Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Samuel Cooper, 15 March 1773

From Samuel Cooper

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Boston N.E. 15th March, 1773.

Dear Sir

I have been confin’d to my House great Part of this Winter by my valetudinary State, and been little able to see and converse with my Friends, and less to write to them.3 A Line from you would have greatly refresh’d me in this Confinement, as your Letters have ever been one of the greatest Entertainments of my Life: but I do not mean to complain, having been so greatly indebted to you.

Till of late there has been little remarkable in our public Affairs for more than a Year. The Appointment of Ld. Dartmouth to the American Department was receiv’d here with a general Joy, which was soon check’d by his Official Letter to the Governor of Rhode-Island, respecting the Court of Inquiry into the Burning of the Gaspee and the Directions therein given to send the accused with the Witnesses to Great Britain for Trial; as also by the Account of the Provision made by the King for the Support of the Justices of our Superior Court. These Events made a deep Impression on the Mind of People thro the Province. The latter, it is known, took Place before Lord Hillsborough’s Removal; but the former was more unexpected, as the Disposition of Ld. Dartmouth to serve the Colonies, and to promote mild Measures was not doubted.4

Soon after the Appointment for the Superior Justices was known, the Town of Boston had a Meeting. Their Committee drew up a State of the public Grievances, which was accompanied with a Letter to evr’y Town in the Province, desiring their Brethren to express their own Sense of these important Matters. Tho this Measure was oppos’d by a Number of the most respectable Friends to Liberty in the Town, among which were three out of four of the Representatives of Boston, from an Apprehension that many Towns, for various Reasons might not chuse to adopt it, and in that Case, the Attempt might greatly prejudice the Interest it was design’d to promote, and tho the Governor and his Friends in ev’ry Place did not fail to avail themselves of this and evr’y other Circumstance to frustrate it, yet it had an Effect thro the whole Province beyond the most sanguine Expectations of it’s Friends: And the public Acts of a great Majority of the Towns, whatever may be thought of the Manner of Expression in some of them, clearly demonstrates that it is not a small Faction, but the Body of the People, who deem themselves in a State of Oppression, and that their most essential Rights are violated. The Pamphlet containing the Proceedings of Boston has already been sent you, and I should enclose those of some other Towns, had I a sure and easy Way of Conveying such large Papers, without Fear of Burdening when I meant to entertain you.5

Upon the Convening the General Assembly, the Governor opened with a long Speech in Defence of the absolute Supremacy of Parliament over the Colonies, inviting both Houses to offer what they had to object against this Principle. His Prudence however, in this Step, and whether he will be thanked for it by Administration, is doubted.6 By the Replies of the two Houses, perfectly united in the main Principles, the Governor and his Friends received a Shock which they could not conceal; while the People are greatly confirm’d in their Sentiments, and encourag’d to support them.7 I will venture to mention in Confidence to you, that the Governor appearing uneasy after he had received the second Reply of the Council,8 employ’d his utmost Influence to have it reconsidered and altered. Having endeavor’d privately to prepare the Minds of some Influential Members for this, He enclos’d it in a Letter to one of the Board, requesting him to introduce the Reconsideration in Council: Presently He appears there himself, and argues strenuously in Favor of this. The Vote for the Reply, as it had been deliver’d, was however unanimous, except two, who desir’d to be excused from voting either Way. Oppos’d as he now stands to both Houses, and the Body of the People, an undisguis’d and zealous advocate for ev’ry Thing we account a Grievance, how far his Situation resembles that of his Predecessor, I leave you to judg.9

The Opposition here to the hard and oppressive Measures of the British Administration, never appear’d to me founded so much in Knowledg and Principle, never so systematical, deliberate and firm as it is at present. I may be mistaken in this opinion, but it leads me most earnestly to wish, for the Sake of both Countries, for some Pacification—some Lines to be drawn—some Bill of Rights for America—some Security against the unlimited Supremacy, and unbounded Pow’r not only of our Sovereign, but also of our Fellow Subjects in Britain over us: and unless something of this [sort?] soon takes Place, there is Danger that Things will run into Confusion.10 Knowing your past Services to the Province, and being perswaded both of your ability and Inclination still to serve it in the best Manner that the State of Things will allow, I hope all Obstruction to your receiving the Grants made for you by the House will soon be removed.11

