by John Ross and Tho. York,9 with a request that his Honour would please to grant Commissions if he had no Objection against the Men chosen. They on their Return reported that they had delivered the Certificate and made the request and that the Governor’s Answer was, As the Council had chalked out a way for his proceeding he could not deviate from it without consulting them, but that he would immediately summon a Council and if the Gentlemen would call on him at 3 oClock in the afternoon he would give them a definitive Answer. That he could not call a Council till he had the Certificate to lay before them. The Gentlemen who carried the Certificate to the Governor had been likewise desired to acquaint him that (in case the Commissions were granted) the Officers would gladly escort him out of town. To this he replied that he was much obliged to the Gentlemen but the time of his setting forward was very uncertain perhaps it might be at 8 oClock this Evening or perhaps, to morrow morning before day.

In the afternoon the Officers with a number, out of each Ward again meet, and J. Ross and Tho. Yorke again wait on the Governor for his final resolve, about dusk they return and acquaint the people that the Governor had laid the Matter before his Council that they had seen cause to recede from their Opinion of yesterday; that of the Officers of the eight Companys he objected against two viz. Danl. Rundle and Geo: Bryan:1 that he approved of the Officers of the Artillery Company, but as we had no Artillery but what was private property and as there was no mention of them in the Act (adding something more about prerogative) he did not at present think proper to grant them Commissions.2

Between nine and ten next Morning Notice was given that the Governor intended to set out in an hour or twos time, and that if any of the Gentlemen who yesterday offered their service were inclined to go, he should be glad of their Company. About an hour after he rode up front street attended by the Sheriff3 and most of the Officers. The Independant Captain took place of the rest being (as he himself afterwards told) ordered to do so by the Governor.4

It is worthy Observation, with what difficulty the Governor has been dragged into a Compliance with this Law. First there is a Bug bear raised, the dread of the Military Law being extended to the Militia.5 And when this does not frighten, then a Condition insisted on inconsistent with the Intention of the Law and contrary the custom of the province. Tho’ I am apt to think (and indeed the reasons which the Governor himself assigned for making this demand seem to confirm my opinion) that this Condition was so strenuously insisted on only with a design to impress the former Terror the deeper in people’s Mind, and thereby prevent the Law from being carried into Execution. But when the people were neither disposed to comply nor willing to be put off with these Shams; Then a Council must be called, and their Opinion imposed on the people. Tho his backwardness in calling his Council shews that that was only a Contrivance to gain time. First he is to have a Council in the Morning, then tis put off to the Afternoon again he can’t do it for want of the Certificate, tho’ he had promised to call them that he might take their Advice whether a Certificate would be sufficient, and whether it would be worth while to draw one up [above: prepare one]. By the use the Governor makes of his Council, one would be apt to imagine that they were an essential part of the Government and that nothing could be done without them. But how would it surprize to know that they are no better than Cyphers and that the Governor may act with or without or even contrary to their Opinion. However as they were good staulking horses he resolved to Use them. They answered the same purpose to him that Eve did to Adam or the Devil to Eve. Indeed they were more complaisant than either E. or the D. for they were willing to bear the Odium of the Governors actions. Some of them told the people in the Evening the Governor was not to be blamed, if there was any fault, it ought to be imputed to them for they advised him. Tho this you’ll say was the least they could do for one who had given them so much Importance, and instead [of] Cyphers had made them necessary Agents (if you’ll not please to call them Tools) in the State.

As Bryan and Rundall were the only persons objected against some were curious to know the Reason.6 A Certain person took the Liberty to ask one of the Council why they refusd their Commissions.7 Upon which he told him the Council were desirous that a harmony should subsist between the G: and the Officers and that they were informed Rundal was on the Grand Jury when the Bill was presented against Lewis Evans for calling the G. a traytor and that he had strenuously opposed the profering the Bill. But did you not consider said the person that he was then on his Oath and obliged by this solemn [above: sacred] Obligation to act agreeable to truth and his Judgement. But that, (said the Counsellor) was not all for he not only opposed the Bill, but added some bitter expressions against the Governor. And as to Bryan he was reputed to be concerned in that vile paper calld Tit for Tat.8

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

1Election of officers of the Philadelphia militia companies took place on December 22–24 and caused considerable excitement in the city. Pa. Gaz., Dec. 25, 1755, Jan. 1, 1756.

2Monday, Dec. 29, 1755.

