Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from the Philadelphia Merchants, 18 April 1769

From the Philadelphia Merchants

LS: American Philosophical Society

Philada. 18th April 1769.

Much Esteemed Friend,

We are favoured with thy letter of the 19th January, and observe with pleasure the Steps thou hast taken to Serve the Cause of America, which we cannot forbear considering as the Cause of Liberty.

The Committee of Merchants in London inform us of an Application they had made to the proper Department in Administration. But the Answer they received is so very unfavourable, that we have but little prospect of Redress in a way that will put an End to the Dispute between Great Britain and the Colonies.2

We observe that both the Merchants and Minister confine themselves to the Act imposing Duties on Glass, Paper, &c. which they agree is Inexpedient, upon the Principles of impropriety in laying Duties on their own Manufactures, but they take no Notice of the other Acts passed for the purpose of raising a Revenue in America.3 From this we are apprehensive that the Ministry, if pushed, intend only a partial Redress of American Grievances, and though they may suffer the Act laying a Duty on British Manufactures to be repealed, upon a principle of Inexpediency, yet they mean to continue the other Acts; in order to establish the Right of Parliament to tax the Colonies. Now as we are persuaded the Americans will never admit this Right, nor give up the Privilege of solely taxing themselves, we can have little expectation of a cordial Union between both Countries, untill there is an alteration in the Sentiments of Administration.

Untill the Prospect mends the Merchants of this City have agreed to decline the Importation of Goods from Great Britain.

We take the liberty to inclose thee a copy of the Agreement and our Answer to the Committee of Merchants in London.4

We have no doubt of thy sincere Wishes for the Welfare of both Countries, nor of thy unremitted Endeavours to bring about a cordial Union between them; to effect which nothing in our Power shall be wanting. We are, with due regard, Thy assured Friends,5

Jereah: Warder Wm. West
William Fisher James Mease
Abel James Robt Morris
Henry Drinker John Cox Junr.
Alex Huston Tench Francis
John Rhea Thomas Mifflin
John Gibson Cha Thomson
Joseph Swift Geo: Roberts
Conyngham & Nesbitt
[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2The letter from the London Committee of Merchants has apparently not survived, but some of its contents can be reconstructed from the answer of the Philadelphia merchants on April 8, printed in PMHB, XXVII (1903), 84–7. The Londoners reported that they had seen Hillsborough, who had told them that the act imposing duties on British manufactured goods was inexpedient, but that the reaction in America had been so unjustifiable as to preclude immediate repeal; the administration would not yield to threats. If, however, the colonial attitude changed and the merchants petitioned a later session of Parliament for repeal on the sole basis of expediency, Hillsborough added, there was every reason to suppose that the petition would be granted. An extract from this letter, or from another from London that covered part of the same ground, was printed in the Pa. Gaz., March 30, 1769.

3There were three Townshend Acts. The first created the board of Commissioners of the Customs in America; the second imposed duties on manufactured goods and tea entering American ports, and stipulated that the revenue so raised would be used for colonial defense and civil government; the third reduced the price of tea imported into America. Gipson, British Empire, XI, 111–12.

4In February the Philadelphia merchants had adopted a tentative nonimportation agreement; see Thomas Gilpin to BF above, Feb. 6. On March 10 they confirmed this agreement and made it binding until the duties were repealed. The two agreements and their preambles, and the letter of April 8 to the London Committee, are among BF’s papers: APS.

5Swift, Warder, Drinker, and West were the only members of the group who had signed the letter to BF the previous autumn, for which see above, XV, 266–7. William Fisher was a Quaker, a member of the Common Council (1767–70), and later an alderman and mayor of Philadelphia: PMHB, XVI (1892), 105. All that is known of John Rhea is that he was a merchant on Market Street, and of John Gibson that he was mayor of the city in 1772–73. For James Mease, who founded the shipping firm of Mease & Caldwell, see John H. Campbell, History of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and of the Hibernian Society for the Relief of Emigrants from Ireland (Philadelphia, 1892), pp. 121–2. Robert Morris needs no identification; see DAB. John Cox, Jr., may well have been the mysterious figure who led a faction of the “suffering traders”; above, XV, 265 n. The remaining signers have been identified or at least mentioned above, as follows: Abel James, XI, 436 n; Alexander Huston, XI, 472, 484; Conyngham & Nesbitt, VIII, 424 n; Tench Francis, Jr., XIV, 160 n; Thomas Mifflin, XI, 78 n; Charles Thomson, VII, 266 n; and George Roberts, IX, 116 n.

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