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of an opportunity to assure you personally of the regard with which I am your sincere and faithful humble servant,
P. S. I was disappointed of the opportunity l'expected for sending this letter at the time it was dated, and have ever since been prevented by calms and contrary winds from getting here, to inform General Howe of the commission with which I have the satisfaction to be charged, and of his being joined in it.
Off Sandy Hook, 12th of July.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN TO LORD HOWE.
Philadelphia, July 20th, 1776..' MY LORD, I received safe the letters your Lordship so kindly forwarded to me, and beg you to accept my thanks.
The official despatches, to which you refer me, contain nothing more than what we had seen in the act of Parliament, viz. offers of pardon upon submission, which I am sorry to find, as it must give your Lordship pain to be sent so far on so hopeless a business.
Directing pardons to be offered the colonies, who are the very parties injured, expresses indeed that opinion of our ignorance, baseness, and insensibility, which
your uninformed and proud nation has long been pleased to entertain of us; but it can have no other effect than that of increasing our resentment. It is impossible we should think of submission to a government, that has with the most wanton barbarity and cruelty burnt our defenceless towns in the midst of winter, excited the savages to 'massacre our farmers, and our slaves to murder their masters, and is even now bringing foreign whom you
mercenaries to deluge our settlements with blood. These atrocious injuries have extinguished every remaining spark of affection for that parent country we once held so dear; but, were it possible for us to forget and forgive them, it is not possible for you (I mean the British nation) to forgive the people you have so heavily injured. You can never confide again in those as fellow subjects, and permit them to enjoy equal freedom, to
know you have given such just cause of lasting enmity. And this must impel you, were we again under your government, to endeavour the breaking our spirit by the severest tyranny, and obstructing, by every means in your power, our growing strength and prosperity.
But your Lordship mentions “the King's paternal solicitude for promoting the establishment of lasting peace and union with the colonies.” If by peace is here meant a peace to be entered into between Britain and America, as distinct states now at war, and his Majesty has given your Lordship powers to treat with us of such a peace, I may venture to say, though without authority, that I think a treaty for that purpose not yet quite impracticable, before we enter into foreign alliances. But I am persuaded you have no such powers. Your nation, though, by punishing those American governors, who have created and fomented the discord, rebuilding our burnt towns, and repairing as far as possible the mischiefs done us, might yet recover a great share of our regard, and the greatest part of our growing commerce, with all the advantage of that additional strength to be derived from a friendship with us; but I know too well her abounding pride and deficient wisdom, to believe she will ever take such salutary measures. Her fondness for conquest, as a warlike nation, hèr lust of dominion, as an ambitious one, and her thirst for a gainful monopoly, as a commercial one, (none of them legitimate causes of war.) will all join to hide from her eyes every view of her true interests, and continually goad her on in those ruinous distant expeditions, so destructive both of lives and treasure, that must prove as pernicious to her in the end, as the crusades formerly were to most of the nations of Europe.
I have not the vanity, my Lord, to think of intimidating by thus predicting the effects of this war; for I know it will in England have the fate of all my former predictions, not to be believed till the event shall verify it.
Long did I endeavour, with unfeigned and unwearied zeal, to preserve from breaking that fine and noble China vase, the British empire ; for I knew, that, being once broken, the separate parts could not retain even their share of the strength or value that existed in the whole, and that a perfect reunion of those parts could scarce ever be hoped for. Your Lordship may possibly remember the tears of joy that wet my cheek, when, at your good sister's in London, you once gave me expectations that a reconciliation might soon take place. I had the misfortune to find those expectations disappointed, and to be treated as the cause of the mischief I was laboring to prevent. My consolation under that groundless and malevolent treatment was, that I retained the friendship of many wise and good men in that country, and, among the rest, some share in the regard of Lord Howe.
The well-founded esteem, and, permit me to say, affection, which I shall always have for your Lordship, makes it painful to me to see you engaged in conducting a war, the great ground of which, as expressed in your letter, is “the necessity of preventing the American trade from passing into foreign channels.” To me it seems, that neither the obtaining or retaining of any trade, how valuable soever, is an object for which
men may justly spill. each other's blood; that the true and sure means of extending and securing commerce is the goodness and cheapness of commodities; and that the profit of no trade can ever be equal to the expense of compelling it, and of holding it, by fleets and armies.
I consider this war against us, therefore, as both unjust and unwise; and I am persuaded, that cool, dispassionate posterity will condemin to infamy those who advised it; and that even success will not 'save from some degree of dishonor those, who voluntarily engaged to conduct it. I know your great motive in coming hither was the hope of being instrumental in a reconciliation; and I believe, when you find that impossible on any terms given you to propose, you will relinquish so odious a command, and return to a more honorable private station.
With the greatest and most sincere respect, I have the honor to be, my Lord, your Lordship’s most obedient humble servant,
Colonel William Palfrey, paymaster-general of the American army, went on board Lord Howe's vessel, July 30th, 1776, to make some arrangement for an exchange of prisoners, who had been captured at sea. He was accompanied by Mr. Nathaniel Tracy, who carried with him the above letter from Dr. Franklin to Lord Howe. In a letter to President Hancock, written the next day, Colonel Palfrey says;
“Mr. Tracy delivered the letter from Dr. Franklin, which he (Lord Howe) read. I watched his countenance, and observed him often to exhibit marks of surprise. When he had finished reading it, he said his old friend had expressed himself very warmly ; that, when he had the pleasure of seeing him in England, he made him acquainted with his sentiments respecting the dispute between Great Britain and the colonies, and with his earnest desire that a reconciliation might take place, equally honorable and advantageous to both. Possessed of these sentinents,
LORD HOWE TO BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.
Eagle, off Staten Island, August 16th, 1776. I am sorry, my worthy friend, that it is only on the assurances you give me of my having still preserved a place in your esteem, that I can now found a pretension to trouble you with a reply to your favor of the
I can have no difficulty to acknowledge, that the powers I am invested with were never calculated to negotiate a reunion with America, under any other description than as subject to the crown of Great Britain. But I do esteem those powers competent, not only to confer and negotiate with any gentlemen of influence in the colonies upon the terms, but also to effect a lasting peace and reunion between the two countries, were the temper of the colonies such as professed in the last petition of the Congress to the King. America would have judged in the discussion how far the means were adequate to the end, both for engaging her confidence and proving our integrity. Nor did I think it necessary to say more in my public declaration ; not conceiving it could be understood to refer to peace on any other conditions but those of mutual interest to both countries, which could aloné render it permanent.
and the most ardent desire to be the means of effecting this union, he had accepted the honor the King had done him in appointing him one of the commissioners; and that unfortunately a long passage prevented his arriving here before the declaration of independence. I told him he had now a fair opportunity to mention to his friend, Dr. Franklin, in a private letter, his design in coming out, and what his expectations from America were. This he declined, saying, that the Doctor had grown too warm, and, if he expressed his sentiments fully to him, he should only give him pain, which he would wish to avoid.”
The first article in this volume contains Dr. Franklin's narrative of his attempted negotiation, just before he left England, to effect a reconciliation between the two countries, in which Lord Howe took a part. — EDITOR.