3John Lawrence (1724–1799), son of Thomas Lawrence (above, II, 154 n), son-in-law of Tench Francis (above, III, 428 n), attorney and clerk of the Court of Quarter Sessions; later mayor of Philadelphia and judge of the Supreme Court; a Loyalist during the Revolution. Charles P. Keith, The Provincial Councillors of Pennsylvania (Phila., 1883), pp. 450–1. John Ross (Rous) (1714–1776) was a lawyer, later elected major of BF’s militia regiment. See below, p. 409.

4Morris told his Council the afternoon of the 29th that he had refused to give commissions to the nine sets of officers for militia companies which had been presented to him that morning because they were not accompanied with certification, or with membership lists of the companies that had elected the officers. The Council approved his action, but did recommend issuance of commissions to Capt. John Lawrence, Lieut. Henry Keppele (Kepley) and Ensign Thomas Lloyd of the North Ward Company, a list of whose members had been submitted. The Council also recommended that Morris commission the officers of an independent company formed outside of the terms of the Militia Act. Pa. Col Recs., VI, 765–6.

5Since there is no record of this meeting in the Trustees’ minutes, it probably was an informal one, apparently including some men not officially trustees of the Academy. See above, III, 422–9, for lists of trustees and supporters of the Academy, and V, 505, for the lottery in progress, together with a list of its managers.

6Dr. Thomas Cadwalader (see above, I, 209 n) and Richard Peters, both trustees of the Academy, had been present at the Council meeting which approved withholding the commissions.

7William Masters (see above, III, 428 n), Thomas Bond (II, 240 n), and William Allen (III, 296–7 n) were all trustees of the Academy, but Thomas Lawrence 2d (1729–1775), civic leader and son of trustee Thomas Lawrence, recently deceased, was not, nor was he a manager of the lottery.

8Mary Jones kept “a celebrated public house,” the Three Crowns tavern, at Second and Walnut Streets, occasionally the scene of provincial entertainments. PMHB, XXVIII (1904), 236; I Pa. Arch. III, 559; Watson, Annals, I, 464.

9Thomas Yorke, merchant, assemblyman from Berks Co., 1756–57, and judge of the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia Co., 1759–61. I Pa. Arch., IV, 42–3.

1Daniel Rundle (Rundall) (d. 1795), elected lieutenant of Chestnut and Walnut Wards Company, was a merchant, contributor to the Pa. Hospital, and member of Christ Church, and though suspected of loyalist sentiments during the Revolution, he appears to have continued in business and become moderately wealthy by the time of his death. PMHB, XXIX (1905), 207–8; XLVII (1923), 344; I Pa. Arch., IX, 444–5, 448–9. George Bryan (1731–1791), born in Ireland, came to Philadelphia in 1752, where he became an importer and a prominent and active Presbyterian. He and Thomas Willing defeated BF and Joseph Galloway in the bitter Assembly election of 1764. A delegate to the Stamp Act Congress, and a Philadelphia judge, he soon emerged as a leader of the pre-Revolutionary “radical” party. He supported the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, was vice president of the Supreme Executive Council, 1777–79, judge of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court from 1780 until his death, and author of the state act for the gradual abolition of slavery. His final political battles were against the Federal Constitution of 1787 and the new Pennsylvania Constitution of 1790. DAB. He had been chosen ensign of the High Street and Upper Delaware Ward Company during the elections of Dec. 22–24, 1755. Pa. Gaz., Dec. 25, 1755. Burton A. Konkle, George Bryan and the Constitution of Pennsylvania, 1731–1791 (Phila., 1922).

2According to the Council’s minutes for the day (December 30), Morris presented the election certificates signed by two persons per company, and asked the Council whether it wished to accept the returns and thus “alter the mode” agreed upon the day before for certifying militia officer elections, and if so why. All the Council members present except Benjamin Shoemaker urged acceptance, since the Militia Act “prescribed no form of making the Returns,” and many of the men in the companies “were under strong tho’ unreasonable apprehensions of suffering some Damage by their Names being particularly mentioned in the returns of the Election of their Officers.” Two days later, after Morris had left town, the Council upon “reconsidering the Return of Captain George North for Captain, Benjamin Loxley for First Lieutenant and John Goodwin for Second Lieutenant of a new Artillery Company, and it being made to appear to the Council that the said Artillery Company is intended for the City only, and not to interfere with the Artillery Company of the Fort and Association Battery at Wiccacoe …” ordered their commissions delivered. Pa. Col. Recs., VI, 769–70.

