Benjamin Franklin Papers

Queries for a Conversation with Lord Camden, [27 December 1774?]

Queries for a Conversation with Lord Camden6

AD: Library of Congress

[December 27, 1774?]

Qu. What were the original Ideas upon which the Colonies were settled?

What was the State of their Government during the first Reigns?

Were they established at the Expence of Govt here?7

Did the Parliament make any Grants to defray or aid the first Charge, or for Protecting the Settlers?

Was the Parliament advis’d with by the Crown concerning the Terms of Settlement? Did it form any Regulations thereupon? Did it understand itself to have any Power over them?

Did not the Colonists go over free from the Laws of this Country, with a Right to adopt such of them as they should judge convenient to their Circumstances and reject others?8 And did they not in fact do so?

Were they not first reduc’d to any Submission to Parliament in the Time of the great Rebellion?9

Has it not been by degrees since the Restoration that the Parliament has assumed a Power of Legislation for America?

What is the present State of Power assumed by Parliament over the Colonies?

What Changes may be advantageously for both Countries made therein?

What would be the best Constitution for the Colonies as connected with this Country? And how is it to be obtained?

Notation: Queries relating to the Colonies, to be discuss’d with Lord C––n.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6Bigelow, because he read BF’s endorsement as “C––m,” assumed that the conversation was with Lord Chatham and apparently, from his placing of it, in March, 1774: Works, VI, 330. Worthington C. Ford agreed on Chatham but conjectured a more sensible date, January, 1775: List of the Benjamin Franklin Papers in the Library of Congress (Washington, 1905), p. 30. We are confident that BF wrote “C––n,” and our confidence is strengthened by the subject matter of the queries. They are obviously addressed to some one well versed in constitutional history, where Chatham was no expert, and are what BF might have been expected to put to a former lord chancellor. If they were meant for Camden, as we are convinced they were, a particular date is at least highly probable. BF, returning to town on Dec. 27 from a visit with a friend, stopped to see Lord Camden but found him and his family setting out for Hayes. They asked him in to wait for them and spend the night, and he accepted. During his stay he had several long conversations with his host (below, pp. 570–1), which he must have anticipated while waiting by himself; pen and paper were doubtless at hand. He used his time, we presume, in preparing these questions to put to the eminent jurist. If he did in fact put them, he left no record of Camden’s replies.

7BF, in his marginalia, had emphasized that they were not: above, XVII, 386, 398.

8They did not have this option in the eyes of British lawyers. BF, however, had long believed that they had: above, XVI, 299; XVII, 352–3; XX, 117.

9A reference, we presume, to the Cromwellian regulations that culminated in the Navigation Act of 1651, which limited colonial trade with the mother country to English bottoms.

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