Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to [Isaac Norris], 14 January 1758

To [Isaac Norris]7

Extract:8 Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Dated Janry: 14. 1758.

Extract from Mr. Franklin’s Letter.

Benjamin Franklin9 insisted in a Conference with the Proprietaries,1 that if, when Commissioners were named in a Bill,2 the Governor might not strike out or change them at his Pleasure, as none but his own Creatures might be admitted, and the Assembly might as well trust him with the whole, and that it was an undoubted Right of the House of Commons to name Commissioners in Bills in all Cases where they thought it necessary and proper, and to have such Commissioners so named stand without Alteration and Amendment and therefore our Assembly claimed the said Privileges; To which He3 answered that in such Cases, that before the House of Commons inserted the Names of Commissioners in Bills, the List was privately settled with the Ministry by the Committees; but tho’ it might be a Privilege of the House of Commons, it did not follow that it was the Privilege of a Pennsylvania Assembly. That We were only a kind of Corporation acting by a Charter from the Crown and could have no Privileges or Rights but what was granted by that Charter, in which no such Privilege as We now claim was any where mentioned. But says I4 Your Father’s Charter expressly says that the Assembly of Pennsylvania shall have all the Power and Privileges of an Assembly according to the Rights of the Freeborn Subjects of England, and as is usual in any of the British Plantations in America.5 Yes says he but, if my Father granted Privileges he was not by the Royal Charter impowered to grant, Nothing can be claim’d by such Grant. I said, If then your Father had no Right to grant the Privileges He pretended to grant, and published all over Europe as granted those who came to settle in the Province upon the Faith of that Grant and in Expectation of enjoying the Privileges contained in it, were deceived, cheated and betrayed. He answered they should have themselves looked to that. That the Royal Charter was no Secret; they who came into the Province on my Father’s Offer of Privileges, if, they were deceiv’d, it was their own Fault; and that He said with a Kind of triumphing laughing Insolence, such as a low Jockey might do when a Purchaser complained that He had cheated him in a Horse. I was astonished to see him thus meanly give up his Father’s Character and conceived that Moment a more cordial and thorough Contempt for him than I ever before felt for any Man living—A Contempt that I cannot express in Words, but I believe my Countenance expressed it strongly. And that his Brother was looking at me, must have observed it; however finding myself grow warm I made no other Answer to this than that the poor People were no Lawyers themselves and confiding in his Father did not think it necessary to consult any.6

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7Later references by BF and others make it clear that Norris received this letter, even though his name does not appear on the copied extract. It may, however, have been addressed to the Pa. Assembly Committee of Correspondence of which Thomas Leech, Joseph Galloway, Joseph Fox, John Hughes, William Masters, and Thomas Yorke, as well as Norris, were members. Leech had replaced Norris as speaker on Jan. 2, 1758.

8No full text has been found; this copy in an unknown hand probably was made without Norris’ permission, when the original was laid before the Assembly committee sometime before March 18, 1758. A proprietary assemblyman, possibly William Allen or William Plumsted, may have copied it for partisan reasons, after which Richard Peters sent a copy to Thomas Penn that he received before July 5, 1758. Thomas Balch printed the extract, perhaps from the copy used here, in Letters and Papers Relating Chiefly to the Provincial History of Pennsylvania (Phila., 1855), pp. 110–11. William Allen to F. J. Paris, March 18, 1758; Penn to Peters, July 5, 1758; Penn Papers, Hist. Soc. Pa.

9In paraphrasing the opening lines of this letter, the copyist failed to make the meaning entirely clear. BF apparently insisted that when commissioners were named in the bill the governor ought not to have the power to strike or name them at his pleasure; otherwise only his creatures would be admitted.

1Held one or two days before BF wrote this letter; see the final note to this document.

2Specifically the Indian trade bill which, since November 1755, had been passed repeatedly by the Assembly and as often rejected by the governor. See above, VI, 451.

3Thomas Penn; apparently from this point BF’s letter was copied verbatim.

4BF. These words and the next group in italics are also italicized in Balch, Letters and Papers, pp. 110–11, but there are no other italics in that version. BF’s usage in the original is not known.

