Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to William Franklin, 29 December 1767

To William Franklin

MS not found; extract reprinted in part from The Pennsylvania Chronicle, And Universal Advertiser, March 7–14, 1768, and in part from William Temple Franklin, ed., Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin, LL.D. F.R.S. &c., II, The Private Correspondence (quarto edition, London, 1817), 149–50.5

The paragraphs printed here form the second of two documents that William Temple Franklin printed as separate letters written by Franklin to his son William on the same date, Dec. 19, 1767. As explained in the annotation to the first group of paragraphs, above, p. 341, other editors have either followed Temple in printing the two groups as separate letters with the same date, or have silently combined both groups into a single letter of that date. All previous editors have ignored the date of Dec. 29, 1767, that the Pennsylvania Chronicle assigned to that part of the second group that it printed March 7–14, 1768, less than three months after BF could have written any part of this material. The present editors, however, believe that the surviving passages are actually parts of two different letters from Franklin to his son written ten days apart. Only the first group of paragraphs, therefore, has been placed under the December 19 date; the second group is placed here, with the December 29 date that the Chronicle used for the part it printed. Internal evidence to support the Chronicle’s dating is indicated in appropriate footnotes.

London, Dec. 29, 1767.

Dear Son,6

The resolutions of the Boston people concerning trade, make a great noise here.7 Parliament has not yet taken notice of them, but the newspapers are in full cry against America.8 Colonel Onslow9 told me at court last Sunday,1 that I could not conceive how much the friends of America were run upon and hurt by them, and how much the Grenvillians triumphed. I have just written a paper for next Tuesday’s Chronicle to extenuate matters a little.2

Mentioning Colonel Onslow, reminds me of something that passed at the beginning of this session in the house between him and Mr. Grenville.3 The latter had been raving against America, as traitorous, rebellious &c. when the former, who has always been its firm friend, stood up and gravely said, that in reading the Roman history he found it was a custom among that wise and magnanimous people, whenever the senate was informed of any discontent in the provinces, to send two or three of their body into the discontented provinces to enquire into the grievances complained of and report to the senate that mild measures might be used to remedy what was amiss, before any severe steps were taken to enforce obedience. That this example he thought worthy our imitation in the present state of our colonies, for he did so far agree with the honourable gentleman that spoke just before him, as to allow there were great discontents among them. He should therefore beg leave to move that two or three members of parliament be appointed to go over to New England on this service. And that it might not be supposed he was for imposing burthens on others what he would not be willing to share4 himself, he did at the same time declare his own willingness if the house should think fit to appoint them, to go over thither with that honourable gentleman. Upon this there was a great laugh which continued sometime, and was rather increased by Mr. Grenville’s asking, “will the gentleman engage that I shall be safe there? Can I be assured that I shall be allowed to come back again to make the report?” As soon as the laugh was so far subsided as that Mr. Onslow could be heard again, he added, “I cannot absolutely engage for the honourable gentleman’s safe return, but if he goes thither upon this service I am strongly of opinion the event will contribute greatly to the future quiet of both countries.” On which the laugh was renewed and redoubled.5

If our people should follow the Boston example in entering into resolutions of frugality and industry full as necessary for us as for them, I hope they will among other things give this reason, that ’tis to enable them more speedily and effectually to discharge their debts to Great Britain; this will soften a little and at the same time appear honourable and like ourselves. Yours &c.

B. Franklin.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

5The Chronicle heads the document “Extract of a Letter from. London, dated December 29, 1767.” It has no salutation, and for the names of Onslow and Grenville it substitutes initials and dashes. The Chronicle version omits the final sentence of the first paragraph and the whole of the third paragraph; these are reprinted here from the Temple Franklin version. As stated above, p. 341, the editors believe that the date assigned by the Chronicle is correct rather than that of the 19th assigned by Temple Franklin.

6William Duane’s edition of BF’s Works, VI, 260, printed in the same year as Temple Franklin’s second volume, indicates that the letter is addressed to WF but gives the salutation, curiously enough, as “Dear Sir.”

7The resolutions adopted by the Boston Town Meeting of Oct. 28, 1767, were reprinted in London Chron., Dec. 10–12, 1767. The meeting had unanimously adopted an agreement not to buy after December 31 any of a long list of articles imported from “abroad,” that is, from Great Britain.

8Examination of London newspapers indicates that if BF had written this paragraph on December 19, it would have been as yet too early for him to have said that the papers were “in full cry” against the Boston resolutions. Parliament adjourned for the holidays on December 21.

9George Onslow (1731–1792), nephew of the former speaker Arthur Onslow, retired lieutenant colonel of the Foot Guards, M.P. for Guildford, 1760–84. He was a supporter of Lord Rockingham. Namier and Brooke, House of Commons, III, 227–8.

1If BF had written this letter on December 19, there would have been no court that he and Onslow could have attended “last Sunday,” for the Royal Family was then still in mourning for the Duke of York. Mourning terminated on Sunday, Dec. 27, 1767, and on that day “there was a brilliant Court, … at which several of the Royal Family, Nobility, and Foreign Ministers were present.” London Chron., Dec. 26–29, 1767. BF must have been writing after that event.

2This was BF’s long and important paper generally called “Causes of the American Discontents before 1768.” If BF’s letter to WF was written on Dec. 29, 1767, as the editors believe, then “next Tuesday” would be January 5, and the issue of the Chronicle in which he expected his piece to appear would be either that of January 2–5 or that of January 5–7. It actually occupied the first five and a half columns of the London Chronicle for January 5–7.

3This session of Parliament began on Nov. 24, 1767.

4Pa. Chron. has “share”; WTF, Memoirs, has “bear.”

5The extract in Pa. Chron. ends at this point.

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