Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to William Franklin, 30 June 1774

To William Franklin

Reprinted from George T. Keppel, Earl of Albemarle, Memoirs of the Marquis of Rockingham and His Contemporaries … (2 vols., London, 1852), II, 299–300.1

London, June 30th, 1774

I hear a non-importation agreement is intended. If it is general, and the Americans agree in it, the present Ministry will certainly be knocked up, and their Act repealed;2 otherwise they and their measures will be continued, and the Stamp Act revived.

The Scotch in resentment of the Parliament’s refusing to lay an additional duty on foreign linen, or to give a bonus upon theirs, are entering into like agreements with regard to cloth and hats from England, and are setting up large manufactures of both, which will be an additional distress to manufacturers here.3

I should be sorry if Ireland is included in your agreement, because that country is much our friend, and the want of flax-seed may distress them exceedingly, but your merchants can best judge. It can only be meant against England, to ensure a change of measures, and not to hurt Ireland, with whom we have no quarrel.4

The Bill for laying duties on spirits and liquors imported into Quebec appoints three-pence a gallon in what is from Britain, six-pence on what comes from the West Indies, and twelve-pence on all from any part of North America, or any foreign country; so that after all our expense in helping to conquer Canada for this Crown, we are put on the footing of foreigners, in our trade with it.5 Will this, in a future war, encourage us to assist in more conquests?

1Where the original letter, of which this is clearly an extract, was cited as being in the Earl of Leicester’s library. By 1955 it had vanished without trace.

2This is the first mention in the correspondence of the measures that the colonists were considering in reply to the Coercive Acts. Four separate kinds of economic retaliation were under discussion: first, nonimportation, as after the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts; second, nonexportation; third, nonintercourse, an embargo on both imports and exports; fourth, the only one that directly involved the public at large, nonconsumption of British goods whether legally imported or smuggled. On May 13 a Boston town meeting appealed to the province and other colonies to enter into a nonintercourse agreement; support in some degree was forthcoming, the London press reported, from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and Philadelphia. Public Advertiser, June 17, 18, 21; London Chron., June 21–3, 23–5, 28–30; Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, June 21, 24. These reports made clear that nonintercourse rather than nonimportation was at issue.

BF, for months to come, consistently overestimated the effect that a trade embargo would have on mustering opposition to the Coercive Acts and overturning the ministry. He was doubtless thinking in terms of merchants’ influence in 1766 and 1769–70, but times had changed and the merchants with them. Those trading with North America were a smaller part of the mercantile community than they had been, and many of them were alienated by the increasing radicalism of their customers; the old rapport between the City of London and the groups of Parliamentary opposition had broken down; and the government, supported by the King and large majorities in both houses, was in a position to ignore such protest as was made. See Jack M. Sosin, Agents and Merchants … (Lincoln, Neb., 1965), pp. 175–6; Donoughue, British Politics, pp. 147–54; Frank O’Gorman, The Rise of Party in England: the Rockingham Whigs … (London, [1975]), pp. 334–5.

3The British linen trade had been in the doldrums for a year and more. Parliament had taken no action in 1773, and in the spring of 1774 had defeated a proposed bounty for Scottish and Irish manufacturers. Cobbett, Parliamentary History, XVII (1771–74), 1110–58; Scots Mag., XXXVI (1774), 472–81; Alexander J. Warden, The Linen Trade Ancient and Modern (London, 1864), pp. 371–2. On June 18–21 the London Chron. reported that a number of Scots gentry had bound themselves to wear only hats and broadcloth that were of Scottish manufacture.

4For Irish dependence on colonial flax seed see “The Question Discussed” below, Nov. 19.

5In his letter to Cushing above, June 1, BF touched briefly on this bill, which became law on June 22 as 14 Geo. III, c. 88. The 3d. duty applied to spirits distilled in Britain; foreign imports shipped from Britain paid 12d. The duty on imports from British North America, despite what BF says, was 9d. a gallon.

Index Entries