Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to the Printer of The London Chronicle, 19 September 1758

To the Printer of The London Chronicle

Printed in The London Chronicle: or, Universal Evening Post, September 16–19, 1758.4

Partly on the testimony of Lord Baltimore’s uncle and secretary, Cecilius Calvert, and partly from internal evidence, Verner W. Crane attributed these “Queries” to Franklin.5 Although he was not officially connected with any group in Maryland, Franklin’s intervention in the disputes of that province is easily explained. Like Pennsylvania, Maryland was a proprietary province whose proprietor refused to consent to the taxation of his estates. Therefore, anything which could be done to discredit the proprietary government in Maryland was likely to weaken the Penns as well. By assailing the conduct of Lord Baltimore and his deputy, Franklin was, as Professor Crane has remarked, mounting a “flank attack” upon Thomas Penn.6

To the Printer, &c.


I have seen in the papers lately, the following article of news, viz.

“They write from Maryland, that their Assembly had passed a bill for raising 1000 men, and £45,000 to pay them, as the quota of that Province towards the expedition against Fort Duquesne, in obedience to his Majesty’s Commands signified in a letter from Mr. Secretary Pitt; but that the said bill had unfortunately miscarried, having received a negative, chiefly on account of its proposing to tax the Proprietary Estate as well as the other Estates of the Province; which the Government there will not permit. That two other bills for raising considerable sums for his Majesty’s service, had miscarried on the same account within this last year; and so the Virginia and Pennsylvania forces are gone by themselves, without the expected assistance from Maryland.7 It is hoped, however, that they may be strong enough to effect the service: though, since General Abercrombie’s repulse,8 people are in some pain for them, lest the French should spare a force sufficient to intercept and defeat them.”9

And afterwards in the Public Advertiser of Monday, Sept. 11, the following paragraph, viz.

“The paragraph inserted in the Chronicle of the 6th instant, and from thence published in other News Papers, throwing a reflection on the Proprietor of Maryland, and the Government of that Province, as if a negative had been put on some supply bills for his Majesty’s service, chiefly because the Government there would not permit the Proprietary Estate to be taxed; we are assured is a malicious insinuation, void of truth, and it is well known the Proprietary Estates are already taxed equally with the Estates of any of the inhabitants in Maryland; and that the Proprietor has no objection thereto.”1

When I read the first, I had not the least doubt of the truth of it, as it agreed perfectly with letters I myself had received from correspondents of credit in that Province.2 I was therefore surprized to find the facts flatly contradicted in the second, and with that air of confidence that is usually inspired by a good cause, and a clear knowledge of the truth. So I recurred again to my letters; and as I have a respect for the Proprietor, and would be far from joining with any malicious person, in throwing reflections void of truth, I shall rather give an opportunity to his Lordship’s friend to remove them, by letting him know in what light things are seen and represented here by the people of that Province to their correspondents, of which, perhaps, he may not be fully apprized. This I shall do in the following Queries, which the gentleman may answer if he thinks proper.3

1. Whether the only tax in Maryland, of which his Lordship pays any part, be not the tax of One Shilling only, for every hundred acres of surveyed or occupied land?

2. Whether the tax of one shilling per hundred acres on all the surveyed lands in Maryland, subject to that tax, is any considerable sum; as, whether it amounts to £1500 or 2000 per annum, more or less, paid by the whole Estates of the Province, including the Proprietor’s.

3. Whether the Proprietor’s share of this small sum, be not very small, as he only pays for his manor lands, and they but a small part of the Province?4

4. Whether the Proprietor has not other ways very large incomes or revenues from the Province?5

5. Whether his share of the said one shilling tax be a penny, a farthing, or even half a farthing per pound, more or less, per ann. on those revenues?6

6. Whether the act of 1756, by which that tax was laid, does not, for raising the supply of forty thousand pounds thereby granted, lay several heavy taxes on the people, of which the Proprietor, by his residence in England, can pay little or no part; such as an excise on liquors; a particular tax on batchelors, proportioned to their estates; a duty on horses; a duty on writs, conveyances, leases, and other instruments and law proceedings; a duty on negroes; a duty on pitch, tar, turpentine, &c. And whether, this being the case, it can properly and truly be said, “that the Proprietary Estates are already taxed equally with the Estates of any of the inhabitants of Maryland?”

