Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to John Fothergill, 14 March 1764

To John Fothergill

ALS: Yale University Library

Philada. March 14. 1764.

Dear Doctor,

I received your Favour of the 10th. of Decemr.6 It was a great deal for one to write, whose Time is so little his own. By the way, When do you intend to live? i.e. to enjoy Life. When will you retire to your Villa,7 give your self Repose, delight in Viewing the Operations of Nature in the vegetable Creation, assist her in her Works, get your ingenious Friends at times about you, make them happy with your Conversation, and enjoy theirs; or, if alone, amuse yourself with your Books and elegant Collections? To be hurried about perpetually from one sick Chamber to another, is not Living. Do you please yourself with the Fancy that you are doing Good? You are mistaken. Half the Lives you save are not worth saving, as being useless; and almost the other Half ought not to be sav’d, as being mischievous. Does your Conscience never hint to you the Impiety of being in constant Warfare against the Plans of Providence? Disease was intended as the Punishment of Intemperance, Sloth, and other Vices; and the Example of that Punishment was intended to promote and strengthen the opposite Virtues. But here you step in officiously with your Art, disappoint those wise Intentions of Nature, and make Men safe in their Excesses. Whereby you seem to me to be of just the same Service to Society as some favourite first Minister, who out of the great Benevolence of his Heart should procure Pardons for all Criminals that apply’d to him. Only think of the Consequences!

You tell me the Quakers are charged on your side the Water with being by their Aggressions the Cause of this War.8 Would you believe it, that they are charg’d here, not with offending the Indians, and thereby provoking the War, but with gaining their Friendship by Presents, supplying them privately with Arms and Ammunition, and engaging them to fall upon and murder the poor white People on the Frontiers?9 Would you think it possible that Thousands even here should be made to believe this, and many Hundreds of them be raised in Arms, not only to kill some converted Indians supposed to be under the Quakers Protection, but to punish the Quakers who were supposed to give that Protection?1 Would you think these People audacious enough to avow such Designs in a public Declaration sent to the Governor?2 Would you imagine that innocent Quakers, Men of Fortune and Character, should think it necessary to fly for Safety out of Philadelphia into the Jersies, fearing the Violence of such armed Mobs, and confiding little in the Power or Inclination of the Government to protect them?3 And would you imagine that strong Suspicions now prevail, that those Mobs, after committing 20 barbarous Murders,4 hitherto unpunish’d, are privately tamper’d with to be made Instruments of Government, to awe the Assembly into Proprietary Measures?5 And yet all this has happen’d within a few Weeks past!

More Wonders! You know I don’t love the Proprietary, and that he does not love me. Our totally different Tempers forbid it. You might therefore expect, that the late new Appointment of one of his Family, would find me ready for Opposition. And yet when his Nephew arriv’d our Governor, I consider’d Government as Government, paid him all Respect, gave him on all Occasions my best Advice, promoted in the Assembly a ready Compliance with everything he propos’d or recommended;6 and when those daring Rioters, encourag’d by the general Approbation of the Populace, treated his Proclamations with Contempt,7 I drew my Pen in the Cause, wrote a Pamphlet8 (that I have sent you) to render the Rioters unpopular; promoted an Association to support the Authority of the Government and defend the Governor by taking Arms, sign’d it first myself, and was followed by several Hundreds, who took Arms accordingly;9 the Governor offer’d me the Command of them, but I chose to carry a Musket, and strengthen his Authority by setting an Example of Obedience to his Orders. And, would you think it, this Proprietary Governor did me the Honour, on an Alarm, to run to my House at Midnight,1 with his Counsellors at his Heels, for Advice, and made it his Head Quarters for some time: And within four and twenty Hours, your old Friend was a common Soldier, a Counsellor, a kind of Dictator, an Ambassador to the Country Mob, and on their Returning home, Nobody, again. All this has happened in a few Weeks!

More Wonders! The Assembly receiv’d a Governor of the Proprietary Family with open Arms, address’d him with sincere Expressions of Kindness and Respect,2 open’d their Purses to him, and presented him with Six Hundred Pounds;3 made a Riot Act4 and prepar’d a Militia Bill5 immediately at his Instance; granted Supplies6 and did every thing that he requested, and promis’d themselves great Happiness under his Administration. But suddenly, his dropping all Enquiry after the Murderers, and his answering the Deputies of the Rioters privately and refusing the Presence of the Assembly who were equally concern’d in the Matters contain’d in their Remonstrance,7 brings him under Suspicion; his Insulting the Assembly without the least Provocation, by charging them with Disloyalty and with making an Infringement on the King’s Prerogatives, only because they had presumed to name in a Bill offered for his Assent, a trifling Officer (somewhat like one of your Toll-Gatherers at a Turn pike) without consulting him;8 and his refusing several of their Bills, or proposing Amendments needlessly disgusting;9 these Things bring him and his Government into sudden Contempt; all Regard for him in the Assembly is lost; all Hopes of Happiness under a Proprietary Government are at an End; it has now scarce Authority enough left to keep the common Peace; and was another Mob to come against him, I question whether, tho’ a Dozen Men were sufficient, one could find so many in Philadelphia, willing to rescue him or his Attorney-General,1 I won’t say from Hanging, but from any common Insult. All this, too, has happened in a few Weeks!