Our congregation are now engag’d in building an House of Worship, that will cost £6000. Sterling and be finish’d by Midsummer. The Dimensions within the Walls 80 by 65 Feet. The Building is of Brick. It is thought necessary to warm it in the Cold and damp Seasons of the Year, by some Machine, but what Kind, we are at a Loss. We have heard of Buzaglo’s Inventions, but not been particularly inform’d. You will do us all a very great Favor if you would write me, what Machine you think most convenient and decent for this Purpose, the Price, the Manner of putting up, the Place where, and how the Smoke is convey’d away. We should be extremely glad of your Information Time etc. and[?] if it might ser[ve?] to send our Order for it, and have it put up early in the Fall.1 I have been told that you and some others have lately obtain’d thro much opposition a Grant of Land for a new Province. If this be true,2 and your Prospect agreable, You have no Friend that takes a warmer Part in it thro your large Circle, than your obedient humble Servant

Samuel Cooper.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3Cooper is said to have suffered from mental troubles induced by overindulgence in Scottish snuff: Sibley’s Harvard Graduates, XI, 211.

4For the salaries of the Superior Court judges see above, XIX, 381 n. The government’s decision to pay them was taken while Hillsborough was still in office, and the warrants were issued just when he was leaving it: Oliver M. Dickerson, “Use Made of the Revenue from the Tax on Tea,” New England Quarterly, XXXI (1958), 238–41; Bernhard Knollenberg, Growth of the American Revolution, 1766–1775 (New Haven and London, [1975]), pp. 87–8. For the Gaspee affair see above, XIX, 379, and Knollenberg, pp. 83–6. Cooper is echoing popular disenchantment with Dartmouth, which was the result largely of propaganda. The Secretary seems to have opposed bringing prisoners to England for trial (ibid., p. 347 n 47), but he had no choice about implementing governmental policy. His official letter to Gov. Joseph Wanton of Rhode Island, Sept. 4, 1772, outlined the procedure that the Privy Council had laid down for the investigative commission: to gather information about the causes of the affair, and about whether the King’s officers had contributed to the outcome; to determine whether sufficient evidence existed to convict specific persons of attacking the ship; and if so to ask the civil authorities to apprehend such persons and deliver them to the navy, which would take them to England for trial. The King was determined on the one hand, the letter added, to protect his officers in performing their duties, and on the other hand to punish any of them who interfered unnecessarily with the commerce of his subjects in Rhode Island. Gov. Wanton laid the letter before the House of Deputies, and an extract of it was forwarded to Massachusetts (where it was promptly published) and to other colonies. The extract, which omitted the King’s concern for local commerce, fanned the flames of a campaign that the Rhode Island press had begun against the commission as soon as its existence was known. Cushing, ed., Writings of Samuel Adams, II, 389–95; John R. Bartlett, ed., Records of the Colony of Rhode Island … (10 vols., Providence, 1856–65), VII, 102–4; William R. Leslie, “The Gaspee Affair: a Study of Its Constitutional Significance,” Mississippi Valley Hist. Rev., XXXIX (1952), 238–45; David S. Lovejoy, Rhode Island Politics and the American Revolution, 1760–1776 (Providence, R.I., 1958), pp. 160–3.

5Of the Boston representatives in the House, only Samuel Adams served on the committee of correspondence that the town meeting created; Thomas Cushing, John Hancock, and William Phillips declined. For the background of the meeting’s declaration, the letters from the committee, and the response they evoked, see the headnote on BF’s preface above, under the end of February, and Richard D. Brown, Revolutionary Politics in Massachusetts … (Cambridge, Mass., 1970), pp. 59–61, 66, 92–121, 141.

6The note on BF to Cushing above, March 9, discusses Hutchinson’s speech on Jan. 6. Cooper’s doubt that London would welcome it was well founded; see BF to Cushing below, May 6, July 7.