7. Whether the sum granted by the said act and struck in paper bills, has not been, some time since, totally expended, and the said funds mortgaged for years to come, to sink the bills and discharge the debt?

8. Whether it did not become necessary last year to pass a new bill for raising more money, and providing additional funds; which being accordingly done by the Assembly, the same received a flat negative?

9. Whether the Assembly did not then pass another bill to raise £25,000 by an equal assessment on all estates, faculties, and incomes, the Proprietary’s not excepted?

10. Whether this bill did not, during the debates upon it in the House, receive all the opposition the influence of the government could give it, both within and without doors; notwithstanding which it passed by a majority of forty to ten?

11. Whether this bill did not also receive, when it came up, a flat negative?

12. Whether on Mr. Pitt’s letter, recommending vigorous measures against the enemy, the House did not last winter resolve on a grant of £45,000 for the current year, and to raise 1000 men, and send up a third bill for that purpose on the same equitable plan?7

13. Whether this third bill did not also receive a flat negative?

14. Whether about this time the militia were not forced out from their homes to the frontiers in a very severe season?

15. Whether it is not a prevailing opinion in Maryland, that this was done to distress the people, and cause them to urge their representatives to come into any terms of raising money, rather than they should be obliged to leave their stocks of cattle perishing for want of care, and have no opportunity of making preparation for another crop?

16. Whether the Assembly did not resolve, that this unnecessary measure was without Law to warrant it?8

17. Whether they were not, however, prevailed on to depart from the usual forms, and agree to a conference on the latter bill, though a money bill?

18. Whether one of the principal points of conference was not, the taxation of the Proprietary estate?

19. Whether the Council did not particularly and zealously contend for the Proprietor against that taxation?9

20. Whether the Council of Maryland are not appointed, without the least concurrence of the Crown, solely by the Proprietor, and removeable at his will?

21. Whether most of its members, or their families, do not enjoy posts, not only of honour, but of great profit, under the Proprietor, and during his pleasure?1

22. Whether therefore it is not probable—they have never been well informed “That the Proprietor had no objection to being taxed equally with any of the inhabitants of the Province for its defence;” or otherwise they would not have dared to act a part so prejudicial to his honour?

23. Whether if the taxing of their offices was the principal thing they were averse to, and they presumed to use his Lordship’s name and concerns as a screen for their own selfishness, and thereby defeated a bill so necessary for the King’s service, they do not deserve some mark of his Lordship’s displeasure?

24. Whether the people of Maryland do not at present stand in an unfavourable light, as not having contributed to this year’s service?

25. Whether they have any Agent here to present their complaints and justify their conduct?2

26. Whether the Assembly did not, in the last session, present a bill to raise money for the payment of an Agent, which received a negative, as other bills of the like kind have heretofore done?

27. Whether a negative to such a bill was a measure as honest as it was politic?

28. Whether this may not justify any friend of that Province, though only a trader thither, in laying a true state of their affairs before the Publick, as far as they come to his knowledge?3

My last query is more general, viz.

Whether the frequent clashings of interests between the Proprietors and people of our colonies, which of late have been so prejudicial to his Majesty’s service, and the defence of his dominions, do not at length make it necessary for this nation to enquire into the nature and conduct of these Proprietary Governments, and put them on a better footing?4 I am, Sir, yours, &c.


[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

4Also reprinted in Verner W. Crane, ed., Benjamin Franklin’s Letters to the Press 1758–1775 (Chapel Hill, [1950]), pp. 3–7. Students of BF’s political writings are much indebted to Professor Crane for this volume. In it he thoroughly examines the public prints of the period and not only lists contributions previously recognized as by Franklin, but identifies and reprints a large number never before correctly attributed to him in earlier compilations. The present editors are happy to acknowledge how greatly Professor Crane has simplified this part of their work.

5Calvert wrote Gov. Horatio Sharpe of Md., Dec. 5, 1758, that the “supposed Author is Mr. Franklyn by Correspondent from Maryland.” Archives of Maryland, XXXI (1911), 507. Sharpe wrote a rebuttal, not published at the time, but printed in Md. Hist. Mag., XXXIII (1938), 233–47. Crane points out that the signature used in this letter, A.B., was the same that BF used in his “Cool Thoughts” pamphlet, April 12, 1764, which also linked the Md. and Pa. cases; and that BF seems to have sent the September 19 issue of the Chronicle to the leaders of the Assembly as soon as it came off the press (see above, p. 152 n). Crane, Letters to the Press, p. 7, notes 8, 10.

