Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Thomas Cushing, 9 March 1773

To Thomas Cushing

ALS (letterbook draft): Library of Congress

London, March 9. 73


I did myself the Honour of Writing to you the 2d of December, and the 5th of January past. Since which I have received your Favour of Nov 28. inclosing the Votes and Proceedings of the Town of Boston, which I have reprinted here with a Preface.2 Herewith I send you a few Copies.

Governor Hutchinson’s Speech at the Opening of your Jany. Session, has been printed and industriously circulated here by (as I think) the ministerial People, which I take to be no good Sign. The Assembly’s Answer to it is not yet arriv’d, and in the mean while it seems to make Impression on the Minds of many not well acquainted with the Dispute.3 The Tea Duty however, is under the Consideration of Parliament for a Repeal on a Petition from the East India Company; and no new Measures have been talked of against America as likely to be taken during the present Session;4 I was therefore preparing to return home by the Spring Ships: But have been advis’d by our Friends to stay till the Session is over; as the Commission sent to Rhodeisland,5 and the Discontents in your Province, with the Correspondence of the Towns, may possibly give Rise to something here, when my being on the Spot may be of Use to our Country. So I conclude to stay a little longer. In the mean time I must hope that great Care will be taken to keep our People quiet, since nothing is more wish’d for by our Enemies, than that by Insurrections we should give a good Pretence for increasing the Military among us, and putting us under more severe Restraints. And it must be evident to all that by our rapidly increasing Strength we shall soon become of so much Importance, that none of our just Claims of Privilege will be as heretofore unattended to, nor any Security we can wish for our Rights be deny’d us. With great Respect, I have the Honour to be, Sir, Your most obedient humble Servant

B Franklin

Thos Cushing Esqr

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2Cushings’ letter has disappeared. For the enclosure see the preceding document.

3The declaration of the town meeting and the creation of a committee of correspondence persuaded Governor Hutchinson that he could no longer keep silent. He accordingly outlined to the General Court, when it met again on Jan. 6, what he conceived to be the position of Massachusetts in the empire. His speech was the fullest and most closely reasoned defense of the imperial constitution, as traditionally viewed, that appeared in America before the Revolution. It was also the indirect cause of BF’s short but significant essay below, March 16, “On Claims to the Soil of America.” When British subjects left the realm, the Governor argued, they retained their allegiance to the crown, and the lands they settled overseas became part of the crown’s dominions; the very issuance of a charter was an assertion of royal authority over the colony so chartered. In leaving the realm, he continued, the colonists surrendered the right they had previously had to be governed by their representatives in Parliament, because no practical means existed to provide such representation; but the surrender did not affect the right of Parliament to legislate for them. That right was undeniable, and if it was misused the remedy was not to deny it but to petition for redress. A state could not exist with two coequal legislatures: either Parliament was supreme, or the colonies were totally independent. Bradford, ed., Mass. State Papers, pp. 336–42; Hutchinson, History, III, 266–7. The speech was printed in the London Chron., Feb. 27, and the Public Advertiser, March 4. If “ministerial People” were responsible, they presumably did not include Dartmouth, who was still averse to troubling the waters; see BF to Cushing above, Jan. 5, and Hutchinson, History, III, 276–7.

4The Company’s petition to Parliament, of which BF speaks, was based on the propositions adopted by the Proprietors on Feb. 12, for which see the note on BF to Galloway above, Feb. 14, and Labaree, Tea Party, p. 70. The petition as presented on March 2 contained the same ambiguous request as the propositions, to export tea to America free of duty. The subsequent Parliamentary debate did not make clear precisely what this request would entail, but BF still took it to mean, as he had in February, repeal of the Townshend duty. In fact, however, the government did not raise that possibility; see the headnote on BF to Cushing below, June 4.

5To investigate the burning of H.M.S. Gaspee; see above, XIX, 379–80 and Cooper’s and Cushing’s letters to BF below, March 15, 24.

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