Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Isaac Norris, 21 February 1758

From Isaac Norris

Letterbook copy: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Febry. 21 1758

My Good Frd B Franklin

Our old Inviterate Scribler has at length wrote himself into a Jail.9 How far this was good Policy to do him that Honour, I will not undertake to say; I know the Comittee have wrote largely upon this head,1 and it has cost the House a Great deal of Time in going Thro’ a formal Trial for Libelling, which is, for any thing I know, the first Instance of the kind, as, I think, the House of Commons make very short work with such as give them occasion To exercise their Powers in vindicating their rights and Priveledges Generally or the Rights of Particular members. A short but severe Indisposition renderd it impossable for me to attend the House at the Beginning of this Session and I am Convinced it will not be Prudent in me to resume the Chair, at least ’till the Parson’s Accusation and acquital are at an end. The Present Speaker2 Complains Much To me of the fatigues of his Honorable Seat, but he stands so much fairer in his Charrecter as a Good Churchman (and in some sort a Spiritual Father in the Vestry) than the Scribling Priest ever did or ever will, whilst he pursue’s his present Schemes, in which he is evidently made a Tool to narrow Presbyterian Politicks,3 That I Consider it as a favourable interposition of Providence that I was not in the Chair And That the Dispute is carried on by Members of the Same Church, whose Names and Principles are So well known and established.4 There is a Visible Difference and Disgust between the Governor and his Council, these speak of him with great freedom and Disrespect, whilst he on the Other Side, plainly sees it, and is supposed to be trying To emancipate himself from the Shackles imposed upon him by his Instructions. It is generally Said and believed here that our late Governor makes it a Principle part of his Voyage to supplant this Gentleman, and distroy the Most Essential Parts of our Charters.5 But as he is yet detained at New York, tis not improbable The first point may be decided before his Arrival in England, and in the other we have all great Confidence in the Justice of our Cause, and the known Abilities to defend it. By the Accounts and Estimates laid before us, the Hundred Thousand Pound is Expended, and the Province between £20 and £30,000 indebted which has necessitated the House to reduce their Provincial Forces To 700 Men for the Ensuing year,6 for which we are now endeavouring To raise the Supplies, Tho’ the Cry is almost Universal against the Useless Burden Those forces were to the Province all the last year either for want of Proper orders, or some other Neglect in the executive Part of the Government into which an enquiry will probably be tho’t necessary, but notwithstanding this load of Debt and the want we have been in for mony, the free gift lies yet unpaid. The Commissioners in their repeated applications to the Governor have requested him to interpose his Good offices with the Reciever-General By which means I am told they have Squeezed out six Hundred Pounds since I last mention’d this Proprietary Free Gift, which seems To be pressed out of their Treasury by peicemeal, and with great reluctance.7 I will not enter into the Reasons of this Conduct, Our Frontiers having been a Considerable time, in a great degree, quiet we have more leisure To Consider the Internal Interest of the Province, and we have accordingly Sent up a Bill, for Regulating the Indian Trade, a Second time, in which the House have made such Concessions on their Part, as will fully evince their great desire To obtain that Bill on any Terms Consistent with the good purposes it is designd To answer, but I Cannot give much hopes of Success, after Seeing the proposed amendments which Come so intirely from the Council, that some of the most Essential alterations were posted up at the Coffee-house before the Bill was sent down the first Time, but I hope to be able to give a further Account of it, before I am obliged to Close this letter for which end I have orderd the Bill and the Amendments to be copied so far as they have been already proceeded in.8 We were told in the house a few days ago, by W. A.9 (a worthy Member) that Lord Loudon had wrote to our Governor Complaining That Some of the People of this Province (as he was inform’d by Sir Wm. Johnson) had without the knowledg or consent of the Government Sent a Messenger to the Seneka’s; as I apprehended by the Manner in which it was mention’d, by our Said member, that he pointed at the Quakers, out of his great Affection to That People,1 I made it my Bussiness to enquire of them, whether they had been concern’d in any message of the kind, which they Utterly deny; so That it may be depended upon, they have no hand in it, if any such Message has been Sent To those Indians, Tho’ I think the Goverment engaged to do somthing of that Sort at their late Conferences at Easton, and which Teedyscung has Since Solicited, and Complain’d of, as not yet Comply’d with, this Armistice (if I may use the Word) with the Indians, seems to discompose a Set of Political Schemes Carried on here, by some of our Men in Power, for which Reason all possible Obstructions were necessary to oppose it at Easton, and the Same Reasons Continue for breaking it, as soon as that can be conveniently accomplished, but in this I think the Governor has no hand, for the Publick Affairs appear to be Transacted by Other Powers, Than Those regularly Constituted by our Charters. I propose to Send an anecdote on This head, if I Can get it Transcribed in time, upon which You may form your Own Judgment.2

