Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Charles Thomson, 5 February 1775

To Charles Thomson

Copy:2 Library of Congress

London Feb. 5. 1775

Dear Sir

I received duly your Favours of Nov. 1. by Capt. Falconer, and afterwards that of Oct. 26. both inclosing the Letter from the Congress, and the Petition to the King.3 Immediately on Receipt of the first I wrote to every one of the other Gentlemen nominated, and desired a Meeting to consult on the Mode of presenting the Petition committed to our Care. Three of them, vizt Mr. Burke, Mr. Wentworth, and Mr. Life, declined being concerned in it, and without consulting each other gave the same Reason, viz. That they had no Instructions relating to it from their Constituents. Mr. Garth was out of Town. So it rested on Mr. Bollan, Mr. Lee and myself. We took Council with our best Friends, and were advised to present it through Lord Dartmouth, that being the regular official Method, and the only one in which we might on Occasion call for an Answer. We accordingly waited on his Lordship with it, who would not immediately undertake to deliver it, but requested it might be left with him to peruse, which was done. He found nothing in it improper for him to present, and afterwards sending for us he informed us, that he had presented the Petition to his Majesty, who had been pleased to receive it very graciously, and to command him to tell us, it contain’d Matters of such Importance, that as soon as they met he would lay it before his two Houses of Parliament. We then consulted on the Publication, and were advised by wise and able Men, Friends of America, whose Names it will not be proper to mention, by no means to publish it ’till it should be before Parliament; as it would be deem’d disrespectfull to the King.4 We flatter’d ourselves from the Answer given by Lord D. that the King would have been pleased to recommend it to the Consideration of Parliament by some Message; but we were mistaken. It came down among a great Heap of Letters of Intelligence from Governors and Officers in America, Newspapers, Pamphlets, Handbills, &c from that Country, the last in the List and laid upon the Table with them, undistinguished by any particular Reccommendation of it to the Notice of either House, and I do not find that it has had any farther Notice taken of it as yet, than that it has been read as well as the other Papers. To draw it into the Attention of the House we petitioned to be heard upon it; but were not permitted. And by the Resolutions of the Committee of the whole House, which I enclose, you will see that it has made little Impression;5 and from the constant Refusal, Neglect or Discouragement, of American Petitions, these many Years past, our Country will at last be convinc’d that Petitions are odious here and that petitioning is far from being a probable Means of obtaining Redress. A firm, steady, and faithfull, Adherence to the Non-Consumption Agreement is the only Thing to be depended on, it begins already to work, (as you will see in the Votes of the House,) by producing Applications from the Merchants and Manufacturers, and it must finaly lead Parliament into reasonable Measures.6 At present, the Ministers are encouraged to proceed by the Assurances they receive from America, that the People are not unanimous; that a very great Part of them disapprove the Proceedings of the Congress, and would break thro’ them if there was in the Country an Army sufficient to support these Friends as they are call’d of Government.7 They rely too on being able to divide us still farther by various Means: for they seem to have no Conception that such a Thing as public Spirit or public Virtue anywhere exists. I trust they will find themselves totaly mistaken.

The Congress is in high Esteem here among all the Friends of Liberty, and their Papers much admir’d. Perhaps nothing of the kind has ever been more thoroughly published or more universally read. Lord Camden spoke highly of the Americans in general, and of the Congress particularly in the House of Lords. Lord Chatham said that taking the whole together, and considering the Members of the Congress as the unsolicited unbiass’d Choice of a great, free and enlightned People, their Unanimity, their Moderation, and their Wisdom, he thought it the most honourable Assembly of Men that had ever been known; that the Histories of Greece and Rome gave us nothing equal to it. Lord Shelburne would not admit that the Parliament of Britain could be comparable with it, a Parliament obeying the Dictates of a Ministry, who in nine Cases out of ten were governed by their under Secretaries.8

You will see among the Papers herewith sent, the Motion made by Lord Chatham as preparatory to his Plan, viz. that the Troops should be removed from Boston. I send also a Copy of the Plan itself, which you may be assured is genuine. The Speeches, hitherto published as his, during the Session, are spurious.9

The Duke of Richmond and the Duke of Manchester appear’d for us also in the Debate, and spoke extreamly well. Lord Chathams Bill, tho’ on so important a Subject, and offer’d by so great a Character, and supported by such able and learned Speakers, as Camden &c &c was treated with as much Contempt as they could have shown to a Ballad offered by a drunken Porter. It was rejected on a slight reading: without being suffered even to lie on the Table for the Perusal of the Members.10 The House of Commons too have shown an equal Rashness and Precipitation in Matters that requir’d the most weighty Deliberation, refusing to hear, and entering hastily into violent Measures: And yet this is the Government whose supreme Authority we are to have our Throats cut if we do not acknowledge, and whose Dictates we are implicitly to obey, while their Conduct hardly entitles them to common Respect.

