Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to Edmund Burke, 15 May 1775

To Edmund Burke

ALS: Central Library, Sheffield

The background of this letter was conversations between the two men during Franklin’s last months in London. Burke’s record of their final meeting, even though not committed to paper until years later, is revealing enough to be worth extensive quotation. “As far as a man, so locked up as Dr. Franklin, could be expected to communicate his ideas, I believe he opened them to Mr. Burke. It was, I think, the very day before he set out for America,3 that a very long conversation passed between them, and with a greater air of openness on the Doctor’s side, than Mr. Burke had observed in him before. In this discourse Dr. Franklin lamented, and with apparent sincerity, the separation which he feared was inevitable between Great Britain and her colonies. He certainly spoke of it as an event which gave him the greatest concern. America, he said, would never again see such happy days as she had passed under the protection of England. He observed, that ours was the only instance of a great empire, in which the most distant parts and members had been as well governed as the metropolis and its vicinage:4 But that the Americans were going to lose the means which secured to them this rare and precious advantage. The question with them was not whether they were to remain as they had been before the troubles, for better, he allowed they could not hope to be; but whether they were to give up so happy a situation without a struggle? Mr. Burke had several other conversations with him about that time, in none of which, soured and exasperated as his mind certainly was, did he discover any other wish in favour of America than for a security to its ancient condition.”5

Burke apparently did not answer this letter. The war obliged him to break off the correspondence, to his great regret, and he did not renew it until what he regarded as an emergency gave him reason to in 1781.6

Philada. May 15. 75

Dear Sir,

You will see by the Papers that Gen. Gage call’d his Assembly to propose Lord North’s pacific Plan,7 but before they could meet drew the Sword, and began the War. His Troops made a most vigorous Retreat, 20 Miles in 3 Hours, scarce to be parallell’d in History: the feeble Americans, who pelted them all the Way, could scarce keep up with them.

All People here feel themselves much oblig’d by your Endeavours to serve them. I hear your propos’d Resolves were negativ’d by a great Majority;8 which was denying the most notorious Truths; and a kind of national Lying, of which they may be convicted by their own Records.

The Congress is met here, pretty full. I had not been here a Day before I was return’d a Member. We din’d together on Saturday, when your Health was among the foremost. With the sincerest Esteem, I am ever Dear Sir, Your most obedient humble Servant

B Franklin

Edm. Burke Esqr.

Addressed: To / Edmund Burke Esqr / [illegible] Street / London / Beaconsfiel / Bucks9

Endorsed: Franklin Philada. May 15 1775

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3Probably March 18. BF had given out that he was leaving the next day, but actually spent it with Priestley and set out for Portsmouth on the 20th; see above, XXI, 526 n.

4An idea that BF had long held and had recently expounded to Chatham: above, XVII, 322; XXI, 548.

5[Edmund Burke,] An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs . . . (London, 1791), pp. 37–8.

6When Congress threatened to recall Burgoyne to captivity, and Burke asked for BF’s good offices in preventing the move: Thomas W. Copeland et al., eds., The Correspondence of Edmund Burke (9 vols., Chicago and Cambridge, 1958–70), IV, 362.

7Whatever Gage’s intention when he called the General Court, he soon afterward received instructions not to lay before it North’s conciliatory resolution (above, XXI, 592); in fact the Court never met, for the provincial congress quashed the elections. Carter, Gage Correspondence, II, 187; Wroth, Province in Rebellion, I, 122.

8The resolutions with which Burke concluded his famous speech on conciliation, March 22, 1775, were all rejected, the first by a margin of 270 to 78. Cobbett, Parliamentary History, XVIII (1774–77), 478–538, 540; see also Donoughue, British Politics, pp. 256–64.

9BF’s address has been deleted; the forwarding address to Beaconsfield is in another hand.

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