Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Peter Collinson, 30 April 1764

To Peter Collinson

ALS: The British Museum

Philada. April 30. 1764

Dear Friend,

I have before me your kind Notices of Feb. 3. and Feb. 10.2 Those you enclos’d for our Friend Bartram,3 were carefully deliver’d.

I have not yet seen the Squib you mention against your People, in the Supplement to the Magazine;4 but I think it impossible they should be worse us’d there than they have lately been here; where sundry inflammatory Pamphlets5 are printed and spread about to excite a mad armed Mob to massacre them. And it is my Opinion they are still in some Danger, more than they themselves seem to apprehend, as our Government has neither Goodwill nor Authority enough to protect them.

By the enclos’d Papers6 you will see that we are all to pieces again; and the general Wish seems to be a King’s Government. If that is not to be obtain’d, many talk of quitting the Province, and among them your old Friend, who is tired of these Contentions, and longs for philosophic Ease and Leisure.

I suppose by this Time the Wisdom of your Parliament has determin’d in the Points you mention, of Trade, Duties, Troops and Fortifications in America.7 Our Opinions or Inclinations, if they had been known, would perhaps have weigh’d but little among you. We are in your Hands as Clay in the Hands of the Potter; and so in one more Particular than is generally consider’d: for as the Potter cannot waste or spoil his Clay without injuring himself; so I think there is scarce anything you can do that may be hurtful to us, but what will be as much or more so to you. This must be our chief Security; for Interest with you we have but little: The West Indians vastly outweigh us of the Northern Colonies. What we get above a Subsistence, we lay out with you for your Manufactures. Therefore what you get from us in Taxes you must lose in Trade. The Cat can yield but her Skin. And as you must have the whole Hide, if you first cut Thongs out of it, ’tis at your own Expence. The same in regard to our Trade with the foreign West India Islands: If you restrain it in any Degree,8 you restrain in the same Proportion our Power of making Remittances to you, and of course our Demand for your Goods; for you will not clothe us out of Charity, tho’ to receive 100 per Cent for it, in Heaven. In time perhaps Mankind may be wise enough to let Trade take its own Course, find its own Channels, and regulate its own Proportions, &c. At present, most of the Edicts of Princes, Placaerts [Placets], Laws and Ordinances of Kingdoms and States, for that purpose, prove political Blunders. The Advantages they produce not being general for the Commonwealth; but particular, to private Persons or Bodies in the State who procur’d them, and at the Expence of the rest of the People. Does no body see, that if you confine us in America to your own Sugar Islands for that Commodity, it must raise the Price of it upon you in England? Just so much as the Price advances, so much is every Englishman tax’d to the West Indians. Apropos. Now we are on the Subject of Trade and Manufactures, let me tell you a Piece of News, that though it might displease a very respectable Body among you, the Buttonmakers, will be agreable to yourself as a Virtuoso: It is, that we have discover’d a Beach in a Bay several Miles round, the Pebbles of which are all in the Form of Buttons, whence it is called Buttonmold Bay; where thousands of Tons may be had for fetching; and as the Sea washes down the slaty Cliff, more are continually manufacturing out of the Fragments by the Surge. I send you a Specimen of Coat, Wastecoat and Sleeve Buttons; just as Nature has turn’d them.9 But I think I must not mention the Place, lest some Englishman get a Patent for this Button-mine, as one did for the Coal mine at Louisburgh, and by neither suffering others to work it, nor working it himself, deprive us of the Advantage God and Nature seem to have intended us.1 As we have now got Buttons, ’tis something towards our Cloathing; and who knows but in time we may find out where to get Cloth? for as to our being always supply’d by you, ’tis a Folly to expect it. Only consider the Rate of our Increase, and tell me if you can increase your Wooll in that Proportion, and where, in your little Island you can feed the Sheep. Nature has put Bounds to your Abilities, tho’ none to your Desires. Britain would, if she could, manufacture and trade for all the World; England for all Britain; London for all England; and every Londoner for all London. So selfish is the human Mind! But ’tis well there is One above that rules these Matters with a more equal Hand. He that is pleas’d to feed the Ravens, will undoubtedly take care to prevent a Monopoly of the Carrion. Adieu, my dear Friend, and believe me ever Yours most affectionately

B Franklin

Mr. Collinson

May 10: 17[64]2

Extract From Doctor Gale of Conecticut

If the report of what your Parliament has done [illegible] be complyed with, wee must then Drink Wine of our own Makeing or none at all.3

The More Duties Wee pay, the less Brittis[h] Manufactures wee shall be able to Import.

