Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to William Franklin, 13 March 1768

To William Franklin

Reprinted from William Temple Franklin, ed., Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin, LL.D., F.R.S., &c. (quarto edition, 3 vols., London, 1817–18), II, 156–9; fragment of AL in Yale University Library.

London, March 13, 1768.

Dear Son,

I have received all together your letters of January 6, 21, and 22: it had been a great while that I had not heard from you.

The purpose of settling the new colonies seems at present to be dropped, the change of American administration not appearing favourable to it. There seems rather to be an inclination to abandon the posts in the back country as more expensive than useful; but counsels are so continually fluctuating here, that nothing can be depended on.9 The new secretary, my Lord Hillsborough is I find of opinion that the troops should be placed, the chief part of them, in Canada and Florida, only three battalions to be quartered in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania; and that forts Pitt, Oswego, Niagara, &c. should be left to the colonies to garrison and keep up if they think it necessary for the1 protection of their trade, &c.2 Probably his opinion may be followed if new changes do not produce other ideas. As to my own sentiments, I am weary of suggesting them to so many different inattentive heads, though I must continue to do it while I stay among them.3 The letters from Sir William Johnson relating to the boundary were at last found, 4 and orders were sent over about Christmas for completing the purchase and settlement of it. My Lord H. has promised me to send duplicates by this packet, and urge the speedy execution, as we represented to him the danger that these dissatisfactions of the Indians might produce a war.5 But I can tell you there are many here to whom the news of such a war would give pleasure; who speak of it as a thing to be wished; partly as a chastisement to the colonies, and partly to make them feel the want of protection from this country, and pray for it. For it is imagined that we could not possibly defend ourselves against the Indians without such assistance, so little is the state of America understood here.

My Lord H. mentioned the Farmer’s letters to me, said he had read them, that they were well written, and he believed he could guess who was the author, looking in my face at the same time as if he thought it was me. He censured the doctrines as extremely wild, &c. I have read them as far as No. 8. I know not if any more have been published. I should have thought they had been written by Mr. Delancey, not having heard any mention of the others you point out as joint authors.6 I am not yet master of the idea these and the New England writers have of the relation between Britain and her colonies. I know not what the Boston people mean by the “subordination” they acknowledge in their Assembly to Parliament, while they deny its power to make laws for them, nor what bounds the Farmer sets to the power he acknowledges in Parliament to “regulate the trade of the colonies,” it being difficult to draw lines between duties for regulation and those for revenue, and if the Parliament is to be the judge, it seems to me that establishing such principles of distinction will amount to little. The more I have thought and read on the subject the more I find myself confirmed in opinion, that no middle doctrine can be well maintained, I mean not clearly with intelligible arguments.7 Something might be made of either of the extremes; that Parliament has a power to make all laws for us, or that it has a power to make no laws for us; and I think the arguments for the latter more numerous and weighty than those for the former. Supposing that doctrine established, the colonies would then be so many separate states, only subject to the same King, as England and Scotland were before the Union. And then the question would be, whether a union like that with Scotland would or would not be advantageous to the whole. I should have no doubt of the affirmative, being fully persuaded that it would be best for the whole, and that though particular parts might find particular disadvantages in it, they would find greater advantages in the security arising to every part from the increased strength of the whole.8 But such union is not likely to take place while the nature of our present relation is so little understood on both sides the water, and sentiments concerning it remain so widely different. As to the Farmers’ combating, as you say they intend to do, my opinion that the Parliament might lay duties though not impose internal taxes, I shall not give myself the trouble to defend it. Only to you, I may say, that not only the Parliament of Britain, but every state in Europe claims and exercises a right of laying duties on the exportation of its own commodities to foreign countries. A duty is paid here on coals exported to Holland, and yet England has no right to lay an internal tax on Holland. All goods brought out of France to England, or any other country, are charged with a small duty in France, which the consumers pay, and yet France has no right to tax other countries. And in my opinion the grievance is not that Britain puts duties upon her own manufactures exported to us, but that she forbids us to buy the like manufactures from any other country. This she does however in virtue of her allowed right to regulate the commerce of the whole empire, allowed I mean by the Farmer, though I think whoever would dispute that right might stand upon firmer ground and make much more of the argument: but my reasons are too many and too long for a letter.

Mr. Grenville complained in the House that the Governor of New Jersey, New Hampshire, East and West Florida, had none of them obeyed the orders sent them to give an account of the manufactures carried on in their respective provinces. Upon hearing this I went, after the House was up and got a sight of the reports made by the other governors. They are all much in the same strain, that there are no manufactures of any consequence; in Massachusetts, a little coarse woollen only made in families for their own wear: glass and linen have been tried and failed. Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York, much the same. Pennsylvania has tried a linen manufactory but it is dropped, it being imported cheaper; there is a glass-house in Lancaster county, but it makes only a little coarse wear for the country neighbours. Maryland is clothed all with English manufactures. Virginia the same, except that in their families, they spin a little cotton of their own growing. South Carolina and Georgia none. All speak of the dearness of labour that makes manufactures impracticable. Only the Governor of North Carolina parades with a large manufacture in his country that may be useful to Britain of pine boards; they having fifty saw mills on one river.9 These accounts are very satisfactory here, and induce the parliament to despise and take no notice of the Boston resolutions. I wish you would send your account before the meeting of next parliament. You have only to report a glass-house for coarse window glass and bottles, and some domestic manufactures of linen and woollen for family use that do not half clothe the inhabitants, all the finer goods coming from England and the like. I believe you will be puzzled to find any other, though I see great puffs in the papers.1

The parliament is up and the nation in a ferment with the new elections. Great complaints are made that the natural interests of country gentlemen in their neighbouring boroughs, is overborne by the monied interest of the new people who have got sudden fortunes in the Indies, or as contractors, &c. £4000 is now the market price for a borough.2 In short this whole venal nation is now at market, will be sold for about Two Millions; and might be bought out of the hands of the present bidders (if he would offer half a million more) by the very devil himself.

