Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Richard Jackson, 25 June 1764

To Richard Jackson

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Philada. June 25. 1764

Dear Sir,

We here esteem ourselves greatly oblig’d to you for your unwearied Endeavours in and out of Parliament to prevent Measures hurtful both to the Colonies and to the Mother Country. Several Letters from People at home to their American Friends, have been printed in the Papers of the different Provinces, mentioning in the strongest Terms your Zeal for the Welfare of the Colonies, and the Success attending it; so that your Name is now generally known and honour’d throughout North America.6

The Act of Parliament, which is now published here,7 makes a great Stir among our Merchants, and much is said of the ill Effects that must attend it. My Opinion is, that more is apprehended than will happen; and that Experience only will inform us clearly, how short it will fall of procuring on one hand the Good, and producing on the other hand the Evil, that People engag’d in different Interests expect from it. If it is not finally found to hurt us, we shall grow contented with it; and as it will, if it hurts us, hurt you also, you will feel the Hurt and remedy it. The Thing in it I least understand the Policy of, is your forbidding us to carry Iron and Lumber directly to Ireland.8 Flaxseed we carry thither in great Quantities, and Staves us’d to be pack’d between the Casks, with some Pig Iron at the Bottom for Ballast. The Staves are a trifling Commodity, and the Quantity small in such a Cargo; and it cannot be worth while for the sake of carrying them, to enter first and unload in England; and we do not see how that Trade could hurt or affect any Interest of Britain. As to the foreign Linnens, I do not wonder that our Merchants and your Hamborough Merchants contended against the Reduction of the Drawback,9 for it might have lessen’d their Trade by so much as the Linen Branch amounted to: But I am not clear that it would not have prov’d an Advantage to us, as we have in the Nature of our Country every kind of Ability to provide ourselves with Linnen, in Plenty, if Dearness should once compel us into the more general Practice and Habit of making it. The Duties on the India Goods I hear little objected to.1 That on foreign Mellasses is still thought too high;2 and that on foreign Sugar is likewise complain’d of.3 But I believe the Demand for the former will lessen by Degrees, from some Circumstances I may hereafter mention. And the less we get of foreign Sugar the more we must consume of that made in our own Islands, which will, I think, proportionably raise the Price on you; for they cannot easily encrease the Quantity in Proportion as our Demand must increase by the Increase of our People: Unless Plantations are admitted on the Mosquito Shore, where I am told there is plenty of suitable Land; and Numbers ready to go and plant there, if the Crown will allow it and protect them. The Indians there do not admit that the Spaniards have any Right to that Country, as they never conquer’d it, and it was never surrender’d to them. They love the English, look upon them as their Protectors from the Spaniards, and are willing to have them establish’d there. How stands that Matter between us and Spain?4 This is a Digression; for I was going to say, that when you find the high Duties on foreign Sugars to us, raises the Price of English Sugars upon you, you will probably think of abating those Duties.

I note what you say of the Colonies applying for a Stamp Act.5 In my Opinion there is not only no Likelihood that they will generally agree in such an Application, but even that any one Colony will propose it to the others. Tho” if a gross Sum were generally requir’d of all the Colonies, and they were left to settle the Mode of raising it at some general Congress, I think it not unlikely that instead of settling Quotas, they would fall on some such general Tax, as a Stamp Act, or an Excise on Rum, &c. or both; because Quota’s would be difficult to settle at first with Equality, and would, if they could be made equal at first, soon become unequal, and never would be satisfactory; whereas these kind of Taxes would nearly find their own Proportions. And yet I think I could propose a better Mode by far, both for us and for you, if we were together to talk it over; but a Letter will not suit the Discussion of it. And for my own Part, I begin, as I grow old, to be more willing than I us’d to be, that the World should take its own Course, without my officiously intermeddling with its Affairs.6

I could wish you to write a Letter now and then to Messrs. Coxe. I communicate to them what you say to me on their Affair;7 but yet I think they would like to have Letters themselves. By the way, on what Principles was Lord Cardigan’s Claim to St. Lucia set aside? You have in several Letters mention’d the Fact, but not the Reasons.8

The Paper Currency Act,9 I suppose is pass’d in the Shape, or near it, of the Sketch you sent me. It occasions much Talk here; but if we may still make Money bearing Interest, I do not, in my private Opinion, apprehend much Inconvenience from that Currency’s being no legal Tender. The chief will be the Hoarding it; but we may make enough for that and all other Purposes. There will indeed be some Trouble in computing Interest on every Bill, but those are much less Mischiefs than a Depreciation. In our last Winters Session, I took some Pains to bring our Assembly to strike in that way the Sum then about to be rais’d; as you will see by my Argument inclos’d;1 and I miss’d it by no great Majority; tho” the Proposal was new, and not easily understood: It appear’d too, very strange to an Assembly to pay Interest on Paper Money, who had been us’d to receive Interest for Paper that cost them nothing; and so was not agreed to. My View was partly, to avoid the Proprietary Dispute about legal Tender.

