Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to William Franklin, 20 April 1771

To William Franklin

AL (incomplete draft4): American Philosophical Society

London, April 20. 1771

Dear Son,

It is long since I have heard from you. The last Packet brought me no Letter, and there are two Packets now due. It is supposed that the long easterly Winds have kept them back.

We have had a severe and tedious Winter here. There is not yet the smallest Appearance of Spring. Not a Bud has push’d out, nor a Blade of Grass. The Turnips that us’d to feed the Cattle have been destroy’d by the Frost. The Hay in most Parts of the Country is gone, and the Cattle perishing for Want, the Lambs dying by Thousands, thro’ Cold and scanty Nourishment. Tuesday last I went to dine at our Friend Sir Matthew Featherstone’s thro’ a heavy Storm of Snow. His Windows you know look into the Park. Towards Evening I observ’d the Snow still lying over all the Park, for the Ground was before too cold to thaw it, being itself frozen and Ice in the Canal. You cannot imagine a more winterlike Prospect! Sir M. and Lady F. always enquire kindly of your Welfare: As do Mr. and Mrs. Sargent.5

Sir John Pringle has heard from Mr. Bowman of your Kindness to that Gentleman and desires I would present his particular Acknowledgements for the Attention you have paid to his Recommendation.6

I send enclos’d my Account against you for Money advanced and paid here since my being in England. There are two Articles, viz. May 2. 1765. Prints £12 10s. 0d.; and July 11. 1769. Books £22 17s. 6d. from which you are to make proper Deductions; as I would not have you charg’d with any Prints you might have given away to our common Friends, but only with what have been sold for your Account. And among the Books were some that I desired you to put into a Booksellers Hands to be sold for my Account.7 The heaviest Part is the Maintenance and Education of Temple; but that his Friends will not grudge when they see him.

The Ohio Affair seems now near a Conclusion. And if the present Ministry stand a little longer, I think it will be compleated to our Satisfaction.8 Mr. Wharton has been indefatigable, and I think scarce any one I know besides would have been equal to the Task, so difficult it is to get Business forward here, in which some Party Purpose is not to be served: But he is among them eternally, and leaves no Stone unturn’d. I would, however, advise you not to say any thing of our Prospect of Success, till the Event appears: for many things happen between the Cup and the Lip.

I have attended several Times this Winter upon your Acts of Assembly. The Board are not favourably dispos’d towards your Insolvent Acts, pretending to doubt whether distant Creditors, particularly such as reside in England may not sometimes be injured by them. I have had a good deal of Conversation with Mr. Jackson about them, who remarks that whatever Care the Assembly may, according to my Representation of their Practice, take in examining into the Cases to prevent Injustice, yet upon the Face of the Acts nothing of that Care appears. The Preambles only say that such and such Persons have petitioned and set forth the Hardship of their Imprisonment, but not a Word of the Assembly’s having enquired into the Allegations contained in such Petitions and found them true, not a Word of the general Consent of the principal Creditors, or of any publick Notice given of the Debtor’s Intention to apply for such an Act, all which he thinks should appear in the Preambles, and then those Acts would be subject to less Objection and Difficulty in getting them through the Offices here. I would have you communicate this to the Speaker of the Assembly with my best Respects. I doubt some of those Acts will be repeal’d.9 Nothing has been done, or is now likely to be done by the Parliament in American Affairs: The House of Commons and the City of London are got into a violent Controversy, that seems at present to engross the publick Attention,1 and the Session cannot continue much longer.

By this Ship I send the Picture that you left with Meyer.2 He has never yet finished the Miniatures. The other Pictures I send with it are for my own House, but this you may take to yours.

In the Business I transacted here for Mr. Cha. Read, after paying the Solicitor there remained a Ballance to Mr. Read of £9 19s. 9d. in my Hands, which I requested you to pay him. You never wrote me Word whether [you] had done it or not; so I could not give you Credit for it. If you paid it, so much must be added to the Credit side of your Account.3 And as it is possible I may have omitted some Articles of Charge against you that you are acquainted with, I rely on your rectifying such Mistakes. This Account takes in nothing previous to [remainder missing]

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

4Sparks deleted the incomplete final paragraph and added BF’s signature to the previous one (Works, VII, 518); subsequent editors followed suit.

5For Sir Matthew Featherstonhaugh see above, X, 214 n, and for Mr. and Mrs. John Sargent VII, 322.

6Bowman was undoubtedly the young man who BF had thought was bound for Newport more than a year earlier, and whom we cannot identify. Above, XVII, 30.

7The accounts that BF sent, now lost, began an interchange between father and son. WF responded with two sets of queries, not in his hand, which BF docketed as “Remarks on B.F.’s English Acct. against W.F.—dated April 20. 1771 (N. 1)” and “A State of W.F.’s English Account with B.F. (1771) (N. 2)”; both contain a few marginal jottings by BF, and are among his papers in the APS. The “Remarks” make clear that the 1765 item was a payment to Mason Chamberlain for prints; WF took responsibility for one lot that had been consigned for sale, and deducted the cost of others given to himself, DF, and friends. The 1769 item also included prints, which had been similarly disposed of, and copies of a book by Theodorus Drage, presumably The Great Probability of a Northwest Passage... (London, 1768), that had likewise been consigned for sale; again WF claimed deductions.

8The affair was in fact no nearer completion than ever. In the autumn of 1770 William Nelson, acting as chief executive of Virginia after Lord Botetourt’s death, had written a long letter to Hillsborough opposing the plans of the Walpole or Grand Ohio Company as a violation of Virginia’s prior rights; soon afterward Lord Dunmore, the new governor, joined in this opposition. Nelson’s letter was shown to the Walpole group, and a reply was presented on March 5, 1771, which is now attributed to Samuel Wharton rather than BF. See Gipson, British Empire, XI, 469–72; Statement of the Petitioners in the Case of the Walpole Company [London, 1771], appendices II–III. Wharton’s reply failed to convince the government or accelerate its pace: the matter was not referred back to the Board of Trade until a year later, and did not elicit a response from it until May, 1773. Board of Trade Jour., 1768–75, pp. 293–4, 299–300, 356. BF must have been confident, despite the lessons of experience, that the game was already won; and he was not alone. William Strahan showed almost equal confidence in the letter of which an extract is printed above, April 3, and gave credit for success to Wharton.

9Both public and private acts were at issue. Ambiguities in a public act in 1769 were cleared up in another the following spring, which was disallowed; but the objections detailed by BF seem to have applied particularly to the Assembly’s numerous private acts. See 1 N.J. Arch., X, 234–5; XVIII, 90–2, 103, 170 n; Board of Trade Jour., 1768–75, p. 248; Acts Privy Coun., Col., V, 315–16.

1See the second paragraph of the following document.

2See the preceding document.

3For Charles Read’s legal efforts to secure office in New Jersey see above, XIV, 217 n. In the comments on BF’s accounts, cited above, WF took credit for the £9 19s. 9d. in partial discharge of BF’s debt to Read.

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