John Lawrence’s refusal of his commission unless the other militia officers were similarly favored, Morris’ willingness to use a technicality to obstruct the Militia Act, his readiness to commission officers organizing companies outside its provisions, and the citizens’ fear of being marked as accomplices in carrying it out all reflect the governor’s determination to prove the Militia Act worthless, and his opponents’ insistence upon its being made the basis of the province’s plans for defense.

3James Coultas.

4Pa. Gaz., Jan. 1, 1756, reported that the governor set out for Reading “yesterday … escorted by most of the Officers of the Militia, and many other Gentlemen,” and that the “independent Captain” (non-militia) was William Vanderspiegle.

5See above, p. 300, and below, pp. 435–6. Richard Peters blamed the uproar over the initial refusal of the commissions on a threat supposedly made by Morris: “As soon as he had the names of the Companies, he would incorporate them with the Regulars which were coming from New York, and thus they would be subject to military Discipline.” Morris’ later assertion that he intended only provincial troops, not militia, to be under military law, failed to allay suspicions that he wanted to exercise full authority over the militia. Peters to Thomas Penn, Feb. 17, 1756, Penn Papers, Hist. Soc. Pa. See above, p. 360 n, for the regulars from New York. BF explained the difference between militia and provincial troops on active service to Peter Collinson, Dec. 19, 1756.

6Pa. Gaz., Dec. 25, 1755, published the names of eight sets of officers elected during the three preceding days. When, three months later, it printed the names of the officers who had received their commissions, Francis Manny and Alexander Moore had replaced Bryan and Rundle respectively. Two other changes, one caused by a resignation, were also recorded.

7Neither person has been identified.

8This paragraph has reference to a tangle of intercolonial politics. In August 1755, map maker Lewis Evans (see above, III, 48 n) had published a “Geographical Essay” in which he upheld the validity of French claims to lands north of Lake Ontario. On September 18 Pa. Jour. reprinted from Gent. Mag. an assertion that the King had approved the conduct of Governor Morris; a week later a refutation appeared, which in turn was rebutted in the New-York Mercury, October 27 supplement, allegedly after the Philadelphia printers had refused it. At about the same time Evans “publickly” called Morris “a Villain and Traitor”; a grand jury by a vote of ten for and nine against failed to return a true bill, but he nevertheless fled to New York. Shortly thereafter “Humphry Scourge” in a pamphlet Tit for Tat responded to the New-York Mercury supplement, vigorously attacking Morris and other officials, and on December 26 the Philadelphia Friends’ Monthly Meeting disclaimed any connection with “a violent, seditious and scandalous Libel [which] lately appeared in this City, called Tit for Tat.” Pa. Gaz., Jan. 1, 1756. The New-York Mercury, Jan. 5, 1756, published an attack on Evans’ analysis of French claims; he replied with a second “Geographical Essay” printed in Philadelphia after New York printers had refused it. PMHB, LIX (1935), 299–300. Jailed in New York on Morris’ accusation but released on bond provided by Lieut. Gov. James DeLancey’s brother Oliver, Evans died, June 12, 1756, before his trial. Lawrence H. Gipson, Lewis Evans (Phila., 1939), pp. 75–77.

These controversies were involved with the attempts of Gen. William Shirley and Sir William Johnson, each to justify his own military conduct at the expense of the other. Shirley seems at this time to have had the support of New England, the Livingston faction in New York, the proprietary party in Pennsylvania, and a group of merchants including the Livingstons, Alexanders, and Lewis Morris (nephew of Governor Morris) in New York, John Mifflin of the Pennsylvania Council, and the Ervings and Apthorps of Boston. Johnson’s backing came from Thomas Pownall (Evans’ patron), the DeLanceys and their merchant allies, much of the anti-proprietary group in Pennsylvania, and the southern colonies generally. Thus, though Morris’ successful effort to refuse commissions to Bryan and Rundle was petty enough, its implications were far reaching. John A. Schutz, William Shirley, King’s Governor of Massachusetts (Chapel Hill, 1961), pp. 190, 198–9.

The author of Tit for Tat is unknown, though Edward Shippen, a proprietary supporter, wrote, Dec. 13, 1755, that William Franklin, Joseph Galloway, and George Bryan were thought responsible, and that “an older hand” wrote the introduction and a supposed extract from a letter by a Frenchman which pictured Morris as in the pay of France and Richard Peters and William Smith as Jesuits. [Thomas Balch], Letters and Papers Relating Chiefly to the Provincial History of Pennsylvania (Phila., 1855), p. 169; letter misdated 1759. Shippen’s opinion that the contributions by the “older hand” were superior to the rest of the tract may indicate a belief that BF wrote them, but the editors see no reason to attribute them to him.

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