Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from [Samuel Wharton], 21 December 1776

From [Samuel Wharton]2

AL: American Philosophical Society

London December 21st 1776

Dear Sir

I take the earliest Opportunity of expressing my sincere Congratulations on your safe Arrival in France. An Event of the greatest Importance to all America, and particularly regarding your own personal Safety; As the Resentment of your and our Country’s Enemies is not in the least abated, and They would have exceedingly rejoiced, If one of their Cruizers had conveyed you to this despotick Shoar: But Thanks to that all gracious Providence, Which has hitherto, so wonderfully animated and supported you in the great Cause of an oppress’d, virtuous, and gallant People. Your unexpected Arrival in France has afforded Administration much Uneasiness, and made a vast Noise through the City. The three per centum Consol. fell half per Centum on that Account,3 and if a general Insensibility, and Ignorance, blended with a savage Vindictiveness against Us, did not prevail over the whole Kingdom, all the subtle Arts of the Minister and his Friends, could not keep Them, as high as They are; They however continue to deceive the People with the foolish Idea of a Reconciliation being effected by the two Brothers, during the Winter, or That General Howe will before the Spring, totaly rout the grand American Army; and the News just arrived of his success near Kingsbridge, affords Them favorable Ground to establish that Idea.

The Minority in both Houses, a little before their Adjournment, declined attending Parliament; But it was neither a formal Secession, nor done by Agreement between the Heads of the different Parties in Opposition, of Course, as might have been expected, it made little Impression on Administration; and especialy, as each Party remains as unconnected, and jealous of the other, as When you was here; But Yet most of Them write in discovering Disapointment and Displeasure, at the Declaration of Independence, as it deprived Them, of what They esteemed, Their best stepping Ladder into Office.4 The confidential Language nevertheless of a few of the Leaders in Opposition, such as No. 34. 35. 193, and 206 . . .,5 is, That if America Persists in her Resolution of Independence, The Situation of the Kingdom requires, That no Time ought to be lost, before a federal Union is made with Her; But the Pride and Ignorance of the Court and Nation are yet too high, to listen to such Wise Tho’ humiliating Council, and nothing, in my Opinion, but the honest Adversity, or Dread of a Union with France and Spain (on the part of America) will awaken No. 125 of 72 from his brutal Lethargy. Lord Chatham declines fast, and it is generaly thought, will never be able again to assume a publick Character. He foretells the greatest Calamitys to be experienced by the Kingdom, in consequence of the rash and unjust Measures prosecuting against the American States. Mr. Deane is in Possession of his Prediction; It is founded in Experience and Wisdom.6 The Losses occasioned by the successes of our Privateers, will be felt at the yearly Settlement in January, much to the Injury of commercial Credit. Several Failures are expected to follow from these Captures. At New Lloyds’ They have a List of 160 Vessels taken by our Cruizers,7 and doubless They do not know the Names of all, which are taken, and yet They compute the British Loss, at a Million Sterling. The Impress goes on heavily, and Lord Sandwich begins to find, and acknowledge, That it is impossible to man twenty Sail of Men of War, Whilst the Transports are detained in America. In Truth, The Nation cannot furnish Seamen for the Navy, The Transport Service, and for carrying on its remaining Commerce; And if a large Fleet is required, In Addition to what is employed in America, either the Transport, or Merchant Service, or perhaps both of Them, must be sacrificed to it. It is fortunate however for the Admiralty, That One hundred and Thirty Sail of Transports were, from their leaky State, obliged to be sent hither to be repaired, otherwise the impressing Parties would have been a long Time, before They could have procured, as many Men, as are on Board these Transports: But for farther Particulars relative to the Plans of Administration, and the State of the Kingdom, I must beg the Favor of referring you, to our Friend Dr. Bancroft.8 Last Spring I wrote you many Letters, after the Ones I sent you by Mr. Cumming, But I fear several of Them were intercepted, and particularly One, conveying to you, a circumstantial Account of what Passed between Lord Howe and Me on the Subject of America, and what were the real Designs of Administration. I now send you under Cover, a State of the Conference between his Lordship, and Myself, and I would fain flatter myself, That my Propositions, (when considered, in Reference to the Time They were made) may meet your Approbation. I acted for the best, and thought, I was discharging a Duty I owed to my Country.