In fine, every thing seems in this Country, once the Land of Peace and Order, to be running fast into Anarchy and Confusion. Our only Hopes are, that the Crown will see the Necessity of taking the Government into its own Hands, without which we shall soon have no Government at all.

Your civil Dissensions at home give us here great Concern. But we hope there is Virtue enough in your great Nation to support a good Prince in the Execution of Good Government, and the Exercise of his just Prerogatives, against all the Attempts of Unreasonable Faction.

I have been already too long. Adieu, my dear Friend, and believe me ever Yours affectionately

B Franklin

Dr. Fothergill

Endorsed: B Franklin

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6Not found.

7In August 1762 Fothergill bought an estate at Upton, Essex, where he established a botanical garden, but he “could seldom visit it except on Saturdays, owing to the press of his other work.” Richard Hingston Fox, Dr. John Fothergill and his Friends (London, 1919), pp. 22, 184–201.

8See, for example, “An Authentic Account of the Cause of the Indian War” in the supplement to Gent. Mag., XXXIII (1763), 640, in which the author alleged that the Quakers caused the Pontiac Uprising by settling on lands “on the river Ohio” in violation of treaties confining settlements to the east of the Alleghenies.

9This charge was made in A Declaration and Remonstrance of the distressed and bleeding Frontier Inhabitants, dated Feb. 13, 1764, but its plainest presentation is in Hugh Williamson’s Plain Dealer, no. III, dated May 12, 1764, and hence not the foundation for BF’s present statement. Williamson stated that “many a thousand pounds have been distributed in support of Indians, his Majesty’s enemies: that they have been aided and encouraged in plundering and murthering the frontier inhabitants, are propositions that can hardly be disputed; but least they should, I shall offer a few Proofs of them out of a great Number that I am provided with. Very early in the War the Quakers persuaded the Indians that the Proprietor and the Traders had cheated them, and therefore they ought to scourge the white people who live on the frontiers. In other words, plunder, tomahawk and burn them; and they faithfully adhered to the advice.” John R. Dunbar, ed., The Paxton Papers (The Hague, 1957), pp. 104, 109, 375–6. A committee of Quakers prepared a defense addressed to the governor, dated Feb. 25, 1764, which was printed in Pa. Jour., March 1, 1764, and also separately by Andrew Steuart. It is reprinted in Paxton Papers, pp. 131–8.

1For the Paxton Boys’ march on Philadelphia with the alleged intention of massacring the 140-odd Indians quartered in the capital for their own protection, see above, pp. 69–75.

2BF probably referred to the passage in the Remonstrance of the frontier inhabitants, Feb. 13, 1764, that reads: “the Indians now at Philadelphia, are His Majesty’s perfidious Enemies, and therefore to protect and maintain them at the public Expence, while our suffering Brethren on the Frontiers are almost destitute of the Necessaries of Life and are neglected by the Public, is sufficient to make us mad with Rage, and tempt us to do what nothing but the most violent Necessity can vindicate.” Paxton Papers, p. 108.

3Israel Pemberton, the particular object of the Paxton Boys’ wrath, fled Philadelphia on the advice of friends. Theodore Thayer, Israel Pemberton King of the Quakers (Phila., 1943), p. 189.

4See above, pp. 42–55.

5See the document immediately below.

6For John Penn’s arrival in Philadelphia, Oct. 30, 1763, and for BF’s civilities toward him, see above, X, 375–6, 401. Fothergill apparently showed this letter to Thomas Penn, or at least told him of it, for the Proprietor, writing to John Penn, June 8, 1764, referred to this passage, citing BF’s resolve “to act a very quiet part.” Thomas Penn asked for immediate information on the present (mentioned in the next paragraph of the present letter) which he supposed the Assembly had given the governor. Penn Papers, Hist. Soc. Pa.

7For Penn’s proclamations, Dec. 22, 1763, and Jan. 2, 1764, issued in response to the news of the murder of the Conestogas, see above, pp. 51, 54.

8A Narrative of the Late Massacres; see above, pp. 42–69.

9For the measures taken to defend Philadelphia against the Paxton Boys, see above, pp. 69–75.

1About two o’clock in the morning, Monday, February 6.

2See “The Address of the Representatives of the Freemen” to Governor Penn, Dec. 24, 1763, in Votes, 1763–64, pp. 16–17.

3On Dec. 24, 1763; ibid., pp. 17–18.

4See above, pp. 70–1.

5See above, pp. 74–5.

6See above, pp. 7–9.

7See above, pp. 80–6.

8On March 12, 1764, Governor Penn returned a bill entitled “A Supplement to the Act, intituled, An Act for erecting a Light-house at the Mouth of the Bay of Delaware” with a message that he had no other objection to it, other “than that the House have, by inserting the Officer’s Name for collecting the Duties thereby imposed, without even consulting him in the Appointment or Nomination of such Officer, made an Infringement on the Prerogatives of the Crown, with which he is entrusted; and that he cannot therefore pass it in its present Form.” Votes, 1763–64, p. 60.

9Those concerning the assessment of the Proprietors’ located, unimproved lands are obviously meant. See below, pp. 118–21.

1Benjamin Chew.

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