Benjamin Franklin Papers

Extract of a Letter from London, 2 February 1767

Extract of a Letter from London

MS not found; reprinted from The Pennsylvania Gazette, April 30, 1767

There is no certainty that Franklin wrote the letter of which this is an extract. It might have been taken from one of William Strahan’s frequent letters of political news to David Hall, except that the “us” in the final sentence seems to establish that the writer was an American—whether Franklin or someone else. Colonial agents were closely attending debates in the House of Commons at this time (though they were later barred) and the account of Townshend’s speech sounds very much like the report of a direct auditor. The possibility of Franklin’s authorship appears strong enough to warrant its inclusion here. It might have been addressed to any one of several Philadelphia friends who passed it along to Hall for printing.2

London, Feb. 2, 1767.

As to the Business yet done in Parliament, there is nothing very material. An Alteration has been made in the late Act, respecting the Exportation from Dominica3 to the Ports North of Cape Finisterre, whereby Ireland is excepted, as well as Great-Britain. A Motion was made last Week in the House of Commons, on the Supplies for the Army, that the Revenues arising, and to arise, in America, be applied towards subsisting the Troops now there, and those other Regiments which it is proposed to send.4 Mr. Townsend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, among other Things, urged the Propriety of more Troops being sent to America, and of their being quartered in the large Towns. That he had a Plan preparing, which he would lay before the House, for the Raising Supplies in America. That the Legislative Authority here extended to every Colony, in every Particular. That the Distinction of internal and external Taxes was Nonsense5—and that he voted for the Repeal of the Stamp-Act, not because it was not a good Act, but because, at that Time, there appeared a Propriety in repealing it. He added, that “he repeated the Sentence, that the Galleries might hear him; and that after that, he did not expect to have his Statue erected in America.”6 Mr. Grenville joined him fully—what they will do with us in the End, I cannot say.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2As he often did in this period with similar materials, William Goddard reprinted this extract in the next issue of Pa. Chron., April 27–May 4, 1767. Bradford did not reprint it in Pa. Jour.

3A curious slip of the pen or typographical error for “America.” The “Alteration” referred to was the enactment, Dec. 16, 1766, of 7 Geo. III, c. 2, correcting a mistake in phraseology in 6 Geo. III, c. 52, which had the effect of excluding Ireland from the colonial export trade. See above, XIII, 419–21, 486–7, 521. No act relating specifically to the commerce of Dominica was passed during the winter of 1766–67.

4The motion cited here and the speech reported in the rest of this extract took place on Jan. 26, 1767, during debate in the Committee of the Whole on army estimates. Apparently very few of the political leaders who heard Charles Townshend’s speech realized fully that he was proposing, in effect, to reverse the accepted policy of the administration of which he was a member, and to go back to George Grenville’s policy of raising a revenue in America through parliamentary taxation. Few writers reported the speech at all, and fewer still appear to have had any serious forebodings about the plan Townshend said he was preparing and its possible effect on Anglo-American relations. The present writer may have been one exception. For discussion of this affair and some other descriptions of Townshend’s speech, see Sir Lewis Namier and John Brooke, Charles Townshend (London, 1964), pp. 172–4; Gipson, British Empire, XI, 99–100; Jack M. Sosin, Agents and Merchants British Colonial Policy and the Origins of the American Revolution (Lincoln, Neb., 1965), pp. 99–101; William Samuel Johnson to William Pitkin, Feb. 12, 1767, 5 Mass. Hist. Soc. Colls., IX, 215–16.

5An issue of substantial importance in the controversies that followed.

6A jibe at the Earl of Chatham, officially the head of the government, whose popularity in America had reached great heights.

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