Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Isaac Norris, 12 April 1759

From Isaac Norris

Letterbook copy: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

April 12th. 1759

The above is Copy of a Message sent down by the Governor a few hours ago to which the House returned a Verbal Message “that they unanimously adhered to their Bill and were of Opinion that if the Bill should not receive the Governors Assent the ill Consequences he had pointed out must lye upon him.”4 Soon after I came from the House I received a few Lines from the Governor “that he would be glad to see me”—in Consequence of which I waited upon him and upon a long and free Conference I have the Satisfaction to assure you that The Bill will receive his Assent,5 tho’ I think it will be against the Advice of his Council which is to be called to Morrow Morning.6 This Bill taxes the Proprietary Estates and makes provision for the 5,000 formerly given to our £60,000 Act,7 I cannot conceive the least danger of the Disapprobation of the Crown,8 but by being early apprized of what may happen due Care may be taken there against all Events.

Please to present the inclosed Bill of Exchange drawn by Peter Razor on R Partridge9 which he may keep in his Hands on the publick Account tho’ I have no Mony of theirs yet in my Possession. I am called upon for this to go by the Packet1 and I write late at Night having spent the forepart of it with the Governor. Your Assured Friend


Late the 12 April—the Man sets out at Six aClock to Morrow and is now waiting for this. The Man goes on W. Griffitts account2 with a few Letters and my Notice of it was very late. General Amherst3 was here Two Days only and returned to N. York yesterday.

To BF by the Packet

Endorsed: BF recd this ackd. June 9th. 1759

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

4On March 24, 1759, the Assembly passed a supply bill for £100,000 which provided for taxing the proprietary estates. Governor Denny returned it, March 29, proposing a separate bill under which, “on a fair and equal Taxation of their Quit-Rents and appropriated Tracts,” any deficiency in the Proprietors’ former grant of £5000 would be made up. Within half an hour the Assembly sent their bill back to Denny, having resolved “by a great Majority” to adhere to it. On the Council’s unanimous advice, the governor responded, March 31, that he would not pass this bill but would approve one similar to that of the previous year which exempted the proprietary estates. On April 2 the House voted unanimously not to grant the exemption and “by a great Majority” agreed to prepare a new supply bill taxing the Proprietors “in their full Proportions of the sums already granted, and to be granted,” giving credit for the previous free gift of £5000. Such a bill passed the House and went to the governor, April 5. Denny returned it two days later, objecting to taxing the Proprietors unless they had a share in naming the assessors, but the Assembly refused to change the measure. General Jeffery Amherst (see final footnote to this letter) arrived in Philadelphia on the 9th and Denny informed him of the impasse, whereupon the commander-in-chief conferred with Speaker Norris and other leading assemblymen and, “finding them Obstinate” (as Denny reported to the Council), threatened to withdraw all the King’s forces from the province. The House then sent a new message reporting this threat and calling on Denny, “as you regard your Duty to the King, and to the Province,” not to insist on a separate bill on the proprietary estates, “a Mode unjust and unknown to a British Constitution.” The Council urged him to “press the Assembly once more,” so Denny sent the message here referred to, April 12, reviewing the history of the dispute, urging the House to yield, and placing on it the responsibility for the consequences of a failure to supply the necessary appropriations. Votes, 1758–59, pp. 46, 51–2, 55, 56–7, 58, 60–1; Pa. Col. Recs., VIII, 301–3, 304, 318, 319–20, 323–31. Norris’ paraphrase of the Assembly’s reply differs slightly from the text in Votes, p. 61, and in Pa. Col. Recs., VIII, 331.

5Denny’s change of heart can undoubtedly be attributed to the intervention of General Amherst. On April 11, 1759, the day after his interview with Norris and other assemblymen, Amherst wrote Denny a letter begging the governor to “Wave the Proprietary Instructions,” as he had done before at Loudoun’s urging (see above, VII, 152 n, 261), and to pass the supply bill. The general promised to “take the very first Opportunity of informing the King’s Ministers with the Necessity of your so doing, that no Inconvenience may arise to you from the Same.” Pa. Col. Recs., VIII, 331–2. Denny was afraid of being sued by the Proprietors for breach of their instructions, thus risking forfeiture of a sizable bond. He did not formally notify the Assembly of his intention to pass the supply bill until April 16. The next morning the House ordered the bill engrossed and then, “taking into Consideration the Governor’s Support, after some Debate thereon” voted him £1000 for the year. At the ceremony the same morning, when Denny had signed the Supply Act and another measure, Norris formally presented the governor with an order for payment of “his Support, which his Honour received very kindly, and was pleased to return his Thanks to the House for the same.” Votes, 1758–59, pp. 62–3; Pa. Col. Recs., VIII, 332–3.

6There is no record of the Council members’ sentiments on Denny’s volte-face, but in the following June, when he told them General Stanwix had advised him to approve another obnoxious bill, they protested vigorously, declaring that “such Letters from General Officers would not authorize the Governor to give his Assent to Acts which were unjust in themselves, and hurtful to the People.” Denny in turn admonished the councilors “to Remember that Loyalty and Obedience was due from them to the King, as well as regard to the Proprietaries.” Pa. Col. Recs., VIII, 353–62, esp. 354, 357.

7On the 1759 bill as enacted, see Statutes at Large, Pa., V, 379–96. For the £60,000 Act of 1755, see above, VI, 257 n.

8The Proprietors petitioned the King in Council to disallow the Supply Act of 1759, and the Board of Trade reported in their favor. The Privy Council overruled the Board, however, on BF and Charles’s pledge (Aug. 28, 1760) that the Pa. Assembly would assess and tax the Proprietors’ property equitably. Pa. Col. Recs., VIII, 529–35, 554–5.

9BF recorded the receipt of this bill (for £40) on May 19, 1759. “Account of Expences,” p. 27; PMHB, LV (1931), 118.

1The General Wall, Capt. Walter Lutwidge, sailed from New York on April 16, 1759. Its arrival at Falmouth in 25 days was reported in London Chron., May 17–19, 1759.

2On William Griffitts, Philadelphia merchant, see above, IV, 290; V, 285 n; PMHB, XLVI (1922), 253. BF was “extreamly concern’d,” as well as surprised, by Griffitts’ declaration of bankruptcy in 1760. BF to DF, June 27, 1760, APS.

3Jeffery Amherst (1717–1797), entered the British Army in 1731. He served on the staffs of Gen. John Ligonier and the Duke of Cumberland in the War of the Austrian Succession and was Cumberland’s commissary in Germany early in the Seven Years’ War. Pitt promoted him to major general, 1758; he commanded the army that captured Louisbourg in July of that year, and in September he became commander-in-chief in North America. His victorious campaigns of 1759 and 1760 resulted in his being made Knight of the Bath in 1761. He held the governorships of Virginia, 1759–68, and of Guernsey, 1770, but never officiated in either position. In 1776 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Amherst and two years later, as a full general, he became commander-in-chief of all British forces in England. DAB, DNB. On his brief visit to Philadelphia, April 9–11, mentioned in Norris’ postscript, he was accompanied by Governors DeLancey of New York and Bernard of New Jersey, as well as by several army officers. Pa. Gaz., April 12, 1759.

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