From James Bowdoin10
ALS (draft): Massachusetts Historical Society
Boston Septr. 6. 1774
I am much obliged to you for introducing me to the acquaintance of General Lee. He came hither from the Southward about a month ago, when I had the pleasure of receiving by him your agreable Letter of July 28. 1773. The character you give of him is very just, and what compleats it is, that he is a hearty Friend of America.1 This may be no Recomendation of him with ministerial Politicians and2 those that very laughably stile themselves Friends of Government, who are either so weak as to see that the real Interests of Britain and America are mutual and closely connected, or seeing it are wicked enough to pursue measures destructive of both, which however from the systematic corruption prevalent they expect will turn to their own Emolument. The Several Acts of Parliament relative to this Town and Province will instamp eternal infamy on the present Administration, and tis probable that they themselves will soon See the beginning of it. The Spirit those Acts have raised throughout the Colonies is surprising. It was not propagated from Colony to Colony, but burst forth in all of them spontaneously as soon as the Acts were known, and there is reason to hope it will be productive of an union that will work out the Salvation of the whole. The Congress now holding at Philadephia which was intended to effect such an Union, it is earnestly wished may be the means of establishing on a just and constitutional basis a lasting harmony between Britain and the Colonies. In the meantime We in this Province are and shall be in a disagreable state occasioned by the above mentioned Acts. The Port-Act in all conscience cruel enough, is made much worse than it is in itself by the Executors of it, who have laid restraints not warranted by the Act, and in many instances of their Conduct have appeared destitute of every sentiment of humanity.3 This Act was intended to be temporary, but its continuance will depend on ministry: however it is to be hoped it will some time or other have an end. But the Act for reducing the Province to a military Government, from which more numerous and extensive evils will Accrue, was intended to be perpetual. The People of the Province are highly and universally incensed at it, and appear determined, even if they should stand alone, not to Submit to it, be the consequences what they may: and the other Governments, those of New England especially, are as much incensed as they, and will not suffer it to be carried into execution. Six Regiments are now here, and Genl. Gage ’tis said, has sent for two or three from Canada and expects soon a couple more from Ireland. Whether he will think these or a much greater number added to them Sufficient to enforce submission to the Act, his letters to ministry will inform them, and [in] time every body else. In apricum proferet aetas.4
A sort of Enthusiasm seems universally prevalent, and it has been greatly heightened by the Canada Act for the encouraging and establishing Popery. Pro Aris et focis, our all is at stake, is the general cry throughout the Country.5 Of this I have been in some measure a witness, having these two months past been journeying about the Province with Mrs. Bowdoin on account of her health: the bad state of which has prevented my attending the Congress, for which the Assembly thought proper to appoint me one of their Committee. But it is needless to enlarge on the Subject of American Affairs, as the worthy and ingenious Gentleman, Mr. Josiah Quincy junr. of distinguished abilities in the Profession of law, who does me the favour to take charge of this letter, can give you the fullest information concerning them: and his information may be depended on. To him I beg leave to refer you, and at the same time take the liberty to recommend him to your friendship and acquaintance.6
I cannot conclude without expressing my indignation at the unworthy treatment you received from the bronzed7 Wedderburn, whose illiberal and impertinent harangue answered neither of the Purposes for which it was intended: it neither exculpated his Culprit Client, nor fixed any dishonour on you. The dishonour of such Billingsgate is all his own, unless those that suffered it be intitled to a Part of it.
I am glad to understand your Retirement is not displeasing to you. In one view of it I am sure it will not be displeasing to the friends of Science: as it will give you a further opportunity of exerting your happy Genius in the walks of Philosophy. I am with real and great Esteem Dear sir your most obedient humble Servant
I cannot learn for what reason Mr. Temple was displaced. The only one I have heard of, the sending here the infamous Letters of certain persons, you have clearly and fully obviated, by publicly taking upon yourself that most meritorious Act.8
Benja Franklin. Esqr. in London
10. This is the first extant letter from BF’s once faithful correspondent since November, 1771.
1. In his acknowledgment below, Feb. 25, 1775, BF explained that he had sent part of Bowdoin’s letter to the press; the extract began with this sentence and appeared in the Public Advertiser, Nov. 26, 1774. For Charles Lee’s arrival in America see RB to BF above, Jan. 1. Lee went to Boston in early August, 1774, to meet Samuel Adams and other leading radicals, was hailed as a friend of American liberty, and left on the 17th for Philadelphia to observe the proceedings of the Continental Congress. John R. Alden, General Charles Lee: Traitor or Patriot? (Baton Rouge, ), pp. 56–9.
2. Instead of the four preceding words Bowdoin originally wrote “among your half Thinkers on your Side of the Atlantic: of which class it seems there are not a few there, especially among,” etc.
3. For Bostonian grievances about the implementation of the act see Cooper to BF above, Aug. 15.
4. In effect, “time will tell”: Horace, Epistles, 1:6:24. The presence of the military, Bowdoin wrote John Temple on Sept. 10, was “for the purpose of enlightning our intellects, and convincing us that our lives, liberty, and property are safer in the hands of foreigners than our own.” 6 Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll., IX (1897), 374. For the troop dispositions see Cooper’s letters of Aug. 15 and Sept. 9.
5. The extract in the Public Advertiser ended here.
6. Quincy (1744–75) was one of the most prominent young radicals in Boston. His father has appeared often in previous vols. (VI, 3n, et seq.) but Josiah, Jr., has barely been mentioned. He studied law under Oxenbridge Thatcher and inherited his practice, and with John Adams was counsel for the soldiers tried after the Boston Massacre. Early in 1773, having contracted tuberculosis, he visited the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland, partly for his health and partly to broaden his political horizons. In May, 1774, he published a pamphlet that increased his fame, Observations on the Act of Parliament, Commonly Called the Boston Port-Bill; with Thoughts on Civil Society and Standing Armies (Boston, 1774). On Sept. 28 he sailed for England, apparently because friends hoped that he could negotiate with members of the administration. For his stay in London see the headnote below on BF to Josiah Quincy, Sr., Feb. 26, 1775.
7. Hardened, unfeeling.
8. For Temple’s dismissal and BF’s assumption of responsibility for the Hutchinson letters see above, XIX, 404 n, 406 n; XX, 513–16. Bowdoin’s inquiry grew out of a letter from his son-in-law of March 15, 1774, in which Temple said that he had just been dismissed as surveyor general of customs without notice or explanation, he believed at the King’s command; “and with all the interest I can make, I cannot gain information what my fault or reputed fault is.” 6 Mass. Hist. Soc., Coll., X (1897), 357. BF, in a postscript to his reply below, Feb. 25, to Bowdoin’s letter, could only conjecture about the reason.