Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to [the Pennsylvania Assembly Committee of Correspondence, 7 May 1774]

To [the Pennsylvania Assembly Committee of Correspondence13]

AL (fragment of draft): American Philosophical Society

[May 7, 1774]

[First part missing] have an Opportunity of passing the new One. All the rest of the 15 Bills passed the same Day, viz. Feb. 26. 1773 will pass here including the Loan-Office Bill, which gives me the more Pleasure as I know the House have that Bill much at heart, and there have been some Circumstances in the Course of its Consideration, which made me apprehensive for the Fate of it.14

On this Occasion I would mention a Doubt which has occurred to me concerning the Extent of the Power of the Crown to make void the Laws presented for its Approbation. The 7th Section of the Royal Charter is that which directs their being so presented, the Reason given for it in the Preamble is, to prevent our departing from our Allegiance; and the Description of the Laws which the Crown may declare void is, such as shall be declared by the King in his Council inconsistent with his Sovereignty or lawful Prerogative, or contrary to the Faith and Allegiance due to the legal Government of the Realm. Do either of the Acts above mentioned come within this Description? And are not all those made for regulating among ourselves our own municipal Affairs, exempt from such Repeal?1 This is a Point I do not presume to determine upon. I only mention it for the Consideration of others more learned in the Law. The present Juncture, however, seems not proper for entring into a Dispute with the Crown on this Point, if it were thought worth Disputing; For as there seems just now a strong Prejudice against Colony Charters; and the Parliament is at this time actually breaking into that of the Massachusetts Bay;2 they would probably make no Scruple of altering ours too, if it was thought to stand in their way.

The [remainder missing.]

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

13Samuel Rhoads, for the committee of correspondence, laid before the Pa. Assembly on September 20, 1774, a letter received from BF and dated May 7: 8 Pa. Arch., VIII, 7103, where the description of the letter is sufficient to establish that this fragment was part of it.

14For the loan office or paper money act see above, XX, 340–1, and BF to Galloway above, Feb. 18. This and fourteen other acts came before the Board of Trade on Feb. 14. The Board considered them on April 21 and again, with BF in attendance, on May 5, and on May 12 recommended the acceptance of all but two. The Privy Council apparently allowed the thirteen, including the money bill, on July 6. See the note on Pownall to BF above, April 21; Board of Trade Jour., 1768–1775, pp. 386, 393–5; Acts Privy Coun., Col., V, 398–9.

1BF’s “Doubt” suggests how far he had moved from the conventional British view of the constitution toward the emerging American view. He was presumably aware, from attending the Board of Trade, of the grounds on which the two acts were eventually rejected. One of the two imposed harsh punishment on any one who damaged the buoys, beacons, or lighthouse that marked the channel to the port of Philadelphia; it was disallowed because the punishment contravened the spirit of English law and because the lighthouse was within the jurisdiction of Delaware. The other act, designed to stop the importation of slaves by imposing high duties, was disallowed as prejudicial to British trade. Ibid. In both cases the underlying argument was that the Assembly, by acting ultra vires, had encroached on the crown’s authority.

2See BF to Cushing above, April 2, 16.

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