Febry 22. The Governor has not yet given any Answer to our Indian Trade Bill so that I must send it in the Condition it first came down to the House with the Assembly’s Answer, which, tho’ the Lines differ a little from the Original Bill will be intelligible enough by the Numbers and Marks in the Margine.3 I am &c.

P S Upon a Requisition of Lord Loudoun we have just now Resolved to augment our Provincials to a Thousand Men 700 of whom to be ready for his Lordship by the beg[inning] of April.4

See my Letter to B.F: of April. 5. 1759 postea pag. 103.

Endorsed: on first page: recd by BF see his Letter 10 June 1758.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

9William Smith had been taken into custody, Jan. 6, 1758, upon order of the Assembly, for causing a libelous attack on that body by William Moore to be translated and published in the Philadelphische Zeitung. Following a “trial” before the House and a defiant speech, he was recommitted on January 25 and remained in jail, conducting his college classes from there, until about April 11, 1758. See above, VI, 246–7 n, for the background of Moore’s quarrel with the Assembly, and VI, 420–22 n, 456–7, for Smith’s earlier “scribling.” The case dominated Pennsylvania politics during 1758, and required BF’s attention in London during April 1758 and for over a year following. A lengthy but unreliable account of the case is in William R. Riddell, “Libel on the Assembly: a Prerevolutionary Episode,” PMHB, LII (1928), 176–92, 249–79, 342–60. Theodore Thayer, Pennsylvania Politics and the Growth of Democracy, 1740–1776 (Harrisburg, 1953), pp. 68–70; Joseph H. Smith, Appeals to the Privy Council from the American Plantations (N.Y., 1950), pp. 646–9; and Albert E. Gegenheimer, William Smith Educator and Churchman 1727–1803 (Phila., 1943), pp. 139–48, recount the episode from varying points of view. Votes, 1757–58, esp. pp. 11–40, and Pa. Col. Recs., VII and VIII, contain voluminous records.

1No letter at this time from the Pa. Assembly Committee of Correspondence to BF has been found.

2Thomas Leech, long a pillar of the Anglican Church in Philadelphia, and one of BF’s political allies. See above, VI, 456 n.

3The formal reunion of New Light and Old Light Presbyterians in 1758 strengthened both the personal power of William Allen and that of the proprietary party he supported; Anglicans such as William Smith found the Presbyterians unruly but indispensable allies, while Norris’ reference to “Presbyterian Politicks” reflects the increased challenge the reunited denomination presented to the Quaker party. Dietmar Rothermund, The Layman’s Progress, Religious and Political Experience in Colonial Pennsylvania, 1740–1770 (Phila., 1961), pp. 98–108.

4Proprietary leaders held Quaker trickery, not Providence, responsible for Norris’ “illness”—faked in their view to permit an Anglican to preside over Smith’s “persecution.” Thomas Penn to William Smith, May 26, 1758, Penn Papers, Hist. Soc. Pa.

5Peters’ letters to Penn were full of complaints about Denny; the Proprietors had long since determined to replace his as soon as possible. Former Governor James Hamilton had left N.Y. on Feb. 19, 1758, and returned again as governor of Pennsylvania in November 1759.

6According to the commissioners’ accounts, their funds had been exhausted by Nov. 10, 1757, and payments under the new £100,000 supply act of April 22, 1758, indicate accumulated debts of well over £30,000. The Assembly had resolved the reduction in forces on Feb. 15, 1758. Votes, 1757–58, pp. 122, 41; ibid., 1758–59, p. 107.

7See above, VI, 480, for earlier efforts to collect the balance of the Proprietors’ gift of £5000, pledged in the autumn of 1755.

