Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Thomas Cushing, 15–23 July 1772

From Thomas Cushing

ALS: Yale University Library

The petition from the Massachusetts House enclosed in the following letter marked another advance in the logic leading toward independence. Whitehall’s intention to pay colonial officials out of revenue drawn from America by the Townshend duties was engendering greater and greater opposition in the Bay Colony.3 In 1771 Hutchinson had exacerbated it by refusing to accept a salary from the House,4 and by the time the new legislature met in May, 1772, the King was known to have granted him £1,500 per annum. The fat was in the fire. On July 10 a committee of the House brought in a report, adopted by a large majority, which contained six resolves; one of them was that the Governor should ask the crown to rescind its action.5 On July 14 another committee brought in a petition to the same effect; the House adopted it,6 and the Speaker forwarded it immediately to Franklin.

It addressed itself solely to the provision of the Townshend Acts that dealt with paying official salaries from the revenues collected,7 and it broke new constitutional ground. The charter gave the General Court full power to levy money for the support of government, the petitioners argued, and by implication made the Court the sole judge of the amount and means of collection; to deprive it of this power destroyed the balance between the branches of the legislature, rendered the governor independent of the people, and exposed them to despotic rule. The change nullified the form of government established in the charter, which was a contract between the crown and the people of the province. By entering into the contract they had agreed to a governor who was dependent upon them; his independence violated the agreement and thereby illegitimized his authority. The House therefore demanded a return to the old practice as a matter of right.8 Hutchinson rejected the whole argument as contrary to constitutional theory and practice ever since the granting of the charter; he refused to address the crown himself, and prorogued the House.9

Province Massachusetts Bay July. 15[–23]. 1772


The House of Representatives of this Province have directed me to transmitt to you a humble Petition to his Majesty relative to the Governors having and receiving a support independant of the Grants and Acts of the General Assembly, which I accordingly now Inclose you and they desire you would lay it before his Majesty as soon as may be.1 They doubt not of your best Endeavors to get this as well as all their other Greivances redressed. In behalf of the House of representatives I am with great respect your most humble servant

Thomas Cushing Spk

Benjamin Franklin Esqr

[In the margin:] July. 23. 1772 I forgot to Inform you that the House at their last session made you a grant of six hundred pounds for Two Years Service ending the 21 Octor. next but his Excellency has refused his Consent to said Grant.2 Yours

T Cushing Spkr.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3See above, XV, 197 n; XVII, 281–2, 303, 312; XVIII, 29, 124–5, 149–52, 177–80.

4Ibid., p. 149; Bradford, ed., Mass. State Papers, pp. 298–9, 324; Hutchinson, History, III, 242.

5Ibid., pp. 245–6; Bradford, op. cit., pp. 325–9. Resolves were a form of protest that BF had encouraged: above, XVIII, 123.

6Mass. House Jour., 1st session, May–July, 1772, pp. 113, 120–1. The petition itself is in the Lee Papers, roll 2, frames 99–101.

77 Geo. III, c. 46; for BF’s earlier complaints about this provision see above, XVI, 55, 245.

8In appealing to the charter as an immutable contract the House was developing more explicitly the position that it had taken in the earlier dispute over moving the General Court to Cambridge: above, XVIII, 121 n. For the contrasting British view of the charter see the headnote on BF to Bowdoin above, Jan 13.

9Hutchinson, History, III, 257–9; Bradford, op. cit., pp. 331–6.

1BF received the petition in September but did not present it to Lord Dartmouth for another two months. BF to Cushing below, Sept. 3, Nov. 4.

2In the April session the House had voted BF £300 sterling for his services from October to October, 1770–71, to which the Governor refused his assent; in the new session in July it voted BF £600—again unsuccessfully—for the period ending in October, 1772. Mass. House Jour., 2nd session, April, 1772, pp. 185–6; 1st session, May–July, 1772, pp. 121–2. Hutchinson was under instructions to refuse any such grant, because in the eyes of Whitehall BF was no agent. He received no salary from Massachusetts until after his return to America; see above, XVIII, 242 n.

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