Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to the Speakers of the Colonial Assemblies: a Circular Letter from Franklin, William Bollan, and Arthur Lee, 5 February 1775

To the Speakers of the Colonial Assemblies: a Circular Letter from Franklin, William Bollan, and Arthur Lee2

LS: Library of Congress

London Feb 5. 1775.


Our last Letter informed you, that the King had declared his Intention of laying the Petition before his two Houses of Parliament. It has accordingly been laid before each House, but undistinguished among a Variety of Letters and other Papers from America.

A Motion made by Lord Chatham, to withdraw the Troops from Boston, as the first Step towards a conciliating Plan, was rejected; and the Ministry have declared in both Houses the Determination to inforce Obedience to all the late Laws. For this Purpose we understand that three Regiments of Foot, one of Dragoons, seven hundred Marines, six Sloops of War, and two Frigates, are now under Orders for America.3

We think it proper to inform you, that your Cause was well defended by a considerable Number of good and wise Men in both Houses of Parliament, tho’ far from being a Majority:4 And that many of the commercial and manufacturing Parts of the Nation concerned in the American Trade, have presented, or as we understand are preparing to present Petitions to Parliament, declaring their great Concern for the present unhappy Controversies with America, and praying expressly or in effect for healing Measures, as the proper Means of preserving their Commerce, now greatly suffering or endangered. But the Treatment the Petitions already presented have hitherto received, is such, as in our Opinion, can afford you no Reliance on any present Releif through their Means.5

Assoon as we learn’t that the Petition of the Congress was before the House of Commons, we thought it our Duty to support it, if we might be permitted so to do, as there was no other Opportunity for the numerous Inhabitants of the Colonies to be heard in defence of their Rights: Accordingly we joined in a Petition for that Purpose. Sir Geo Saville kindly undertook to present it: But on previously opening the Purport of it, as the Order is, a Debate arose on the Propriety of receiving it, and on a Division it was rejected by a great Majority.

The following Extract of a Letter from Genl Gage to Lord Dartmouth, as laid before Parliament, we think it our Duty to transmit Viz.

“Decr 15. 1774. Your Lordships Idea of disarming certain Provinces, would doubtless be consistent with Prudence and Safety; but it neither is nor has been practicable, without having recourse to Force and being Masters of the Country.”6

It was thrown out in Debate by a principal Member of Administration, that it would be proper to alter the Charters of Connecticut and Rhode Island.7

Inclosed we send you a Copy of the Resolutions passed in a Committee of the whole House on Thursday last, which are to be reported on Monday. It is said that these Resolutions are to be the Foundation of several Bills to be brought in; but the Purport of those Bills we have not yet learn’t with sufficient Certainty.9

We send you likewise a Copy of Lord Chathams first Motion in the House of Lords, and of his Plan of a Bill for settling the Troubles between Britain and the Colonies, both which were rejected on the first Reading.1 With great Respect we are Sir Your most obedient humble Servants

W Bollan
B Franklin
Arthur Lee

[In Franklin’s hand:] To the Honourable [blank] Esqr Speaker of [blank]

Endorsed: Letter, Feby. 5th. 1775.

Wm. Bollan  B: Franklin  Arthur Lee.   of the Petetion to the King, Lord Chathams Motion, Resolution of Committee of the whole House.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2See the headnote on the first circular letter above, Dec. 24. In preparing this one BF again tried and failed to enlist the agents of the other colonies; see Garth’s letter to him above, Jan. 22. The present communication, unlike the other, went to Charles Thomson in two copies (of which only this one survives), with the request that he have others made and forwarded to all the speakers; see the following document. We annotate there points covered at greater length than in this letter.

3For this paragraph see above, the headnote on Stanhope to BF, Jan. 21, and the note on BF to Cushing, Jan. 28, 1775.

4The “good and wise Men” in the Lords are identified in the following document. In the Commons Barré, Burke, Dunning, and Fox had recently been defending the American cause: Cobbett, Parliamentary History, XVIII (1774–77), 172–4, 191, 224–5.

5See the notes on BF to Cushing above, Jan. 28, 1775.

6For Dartmouth’s suggestion of disarming New England see Carter, ed., Gage Correspondence, II, 175. Virtually the whole of Gage’s reply was laid before the House (Cobbett, cols. 106–8), but other equally important letters of his were edited to make his assessment of the situation appear less gloomy than it was: John R. Alden, “Decision for War,” in 1776 (McMaster Assn. for Eighteenth Century Studies Pub., V; Toronto and Sarasota, 1976), pp. 23–4.

7The remark, which apparently went unreported, could have been North’s in his speech on Feb. 2, mentioned in the next note. We have found considerable evidence that the measure was being considered. A letter from London published in a supplement to the Conn. Jour. of April 20, 1775, told of a meeting of the Privy Council on Jan. 27 at which “it is determined to take away the Charters of Rhode Island and Connecticut”; on Jan. 13 Josiah Quincy quoted John Williams, the customs inspector, as saying that “the Connecticut charter will be snapped this session”; on Feb. 9 Hutchinson heard that the two colonies were to have their governments changed and perhaps be divided between New York and Massachusetts; and on March 21 an M.P. wrote that the ministry had settled on a plan to take away the charters of the four New England colonies. Quincy, Memoir, p. 315; Hutchinson, Diary, I, 391; [Anne I. Deas, ed.,] Correspondence of Mr. Ralph Izard … (2 vols., New York, 1844), I, 58. More direct evidence is Lord Hyde’s statement at some time after Feb. 16 to Barclay and Fothergill that the two charters “must be alter’d.” Barclay to Pemberton below, March 18.

9The enclosed resolutions, including an amendment that was defeated, are with this letter in the Library of Congress. North introduced them as an address to the crown on Feb. 2, implying that they would be preliminary to coercive measures. During the debate the House was cleared of visitors; in the lobby Hutchinson saw BF, apparently much agitated at being unable to get in: Hutchinson, Diary, I, 367. The Commons passed the address on the 6th, and the Lords the next day; it declared that a rebellion existed in Massachusetts, and assured the King of Parliamentary support in meeting the crisis. For the debates see Cobbett, cols. 221–92.

1Chatham’s first motion was to withdraw the troops. On Jan. 29 he left with BF a draft of his conciliatory bill, which the latter copied; see the headnote on BF’s notes for a conversation above, Jan. 31, 1775.

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