Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Thomas and Richard Penn, 6 April 1758

From Thomas and Richard Penn1

Letterbook copy: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

London April 6th: 1758.


We did, as we before told you,2 without any delay on our parts, cause Cases to be drawn up, stating the several Matters in Dispute, and laid before the Attorney and Sollicitor General,3 intending to be governed by their opinions, in the answer we should give, to your heads of Complaint; We have since that several times applyed for them, and in particular just before the Hollidays, when the Attorney promised to take the Case into the Country, and consider it there. Our Agent4 has attended at his Chambers since his return, but has not yet seen him, and til we receive both these opinions we cannot give an answer to your Paper, neither do we think it proper to submit the Case to your Consideration.5

We are much concerned at this delay, as no Persons can more earnestly desire a speedy determination of these unhappy differences than we do, the well being of our Country so much depending upon it.6 If you think proper to lodge these Complaints before we receive the opinions, we shall on our parts do every thing in our power to bring it to a speedy issue, and with great satisfaction submit our conduct to the most publick examination. We are Your very affectionate Friends


Mr. Benjamin Franklin

1Thomas Penn (1702–1775), son of the founder of Pennsylvania, became one of the Proprietors in 1727, and after 1746, when he inherited his brother John’s interest, owned three-quarters of the proprietorship and exercised dominant control. His brother Richard (1706–1771) owned the remaining one-quarter interest. BF’s first meeting with them to discuss the disputes which had brought him to England occurred in the middle of August 1757. See above, VII, 250.

2See above, VII, 279. The Proprietors are here replying to a letter from BF requesting an answer to the Heads of Complaint (above, VII, 248–52). BF’s letter has not been found, but he sent copies of it (designated “No. 1”) and this reply by the Penns (designated “No. 2”), to Isaac Norris on Jan. 19, 1759.

3Charles Pratt (1714–1794), later lord chancellor and first Earl Camden, had become attorney general upon William Pitt’s accession to power, July 1, 1757; and Charles Yorke (1722–1770) had been solicitor general since Nov. 1, 1756. DNB. See above, VII, 366 n, for Yorke’s opinion, and below, p. 63 n, for an inference that they were slow in reaching decisions because they were “but young in Office.” Both men were long members of Parliament and influential in the various ministries with which BF dealt during his agencies in England.

4Ferdinand J. Paris; see above, VII, 247 n.

5As BF later told Norris, he thought a joint state of the case, laid before the law officers by both parties, would have been “the fairest Way.” See below, p. 235.

6Following the delay caused by BF’s illness and the absence of most of the ministers from London in the fall of 1757, the opinions of the attorney and solicitor general were further delayed, as Thomas Penn and BF both alleged, by Robert Charles (BF’s fellow agent, see above, VI, 230 n) having given Charles Pratt a retainer to represent the Pa. Assembly, prior to Pratt’s appointment as attorney general and to BF’s arrival in England. Pratt refused to submit an official opinion in adjudication of a dispute to which, in view of Charles’s fee, he was technically a party. With BF’s approval, Charles refused to accept a return of the retainer, thus impeding Pratt’s decision. Unless BF had an intimation that Pratt’s opinion would be adverse, it is strange to find him party to an obstructing procedure; generally BF had every reason to seek a speedy settlement. Penn, on the other hand, may have sought delay to try BF’s patience, but probably neither BF nor Penn could have hastened the attorney general’s opinion as long as Pratt feared the political consequences of any decisions over his name. See below, pp. 87 n, 234–5. The full official opinion of the King’s legal advisors did not come until early November; Penn to Pa. Council, Nov. 10, 1758. Penn Papers, Hist. Soc. Pa.

Index Entries