Pennsylvania Assembly: Appointment of Franklin as Agent to Go to England, and His Acceptance
Printed in Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives, 1756–1757 (Philadelphia, 1757), pp. 75, 76, 78.
The sequence of events resulting in the appointment of Franklin as agent to represent the Assembly in England in its disputes over the instruction on the taxation of proprietary estates and related grievances is indicated by the following extracts from the Assembly Journals. The Remonstrance of January 26 (see immediately above) was delivered to Governor Denny on the morning of the 28th; the House took his answer into consideration that afternoon and promptly adopted the resolution printed first below. The next morning it chose Speaker Norris and Franklin as its representatives. While they were considering the request, the Assembly, acting “by special Order,” passed a new £100,000 supply bill, exempting proprietary estates from taxation, February 3,7 and then called upon Norris and Franklin for their decisions. Then followed the actions which produced a momentous change in Franklin’s career.
[January 28, 1757]
That a Commissioner, or Commissioners, be appointed to go Home to England, in Behalf of the People of this Province, to solicit a Removal of the Grievances we labour under by Reason of Proprietary Instructions, &c.
[January 29, 1757]
That Mr. Speaker, and Mr. Franklin, be requested to go Home to England, as Commissioners, to solicit the Removal of our Grievances, occasioned by Proprietary Instructions, &c. And being accordingly requested thereto by the House, they desired some Time to consider thereof.
[February 3, 1757]
Mr. Speaker, and Mr. Franklin, being called upon by the House, to declare whether they would comply with the Request of the House in going Home to England, to solicit a Redress of our Grievances; …8
Mr. Franklin said, “That he esteemed the Nomination by the House to that Service as an high Honour, but that he thought, if the Speaker could be prevailed on to undertake it, his long Experience in our publick Affairs, and great Knowledge and Abilities, would render the Addition of another unnecessary: That he held himself however in the Disposition of the House, and was ready to go whenever they should think fit to require his Service.”
That the unanimous Thanks of this House to Mr. Speaker, and Mr. Franklin, for their ready Compliance with the Request of the House, be entered on the Minutes.9
That this House will make Provision for defraying the Expence that may attend their Voyage, and the Solicitation of the Affairs of the Province in England; and that Mr. Franklin do first go over.
That Benjamin Franklin, Esq; be, and he is hereby appointed Agent of this Province, to solicit and transact the Affairs thereof in Great-Britain.
7. See below, pp. 121, 152–3 n.
8. Norris pleaded ill health and his possible greater usefulness in Pennsylvania, but nevertheless put himself at the disposal of the House.
9. Dr. John Kearsley, Jr. (d. 1777), nephew of Dr. John Kearsley, above, V, 20 n, and later mobbed and imprisoned for his Tory views, did not share the Assembly’s pleasure at bf’s appointment: “They talk of Sending the Electrician home which is a new delay. He Jumps at going. I am told his office [of deputy postmaster general] shakes. However though he would not go but to Support this falling interest of his own, he is artfully Insinuating that he goes on his Countrys Service. Most Certain I am that he will go at his Countrys Expence for he is wicked enough to Blind the people.” als to Robert Hunter Morris, Feb. 8, 1757, Yale Univ. Lib. Capt. Thomas Lloyd also sneered at the proposed mission of Norris and bf: “Two of the venerable sages of Pennsylvania are going home with their fingers in their eyes.” [Thomas Balch], Letters and Papers Relating Chiefly to the Provincial History of Pennsylvania (Phila., 1855), p. 67.
An exchange between Richard Peters and Thomas Penn, however, affords the fullest view of bf’s agency as seen by his opponents on both sides of the Atlantic before his departure. “Certain it is,” wrote Peters, “that B.F.’s view is to effect a change of Government, and considering the popularity of his character and the reputation gained by his Electrical Discoveries which will introduce him into all sorts of Company he may prove a Dangerous Enemy. Dr. Fothergill and Mr. Collinson can introduce him to the Men of most influence at Court and he may underhand give impressions to your prejudice. In short Heaven and Earth will be moved against the Proprietors.” In reply, Penn was full of confidence: “I think I wrote you before that Mr. Franklin’s popularity is nothing here, and that he will be looked very coldly upon by great People, there are very few of any consequence that have heard of his Electrical Experiments, those matters being attended to by a particular Sett of People, many of whom of the greatest consequence I know well, but it is quite another sort of People, who are to determine the Dispute between us.” Peters to Penn, Jan. 31, 1757, Peters Letterbook; and Penn to Peters, May 14, 1757, Penn Papers, both Hist. Soc. Pa.