To the Massachusetts House Committee of Correspondence
ALS: New York Public Library
London, Feb. 2. 1774
I received the Honour of your Letter dated Decr. 21.9 containing a distinct Account of the Proceedings at Boston relative to the Tea imported there, and of the Circumstances that occasioned its Destruction. I communicated the same to Lord Dartmouth, with some other Advices of the same Import. It is yet unknown what Measures will be taken here on the Occasion; but the Clamour against the Proceeding is high and general.1 I am truly concern’d, as I believe all considerate Men are with you, that there should seem to any a Necessity for carrying Matters to such Extremity, as, in a Dispute about Publick Rights, to destroy private Property; This (notwithstanding the Blame justly due to those who obstructed the Return of the Tea) it is impossible to justify with People so prejudiced in favour of the Power of Parliament to tax America, as most are in this Country. As the India Company however are not our Adversaries, and the offensive Measure of sending their Teas did not take its Rise with them, but was an Expedient of the Ministry to serve them and yet avoid a Repeal of the old Act,2 I cannot but wish and hope that before any compulsive Measures are thought of here, our General Court will have shewn a Disposition to repair the Damage and make Compensation to the Company.3 This all our Friends here wish with me; and that if War is finally to be made upon us, which some threaten, an Act of violent Injustice on our part, unrectified, may not give a colourable Pretence for it. A speedy Reparation will immediately set us right in the Opinion of all Europe. And tho’ the Mischief was the Act of Persons unknown, yet as probably they cannot be found or brought to answer for it, there seems to be some reasonable Claim on the Society at large in which it happened. Making voluntarily such Reparation can be no Dishonour to us or Prejudice to our Claim of Rights, since Parliament here has frequently considered in the same Light similar Cases; and only a few Years since, when a valuable Sawmill, which had been erected at a great Expence was violently destroyed by a Number of Persons supposed to be Sawyers, but unknown, a Grant was made out of the Publick Treasury of Two Thousand Pounds to the Owner as a Compensation.4 I hope in thus freely (and perhaps too forwardly) expressing my Sentiments and Wishes, I shall not give Offence to any. I am sure I mean well; being ever with sincere Affection to my native Country, and great Respect to the Assembly and yourselves, Gentlemen, Your most obedient and most humble Servant
|William Phillips 5|
Endorsed: Letter from Dr Franklin to a Com[mitte]e Lond. Feb 2–74
9. Above, XX, 509–12.
1. The “other Advices” were presumably the account of the Tea Party in the Boston Gaz. that was widely reprinted in the London press: Labaree, Tea Party, p. 173. Before that news reached England, a rumor was afoot that North would lay before Parliament measures for disciplining the Bostonians. When the news arrived a Cabinet meeting, which immediately followed the scene at the Cockpit on Jan. 29, determined to take a strong line with the Americans, Ibid., pp. 172, 174. On Feb. 1 the Earl of Buckinghamshire moved for papers in the House of Lords; in his speech he echoed Wedderburn’s taunt at the Cockpit that BF was behaving like an ambassador, and argued that “the question now was … whether we were to be free, or slaves to our colonies.” On Dartmouth’s assurance that papers would be forthcoming, Buckinghamshire withdrew his motion. Shelburne to Pitt, Feb. 3, 1774, William S. Taylor and John H. Pringle, eds., Correspondence of William Pitt … (4 vols., London, 1838–40), IV, 323–4; see also Crane, Letters to the Press, p. 249 n. Every one now recognized, the London Evening Post reported in its issue of Jan. 29–Feb. 1, that American affairs were the most important business to come before the government since the King’s accession.
2. See above, XX, 66 n.
3. As the General Court had done in 1766, by compensating victims of the Stamp Act riots: above, XII, 340 n. BF, as far as we know, had had no part in that settlement; and when questioned about the issue in the House of Commons he had been wholly noncommittal: above, XIII, 153–4. Now he was urging voluntary compensation, but as soon as it ceased to be voluntary, and Parliament tried to compel it, he repudiated the whole idea; see his letter to WF below, Sept. 7. Britain had no right, he declared in December, “both to Reparation and to return an equal Injury.” Below, p. 554.
4. In 1768 a mob of sawyers, presumably enraged by the competition of machinery, destroyed a wind-powered sawmill that one Charles Dingley had built at Limehouse. Dingley petitioned Parliament for redress on the ground that his mill was a boon to the public, and was awarded £2,000. London Chron., May 10–12, 1768; Commons Jours., XXXII (1768–70), 15, 160, 194, 237, 240.
5. Identified above, XVI, 273 n.