I shall wait on Lord H. again next Wednesday on behalf of the sufferers by Indian and French depredations to have an allowance of lands out of any new grant made by the Indians so long solicited (and perhaps still to be solicited) in vain:3 I am your affectionate father,

B. Franklin.

I dined yesterday with General Monckton, Major Gates, Colonel Lee, and other officers who have served in, and are friends of America.4 Monckton enquired kindly after your welfare.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

9See BF to Pa. Assembly Committee below, March 13.

1The fragment in BF’s hand begins here.

2For the debate over redeploying the troops, and its relation to the Quartering Act, see John W. Shy, Toward Lexington: the Role of the British Army in the Coming of the American Revolution (Princeton, 1965), pp. 250–66.

3The fragment omits this sentence.

4See above, XIV, 319, 324–5, 329, 332.

5The fragment ends here; except for the omission it differs only negligibly from the text.

6John Dickinson’s “Letters from a Farmer” appeared first in the Pa. Chron., Dec. 2, 1767, and continued until Feb. 15, 1768; they were immediately reprinted in other Philadelphia papers and in other cities. A London edition with a preface by BF appeared in June; see below, May 8, 1768. “Delancey” may be WTF’s misreading of “Dulany”; the Delanceys of New York were loyalists, and Daniel Dulany, a moderate, had achieved wide fame with his Considerations on the Propriety of Imposing Taxes in the British Colonies … (Annapolis, Md., 1765). The others that WF named as joint authors have, like his letters of Jan. 6 and 21, not been found.

7James Otis, in The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved (Boston, 1764), pp. 39, 72, had acknowledged colonial subordination to Parliament on the basis of expediency but had denied, on the basis of natural law, Parliament’s right to tax the colonists without their consent. John Dickinson, in the second Farmer’s Letter, pp. 7, 9, acknowledged the right of Parliament to regulate imperial commerce by duties, etc., but denounced such duties when intended for revenue; they were then, he said, a tax to which the colonists had not consented. Such distinctions, prerequisite for establishing a “middle doctrine,” were indeed hard to maintain.

8BF’s polarizing of the argument on logical grounds, leading him to deny the authority of Parliament entirely, permitted him to revive in new terms his old idea of a transatlantic union, which he had entertained at the time of the Albany Congress of 1754 (see above, V, 344–55, 357–92, 397–417). What follows, however, makes clear that he was not yet fully convinced by his own logic, or at least not yet ready to deny in practice, as distinct from theory, Parliament’s right to impose regulatory duties. Two years earlier, in his examination before the House of Commons, he had mentioned the argument that the authority of Parliament was indivisible, and that to deny its right to levy internal taxes was to deny its right to make any laws for the colonists. “At present they do not reason so,” he had concluded, “but in time they may possibly be convinced by these arguments.” (Above, XIII, 156.) He himself was now in the process of being convinced.

9The governors were responding to a circular letter from the Board of Trade, Aug. 1, 1766, requesting reports on the manufactures of each colony; the letter is printed in Pa. Col. Recs., IX, 343.

1WF had promptly answered the inquiry from the Board of Trade, he said, but his reply had not been received. He wrote again in June, 1768, following closely his father’s suggestions even to the “puffs in the papers.” 1 N.J. Arch., X, 29–32; see also WF to BF below, pp. 124–5.

2London newspapers were running jocular advertisements of boroughs wanted or for sale, at prices from £3,500 to £4,000. London Chron., Dec. 26–9, 1767; Robert L. Haig, The Gazetteer, 1735–1797 … (Carbondale, Ill., [1960]), pp. 76–7.

3Sufferers from Indian depredations in 1763 were seeking compensation in land in the Indiana territory. They expanded in 1769 into the Grand Ohio Company, known also as the Walpole Company from its principal English backer, Thomas Walpole. Many in England and America who joined the company had no claim to compensation but merely a hunger for land; among them were BF, WF, and a number of their close connections. See Lewis, Indiana Co., pp. 19–32, 88.

4For Robert Monckton, the general who had conquered Martinique and the former governor of New York, see above, X, 290 n. Horatio Gates had been his companion on Martinique and become a close friend, and had retired from the army in 1765. Charles Lee, after serving in America in the previous war and under Burgoyne in Portugal, had recently been in Poland and Constantinople; he was now living a comparatively quiet life in England. The dinner party seems to have been BF’s first meeting with the two “friends of America,” Gates and Lee, who were to play leading parts in securing its independence.

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