8A revised version of the often proposed bill to regulate the Indian trade had passed the House on February 11, was returned by Denny with amendments on the 16th, and, after approving some changes, the House sent it to Denny again on the 18th. Votes, 1757–58, pp. 40–2. The various changes proposed by Denny and the Assembly are in Pa. Col. Recs., VIII, 19–25. The bill became law on April 8, 1758.

9William Allen.

1Norris intends sarcasm here; Allen in fact vilified the Quakers: “I am … perfectly acquainted with them and their actions. I can assure you, they are the bitterest enemys [Thomas Penn] has … there is hardly one in a thousand … but is full of bitterness.” To F. J. Paris, March 18, 1758; Penn Papers, Hist. Soc. Pa. Loudoun’s letter to Denny, Jan. 21, 1758 reporting Johnson’s complaint about “Private Societies” (Quakers) interfering in Indian affairs, is in I Pa. Arch., III, 338.

2The “anecdote,” probably not sent to BF, was recounted to Robert Charles who Norris knew would pass it on to BF. Norris quoted a portion of a memorandum book he had kept at the Albany Conference, July 6, 1754: “After Delivering our Presents, The Commissioners of Maryland withdrew, and John Penn and Richard Peters, Agents for the Proprietarys Proceeded with the Six Nations in the Purchase of Land, which was Compleated, and the Deed, after much Hissitation on the Part of Some of the Indians, was Signed at Our Lodging; the bounds of This new Purchase are as follows—Consideration A Thousand Pieces of eight, and an Indorsment on the Counterpart for as much More, when demanded at Philadelphia whenever the lands beyond the Allegany Hills begin to be Settled.” Norris then commented: “Now this Second Purchase Mony was never demanded, nor Paid, nor does this Appear at all upon the Proprietarys Deed as it is recorded, So that the Proprietarys offer of releasing the lands beyond the Allegany Hills is only offering to reconvey what I am well assurd was never paid for—and Govr. Morris’s Generous offer of Lands There was likewise premature. Tho’ Govr. Morris might be ignorant of this Circumstance, it ill became his Secretary [Richard Peters], if he did not inform him better.” Norris to Charles, February 1758; Norris letterbook, Hist. Soc. Pa.

Norris’ insinuation to bf about “Obstructions” probably confuses a number of different moves in the complicated Indian negotiations. Clearly Norris thought the Indians expected more money for lands sold at Albany in 1754, and that the proprietary agents intended to cheat them out of it. Furthermore, it is quite probable that the Quakers had sent messages to the Senecas and other western Indians calling for a peace conference in the early spring; Sir William Johnson, Lord Loudoun, and other officials certainly thought so, and Israel Pemberton himself wrote of the importance of bringing the Senecas into the peace plans. On the other hand, a reputed Quaker message to the Iroquois offering to give them guns to kill English soldiers and other non-Pennsylvanians was almost surely part of a plot by some enemies of the Quakers to discredit them. These enemies perhaps included the proprietary agents, as Norris suspected, or George Croghan who had come to despise Quaker manipulation of the Indians at Easton in August 1757, but surely not John Hughes as Croghan himself later charged. In any event, Norris’ insinuations show that partisan politics dominated nearly every motive and move in forest diplomacy. The Papers of Sir William Johnson, ii (Albany, 1922), 769–71, 774–7; ix (Albany, 1939), 824–5, 868–9; Theodore Thayer, Israel Pemberton King of the Quakers (Phila., 1943), p. 150; Nicholas B. Wainwright, George Croghan: Wilderness Diplomat (Chapel Hill, 1959), p. 139; Julian P. Boyd, ed., The Susquehannah Company Papers, II (Wilkes-Barré, 1930), iv-v n.

3The copy has not been found, but the bill can be reconstructed from the amendments cited in Votes, 1757–58, pp. 40–2, and Pa. Col. Recs., VIII, 19–25, and its form as finally passed, in The Statutes at Large of Pennsylvania V (Harrisburg, 1898), 320–30.

4Loudoun’s letter to Denny of Feb. 13, 1758, demanding the troops was laid before the Assembly on the 20th and the resolve passed two days later. Votes, 1757–58, pp. 42–4.

Index Entries