5A direct quotation from William Penn’s Charter of Privileges, 1701, section II.

6This conference and BF’s letter about it significantly affected his relations with the Proprietors. For that reason the following four letters are quoted (all from Penn Papers, Hist. Soc. Pa.):

Thomas Penn to William Allen, Jan. 12, 1758: “Mr. Franklin was with me this Day chiefly on a Bill for regulating the Indian Trade, in which the House will not allow the Governor to join in the nomination of the Persons appointed to reside among the Indians, which I think very necessary. Mr. Franklin told me the Bill was on the Plan of the Boston Act, but on examination I found the general Court made all the appointments, and superintended the whole Affair, which was the method I thought most proper, when I told him of the mistake he would have put it off, as mistaking the General Court for the House of Representatives.” Actually the Massachusetts “Great and General Court” consisted of the two legislative houses, the Council and the House of Representatives, both elective, and was not a judicial body as Penn may have thought.

Thomas Penn to Richard Peters, Jan. 14, 1758: “We have received the Indian Trade Bill, and yesterday had a Conference with Mr. Franklin upon it, on hearing a second of the same sort, except with regard to the Commissioners, had been presented he claimed an absolute Power in the House to name the Commissioners and that they ought not to be altered, this point I could not allow as we were to use our discretion in passing Laws, but left it however to be considered after we receive our Council’s opinion on the Case. … I shall write you soon more at large about this Bill when we receive the opinions about our Right to alter Bills, that may be called Money Bills, and to alter Commissioners names in Bills—if the two Commissioners were not really improper People that might have been dispensed with. Mr. Franklin at this time suggested the impropriety of Persons concerned in the Indian Trade being in Office, which made it necessary for them to negotiate Publick Business with those People and mentioned you as such. I joined with him in opinion of the impropriety of it, but told him I was very fully assured you had no such concerns.”

William Allen to Ferdinand J. Paris, March 18, 1758, apparently after reading a copy of BF’s letter: “[Franklin] is a very artful, insinuating fellow, and very ready, at expedients; I wish he may not, by the concil of Dr. Fothergil, or otherwise-------be able to infuse wrong notions, of things, into Mr. Penn’s breast, and deceive him, by false accounts. I am informed, notwithstanding his smooth behaviour, that he gives our people, here, the most disadvantageous impressions, of Mr. Penn, who, he says, is determined to deprive them of all the priviledges they derive, from his father; upon the whole, suggests every thing, that a very bad heart is capable of doing, in order to inflame them, still more, again[st] the proprietary family.”

Thomas Penn to Richard Peters, July 5, 1758, after reading a copy of BF’s letter: “The Extract of Mr. Franklin’s Letter to Mr. Norris is a most impudent Paper, and vile misrepresentation of what passed. In it [the conference] I represented to him that it was as unsafe for the People, as it was for us, to claim Priviledges by my Father’s Charter, that could not be warranted by the King’s Charter to him, and did not exult at all on the occasion, but spoke it out of concern for the Safety of the People, and not in any manner as my Brother tells me that could give any cause of offence, and how Mr. Franklin looked I cannot tell, my Brother says like a malicious V. as he always does, however from this time I will not have any conversation with him on any pretence. I have shewn it to my Lord Hallifax and some other People, to shew how well disposed this Man is to settle differences—I think what he pretends to have said has no meaning, the present Charter was not a means of settling the Province which was settled before, and I believe the Dutch, were invited to go over from the general good account of the Country, and never read over the Charter or thought of it.”

Isaac Norris acknowledged BF’s letter, April 29, 1758, and noted the “Effrontery” of the Proprietors and their agents. After BF learned that Peters had sent a copy to Penn he wrote Joseph Galloway, Sept. 16, 1758, and April 7, 1759, and Isaac Norris, March 19, 1759, expostulating vigorously against allowing his confidential letters to get into the hands of the proprietary supporters in the colony. He acknowledged that he might have refrained from comparing Thomas Penn to “a low Jockey,” but did not “much repent of it.” On July 31, 1759, Norris denied that he had been in any way personally responsible for the leak. These letters from and to BF will be printed in full at the appropriate places in this edition.

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