Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from the New Jersey Assembly Committee of Correspondence, 21 December 1771

From the New Jersey Assembly Committee of Correspondence

LS: American Philosophical Society

Burlington Decemr. 21st. 1771.


Your Letter of the 12th Feby has been received and laid before the House of Assembly who were of Opinion it would be proper not to push the farther Consideration of the Septennial Act until you see a favourable Opportunity to get it allowed.6 Respecting this Law as well as others that may hereafter come under Consideration of his Majestys Ministers we must Confide entirely in you as to the time most proper to sollicit a Confirmation of them, and make no doubt of your Exerting your Abilities and influence to bring them to a favourable determination and as Speedily as may be.

His Majesty having thought proper to Disallow the Act to erect Courts for the trial of Causes of Ten pounds and under, the Prosecution of Suits for the recovery of Debts were become so various that it necessarially became an Object of the attention of the Legislature; and when it was considered, that to Six pounds the mode of recovery was before Single Magistrates, from that Sum to Ten pounds a tedious and Expensive Mode by the Practice of Common Law from ten pounds to Fifty another Mode, and from thence by the Old and usual manner of recovery. The Assembly endeavour’d to remidy this, by bringing the determination of Causes, from Six to Ten pounds before the Justices in the County Court in a Short speedy and less expensive way which They hope will have the Effect designd, and be a Plan of making a Law more consonant to the Constitution upon the Expiration of the Six pounds Law than perhaps that or the Fifty pound Law are. By this Law the house apprehend that the Objections made against the late £10 Law, will be removed as they all rested on the first objection—To wit, The Erecting New Courts which by being Vested in a single Magistrate with power to hold them as often as he thought proper, was Dangerous as well as unconstitutional. And thereupon[?] most of the Objections Assigned by Mr. Jackson were founded. This Induced the House to fall upon a mode by which His and every reasonable Objection might be removed. Providing therefore against the first, by bringing Causes of Six pounds and under Ten, before known and Constitutional Courts, only, Rendering the Practice simple Cheap and Expeditious, they hope will obviate his first Objection, and every other drawn from it, and Induce his Majestys Ministers to approve of their Conduct and Advise the Confirmation of a Law so Salutary and necessary, or Permit it to Continue during its Limitation. When you consider the Objections made by Mr. Jackson the Expensive manner of recovering such small Debts, which this Law provides against; as well as the Intentions of the Legislature in passing it, your better Judgement will suggest to you Every argument in support of the Intentions and wishes of the House, and hope Mr. Jackson will, when he has this Law under his Consideration, be induced to give it a favourable report.7 The Law to enable persons not Naturalized to hold Lands &c. we dont find has met with his Majestys Approbation, and as you are Silent about it we beg you will use your endeavours to have it passed. It is similar to One of New York to which the Royal Assent has been given, and Therefore we hope that the Royal favour will be extended also to those of his Subjects in this Colony that are in the same situation; many of them in the reign of Queen Ann settled in this Country during the War with France from the Palatine and being Ignorant of the Laws of England neglected to procure a Naturalization, and having acquired Estates: the same have descended to their Children, and have been Sold to Denizens who having never enquired wether such foreigners were Naturalized are in danger of loosing their Purchases. These reasons Induced the Assembly to pass the Law and they hope his Majesty will approve whenever the Equitable motives of the Legislature are Laid before him.8 We desire you will endeavour it and enforce your Application by Every Argument your good Judgment will suggest. As to the Fifty pounds Law we are of Opinion that if his Majestys Ministers do not take it up, it will be best not to push it, but let it sleep in peace if possible.

We with pleasure inform you that the differences that have some time Subsisted between the House and Government touching the Subsistance of the Troops lately Quartered in the Colony, have been at this Session happily Settled. The Assembly have paid the Quartering of the Troops and as they are removed we hope all occasion of dispute on this Head will be removed for the future.9

At the same time that we apologize for not writing to you for so long a time occasion’d by our distance from one another we are directed to return you the thanks of the House as well for your attention to the Concerns of the Colony as for your present to the House of the Senators Remembrancer.1 We are, Sir with respect and Esteem Your most humble Servants

Cortd: Skinner
Aaron Leaming
Abrm. Hewlings

Be pleased to Direct to C. Skinner or Jos. Smith. Thy Respectful Friend Jos Smith2

As soon as the Votes and Laws are printed they shall be duly forwarded.

Doctr. Franklin

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6BF apparently never saw his opportunity, and the act was never confirmed. It provided, as its name implies, for elections to the Assembly every seven years. It had been passed in 1768, and the Committee of Correspondence had inquired rather casually about it in 1769. But the Board of Trade believed that the act merely provided for what had long been customary, and tabled it in July, 1770. Votes, N.J., April–May, 1768, p. 13; 1 N.J. Arch., X, 142–3; XVII, 478, 497–8; Board of Trade Jour., 1768–75, p. 203; above, XVI, 254.

7The acts in question were parts of a legislative program to lower fees in the collection of debts, a matter that had been before the legislature for the past two years and more; see ibid. The act of 1769, pertaining to cases of £10 and under, was disallowed in June, 1771. The new act replacing it was passed on the day this letter was written, and meanwhile the “Fifty Pound Law” had been passed in the spring of 1770. Both were limited in duration to five years, and both were allowed. See Samuel Allinson, ed., Acts of the General Assembly of the Province of New-Jersey from 1702... to... 1776 (Burlington, N.J., 1776), pp. 338–9, 366; Board of Trade Jour., 1768–75, pp. 219–20; Acts Privy Coun., Col., V, 309–11.

8These acts in New Jersey and New York had been passed in 1770; their purpose was to abolish the requirement that naturalization should precede the legal purchase or inheritance of land. The New Jersey law, unlike the New York, contained no suspending clause; it was disallowed when the other was confirmed. See 1 N.J. Arch., XVIII, 282–3; Laws of New-York, from the Year 1691, to 1773 Inclusive (2 vols., New York, 1774), II, 561; Board of Trade Jour., 1768–75, pp. 237, 261; Acts Privy Coun., Col., V, 320–1.

9WF had had a long battle with the Assembly over the expenses of quartering troops; the lower house had refused to pay as long as the crown refused to permit bills of credit or a loan office in the colony. After Gage, acting on Hillsborough’s suggestion, withdrew the troops in the autumn, the Assembly agreed to pay the arrears due for quartering. See I N.J. Arch., X, 321–3; John Shy, “Quartering His Majesty’s Forces in New Jersey,” N.J. Hist. Soc. Proc., LXXVIII (1960), 91, 94; Edgar J. Fisher, New Jersey as a Royal Province, 1738 to 1776 (New York, 1911), pp. 438–9.

1For this odd work see Katherine French to BF above, Feb. 18.

2The postscript is in Smith’s hand. For him and the signers see above, XVI, 256 n. Skinner was no longer Speaker; he had vacated the position for reasons of health, and Stephen Crane had succeeded him. I N.J. Arch., XVIII, 37, 186.

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