Benjamin Franklin Papers

The Pennsylvania Assembly: Instructions to Its Delegates in Congress, 9 May 1775

The Pennsylvania Assembly: Instructions to Its Delegates in Congress

Printed in Votes and Proceedings of the Province of Pennsylvania . . . (6 vols., Philadelphia, 1752–76), VI, 587.

Franklin had no more than set foot in Philadelphia before he was plunged into local as well as Congressional politics. The day after he arrived the Assembly chose him unanimously as a delegate to Congress. On June 30 he was appointed to the Pennsylvania committee of safety and three days later became its president.2 On August 16 he was elected, at the head of all three tickets, to the Philadelphia committee of inspection and observation, and was re-elected on February 16, 1776; in August and February he was also appointed to a district committee.3 On October 2, 1775, he was chosen as an Assemblyman from Philadelphia, and on the 19th reappointed to the committee of safety and on November 4 to Congress.4 In June, 1776, the committee of inspection named him as a delegate to the provincial conference, a predecessor of the constitutional convention; on July 8 he was elected from Philadelphia to the convention itself, on the 16th became its president, and on the 20th was reappointed as one of its delegates to Congress.5

Although these many offices attest his popularity, no man could have filled them all; and Franklin did not try. He never took his seat in the Assembly. He worked hard on the committee of safety during its early months, but his attendance became sporadic as time wore on; and in February, 1776, he resigned from both the committee and the Assembly.6 The focus of his activities was Congress, and there he worked within the framework of the Assembly’s instructions to its delegates.

Those instructions had been under consideration for months before Franklin’s return from England. The previous December the Assembly had approved the proceedings of the first Continental Congress, selected seven delegates to the second, and appointed a committee to draft their instructions. The draft was repeatedly considered and repeatedly deferred.7 On March 9 the Assembly repudiated the program of Joseph Galloway and his supporters, who opposed joint action through the coming Congress and urged that Pennsylvania petition on its own for redress of grievances. On May 9 the legislature, just after it had added Franklin and two others to its delegation and had had news of Lexington, adopted the instructions below. They were little different from those to the delegates to the first Congress.8 The Assembly, once it had repudiated the proposal for separate action, did not commit its delegates to anything more than colonial unity and resistance.9

May 9, 1775.


The Trust reposed in you, is of such a Nature, and the Modes of executing it, may be so diversified in the Course of your Deliberations, that it is scarcely possible to give you particular Instructions respecting it.

We shall therefore, in general, direct that you meet in Congress the Delegates of the several British Colonies, to be held on the Tenth Instant, to consult together on the present critical and alarming Situation and State of the Colonies, and that you exert your utmost Endeavours to agree upon, and recommend, such further Measures, as shall afford the best Prospect of obtaining Redress of American Grievances, and restoring that Union and Harmony between Great-Britain and the Colonies so essential to the Welfare and Happiness of both Countries.

You are directed to make Report of your Proceedings to this House at their next Sessions after the Meeting of the Congress. Signed by Order of the House,

John Morton, Speaker.1

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2See the editorial note on the committee below, June 30, 1775.

3These committees, established to enforce the Continental Association, took on a variety of functions as the crisis deepened, and became a base for those who were pressing for an enlarged militia and for independence. Ryerson, Revolution Is Now Begun, pp. 128–31, 156–7, 272–4; see also the broadside List of the Sub-Committees, appointed by the Committee for the City and Liberties of Philadelphia . . . ([Philadelphia,] 1776). BF, to the best of our knowledge, took no part in these committees and was a member only on paper.

4Ryerson, pp. 135–8; 8 Pa. Arch., VIII, 7310, 7347.

5James E. Gibson, “The Pennsylvania Provincial Conference of 1776,” PMHB, LVIII (1934), 330; Pa. Gaz., July 10, 1776; The Proceedings . . . Relative to Calling the Conventions of 1776 and 1790 . . . (Harrisburg, Pa., 1825), p. 46.

6See the note on the committee of safety, already cited, and the headnote on BF to the speaker of the Assembly below, Feb. 26.

78 Pa. Arch., VIII, 7162, 7167–8, 7180, 7185.

8For the earlier instructions see ibid., p. 7100. The changes in the later ones were the omission of two clauses, one about ascertaining American rights and the other about avoiding disrespect to the mother country.

9Even this commitment was too much for Galloway. On May 12 he resigned as a delegate to Congress. He also ceased attending the Assembly, which soon afterward voted funds for defense, organized the militia, rejected North’s conciliatory plan, and established the committee of safety. See Ryerson, pp. 96–8, 100–12, 117–24; Benjamin M. Newcomb, Franklin and Galloway: a Political Partnership (New Haven and London, 1972), pp. 276–8; 8 Pa. Arch., VIII, 7185–6, 7211–13, 7228–30, 7234, 7245–9.

1Morton (c. 1724–77) was one of the delegates to Congress elected the previous December. He had been a member of the Assembly since 1756, with one brief intermission, and speaker since the previous March. DAB.

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