6Ibid., p. 4 n.

7In response to William Pitt’s letter of Dec. 30, 1757, urging the colonies to increase their exertions, Sharpe convened the Md. Assembly on March 28, 1758. The lower house passed the supply bill on April 8. For the political setting, see Charles A. Barker, The Background of the Revolution in Maryland (New Haven, 1940), pp. 237–48. For the Pa. response to Pitt’s letter, see above, pp. 54–5; and for Norris’ comment on the Md. situation, p. 101.

8At Ticonderoga, July 8, 1758.

9This paragraph appeared in London Chron., Sept. 5–7, 1758, perhaps written or inspired by BF.

1Cecilius Calvert may have been responsible for this paragraph.

2Not identified.

3No reply appeared in any of the London papers. In his letter to Sharpe attributing this paper to Franklin, Dec. 5, 1758, Calvert called it “Impertinent and ridiculous not worthy answer tho’ easy of confute.” Archives of Maryland, XXXI (1911), 507.

4In answering these three queries Sharpe admitted that this tax was the only one which the proprietor would pay, but argued that Baltimore’s share was unduly high, partly because for various reasons his manor lands produced less income than those of the inhabitants in general. The governor stated that the total proprietary income was about £16,500 Maryland currency (£11,000 sterling) per annum, but he undertook to determine Baltimore’s proper share of the tax by comparing this personal net income with the gross produce of the province, which he estimated at about £1,070,000 currency. He concluded that Baltimore would be paying about £390 too much. This and Sharpe’s other answers to BF’s queries are from Md. Hist. Mag., XXXIII (1938), 233–47.

5Barker, who has made a thorough analysis of proprietary revenues in Maryland, shows that during the 1750s the proprietor’s net income transferred to England varied from about £10,600 sterling to about £15,000. Of the total about £1000 sterling was derived from the rental of manor lands. Background, pp. 139–44.

6Three pence in the pound, said Sharpe.

7Sharpe’s comments on this bill conclude: “Let it suffice here to say that His Majesty’s Attorney General Mr. Pratt thinks it unjust and unreasonable and hath given it as his opinion that the Bill was such a One as could not have been enacted into a Law without a Breach of Publick Faith and a Violation of the Maryland Constitution.”

8Sharpe held that the militia call was legal and justified, that those who opposed it did so to weaken his authority over the militia, and that when he next called out the militia “several hundred … readily marched and served under the Governor’s Command.”

9Sharpe responded that the objection to the bill was not so much the taxation of the Proprietor as the Assembly’s effort to control expenditures by naming commissioners in the bill for that purpose, a usurpation of prerogative. See above, VI, 284, 290; VII, 131–2, 150, for the Pa. Assembly’s handling of this problem.

1Sharpe responded, quite correctly, that a similar practice existed in the neighboring colonies under direct control of the Crown.

2Baltimore’s secret instructions to Sharpe had forbidden him to pass any agency bill unless it named Secretary Calvert as agent. Barker, Background, p. 238. Sharpe replied to this query by saying that the Lower House “want an Agent to serve themselves, only, to insert Queries in London Chronicles, … or to harrass the Proprietary whenever he may happen to disoblige a Leading Member.”

3Sharpe was “pretty sure that the Querist is no Trader to the province,” because British merchants feared the proposed bill would adversely affect their business with Maryland.

4To raise this issue was obviously the author’s chief reason for writing the letter. As Crane has pointed out, the case for BF’s authorship is greatly strengthened by comparing this passage with his “Separate Notes” to Norris of Sept. 16, 1758, above pp. 157–8. Sharpe replied to this query at length, commenting that in royal as well as proprietary governments “a few ill disposed persons of but common Abilities” in the elective branches of the assemblies will impose on “the inferiour Class of People.” One could not be surprised if at elections “their Choice falls for the most part on such as are fit Tools for Demagogues to work with.” Could the querist “point out a Remedy for the Evil without depriving the People of their Liberty and Priviledges? or will he insist that neither the People nor their Representatives can be ever in the wrong.”

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