Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Robert Hunter Morris: Commission, 24 February 1756

From Robert Hunter Morris: Commission

Printed form with MS insertions in blanks; American Philosophical Society

After the bitter year-end controversy over commissioning the officers elected under the terms of the new militia law,3 the matter rested for a month while Governor Morris and the law’s chief proponent, Benjamin Franklin, were absent from Philadelphia. On February 12, a week after Franklin’s return to the city, he was elected colonel, William Masters lieutenant colonel, and John Ross major of the City Regiment. After searching in vain for a way to nullify or disregard the election, the governor and his Council approved the organization of the City Regiment on the thirteenth, and Morris issued the commission printed here eleven days later.4

That Franklin’s command of the militia touched basic points in the power struggle between the Assembly and proprietary party is made abundantly clear in reports to Thomas Penn from his officers in Pennsylvania: early in January 1756 William Peters told him that the “Friends and their prime Minister Mr F———” were busy putting the militia law into effect, but suspicions were widespread that the “mighty Favourite Mr. F———has a design to dupe” both the Quakers and the Proprietors and assume full personal power in the province.5 At the same time William Allen and Israel Pemberton, unlikely bedfellows, were said to be joined in opposing Franklin’s popularity.6 When Morris decided “against all reason and without advice” to approve Franklin’s commission, Richard Peters asserted that Morris “will lose all Character,”7 to which Penn replied that “I much wonder the Governor would appoint Mr. Franklin Colonel. He should never have any commission given to him till it is certain he has changed his sentiments.”8 After the City Regiment had been organized for two months, Peters wrote that “The City is in an infinite distraction all owing to the Officers of the Militia puffed up and now solely directed by Colonel Franklin,” and that Franklin was determined to get rid of the proprietary “Yoke as he calls it.” Furthermore, by controlling militia officer elections and in turn using their influence in the general elections, Franklin would secure a set of Assemblymen “he may turn and twist as he pleases.”9 Thus, Peters was convinced the Militia Act had to be disallowed to curtail Franklin’s power.1

[February 24, 1756]

By THE Honourable
Robert Hunter Morris, Esq;

Lieutenant Governor and Commander in Chief of the Province of Pennsylvania and Counties of New-Castle, Kent and Sussex on Delaware.

To Benjamin Franklin Esqr.  Greeting.

Reposing especial Trust and Confidence, as well in your Care, Diligence and Circumspection, as in your Loyalty and Courage, I Have Nominated, Constituted and Appointed, and I do by Virtue of the Powers and Authorities unto Me given, hereby Nominate, Constitute and appoint You the said  Benjamin Franklin Colonel of a Regiment of Foot-Militia formed in and called the Regiment of, the City of Philadelphia

You are therefore to take the said  Regiment  into Your Charge and Care, as  Colonel  thereof, and duly to Exercise both the Officers and Soldiers of that Regiment in Arms.2 And as they are hereby Commanded to obey You as their Colonel So are You likewise to observe and follow such Orders and Directions, from time to time, as You shall receive from the Commander in Chief for the time being, of the said Province, or any other Your Superior Officer or Officers, according to the Rules and Discipline of War, in Pursuance of the Trust reposed in You. And for Your so doing this shall be Your Commission.3

Given under my Hand and Seal at Arms, at Philadelphia, the twenty fourth Day of February in the twenty ninth Year of his Majesty’s Reign, Annoque Domini 17  56.

By His Honours Command.

Richard Peters Secretary   Robt: H: Morris

Endorsed: Be it remembered that on the Twenty Eighth Day of February 1756 the within named Benjamin Franklin took the Oaths of Allegiance Supremacy and Abjuration made and subscribed the usual Declaration of Fidelity &c. as prescribed by Law, and also took an Oath faithfully to execute and discharge the Trust in him reposed by the within Commission.

Before Richard Peters

duly authorized for that purpose by Dedimus Potestatem under the Great Seal of the Province.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3See above, pp. 383–9.

4Conrad Weiser to William Parsons, Feb. 13, 1756, Paul A. W. Wallace, Conrad Weiser (Phila., 1945), p. 426; Pa. Gaz., Feb. 19, 1756; Pa. Col. Recs., VII, 36, 41. See below, p. 415, for the organization of independent militia companies, perhaps responsible for the delay in issuing the commission.

5William Peters to Penn, Jan. 4, 1756, Penn Papers, Hist. Soc. Pa.

6Richard Peters to Penn, Jan. 5, 1756, Penn Papers, Hist. Soc. Pa.

7Richard Peters to Penn, Feb. 18, 1756, Penn. Papers, Hist. Soc. Pa. The Council Minutes for February meetings contain no entries to indicate that Morris ever brought the matter of commissioning BF formally before his official advisors.

8Penn to Peters, May 8, 1756, Penn. Papers, Hist. Soc. Pa.

9Richard Peters to Penn, April 25 and 29, 1756, Penn Papers, Hist. Soc. Pa.

1Richard Peters to Penn, June 1, 1756, Penn Papers, Hist. Soc. Pa.

2Fulfilling this charge, BF reviewed the regiment on February 28 in State House Square where “drawn up under arms,” it “made a fine appearance.” Opponents of the militia law took a different view of BF’s regiment: they asked whether anything could be seen in its performance “but what was most convincing Proof, that a great deal was still wanting,” and questioned further “Whether between 6 and 700 Men and Boys, a great Part of whom had never appeared at any former Muster, can with any Propriety be called a well trained Regiment of a Thousand Men?” Pa. Jour., March 4 and 11, 1756. BF countered by advertising another review: “The Regiment of the City of Philadelphia is to be reviewed on Tuesday next, the 16th Instant, at Two of the Clock in the Afternoon, on Society-Hill. By Order of the Colonel.” Pa. Gaz., March 11, 1756; Pa. Jour., same date. After two days’ postponement, probably caused by a great storm which dumped up to three feet of snow on the city, March 12 and 13, the review took place as ordered: “Upwards of 1000 able-bodied effective Men, besides Officers, was drawn up under Arms, on Society-Hill, and review’d by the Colonel.” To display their military skill, “the first Company that arriv’d halted, drew up in Platoons, and waited until the Second Company came up; and then each Platoon of the First Company fired retreating, according to the Manner of Street-Firing, and the Second Company at the same time advanced, and fired in like Manner, till they got possession of the other’s Ground,” etc. After the artillery “with four neatly painted Cannon, drawn by some of the largest and most stately Horses in the Province,” had exercised, the regiment formed a procession in the midst of which, thirteenth in line, came “the Colonel alone.” When the regiment passed BF’s door, it fired a salute which he later recalled broke some glass electrical equipment, though the newspaper reported generally that “notwithstanding the vast Concourse of People, not the least Accident happened to anyone.” The review and exercises were “nearly as well performed as they could be by any Troops whatever. And it is likewise agreed, that so grand an Appearance was never before seen in Pennsylvania.” Governor Morris apparently did not attend the review. Pa. Gaz., March 25, 1756; Pa. Jour., same date; Par Text edit., pp. 374–6.

3The King’s disallowance of the militia law, known in Philadelphia on Oct. 15, 1756, voided this commission and ended BF’s military career. Pa. Col. Recs., VII, 268, 274–8.

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