7The Council and House answered the Governor’s speech, just mentioned, separately and at length. The Council denied that Parliament had unlimited authority—only God had that—and argued that the colonists inherited all the limitations put on the taxing power from Magna Carta to the Bill of Rights. “Life, liberty, property, and the disposal of that property, with our own consent, are natural rights. … The preservation of these rights, is the great end of government.” Bradford, ed., Mass. State Papers, p. 350. The House agreed with this position, and cited Hutchinson’s own historical works to show how often the province had challenged his view of the constitution. The colonies were by their charters, the House asserted, distinct states under a common sovereign. If the Governor expected a line to be drawn between their independence and the supremacy of Parliament, that was a matter for them all to determine in a congress. Ibid., pp. 342–64; Hutchinson, History, III, 267–70.

8In February Hutchinson opened the second round of debate; see the chronology on p. xxxvi. He urged the Council, or Board, to oppose Parliament’s use of power as inexpedient, not unconstitutional, to which the Council replied by reasserting its position. He delivered the House a disquisition on feudal tenure, to show that the colonists held from the crown and owed allegiance under their charters to the crown in Parliament. Feudal allegiance was owed solely to the crown, the House answered, and was limited by property rights that the settlers’ own efforts had secured; Hutchinson’s argument, furthermore, flouted logic as well as history, for consent of the governed alone made laws binding. Ibid., pp. 270–3; Bradford, op. cit., pp. 368–96.

9The member of the Council through whom Hutchinson worked for reconsideration of its answer was undoubtedly its president, Samuel Danforth, whom he considered his closest supporter. Mass. Arch., XXVII, 481; for Danforth see BF’s letter to him below, July 25. The Governor also lobbied with Bowdoin, on the Council, and with several members of the House. Butterfield, ed., John Adams Diary, II, 77; Sibley’s Harvard Graduates, XI, 531–2. The debate united the Council and House, and did indeed emphasize the opposition between their view and the Governor’s. To them the colonial legislature, although technically subordinate, was independent of Parliamentary control; to him the sovereignty of Parliament was supreme, absolute, and unlimited. The result was an even more complete impasse than that between Gov. Bernard and the House in 1768, the year before his recall. “If you are still of Opinion that two Jurisdictions, each of them having a Share in the Supreme Power, are compatible in the same State,” Hutchinson told the legislators when proroguing them on March 6, “it can be to no Purpose to Reason or Argue …” The Speeches of His Excellency Governor Hutchinson to the General Assembly … with the Answers of His Majesty’s Council and the House of Representatives … (Boston, 1773), p. 115. For fuller summaries of the debate see Gipson, British Empire, XII, 51–5; Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, Mass., [1967]), pp. 219–22, and The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson (Cambridge, Mass., 1974), pp. 207–11.

10See below, Cooper to BF, June 14, and BF to Cooper, July 7.

11For the ongoing dispute over BF’s salary as agent of the House see above, XVIII, 127, 153 n, 242; XIX, 209 n; and BF to the House and to Cushing below, July 7.

1The old Brattle St. meeting house was being replaced by a new church; out of the £6,000 John Hancock contributed £1,000 for the interior. The congregation had asked Cooper to find a way to heat the building, but he was unsuccessful. Sibley’s Harvard Graduates, XI, 195–6. BF did not help, for he discouraged the use of any stove; see his reply below, July 7. Abraham Buzaglo, a merchant of St. Catharine St., the Strand, had patented a “machine” for heating rooms by coal in 1765. Lord Botetourt subsequently ordered from him a special, enormous stove as a present to the Virginia House of Burgesses; Buzaglo created what he considered a masterpiece. It apparently arrived soon after Botetourt’s death in 1770, and its elegance and size created a stir in the American press. Kent’s Directory … (London, 1770); Bennet Woodcroft, Alphabetical Index of Patentees of Inventions … (London, [1969]); Va. Gaz., Nov. 22, 1770, supplement; Va. Hist. Register and Literary Companion, VI (1853), 42–4; Henry C. Mercer, The Bible in Iron … (Doylestown, Pa., 1914), p. 131.

2It was far from true; see BF to WF above, Feb. 14.

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