Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to David Hall, 14 February 1765

To David Hall

ALS: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

London, Feb. 14. 1765

Dear Mr. Hall,

I received your obliging Letter of Decemr. 20.1 with the Newspapers. I am glad to hear of Col. Bouquet’s Success, hope the deserting Hostages will be recover’d, and the Peace firmly establish’d. The French being now totally remov’d from North America, we may, I think, expect the Indians will be more manageable for the future.

The Stamp Act, notwithstanding all the Opposition that could be given it by the American Interest, will pass.2 I think it will affect the Printers more than anybody, as a Sterling Halfpenny Stamp on every Half sheet of a Newspaper, and Two shillings Sterling on every Advertisement, will go near to knock up one Half of both.3 There is also Fourpence Sterling on every Almanack. I have just sent to Mr. Strahan to forward 100 Reams of the large Half sheets to you, such as the Chronicle is done on, for present Use, and shall, as soon as possible send you a Pair of Paper Molds for that Size, otherwise the Stamp on the Gazette will cost a Penny Sterling, even when you do not print a Half Sheet.4

Robt. Hampden Esquire one of the Post-Masters General, is now, by the Death of his Brother, become Lord Trevor, and should have his Papers directed, To the Right Honourable Earl Trevor, General Post Office London.5 The Opposition is come to nothing. The little Squibs you see in the Papers are regarded by nobody. But for Politicks I refer you to Mr. Strahan.6

My Love to Cousin Molly and your Children. I am Yours affectionately

B Franklin

Addressed: To / Mr David Hall / Printer / Philadelphia.

Endorsed: B. Franklin Feby. 14. 1765.

1See above, XI, 529–31. Hall reported on the cessation of hostilities with the Indians folowing Bouquet’s “Success” and on the escape of the Shawnee hostages.

2Grenville presented his budget to the House of Commons, February 6, and a debate followed in which Isaac Barré made his famous speech on behalf of the colonies. A resolution to adjourn offered by opponents of the measure was defeated 245–49, this one-sided vote showing how small the opposition really was. The Stamp Bill received its first reading on the 13th and its second on the 15th, the day after BF wrote this letter to Hall. During the debates the Commons steadfastly refused to receive any petitions against the bill, either from colonial assemblies or from British merchants trading to America. The bill was amended in some details on February 21; it passed the House of Commons on the 27th and the House of Lords on March 8, and received the royal assent by special commission on March 22, 1765. At no stage of these proceedings did either house allow Parliament’s fundamental right to impose such taxes on the colonies to be called in question. Morgan, Stamp Act Crisis, pp. 67–70; Gipson, British Empire, X, 271–4; Bernhard Knollenberg, Origin of the American Revolution: 1759–1766 (N.Y., 1960), pp. 223–7. The Stamp Act is 5 Geo. III, c. 12; the most important parts are conveniently reprinted in Edmund S. Morgan, ed., Prologue to Revolution Sources and Documents on the Stamp Act Crisis, 1764–1766 (Chapel Hill, [1959]), pp. 35–43. It may be useful to point out here that the act required people in the colonies to use, for any dutiable purpose, pieces of vellum, parchment, or paper on which a stamp of the prescribed denomination had been previously imprinted and which was to be sold by the distributors in the colonies. Many references to “stamps” during the months of subsequent agitation have led to a common but mistaken belief that the colonists were expected to buy some sort of adhesive stamps and affix them to the documents, newspapers, and other articles that were subject to duty. The distinction is analogous to the present-day purchase at the post office of a stamped envelope for a letter to be mailed, rather than the purchase of an adhesive stamp to be placed on the letter writer’s own envelope. Dice and playing cards were to be packaged in stamped paper and one card in each pack was also to be marked “on the spotted or painted side.”

3This tax on advertisements severely threatened the financial prosperity of the colonial newspapers. The first ten issues of the Pennsylvania Gazette during 1765 averaged 65 advertisements each, many of them repeated in two or more issues. In general, advertisements in colonial newspapers cost from 3s. to 5s. local currency, with substantial discounts for repeated insertions. The printer could hardly afford to pay this new tax of 2s. sterling per insertion for each advertisement out of his receipts, and to pass it on to the advertisers on top of the newspaper’s charges would certainly have eliminated nearly half the advertisements, including most of the smaller ones, thereby seriously impairing the paper’s gross revenue. Sec. 27 of the Stamp Act forbade the distributors to sell or deliver any stamped paper for an almanac or newspaper until the printer had given security for payment of the duties on advertisements to appear in it. For a discussion of the Stamp Act’s potential impact on the newspapers, see Arthur M. Schlesinger, Prelude to Independence The News-Paper War on Britain 1764–1776 (N.Y., 1958), pp. 68–70.

4At this time the Pennsylvania Gazette was printed on a locally manufactured sheet measuring approximately 15¾ by 20 inches. When folded once, this stock produced a 4-page paper about 15¾ by 10 inches. The London Chronicle was printed on a double demy half sheet measuring approximately 22½ by 17½ inches. When folded both horizontally and vertically and trimmed, this stock produced an 8-page paper about 11 by 8 inches. Under the pending bill the Gazette would be taxed a penny a copy, because it was printed on a full sheet, but if it changed to the same paper as that used for the Chronicle (altering its format accordingly), it would be taxed only a halfpenny, because it would then be printed on what was technically a half sheet, even though the total printed area of an issue would be almost the same. BF knew by this time what rates were prescribed in the bill, but he apparently did not know all its final details. He believed that Hall could get his own paper stamped by the local distributor, not that he would have to buy from that official the paper sent over from England already stamped. BF’s well-intentioned but hasty action in ordering 48,000 half sheets of double demy to be sent to Philadelphia later proved an embarrassment to Hall. See below, pp. 188, 233–4.

5Robert Hampden (formerly Trevor), son of Thomas Trevor, 1st Baron Trevor of Bromham, succeeded to the title following the death, Sept. 27, 1764, of his half-brother John, 3d Baron Trevor. BF was incorrect in telling Hall to address the newspapers to “Earl Trevor”; the new baron was advanced to the dignity of Viscount Hampden in 1776, but never attained an earldom. [G.E.C.], The Complete Peerage, under “Hampden” and “Trevor.”

6At the end of a letter of Feb. 22, 1765 (APS), Strahan told Hall: “What I have to say as to Politics you have in a separate Sheet.” That sheet is missing. In a postscript, dated March 12, which he added to a duplicate of this letter, Strahan said: “I have nothing to add to the Politics I sent with the Original of this, but that everything is perfectly quiet here.”

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