You justly remark on the inhuman Acts of our Mobs,2 that it is more easy to excuse the Mob than such as justify them or their Actions. And I am sorry to tell you, that the Mob being Presbyterians, the whole Posse of that Sect, Priests and People, have foolishly thought themselves under a Necessity of justifying as well as they could their mad and bloody Brethren;3 and the most violent Parties, and cruel Animosities have hence arisen, that I have ever seen in any Country. So that I doubt the Year will scarce pass over without some civil Bloodshed.

I hope your domestic Feuds4 begin to subside, and that John Bull is come a little to his Senses.

By this Ship you will receive the Petitions to the King,5 mention’d in my former Letters, with a Letter from the Committee of Correspondence relating to them,6 so that I need say the less on that head. I only wish to see a Government here that we can respect. Your Observations of the Justice of the Proprietary’s paying Taxes not only for his located Lands, but for every other Part of his Property,7 are founded in Reason and natural Equity; but who can convince him of such Truths?

I am afraid our Indian War will become perpetual (as they begin to find they can, by Plunder, make a Living of it) without we can effectually Scourge them, and speedily. We have at length concluded to send for 50 Couple of true Bloodhounds to assist in hunting them.8 If any Gentleman of your Acquaintance has such, I wish you would persuade them to spare ’em to us. Mr. Neate,9 a Merchant of London, I think, is apply’d to, to collect them. With unchangeable Esteem, I am, Dear Friend, Yours affectionately

B Franklin

R. Jackson Esqr

Endorsed: 25 June 1764 Benj Franklin Esqr.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6Pa. Jour., April 5, 1764, printed the following extract from a letter from a gentleman in London to a friend in New York, dated Feb. 7, 1764: “There is a Gentleman, who is a Member of Parliament, and Agent for Connecticut and Pennsylvania, by the Recommendation of Mr. Ingerson [Ingersoll] and Mr. Franklin, that has great weight with all the Ministry, and whose honesty will prompt him to stand in our Interest: He has been often to the Board of Trade, and has succeeded so well, as to gain them over to our interest, and the Lords of Trade will have great Influence over the House.” The same paper, May 10, 1764, carried the following news from New York, May 7: “Mr. Jackson, agent for Connecticut, (a member of the house) exerted himself nobly, and that it was chiefly owing to him that the stamp act did not take place, likewise that Mr. Allen of Philadelphia, was indefatigable in remonstrating to many of the members, with whom he was acquainted, on the illegality of an internal tax, and had considerable influence in preventing it.”

7Pa. Gaz., June 14, printed the “heads” of the Sugar Act, 4 Geo. III, c. 15. Pa. Jour., June 14, 21, printed the complete act.

8Section 28 of the Sugar Act “enumerated” iron and lumber, stipulating that neither commodity could be carried directly from “any British Colony or Plantation in America” to “any part of Europe except Great Britain.” An act passed in 1765, 5 Geo. III, c. 45, sect. 22, repealed these restrictions as far as importation into Ireland was concerned.

9Section 13 of the Sugar Act withdrew the drawback on East Indian and Western European fabrics imported into America from Britain (exceptions were made for white calicos and muslins).

1Section 1 of the Sugar Act laid a duty of 2s. per pound on “Wrought Silks, Bengals, and Stuffs, mixed with Silk or Herba, of the Manufacture of Persia, China, or East India” imported into the colonies from Great Britain and a duty of 2s. 6d. on “every Piece of Callico painted, died, printed, or stained in Persia, China, or East India” and imported into the colonies.

2The Sugar Act reduced the duty on “foreign Mellasses” from 6d. per gallon to 3d. per gallon.

3The duty on foreign white and clayed sugars was raised £1 ss. on every hundredweight avoirdupois “over and above all other Duties imposed by any former Act of Parliament.”

4The respective pretensions of Britain and Spain to control over the Mosquito Indians exacerbated relations between the two countries throughout the eighteenth century. The merits of the dispute are as complicated as they are obscure. Britain claimed to exercise a protectorate over the Indians who lived in what is now Nicaragua and also exerted from Jamaica loose control over a settlement of logwood cutters on the coast of present-day British Honduras. Her objective was to expand her influence in both areas; Spain’s of course was to constrict it and, if possible, drive the British out of Central America completely. In his letter of August 11 (below, p. 313) Jackson promised to mention the matter of the Mosquito Coast and reported British hopes that sugar might be raised in recently acquired Florida.