From the Moment I was favored with your kind Letter of Septr. 1775, (Which I considered, and therefore circulated among the Great, as a fair Warning, as well to Administration, as to their Opponents, of What would happen, if They delayed to do immediate and substantial Justice to America) I was convinced of the indispensable Propriety, and Necessity of the Colonies asserting their Independence, and Therefore I have faithfully and zealously endeavoured as far as was in my Power, To countenance, and support it, And May I add, That I shall be happy, While I remain in Europe (Which will be for a few Months) to dedicate my poor Abilities, If you think They may be usefully employed, To the service of our Country? I lament exceedingly the mistaken Conduct of Mr. Galloway, my Brother, and too many of our former Friends (on Political Subjects) in Pennsylvania.9 My Correspondence for many Months, on that Head, has been very offensive to Them, and They blamed my liberal Communications, and Sentiments; But I have been long convinced of the arbitrary System and sad Depravity of this Court and People, and That if the Liberties of America were to be saved and Perpetuated, It must be done by the Americans Themselves, and Not by any Man, or Set of Men of this Country; And Therefore I have been inexpressibly rejoiced, in Perusing the new Forms of Goverment in the several American States, and especiely That of Pennsylvania, because it communicates equal civil, and religious Liberties to all, and particularly establishes an Equality of Representation in all the Counties, on a broad and fair Basis; Thereby destroying the narrow System of the Quakers, and emancipating the Inhabitants of a Majority of the Counties from the partial Views, of Sectarian Politicans. Lord Camden highly extolls the New Form of Goverment of Pennsylvania and says, That the bad Part of the British Laws is therein wisely corrected; and let me add, That the highest Honor and Thanks are due to you, for effectuating a Form of Goverment, so wonderfully replete with true Wisdom and Liberality.1 With the sincerest Respect, Permit me to assure you, That I am dear Sir Your very affectionate and faithful humble Servant

PS. If you should have any Letters for me, either Now or hereafter, Pray never trust Them by the Post; as all my Letters are stoped by Administration. Dr. Bancroft has a Dictionary to explain the Numbers used in the foregoing Letter, and when He leaves France, He will give you a Copy it. The Doctor will enquire of you and write me, if you should not have Leisure to oblige me therein, How my Family were, When you left Home.

Dr. Franklin.

Notations: Intelligence from London / Lett. from London Decr 21. 1776

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2Identified by the writing as well as the subject matter. This is the first extant letter since Dec. 23, 1775, from BF’s old associate in the Walpole Co. Wharton had come to England in 1769 as an agent, with William Trent, of the American promoters, and stayed until 1779. At the time of this letter his activities in the Company were drawing to an end; see Walpole to BF below, Feb. 10, 1777. But Wharton had a number of other business interests, mentioned in a note below; he was also in touch with prominent members of the opposition, as he makes clear, and kept BF and friends in America informed of developments in London.

3Consols, established in 1751, were the funded securities of the British government; their market value was considered a barometer of the national credit.

4He was right about the opposition. The earlier reasons for its fragmentation (above, XXI, 306–7, 549) persisted and grew stronger as the movement toward American independence made the “Ladder into Office,” that of reconciliation, more and more ephemeral. “I do not know how to wish success to those whose Victory is to separate from us a large and noble part of our Empire,” wrote Edmund Burke. “Still less do I wish success to injustice, oppression and absurdity.” Quoted by Frank O’Gorman, The Rise of Party in England: the Rockingham Whigs, 1760–1782 (London, [1975]), p. 348. The frustration of this dilemma, which culminated in some members’ withdrawing from Parliament, is described in ibid., pp. 336–53.

5Suspension points in the original. He explains the code numbers at the end of the letter, but we do not have the list of names and numbers and can rarely identify a reference.

6The prediction, whatever it may have been, was not made in the House of Lords, where Chatham had not spoken since the failure of his conciliatory plan in February, 1775. Five months later he warned the peers in no uncertain terms: “if an end is not put to this war there is an end to this country.” Quoted in Basil Williams, The Life of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham (2 vols., London, etc., 1913), II, 317.

7New Lloyd’s Coffee House was the center of marine insurance: Charles Wright and C. Ernest Fayle, A History of Lloyd’s from the Founding of Lloyd’s Coffee House to the Present Day (London, 1928), pp. 107, 156.

8BF’s old protégé (for whom see above, XVI, 224–5 n) has not appeared in our texts for almost a year. Although Bancroft was frequently in Paris he was based in England, where he was involved with Wharton in both stock speculation and the affairs of the Walpole Co.; see above, XXII, 149–53, and below, Wharton to BF, Jan. 17, 1777. His close ties with Silas Deane as well as BF were useful to him as a speculator and also, although Wharton did not know it, as a British agent. The formal agreement between Bancroft and Paul Wentworth, acting for Whitehall, is conjecturally dated December, 1776, in Stevens, Facsimiles, III, no. 235.

9Galloway had resigned from Congress and opposed the new revolutionary regime; Thomas Wharton and other prominent Quakers were coming under suspicion, and within less than a year several of them were exiled.

1“The narrow System of the Quakers” was that which had developed under Penn’s charter of liberties; it was modified by the reforms in the spring of 1776 (above, XXII, 479) and destroyed by the constitution, which established representation of the counties according to taxable population and provided for periodic reapportionment. Wharton was not alone in his opinion of BF’s role in framing the new government but was, we believe, exaggerating it; see ibid., pp. 514–15.

Index Entries