Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Thomas and Richard Penn, 28 November 1758

To Thomas and Richard Penn

Copy: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission8

London Novr. 28th. 1758.


I yesterday receiv’d a Paper from Mr. Paris, containing your Answer to the Heads of Complaint, wherein I am inform’d that the Proprietaries, “to take off all pretence of Clamour, are very ready to have the annual Income of their Estate enquired into, and are as ready to contribute whatever the said Sum [viz. £5000 by them formerly ordered to be paid]9 shall fall short of their Proportion of what has been laid on the Inhabitants in general, for every part of their Estate that is in its Nature Taxable; but, as an Equality is contended for, they do expect, if they have contributed more than their Proportions (which they believe they have very greatly) that the Overplus shall be return’d to them; And, as the House of Representatives contend for their Right in disposing of their Property, and do not represent the Proprietaries, so the Proprietaries conceive, and are advised, they themselves, and they only, have a Right to judge, when, and how, to dispose of their Estates and Propertys.”

As the Money granted last year is probably expended before this time, and a new Supply Bill must come under Consideration in the ensuing Winter Session, it seems necessary, for preventing Delays prejudicial to his Majesty’s Service, that this proposal shou’d be clearly understood by the Assembly: I therefore beg to be inform’d more explicitly of the following particulars.1 1. In what Manner you are willing the Annual Income of your Estate should be enquired into, and whether you will consent to a Law that shall direct such enquiry, and the Mode of it.2 2. What Parts of your Estate you look upon to be in their Nature taxable, and what Parts not taxable.3 3. Whether the proportion you propose to contribute, is to relate only to the Taxes that have been heretofore laid on the Inhabitants, and the Sums already raised and spent, or to those also that shall hereafter be found necessary to be laid and raised for the Defence of the Province in the insuing and future years.4 4. Whether it is proposed that the Assembly for the future, do dispose of what the People pay for his Majesty’s Service, and the Proprietaries separately dispose of their Proportion, and that otherwise they will not contribute; or what is the plain Intention of those Expressions that relate to the Disposition of the Money.5

As a Ship is just departing for Pennsylvania, I request as speedy an Answer as may be to these Points, they being of immediate Importance. The rest of the Matters contain’d in the Paper6 may be considered at another time. Mean while, with due Respect, I am, Gentlemen Your most obedient and most humble Servant

B Franklin

Thomas Penn and Richd. Penn Esqrs. Agent for the Assembly of Pennsylvania

Endorsed: 28th Novr 1758 Copy Mr Franklins Letter to the Proprs after receiving their answer to the Heads of Complaint. reced from Mr Allen by Packet 18th Febry 1759 at 10 o Clock at Night Enterd. in Minutes 26th. March 1759. No 214

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

8The ALS has not been found. This copy, in the hand of Thomas Penn’s clerk, is one sent to the proprietary supporters in Pa. and read at the council, March 26, 1759. Pa. Col. Recs., VIII, 299–300. The endorsement is in Peters’ hand.

9Brackets in the MS copy.

1According to his next letter to Peters, Thomas Penn did not reply directly or in writing to BF in answer to the queries that follow here. Instead, he sent Paris to him with a verbal message, not thinking it “necessary to keep up a Correspondence with a Gentleman who acknowledged he is not impowered to conclude proper Measures; so that I hope we have ended all Correspondence with him, which we could not carry on after knowing how he treated us.” Penn gave almost identical accounts in letters to Benjamin Chew and to William Allen. To Allen he added that Paris told BF that the Proprietors had written directly to the Assembly “and should be ready to receive any application from them,” but “did not see it could answer any good purpose to continue correspondence” with BF. “Mr. Paris gave him the words in writing to prevent mistakes, to which he answered not a word, look’d as if much disappointed, and took no notice of him when he went out.” Penn to Peters, Dec. 8; to Chew, Dec. 9; to Allen, Dec. 9, 1758, Penn Papers, Hist. Soc. Pa. In the letter to Peters he indicated what his answers to BF’s questions really were; they are summarized in the notes below.

2As to the “annual Income” from proprietary estates, Penn wrote Peters, he intended that the inquiry should be confined to income from “all Rents and Quit Rents,” should be conducted by the Constables, either with or without a law to direct them, and their returns “may afterwards be checked by the Receiver General.” Penn thought that a law regulating the assessment of proprietary estates would not “be at all improper, if it regards only Rents of the several Denominations.”

3In obedience to Yorke’s opinion, Penn conceded that proprietary rents were taxable, but he stipulated that the taxes were to “be paid by the Tenants, and to be allowed by us, to them, at such times as they do really pay their Rents to us, provided the Sum we have already paid, shall be allowed by the Public in part of it.” On the other hand, “our vacant land we are advised is not Taxable, nor our Fines or Purchase Moneys.” Yorke had written that the Proprietors had “rightly instructed their Governor, not to consent to tax the unoccupied, and unimproved, Lands; whether surveyed and reserved, or not,” and had held that fines and purchase money were likewise not taxable.

4Penn told Peters: “There is one point Mr. Franklin has mentioned I have not given you my sentiments upon, which is, whether we propose to contribute in proportion only of the Sums already given, or to those still necessary for the defence of the Country; no doubt we mean to both.”

5Penn wrote Peters that the Proprietors agreed to this tax contribution, “provided a fair Tax is laid and the Money put into such hands, as shall best lay it out for the purposes, the King’s Service requires, and we do expect none of the Money, paid by the People, or by us, shall be disposed of but with the approbation of the Governor, or by order from the Crown.”

6Paris’ answer to the “Heads of Complaint.”

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