5When George Grenville presented his budget to the House of Commons, March 9, 1764, he indicated his intention to impose a stamp tax upon the colonies, but he deferred action for a year. Just how he explained this delay is uncertain, for the text of his speech has not been preserved. The reports that reached America cited varying reasons: the colonies were to be given time to present their objections to this particular tax, to suggest a more satisfactory form of parliamentary taxation, or to agree among themselves and then propose a method of raising by self-taxation “a sum adequate to the expense of their defence.” Precisely what Richard Jackson told BF about this speech cannot be definitely established, because his letter of March 10, in which he apparently reported what Grenville had said, is now lost (see above, p. 214), and his letter of April 13, in which he may also have discussed the matter, has survived only in part (see above, pp. 175–7). To judge by BF’s response in the present paragraph, however, it is probable that Jackson had given him to understand that the colonies were to be allowed to propose some method, perhaps by stamp duties, of raising the required funds through their own legislation.

The colonial agents in London, in some doubt about what was expected of their constituents, asked for and secured a conference with Grenville, May 17. Again there is uncertainty as to just what Grenville said, but the surviving accounts concur in establishing that at least by May 17, if not before, Grenville had decided that agreement among all the colonies on any method of self-taxation was not to be expected, and that a parliamentary act modeled on the British system of stamp duties was the best available method, although prior consultation with, and assent by, the assemblies was desirable. BF certainly had not heard of this conference when he wrote the present paragraph; no ship leaving England after May 17 reached America until later than June 25. This entire episode is shrouded in uncertainty and has led to controversy among historians. The fullest and best discussion is Edmund S. Morgan, “The Postponement of the Stamp Act,” 3 William and Mary Quar., VII, 353–92; but Jack M. Sosin takes exception to some of Morgan’s interpretations in Agents and Merchants British Colonial Policy and the Origins of the American Revolution (Lincoln, Neb., 1965), pp. 49–54.

6This paragraph shows how little BF had as yet thought through the issues presented by the impending act, or perhaps how little he then realized what form the measure would actually take. For one solution of the problem of a revenue he harked back to his scheme at the Albany Congress of 1754, whereby “some general Congress” would raise a common fund, either by a quota system or by some equitable “general Tax” imposed by the colonists” own representatives. Clearly, the underlying constitutional issue that eventually developed had not yet appeared in his thinking. As the final sentence suggests, he was a tired man, worn by the domestic political struggle of the past six months. The “better Mode” of raising a revenue he had in mind was probably a scheme which he suggested unsuccessfully to Grenville the following winter and which Thomas Pownall published in somewhat modified form in the 1768 edition of The Administration of the Colonies, pp. 240–3. It called for Parliament to authorize a legal-tender colonial paper currency. Loan offices in all the colonies would lend these bills of credit to borrowers at 6 percent interest on the security of real-estate mortgages. There were provisions for systematic repayment of the loans and safeguards to prevent depreciation and inflation of the currency. The net proceeds of the interest, which would be considerable, would go to the Crown as a fund to serve in lieu of any direct taxation of the colonies. BF’s autograph draft of a part of the scheme is printed with a commentary in Verner W. Crane, ed., Benjamin Franklin’s Letters to the Press 1758–1775 (Chapel Hill, [1950]), pp. 25–30.

7For the efforts to confirm the claim of the descendants of Dr. Daniel Coxe to “Carolana,” in which both BF and Jackson were deeply interested, see above, pp. 175–6.

8See above, X, 414 n.

9This act, passed by Parliament on April 19, 1764, prohibited further issues of legal-tender paper currency in the colonies. See above, p. 176 n.

1See above, pp. 7–18.

2The reference is, of course, to the Paxton Boys; see above, pp. 42–75.

3A sampling of pro-Paxton, pro-Presbyterian pamphlets is printed in John R. Dunbar, ed., The Paxton Papers (The Hague, 1957.)

4An allusion to the troubles swirling about John Wilkes, the publisher of the North Briton: see above, X, 366 n.

5See above, pp. 145–7, 193–200.

6This letter has not been found, but its substance can be inferred from instructions that the Assembly gave the committee on May 28, 1764; see above, p. 198.

7In formulating the conditions on which the Assembly’s £100,000 Supply Act of April 17, 1759 (and by extension all future Assembly supply acts), might be allowed to stand, the Privy Council on August 28, 1760, ruled that the Proprietors” unlocated, unoccupied lands should be exempt from taxation. Jackson apparently disagreed with this ruling. See above, IX, 205–6.

8This was apparently done on the recommendation of Col. Henry Bouquet (VII, 63 n), who had proposed the same idea to the provincial commissioners on June 4; see above, pp. 235–6. For BF’s approving comments on hunting the Indians with dogs, made almost a decade earlier, see above, VI, 235. London Chron., April 2–4, 1765, reported from Bristol that 48 couple of bloodhounds had been shipped to N.Y., “where the breed of these useful animals are to be kept up for the benefit of the province.” Whether this usefulness was thought to be in Indian warfare, the capture of escaped criminals, servants, and slaves, or mere sport is undetermined.

9Probably William Neate, who had previously performed various mercantile commissions for BF. See above, VIII, 306, 324, 423.

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