And the More Wee must be Obliged to Manufacture both Woolen and Linnen you may Easily foresee the Consequences if you by Severe Laws, for[c]e us to It. For so fond is the Generallity of our People of Noveltys, they had rather have Goods Manufactur’d from you, than Do It themselves but Necessity will force them.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2Neither of these letters has been found.

3John Bartram, the eminent Quaker botanist. See above, II, 378 n.

4The squib was “An Authentic Account of the Cause of the Indian War,” which appeared in the supplement to Gent. Mag., XXXIII (1763), 640. The piece charged the Quakers with instigating Pontiac’s Uprising by settling on Indian lands “on the river Ohio.”

5Many of which are reprinted in John R. Dunbar, ed., The Paxton Papers (The Hague, 1957).

6One of which may possibly have been the March 29 issue of Pa. Gaz., which printed the messages that had passed between the Assembly and the governor concerning the passage of the £55,000 supply bill of March 14, 1764 (above, p. 148 n). One of the documents printed was the Assembly’s Resolves of March 24, 1764, which Collinson in a letter to Bartram of June 1, 1764, praised as being “able” and “spirited.” Darlington, Memorials, p. 264. BF probably also sent Collinson a copy of the petition for royal government and a copy of Cool Thoughts. See above, pp. 145–7, 153–73.

7Collinson’s letters of Feb. 3 and Feb. 10, 1764, had probably discussed the intention of the British ministry to raise a revenue in America to support the fourteen battalions of regular troops that were proposed to be stationed there. The revenue measure finally resolved upon was, of course, the Sugar Act, signed by George III on April 5, 1764.

8The Sugar Act lowered the duty on molasses imported into the continental American colonies from the foreign West Indies from the prohibitively high figure of 6d. per gallon to 3d. per gallon. This lowered duty was expected to yield greater revenue, however, because it was to be more strictly collected, and the cost of legal importation would be only a little higher than that involved in smuggling with its attendant bribery and other special expenses.

9This is perhaps one of BF’s tall stories, which he was fond of spinning to illustrate some moral, though he apparently did send some samples of these stone or fossil “Buttons.”

1BF appears to have been misinformed about the status of the coal mines in the vicinity of Louisburgh. When that fortress fell to the British in 1758, exploitation of the mines was reserved for the garrison stationed there, a regulation which was still in force in 1764, despite numerous efforts of entrepreneurs to have the mines turned over to private individuals. See D. C. Harvey, ed., Holland’s Description of Cape Breton Island and other Documents (Halifax, 1935), pp. 22–3, 27, 93; Board of Trade Journal, 1759–63, pp. 50, 52, 62, 347; 1766–68, pp. 97, 391. Acts Privy Coun., Col., IV, 659–61.

2This extract of Gale’s letter to Collinson is in Collinson’s hand; he apparently copied and filed it with BF’s letter because of the similarity in subject matter. Benjamin Gale (1715–1790), M.A., Yale, 1733, studied medicine with Jared Eliot (above, III, 147–8 n), married Eliot’s daughter, and eventually took over his practice in Killingworth, Conn. Gale was a man of wide interests, writing papers on smallpox inoculation, on the cultivation of Smyrna wheat, on Connecticut politics (he was an ardent Whig), and on Biblical prophecy. He also carried on a number of interesting agricultural experiments and in 1783 was awarded a medal by the Society of Arts for improving the drill plow. DAB; George C. Groce, “Benjamin Gale,” New England Quarterly, X (1935), 697–716.

3The Sugar Act of April 5, 1764, laid a duty of £7 a tun on all wines imported into America from Spain or Portugal or their possessions. Madeira wine, the great favorite in the colonies, was of course subject to the new duty.

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