Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to [Joseph Priestley], 7 July 1775: extract

To [Joseph Priestley3]

Extract printed in Benjamin Vaughan, ed., Political, Miscellaneous, and Philosophical Pieces . . . Written by Benj. Franklin . . . (London, 1779), pp. 552–4.

Philadelphia, 7th July, 1775.

Dear Friend

The Congress met at a time when all minds were so exasperated by the perfidy of General Gage, and his attack on the country people, that propositions of attempting an accommodation were not much relished; and it has been with difficulty that we have carried another humble petition to the crown, to give Britain one more chance, one opportunity more of recovering the friendship of the colonies;4 which however I think she has not sense enough to embrace, and so I conclude she has lost them for ever.

She has begun to burn our seaport towns;5 secure, I suppose, that we shall never be able to return the outrage in kind. She may doubtless destroy them all; but if she wishes to recover our commerce, are these the probable means? She must certainly be distracted; for no tradesman out of Bedlam ever thought of encreasing the number of his customers by knocking them [on]6 the head; or of enabling them to pay their debts by burning their houses.

If she wishes to have us subjects and that we should submit to her as our compound sovereign, she is now giving us such miserable specimens of her government, that we shall ever detest and avoid it, as a complication of robbery, murder, famine, fire and pestilence.

You will have heard before this reaches you, of the treacherous conduct . . . to the remaining people in Boston, in detaining their goods, after stipulating to let them go out with their effects; on pretence that merchants goods were not effects;7 the defeat of a great body of his troops by the country people at Lexington; some other small advantages gained in skirmishes with their troops; and the action at Bunker’s-hill, in which they were twice repulsed, and the third time gained a dear victory. Enough has happened, one would think, to convince your ministers that the Americans will fight, and that this is a harder nut to crack than they imagined.

We have not yet applied to any foreign power for assistance; nor offered our commerce for their friendship. Perhaps we never may: Yet it is natural to think of it if we are pressed.8

We have now an army on our establishment which still holds yours besieged.

My time was never more fully employed. In the morning at 6, I am at the committee of safety, appointed by the assembly to put the province in a state of defence; which committee holds till near 9, when I am at the congress, and that sits till after 4 in the afternoon.9 Both these bodies proceed with the greatest unanimity, and their meetings are well attended. It will scarce be credited in Britain that men can be as diligent with us from zeal for the public good, as with you for thousands per annum. Such is the difference between uncorrupted new states, and corrupted old ones.

Great frugality and great industry are now become fashionable here: Gentlemen who used to entertain with two or three courses, pride themselves now in treating with simple beef and pudding. By these means, and the stoppage of our consumptive trade with Britain, we shall be better able to pay our voluntary taxes for the support of our troops.1 Our savings in the article of trade amount to near five million sterling per annum.

I shall communicate your letter to Mr. Winthrop, but the camp is at Cambridge, and he has as little leisure for philosophy as myself.2 . . . Believe me ever, with sincere esteem, my dear friend, Yours most affectionately

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

3As with the other letters to Priestley printed from Vaughan (above, May 16, and below, Oct. 3, 1775), WTF added MS notes on a proof sheet of Vaughan’s work (Library of Congress). In this case the additions were “To Dr. Priestly” at the head of the letter and BF’s initials at the end.

4See the editorial note on the petition below, July 8, 1775.

5See above, BF to Sargent, June 27; to Strahan, July 5.

6Brackets are in the printed text.

7Gage’s handling of these goods was the subject of Williams’ complaint above, June 19. A reference to the General was clearly what was deleted, though why it should have been worse than his perfidy, mentioned in the first sentence, we are at a loss to explain. But Vaughan was nervous about publishing this and other letters from BF in the middle of the war; see his footnote on p. 550.

8BF was already thinking of it; see his resolutions on trade below, under July 21, 1775.

9The principal concern of the Congress during June was the organization of the army, and BF played his part. On the 10th he was appointed to a committee for obtaining saltpetre, and on the 23rd to another to draft Washington’s declaration on assuming command of the troops. JCC, II, 86, 105. His work as president of the Pennsylvania committee of safety was also focused on organizing the provincial forces; see the editorial note on the committee above, June 30.

1On June 22 Congress authorized the emission of $2,000,000 in bills of credit, which the colonies were pledged to redeem. JCC, II, 103. Further emissions soon followed. Redemption of the bills was to be through taxation, which was “voluntary” in the sense that the colonial delegates agreed to it; Congress was to set the quota for each colony according to population: Smith, Letters, I, 525. The quotas themselves were not fixed until July 29, and then subject to revision: JCC, II, 221–3. See also Ferguson, Power of the Purse, pp. 5–26.

2John Winthrop, like BF, was becoming absorbed in political affairs. He had served first on the Council and then in the provincial congress, and was one of those whom the Mass. delegates in Philadelphia recommended to Washington as reliable men. In July, when the General Court was reconstituted, Winthrop was appointed to the new Council. Sibley’s Harvard Graduates, IX, 258–60; Smith, Letters, I, 534.

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