Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Dennys DeBerdt, 31 August 1768

To Dennys DeBerdt6

Draft: American Philosophical Society; printed in The Public Advertiser, August 31, 1768.


In the Gazetteer of Friday, Aug. 26. you have been so obliging as to inform us, that the Report insinuating that the Earl of Hillsborough had neglected to deliver a Petition from the Assembly of the Massachusetts Bay to his Majesty, was groundless, his Lordship not having ever seen the Petition at the time of such Report.7

We are very subject to be impos’d on by Reports especially such as convey any Reflection upon Ministers, an Order of Men of whom we have not generally the best Opinion. It is therefore kind to us as well as to them, to set us right when we are misled. And as such Reports are generally varied according to the Ignorance or Malice of the Reporters, it would be well if all their Variations could be answered with a Clearness, equal to yours in that above mentioned. Now since it must be as much in your Power, we hope and trust you will be as ready to refute this, “That his Lordship having had from Governor Barnard an Account of the Purport of the Assembly’s Petition, refused to receive it from you, on a Distinction newly started, to wit, that you were not a regularly appointed Agent, being authoris’d only by the Assembly, to transact their Business here, the Governor not having consented to your Appointment.”8 We would just observe that this State of the Report is more probable than the other, it being as unlikely that his Lordship should neglect to present a Petition9 he had once received, as it is that you would neglect [to] offer it [to h]im. We are, Sir, Yours, &c

The Publick

P.S. Excuse us if we add, that tho’ we have no right to ask what the Reasons were, that, in your Letters of March last, you gave to the Assembly, for not proceeding with their Petition; yet, as in their Message to the Governor of June the 30th. when they had probably received those Letters, they say, “it had been revealed there that the late Provincial Applications for Redress of Grievances had been somehow strangely obstructed;” and as the Assembly of Maryland, in their Message to their Governor, hint at “an Attempt in some of his Majesty’s Ministers to prevent the Supplications of America from reaching the Royal Ear;” we own it would be extreamly agreable to us to be rightly informed in this important Affair: And if you are, as we believe you are, more desirous of obliging the Publick, and serving your Constituents, than of screening a Minister, we doubt not but you will give us all reasonable Satisfaction.1

To Mr. Denis DeBerdt, Agent for the Assembly of the Massachusetts Bay.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6Dennys DeBerdt (c. 1694–1770), a London merchant, was agent for Delaware (1765–70), co-agent with Richard Jackson for the Massachusetts House of Representatives (1765–6), and at this time sole agent for the House. His friction with BF was of long standing; see above, XIII, 498, and Crane, Letters to the Press, pp. 125–6. This was the first time, however, that BF attacked him in public.

7DeBerdt’s statement published on Aug. 26 (ibid., pp. 126–7) took responsibility upon himself for holding up the petition to the King against the Townshend Acts that had been passed by the Massachusetts House of Representatives on Jan. 20, 1768, and that had reached him the following March. He declared that he had given the House his reasons for delay, and denied reports that Hillsborough had been to blame for it. In his letters to Massachusetts De Berdt explained that he had waited until after the parliamentary elections to deliver the petition to the Secretary, who had finally received it in late June but had considered the moment unpropitious for forwarding it to the King; not until Aug. 26 could the agent report that it had at last reached its destination.

The delay was important because of its results. Hillsborough apparently saw the Circular Letter from the House before he saw its petition, and responded on April 22 with an angry demand that Massachusetts withdraw the Letter and that the governors of other colonies prevent their legislatures from answering it. On June 30 the House refused to retract, pointed out to the Secretary that it had attempted to go through proper channels by petitioning, and complained of the obstructions that had been put in the way. Those obstructions seem to have been in fact the joint handiwork of DeBerdt and Hillsborough: the agent first took it on himself to delay submitting the petition, and then acquiesced for months in the Secretary’s procrastination. For DeBerdt’s letters to Massachusetts see Col. Soc. of Mass. Publications, XIII (1912), 330–2, 335, 338, 341; for the Circular Letter, the petition to the King, and the letter to Hillsborough see Harry A. Cushing, ed., The Writings of Samuel Adams (4 vols., New York, 1904–8), I, 162–6, 184–8, 219–29.

8This “distinction newly started” seems to have been part of Hillsborough’s tactics for postponing receipt of the petition. He must have known from his years at the Board of Trade that DeBerdt was agent only for the Massachusetts House, not for the Governor and Council; and Bernard had reminded the ministry of this fact in a letter in January. It was Hillsborough, however, who made the agent’s doubtful status into a reason for not receiving the petition: in June the Secretary told DeBerdt that “at present I was in reality no agent at all, being only chose for a particular purpose [to protest the Stamp Act], which choice terminated with the fulfillment of the commission.” Col. Soc. of Mass. Publications, XIII, 334; for Hillsborough’s repetition of the point in September, and extension of it to other agents, see ibid., p. 341.

No word of this new development had hitherto reached the newspapers. BF presumably learned of it through friends, and he lost no time in making it public, as a reason why Massachusetts was not being heard. He lays the responsibility upon Hillsborough, where it apparently belongs, and also implies that DeBerdt was to blame for concealing the Secretary’s tactics. When Arthur Lee and BF took over the agency after DeBerdt’s death in 1770, Hillsborough vehemently reiterated that an agent not appointed by the governor and the entire legislature had no standing with him. Smyth, Writings, V, 300–3. See also Bernard to Shelburne, Jan. 21, 1768, Anon., Letters to the Ministry, from Governor Bernard, General Gage, and Commodore Hood … (London, [1769?]), pp. 4–5; Kammen, Rope of Sand, p. 233.

9The printed version inserts here “of such Importance which.”

1The messages from Massachusetts and Maryland appeared in the Lond. Chron., Aug. 25–7 and 27–30, 1768.

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