The Agents have not time to make so many Copies of the Papers sent with this, nor indeed of our Letter to the Speakers of the several Assemblies, as would be necessary to send one for each. We therefore send only two, one per Falconer and the other per Laurence to New York, requesting that you would get them Copied at Philadelphia, and forward them Northward and southward one to each Speaker by the earliest Conveyance.11

It is thought by our Friends that Lord Chathams Plan, if it had been enacted here, would have prevented present Mischief, and might have been the foundation of a lasting good Agreement. For tho’ in some Points it might not perfectly coincide with our Ideas and Wishes, we might have proposed Modifications or Variations where we should judge them necessary, and in fine the two Countries might have met in perfect Union. I hope therefore it will be treated with Respect by our Writers, and its Author honour’d for the Attempt: for though he has put some Particulars into it, as I think merely by way of complying a little with the general Prejudices here, and to make more material Parts go better down, yet I am persuaded he would not otherwise be tenacious of those Parts, meaning sincerely to make us contented and happy, as far as consistent with the general Welfare.

I need not caution you to let no part of this Letter be copied or printed. With great Esteem I am Sir Your affectionate Friend and humble Servant.

[Ch.?] Thomson Esquire

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2The copy is among Thomson’s papers and is in the same hand as the preceding document. A later transcript, which Smyth mistakenly identified as the original (Writings, VI, 303), was published in the N.-Y. Hist. Soc. Coll., XI (1878), 25–8.

3For the complex story of Thomson’s two letters and what he enclosed in each see the notes on those letters above.

4For the agents’ handling of the petition see the headnotes above on BF to Burke, Dec. 19, on the circular letter to the speakers, Dec. 24, and on the notices of publication, Jan. 17, 1775.

5The American papers that North laid before the Commons on Jan. 19, when Parliament reconvened, and Dartmouth laid before the Lords the next day consisted of 149 documents; the final one was uninformatively described as “Petition of sundry Persons, on Behalf of themselves and the Inhabitants of several of His Majesty’s Colonies in America”: Commons Jours., XXXV (1774–76), 66. The Lords tabled the petition and the other papers; the Commons referred them to a committee of the whole. On Jan. 25 Sir George Savile (above, XVI, 80–1 n) left the House and went home; there he found a petition from BF, Bollan, and Lee, saying that “the petitioners could explain and throw great light on the Petition presented from the Congress to the King, which, by his Majesty’s command, had been referred to that honourable House, and therefore praying to be heard on the same.” Cobbett, Parliamentary History, XVIII (1774–77), 182; see also Force, 4 Amer. Arch., I, 1532 n. Sir George returned to the Commons and presented the purport of the request. A debate ensued about whether it could be entertained when the members knew nothing as yet about the original petition, and the House adjourned with no conclusion. The next day Savile reopened the matter: the Congress had authorized the agents to present its address to the King, and they begged to be heard in support of it. They were refused by a vote of almost three to one. Cobbett, cols. 182–3, 193–4. The petition from the Congress remained buried among the other American papers, which en masse served as background for the resolutions of the committee of the whole, or address to the King, discussed in a note on the preceding document.

6The importance of adhering to the Continental Association was a point that BF repeatedly emphasized. The votes of the House to which he refers were the proceedings that were published daily for M.P.’s and the public: Sheila Lambert, “Printing for the House of Commons in the Eighteenth Century,” 5 The Library, XXIII (1968), 27–30. For the merchants’ and manufacturers’ petitions see above, the headnote on Barclay to BF, Jan. 12, and the note on BF to Cushing, Jan. 28, 1775.

7Such assurances were in the letter from Gage quoted in the preceding document.

8This paragraph refers to the debate on Chatham’s motion in the House of Lords on Jan. 20. For Chatham’s encomium see Cobbett, cols. 155–6 n. We have found no other record that Shelburne and Camden made the points reported here; but BF heard their speeches: below, pp. 575–8.

9The only spurious speech we know of was a garbled version of what Chatham said in introducing his motion on Jan. 20 to withdraw the troops. It was published a few days later, and soon afterward withdrawn because the Earl objected; a correspondent denounced the publication as an abuse of the press and a breach of Parliamentary privilege. Public Advertiser, Jan. 27, 28, 1775. The inaccuracy of printed speeches was notorious because debates were supposedly private; see Peter D. G. Thomas, “The Beginning of Parliamentary Reporting in Newspapers,” English Hist. Rev., LXXIV (1959), 632–6; Arthur S. Turberville, The House of Lords in the XVIIIth Century (Oxford, 1927), pp. 11–14, 514.

10BF has shifted to the debate in the Lords, Feb. 1, on Chatham’s plan. BF discusses the debate at greater length below, pp. 581–3; the plan is summarized in the headnote above, Jan. 31, 1775.

11The Earl of Dunmore, Capt. Lawrence, and the Mary and Elizabeth, Capt. Falconer, left Deal on Feb. 5, too early to have carried this covering letter: London Chron., Feb. 4–7; Public Advertiser, Feb. 6, 7. Contrary winds forced them both to put in at Portsmouth; Falconer so informed BF (below, Feb. 20), and asked whether he had letters to consign to him. If the two captains did in fact carry the papers and this letter, it would seem that the latter was completed after BF had received Falconer’s note of the 20th. Lawrence reached New York on April 11: N.-Y. Gaz.; and the Weekly Mercury, April 17. Falconer’s arrival was reported in the Pa. Packet, May 1, and the same afternoon Thomson presented to the Assembly the agents’ circular letter: 8 Pa. Arch., VIII, 7221–3.

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